Showing posts with label Murder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murder. Show all posts

10 July 2018

KC's Lazia is gunned down at his home

On this date in 1934...

Sedalia Democrat
Two gunmen fatally shot John Lazia, underworld-connected political boss of Kansas City's north side "Little Italy," July 10, 1934, as he stepped out of a car in front of his apartment building.

Lazia and his wife had spent the evening of Monday, July 9, with their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carrollo, in the Lake Lotawana area, where the Lazias had a summer home. They returned to Kansas City in the early morning hours of July 10 in an automobile driven by Carrollo. Mrs. Lazia was seated in the front, beside Carrollo, while Lazia and Carollo's wife sat in the rear.

They pulled into the semi-circular driveway of the Park Central apartment building, 300 East Armour Boulevard, where the Lazias lived. When the car stopped under the building's front entrance canopy, John Lazia emerged from a rear seat and began to open the front door to help his wife from the car. At that moment, two gunmen opened fire on Lazia with a machine gun and a shotgun.

Mrs. Lazia
As Lazia fell wounded, he called out, "I'm shot. Get Marie out of here. Step on it, Charlie!"

Carrollo did as he was instructed. The gunmen advanced and fired more shots into Lazia's body. They then ran off into an alley beside the apartment building, climbed into a waiting automobile and escaped.

Lazia was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital (then about two miles away on East Linwood Boulevard). Doctors tended to his wounds - he had been struck by slugs in his chest, shoulder, head, back and arms - and administered three blood transfusions. They were unable to save Lazia. He died at the hospital at just after two o'clock that afternoon.

Lazia claimed not to know who shot him. In his final moments, he told Dr. D.M. Nigro, "I don't know why they did it. I'm a friend to everybody. I don't know why they did this to me."

Newspapers noted that Lazia was an important lieutenant in the political machine of Kansas City Democratic boss Thomas J. Pendergast. It was said that Lazia personally controlled 30,000 votes in the city. The killing brought considerable negative attention to the Pendergast machine. It was the second time that Lazia had damaged the organization. The machine's connections to the region's underworld had been exposed through Lazia's trial for income tax evasion five months earlier. At the time he was murdered, Lazia was free on bond awaiting an appeal of failure to file convictions that resulted in a one-year prison sentence, five years' probation and a fine.

St. Louis Star and Times shows location of victim and gunmen

Investigation goes nowhere

Otto P. Higgins, director of the local police force, took personal charge of the Lazia murder investigation. Joe Lusco, a north side political rival of Lazia, was immediately brought in for questioning. Police also rounded up more than twenty of Lusco's followers.

Lusco
Lusco was reputed to be part of Casmir Welch's political organization, which battled the Pendergast machine. A feud between the Lusco and Lazia factions had already claimed a number of lives, including that of Ferris Anthon, believed killed by Lazia-affiliated gunmen in the summer of 1933.

Lusco, however, insisted that any problems he ever had with Lazia had been resolved long ago. Lusco told investigators that he and Lazia were the closest of friends. Without evidence against the rival faction, police were forced to release Lusco and his men.

There was some suspicion that Lazia was targeted due to the arrests of two men for the killing of bank messenger Webster Kemner during a robbery earlier in the year. Sam DeCaro and Charles Taibi were charged with the Kemner killing. DeCaro was quickly tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Taibi was awaiting trial at the time of Lazia's murder. There were rumors that Lazia provided information to police that linked DeCaro and Taibi to the slaying of Kemner.

Lazia
Eventually, the local authorities suggested that Lazia was killed by gangsters from outside the region. Lazia, they claimed, had enraged distant gang bosses by refusing to allow their men to operate within the Kansas City area.

In the fall of 1934, federal agents found interesting connections between the killing of John Lazia and the Union Station Massacre in Kansas City a year earlier. Kansas City gangster James LaCapra told authorities that Lazia aided gangsters "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Adam Richetti and Verne Miller in their failed but bloody attempt to free Frank Nash from federal custody. Agents also discovered that markings on machine gun bullets used in the massacre were a match for bullets recovered at the scene of Lazia's murder, suggesting that the same machine gun was used in both incidents. Authorities felt this was an indication that Lazia was killed by former allies rather than by known enemies.

Stand-up guy?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Police and press seemed not to consider that Lazia's recent income tax case had anything to do with his killing, though testimony in that case revealed to press, police and public the connections between political bosses and underworld bosses, the amount of money generated through local gambling rackets and the specific amounts that had been paid to county law enforcement personnel to ensure protection of those rackets. In fighting the government's case, Lazia went to the witness stand, named business partners and described financial transactions. And his fight did not end with his conviction.

When the jury returned a generous verdict, finding him guilty only of misdemeanor failing to file returns for two years and acquitting him of felony tax evasion, Lazia did not act in the way expected of a "stand-up guy." He went to the press and stated, "I'm a victim of prejudice. I feel I've been convicted on charges that never would have been placed against most businessmen."

Though a federal judge in spring 1934 overruled a request for a new trial, Lazia pressed ahead with an appeal, further increasing the exposure of his underworld colleagues. One month before his murder, Lazia learned that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Omaha, Nebraska, would hear his appeal in October.

Saying goodbye

Lazia's remains were placed in a casket reportedly valued at $5,000. Some sources described the casket as silver-plated bronze, others as silver-lined copper. A wake was held at the home of Lazia's sister, and an estimated 10,000 people visited through the night.

St. Louis Star and Times shows funeral procession
On the morning of July 13, about 1,000 people were still crowded around the sister's home as the funeral procession to Holy Rosary Church commenced. More thousands lined the route to the church. Thomas J. Pendergast participated in the sendoff, along with former north side political boss Michael Ross and City Manager H.F. McElroy. The procession included 120 cars and was followed by four trucks filled with floral offerings.

Lazia
The most noteworthy floral piece was a large wheel and axle with an obviously missing second wheel. That was sent by Pendergast. Newspapers called attention to the fact that flowers had been sent from individuals in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other U.S. cities. Even Joe Lusco sent flowers.

Following the funeral Mass, Lazia's remains were taken to St. Mary's Cemetery to be buried next to the graves of his father and mother.

