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

07 October 2017

Mafia leader's corpse discovered in Long Island

Cutolo
On this date (Oct. 7) in 2008, a body excavated from a roadside in Farmingdale, Long Island, was officially identified as that of William "Wild Bill" Cutolo, former underboss of the Colombo Crime Family. The partly decomposed remains, found wrapped in a tarp beneath a grassy area east of Route 110, were identified through dental and medical records.

Cutolo had been missing and presumed dead since 1999. On May 26, 1999, the forty-nine-year-old underworld leader told his wife Marguerite "Peggy" Cutolo that he was going to a meeting with acting boss Alphonse T. Persico in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He never returned. His death was immediately suspected when he did not show up for a weekly dinner with his crew at the Friendly Bocce Social Club in Brooklyn that evening.

Investigators noted that Cutolo's underworld rackets - including a lucrative loan sharking operation - and business interests were immediately taken over by Alphonse Persico. In 2001, Persico pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, loan-sharking and money-laundering charges. The case was built in part on Cutolo financial records found in Persico's possession.

In 2006, Persico and his top aide John DeRoss were tried in federal court for racketeering and murder. They were charged with ordering the killing of Cutolo. That case ended in mistrial, but Persico and DeRoss were retried and convicted on the charges in 2007. For that trial, Cutolo's wife emerged from the federal witness protection program to testify against them. In addition to noting that her husband was on his way to meet with Persico when he disappeared, Marguerite testified that, the day after the disappearance, John DeRoss showed up at the Cutolo home demanding all of "Wild Bill's" money and financial records.

Persico
On Feb. 27, 2009, Persico and Cutolo were given life prison sentences. At the time, prosecutors believed that Cutolo's remains had been disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean and would never be found. It was argued that Persico and DeRoss, fearing that Cutolo and his faction (described as remnants of the Vittorio Orena faction that years earlier warred with the Persicos for control of the organization) intended to take over the crime family, had Cutolo murdered.

Acting on a tip from informant Joseph "Joey Caves" Competiello, agents of the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team and police officers from Suffolk County began digging at several Farmingdale locations on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008. They hoped to find the bodies of Cutolo, Richard Greaves and Carmine Gargano, all believed murdered by the leadership of the Colombo Crime Family.

They discovered the tarp-wrapped body, said to still be wearing a pair of Italian loafers, the following Monday, Oct. 6. In addition to dental records, the body was identified as Cutolo's through a distinctive physical feature - the tip of the right middle finger was missing.

Gioeli
The story of Cutolo's murder was made public in Brooklyn Federal Court in March of 2012. "Big Dino" Calabro, a Colombo Family capodecina, cooperated with authorities and testified against his underworld associates. According to Calabro, Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli (who later rose to acting boss) arranged the 1999 hit. Cutolo was to be called to a meeting of crime family leaders. Gioeli planned to drive Cutolo to the meeting at the home of Calabro's cousin, "Little Dino" Saracino. There Cutolo would be killed and his body disposed of.

Calabro recalled; "When the time came, we were sitting in the basement. [Calabro was apparently looking out a basement window at Saracino's house, expecting to see Gioeli and Cutolo walk up.] We seen one set of legs walking by, not two. I went outside to see who it was, and it was Billy Cutolo. I shook hands with him. He asked me where to go. I showed him the stairs. He walked ahead. I pulled out my gun and shot him in the head. I closed the door. I went outside. I seen Tommy. He said, 'What happened?' I said, 'It's done'"

Cutolo's body was then tied up and wrapped in the tarp and buried in what at the time was a wooded lot.

According to prosecutors, Calabro was promoted to capodecina as a reward for eliminating the Cutolo threat.

Sources:

  • Newman, Andy, "Reputed Colombo mob family boss pleads guilty to racketeering," New York Times, Dec. 21, 2001.
  • "Mistrial is declared in mob murder case," New York Times, Nov. 4, 2006, p. B3.
  • Algar, Selim, "Mob widow points finger at Persico," New York Post, Nov. 9, 2007.
  • "Is a mob hitman buried in Farmingdale?" Eyewitness News, WABC-TV, New York, Oct. 1, 2008.
  • "F.B.I. digs for mob bodies on L.I.," New York Times, Oct. 2, 2008, p. B6.
  • "F.B.I. may have found body in search of L.I. burial site," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 27.
  • Marzulli, John, and Leo Standora, "Corpse found at Long Island mob dig may be Wild Bill Cutolo," New York Daily News, Oct. 7, 2008.
  • "Body identified as missing mobster's," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 28.
  • Feuer, Alan, "Awaiting an awkward burial," New York Times, Oct. 9, 2008, p. 31.
  • Wilson, Michael, and William K. Rashbaum, "11 years after officer's slaying, reputed mob figures are indicted," New York Times, Dec. 19, 2008, p. 38.
  • Marzulli, John, "Former Colombo family boss indicted in 1997 murder of NYPD cop Ralph Dols," New York Daily News, Dec. 19, 2008.
  • Marzulli, John, "Colombo boss Alphonse Persico sentenced to life in prison for 1999 hit," New York Daily News, Feb. 27, 2009
  • "Colombo organized crime family acting boss Alphonse T. Persico and administration member John J. DeRoss sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of William 'Wild Bill' Cutolo and related witness tampering," press release of U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, Feb. 27, 2009. (LINK)
  • Rashbaum, William K., "F.B.I. resumes search for mob graves," New York Times, March 9, 2009.
  • Secret, Mosi, "Witness testifies how plot to kill officer was set up," New York Times, March 28, 2012, p. 22.
  • MobNews blog entries for "Cutolo." (LINK)

04 July 2017

Anarchist bomb destroys NYC building

On this date in 1914 - An Independence Day explosion demolished the upper stories of an apartment building in East Harlem, killing leftist radical Arthur Caron and several colleagues. Caron had been among those who protested the involvement of the Rockefeller family in April's "Ludlow Massacre." It appeared that Caron and his associates were building the bomb when it exploded.


The Ludlow Massacre occurred April 20, 1914, when Colorado state troops and a private force hired by a Rockefeller-owned coal mining company attacked and destroyed a tent camp of striking miners and their families. The attackers fired machine guns and repeating rifles into the camp and then poured oil on occupied tents and set them on fire.

The camp had been home to about nine hundred people, including two hundred and seventy-one children, ejected from company-owned housing in October 1913 due to the strike. Strikers, most of them Greek and Italian immigrants, spent the winter in their tent community with limited supplies.

An official report stated that at least twenty-five people - including fourteen children and two women - perished in the massacre. Earlier reporting put the death toll at a minimum of forty-five people, with women and children accounting for thirty of those deaths. Because bodies were completely destroyed in an oil-fueled blaze and government agencies restricted access to the campsite, the precise number of the dead continues to be debated.

In New York City, unionists and anarchist-communist radicals demonstrated against Rockefeller. Author Upton Sinclair joined the protests by organizing a "mourning picket" on Broadway. Arthur Caron and a number of anarchists decided to bring their protests to the Tarrytown, New York, region, where the Rockefeller estate was located. (John D. Rockefeller, Jr., insisted that his company-hired forces acted in a disciplined manner. He attributed the violence to the poorly led Colorado militia.)

A Caron-led group was arrested at the end of May after assembling in a Tarrytown public park and denouncing John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as a murderer. Caron, ten other men and one woman (Rebecca Edelson, who stated that the only thing Rockefeller ever gave away for free was the oil used to burn women and children in their Ludlow tents) were charged with blocking traffic and holding a street meeting without a permit. They were scheduled for trial in July.

On Friday, July 3, political radicals (including anarchist editor Alexander Berkman) met at the anarchist Ferrer Center in New York City to plan demonstrations in support of Caron. A plot to bomb the Rockefeller estate may have been set in motion at the meeting.

At about 9:15 the next morning, July 4, the three upper stories of the seven-story building at 1626 Lexington Avenue, between 102nd and 103rd Streets, were turned to rubble in an explosion that witnesses compared to a "broadside from a battleship."

Windows along both sides of the street were shattered. Building debris and bits of human remains rained down on the neighborhood. Body parts were discovered on the roof of the Evangelical Lutheran Church at 103rd Street and Lexington.

Authorities, likely benefiting from some inside information, quickly identified Caron as one of those who died in the explosion. Also killed were Charles Berg (he was listed as a fatality even before his remains were discovered), Carl Hanson and Mrs. Marie Chavez. Reports indicated that seven people were seriously injured.

Editors Alexander Berkman and Carlo Tresca, Elizabeth Flynn of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Rebecca Edelson spoke to a crowd of 5,000 people assembled at Union Square on July 11 for a memorial to the bomb victims. Berkman did not deny that Caron and his associates were building a bomb to attack the Rockefeller estate, but he suggested that Rockefeller's "many murders" justified their action. "I say that death in such a cause, which is a cause directed against oppression and tyranny, makes of those who so die martyrs," Berkman said.

The Independence Day explosion on Lexington Avenue led to a series of violent exchanges between anarchist groups and law enforcement agencies that comprised America's first "War on Terror."

