Showing posts with label Thomas Hunt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Hunt. Show all posts

16 March 2020

Bogus Blackhand bombing in Buffalo

Marital blowup nearly causes building blowup

In mid-March of 1918...

Buffalo Commercial
Claiming to be targets of "Black Hand" extortion, father and son Diego and Calogero "Charles" Alessi sought help from the Buffalo, New York, Police Department on Friday, March 15, 1918.

The Alessis, originally from Marianopoli, Sicily, had been in the United States for a couple of decades. Sixty-seven-year-old Diego worked as a laborer and grocer. Calogero, thirty-five, one of Diego's five sons, was employed as a motorman with the International Railway Company. The two men and their families lived at 122 Trenton Avenue in Buffalo.

That address had been Diego's home for at least ten years. Calogero, his wife and their two children, formerly residents of 32 Baker Street (where some other Alessi family members lived), had recently moved into a downstairs apartment in the Trenton Avenue home.

Calogero brought an unexploded bomb into police headquarters that Friday. He said he found it on the steps outside of the family home at about five o'clock that morning. His father instructed him to take it to the police. Eight family members had been inside the home when the bomb was placed. Calogero said his father had previously received and ignored mailed threats demanding hundreds of dollars.


Zimmerman and Miller (l to r) of the Buffalo Police
Black Hand terrorism, consisting of mailed extortion letters, was becoming a common story, as successful Italian-Americans were increasingly targeted by extortion gangs. The front of Dr. A.J. Cetola's home at 65 Front Avenue recently had been torn off in an explosion following his refusal to pay extortion demands.

Police took custody of the bomb from Calogero Alessi and turned it over to City Chemist Herbert Hill for examination. Hill determined that the device contained sufficient explosives to destroy the entire building. He noted that some distinctive fabric was used inside the device and in its outer covering.

The incident earned attention from the press, but not nearly as much attention as what occurred a few days later.

Buffalo Evening News
Following a brief but apparently thorough investigation by Detective Sergeant Edward J. Newton, Detective Sergeant Charles F. Zimmerman, Detective Ralph Guastaferro and Inspector Charles N. Miller, two men were placed under arrest on Monday, March 18. The suspects were Diego and Calogero Alessi. They were charged with placing explosives at their own home. (At that time, Newton and Zimmerman were in charge of investigating cases in Buffalo's Italian community, and Miller was chief of the Buffalo Police Detective Bureau.)

The investigation revealed that there had been domestic trouble between Calogero and his wife of fifteen years, Mary. Calogero had been trying to convince Mary to leave and to take their two children with her. A search of the Alessi home turned up a pair of Calogero's pants that had been cut up. The fabric was a match for that contained in the bomb.

When interviewed by police, Mary Alessi said that her husband and in-laws had been working to push her out of the house. On the morning of March 15, she said, Calogero returned home from work at about two o'clock in the morning. She and Calogero had an argument, after which he left the home, locking her and the children inside. The bomb was found shortly after that. The discovery did cause Mary and the children to leave the home and return to 32 Baker Street. Mary quickly took a factory job for income.

The case against Diego and Calogero Alessi was dismissed in Buffalo City Court for lack of evidence. However, Calogero was then prosecuted for abandoning his family responsibilities. That case came before Judge William P. Brennan on May 13, 1918. Brennan questioned Mary Alessi about the relationship with her husband. She testified that she believed Calogero had grown tired of her and planned to scare her off through the use of the bomb.

Calogero Alessi was convicted. Judge Brennan sentenced him to probation and ordered him to provide support of $7 a week to his wife and children.


Sources:
  • "Bomb causes aged Italian to report," Buffalo Commercial, March 15, 1918, p. 11.
  • "Cleared on bomb charge; now must support family," Buffalo Courier, May 14, 1918, p. 2.
  • "Hold two for bomb probe," Buffalo Enquirer, March 19, 1918, p. 14.
  • "Men put bomb in front of own house, police say," Buffalo Evening News, March 19, 1918, p. 9.
  • "Must support family," Buffalo Enquirer, May 13, 1918, p. 12.
  • "That bomb was to scare wife," Buffalo Evening Times, March 19, 1918, p. 4.
  • "Told to pay for support of his wife and children," Buffalo Evening News, May 14, 1918, p. 15.
  • "Two planted bomb, say police," Buffalo Courier, March 19, 1918, p. 4.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Victoria, departed Naples on Sept. 29, 1899, arrived New York on Oct. 18, 1899.
  • Regan, J.E., "Chief Girvin's Buffalo Police," The National Police Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1918, New York: National Police Journal, 1918.
  • Regan, John E., "The efficient police force of Buffalo, N.Y.," The Police Journal, Vol. IX, No. 4, April 1922, New York: Journal Publishing Company, 1922.
  • The Buffalo Courier 1916-1917 Classified Directory, Buffalo: Paul Goering & Co., 1916, p. 105.
  • The Buffalo Directory 1908, Buffalo: Courier Company of Buffalo, 1908, p. 129.
  • The Buffalo Directory 1918, Buffalo: J.W. Clement Co., 1918, p. 102.

25 February 2020

Death of powerful NE Pennsylvania boss

Some link Bufalino to Hoffa disappearance, 
Kennedy assassination, effort to kill Castro

On this date in 1994...

Rosario "Russell" Bufalino, longtime boss of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Mafia, departed this life on Friday afternoon, February 25, 1994, at the age of 90. He may have taken numerous underworld secrets with him. Bufalino was widely suspected of involvement in the disappearance of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. He also was believed by many to hold information relating to the assassination of President John Kennedy and to the CIA's efforts to remove Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.


A resident of Kingston for much of his life, Bufalino passed away at ten minutes after two in the borough's Nesbitt Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was not released. Relatives kept secret their plans for Bufalino's funeral, irritating state and federal investigators who wanted to document and film the individuals attending it.

Born October 29, 1903, at Montedoro, Sicily, Bufalino was taken to the United States as a baby with his mother Christina Bucceleri Bufalino and several siblings. His father Angelo was already living in the Pittson area of Pennsylvania. Following the deaths of his parents, Bufalino and two sisters were shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic by family members. He and one sister ended up in 1914 with an older brother in Buffalo, New York (who was close to Magaddino underboss John Montana), while the remaining sister was deported for medical reasons. As a teen, Bufalino worked as an automobile mechanic.

