Showing posts with label New Orleans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Orleans. Show all posts

15 October 2017

New Orleans police chief ambushed, murdered

On this date (Oct. 15) in 1890, New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy was fatally shot by several Mafia assassins a short distance from his home. He succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

Scene of Hennessy assassination

Hennessy attended a meeting of the city's police commission during the early evening of October 15. The meeting broke up at about nine o'clock. Hennessy was driven back to police headquarters at the southwest corner of Common (Tulane Avenue) and Basin Streets. Captain William O'Connor of the private Boylan Protection Agency met him there to escort the police chief home. Hennessy, perceived as a partisan in a local underworld feud, received a number of death threats from the local Mafia. City fathers hired the Boylan agency to keep him safe.

New Orleans Police Chief David C. Hennessy
Hennessy
Though Hennessy had a reputation for punctuality (he lived with his widowed mother and tried to avoid worrying her), the chief did not immediately head home. Instead, he and O'Connor, long acquainted, chatted at police headquarters for more than an hour. They left the building a few minutes after eleven.

While Basin Street was the most direct route between Hennessy's office and his home on Girod Street, heavy rains of earlier in the day had caused some flooding in the area. Hennessy and O'Connor took a significantly lengthier route, riverward on Common Street and then up Rampart Street to the intersection with Poydras Street. At that corner, the two men stopped into Dominick Virget's Oyster Saloon for a late snack. A teetotaler, Hennessy had a glass of milk with his plate of oysters.

At eleven-thirty, the men stepped out of Virget's and continued up Rampart Street. They paused in front of the McDonough schoolhouse at the corner of Rampart and Girod, about one and a half city squares from Hennessy's home. O'Connor said goodbye to Hennessy at that point, though he had been assigned with seeing the chief all the way home. O'Connor crossed the intersection diagonally to his left - his intended destination is unknown - while Hennessy turned right on Girod.

The chief took only a few strides and then halted as a young man darted out of a Girod Street doorway and ran toward Basin Street whistling loudly. The youth turned right onto Basin and disappeared around the side of Mrs. Ehrwald's second-hand store.

Hennessy assassins fired from beneath shed roof
The assassins' first
shots were fired from
beneath this shed roof
Hennessy managed just a few steps more. As he reached the front of the residence at No. 269 Girod Street, shotgun pellets tore into him from his left. The initial blast, originating from the darkness under a shed roof on the opposite site of Girod, shredded his umbrella, disabled his left hand and knocked him backward. Hennessy instinctively drew his ivory-handled Colt revolver. Another blast of shotgun pellets ripped through his slacks and shattered his right knee. On his way to the ground, the chief was struck by pellets in the chest and abdomen and then in the face and neck. Hennessy fired his revolver into the darkness across the street as he struggled to stand up.

Two shadowy figures stepped into Girod Street. Illuminated by a streetlamp and within sight of some residents whose attention was caught by the gunshots, they advanced toward the fallen police chief. They fired large-caliber slugs into Hennessy's midsection and then ran off.

Mortally wounded, Hennessy managed to rise to his feet. He stumbled a few yards in the direction of home. At the corner, he turned onto Basin. He dragged his disabled leg just a few more paces and collapsed onto the front steps of No. 189 Basin Street. Captain O'Connor, at most only a single square away when the gunfire erupted, somehow reached the chief's side far too late to fulfill his function as bodyguard.

"They gave it to me," Hennessy gasped, "and I gave it back the best I could."

O'Connor asked if the chief could identify his attackers. Hennessy reportedly replied, "Dagoes."

 - - - 

Hennessy died before he could provide any additional identification of his killers. Suspected Mafia members and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring in the assassination of the police chief. Nine men, including New Orleans-born businessman Joseph P. Macheca, were the first to be brought to trial early in 1891.

Captain William O'Connor, who should have been the prosecution's key witness in the case, was never called to testify. O'Connor might have explained the timing and the route of Hennessy's walk home, factors that brought him late at night into a well-planned ambush. The captain also might have explained his own fortuitously timed departure from the chief's side - just seconds before the shooting began - and his slow return to the chief after the shooting had finished and the assassins had run off.

None of the accused men were convicted. Six of those tried, including Macheca, reputed Mafia boss Charlie Matranga, and Asperi Marchesi, the boy-lookout who whistled upon the arrival of Hennessy, were acquitted. The jury could not reach a verdict for three other defendants identified by witnesses as shooters of the police chief.  After the trial, some jurors revealed that they had been concerned that Captain O'Connor did not testify.

Angered by the jury verdict, a mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, and murdered Macheca and ten other prisoners.

 - - - 

Read more about Police Chief Hennessy
and the early Mafia of New Orleans:


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

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon
(Available in softcover and Kindle e-book formats)

14 September 2017

1874 White League revolt in New Orleans

J.P. Macheca, later linked with local Mafia,
played key role in Reconstruction Era battle

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
On this date in 1874, New Orleans merchant Joseph P. Macheca played a critical role in the White League's defeat of a militia/police force controlled by Louisiana's Reconstruction-Era Republican state government. The conflict stemmed from contested elections that resulted in the creation of competing state administrations and legislatures. The conservative Democratic administration formed its own militia, calling it "Louisiana's Own," and prepared for conflict.

Macheca
Following failed negotiations on September 14, 1874, Republican forces led by former Confederate General James Longstreet and Metropolitan Police "General" Algernon Badger moved several thousand men into position on the downtown side of Canal Street, at the edge of the French Quarter. Badger personally commanded hundreds of Metropolitan Police, along with 12-pound cannons and Gatling guns, in a location between the U.S. Customs House and the levee. The police force was made up largely of recent African-American recruits. Longstreet oversaw militia units further from the levee.

White League paramilitary forces, including many Civil War veterans, were already assembled behind barricades along Poydras Street, a few blocks uptown from Canal. They hoped to lure Republican forces into an uptown trap. Shouted taunts, snipers and a quick attack and retreat failed to entice Longstreet into an advance.

Captain Joseph P. Macheca's Company B of Second Regiment "Louisiana's Own" made the decisive move. Initially hiding behind piles of unloaded freight on the levee, the unit used an approaching train to cover its movement toward Badger's left flank. Macheca's three hundred men (the roster of his Company B at Jackson Barracks Military Museum lists only 120) consisted largely of Italian and other European immigrants drawn from the French Quarter.

New Orleans Bulletin
Sept. 18, 1874
As the train passed, Company B swarmed in from the levee. Badger's inexperienced police were taken completely off-guard. Most fled into the French Quarter. Badger was injured when his horse was shot from under him. He was protected from further injury by Macheca and his men. (Some wished to hang the police commander.)

Following the collapse of Badger's position, other Republican units melted away downtown into the French Quarter. The White League militia did not immediately pursue, and its victory was not complete until the following morning, September 15. It was then that White League Colonel John G. Angell began to probe across Canal Street and found no Republican resistance. Several blocks into the French Quarter, Angell discovered Macheca's men in control of key Republican positions, including the Republican arsenal. Macheca turned over to Angell thousands of seized weapons,  two artillery pieces and hundreds of prisoners.

