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

14 April 2017

114 years ago: The Barrel Murder

New York Evening World, April 14, 1903.
On this date in 1903 - Agents of the United States Secret Service are called upon to help New York City police identify a corpse found in a barrel at Manhattan's 11th Street and Avenue D. 

The victim.
NY Evening World, April 15, 1903.
The agents recognize the deceased man as the stranger they observed with the Morello Mafia members the previous night. Police arrest known members of Morello's organization, including boss Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo. They are unable to locate Morello adviser Vito Cascio Ferro. They later learn that Cascio Ferro has fled back to his native Sicily through New Orleans.

The Morello Mob
NY Evening World, April 16, 1903.
The victim is soon identified as Buffalo resident Benedetto Madonia, brother-in-law of Giuseppe DePrima, a Morello gangster recently imprisoned for counterfeiting. Authorities believe the New York City Mafiosi lured Madonia to his death because DePrima was judged a traitor.

Police are able to trace the barrel to a Morello gang hangout. They find that a Mafia suspect known as Petto the Ox is in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch that belonged to the victim. Authorities are certain of the gang's responsibility for Madonia's killing but cannot assemble a convincing case. 

Read more about the Barrel Murder on the American Mafia history website:



12 March 2017

108 years ago: Petrosino is slain

On this date in 1909, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino is assassinated while on assignment for the New York Police Department in Palermo, Sicily. He is the only NYPD officer to be killed in the line of duty while on foreign soil.



Though he was traveling under an assumed identity, New York newspapers and the Sicilian-Italian underworld learned of his trip across the Atlantic before he reached Europe. For years, Petrosino had hounded organized criminals in New York's Little Italy neighborhoods. Many were imprisoned or deported due to his efforts. A network of Mafiosi, apparently linked with the Morello Crime Family of New York, is believed to have arranged the shooting death of Petrosino at Palermo's Piazza Marina on the evening of March 12. Police officials in Italy were certain of the identities of the plotters and participants in the assassination, but none were successfully prosecuted.

Officially, Petrosino's mission was to gather Italian criminal records of outlaws who had made their way to New York. The records would allow recently arrived outlaws to be deported from the U.S. Petrosino's actions suggested that he also intended to establish NYPD informants within the criminal societies of southern Italy and Sicily. The first leader of the NYPD Italian Squad (which also spawned the NYPD Bomb Squad), Petrosino had recently been named to command a privately financed, undercover service within the police department. The transatlantic trip, which took him from his wife and young daughter, was his first major task in that new role.

Known for employing tenacity and toughness in numerous successful battles with lawbreakers and underworld organizations, Petrosino became a hero, as well as an important role model, for the quickly growing Italian-American community.

21 December 2016

Death of the Mafia's "Buffalo Bill"

On this date in 1932:

A longtime leader in the Mafia of Western New York, Benedetto Angelo Palmeri died of natural causes at the age of 54. Widely known as Angelo and referred to by the Italian community as "Don Nitto," 

Palmeri had been ailing for months with symptoms of hypertension and kidney inflammation. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, Dec. 21, 2016, Palmeri stepped out of his home at 295 Jersey Street in Buffalo and climbed into his automobile. He was scheduled to meet a friend.

A pedestrian happened to observe Palmeri slump behind the steering wheel and summoned assistance from the firehouse across the street. Firemen took the unconscious and dying Palmeri out of his car and attempted without luck to revive him. Though no autopsy was performed, officials decided the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Palmeri was well known for his tendency to wear cowboy hats and holstered sidearms. This fashion statement, combined with his Western New York hometown, caused the press to refer to him as "Buffalo Bill."

Born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Palmeri reached the United States in 1906. His brother Paolo, who also became an important U.S. Mafioso, crossed the Atlantic to join him in New York City a few years later. Angelo Palmeri moved on to Buffalo in 1911 and became a top lieutenant, business partner and valued friend of regional Mafia boss Giuseppe DiCarlo. He helped to establish a Mafia foothold in Niagara Falls, New York, and paved the way for Stefano Magaddino's arrival in Western New York in 1922.