Bufalino married Caroline Sciandra at Buffalo in the summer of 1928. The newlyweds subsequently moved to Endicott, New York, and Pittston, Pennsylvania, before settling in Kingston. They both had relatives in the region. Bufalino became involved in the garment industry and held financial interests in the Penn Drape & Curtain Company and the Alaimo Dress Company.

This was a departure from the pattern of earlier underworld-connected Montedoresi in the Luzerne County coal country, who had become leaders both in coal mining operations and in the coalminers' labor unions. Bufalino's early roles in the regional Mafia, known as the "Men of Montedoro" because of the dominance of the Montedoresi, are uncertain.

Bufalino likely succeeded to the leadership of the Men of Montedoro Mafia following the 1949 death of John Sciandra. But he was not really noticed by law enforcement until the Apalachin convention of 1957.

Bufalino's crime family was reported to be closely aligned with the Genovese Crime Family of nearby New York City. Bufalino spent much of his time in New York and is believed to have aided Mafiosi from that area in setting themselves up in non-union garment manufacturing businesses in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Bufalino also appeared to have business interests in Florida and Cuba.

There were reports of a visit to Cuba by Bufalino in November 1951. Documented trips to the island nation in late 1955 and spring 1956 later caused serious legal problems for the crime boss because he improperly claimed U.S. citizenship upon his reentry.

Authorities were confused by crime family relationships following the 1957 Apalachin convention. Due to the proximity of convention host Joseph Barbara's Apalachin estate to Scranton, Pittston, Wilkes-Barre home territory of the Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia, state and federal investigators decided that Barbara was a regional crime boss and Bufalino was his underboss. (This was stated in the 1970 report of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.) It now appears, however, that Barbara was a remote lieutenant for the Magaddino Crime Family based in Buffalo, New York, while Bufalino was boss of his own organization.

As federal investigators looked into Bufalino after Apalachin, they discovered documents relating to his earlier returns from Cuba. In April of 1958, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered him deported as an undesirable alien. Years of legal appeals followed.

(Some writers have insisted that Bufalino developed a close personal relationship with Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the late 1950s and worked to return Batista to power after Fidel Castro's revolution. Some connect these claims to incidents relating to Hoffa and the Kennedys. There even have been suggestions that Bufalino personally fled Cuba just ahead of Castro's advancing army at the start of 1959 and may have watched the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion from a ship off the Cuban coast. Given Bufalino's ongoing problems with the INS deportation order, these claims seem far-fetched. It would have been extremely unlikely that Bufalino would have risked setting foot outside the country in this period for any reason at all.)

Late in 1959, Bufalino was among the more than 20 Apalachin meeting attendees to be convicted of conspiring to keep the purpose of the meeting from investigating agencies. In January 1960, Bufalino and fourteen co-defendants were sentenced to serve five-year terms in prison. Others were sentenced to lesser terms. The judge permitted the defendants to remain free on bail pending their appeals. Nearly a year later, an appeals court threw out the convictions.

Bufalino remained virtually untouched by law enforcement until his later years. Near the end of 1969, he was indicted in connection with the transport of stolen televisions across state lines. He was acquitted in 1970 and complained to the press about law enforcement harassment and wiretapping. He was then charged in spring 1973 with engaging in extortion in the cigarette vending machine business. A jury in Buffalo, New York, acquitted him.

At about that time, the U.S. was poised finally to deport him to his native Italy, but Italy halted the plan, refusing to issue the paperwork necessary for his return.

Another extortion case resulted in another acquittal in 1975. In the same period, Bufalino was mentioned but not charged in connection with the disappearance and likely murder of Hoffa, who was attempting to regain power in the Teamsters union. However, in the summer of 1977, Bufalino was convicted of extortion. His first documented experience inside a prison occurred in summer 1978, when his legal appeals concluded and he became an inmate at Danbury, Connecticut, Federal Correctional Institution. He served three years of the sentence before being paroled on May 8, 1981.

During his time in prison, the crime family of Northeastern Pennsylvania was reportedly managed by Edward Sciandra (nephew of former boss John Sciandra).

Less than half a year after his release from prison - at a time when his underworld organization was regarded as the most powerful in the State of Pennsylvania - he was charged with conspiring to kill a federal witness back in 1976. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He was released in May 1989, after serving six years and eight months of that term. The end of the sentence was served in the federal prison hospital at Springfield, Missouri, as Bufalino's health began to decline in 1987 and a transfer was deemed necessary.

Bufalino spent the final two years of his life in a Kingston nursing home. Following his death, management of the regional crime family fell to Edward Sciandra and former Bufalino driver and confidant William D'Elia.

Read more:

Informer - Apr 2011

INFORMER: Informer - Apr 2011

Men of Montedoro by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona / Daring 1870 Bank Robbery in Scranton / Sicilian Miners Battle Black Handers in Northeastern Pennsylvania by Thomas Hunt / Capones Reach the Promised Land by Deirdre Marie Capone / Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia Membership Chart by Bill Feather /…

Find out more on MagCloud


Sources:

  • Corbett, Steve, "Moving up in the underworld," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 29, 1994, p. 3.
  • Corbett, Steve, "The passing of a shadow," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 3.
  • "Death of the Don: Bufalino ruled over a vast crime empire," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 6, 1994, p. 8.
  • "Death of the Don: Direction of Bufalino Family now remains unclear," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 7, 1994, p. 6.
  • "Feds want Bufalino mourners on film," Wilkes-Barre Citizens" Voice, March 1, 1994, p. 5.
  • Houlihan, Frederick T., "Russell Alfred Bufalino, aka Russell Bufalino...," FBI report, file no. 92-2839-86, NARA no. 124-10290-10333, Sept. 12, 1960.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. II - From 1938, 2013.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, "Men of Montedoro," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2011.
  • Lynott, Jerry, "Former Pocono Record writer's book reveals a boss's power," Pocono Record, Sept. 3, 2013.
  • "Mob boss Bufalino dies," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 4.
  • "Mob boss Russell Bufalino," Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 37.
  • Moldea, Dan E., "The Hoffa Wars," Playboy, November 1978.
  • Morrison, Mitch, "Mystery follows Bufalino to the grave," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 2.
  • New York State Marriage Index, Buffalo, New York, certificate no. 23108, Aug. 9, 1928.
  • "Organized crime may be meeting its Waterloo," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 17.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Brasile, departed Naples on Dec. 31, 1905, arrived New York on Jan. 14, 1906.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Citta di Milano, departed Naples on Dec. 2, 1903, arrived New York on Dec. 21, 1903.
  • Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Report on Organized Crime, 1970.
  • Russell A. Bufalino World War II draft registration card, Fox Hill PA, 1942.
  • "Russell Bufalino," New York Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 25.
  • "Russell Bufalino, 91, reputed Pa. mob boss," Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 28, 1994, p. C10.
  • "Russell Bufalino, alleged mob boss, dies at age 90," Hazleton Standard Speaker, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 30.
  • "Russell Bufalino, reputed Pennsylvania crime boss," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 16.
  • SAC Philadelphia, "Russell A. Bufalino, aka, Neutrality Matter," FBI Airtel, file no. 2-1664-1, NARA no. 124-10293-10378, March 3, 1961.
  • Scholz, Frank, "Reputed mob boss Bufalino, 91, dies," Scranton Sunday Times, Feb. 27, 1994, p. 3.
  • Shurmaitis, Dawn, "Just a good fella?," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 1.
  • Shurmaitis, Dawn, and Robert Sitten, "Russell Bufalino, 'don of dons,' dies," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 1.
  • Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 168-12-7767, death date Feb. 25, 1994, claim date July 26, 1968.
  • Social Security Death Index, 162-12-7767, Feb. 25, 1994, Ancestry.com.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service file on Cristina Bufalino, 1914.

24 February 2020

Centenarian mobster 'Sonny' Franzese passes

Colombo Crime Family big shot John "Sonny" Franzese died Sunday, February 23, 2020, at the age of 103, according to published reports. Family sources indicated that Franzese, a longtime resident of the Long Island Village of Roslyn, died following a brief illness.

(While it appears he was at least 100 at the time of his death, Franzese's age has been inconsistently reported over the years. He was widely reported to be forty-seven when indicted in March 1966, placing his birth in 1918-1919. Some government files point to February 1919 as the date of his birth. That birth timing was confirmed when he was arrested as a parole violator in spring 1986 at the stated age of 67. However, more recent reports have added a couple of years. The age of 103 noted in his obits puts his birth in 1916-1917. Other government files support that timing.)

The Neapolitan Franzese reportedly began his underworld career as an enforcer and hit man. Federal authorities believe he was introduced to organized crime through his father, Carmine. "Sonny" Franzese's power and influence were greatest in the 1960s, when as crime family lieutenant, he supervised Colombo rackets on Long Island and invested in "adult" night spots, Times Square peep shows and massage parlors, recording companies and pornographic movies.

Law enforcement began catching up with Franzese in the middle of that decade. He was indicted in March 1966 for acting as an enforcer for a lucrative Manhattan bookmaking ring, in the following month for leading a gang responsible for bank robberies across the U.S. and in October of the same year in connection with the 1964 murder of Ernest "the Hawk" Rupolo. Franzese once told Newsday that he felt the collection of charges in that period were due to a "conspiracy to get me."

Prosecutors got him only on the bank robbery conspiracy charge. For that federal offense, in April 1967 he was sentenced to up to fifty years in prison and fined $20,000. Franzese always insisted that he was innocent. He viewed the cases against him and the long prison sentence as government attempts to convince him to provide evidence against his underworld associates. He boasted of his commitment to the Mafia code of silence.

"They wanted me to roll all the time," Franzese recalled for an interview with Newsday. "I couldn't do that, because it's my principle. Jesus suffered; He didn't squeal on nobody."

Franzese remained free on $150,000 bail as his legal appeals in the bank robbery case were processed. (His attorneys argued that evidence against him had been obtained through the use of illegal electronic surveillance in the kitchen of his Roslyn home.) The appeals were unsuccessful, and he began serving his sentence on March 26, 1970, just three days before the Easter holiday. He was released on parole for the first time in 1978, but was sent back to prison on five different occasions for violating parole.

Franzese, then in his nineties, was convicted in 2010 of extorting New York businesses. He was sentenced to serve eight years in prison. He was last released from prison in June 2017.

In recent years, Franzese lived in a nursing home, needed a wheelchair to get around due to a broken hip and reportedly was fitted with a heart pacemaker and hearing aids.


Sources:

  • Brown, Lee, "102-year-old mobster: 'I never hurt nobody that was innocent," New York Post, nypost.com, March 27, 2019.
  • Burke, Cathy, "Colombo underboss Sonny Franzese looks back on 102 years with no regrets, and a boast that he's never been a rat," New York Post, nypost.com, March 27, 2019.
  • "Cosa Nostran held as robberies brain," Plainfield NJ Courier-News, April 13, 1966, p. 7.
  • "Crime figure seized on L.I.; Parole violations are cited," New York Times, April 29, 1986, p. 36.
  • Everett, Arthur, "Mob tightening grip on pornography," Vineland NJ Times Journal, Dec. 14, 1972, p. 21.
  • Failla, Zak, "Man who led Colombo Family's Long Island rackets dies," Suffolk Daily Voice, dailyvoice.com, Feb. 24, 2020.
  • "Franzese loses bid to upset verdict," New York Times, March 27, 1970, p. 37.
  • Kirkman, Edward, and Arthur Mulligan, "Put halter on big bookie 'muscle man," New York Daily News, March 25, 1966, p. 2.
  • Peddie, Sandra, "John 'Sonny" Franzese dead: Longtime Colombo underboss was 103, family says," Newsday, newsday.com, Feb. 24, 2020.
  • Pugh, Thomas, William Federici and Richard Henry, "Indict 5 Cosa hoods in killing of 6th," New York Daily News, Oct. 4, 1966, p. 3.
  • Sherman, William, "Mafia declares war, but porn king survives," New York Daily News, Dec. 13, 1972, p. 5. 
  • Walsh, Robert, "Franzese gets new suit; it's a jailstriper," New York Daily News, March 27, 1970, p. 24. 
  • Walsh, Robert, and Henry Lee, "Tag 9 guys & a gal in bank holdups, Inc.," New York Daily News, April 13, 1966, p. 3.