Democratic forces retained control in the city only for a short time, as U.S. President Grant moved the federal military into the area to support the return of the Republican government. White League supporters, viewing the conflict in New Orleans as a battle against oppression, later named the fight, "the Battle of Liberty Place" and referred to it as the final battle of the Civil War. (A monument to the battle was installed on Canal Street in 1891. The monument, which became a symbol for the white supremacist movement, was removed during 1989 construction on Canal Street and later erected on Iberville Street. It was dismantled on April 24, 2017.)

Apparently uncomfortable with its debt to the Italian-American force commanded by the Louisiana-born, ethnically Italian Macheca, the White League sought to minimize Macheca's role in histories of the event. (The White League record, published in the New Orleans Daily Picayune and New Orleans Bulletin on Oct. 2, noted that Colonel Angell was ordered to advance from Canal Street on the fifteenth. The report stated vaguely, "By 10 o'clock A.M., Col. Angell was in the possession of all the enemy's important points below Canal street, having received material assistance in this movement from Capt. Macheca.") However, accounts have survived showing that Macheca was first to arrive at the side of fallen General Badger and that he turned over captured Republican strongholds in the French Quarter to Colonel Angell. In addition, when Macheca felt slighted by local press coverage, he sent his own account to the New Orleans Bulletin (see image).

Map of the battle.
A number of Macheca's men later became key figures in the New Orleans Sicilian business community and the Sicilian underworld. Sixteen years after the Battle of Liberty Place, Macheca and members of the New Orleans Mafia were arrested in connection with the assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy. Macheca was one of eleven men killed after an angry mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison early in 1891.

Read more about "Liberty Place," Joseph Macheca and the early New Orleans Mafia in:





28 August 2017

Macheca and the Civil War black market

On this date (Aug. 28) in 1863, Joseph Macheca of New Orleans was tried and convicted in a Union military occupation court in connection with a scheme to steal and sell barrels of U.S. Army pork and beef.

Daily Picayune
The barrels officially belonged to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. They had been loaded aboard the steamship North America, a government transport, at Port Hudson, Louisiana (recently fallen to the Union forces after a 48-day siege). The North America steamed its cargo up the Mississippi River in support of the 4th Massachusetts' advance to Cairo, Louisiana. Remaining barrels were brought to New Orleans, and the ship captain and a steward sold some to Macheca for resale through the Macheca family produce store in the city.

While other conspirators were sent to prison, young Macheca was merely ordered to pay a $50 fine.

Joseph Macheca previously had enlisted for service in the Confederate Army and returned home to New Orleans in advance of the Union invasion of the city. Union occupiers generally controlled businesses and provisions in the region. The produce business of Macheca's step-father - a native of Malta and a British citizen - was one exception.

Following his conviction, Macheca left New Orleans for Texas, where he reportedly gathered a small fortune through smuggling. Macheca returned after the Civil War and became a close ally of New Orleans Mafiosi while building a produce business and a shipping line.

Macheca was among those charged, tried and acquitted of the 1890 assassination of Police Chief Hennessy. The New Orleans merchant was one of eleven prisoners murdered after Orleans Parish Prison was stormed by an anti-Mafia mob in 1891.

Read more about Macheca and the New Orleans Mafia:
Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon.

05 July 2017

Hennessys capture Sicilian brigand in New Orleans

On this date in 1881: Cousins David and Michael Hennessy, members of the New Orleans detective (or "aides") force, capture fugitive Sicilian brigand Giuseppe Esposito near the St. Louis Cathedral in the Crescent City.

Esposito
Esposito, also known as Giuseppe Randazzo and as Vincenzo Rebello, had escaped Italian authorities while headed to trial for homicide and other crimes. In the 1870s, he crossed the Atlantic and settled briefly in New York City before moving on to New Orleans. Police and press believed the Mafia of Palermo assisted in his escape and flight from Sicily. Esposito became the recognized leader of the Sicilian underworld in New Orleans, settled down and started a family.

He was betrayed to Italian authorities by some of his New Orleans associates. A U.S. private detective firm was hired to locate him and bring him to justice. Private detectives of the Mooney and Boland Agency worked through the New Orleans Chief of Aides Thomas Boylan to arrange the capture.

Esposito's arrest was conducted very much like a kidnapping. The Hennessys caught him alone, grabbed him and threw him into a carriage, taking him off to a secret location. He was prevented from seeing any of his New Orleans family or friends. The following day, he was smuggled aboard a steamship that was already underway for New York City.

The circumstances of his arrest and his New York City efforts to avoid deportation to Italy became international news and the subjects of Congressional inquiries.

NY Evening Telegram
In a series of hearings before U.S. Commissioner Osborn in New York, the prisoner contested his identification as the brigand Esposito and claimed to have been a good citizen in New Orleans at the time that Esposito was committing crimes in Sicily. Witnesses - some of whom were later linked with the Mafia - came from New Orleans to support his story. The prisoner had difficulty in explaining his documented use of aliases. His alibi failed when Italy sent police officials to New York to identify the fugitive brigand.

Esposito's deportation was handled as suddenly as his arrest. Once the U.S. Commissioner was satisfied of his identity and before any legal appeals could be considered, Esposito was turned over to Italian authorities and placed on a ship for Europe. His wife and child were left behind in the U.S. (Esposito trusted New Orleans allies to care for his family. They failed to do so and took Esposito resources for their own benefit. Esposito later tried without luck to sue them from his Italian prison cell. His wife gave birth to a second child after his deportation. Both children were later placed in New Orleans orphanages.)

In his absence, the Crescent City's Sicilian underworld broke apart into warring factions - the competing Provenzano and Matranga organizations.

The Hennessys became instantly famous following the Esposito arrest (though the local police superintendent accused them of insubordination for acting without his approval). Their fame came at a terrible price. Within ten years of Esposito's capture, both of them were murdered. In each case, the killings remained officially unsolved but were widely believed performed by Sicilian gangsters.

David Hennessy
Mike Hennessy, who relocated to the Houston-Galveston area and started a private detective business there, was shot to death a short distance from his Houston home on Sept. 29, 1886. He was shot repeatedly from behind. One suspect, D.H. Melton, was arrested but later released for lack of evidence.

David Hennessy became police superintendent in New Orleans and actively fought the local Mafia. As he returned home from work on the evening of Oct. 15, 1890, he was attacked by a group of gunmen. He was knocked down from a distance by a shotgun blast of bird shot and then mortally wounded by higher-caliber slugs fired into his body at closer range. He died the next day. The assassination of the police superintendent resulted in the imprisonment of members and associates of the local Matranga Mafia and later to the Crescent City lynchings.

Read more about this subject in:
Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

13 May 2017

95 years ago: End of DiGiorgio

Feared California Mafia leader killed in Chicago barber chair

Chicago Tribune
May 14, 1922

May 13, 1922: Vito DiGiorgio, the leader of southern California's Mafia, was shot to death in a barbershop at Oak and Larrabee Streets in Chicago.

DiGiorgio, forty-three, was returning from a Mafia meeting in Buffalo, New York, and stopped off in Chicago for a couple of days. He, thirty-five-year-old James Cascio and an unidentified third man visited the barbershop of Salvatore DiBella and John Loiacono, 956 Larrabee Street. The location was in the center of a Sicilian neighborhood in Chicago's Near North End. DiGiorgio sat down in a barber's chair, while Cascio and the third man busied themselves at a pool table in a rear room.