News of Palmeri's death elicited great sorrow and grief within the Italian colony of Buffalo's West Side. The Buffalo Evening News wrote:

His death Wednesday brought sincere expressions of sorrow from hundreds of American citizens of Italian ancestry whom he had befriended in times of need... To the police he was known as a man who had close contact with many illicit enterprises, who had such power that he was able to bring peace between warring liquor runners – but to the citizens of the lower West Side he was their individual welfare department, a man who could and would aid them when pride kept them from appealing to the organized charities... Especially sad were the members of upwards of a score of families whose only source of food each Christmas for years had been Angelo B. Palmeri.

Click here to read a brief biography of Bendetto Angelo Palmeri on the book website of DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.


05 December 2016

Caught in Cleveland

On this date in 1928, Cleveland police discovered a convention of U.S. Mafiosi at the Hotel Statler on Euclid Avenue and East 12th Street. 

Scores of detectives and uniformed police officers quickly surrounded the hotel and raided rooms occupied by out-of-town visitors with Italian-sounding names. Twenty-three men were arrested as suspicious persons. Eighteen of them were found to be armed. Among the suspects were known crime figures from Chicago, New York, Buffalo, Tampa and St. Louis.

The sole representative of Buffalo was Salvatore "Sam" DiCarlo. The youngest son of western New York's earliest known Mafia boss, at the time Sam DiCarlo was a trusted member of Stefano Magaddino's underworld organization.

Fourteen of the twenty-three arrested men were photographed by police as a group. Giuseppe Profaci is at center, seated in a wheelchair due to a recent accident. Sam DiCarlo of Buffalo stands behind him. Joseph Magliocco is to the right of DiCarlo. Pasqualino Lolordo of Chicago is seated to the right of Profaci.

The others arrested on December 5, 1928, were Pasqualino Lolordo, Giuseppe Giunta, Frank Alo, Tony Bella, Emanuele Cammarata, James Intravia, Sam Oliveri and Giuseppe Sacco from Chicago;  Giuseppe Profaci, Giuseppe Magliocco, Vincenzo Mangano, Giuseppe Traina, Andrea Lombardino, Salvatore Lombardino, Giuseppe Palermo and Michael Russo from New York and New Jersey; Ignazio Italiano and Giuseppe Vaglica from Tampa; Giovanni Mirabella and Calogero SanFilippo from St. Louis; Paul Palazzola of Gary, Indiana; and Sam Tilocco of Cleveland. (The suspects gave various stories to explain their presence in Cleveland. Officials accepted only the tales told by Mangano and Traina, and those two Mafia leaders were quickly released. The rest were interrogated by police and immigration officials and then arraigned.)

Portsmouth OH Daily Times, Dec. 5, 1928.

Police expressed their certainty that other organized criminals were staying elsewhere in the city. Rumors indicated that Chicago's Al Capone had been seen in the area.

Local authorities believed they had broken up a meeting called to settle feuds over Prohibition Era corn sugar, a necessary commodity for moonshining operations. They were mistaken. The bloody corn-sugar wars of the Cleveland underworld already had been resolved.

Some historians have suggested, quite wrongly, that the Cleveland gathering was the first formative convention of the U.S. Mafia (a number of writers have referred to the criminal society as the "Unione Siciliana"). Actually, a national Mafia network had been in place for many years, and meetings of Mafiosi occurred fairly regularly.

Masseria
Other explanations have been offered. Some say that the convention was called to reallocate underworld rackets following recent gangland assassinations, to resolve underworld disagreements in Chicago or to recognize the ascension of Profaci to the rank of family boss. However, local or regional issues would not warrant the calling of a national convention. It appears far more likely that the convention's purpose was to recognize the U.S. Mafia's new boss of bosses Giuseppe Masseria.

At war with reigning boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila since the dawn of the Prohibition Era, Masseria had assembled the strongest and wealthiest crime family in the country. The recent murder of D'Aquila on a Manhattan street left Masseria's appointment as boss of bosses a mere formality. Though Masseria's own home base was in New York City, many of his kin resided in Cleveland, and Masseria allies in Cleveland had recently defeated a pro-D'Aquila faction there. The city would have been an entirely appropriate selection for a Masseria coronation.