15 February 2020

Shotgun takes out Chicago's 'Scourge'

On this date in 1926...

Shotgun blasts on the evening of February 15, 1926, ended the underworld career of well-connected Chicago Mafioso Orazio Tropea.

Orazio Tropea (Chicago Daily Tribune)

Witnesses saw Tropea step off an eastbound streetcar at the corner of Taylor and Halsted Streets shortly after nine o'clock that night. As he walked east across Halsted, an automobile advanced on him from behind and nearly struck him. Tropea yelled angrily at the driver. The car stopped next to him, and a man emerged from it and raised a shotgun to Tropea's head. The Mafioso had just time enough to shout and raise his arms before the first barrel of the shotgun was discharged. The gunman then fired the second barrel.

Tropea absorbed much of the lead, but some fragments scattered, breaking through the windows of nearby businesses and wounding a bystander.

No shortage of suspects 
After spending some time in New York City and Buffalo, Tropea, known in underworld circles as "the Scourge," became a lieutenant in the Genna gang of Chicago in the early 1920s. He organized extortion rackets and extracted tribute payments from local businessmen.

In a relatively short time, Tropea accumulated an imposing list of enemies. Business owners resented his collection efforts. Adversaries of the "Terrible Gennas" had good reason to fear and hate him. Following the mid-1920s murders of brothers Angelo and Michael Genna, Genna relatives and the new underworld regime of Joseph Aiello quickly joined the enemies list.

Tropea's secret betrayal of the Genna clan and his allegiance to a breakaway Mafia faction became apparent following the January 1926 murder of Genna in-law Henry Spingola. Tropea and Spingola were playing cards at Amato's Restaurant on Halsted Street. Tropea stepped briefly away from the game as it was wrapping up. It was said that he either made a telephone call or raised a lighted match in front of a street-facing window. Spingola was then shot to death as he got into his car.

In February, Tropea was assigned with collecting money for the legal defense of Mafia gunmen John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi, charged in the shooting deaths of two Chicago detectives. That he was skimming from the collections could be deduced from his comfortable living arrangements at the Congress Hotel. And that, too, likely added significantly to his enemies list.

Tropea's personal life did not improve his popularity. With a wife and child in Catania, Sicily, Tropea married another woman and had another child while in Buffalo. After moving on to Chicago, he began a new relationship with a local teenager and sought to marry her as well (the wife in Sicily had reportedly died by this time, but he was still married to the woman in Buffalo). Her parents refused to permit the marriage, but Tropea continued seeing the girl.

Any of the individuals betrayed, hurt or terrorized by Tropea could have played a role in his murder.

Connections
Investigators discovered that Tropea had been carrying almost one thousand dollars in cash and wearing a large diamond ring when he was shot. They also learned that he was preparing to leave the city for a vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Police also recovered Tropea's small addressbook. It included a number of personal and business contacts from the Chicago area, including Mafioso Antonio Lombardo and members of the Aiello family. It also had information for underworld figures in Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn.

Read more about Tropea's addressbook on Mafiahistory.us.

Divisions within the Chicago Mafia came to the attention of investigators. They learned that gunmen initially brought into Chicago to act as Genna enforcers had decided to break away. The resulting factional struggle resulted in the killings of several Gennas, "Samoots" Amatuna and others.

One mourner
Following the Tropea murder, according to the press, no one in the Chicago area had a single good word to say about "the Scourge." Many in the Italian-American community expressed relief at his passing.

While his mother-in-law in Buffalo considered having the body brought to western New York for burial, that plan seems to have been quickly abandoned. Only two visitors went to the funeral home: his wife and his young girlfriend.

Arrow shows Tropea as
pallbearer for Angelo Genna
(Chicago Daily Tribune)

Tropea was buried on February 20. There was no religious service, none of the gaudy trappings of Chicago gangland funerals (as seen in the recent funeral of Angelo Genna, for whom Tropea served as pallbearer). Only the girlfriend went to the gravesite for his burial. As Tropea's city-funded casket was placed there, she fell onto it and wept.

Killings continue
The murder of Tropea did not bring an end to the warfare in Chicago's Sicilian underworld.

Baldelli (left) and Bascone

One day after Tropea was buried, a friend of his was found dead in a field in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. Vito Bascone had been shot in the head. It looked as though his body had been thrown from a passing automobile. Police knew that he had quarreled with the Spingola family and concluded that Bascone's murder was related to the ambush of Henry Spingola.


Three days after that, the body of Edward "the Eagle" Baldelli was found in a Chicago alley. Baldelli had been severely beaten and then shot twice through the head. Police believed that the body had been driven to the alley and left there to be discovered. In Baldelli's possession, police found a number of business cards, including one for a business partner of Orazio Tropea.

See also:

Sources:
  • "Certificate of identification," photograph, Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 38.
  • "Deportation or death seen as gangster fate," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "Feudists slay Sicilian ally of Genna gang," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Fight to free city of thugs given impetus," Belvidere Daily Republican, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Forty-first victim of gang war," Buffalo Evening Times, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 15.
  • "Gennas' friend slain; spurs war on aliens," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Latest slaying occurs during lull of one day in drive against gunmen," Rock Island IL Argus, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 1.
  • "List of names found," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "One dead in gang fight," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Orazio the 'Scourge' buried without friends or clergy," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 21, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Parents weep over clewless Mafia murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Police raid Mafia; get 121," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 23, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Raiders find old haunts of gunmen dark," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Rival loves weep for Orazio but his real widow is sought," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
  • "Say man killed in Chicago son-in-law of Buffalo woman," Buffalo Daily Courier, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 16.
  • "Sicilian gang kills again," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Son-in-law is killed by gang in Chicago row," Buffalo Morning Express, Feb. 17, 1926.
  • "Trace Sicilian killers in fight for deportation," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.