Just a few minutes later, two gunmen burst into the shop and, without saying a word, shot DiGiorgio in the side of his head and put three bullets into Cascio. Both victims died of their wounds. The gunmen, accompanied by the man who entered the shop with DiGiorgio and Cascio, fled through a rear door.

Police found papers in DiGiorgio's pockets that linked him to an address on Dauphine Street in New Orleans. DiGiorgio had lived in New Orleans for years, managed a grocery business and earned his underworld reputation there before relocating to southern California. He may have returned to his home in the Crescent City after being wounded in an attempt on his life at Los Angeles in the summer of 1921.

New Orleans Daily
Picayune, June 12, 1908

Cascio was said to have Buffalo and New Orleans addresses.

DiGiorgio (image at left) appears to have been closely aligned with New York-based Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila and may have secured his position as southern California boss through D'Aquila's insistence. (D'Aquila inserted his personal representatives into crime family leadership positions in a number of U.S. cities, including Boston and Philadelphia.)

At the time, D'Aquila was attempting to consolidate power by moving against supporters of the former Giuseppe Morello regime in New York and elsewhere. A Los Angeles-area Mafia faction led by Jack Dragna and Salvatore Streva had connections with Morello.

Sources:
  • "The Serio explosion a Black Hand deed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 12, 1908, p. 1.
  • "Shot down by mystery assailants," Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1921, p. 13.
  • "Two men killed in Black Hand feud," Logansport IN Pharos-Tribune, May 13, 1922, p. 8.
  • "Double murder in 'Little Italy' baffles police," Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1922, p. 18.
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Death Records Index, Ancestry.com.
  • United States Census of 1920, Louisiana, Orleans County, Precinct 2, Ward 8, Enumeration District 130.
  • Vito DiGiorgio World War I draft registration card, serial no. 1117, order no. A1450, Div. no. 7, New Orleans, Louisiana, Sept. 12, 1918.
See also:
http://amzn.to/2q08aOg

06 May 2017

127 years ago: Ambush in New Orleans

Six stevedores of New Orleans' Matranga and Locascio firm were heading home in a horse-drawn "spring wagon" after a late night unloading fruit from the steamship Foxhall. Tony Matranga, Bastiano Incardona, Anthony Locascio, Rocco Geraci, Salvatore Sunseri and Vincent Caruso all lived close together, and generally took the same route home from their work at the docks.
Daily Picayune, May 6, 1890 Daily Picayune, May 7, 1890
Their wagon reached the intersection of Claiborne Street and the Esplanade close to one o'clock in the morning, May 6, 1890.

There were flashes of light accompanied by the thunder of rapid gunshots from a cluster of trees nearby. Dozens of bullets crashed into the wagon. Matranga's left knee was completely shattered by a large caliber slug. (His leg was later amputated at the lower thigh.) Caruso suffered a smaller caliber gunshot wound to his right thigh and another to his right calf, which severed the nerve to his foot. A large slug tore a gaping wound just above Sunseri's hip.

Times-Democrat, May 7, 1890
Some of the Matranga men drew firearms and shot in the direction of the trees. The gunfight ended as suddenly as it began. The attacking gunmen ran off on Claiborne to Kerlerec Street and then toward the river.

When police arrived, it was immediately clear that the Provenzano and Matranga families - rival powers in Crescent City underworld rackets - were once again at war. Leading members of the Provenzano family and their known associates were gathered up and placed under arrest.

New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy, who had only recently brokered a truce between the feuding Provenzano and Matranga families, took personal charge of the investigation. In a few months, his decision to become involved and the outcomes of Provenzano trials would cause him to be targeted for assassination by the Matranga Mafia.

Read more about the Provenzano-Matranga feud and the early history of the New Orleans Mafia in:

Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon


25 April 2017

Old 'Black Hand' lie finds a new teller

I figured I would give Stephan Talty's new book, The Black Hand, a try. Any book that gets a movie deal involving Leonardo DiCaprio before it even has been released must be good, right?

After many years of research into the Black Hand, Joseph Petrosino, the NYPD Italian Squad and the early Mafia, I have some familiarity with the subject matter. I acquired the Kindle version as it was released this morning. (Fourteen-ninety-nine?! For a stream of electrons? Are you KIDDING me?) I quickly looked it over. I noted that it has an index, a bibliography and some endnotes - items important to those of us who do research.

I set to reading it, but I didn't get very far before I found something troubling. Chapter 1 begins with a description of what Talty claims was the first U.S. murder performed by a Sicilian "Black Hand Society." This was the killing of Francisco (Talty spelled the name Fransisco) Domingo on January 3, 1855.

According to Talty, the victim was found dead of multiple stab wounds - more than a dozen in all, plus another one across his throat from ear to ear - near the Mississippi River a short distance from New Orleans. Domingo apparently had been dead awhile, as Talty notes the blood on the neck wound was "caking thickly in the heat." (Must have been a particularly warm January in New Orleans.) The waters of the river, Talty says, were just a few feet from the corpse's "out-flung hand."

This is intended to show us that an organized "Black Hand Society" (Talty often refers to it as "The Society") was already extorting payments and murdering uncompliant targets in America at that time.

In the book's endnotes, Talty shares the blame for this tale with historian Michael L. Kurtz. Talty correctly points to Kurtz. That historian started off a 1983 article in the Louisiana History journal with precisely the same January 3, 1855, murder story and almost precisely the same wording (even the same misspelling of Francisco). Kurtz wrote that Domingo had been stabbed "over a dozen times, and his throat was slit from ear to ear."

In that article, Kurtz indicated that the details of the Black Hand murder of Domingo came from a couple of sources. One was the January 4, 1855, issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper and the other was (insert ominous music here) the book Brothers in Blood by David Leon Chandler.

I should mention that Chandler is someone to whom I owe an odd sort of debt. If his 1975 book had not contained so many obvious fabrications, I probably never would have chosen to spend so much of my time and resources digging up and writing about TRUE crime history (thereby avoiding the poverty and obscurity I now cherish).

Kurtz's citation of Chandler was correct. Brothers in Blood did report an elaborate story relating to the Domingo killing. Chandler claimed that Domingo, a truck farmer, was stabbed eighteen times (Eighteen! proving that when Chandler concocted a story, he went all in) and was also slashed across the throat (the "ear to ear" thing was added by Kurtz) before being dumped at the New Orleans levee. The murder of Domingo, according to Chandler, was never solved.

Chandler insisted that Domingo was identified as a Sicilian despite his Spanish-sounding surname. That's strange but very convenient, considering the whole Sicilian Black Hand theme he was about to explore.

The author went on to state that Domingo's widow provided authorities with samples of extortion letters her husband had received. These were signed, Chandler said, by hand prints in black ink. So, there we have the appearance of the dreaded Black Hand that so excited Stephan Talty that he led off his first chapter with this incident.

However, even Chandler, who elsewhere delivered his misinformation with great conviction, was somewhat hesitant to connect the Domingo killing with a Sicilian criminal organization. He noted that Black Handers were not always organized and not always Sicilian or even Italian. He also explained in a footnote that the ethnic backgrounds of the victim and the killer in this case were uncertain.

Chandler reported that the details of his story came from the January 4, 1855, issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper.