Though John Lazia was dead and buried, the U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue was not quite done with him. About a week after the funeral, Collector of Internal Revenue Dan M. Nee filed a lien of $62,280.01 against the Lazia estate, including property owned by Lazia's widow. The government argued that Lazia failed to pay $48,847.76 in owed taxes for the years 1927 through 1930 and also owed interest and fines totaling $13,432.25.

Sources:
  • "John Lazia, Kansas City politician, goes to trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 5, 1934, p. 4.
  • "Gambling den 'fixing' bared in Lazia trial," St. Louis Star and Times, Feb. 6, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Says protection of Lazia's resort cost $500 a week," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 7, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Maze of tax data piled up at Lazia trial," St. Louis Star and Times, Feb. 8, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia deposits put at $153,871 for two years," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 9, 1934, p. 2.
  • "Lazia had money; was it taxable? Is issue at trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 10, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Move by Lazia's lawyers to halt tax evasion trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 11, 1934, p. 16.
  • "Lazias lived on $150 a month, wife testifies," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 12, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Prosecutor asks for 'horse sense" in Lazia verdict," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 13, 1934, p. 6.
  • "Lazia convicted on two counts in income tax case," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 14, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia is guilty on two charges," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, Feb. 14, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia is sentenced by Judge Otis," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, Feb. 28, 1934, p. 7.
  • "John Lazia gets year in jail on U.S. tax charge," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 28, 1934, p. 3.
  • "A new trial for Lazia is probable," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, April 9, 1934, p. 6.
  • "Lazia hearing Saturday," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, April 10, 1934, p. 2.
  • "John Lazia denied retrial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 1934, p. 2.
  • "Lazia appeal will be argued in Omaha," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, June 1, 1934, p. 2.
  • "John Lazia dies after being shot by two gunmen," Sedalia MO Democrat, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "John Lazia shot down by 2 unidentified gunmen today," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Machine-gunners shoot John Lazia, Pendergast's aid," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Politicians are dazed by death of Johnny Lazia," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, July 11, 1934, p. 3.
  • "A Chillicothe young man to aid of wounded man," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 11, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Great throng files past John Lazia bier," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Italians honor Lazia, lies in $5,000 casket," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, July 12, 1934, p. 10.
  • "The Lazia funeral to cost $40,000," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 12, 1923, p. 1.
  • "Thousands line funeral route of John Lazia," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 13, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Government files $62,280 lien on John Lazia estate," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 21, 1934, p. 3B.
  • "John Lazia linked with massacre of 5 at Kansas City," St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 11, 1934, p. 3.

16 June 2018

Top New England mobsters targeted

On this date in 1989:
In the late morning of Friday, June 16, 1989, "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, a rising star in the Patriarca Crime Family, was walking through a House of Pancakes parking lot off Route 1 in the Boston suburb of Saugus, Massachusetts, when two gunmen opened fire on him from a passing automobile. 
 
Salemme
Salemme scrambled for cover and rushed inside a Papa Gino's pizza shop about thirty yards away. As he did so, the gunmen's car turned and made a second pass, firing more shots at the fleeing Mafioso.

"Cadillac Frank," wounded and bleeding, ran to the rear of the pizza shop, yelled out, "Call the police!" and collapsed near the door to the men's room. He regained his composure and his footing. Returning to the front of the shop, he sat down at the first table. He had been struck twice by the slugs fired at him - once in his chest and once in his left leg. As he waited for police and paramedics to arrive, he calmly pressed his windbreaker jacket against the chest wound to slow the flow of blood.

The authorities found the gunshot victim uncooperative. He refused even to identify himself. When asked who shot him, Salemme answered, "No one." Salemme was taken to AtlantiCare Hospital in Lynn, Massachusetts. Later in the day, doctors graded his condition as "guarded but stable." Investigators knew of Salemme's connections to organized crime, but they weren't sure what to make of the murder attempt. Things became somewhat clearer that afternoon.

End of the Wild Guy
Shortly after three o'clock, two fishermen discovered a dead body partly submerged in the Connecticut River at Wethersfield, just south of Hartford, Connecticut. Police arriving at the scene found that the male corpse was fully clothed and still in possession of a wallet. Cards inside the wallet belonged to William P. "Wild Guy" Grasso of New Haven.

Grasso
Further investigation positively identified the dead man as Grasso, considered the number-two man in the Patriarca organization, behind only Rhode Island-based boss Raymond "Junior" Patriarca in importance.

An autopsy revealed that Grasso had been killed by a single gunshot to the base of his skull. The medical examiner concluded that the gunshot had been fired at least twenty-four hours before the body was found.

 When the news of Grasso's murder was released, Connecticut's United States Attorney Stanley A. Twardy, Jr., noted that the "Wild Guy" was "the single most influential organized crime figure in Connecticut." Twardy also commented that he could not rule out a connection between the murder of Grasso and the attack on Salemme.

Detectives kept watch for familiar underworld figures at Grasso's funeral on Tuesday, June 20. Hundreds of people filled St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in New Haven for a Mass of Christian Burial, but no known Mafiosi were seen. The funeral cortege included fifty cars. Grasso was buried at All Saints Cemetery in his hometown, sharing a grave with his wife, who died a year earlier. He was survived by a son, three brothers and two sisters.

'Best thing that ever happened'
Grasso, a New Haven native and once a member of the New York-based Colombo Crime Family, became a member of the New England organization after serving time in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for creating a garbage hauling monopoly in southern Connecticut. His cellmate at Atlanta was "Junior" Patriarca's father, notorious New England crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Grasso emerged from prison as a trusted aide of the elder Patriarca.

Grasso later referred to his Atlanta sentence as the "best thing that ever happened to me."

When Raymond L.S. Patriarca died in 1984, "Junior" Patriarca became boss and Grasso became underboss, directly overseeing New England Crime Family rackets in Connecticut. Grasso aggressively expanded his territory from New Haven, across the southern portion of the state into Fairfield County, up into Hartford and beyond into the Springfield, Massachusetts, area, stepping on many mobsters' toes along the way. New York Mafiosi had long dominated in Fairfield County, several crime families had interests in Hartford, and Springfield was known to be the territory of a faction of the powerful New York-based Genovese clan.

