Detroit Mafia boss Sam Giannola
One hundred years ago today, Detroit Mafia boss Salvatore (Sam) Giannola was assassinated as he stepped from the American State Bank branch at the corner of Monroe and Russell streets in Detroit, Michigan. Giannola and his two brothers, Vito and Antonino (Tony), were natives of Terrasini, Sicily and had led the city's Mafia family since the spring of 1914, when they seized control of the burgàta after winning a gang war against incumbent boss Pietro Mirabile.
Based in the southern Detroit suburb of Ford City, the Giannolas had gained untold wealth and power from their newfound positions at the head of the city's Mafia family. Unfortunately, they had also accumulated a host of enemies both inside and outside of their organization. Sam's brother Tony had been murdered in January 1919 and Sam led his faction in a blood feud against his enemies, a faction headed by Giovanni (John) Vitale. After a peace treaty had been enacted in late May, things seemed to have calmed on the surface, but the bad blood between Giannola and Vitale seemed set to erupt at any time.
On October 2, 1919, Sam spent a good chunk of the day at his Little Sicily headquarters, the Viviano Macaroni Manufacturing Company, at 277 Monroe Street. Around 2 o'clock that afternoon. Giannola went to the American State Bank to cash a $200 check (Sam was looking to place a bet on the upcoming Game 2 of the ongoing baseball World Series). After finishing his business, Giannola was confronted by three assassins who shot him multiple times. Sam staggered back inside the bank and collapsed to the floor, quickly dying of his wounds. His three assassins ran in opposite directions on Russell Street. Sam's funeral in Wyandotte four days later was a elegant and well-attended affair. His widow Rosa swore an oath of vengeance against his killers at his gravesite.
One of Sam Giannola's accused killers, Calogero Arena, was actually found guilty of the crime in March 1920 and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Arena's conviction was reversed on appeal, and he was acquitted at his second trial.
If you'd like to read more about Sam Giannola's life and career, I invite you to check out my book Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia.
The October 3-6, 1919 issues of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, and Detroit Times.
Sam Giannola, Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, No. 9756 (1919).
Recorder's Court of the City of Detroit, The People of the State of Michigan vs. Cologero Arena for murder, 1919, Case # 30216.
Daniel Waugh. Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia. Lulu Publishing Services, 2019. ISBN 9781483496276.
02 October 2019
Labels: 1919, Daniel Waugh, Detroit, Giannola, Mafia, Murder, October 2, Terrasini, Vitale, Wyandotte
I am a freelance writer who specializes in early 20th century true crime and military history. My published works include Egan's Rats; Gangs of St. Louis; Off Color: The Violent History of Detroit's Purple Gang and Vinnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia. I'm currently at work on a fifth book about a well-known and innovative gangster in Prohibition-era Chicago.