03 February 2020

'Joe Baker' gunned down on Belmont Ave.

On this date in 1931:

Mafia gunmen working for Castellammarese insurrection leader Salvatore Maranzano on February 3, 1931, ambushed Joseph "Joe the Baker" Catania in the Bronx. A key figure in the administration of boss of bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, Catania was gunned down in front of a candy store at 2373 Belmont Avenue. He was struck by slugs in the head, neck and upper body. He was rushed to Fordham Hospital, where he died the following morning.

Catania
The Mafia's Castellammarese War had been raging for months. The devastating loss of Catania occurred at a time when Masseria was insisting that his loyalists disarm to avoid provoking police. Convinced that the disarmament strategy would cause them to quickly follow Catania to the grave, Masseria's lieutenants began plotting his assassination.

Joseph Catania, twenty-eight,* was a nephew of Masseria group leader Ciro "the Artichoke King" Terranova. The married father of two children, Catania lived at 2319 Belmont Avenue, about two blocks from the scene of his murder. He was known as "Joe the Baker" or "Joe Baker" because of his involvement in the bakery business since childhood.

Catania reportedly was well liked by New York Mafiosi, but somehow managed to deeply offend Maranzano. The rebel leader felt that Catania must be killed before the end of the war. Maranzano sent hit teams to known Catania hangouts in the neighborhood of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street. (The Catania family had a bakery at 2389 Arthur Avenue in this period and years earlier lived in an apartment above it. The address is now home to an Italian restaurant and apartments.) These teams were unable to locate their target.

Maranzano next negotiated with Frank Scalise of the Bronx, a recent convert to the rebel cause, to eliminate the Baker. After two weeks, Maranzano gave up hope of Scalise taking care of things. The Castellammarese leader stationed a team, including Salvatore "Sally" Shillitani, Nick Capuzzi, Joseph Valachi and Maranzano's top assassin Sebastiano "Buster" Domingo, in a top-floor apartment across narrow Belmont Avenue from an office known to be used by Catania. The office was just a two-minute walk from Catania's apartment but was in a busier and more commercial setting.

Valachi later wrote about the assignment in his autobiography, The Real Thing, recalling that he personally liked Catania but hid that fact from his boss Maranzano.

New York Times
From the apartment windows, the team was able to spot and track Catania. They watched him go through the same routine at about nine o'clock every morning except Sunday - he appeared at the office, picked up some money, then came out and quickly walked a short distance to the corner, rounded the corner and disappeared. Each morning for weeks, Domingo prepared to take a shot at Catania as he reached the corner, but Domingo was too high over the street and Catania visible for too short a time to do so reliably.

Valachi became aware that a first-floor apartment in the building was vacant. He suggested that the team burst into that apartment one morning and target Catania from its windows. Maranzano approved the plan.

At eight o'clock on the morning of February 3, 1931, Valachi used burglar tools to open the door of the first-floor apartment, and the team members entered with guns drawn. Three painters were at work inside. When they saw the gangsters, they believed they were being held up and offered their money.

Valachi recalled, "I told them that we did not want their money, just go on painting the way you were doing and everyone will be happy and no one will bother you." The painters, whose names and home addresses were released to the press, later told the police that the gangsters entered with their faces masked with black scarves.

The other team members set up, but Valachi claimed that it was his job to go outside and start the getaway car. (With this claim, Valachi removed himself from the actual shooting of Catania. Interestingly, Valachi did not mention getting the car ready at any of the other times that Domingo had Catania in his sights.) In addition to putting six slugs in Catania, the shooters put numerous holes in the front windows of the candy store and an adjacent butcher shop.

Valachi estimated that he was in the car less than a minute when his associates arrived there. He did not recall whether he heard the gunshots. During their escape, Shillitani told him about the shooting:

He [Shillitani] felt bad because Joe Baker came out of the office and as he reached the corner his wife met him and she handed him something and they kissed and he went the other way and the wife just stayed there and was watching him go when Buster had to shoot... Solly said that he saw the dust come out of Joe's coat as the bullets hit him in the back.

A crowd gathered around the fallen Catania. One of the first to him was taxi driver Daniel Stefano. Catania was loaded into Stefano's cab and driven to Fordham Hospital. The Baker died of his wounds at ten minutes to eight the next morning.

Police questioned Daniel Stefano, Catania friend Daniel Iamascia and Catania's wife Louisa, but could not figure out the killing.

Catania (right) and underworld associates John Savino (left) and Daniel Iamascia

The New York underworld gave Catania a magnificent send-off. Press reports estimated that his funeral cost as much as $35,000, with about $10,000 said to have been invested in his coffin. (The coffin was bronze, according to the New York Times. The New York Daily News reported that it was silver.)

News from Catania's wake reached Maranzano through his spies: Ciro Terranova reportedly stood by the coffin, placed one hand on it and the other hand high in the air, and swore to avenge the killing of his nephew.

"When the old man [Maranzano] heard about this," Valachi recalled, "he sent someone at the funeral parlor to see if there was a chance to get [Terranova] at the wake. Naturally it was a spy but word came that it was impossible to do anything."

The funeral procession on February 7 was watched by about 10,000 people. It reportedly took forty cars to carry the floral offerings of friends, family and associates. Dozens of mounted and foot police officers kept order along the route and dozens of plain clothes detectives mingled in the crowd.

A Roman Catholic Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by three priests at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, about a block from the scene of the murder. Police frisked known crime figures, including Terranova, as they entered the church.

After the services, Catania's remains were placed temporarily in a crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery while a mausoleum was constructed at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.


* Different records point to different birthdates for Joseph Catania, ranging from March 1900 to November 1902, but the most reliable available sources point to between September 29, 1902, and October 1, 1902.