'Kill or be killed'
Authorities quickly understood that the moves against Grasso and Salemme were designed to weaken the administration of "Junior" Patriarca. But it took some time before they could piece together just what was going on.

The loss of Grasso was keenly felt within the New England Mafia. No one within Connecticut's branch of the organization had Grasso's combination of ability and loyalty. According to FBI sources, the Patriarca administration appointed a Rhode Islander, Matthew L. Guglielmetti, to oversee rackets in the Nutmeg State. Nicholas L. Bianco, another Rhode Island resident, was elevated to the position of underboss.

In 1990, federal prosecutors began dismantling the New England Mafia through successful prosecutions. In the process, they learned that brothers Louis and Frank Pugliano, Gaetano Milano and Milano's longtime friend Frank Colantoni, Jr., participated in the killing of Grasso. Believing that Grasso was planning to murder them, they set to the job of eliminating him first.

Grasso funeral (Courant, June 21, 1989)
They set up a phony underworld meeting in Massachusetts on June 13, 1989. With Louis Pugliano at the wheel of a van, they picked up Grasso to take him to the meeting. While driving along Interstate-91 in Connecticut, Milano fired a single shot into the back of Grasso's neck. The group deposited Grasso's body at the Connecticut River.

At his sentencing in 1991, Milano told U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas that he felt the killing of Grasso was necessary: "It was kill or be killed."

A like-minded group in Massachusetts was found to be behind the attempt on Salemme's life. Authorities learned that Enrico Ponzo and Vincent Michael Marino were the gunmen who attacked "Cadillac Frank."

U.S. prosecutors assembled convincing cases against the New England Mafia rebels (Ponzo was able to avoid capture until early in 2011) and much of the crime family leadership. But an important part of the story remained unknown to them and to the American public. It was unknown because agents of the FBI were keeping it secret.

FBI sparked rebellion
Years later, it was learned that some in the FBI had worked with informants within the New England underworld to create a destructive rivalry within the Patriarca Mafia organization. Seeds planted by the FBI convinced groups within the Connecticut and Massachusetts branches of the organization that the Patriarca administration was planning to eliminate them. That prompted them to act against Grasso and Salemme, and it also figured in several other murders.

Defense attorney Anthony Cardinale revealed in a 1997 affidavit that intentional FBI activities caused the plots against Grasso and Salemme and that the FBI knew of the plots but kept silent about them for a period of sixteen months. FBI improprieties were documented in the following years.

One of the mobsters involved in the FBI efforts was Angelo "Sonny" Mercurio. The FBI actively hid Mercurio's involvement in instigating the anti-Grasso plot while others were tried and convicted for it. Mercurio was never charged in connection with the killing. He died in Florida in late 2006 while in the witness protection program.

The revelations of FBI involvement and coverup led to revised sentences for a number of those convicted in the early 1990s.

Sources:
  • "Garbageman backs attempt to regain 'stolen' customer," Bridgeport CT Post, Nov. 7, 1968, p. 20.
  • "Police confirm reputed crime boss a homicide victim," Associated Press, June 17, 1989, apnews.com.
  • Cullen, Kevin, "Two men linked to mob shot in separate attacks," Boston Globe, June 17, 1989, bostonglobe.com.
  • Hays, Constance L., "A mob leader in New England is believed slain," New York Times, June 17, 1989.
  • Foderaro, Lisa W., "Mob leader's slaying may signal power struggle," New York Times, June 18, 1989, p. 31.
  • Mahony, Edmund, "Hundreds attend rite for Grasso," Hartford Courant, June 21, 1989, p. 1.
  • Gombossy, George, "Magistrate may free mob suspects on bond," Hartford Courant, March 31, 1990, p. C1.
  • Mahony, Edmund, "Two plead guilty to racketeering charges in surprise move," Hartford Courant, May 2, 1991, p. C1.
  • Barry, Stephanie, "Mob killer may get out early," Springfield MA Republican, Sept. 22, 2008, masslive.com.
  • Christoffersen, John, "Judge reduces mobster killer's sentence," Norwalk CT Hour, Oct. 9, 2008.
  • Marcus, Jon, "Attorney says FBI encouraged mob shootings," New Bedford MA SouthCoast Today, Jan. 10, 2011, southcoasttoday.com.
  • Guilfoil, John M., "Fugitive mobster found in Idaho," Boston Globe, Feb. 9, 2011, boston.com.
  • Mahony, Edmund H., "The Mob in Connecticut: Grasso's reign of terror," Hartford Courant, April 26, 2014, courant.com.

05 June 2018

Buckshot finishes Tampa big shot

On this date in 1950:



James Lumia, businessman, gambling rackets boss and Tampa Mafia leader, was in his car, double-parked on 19th Street near Harper Street(*) in the Palmetto Beach neighborhood south of Ybor City. The headquarters of his gasoline and oil distributing company was close by. It was about 10 o'clock Monday morning, June 5, 1950, and he had stopped to give some instructions to employees Fernando Gil and Gaspar Montes, parked in a Chevrolet pickup used for oil company maintenance work.

James Lumia
As he spoke to the men through the passenger side window of his new, green, Chrysler sedan, a blue Ford pulled alongside and slightly in front of him. The driver of the Ford tapped his horn, causing Lumia to turn to his left and look out his window. A man rose from the Ford's back seat and fired a shotgun into Lumia's face.

The buckshot blast tore off the top front of Lumia's head, leaving a five-inch wound that stretched from "an inch or so below his eyes to some distance above the hair line." Blood, flesh and brain tissue were splattered about the inside of the vehicle. The gunman's car then drove off. In a futile effort to save his boss, Gil climbed into the driver's side of Lumia's car, pushing Lumia just enough to the right to allow him space on the seat, and raced off toward the hospital. Montes got the attention of off-duty Hillsborough County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff George Penegar, who was driving by, and told him to follow the gunman.

The speeding Chrysler caught Penegar's eye, and the deputy sheriff pursued it rather than the Ford. He stopped Gil at the busy intersection of 19th Street and Adamo Drive. Penegar seized a pistol found in the vehicle and called for an ambulance.