Critics of this view note that Masseria and his allies were not among those taken into custody at the Hotel Statler. Of course, with much of his family in the area, there would have been no reason for Masseria to stay at any hotel. And police publicly expressed their disappointment that the hasty raid at the Statler allowed other conventioneers to get away.

Read more about the 1928 Mafia convention in Cleveland and other Cleveland underworld events in:

02 December 2016

Dellacroce's death

New York's Gambino Crime Family was fractured with the death by natural causes of underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce on this date in 1985.

The seventy-one-year-old Dellacroce succumbed to cancer late on December 2 at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, New York. He had been scheduled to go on trial in Manhattan the following year as a defendant in the Mafia Commission Case. He also faced federal racketeering and tax evasion charges.

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 4, 1985.

Following Dellacroce's death, his protege John J. Gotti organized the December 14, 1985, assassination of crime family boss Paul Castellano. Gotti assumed control of the crime family.

Dellacroce
The organization had been an incomplete blending of Sicilian and non-Sicilian factions for decades, with intra-family violence flaring up from time to time. Albert Anastasia, leader of mainland Italians in the organization, rose to power by deposing Sicilian boss Vincent Mangano in 1951. Carlo Gambino, head of the Sicilian Gambino-Castellano group, is believed to have conspired in the 1957 assassination of Anastasia. Orderly succession within the organization is believed to have been on the agenda of the 1957 Apalachin, New York, Mafia convention, broken up by the appearance of law enforcement officers.

Gambino's rise to boss was contested by Armand Thomas Rava. Some arrangement within the family appears to have been reached following the disappearance of Rava. Dellacroce stepped into Rava's role as opposition faction leader, and Gambino designated him as family underboss. Dellacroce made his headquarters the Ravenite Social Club, located on Manhattan's Mulberry Street in the area where Dellacroce was raised.

Gotti
Apparently believing that its leader was next in line to become boss, the Dellacroce faction was up in arms when Paul Castellano took over following the 1976 death of Gambino. Dellacroce reportedly kept the peace by ordering his followers to take no action against Castellano. Gotti decided that Dellacroce's death canceled the prohibition against violence.

See also Who Was Who entries for:

26 November 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the electric-chair-execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell also called attention to the flawed case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew that District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office had sent an innocent man to the chair and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Dust jacket for 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover

I first became aware of Charles Sberna's story during research into U.S. capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a tale worthy of retelling. Sberna and Gati both were convicted and executed for the 1937 murder of Patrolman John H.A. Wilson. Gati admitted his role but insisted that Sberna was not present for the crime. Names of other possible Gati accomplices were revealed, but prosecutors made little effort to check into them.

Email conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led me to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue.

That first article noted the relation by marriage of Charles Sberna and the Morello-Lupo-Terranova clan, which had been a major influence in early New York organized crime. Sberna took as his bride Carmela Morello, daughter of former Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and niece of New York City rackets leaders Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo and Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova.

Sberna's own family background remained a mystery until later research into Amedeo Polignani of the NYPD shed light on the involvement by Charles Sberna's father Giuseppe in the anarchist-terrorist bombings of the 1910s. Giuseppe Sberna was a vocal leader in the East Harlem-based Bresci Circle, the nation's largest anarchist organization. Local, state and federal authorities hunted Giuseppe Sberna, but he escaped to his native Italy, leaving his wife and children behind in New York. Learning this, I began to wonder whether Charles Sberna, so closely connected to so many fearsome public enemies, possibly could have received a fair trial. My decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

Accused cop-killers Charles Sberna (left)
and Salvatore Gati (right) in court.

I examined court documents, the careers of prosecutors and elected officials, the history of law enforcement efforts against the early Mafia and the American anarchist movement, the questionable philosophies and courtroom tactics of D.A. Thomas Dewey and his assistants, and the known and suspected crimes of the men who might have committed the murder attributed to Sberna. Much of what I found was deeply troubling.

A fair trial may have been denied to Charles Sberna. Given the mood of the time, the background of the defendant and the circumstances of the case, a truly fair trial may have been impossible.

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution is now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. For more information and purchase options, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

(I wish to express my appreciation to Christian Cipollini, C. Joseph Greaves, Ellen Poulsen and Robert Sberna for their support and assistance on this project.)