The fact that Chandler said these things caused me to doubt them. It didn't take long to find out the truth of the Domingo killing. We will simply have to wonder why Kurtz and Talty repeated the Chandler tale (and imagined they would get away with it).

Daily Picayune of June 24, 1855, thought the case was solved.

I quickly found articles on the killing in the New Orleans Picayune, New Orleans Bee and New Orleans Daily Delta. These articles were entirely in agreement that Francisco Domingo was fatally stabbed at about five-thirty in the afternoon of Thursday, January 4, 1855 - not Jan. 3. Domingo and a man named Guillermo Ballerio (or something spelled reasonably close to "Ballerio"), both fishermen (neither farmed trucks or anything else), had an argument during supper inside a home they shared on Marigny Street with a number of other fishermen. They decided to settle it like gentlemen. When Ballerio quickly found himself at a disadvantage in the fisticuffs, he opted to settle it like something other than a gentleman. He pulled a knife and plunged it into Domingo's side.

Just once. Not more than a dozen times or eighteen times. And just in the side. Not across the throat.

Domingo was never found dead by the side of the Mississippi with his blood baking in the (January) heat. He was, in fact, taken to Charity Hospital. Doctors could do little more than keep him comfortable and await the inevitable. Domingo died at the hospital the following day.

The newspaper accounts mention nothing about extortion, nothing about Domingo's wife, nothing about an inky Black Hand and nothing about Sicily. And it turns out they had good reasons for these omissions.

The case Chandler said was never solved, well, it actually was solved and almost immediately. Ballerio was arrested. An inquest at the end of the month found that he had caused the death of Domingo by penetrating Domingo's lung with a knife. Ballerio was charged before Recorder Seuzeneau in February and brought to trial before First District Judge Robertson in June. A jury returned a guilty verdict for manslaughter late on the evening of June 19 (or perhaps early in the morning of June 20). On June 24, Judge Robertson sentenced Ballerio to serve seven years at hard labor in the penitentiary.

OK, so that's the story from the Daily Picayune and the Bee and the Daily Delta. But the stories of Chandler and Kurtz (and, by extension, Talty) still could have been drawn on some nonsense published in the January 4 issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper. That's the one Chandler and Kurtz claimed to use as their source. Maybe that newspaper - and no others - published the stuff about the wife and the Black Hand and Sicily and multiple stab wounds and the Mississippi River and... all that.

There aren't many copies of the January 4, 1855, True Delta floating around. But with help from Becky Smith, head of Reader Services of the Historic New Orleans Collection at the Williams Research Center, I obtained a copy of that issue.

New Orleans Daily True Delta, Jan. 4, 1855.

It didn't even mention the Domingo killing. And, if you think about it, that actually makes a good deal of sense because those historians placed the killing one day earlier than it actually occurred. True Delta went to press on January 4 before the stabbing happened and a day before Domingo died. The newspaper did not mention the incident even in the January 5 issue. Whether it did so sometime after that seems of little consequence. The Chandler and Kurtz citations of True Delta were False.

Funny thing about Domingo's surname. He had that Spanish-sounding name because - you may want to sit down for this - he was Spanish! He and Ballerio were both from Manilla in the Philippines. As you probably recall, the Philippines were a Spanish colony from the time of Magellan's visit there in 1521 until the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. A listing of passenger arrivals in New Orleans actually shows Spanish citizen Francisco Domingo, then 25, entering the U.S. from Havana Cuba aboard the Brig Salvadora on September 13, 1847.

Interesting side note: the criminal phenomenon that first became known as the Black Hand had its roots in Spain.

After all of this, I was left staring at Talty's book wondering if I should try to read another paragraph. I decided instead to skip around to a few random pages to check things out.

I noticed Talty's use of an alternate spelling for Petrosino biographer Arrigo Petacco's surname. (The name appears as "Petacco" on his book, Joe Petrosino, but has also often been written as "Pettaco." I "Googled" it, and found quite a few uses of this spelling.) There was a far less common alternate spelling for the name of the Trinacria cafe ("Trinarcia" - don't bother "Googling" that one).

The book included an often repeated but still inaccurate mention of Petrosino working as a city street sweeping "whitewing." (The white uniform that inspired that nickname was not in use until years after Petrosino had moved on to other things. He and the other sweepers actually swept streets in their own clothes.) And there was an interesting Talty insistence that Vito Cascio Ferro was such a genius that he masterminded the courtroom defense of 1903 Barrel Murder suspects even though he could not have anticipated their arrest and fled New York for New Orleans as soon as he became aware of it.

In my final random selection, I found some familiar stuff about Petrosino's ostensibly Irish assistant "Hugh Cassidy" actually being an Italian with the real name of Ugo Cassidi. I think I first saw that written in NYPD: A City and its Police by James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto. It's a neat story. But it makes me wonder about the Irish-born city police officer named Hugh Cassidy listed as a resident of East 119th Street in the 1900 U.S. Census. (Coincidence?)

Stephan Talty and Leonardo DiCaprio have no reason to care what I think. But I am unimpressed with what fourteen-ninety-five buys these days.

Sources:

  • Chandler, David Leon, Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975.
  • Kurtz, Michael L. "Organized Crime in Louisiana History: Myth and Reality," Louisiana History, Fall 1983, New Orleans: Louisiana Historical Association, 1983, p. 355.
  • Lardner, James and Thomas Reppetto, NYPD: A City and its Police, New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
  • Talty, Stephan, The Black Hand, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
  • List of passengers arrived from foreign ports in the port of New Orleans, quarterly abstract, September 1847.
  • United States Census of 1900, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 940.
  • New Orleans True Delta, Jan. 4, 1855; Jan. 5, 1855.
  • "Third District: Another Probable Murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 5, 1855, p. 1.
  • "Third District: Probable Murder," New Orleans Bee, Jan. 6, 1855, p. 1.
  • Third District: The Supposed Murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 6, 1855, p. 2.
  • "Inquests," New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, Feb. 2, 1855.
  • "Committed for murder," New Orleans Daily Delta, Feb. 11, 1855, p. 8.
  • "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 20, 1855, p. 2.
  • "City intelligence," New Orleans Bee, June 21, 1855, p. 1.
  • "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 24, 1855, p. 4.


24 April 2017

New Orleans removes Liberty Place monument

Early this morning (Monday, April 24, 2017), city of New Orleans workers dismantled and removed the Liberty Place monument, commemorating the 1874 battle between local conservative militias and Louisiana's Reconstruction Era government.

The battle occurred after the validity of state election results was questioned by both major political parties. Rival election boards announced the election of different governors, and competing state legislatures were assembled. For months, the political situation worsened as rival groups prepared for armed conflict.

Joseph P. Macheca, the subject of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, captained a force of Sicilian immigrants that played a pivotal role in the battle and helped conservative Democratic "White League" forces to rout the well-armed Metropolitan Police, comprised largely of Republican-aligned African Americans and led by superintendent Algernon Badger, and a Republican state militia commanded by former Confederate General James Longstreet.

Following the battle, U.S. President Ulysses Grant ordered federal troops into New Orleans to restore Reconstruction government control. The conflict has been referred to as the last battle of the U.S. Civil War. 

Liberty Place monument at its original location,
the "neutral ground" median on Canal Street.