Sources:
  • "10,000 at funeral of 'Joe the Baker,'" New York Times, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 30.
  • "Bail runner shot in street ambush," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 11.
  • Birth records of Palermo, Italy, vol. 455, no. 108.
  • "Gang shots fatal to Joe the Baker," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 2.
  • "'Joe the Baker' dies of wounds," Brooklyn Standard Union, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun pair in Bronx riddle thug," New York Daily News, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 38.
  • Miley, Jack, "$35,000 funeral puts thug in last spot," New York Daily News, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 6.
  • New York State Census of 1905, New York County, Assembly District 32, Election District Special no. 3.
  • New York State Census of 1915, New York County, Assembly District 28, Election District 2.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Bronx County, Assembly District 7, Election District 45.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Palermo, Sicily, on April 15, 1903, arrived New York on May 1, 1903.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 341.
  • United States Census of 1920, New York State, Bronx County, Assembly District 4, Enumeration District 393.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Bronx County, Enumeration District 3-552.
  • Valachi, Joseph, The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra by Joseph Valachi, Member Since 1930, unpublished manuscript, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, p. 323-328.
  • Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "Gunmen of the Castellammarese War - Part 5: A lifetime of tangling with the law: Salvatore 'Sally Shields' Shillitani," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2013.
  • World War I Draft Registration Card, serial no. 3655, order no. 736, Local Board 17, New York City, Sept. 19, 1918.

02 February 2020

'Lucky' out of prison, held at Ellis Island

Authorities prepare to deport NY Mafia boss

On this date in 1946:

New York Mafia boss Salvatore "Charlie Lucky Luciano" Lucania, age forty-eight, was removed from temporary custody at Sing Sing Prison on February 2, 1946, and placed in a holding area at Ellis Island, as authorities prepared to deport him to his native Italy.

Lucania
Lucania, leader of a powerful crime family (later known as the Genovese Family) and one of the architects of the Mafia's national Commission, was convicted about nine and a half years earlier on sixty-two counts of compulsory prostitution. On June 18, 1936, he was sentenced to a prison term of thirty to fifty years.

The case that put Lucania behind bars was handled by then-Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey also was responsible for Lucania's release. Entering the final year of his first term as New York governor, Dewey on January 3, 1946, commuted the remainder of Lucania's sentence on the condition that he be deported to Italy.

The governor issued a statement relating to the commutation, which revealed that the imprisoned Lucania rendered some sort of assistance to the U.S. military during World War II:

Luciano is deportable to Italy. He was a leader of a syndicate which supervised and gave orders relating to the operation of a vice combine which "booked" women for houses of prostitution and provided other service incidental to the operation of houses of prostitution. He has previously been convicted of the possession of drugs. Upon the entry of the United States into the war, Luciano's aid was sought by the armed services in inducing others to provide information concerning possible enemy attack. It appears that he cooperated in such effort, though the actual value of the information provided is not clear. His record in prison is reported as wholly satisfactory.

Wild stories quickly grew out of the news of Lucania's aid to the military. Just a few days after Dewey's statement, a New York Daily News entertainment page featured an article that claimed Lucania was single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of countless American servicemen. The article, by Robert Sylvester, quoted an unnamed underworld source:

Remember the Sicily campaign was one of the easiest of the war? Well, Charley made it that way. He turned over a whole Cloak & Dagger Crew which worked before and during the invasion. You can thank Charley Lucky for saving thousands and thousands of American lives.

Dewey
Some questioned Dewey's motivation for commuting Lucania's sentence. (The state administration conducted an investigation of its own decision-making.) Some years later, it was suggested that Lucania had obtained damaging information against Dewey. An autobiography of narcotics agent Sal Vizzini claimed that, while in exile, Lucania boasted about that: "I had a whole damned battery of lawyers. I told them I didn't care what it cost but I wanted them to dig into Dewey's background. They came up with a pile of information on him that might have put his ass in the can..."

SIx days after Governor Dewey's sentence commutation, Lucania was transfered from Great Meadow State Prison in the upstate New York hamlet of Comstock (just east of Lake George) to Sing Sing Prison at Ossining, about thirty miles from New York City.

The Board of Parole approved Lucania's release for the purpose of deportation on February 2. Immigration and Naturalization agents took custody of him on that date and brought him to the federal immigration facility at Ellis Island. While at Ellis Island, he was permitted to visit briefly with underworld associates Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Michael Lascari and with attorney Moses Polakoff.

His stay on the island lasted less than a week. He was taken to Brooklyn and put aboard the S.S. Laura Keene at Pier 7 of the Bush Terminal on February 8. The ship's departure was delayed by bad weather, but she sailed for Italy on February 10, reaching Naples seventeen days later.

Read the details of Lucania's imprisonment and release:
"When 'Lucky' was locked up," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us

Sources:
  • Abrams, Norma, "Poor Italy: Defeat and now, Luciano!" New York Daily News, Feb. 9, 1946, p. 3.
  • "Charles Luciano, Anti-Racketeering," translations of Italian language articles appearing in the Jan. 11, Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, 1959, issues of L'Europeo magazine, FBI memo, Feb. 18, 1959.
  • Conroy, E.E., FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-5, Feb. 26, 1946.
  • Conroy, E.E., FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-6, Feb. 27, 1946.
  • Conroy, E.E., Letter to Mr. Hoover, Charles Luciano FBI file, no. 39-2141-8, March 1, 1946.
  • "Dewey commutes Luciano sentence," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1946, p. 25.
  • "A French payment," editorial, Brooklyn Citizen, Jan. 5, 1942, p. 4.
  • Herlands, William B., Report of the Commissioner of Investigation to Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Sept. 17, 1954.
  • Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7, Meyer Lansky testimony of Feb. 14, 1951, p. 606-607.
  • "'Lucky' Luciano to be paroled and deported," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 3, 1946, p. 1.
  • Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, file no. 39-2141-39, May 17, 1946.
  • "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report NY 62-8768, file no. 39-2141-9, May 5, 1946.
  • Sylvester, Robert, "A B'way hoodlum lives a melodrama nobody would write," New York Daily News, Jan. 8, 1946, p. 27.
  • Vizzini, Sal, with Oscar Fraley and Marshall Smith, Vizzini: The Story of America's No, 1 Undercover Narcotics Agent, New York: Pinnacle, 1972, p. 77.

13 January 2020

Crime bosses receive hundred-year sentences

Judge hands out 740 years in prison terms, $1.75 million in fines

On this date in 1987...