It took Lumia's forty-seven-year-old body nearly a half hour from the time of the shooting to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone else: Lumia was dead. His breathing reportedly continued for about fifteen minutes after he reached the hospital.

Lumia's funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon, June 7. He was entombed in the family mausoleum at L'Unione Italiana Cemetery.

Traffic is directed around the Lumia automobile.

Police investigators were quickly frustrated. Gil and Montes said they could not recall any helpful details about the gunman's car or its occupants. Their instincts for self-preservation may have clouded their memories.

There was reason to believe that the brothers of crime figure Jimmy Velasco, shot to death in 1948, had set up the killing of Lumia to avenge Jimmy. When Jimmy Velasco's accused killer, Joseph Provenzano, was brought to trial in 1949 (he was acquitted), Velasco's widow testified that Lumia was a leader of a regional gambling syndicate and an enemy of her husband.

Detectives questioned Roy and Arthur Velasco about the shooting of Lumia. Though neither was at all upset at learning of Lumia's demise, each provided alibis. The possibility that Lumia had a falling out with underworld figure Salvatore "Red" Italiano could not be pursued, as Italiano was known to be away in Italy, arranging wine deals for his Tampa business.

Lumia's name had been mentioned in the press recently in connection with the trial of several - including Roy and Arthur Velasco - who were accused of plotting to kill Hillsborough County Sheriff Hugh Culbreath. Defense attorneys suggested that the plot against Culbreath was fabricated by Lumia, Italiano and Primo Lazzara, working with Culbreath, in order to halt the Velasco brothers' investigation into Jimmy Velasco's murder. The defense wanted to call Lumia, Italiano and Lazzara as witnesses, but they could not be located. The trial was paused on May 11 at the request of the defense. At the time Lumia was murdered, he was scheduled to appear as a witness when the trial resumed in mid-June.

Lumia was known to be well connected politically and was found to have close acquaintances in the Mafia across the U.S. Within the Tampa area, Lumia had kinship ties to the Diecidue and Antinori clans. It was later revealed that the godfather of Lumia's son was Pittsburgh Mafia leader John LaRocca and that LaRocca attended the wedding of Lumia's daughter. (Pittsburgh area Mafia leader Gabriel Kelly Mannarino later served as godfather to a Lumia grandchild.) Upon the arrest of southern California crime boss Jack Dragna, Lumia's telephone number was found to be in Dragna's possession.

The interior of Lumia's Chrysler is examined.

Local police Chief J.L. Eddings told the press of rumors that Lumia worked in the background of the regional gambling syndicate. He noted, however, that Lumia had never been arrested.

A week and a half after the Lumia murder, with the investigation going nowhere, Chief Eddings announced his resignation. The fifty-year-old Eddings indicated that his doctor required him to take a long rest. In the same period, Hillsborough County Sheriff Culbreath and State's Attorney J. Rex Farrior were criticized for underworld links and failure to resolve a series of gangland killings.

Lumia was discussed when the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee investigated the impact of interstate rackets on Florida. One witness brought before the committee, the ex-wife of Deputy Sheriff DiLorenzo, said her ex-husband appeared to know about the Lumia murder before it occurred. She said Anthony DiLorenzo was familiar with Santo Trafficante and Primo Lazzara and served as a messenger between law enforcement and organized crime. The deputy sheriff indicated beforehand that he had some role to perform in connection with the Lumia murder. He told his wife that he wished he could get out of it, but "he was in it so deep that he couldn't get out." DiLorenzo allegedly told his wife years earlier that Lumia was "getting too big and someone had to stop him."

(*) These Tampa streets, 19th and Harper, no longer intersect.

Sources:
  • Images from June 6, 1950, issue of Tampa Tribune.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 39-44.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 49.
  • Forsyth, Thomas G. III, "Gabriel Mannarino," FBI report, file no. 92-2914-351, NARA no. 124-10277-10007, June 26, 1969, p. 2.
  • Voege, Robert A., "Sebastian John La Rocca," FBI report, file no. 92-2940-33, NARA no. 124-90104-10151, July 9, 1958, p. 11-12.

  • "Golden wedding today," Tampa Tribune, Aug. 12, 1945, p. 29.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, April 25, 1947, p. 2.
  • "Defendants accuse sheriff of frame-up," Palm Beach FL Post, May 12, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Rodrigez charges 'frameup,'" Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa murder plot suspects charge sheriff with frame-up," Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 12.
  • "Tampa gambler murdered," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Lumia killed; described as gambling boss," Binghamton NY Press, June 5, 1950, p. 14.
  • "Gambler slain in gang-style," Franklin PA News-Herald, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 2.
  • Murray, J.A., "Two men in blue car...," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Warren silent on slaying of Luma; warning recalled," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • Abbott, Bill, "Lumia's slaying 15th spewed on Tampa by flaming gang guns," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "None of 15 gambling slayings here ever solved," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 6.
  • "Fla. gambler is killed by gun blast," Shreveport LA Times, June 6, 1950, p. 15.
  • "Lumia murder may again baffle Tampa police force," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 6, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Tampa gang style killing puzzles police," Fort Lauderdale FL News, June 6, 1950, p. 13.
  • "Slaying of Lumia baffling to police," Tallahassee FL Democrat, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa gaming czar is slain," Palm Beach FL Post, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa chief of police resigns," New York Times, June 16, 1950, p. 20.
  • "Crime probe of Miami underway," [Salem OR] Daily Capital Journal, Dec. 29, 1950, p. 2.
  • "Text of Rex Farrior's sworn statement to senators is released," Tampa Times, Feb. 22, 1951, p. 1.

11 May 2018

1978 murder of Rochester's Sammy G.

Gingello
Reporter Gary Craig of the Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle recently wrote about the mysterious spring 1978 gangland murder of Sammy Gingello.


See: "40-year mystery: Where were the police when mobster 'Sammy G' Gingello was murdered?" by Gary Craig


A bomb exploded beneath Gingello's car early on April 23, 1978, taking the life of the notorious Rochester gangster. Gary Craig reports that two city police investigators, assigned to shadow Gingello, were given that night off.