The "Liberty Place" monument - a 35-foot white stone obelisk - was installed in the center of Canal Street in 1891. (In that same year, Macheca and ten other men held at Orleans Parish Prison were attacked and murdered by a mob.) A white-supremacist message was inscribed upon the structure decades later. Controversy surrounded the monument and its racist inscription. That inscription was subsequently covered by a carved stone plaque dedicating the monument to those killed on both sides of the 1874 conflict.

Due to a Canal Street construction project 28 years ago, the obelisk was removed. There was a considerable argument over whether it should be replaced. Several years later, it was installed at a less visible location on Iberville Street. It remained a divisive symbol for the community.

The Liberty Place monument was the first of four Confederate Era monuments scheduled for removal in the city. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the press yesterday (April 23), "There's a better way to use the property these monuments are on and a way that better reflects who we are."

Read more:

20 April 2017

The murder of New Orleans boss Joseph Agnello

On this date in 1872, New Orleans Mafia leader Joseph Agnello was shot to death during a gunfight at the Picayune Tier.

New Orleans Daily Picayune
April 21, 1872
Successor to the leadership of his brother Raffaele's underworld organization, Joseph Agnello was seriously wounded in several attacks in 1870-72, but managed to recover each time. Agnello was expected to die after a shooting at Poydras Street and Dryades in September of 1871, but he shocked physicians with his quick rebound. He finally met his end after at least two gunmen (and as many as four) from a rival underworld faction cornered him at the dock at six o'clock in the morning, Saturday, April 20, 1872.

After briefly exchanging fire with his attackers, the thirty-nine-year-old Agnello tried to escape by jumping aboard the moored schooner Mischief. He was struck by shotgun blasts as he went over the rail of the schooner and fell onto the deck.

New Orleans Republican
April 21, 1872
Agnello regained his footing momentarily, only to be struck in the midsection by a large-caliber horse-pistol slug fired by Joseph Maressa (reportedly also known as Vincent Orsica). The slug passed through his body from right to left, ripping through his heart and leaving a gaping exit wound.

Two bystanders were injured by flying lead. Customhouse official Joseph Soude was struck in the back by shotgun shot and died of his wounds as he was helped to his home. A youngster named Edward Nixon was wounded in the leg.

Police arrested Maressa and Joseph Florda (also known as Ignazio Renatz) for the killing. Florda had previously been arrested for counterfeiting. The accused were held at the Third Precinct's Jackson Square police station, where they argued that they shot Agnello in self-defense. Authorities recovered an Enfield rifle, two double-barreled shotguns and a horse pistol from the area of the shooting. One of the shotguns was found fully loaded (this belonged to Florda, who raised it to fire but noticed a police officer nearby and decided to drop it instead).

The death of Agnello marked the end of a Mafia war in New Orleans that started in 1868. Mafiosi originating in Palermo, Sicily, were briefly eclipsed in the Crescent City by underworld factions transplanted from Trapani and Messina and by the Stuppagghieri organization based in Monreale.

Sources:
  • "Murder in the Second District," New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869, p. 1.
  • "La Vendetta: shooting affray on Poydras Street," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 6.
  • "The city," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 2.
  • "Another Sicilian vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Sicilian feud again," New Orleans Republican, April 21, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Italian war," New Orleans Republican, April 23, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The Sicilian vendetta," Nashville TN Union and American, April 30, 1872, p. 3 [reprinted articles from the New Orleans Picayune and New Orleans Times-Democrat of April 21].
  • "Vicentio Ossica...," New Orleans Republican, June 4, 1872, p. 5.
Learn more about the early New Orleans Mafia:

Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca
and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

01 April 2017

148 years ago: New Orleans boss murdered

On this date in 1869, New Orleans Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello is shot to death during an underworld feud. 
New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869.

Agnello, accompanied by his godson and bodyguard Frank Sacarro, was on a walk around the French Quarter when a noise from Old Levee Street behind him caught his attention. When he turned back to resume his walk, a bareheaded man in a long frock coat stepped forward and pointed a brass-mounted blunderbuss pistol at the boss's head.

The pistol fired, launching chunks of metal into Agnello's skull and killing him instantly. Some of the blunderbuss's projectiles missed the mark and cracked through the windows and walls of the Joseph Macheca produce store and the Norman & Reiss bakery on Toulouse Street. Sacarro's left index finger was wounded when he thrust out his left hand toward the weapon as it fired.

The gunman in the frock coat fled through the bakery pursued by Sacarro, who drew a pistol and managed to wound him with a shot. The gunman, leaving behind a trail of blood, escaped through a rear exit. Frank Philips, a baker working at Norman & Reiss, was wounded in the right leg by some flying lead.

In the summer, authorities arrested Joseph Florada (who may also have been known as Gaetano Arditto) as a suspect in the Agnello killing. Sacarro would not identify the Florada as the man he saw shoot his godfather, and the suspect was set free.

Agnello had been leader of a Mafia organization comprised of Palermitani. His enemies, an alliance largely made up of Messinesi and Trapanesi, had a momentary advantage in an underworld struggle that had already lasted several months, since the killing of Litero Barba, reputed leader of a Messinian gang. The war was not yet over, however. Raffaele Agnello's brother Joseph stepped up to the leadership of the Palermitani and continued the fight until his own murder in 1872.


For more about this subject:

02 March 2017

Disturbance at trial of Hennessy assassins

On this date in 1891, one of nine accused Mafiosi, standing trial in New Orleans for plotting and carrying out the assassination of Police Chief David Hennessy, created a sensation in the courtroom.

There had been just one day of prosecution testimony in the case, which began on Saturday, Feb. 28. Manuel Polizzi already had been identified by witnesses as one of the five gunmen who participated in the October 1890 murder of the police chief.

When brought into the courtroom with his codefendants on Monday morning, March 2, Polizzi hesitated to take his seat. He talked loudly in Italian and tried to get the attention of Judge Joshua Baker. Two deputies forced him to sit, but he once again stood and addressed Baker rapidly in his native tongue, waving his arms and punching at his own chest as he spoke. As a deputy attempted to force the defendant into his chair, Baker instructed, "Let him alone."


The judge asked defendant Charles Matranga (the reputed leader of the regional Mafia organization and an accused accessory to the Hennessy assassination) what was happening. Matranga replied only that Polizzi wanted an interpreter. "Talk to him and find out what he wants," Baker said. Matranga and Polizzi exchanged a few words, and Matranga told the judge, "He don't want to talk to me." Baker then attempted to use defendant Joseph Macheca (a politically influential, Mafia-linked businessman who also was an indicted accessory in the Hennessy killing) as an interpreter, but Polizzi was entirely unreceptive to that as well.

Before Baker could send for an independent interpreter, a defense attorney objected. "We would like an opportunity to speak to this man ourselves," attorney Lionel Adams said. "He is our client and it is our right."

Noting that Polizzi clearly had something he wished to express directly to the court, Baker brushed aside the complaint and sent for an interpreter. Baker met with Polizzi and the interpreter, as well as attorneys from both sides of the case, in his chambers.