15 November 2016

Bad-bills bust

On this date in 1909, agents of the United States Secret Service and detectives of the New York Police Department Italian Squad arrested Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and a dozen of his aides.

Morello and the others were charged with participating in a counterfeiting ring. Authorities initially suspected that they were importing counterfeit U.S. currency printed by associates in Italy. It was later determined that the phony bills were generated at small printing plant on a farm in Highland, New York.

The arrests concluded a Secret Service investigation of more than half a year. Morello had been watched by the Secret Service for years.

New York Tribune, Nov. 16, 2016

04 November 2016

Bad day for big shots

November 4


Evidence of lingering hostility: Bioff's garage, Nov. 4, 1955.
1928 - Underworld chief Arnold Rothstein was shot and mortally wounded in Manhattan's Park Central Hotel. A hotel employee discovered the collapsed Rothstein inside the Park Central's Fifty-Sixth Street service entrance. The renowned gambler / racketeer / narcotics importer was taken to Polyclinic Hospital, where surgeons attempted to repair damage to his lower abdomen caused by a .38-caliber bullet. Rothstein died two days later. The path of the bullet, determined at autopsy, indicated that Rothstein was seated at the time the fatal shot was fired by someone standing to his right. The slug penetrated his bladder and intestines and resulted in death-causing sepsis. Authorities believed that Rothstein cardgame losses, reaching into hundreds of thousands of dollars, were related to his murder. Rothstein also was said to have been planning a divorce and had recently been rewriting his will.

1955 - Willie Bioff became well known across the U.S. in the 1940s, as a Chicago Outfit scheme to control motion picture industry unions and extort vast sums from movie companies came to light. Bioff, a Chicago native who relocated to southern California, was a central figure in the scheme. Following Bioff's arrest, he betrayed his underworld colleagues and provided investigators with sufficient evidence to cause the apparent suicide of Outfit leader Frank Nitti (formerly a Bioff friend and defender) and the successful prosecutions of other Chicago bosses. A decade later, all the unpleasantness seemed forgotten. Bioff and his wife were living under assumed names (Mr. and Mrs. William Nelson) in Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago bosses had served their prison and probation terms. Evidence of some lingering hostility was seen on the morning of Nov. 4, 1955: Bioff climbed into his pickup truck inside his home garage. As he stepped on the starter, an explosion suddenly shook the neighborhood. The New York Times wrote: "The blast threw Bioff twenty-five feet and scattered wreckage over a radius of several hundred. It left only the twisted frame, the motor and the truck wheels. The garage door was blown out, the roof shattered and windows in the Bioff home and several neighboring houses were broken. Jagged chunks of metals tore holes in the wall of a home 100 feet away. The blast rattled windows a mile away." Bioff's body, minus both legs and a right hand, were found 25 feet from the explosion.

1959 - Frank Abbatemarco, who ran a lucrative numbers racket for the Profaci Crime Family of Brooklyn, stopped in at a tavern run by friend Anthony Cardello. Near eight o'clock in the evening, Abbatemarco stepped outside of the tavern and was greeted by two gunmen, whose identities were masked by fedoras pulled down low on their heads and scarves covering their faces. Abbatemarco shouted, "No, no!" but the gunmen opened fire anyway. Wounded, Abbatemarco rushed back into the tavern. The gunmen pursued and methodically pumped bullets into the underworld big shot. They then turned casually and walked out. It became widely accepted that Abbatemarco was killed by his own underlings - members of the Gallo Gang - under orders from Profaci. In the wake of the murder, the Gallos, perhaps unsatisfied with the way Abbatemarco racket assets were divided, broke away from Profaci.

(Also on this date: In 1922, Francesco Puma, a member of the Stefano Magaddino-run Castellammarese criminal organization known as The Good Killers, was murdered during a walk around his East Twelfth Street, Manhattan, neighborhood. A number of shots were fired at and into Puma from behind. He drew a handgun and spun around, only to meet the knife-blade of a closer assassin. With a stab wound in his abdomen and gunshot wounds to his chest, stomach and right wrist, Puma fell to the sidewalk. He succumbed to his wounds later at Bellevue Hospital. Press accounts of his death revealed suspicion that Puma had been providing authorities with information about the U.S. Mafia.)