Rockland County NY Journal-News

Seven leaders of New York-area organized crime families were sentenced January 13, 1987, to hundred-year prison terms. The Manhattan federal court sentencing concluded the Commission Case.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Owen recommended that none of the defendants ever be paroled. "These defendants deserve permanent incarceration," the judge stated. "Their crimes cry out for extraordinary punishment. The defendants occupied the highest ranks of the Mafia, and their offenses were of the utmost magnitude." Without that recommendation, parole could have been considered after ten years had been served.

Three of those sentenced to a century behind bars were believed at the time to be bosses of Mafia organizations:
  • Lucchese Crime Family - Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, 73, of Oyster Bay Cove, New York.
  • Colombo Crime Family - Carmine "Junior" Persico, 53, from Brooklyn.
  • Genovese Crime Family - Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, 76, of Rhinebeck, New York. (Salerno was later found to be acting as a screen for the actual Genovese boss, Vincent "the Chin" Gigante.)

Corallo was also fined $250,000. Persico and Salerno were fined $240,000.

Corallo, Persico, Salerno
 Also sentenced to hundred-year prison terms:
  • Salvatore "Tom Mix" Santoro, 72, of Bronx, underboss of Lucchese Family. Fined $250,000.
  • Gennaro "Jerry Lang" Langella, 48, of Staten Island, underboss of Colombo Family. Fined $240,000. (Langella's attorney asked for a leniency, as Langella was already serving sentences of ten years and sixty-fine years from other cases and, according to the attorney, did not have "much left to give to his country." Judge Owen made the hundred-year term concurrent with the other sentences.)
  • Christopher "Christy Tick" Furnari, 62, of Rockville Centre, New York, consigliere (counselor) of Lucchese Family. Fined $240,000.
  • Ralph Scopo, 58, of Howard Beach, Queens, former labor leader and soldier of Colombo Family. Fined $240,000.

An eighth defendant, Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato, 38, of Manhattan, member of the Bonanno Crime Family, was sentenced to a lesser term. Convicted on two racketeering counts, including participation in the Commission-ordered killing of Bonanno big shot Carmine Galante, but not of holding a leadership position in the underworld, he received the maximum sentence of forty years. He was also fined $50,000.

Courtroom scene at sentencing. New York Daily News.

All the defendants were present in court for the sentencing. Judge Owen addressed them one at a time.

Salerno, believed at the time to be the wealthiest and most powerful underworld leader, was the first to be sentenced. Judge Owen remarked, "You sir, in my opinion, essentially spent all your lifetime terrorizing this community to your financial advantage."

Most of the defendants remained silent at sentencing. But Persico, who had acted as his own attorney at trial, charged that "this case was prejudiced from the very first day." He said the convictions and sentences were the result of "Mafia mania." Persico was already serving a thirty-nine-year sentence from a different case.

After four defendants had been sentenced and Judge Owen called the name of Salvatore Santoro, Santoro remarked, "Give me my hundred years and we'll get it over with."

Judge Owen explained that the sentences were intended as "a statement to those out there ... who are undoubtedly thinking about taking over the reins" of organized crime.

Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told the press that the sentences would be "devastating to the mob."

Thomas L. Sheer, head of the FBI's New York office, was cautious in his assessment: "The worst mistake we can make is to declare a final victory."

The Commission Case began with the unsealing of a fifteen-count indictment on February 26, 1985. The original defendants, nine in number, did not include Persico or Indelicato but did include Bonanno Crime Family boss Philip "Rusty" Rastelli and Gambino Crime Family boss Paul "Big Paul" Castellano and his underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce. In June prosecutors added Carmine Persico and Stefano Cannone to the list of defendants.

That list was reduced over time. Dellacroce and Cannone died of natural causes. Castellano was murdered. Rastelli was severed from the case because he was being tried on a separate matter in Brooklyn. Indelicato was added.

Trial began with jury selection on September 8, 1986. The court proceedings lasted for a month and a half.

An anonymous jury of five men and seven women returned guilty verdicts against the defendants on November 19, 1986, following five days of deliberations. All eight defendants were convicted of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. All except Indelicato were convicted of extortion, extortion conspiracy and extorting and accepting labor payoffs. Corallo and Santoro were also convicted of loansharking conspiracy.

Maximum possible sentences were 326 years for Corallo and Santoro; 306 years for Persico, Salerno, Langella, Furnari and Scopo; and forty years for Indelicato.

See also:


Sources:

  • Doyle, John M., "Commission bosses get 100 years," Poughkeepsie Journal (AP), Jan. 14, 1987, p. B5.
  • Doyle, John M., "Eight mobsters convicted of all counts in Mafia Commission trial," AP News Archive, Nov. 19, 1986.
  • Jacobs, James B., with Christopher Panarella and Jay Worthington, Busting the Mob: United States v. Cosa Nostra, New York: New York University Press, 1994, p. 86-87.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "Judge sentences 8 Mafia leaders to prison terms," New York Times, Jan. 14, 1987.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "U.S. jury convicts eight as members of mob Commission," New York Times, Nov. 20, 1986.
  • O'Shaughnessy, Patrice, "100-year terms for 7 mobsters," New York Daily News, Jan. 14, 1987, p. 7.
  • "In brief: Mafia bosses are sentenced to centuries," New York Times, Jan. 18, 1987.
  • "Lawyer for Mafia boss shows lighter side of sentencing," Rockland County NY Journal-News, Jan. 14, 1987, p. B6.
  • "Mafia bosses get 100 years each," Rockland County NY Journal-News (AP), Jan. 14, 1987, p. B6.

05 January 2020

New Orleans killing linked to Mafia feud

On this date in 1888...

A single pistol shot echoed along New Orleans' St. Philip Street at about ten o'clock in the evening of Thursday, January 5, 1888.

Times-Democrat
Private watchman Jacob Seither, stationed at the Old French Market at the foot of St. Philip, called for police assistance and then moved up the dark street toward the sound. Midway up the block, in front of a lodging house, Seither found twenty-eight-year-old Antonio Bonora, clutching a wounded abdomen and murmuring in Italian.

Police Officer Frank Santanio soon arrived and summoned an ambulance. He determined that Bonora was calling for his mother and asking for her blessing. Santanio asked Bonora who shot him, but the victim gave no answer. Bonora died before the ambulance arrived.