Sources:

  • "45 dead, 20 hurt, score missing, in strike war," New York Times, April 22, 1914, p. 7.
  • "The Ludlow camp horror," New York Times, April 23, 1914, p. 12.
  • "Saw militia fire tents," New York Times, April 20, 1914, p. 5.
  • "Swear militia fired tents," New York Times, May 2, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Sinclair mourners split by discord," New York Times, May 3, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Hear Colorado women," New York Times, May 24, 1914, p. 25.
  • "I.W.W. invades Tarrytown," New York Times, May 31, 1914, p. 12.
  • "I.W.W. bomb meant for Rockefeller kills four of its makers, wrecks tenement and injures many tenants," New York Times, July 5, 1914, p. 1.
  • "Find Berg's body in bomb wreckage," New York Times, July 6, 1914, p. 1.
  • "Plan big meeting for dead bomb men," New York Times, July 10, 1914, p. 18.
  • "5,000 at memorial to anarchist dead," New York Times, July 12, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Berkman interview arouses the police," New York Times, Feb. 17, 1915, p. 20.

Read more about America's first "War on Terror" in:

01 July 2017

Gangland assassination in Brooklyn

Capone gunmen blamed in Frankie Yale's murder

At about 4 p.m. on July 1, 1928, Brooklyn underworld leader Francesco "Frankie Yale" Ioele, 35, was driving his Lincoln automobile along 44th Street in Brooklyn, when he was overtaken by a black sedan.

Spot of Yale's death. (Police had removed his body from the car.)
Shots were fired into the Lincoln's rear window, and Yale accelerated in an effort to escape. The two cars came abreast between 9th and 10th Avenues, and a volley was fired by pistols and a sawed-off shotgun into Yale's car.

Yale's skull was cracked open by the slugs, and his car veered off the road, crashing into the stone steps in front of 923 44th Street. He died immediately.

Though some press accounts referred to the killing as the first New York gangland murder to feature the use of a "Tommy Gun" submachine gun, an autopsy attributed Yale's fatal wounds to a shotgun and a pistol.

At the time of his murder, Yale was believed to be a top lieutenant in the Manhattan-based Mafia organization of Giuseppe Masseria. Yale appeared to be the top-ranked Calabrian in the Sicilian-dominated Mafia network, which opened to non-Sicilians in the Prohibition Era. Later in 1928, following the slaying of Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila, Masseria became the U.S. Mafia's boss of bosses.


Police linked the Yale murder to gunmen working for Chicago's Al Capone, a Brooklyn-born gangster whose family was rooted in the Naples area of Italy. Capone and Yale, both vassals of Giuseppe Masseria, had been rum-running partners. Perhaps concerned that Yale was not dealing with him fairly, Capone inserted a spy named James DeAmato into Yale's organization. DeAmato was found dead on a Brooklyn street in July 1927, likely forcing Capone to take more decisive action.

Yale's funeral was an extravagant gangland sendoff, featuring a silver coffin, mountains of floral tributes and a cortege of two hundred automobiles.

For more on Frankie Yale, see 
"What do we know about Frankie Yale?" 
on The American Mafia history website.

29 June 2017

Eddie McGrath and West Side's waterfront racketeers

In his first book-length project, Neil Clark  takes aim at the mobsters of New York's West Side waterfront. This selection of subject puts Clark in the footsteps of giants. 

An early journalistic account of waterfront corruption and racketeering by Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. On the Waterfont, a fictional film handling of gangster rule along the wharves, won a trunkload of 1954 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Writing. More recently, historian Nathan Ward revisited the Hudson River docks for his 2010 book, Dark Harbor, examining Malcolm Johnson's groundbreaking effort to bring waterfront organized crime to light.

While much of the material in Dock Boss is familiar, Clark expands on previous coverage with information drawn from court and prison files, FBI archives and other state and federal agency records. He delivers an informative and intriguing history. The Greater Toronto Area resident strays just a bit from the beaten path and approaches the subject through the life and career of a real-world "Johnny Friendly," Eddie McGrath.

An altar boy in his youth, McGrath became a clever, charming and resourceful criminal on his way to the leadership of an influential and largely Irish-American underworld organization. McGrath attained official recognition from the International Longshoremen's Association and the American Federation of Labor and proved himself useful to corrupt union officials and national racketeering networks.