Less than three months earlier, a Gingello murder conviction was overturned in court. He was released from custody, along with codefendants Rene J. Piccarreto, Richard Marino, Samuel "Red" Russotti and Thomas Marrotta, after the court found that evidence against them had been fabricated. A sixth codefendant, Eugene DiFrancesco, continued to be held in custody on unrelated charges. The group had been convicted of the murder of Vincent "Jimmy the Hammer" Massaro.

Gingello and codefendant Piccarreto also had been recently acquitted of conspiracy to bomb public buildings and the residence of a local union leader.

From the time of Gingello's release, five murder attempts were made against him in what became known as the "A-B War" or "Alphabet War" within Rochester's divided underworld.

For more on this and related subjects:


DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. II, From 1938, by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

05 May 2018

1891 grand jury indicts bribers, defends killers

Says number involved in Crescent City lynchings
makes indictment, prosecution impossible


On this date in 1891...
A grand jury, tasked with examining the March 14 riotous attack on Orleans Parish Prison that left eleven inmates dead, issued a final report that not only refused to indict any involved in organizing and performing the prison break-in and killings but also rationalized and defended the acts of those who took the law into their own hands.


(Pittsburgh Dispatch coverage from May 6, 1891, shown at right.)



An execution squad cornered its helpless
targets in the prison yard and opened fire.

The prison raid occurred the morning after a trial jury failed to convict nine men accused of conspiring in the Mafia assassination of local Police Chief David C. Hennessey. Six defendants in that case were acquitted. A verdict could not be reached on the remaining three. The defendants all were held in the prison overnight, March 13-14, to await the dismissal of a related charge in another court.

Parkerson
The verdict was widely considered a miscarriage of justice achieved through jury bribery. A group of civic leaders let by William Stirling Parkerson gathered as a "Vigilance Committee" on the evening of March 13. They arranged for a mass meeting of local citizens the next day and published an inflammatory ad in local newspapers: "All good citizens are invited to attend a mass meeting on Saturday, March 14, at 10 o'clock a.m., at Clay Statue, to take steps to remedy the failure of justice in the Hennessy case. Come prepared for action." The ad was signed by the committee members.

According to reports, the organizers also selected an execution team of at least a dozen men, provided them with repeating rifles and instructed them on the list of prisoners who were to be killed.

https://amzn.to/2roAxEh
On the morning of March 14, thousands of citizens turned out for the meeting, assembling around the statue of Henry Clay, then positioned in the center of Canal Street's intersection with St. Charles and Royal Streets. Parkerson and other Vigilance Committee leaders made fiery speeches and then organized a march to the Parish Prison, positioning execution team members at the front. When refused entry into the prison, a door was broken down and the execution team was sent inside. Parkerson's committee positioned guards at the broken door to ensure that the assembled mob was kept out of the prison.

Though deliberately planned and carefully executed, the killings at Orleans Parish Prison were classified as lynchings - casualties of irrational mob violence. The incident has since been regarded as the largest lynching in American history. Of the eleven men killed within the prison walls, just six had been among the defendants in the recent trial. The other five were accused Mafia conspirators who had not yet been brought into court. Most of the victims were immigrants from Italy, though a majority had achieved or taken steps toward U.S. citizenship.




As it probed the complete breakdown of local law and order, the grand jury heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses through a period of more than three weeks. Long before its findings were made public, there were indications that the panel would take no action against anyone involved in the March 14 killings. The only indictments it returned during its investigation were against six individuals accused of plotting in the selection and bribery of assassination trial jurors: private detective Dominick C. O'Malley, Thomas McCrystol, John Cooney, Bernard Claudi, Charles Granger and Fernand Armant.

O'Malley
Developments were closely followed around the globe. In advance of the grand jury report, Italy issued a treaty-based demand that the U.S. federal government take action to bring to justice the perpetrators of the March 14 violence and called for reparation payments. When Secretary of State James G. Blaine responded that the federal government had no authority to interfere in the Louisiana matter, Italy withdrew its ambassador to the United States, and newspapers wondered about the possibility of war.

The panel's final report, delivered to Judge Robert Hardin Marr on May 6, 1891, decided that the March 14 raid on the prison was "directly traceable to the miscarriage of justice as developed in the verdict rendered on March 13." It criticized abuses of the jury system by the Mafia secret organization and its associates in the New Orleans community.

The grand jury harshly criticized the combined interests of private detective O'Malley and defense attorney Lionel Adams, who represented the assassination trial defendants: "Such a combination between a detective and a prominent criminal lawyer is unheard of before in the civilized world, and when we contemplate its possibilities for evil we stand aghast."

It accused several on the assassination trial jury of selling their verdict: "...the moral conviction is forced upon us that some of the jurors impaneled to try the accused on the charge of assassination of the late chief of police were subject to a money influence to control their decision. Further than this, we may say it appears certain that at least three, if not more, of that jury were so unduly and unlawfully controlled."

The grand jury referred only in the most glowing terms to those who participated in the break-in at the prison and the killings of helpless inmates held there. It justified the March 14 violence as a correction of wrongdoing:

It is shown in the evidence that the gathering on Saturday morning, March 14, embraced several thousands of the first, best, and even the most law-abiding of the citizens of this city, assembled, as is the right of American citizens, to discuss in public meeting questions of grave import. We find a general sentiment among these witnesses and also in our intercourse with the people that the verdict as rendered by the jury was contrary to the law and the evidence and secured mainly through the designing and unscrupulous agents employed for the special purpose of defeating the ends of justice. At that meeting the determination was shown that the people would not submit to the surrender of their rights into the hands of midnight assassins and their powerful allies.

The grand jury dismissed as impossible the notion of bringing any charges against the March 14 killers, as it was a popular movement and prosecutors could not hope to bring an entire city to trial. The panel claimed to be unable to determine the identities of the vigilante leaders:

We have referred to the large number of citizens participating in this demonstration, estimated by judges at from 6000 to 8000, regarded as a spontaneous uprising of the people. The magnitude of this affair makes it a difficult task to fix the guilt upon any number of the participants - in fact, the act seemed to involve the entire people of the parish and City of New Orleans, so profuse is their sympathy and extended their connection with the affair. In view of these considerations, the thorough examination of the subject has failed to disclose the necessary facts to justify this grand jury in presenting indictments.