Polizzi
Polizzi's statement to the judge was kept secret. However, when the group returned to open court, defense counsel Thomas J. Semmes announced that the defense team could no longer represent Polizzi. That appeared to confirm the widespread suspicion that Polizzi was turning state's evidence, but prosecutors apparently were unimpressed with the quality of Polizzi's statement and did not separate him from the case. Lead prosecutor Charles H. Luzenberg would not comment on the matter. (Though he did not speak of it, thanks to an undercover Pinkerton operative inserted into the Orleans Parish Prison with the defendants, Luzenberg possessed information others did not have about Polizzi's mental state and its underlying causes.)  Another defense attorney was selected to represent Polizzi, and the trial went on.

Polizzi was visibly afraid and tried to keep away from his codefendants. The court agreed to Polizzi's request to be held in separate quarters from the other accused.

Newspapermen learned that Polizzi made a confession "of a startling character" to Judge Baker, and they reported on his paranoid behavior. Defense attorneys told the press that Polizzi insisted both that he knew all about the conspiracy to murder Chief Hennessy and yet also took no part in the killing. They suggested that Polizzi was crazy. Reporters said they learned the defendant acknowledged being present when $4,000 was divided up among men selected to be the triggermen in the Hennessy assassination. He claimed, however, to have been at his home on Julia Street at the time witnesses saw him take part in the shooting of Chief Hennessy on Girod Street.

Just a few days after giving his statement to Judge Baker, Polizzi created an even greater disturbance, as he had an emotional breakdown in open court. When he was removed to the office of the sheriff, he attempted to throw himself through a closed window.

The trial continued until March 13, when a jury failed to reach agreement on the guilt of Polizzi and two other accused assassins and found the six remaining defendants not guilty. The New Orleans community became aware of evidence of jury tampering in the case, and Polizzi was one of eleven Italian inmates lynched at Orleans Parish Prison the next morning. Only much later was Polizzi's apparently irrational behavior at trial fully explained...


For more about this subject:
  Deep Water: 
  Joseph P. Macheca and the  
  Birth of the American Mafia
    by Thomas Hunt and 
    Martha Macheca Sheldon 
    (Second Edition, Createspace, 2010)

Sources:

  • "Desperate Politz," New York World, March 7, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Hennessy assassin confesses," New York Tribune, March 3, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Hennessy murder," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 3, 1891, p. 6.
  • "Hennessy murder," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 7, 1891, p. 3.
  • "The Hennessy case," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 3, 1891, p. 3.
  • "Hennessy's murderers," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 6, 1891, p. 2.
  • "The Mafia at bay," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 3, 1891, p. 2.
  • "The New Orleans vendetta," New York Sun, March 3, 1891, p. 2.


22 February 2017

Nicola Gentile - Meet the Mafia's Most Elusive Yet Revealing Historical Figure


Nicola Gentile
Nicola Gentile
aka Nick Gentile, Zu Cola
Code Name: Joe Mollica

Birth: 12 June 1885
Death: see endnotes









Significance:
  • Mafia mediator
  • International drug trafficker
  • Escaped mob-issued death sentence... twice!
  • Published memoirs which exposed the inner working of the Mafia, and, provided perhaps the most important and intriguing first-hand account of the American mob's evolution - particularly the who, what, when, and how of the so-called Castellammarese War.
The Parrot Murder Case

Mary Siragusa had an unusually bad feeling as she prepared for church. "Maybe I shouldn't go," she told husband Joe.  "Nothing will happen to me, you go ahead," Joe insisted. Reluctantly, and with a foul premonition lingering, Mary headed to St. Philomena's on nearby Forward Avenue.  There she prayed the entire time that husband Joe and their seven year old daughter Catherine were in no danger.

Just before noon, Joe ventured to the basement apartment and prepared for a shave. Up several floors, Catherine still in slumber.  As Joe put the finishing swath of cream on his cheeks, something or someone was approaching. He turned face to face with several armed men. Joe knew what was going down and tried desperately to escape up the staircase. He made it up three steps before copper jacket .38 slugs pummeled his torso. Grasping the railing, Joe turned his head ever so slightly to capture one more look at his assassins. His lathered face shattered by a .32 round.  Catherine, unharmed, never heard a sound. Mary... she knew what she'd find upon returning.

"Poor Joe, Poor Joe!" shrieked one of Giuseppe Siragusa's pet birds. Nonstop the parrot repeated the phrase while Pittsburgh detectives sifted through the bloody scene at 2523 Beechwood Boulevard on the morning of September 13, 1931.  A dozen rounds had been fired.  Five hit the target.  Four .38 in Siragusa's body; one .32 in the face.  Dangling on the wall above his lifeless body, rosary beads and broken picture frames.

You Don't Know Nick!

Now, you might ask, what the hell does that story have to do with Nicola Gentile?!  We'll be getting to that soon.  First, who is Nick?!

Much of Gentile's history has been elusive, to say the least.  One of the factors behind the many question marks was Gentile's own ability to remain transient.  Use of aliases, residing for short stints in various cities, and remaining fairly under the law's radar helped Gentile become more like a phantom of mob history, especially in terms of the public recognition.  The government however, or a few entities within it, were aware of Gentile, though perhaps not the extent of his business and alliances within the network of national organized crime.   That would all change by 1937, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (predecessor to the DEA) netted the mob's 'elder statesman' in a large scale drug bust. Of the eighty-eight (this figure varies from source to source) individuals law enforcement figured involved in the widespread drug ring - Gentile turned out to be the missing link, or so they thought.  That was just the start of a bizarre, stealthy and historically-hazy relationship between the Gentile, the governments of two nations, and more than few famous underworld associates from the good old days.
1937 Drug bust in New Orleans. L to R: Nicola Gentile, Jerry Feraci, Thomas Siracusa, Onofia Pecararo


Background Info:

Since Gentile's name doesn't generally ring of familiarity in pop culture, and obviously his story has proved a bit mysterious even for hardcore mob history aficionados, here's the brief lowdown (For further reading, there exist some succinct bio's, backstory and timeline's reflecting what was taking place in the underworld and Gentile's rise and role within significant moments.):


1907 'Zu Cola' in Montreal Notary Records
Gentile, born in Siculiana Sicily, quickly immersed himself and gained influence within Mafia factions upon arrival in the United States (approximately 1903). His official initiation into the Mafia occurred in 1905 (Philadelphia), and from then on maintained strong underworld ties both in the States and in Italy (he traveled back and forth periodically between the countries).  Gentile resided and worked in numerous cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Montreal, as far as San Francisco, and served in positions that included advisor, negotiator and/or Capo.


Gentile arrest Pittsburgh PA
1921 Ship Manifest
"You have to be strong, courageous, cruel to live in that country." - Nicola Gentile, discussing life in the United States, September 19, 1963.
By 1931, Gentile counted among his friends many of the soon-to-be mob all-stars.  This crop of enterprising criminals - which included a who's-who of gangland infamy, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Tommy Lucchese, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, etc., among their ranks - were launching a two-phase coup de tat on warring bosses - Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, aka the Castellammarese War.  Also that same year, Gentile, who was married with six children, made an attempt to become a naturalized citizen. That effort didn't go quite as planned, which we'll get to shortly. Back to the 'purge' of battling bosses...
1931 Nicola Gentile Declaration of Intention

The murder of Giuseppe 'Joe the Boss' Masseria in April 1931 ended the so-called 'war' and opened the door to underworld supremacy for Salvatore Maranzano.  It is believed that shortly before or during Maranzano's coronation that Pittsburgh boss, Giuseppe "Yeast Baron" Siragusa,  attempted to have Gentile put in very bad graces - the kind that get a mobster killed. However, Nicola Gentile, the proven master negotiator, successfully applied such skills in his own defense to claims made by the Pittsburgh boss. It worked.  In fact, it impressed the hell out of Al Capone, and that in turn saved Gentile's life.  Siragusa's move against Gentile was not to be forgotten.  Being loyal to Maranzano as he reportedly was, Siragusa already earned himself a death sentence, he just didn't know it yet.  Luciano, Vito Genovese, and most of the men who eventually 'sided' with Maranzano... they had quickly realized the new boss wasn't going to last.  Sending a team of Jewish assassins into Maranzano's Manhattan office on September 10th, 1931 sealed the fate of, what some believe, a whole slew of loyalists.  It became known in almost mythical terms as the "Purge" and the more dramatic sounding "Night of the Sicilian Vespers." 