McGrath's life story is a virtual Who's Who of Gotham outlaws. On his way to boss status, he benefited from alliances with such figures as "Big Joe" Butler, "Peck" Hughes, "Red" McCrossin, "Farmer" Sullivan, Andrew "Squint" Sheridan, John "Cockeye" Dunn and James "Ding-Dong" Bell. The résumés of his associates and his underworld rivals featured service with some of New York's most notorious gang chieftains, including Dutch Schultz, "Legs" Diamond, "Mag Dog" Coll and Owney Madden. Working relationships with Joey Rao, Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo and Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto, eventually brought McGrath into contact with syndicate bosses like Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello.

Due to a (perhaps fortunate) stay in Sing Sing Prison, McGrath played a relatively minor role in the most exciting portion of Dock Boss, the mid-1930s conflict between the Butler and Yanowsky gangs for control of the West Side dock rackets. It was a true gangland war. Clark's description of the bloody one-and-a-half-year conflict, from late December 1934 to summer of 1936, moves rapidly from one shooting to the next and still manages to consume about forty pages of the book.

The war set the stage perfectly for McGrath. With allies and rivals eliminated through bullets or courtroom convictions, McGrath and his partners, John Dunn and Georgie Daggett, assumed control of the former rackets of the Butler Gang and quickly established control along the docks.

Clark takes the time to explain the atypical workings and the special economic and historic value of New York City's docks, as well as the rackets used by gangsters, union leaders and politicians to profit from them. He notes and explains the strong Irish influence on the West Side piers and the surrounding neighborhoods. He explores the corruption-encouraging "public loader" system unique to the Big Apple, which significantly increased the cost of goods moved off of ships in New York harbor. The "shape-up" method of rewarding cooperative longshoremen with work - illustrated in the movie On the Waterfront - is also detailed. The author even describes the competitive pressures on labor leaders that drove them to support the McGrath outfit. Clark is well-versed in this field, proof of his extensive research.

This reviewer can manage only a few minor complaints about Clark's work (in addition to his insistence on using the "Oxford comma"):

  •  Chapters are unusually short. With about 270 pages of text divided up into forty chapters, the average chapter length is less than seven pages. Some chapters are only about three pages long. It is likely that many readers will view this as a positive thing. But I found the chapter interruptions annoying, as they often occurred where there was no logical break in the story. The Butler-Yanowsky War, for example, is a single logical event occurring over a fairly short period of time. However, it is broken up among five or six chapters. 
  •  While the text is generally well written, it would have benefited from an editor's attention. There are occasional misspellings, a bit of indecision over whether to use U.S.- or Canada-preferred spellings for terms ("cheque," "offense"/"offence," for example) and some incorrect dates and figures (passage of Volstead Act, percentage of alcohol in beverages permitted by the Harrison Act, date of the police raid of Tully house...). 
  •  There is also a frequent and annoying use of the name "Greenwich" to refer to the Manhattan neighborhood of "Greenwich Village." In this reviewer's experience, the name "Greenwich" on its own refers to a district in London, the base for worldwide timekeeping, a town in southwestern Connecticut and a town and village in upstate New York. When a shortened name for "Greenwich Village" is needed, it generally takes the form of "The Village."
  •  The author may have been overly accepting of earlier histories, including the Pulitzer-winning articles by Malcolm Johnson. Some small Dock Boss flaws (these turned up when this reviewer closely examined newspaper records of early McGrath arrests) can be traced to Johnson's work and reports based on Johnson's articles. 
  •  Dock Boss provides a bibliography and an index - useful tools for researchers - but does not include notes. The absence of source citations for statements of fact in the text appears to have been the result of publisher policy. This may be mildly frustrating for some researchers, but it should not be interpreted as a lack of documentary support. Clark has proved to this reviewer's satisfaction that he has command of the available sources in this subject area. 

Nitpicking aside, Neil Clark has produced a solid history and an enjoyable read. With luck, he will soon set to work on additional crime-history projects.

Dock Boss; Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront (Barricade) by Neil G. Clark is scheduled for a July 1 release. An excerpt from Dock Boss can be found in the summer 2017 issue of Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement.