The grand jury included foreman W.H. Chaffe, Geo. H. Vennard, O. Carriere, D.R. Graham, David Stewart, T.W. Castleman, G.A. Hagsett, Jr., W.L. Saxon, E. Gauche, A.S. Ranlett, G.C. Lafaye, H. Haller, John H. Jackson, W.B. Leonard, P.J. Christian and Emile E. Hatry.

Coverage of the grand jury report and U.S.-Italy relations:
  • "The grand jury," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "The grand jury," New Orleans Times-Democrat, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Can't indict a whole city," New York Evening World, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Popular will pleaded," New York Sun, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "That grand jury report," New York Times, May 7, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Lynching all right," Pittsburgh Dispatch, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "No indictments," Pittsburgh Post, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "No consolation for Italy," Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "The diplomatic controversy...," Glasgow Scotland Herald, May 5, 1891, p. 6.
  • "Italy in a hurry," Marion OH Daily Star, April 1, 1891, p. 1.
More on this subject:


Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

20 March 2018

Owner's killing is start of Murder Stable legend

On this date in 1912, Mrs. Pasquarella Mussone Spinelli was shot to death in an East Harlem structure later dubbed "the Murder Stable."

NY Herald, 21 Mar 1912
Just before 6 p.m., Mrs. Spinelli, a resident of 335 East 108th Street in East Harlem, went across the street to the stable she owned and managed in order to do her nightly check of the horses boarded there. Her daughter, Nicolina "Nellie" Lener (also spelled "Lenere") watched from the front window as her mother crossed the street. Nellie noticed some odd movement near a lantern positioned some distance from the entrance. A short time later, Nellie heard gunshots and saw two men rush from the stable and down the street toward Second Avenue. She recognized one of the men as Aniello Prisco.

Prisco, known locally as "Zoppo" (Italian term meaning "lame") or "the Gimp," was the terror of East Harlem. He led a gang that was suspected of murders, robberies, extortion and other offenses. He acquired his nickname and his distinctive gait in the spring of 1909, when he unwisely provoked a gangster known as "Scarface Charlie" Pandolfi. Pandolfi expressed his displeasure by firing a dozen slugs into Prisco's body. Doctors managed to save his life, but had trouble mending a badly shattered bone in his left leg. When the bone healed, the left leg was inches shorter than the right one.

Many suspected that Prisco had been planning an attack against Pasquarella Spinelli due to a bloody incident about five months earlier. On October 29, 1911, Nellie was alone with twenty-four-year-old Prisco underling Frank "Chick" Monaco. Monaco reportedly tried to rob Pasquarella Spinelli's safe, and Nellie responded by picking up a kitchen knife and stabbing Monaco repeatedly until he was dead. An autopsy found that Monaco died of a hemorrhage following stab wounds to the lung and the heart. A coroner's jury found Nellie not guilty of any wrongdoing, but Prisco had a different opinion. The shooting death of Spinelli appeared to be Zoppo's revenge.

Spinelli
Death of Harlem's 'Hetty Green'

A crowd quickly assembled in front of the stable. When authorities arrived, they found Mrs. Spinelli dead of gunshot wounds. Her body was resting on a ramp that led to the building's second floor. One bullet had struck her in the neck. Another had penetrated her right temple and lodged in her brain.

Following a post-mortem examination, a death certificate, issued in the name of "Pasqua Musoni Spinelli Lener," officially established the cause of death as "pistol shot wounds of brain (homicide)." The document stated Mrs. Spinelli's age as 57. It noted that she was born in Italy to Tommaso and Concetta Musoni and spent the last 21 years in the United States.

Press reports of the killing labeled Spinelli the "Hetty Green" of Harlem's Little Italy. The reference, far more easily understood in 1912 than it is today, was to Henrietta Robinson Green. Nicknamed "the Witch of Wall Street," Green was a wealthy and notoriously miserly businesswoman who gathered riches through work, investments and inheritance. Newspapers noted that Pasquarella Spinelli was the richest female in Harlem and owned stores, markets and tenement houses in addition to the stable.

Spinelli was buried on March 23, 1912, at St. Michael's Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were handled by Anthony Paladino of East 115th Street.



Spinelli's story

Mrs. Spinelli's background is a bit hazy. The few available records indicate that she was born in the mid-1850s in the Naples area of Italy and traveled to America in 1892, settling in Manhattan. The 1905 New York State Census located her, then 49, at 345 East 109th Street with husband Pietro Spinelli, a fish dealer, and children Tommaso, 19, and Nicolina, 16.

Nellie Lener
When the federal census was taken five years later, Pasquarella showed up at 2097 First Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets. The census indicated that she was living with her husband Pietro, the fish dealer, and her daughter Nicolina Lener, 19. Curiously, Pietro's name in this document is written as "Solazzo" rather than Spinelli. The federal census revealed that Pietro was Pasquarella's second husband, and Nicolina Lener was Pietro's step-daughter. Apparently, Pasquarella had been married previously to a man with the surname Lener, with whom she had children Nicolina and the older Tommaso (no longer living with her by 1910) and possibly others. (The census record states that Pasquarella gave birth to seven children and had six children living.)

One candidate for the role of Pasquarella's first husband was a blacksmith named Tommaso Lener, who was born in Caserta, Italy, a short distance north of Naples, in 1865, traveled to the U.S. in 1895, and at the time of his 1906 naturalization petition was living at 301 East 109th Street. (For some reason, during the naturalization process, New York County Justice Samuel Greenbaum suspected Lener of underworld connections. Greenbaum asked if Lener's naturalization petition witness, insurance broker Salvatore Tartaglione was a member of the Mafia. Tartaglione said he was not.) What became of blacksmith Tommaso Lener is not known.

Monaco
In the brief period between the 1910 Census and Spinelli's murder, it appears that she separated from her fish-dealer husband Pietro, moved in with daughter Nellie at 239 East 109th Street, where Chick Monaco was stabbed to death in 1911, and then moved again with Nellie to 335 East 108th Street.