Origins of the Vespers and other revelations

Up until the early 1950's (and that's even pushing it; 1963 was truly the turning point) what the American public knew about the 'Mafia'** and for that matter, organized crime in general, was almost entirely provided by the press and/or whispers, hearsay, a few books (written by former journalists usually). To that point, plenty of law enforcement and government agencies had little clue beyond that as well.  Although there were indeed government agents and entities very familiar with underworld subculture, it took several sensational whistle-blowers, over the course of basically three decades, to truly expose the complex history and reach of the 'Mob.'  There were three primary individuals who 'blew the lid off' mob secrecy: Gentile, Valachi, Bonanno (the latter's memoirs were discovered during a 1979 arrest). Most famously, Joe Valachi, whose televised testimony in 1963 before a Senate committee essentially forced FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Bobby Kennedy did the forcing) to admit their was a 'Mafia.'

Gentile's account served as the most fascinating, if not most revealing look inside the criminal underbelly (albeit a memoir, which by nature is often self-serving) because unlike Valachi (a foot soldier) Gentile was a top guy.  Historical accounts of how and when Gentile's 'memoirs' came to fruition, now that's where history gets dark, elusive and truly makes research daunting. The various written accounts are conflicting, and that's of no surprise when considering the two primary investigative bodies (Anslinger's Bureau of Narcotics and Hoover's Bureau of Investigation) that delved into Gentile's life were almost polar opposites in terms of investigation 'style' and (as this author believes) the two investigative bodies were rarely on the same page, metaphorically and literally speaking.  The FBI Encyclopedia states Robert Kennedy infuriated J. Edgar Hoover (a common occurrence between the two, no doubt) when the former presented FBN files on over seventy mobsters compared to the latter's office dossiers which numbered around thirty.  The point being that the FBI took much credit in the 1960's but the real working knowledge of men like Gentile had been followed closely by the Bureau of Narcotics, and therefore it is more than possible that Nicola Gentile's early memoirs - if actually written as far back as some historians believe - were acquired and translated by FBN agents before the FBI even knew of such memoirs.

"Today, the same as he did yesterday, Nicola Gentile says: 'I am alive because I always acted as an honest man. I always worked for justice. I always respected the law.' In reality what he means is: 'I have always acted as an honest mafia man. I have always worked for mafia justice. I have  always respected the law of the mafia.'" - Felice Chilanti, notes translated by FBI.

Book Report

The official 'published' memoir 'Vita di Capomafia' was released in Italy in 1963 (and was originally going to be titled '40 Years in the Mafia'), and has not been translated from the Italian nor reprinted for retail sale.  Journalist Felice Chianti once said Gentile approached him to take the dictation and write the story, but he declined the initial request until Gentile agreed to allow for annotation.  From September through October 1963, Gentile and Chilanti  also did a series of columns for Rome's Paese Sera newspaper, further divulging the intricacies of mafia life, and more importantly for the Gentile - answering the question of Why he wrote his life story (again, generally self-serving, possibly to improve his reputation), which he said had a lot to do with redemption to the family he shamed. The FBI translated the manuscript and Paese Sera articles in November 1963.  But... the book was not an exact printing of the original memoirs.  Those original notes, though largely similar to the published version, bear a few differences, and were thought to have ended up in the hands of American law enforcement possibly as early as the late 1940's or 1950's.  Nicholas Gage stated in 1971 that the FBI acquired the memoir in 1961 after hearing about its existence from Italian sources. Gage also said the first time the memoirs were mentioned in the United States was in the book 'The Honored Society,' by Norman Lewis in 1964, and further discussed in Hank Messick's book 'Lansky'.
1940 From the Declassified Gentile Files

Nicola Gentile may have actually begun penning his story shortly after he skipped bond and fled to Italy in 1937. Then again, it's also possible he never dictated nor jotted a word until lawmen put him under pressure (some documentation states this occurred in 1958 after a letter to Joe Biondo was intercepted and agents basically caught Gentile in a sting operation).  Treasury Department declassified documents reveal that as early as 1940 (probably earlier than that) an agent of the Bureau of Narcotics - Frank Di Lucia - had made contact with Gentile. The Treasury Department (which oversaw the FBN) wanted Gentile back in the United States, but not to prosecute him.  With regard to the New Orleans drug bust, well, the Feds wanted Texas mobster Sam Maceo and they wanted him bad, and under that pretense they figured Gentile could deliver just the testimony they needed.  From March 1940 through 1942, correspondence was exchanged between the State Department, the FBN, Treasury Department, American diplomats, Italian police, Agent Di Lucia, and Nicola Gentile.  The deal to get Gentile (who was identified as 'Sam Mollica' - which was either a code name or his own chosen alias) into the United States, protect his safety, and get him back into Italy afterwards.  The deal never materialized.  Gentile assured Di Lucia he would do as asked, but the Italian government refused to issue a passport. If the deal had gone through, police in Palermo wanted the U.S. to deposit at least $9000  - just in case something happened to Gentile, and the money would be given to his wife, of course.  After memo upon memo, letter upon letter back and forth between agencies, the final determination stated that bringing Gentile to the United States wasn't worth the trouble, but... they wanted to keep lines of communication open. Although no specific mention of 'memoirs' were mentioned in the correspondence, the government did think Gentile likely had further information to offer, particularly on the traffic of narcotics.  Thereafter, documents make note of Sam Maceo and others indicted in the 1937 narcotics ring, some of whom plead guilty, some dismissed, others became fugitives.***

Keeping tabs on Nick

Between 1942 and 1947 Gentile was thought to have continued working within the Italian Mafia, assisted the controversial 'government/mob alliance' during WWII, and reunited with former American gangsters. The declassified Bureau of Narcotics paper trail picks back up in spring of 1947, showing their interest in two of Gentile's old friends: Giovanni Schillaci (exiled in 1947) and Charlie Lucky Luciano (exiled in 1946).  Italian police kept tabs on Luciano from the moment he arrived til the day he died, and in doing so they discovered what American authorities viewed as sort of gangland reunion.  The correspondence from Questura (Police headquarters) to the American Consulate, December 4, 1947, read:  "Schillaci arrived at Capri on July 3, 1947 together with Salvatore Lucania, the American citizen, Sharon Mildred Block, Saverio Cuccio, also an American citizen, Igea Lissoni and Ida Pogi..."