25 June 2017

June 25, 1906: Murder at the Garden

On this date in 1906, prominent architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden. The shooter was Harry Kendall Thaw, of Pittsburgh. Thaw, the heir to a multimillion dollar fortune, held a grudge against White, whom he blamed for thwarting his efforts to achieve the respect of high society. White was also the former lover of Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been a popular model and chorus girl and was the inspiration for the movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.
At trial, Thaw went with a temporary insanity defense (“temporary” probably being the only part that was exaggerated). The jury wound up deadlocked. At the second trial, Evelyn Nesbit took the stand and testified that Stanford White had abused her and that Thaw was just acting in her defense. She performed this task in exchange for the promise of a divorce and a million dollars from Thaw.  The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Thaw received a sentence to the state mental hospital at Matteawan. Nesbit received her divorce, but not the money.
Thaw escaped from Matteawan in 1913 and fled to Canada. He was eventually apprehended and extradited to New York. After receiving a new trial, he was found sane and not guilty of murder. He was released from state custody in 1915.
Thaw was arrested again in 1916, this time for the abduction and sexual assault of 19 year old Frederick Gump (no relation to Forrest). He was found not guilty by reason of insanity (it’s like déjà vu all over again). In 1924, Thaw was judged sane and released from the asylum where he had been incarcerated.
Harry Thaw died of a heart attack in Florida in 1947. In his will, he left Evelyn Nesbit ten thousand dollars, about one percent of his estimated net worth.
Further reading:
Murderpedia – Harry Thaw  
Wikipedia – Harry Kendall Thaw

14 June 2017

San Francisco boss succumbs to blood disorder

On this date in 1937 - Francesco Lanza, Mafia boss of the San Francisco area, died of natural causes. His son Mariano Vincenzo (James) was deemed too young to succeed him, and the role of boss was passed to Tony Lima.


Originally from Castelbuono, Sicily, where the family surname was Proetto, Francesco Lanza entered the U.S. through New York in the early 1900s. His family, including two-year-old Mariano Vincenzo, joined him in New York in February of 1905.

The family made its way west during the World War I years and settled in San Francisco by the start of Prohibition. A low-profile Mafioso, Lanza ran produce-related businesses and became a legal supplier of grapes to illegal wine-making operations across the U.S. He remained far in the background while more conspicuous underworld figures perished in Prohibition Era gangland conflicts.

In the 1920s, he became part-owner of a vineyard in Escondido, California. Nick Licata, a Mafia leader from the Los Angeles area, later partnered in that business. California Mafioso Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno recalled Lanza as San Francisco's regional Mafia boss and partner with Giuseppe Alioto in a restaurant at the city's Fisherman's Wharf.

Lanza died at the age of 64. Historian Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo noted that the apparent cause of Francesco Lanza's death was aplastic anemia, a blood disease that could have been treated through transfusions. "Ironically," DiEdoardo wrote, "this made him the only boss around during the Booze Wars who died because his blood stayed in his body..."

A couple of decades after Francesco Lanza's death, his son James became boss of the San Francisco crime family. Unnoticed by the early 1950s Kefauver Committee, his name came up during the McClellan Committee hearings later in that decade. It was believed that James Lanza traveled east for the 1957 Apalachin convention as representative of San Francisco but managed to escape the notice of authorities. His presence in New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania, hotels at the time of the convention was noted. The FBI began watching Lanza in the late 1950s and conducted electronic eavesdropping on his operations in the early 1960s. A widely publicized U.S. Justice Department listing of U.S. Mafia leaders in the late 1960s named James Lanza as the boss of the San Francisco crime family. James Lanza died in February 2006 at the age of 104.

Sources:

  • "Mafia's leadership list updated by Justice Dept.," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Aug. 22, 1969, p. 7
  • "San Francisco deaths," Oakland CA Tribune, June 15, 1937, p. 35. 
  • California Death Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno, New York: Times Books, 1981, p. 137.
  • DiEdoardo, Christina Ann-Marie, Lanza's Mob: The Mafia and San Francisco, Santa Barbara CA: Praeger, 2016.
  • Hart, Arthur V., "Meeting of hoodlums, Apalachin, New York, November 14, 1957," FBI report, file no. 63-4426-171, NARA no. 124-90103-10092, July 8, 1958, p. 103.
  • Investigation of Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Hearings Before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Part 32, 85th Congress, 2d Session, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958.
  • Mudd, Herbert K. Jr., "La Cosa Nostra San Francisco Division," FBI report, Aug. 23, 1968, file no. 92-6054-2397, NARA no. 124-10297-10131, p. Cover-C.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Sicilia, departed Palermo on January 26, 1905, arrived New York City on Feb. 10, 1905.
  • Polk's Crocker-Langley San Francisco City Directory 1934, San Francisco: R.L. Polk & Co. of California, 1934, p. 635.
  • SAC San Diego, "La Cosa Nostra AR - Conspiracy," FBI airtel, file no. 92-6054-1907, NARA no. 124-10222-10055, March 13, 1967, p. 4.
  • SAC San Francisco, "Mariano Vincenzo Lanza, aka James Joseph Lanza," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-3432-87, NARA no. 124-10222-10385, Dec. 29, 1960.
  • Social Security Death Index, Ancestry.com.
Read more about the Lanzas of San Francisco in:

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
For more about Giuseppe Morello:

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.)