Arrests

Within a few days of Spinelli's death, police arrested Luigi Lazzazaro, 58, of 337 East 108th Street. Lazzazaro was a business partner of the victim, and Nellie Lener said she saw him standing outside the stable's entrance while two other men murdered Spinelli inside. Lazzazaro was charged with acting in concert with the killers, though he denied knowing anything about the murder.

Prisco was not arrested for Spinelli's murder until June. By then, witnesses were so intimidated by the gangster that no convincing case could be made against him. All suspects in the Spinelli murder were released.

Many killings

Newspapers reported that Nellie, fearing for her life after openly accusing Lazzazaro and Prisco, went to join relatives in Italy. Reports indicated that, even across the Atlantic, Nellie was not safe. It was rumored that she soon died under suspicious circumstances.

Prisco
Aniello Prisco did not live for very long after Spinelli's murder. During a December 15, 1912, attempt to extort money from Giosue Gallucci, an East Harlem entrepreneur with strong underworld and political connections, Prisco was fatally shot through the head by a Gallucci aide.

Additional killings over the years helped give the Murder Stable its violent reputation. Lazzazara, who became the facility's sole owner after Spinelli's death, was fatally stabbed near the stable early in 1914. Mafia boss Fortunato "Charles" LoMonte took charge of the building and operated his feed business from the location. He was shot to death near the stable in spring of 1914. Mafia-linked East Harlem businessman Ippolito Greco became the stable's owner. Greco was shot to death as he left the building for home in November of 1915.

The legend of the Murder Stable continued to grow. It became linked in tales to the Morello-Terranova Mafia clan, as well as to Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo. While embellishing its history, writers also frequently assigned new addresses for the building, moving it up and down in East Harlem to suit their stories.

(Visit the full article on Pasquarella Spinelli's Murder Stable on The American Mafia history website.)


Sources:

  • Death certificate of Frank Monaco, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 32570, Oct. 29, 1911.
  • Death certificate of Pasqua Musoni Lener, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 9128, March 20, 1912.
  • Death certificate of Aniello Prisco, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 35154, Dec. 15, 1912.
  • Naturalization Petition of Tommaso Lener, Supreme Court of New York County, Bundle 299, Record 74, index L 560, March 26, 1906.
  • New York State Census of 1905, Manhattan borough, Election District 5, Assembly District 33.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Hindoustan, departed Naples, arrived New York City on July 6, 1892.
  • Trow's General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, City of New York, Vol. CXXIV, for the Year Ending August 1, 1911, New York: Trow Directory, Printing and Bookbinding Company, 1910.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 339.


  • "Murdered in vendetta," New York Tribune, March 21, 1912, p. 2.
  • "Woman murdered to avenge death of band leader," New York Herald, March 21, 1912, p. 1.
  • "'Will kill me,' cries girl, mother slain," New York Evening Telegram, March 21, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Arrest victim's partner," New York Sun, March 23, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Man held in stable murder case," New York Herald, March 24, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Held as woman's slayer," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 24, 1912, p. 58.
  • "Miss Nellie Lenere," New Castle PA Herald, March 29, 1912, p. 8.
  • "Notorious gunman arrested," New York Call, Oct. 4, 1912, p. 3.
  • "'Zopo the Terror' dies as he draws weapon to kill," New York Evening World, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 6.
  • "Blackhand king shot dead when he demanded $100," Bridgeport CT Evening Farmer, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Blackmailer killed as he made threat," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 4.
  • "Man is found dead with bullet holes in his head," New York Press, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Prisco, lame gunman, meets death at last," New York Sun, Dec. 17, 1912, p. 16.
  • "'Zopo the Gimp,' king of the Black Hand, slain," New York Tribune, Dec. 17, 1912, p. 16.
  • "Kills gangster to save uncle," Wausau WI Daily Herald, Dec. 23, 1912, p. 8.
  • "35 are caught in Black Hand bomb round-up," New York Evening Telegram, July 26, 1913, p. 3.
  • "Cycle of murders," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 20, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Shoots man and woman and makes his escape," New York Evening World, May 23, 1914, p. 2.
  • "Passersby shot in duel," New York Sun, May 24, 1914, p. 7.
  • "Lamonte dies of shot wound," New York Sun, May 25, 1914, p. 5.
  • Thomas, Rowland, "The rise and fall of Little Italy's king," Fort Wayne IN Journal-Gazette, Dec. 12, 1915, p. 33, Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 12, 1915, Sunday Magazine p. 4.
  • "'Murder Stable' around which Baff case centres is scene or cause of 14 deaths," New York Herald, Feb. 13, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Record of deaths in murder stable," Niagara Falls Gazette, April 12, 1916.
  • "Patriotism, pacifism, anarchism, meet here," New York Times, Jan. 6, 1918, p. 12.

10 January 2018

Criminal Curiosities: Twelve Remarkable reprobates you've probably never heard of.



Out now for the Amazon Kindle.


As a crime writer with a long-time interest in crime's more unusual aspects, I often try to find some of its more overlooked stories. Who needs yet another rehash of Jack the Ripper or JFK reshuffling old evidence while seldom offering anything new? Apart from accountants at publishing companies wanting bestsellers to boost their quarterly balance sheets, at any rate?

All walks of life have their pioneers, those who stand out as the first, last or only example in thier field. Crime is no exception., but crime's stand-outs are seldom as widely acknowledged as, say, the first Moon landing or the discovery of the New World. It's time that changed. Criminal Curiosities is a small step toward that.

Some readers will have heard of William Kemmler or Herbert Rowse Armstrong. Kemmler was, after all, the first convict ever to be legally electrocuted. Armstrong was (and remains, the UK having abolished capital punishment) the first and only British lawyer to be hanged for murder.

But who was the first convict to face the guillotine? Why were legendary figures Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse so closely entwined with William Kemmler and he with them? Whose murder trial saw the victim's body transported to the scene of the crime, then used in a live reconstruction in front of the jury? And how on earth did Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren get away with trading a fake Vermeer for 137 genuine paintings (today worth around $60 million with, of all people, Gestapo founder and Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering? 

You probably don't know. Criminal Curiosities is where you find out.

They're all singular in their own particular way. All have a fascinating tale to tell of their own misdeeds and how they sometimes forever changed the world around them. All of them are often overlooked and some are barely historical footnotes, if that.