The letter later states that police lost track of Schillaci and Lucania after the group left Capri in September. Then Lucania was spotted by police in Rome, in November, with Nicola Gentile, whereby they listed the latter's criminal record: "The Questura in Palermo informed this office that Gentile was sentenced in 1900 to five months of prison for deliberate assault (lesione voluntare) that in 1929 he was acquitted by the Accusation Section of the Tribunal of Palermo of the charges of robber, extortion, and homicide, and in 1929 he was sentenced to two years prison and to liberty under surveillance for conspiracy. He obtained release from the above mentioned with decree of October 23, 1946."

Back to the 'Parrot' story, sort of...

Nick Gentile's early memoirs and published memoirs both described the 1931 hit on Maranzano, with a few subtle variations in wording between the two.

Here's how Gentile's original notes described Maranzano's murder and the actions taken immediately afterward:


“They hurried to telephones and informed the boys in various parts of New York advising them that they could start the purging operation. Almost immediately with that word there took place the slaughter of the ‘Sicilian Vespers’. In fact, many of the followers of Maranzano were killed, who were stained with the most atrocious wickedness.
No sooner did the news of the death of Maranzano reach Cleveland that I and Bazzano thought of eliminating Siragusa of Pittsburgh... ”
 
Compared to the 1963 published published version found in 'Vita di Capomafia':
Excerpt from pages of Vita di Capomafia


"They rushed to the phone to inform picciotti (the boys, slang for thugs, mafia friends) in different neighborhoods in New York who could begin the operation of purging.
So it was the massacre of all those followers of Maranzano who had committed the cruelest atrocities.

Once in Cleveland news came of the death of Maranzano,  Bazzano and I think to suppress Siragusa of Pittsburgh."


The published version didn't consistently share the colorful wording of the early translation, but basically the theme and gist of events remained constant.  Also of note, Gentile never explicitly states in the either version that he and Bazzano actually killed Siragusa.  This intentional 'leaving out finer details' is not surprising of course.  Gentile admits he has committed violent acts, confirms the brutality that is innate to mafia life, yet keeps most of the self-incriminating specifics under wraps throughout the memoirs - that is with the exception of when he felt wronged, and he tends to divulge much more detail in such instances.

Both versions of Gentile's life story regard his entrance into narcotics as almost forced. Although he may have taken a hit in the press when authorities labeled him the big shot of the drug ring (he probably wasn't the top individual, though definitely a major figure, and that later government correspondence admits the weakness of the case against him in the first place), his blaming the younger mobsters (Luciano, etc.) for pushing him into the lowly dope business, nearly ousting him from relevance, contradicts his later actions in Italy, which include remaining quite chummy with many of those old pals and associates.

1937 Captured in New Orleans with Gentile. Antoinette Lima & Mrs. A. Scontrino
Now things are about to get full-on bizarre

As for Gentiles life after the book release, stories later circulated that Gentile had been issued a death sentence,  for the second time in his life. This instance was deemed punishment for the published revelations, but the faction tasked with carrying out the assassination simply decided - for whatever reason - not to kill the old man.  Hmmm... but then there's this:

Sometime in the 1960's Soviet spy/KGB agent Leonid Kolosov befriended Gentile and recruited him as an unknowing informant. This particular segment of Gentile's life isn't a secret, nor a new revelation to most historians. However, as disclosed in a 2003 Italian Parliament transcript interview with Kolosov, the former KGB agent's story filled in a few gaps and contradicted original versions thereof. In a nutshell, Kolosov explained he met Gentile through Felice Chilanti (whom he described as 'lonely') and was offered the chance to meet the mafiosi. Now, all the while, according to the spy, Chilanti nor Gentile knew he was KGB, but probably knew he wasn't just a nosy Russian journalist. Kolosov asked his Soviet bosses for permission and they told him 'yes' but the responsibility was all on Kolosov's shoulders.  In the parliament interview Kolosov went on stating that Gentile was killed several years later. Kolosov mentions 1971, but later admits it could've been in the 1960's, and that Gentile's death had nothing to do with him. Pressed for clarity by the parliament, Kolosov said he visited with Gentile on several occasions in Palermo, whereby the Mafia capo revealed information regarding what later became known as the 'Piano Solo Coup Scandal.'  The parliament President reminded Kolosov that scandal occurred in 1964, to which Kolosov admitted his memory of dates could be off, but that in fact Gentile died several years later and that Kolosov's book - 'Farewell, My Dear Colonel' - even featured a photograph of the funeral.   If in fact Kolosov's account of Gentile's death was accurately recalled, then that would make the date of death somewhere between 1966 and 1972, approximately.  However, that he describes Gentile's death with the word 'killed,' and makes a point to clear himself from having had anything to do with it, contradicts previous (and often accepted) accounts of Gentile dying of old age (see below).
"At the end of his days, Gentile was a pitiful figure who only survived through the pasta which his neighbors gave him." - Pino Arlacchi, author of 'Gli uomini del disonore. La mafia siciliana nella vita del grande pentito Antonio Calderone,' 1992.



Treasury Department Bureau of Narcotics File


*Details on Gentile's exact date and circumstances of death are sketchy at best, and information is conflicting.  Nicholas Gage commented in 1971 that, to his knowledge, Gentile was still alive. However, a report allegedly from the FBI, dubbed the 'Dead List,' marks Gentile's death as 1966. Author Helen Womack's 1998 book 'Undercover Lives: Soviet Spies in the Cities of the World' , which covers Leonid Kolosov's association with Gentile, marks Gentile's death - heart attack - in December 1964.

** Gentile stated the commonly-called 'mafia' was actually known as 'L'Onerata Societa'

***The 1937 drug bust was, according to Gentile, a result of Gentile's girlfriend 'Dorothy' tipping authorities off. In his memoirs he strongly suspected she was actually an undercover FBN agent. The bust itself ultimately led authorities to link Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter, Ralph Liguori (already incarcerated with Lucky Luciano on the vice charges in 1936), and other New York gangsters including Charles La Gaipa, Gentile's son-in-law, who at the time had been operating in the Southwest.

Sources:
Ancestry.com
National Archives
Informer Journal
http://people.com/archive/in-the-literary-coup-of-the-year-the-f-b-i-grabs-mafia-leader-joe-bonannos-memoirs-vol-11-no-23/
http://internetmanasaynotocorruption.blogspot.com/2014/08/italy.html
https://www.tni.org/en/paper/rothschilds-mafia-aruba
http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/lucky-luciano-wwiis-operation-husky/
Dickie, John. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. Palgrave Macmillan LTD. 2004. pp 176-189.
Reppetto, Thomas. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. Holt. 2005.  pp. 190-192.
Critchley, David. The Origins of Organized Crime in America; The New York City Mafia 1891-1931, Routledge, 2008. pp. 168-173.
Cipollini, Christian. Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend. Strategic Media Books. 2014.
Wife Finds Husband Slain As She Returns Home From Mass. The Pittsburgh Press. 14 September 1931. p. 2.
Gage, Nicholas. New York Times News Service. Nashua Telegraph. April, 21, 1971. p.14.
Gage, Nicholas. Memoirs of a Elder Support Late Valachi's Testimony. The Arizona Republic. April 12, 1971. p. 8.
Newton, Michael. The FBI Encyclopedia. McFarland. 2012. p. 18.
RG 59 ARC Identifier 6100835 Gentile, Nicola