Criminal Curiosities is currently available for the Amazon Kindle.






09 January 2018

James Wells, America's worst botched execution.



(Wikipedia).


Call it whatever you want. Old Sparky, Old Smokey, Sizzlin’ Sally or Gruesome Gertie, the electric chair has always had a troubled history. From its very first use (executing murderer William Kemmler on August 6, 1890) it’s been dogged by failures, mechanical and human

Initial problems involved untried equipment, new ideas and inexperienced executioners. Limited knowledge of inflicting humane electrocution spawned a series of experimental executions. Successive inmates endured different numbers of electrodes, different voltages applied for different durations, electrodes placed on different body parts and so on.

In 1892 Charles McElvaine’s hands were placed in tubs of brine to conduct the voltage. He suffered horribly before the now-standard head and leg electrodes were used instead. Malfunctioning or ill-prepared equipment (in the case of Willie Francis and so many others) has also caused horrific scenes in America’s death chambers.

What happened at the former Arkansas State Penitentiary in Little Rock (since demolished and replaced by public buildings) on March 10, 1922 made Kemmler’s suffering look comparatively minor. Murderer and escapee James Wells endured perhaps the worst-botched execution in American history.

Wells, born in 1904 and hailing from Drew County, was an African-American farmhand. Convicted of murdering white Arkansas farmer Peter Trenz (his former employer) on May 18, 1921 Wells was never likely to avoid Old Sparky. He was a poor, black defendant convicted of murdering a respectable white victim. In those less-enlightened times, many whites considered that reason enough.


(Arkansas Department of Corrections).

Arkansas introduced electrocution in 1913, the State also taking over executions from individual counties. During the chair’s lengthy tenure Arkansas executed 195 prisoners. Of these two were Native American men, one white woman, one Hispanic male and 57 white males. The rest, 143 men, were all African-American. Warden Luther Castling had resigned rather than electrocute the ten men then waiting to die. His successor Warden Dempsey didn't have similar qualms.


(From the Daily Ardmorite). 

Aside from being poor, black and convicted of murdering a white when lynching and legal execution was equally likely for that crime, Wells hadn’t exactly done himself any favors after his conviction. On December 9, 1921 condemned killer, bank robber and serial escaper Tom Slaughter managed a spectacular escape from ‘The Walls’ and Death Row itself.

Overpowering guards, Slaughter took the Warden’s family hostage, escaping in Warden Dempsey’s car. Dempsey, whose job it had been to carry out executions, soon found himself unemployed. That in turn caused an excruciating death for Wells.

Slaughter had invited the other condemned inmates to join him. Wells, believing his appeal would almost certainly fail, escaped with him. Slaughter survived only a day before being shot by fellow-escaper Jack Howard. Howard claimed to have escaped only to help bring Slaughter to justice, a claim accepted by Arkansas authorities. Howard was never charged over Slaughter’s death, being pardoned and released several years later.

Wells, soon recaptured, returned to Death Row. He’d escaped on December 9, been recaptured within days and his appeal was denied on Christmas Eve, 1921. A foolish time to attempt escape and humiliate the Arkansas justice system. Not much of a Christmas present, either. That said, nothing can justify what happened at his execution.

On March 10, 1922 all the usual preparations had been made. All that remained was for the executioner to do his job competently and professionally. With Warden Dempsey gone, the new executioner was an Englishman, a former car salesman whose sole qualification and experience consisted of having (as he himself put it) taken ‘a correspondence course in electricity.’ The State of Arkansas had entrusted a delicate, potentially dangerous task to a man utterly lacking expertise, training or experience. It was suggested at the time that the nameless volunteer arrived drunk.


(Arkansas Department of Corrections).


Wells entered the penitentiary’s death chamber singing a hymn. He was still singing as he sat in Old Sparky and the straps and electrodes were applied. He remained singing right up until the executioner threw the switch. As the Dallas Express described it:

“Going to the chair singing, Wells continued to sing until the first charge of electricity was sent through his body.”

Wells was certainly silenced by the first jolt, but he wasn’t dead. Either the first jolt was far too brief or the voltage far too low. Still alive, Wells needed another. Shocked again, he remained alive. A third jolt was called for.

The witnesses began looking uncomfortable. Inmates were supposed to sit down quietly, say their last words and die. A second jolt might be delivered to make sure, but seldom more than that. The executioner shocked Wells repeatedly. Repeatedly the current crackled, doctors checking between jolts. Wells simply wouldn’t die.

After the first jolts had failed horrified witnesses began leaving the execution chamber. With every unsuccessful jolt the remaining witnesses’ disgust grew. By the eleventh jolt everyone involved just wanted it to end. For the twelfth time the switch was thrown, the current crackled and Wells leapt against the restraints. The power was shut off while doctors checked yet again.
James Wells was finally dead.

As the Dallas Express described it, the execution succeeded at:

“The twelfth attempt, according to witnesses, after terrible suffering on the part of the boy.”

The disaster was publicised in Arkansas, Utah, California, Texas, Tennessee and numerous other States where executions, especially of African-Americans, seldom garnered more than a line or two.
Even the New York Tribune covered it, stating:

‘Wells was examined by the State physicians who pronounced him still alive. Another charge of electricity was sent through his body, with the same result. Witnesses began to leave the death room and only a few were still present when the last charges were sent through his body and Wells finally was pronounced dead. Fully twenty minutes were consumed in putting him to death.’


(www.executedtoday.com).

Had Arkansas employed an expert like New York’s Robert Greene Elliott, the nightmarish exhibition would almost certainly have never happened. Elliott performed 387 executions in six States, perfecting the ‘Elliott Technique’; 2000 volts for three seconds, 500 volts for 57 seconds,, 2000 volts for another three seconds, 500 for 57 seconds and a final burst of 2000 volts. Very rarely did he need to deliver more than one cycle.


A bitter irony that, as his executioner, Wells couldn’t have been in safer hands.







Sources:

www.executedtoday.com

The Daily Ardmorite, Oklahoma.

Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The New York Tribune.

The Dallas Express

www.deathpenaltyusa.org

Gruesome Spectacles; Botched executions and America's Death Penalty, Austin Sarat, 2014, Stanford Law Books.