A stretcher was assembled from available materials, and it was used to take Bonora's body to the Third Precinct Station for examination. Police found a gaping wound in the upper abdomen and severe powder burns on the surrounding clothing and flesh. That indicated that the pistol had been placed quite close to the body when it was fired.

Investigators gained little helpful information from questioning residents of the Italian neighborhood where the killing occurred. In the front room of Salvatore Buffa's saloon, which looked out onto the street where Bonora was killed, police found several men gathered. Those men claimed they had been singing together and neither saw nor heard the nearby shooting.

Daily Picayune
Police learned that Bonora had been in the Buffa saloon earlier that night, sharing wine with local residents Sam Caruso, Vincent Pellegrini and Frank Demar. Caruso and friends reportedly tried to convince Bonora to take a drive with them uptown, but he refused. They parted a short time before the shooting.

Caruso, Pellegrini and Demar were rounded up by the police and brought to the police station. They viewed Bonora's body, but provided no useful information to investigators.

Deputy Coroner Stanhope Jones performed an autopsy on Bonora's remains on Friday morning. He found that death resulted from hemorrhage caused by a bullet that entered the body four inches above the navel and cut through the liver, spleen and right lung. The bullet traveled upward inside the body and lodged beneath the right armpit.

The local press reported that Bonora was a member of the Tiro al Bersaglio organization and the Fruit Laborers Union. Tiro al Bersaglio was an Italian-American benevolent society that hosted marksmanship events and had a paramilitary quality. Some of its more influential members, including Joseph Macheca and Frank Romero, were later linked with the local Mafia.

Related to Mafia conflict?

Bonora's murder was unsolved. But historians have pointed to Mafia enforcer Rocco Geraci as his killer. In the 1880s, the Sicilian underworld of New Orleans was divided into warring factions built around the rival Provenzano and Matranga families. It appears likely that Bonora's murder was related to this conflict. Geraci is also believed responsible for the earlier murder of Vincent Raffo in the same neighborhood.

The Provenzano group, known as the Giardinieri (or Gardeners) included Bonora's drinking buddies Pellegrini and Demar (a Provenzano brother-in-law) and, for a time at least, members of the Caruso family. Geraci was aligned with the Matrangas, known as the Stuppagghieri (or Stoppers). The Carusos appear to have abruptly abandoned the Provenzanos to side with the Matrangas, but they may have been secretly allied with the Matrangas all along.

The Provenzanos for years held a virtual monopoly over Sicilian dockworkers in New Orleans, controlling the Fruit Laborers Union. (In the later 1880s, Provenzanos held the posts of union vice president and financial secretary, while Victor Pellegrini served as union grand marshal.) A Provenzano-aligned stevedore firm held contracts to unload produce ships reaching the city docks.

In this period, a rival Matranga-Locascio firm sprang up and quickly seized control of the docks. A local newspaper report from summer 1888 indicated that the new company's "quick work and careful handling of the fruit" earned it high marks from importers and ship owners. At that moment, the Matranga business was said to include Charles Matranga, Antonio Locascio, James Caruso, Vincent Caruso and Rocco Geraci.

The Provenzanos did not accept the setback gracefully. More violence resulted, and local police, courts and political organizations were pulled into the gangland war.

See also:

Sources:
  • "From Spanish Honduras with fruit," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Aug. 26, 1888, p. 11.
  • "Fruit Laborers' Union," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 29, 1888, p. 6.
  • "Rocco Geraci," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 27, 1890, p. 6.
  • "Slain," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 6, 1888, p. 2.
  • "The Benora autopsy," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The fruit laborers," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 29, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The Italian murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 6, 1888, p 3.
  • "Trial of Garaci," New Orleans Times-Democrat, July 27, 1890, p. 10.

26 December 2019

Flamingo opens with three-day gala

On this date in 1946...


The Flamingo casino, financed in large part by underworld investments funneled through racketeer Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, opened its doors for the first time on December 26, 1946.

Cugat and Durante
A three-day opening event, December 26-28, featured entertainment by orchestra leader Xavier Cugat, singer and comedian Jimmy Durante, Broadway performer Tommy Wonder (a veteran of some Our Gang films) and singer Rose Marie.

At the time of the opening, the Flamingo's hotel section was still under construction, and management hoped it would be completed by March 1, 1947. Advertisements for the three-day opening urged southern California visitors to "fly up any day and come back the same night." Chartered planes departed for Las Vegas at 5:30 in the afternoon and returned guests by 1 a.m.

The Flamingo was billed as the "most luxurious night club in the world." Its advertisements vaguely (and somewhat conservatively) placed its construction cost at "better than $5,000,000."

That figure had risen dramatically in the months leading up to the opening, and it would continue to rise. Back in early October, the final cost had been estimated at between $2.5 million and $4 million.

The exterior of the casino was beige and brown. It was lined with bushes illuminated with red and blue lights. Numerous potted palm trees were placed around the establishment. An artificial green lake stood at one side. The large bar had green leather walls with many mirrors, a black ceiling and "tomato-red furniture."

Not the first

Flamingo may have been the "most luxurious night club" at that moment, but it was not the first Las Vegas hotel-casino to cater to wealthy gamblers.

El Rancho Vegas (opened on The Strip in 1941), El Cortez (1941), Nevada Biltmore (1942) and Hotel Last Frontier (1942) were already in operation and reportedly doing good business. Columnist Erskine Johnson noted in June 1946 that those ventures, set in motion before U.S. entry into World War II, remained "jammed" with visitors:

Movie stars, millionaires, socialites and plain John Does are standing two deep at the roulette and dice tables. Every gambling casino in town - and there's one on almost every corner - is grossing from $3000 to $5000 a night. And every night is like New Year's Eve.

Johnson reported rumors that the funding for Flamingo construction was coming from Barbara Hutton, heiress to portions of the Woolworth retail and Hutton financial services fortunes. According to Johnson, Hutton was "sinking a small fortune" into the project, "which will be a gilt casino with hotel attached."

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1946

Priorities

Flamingo construction was repeatedly delayed for various reasons. At least twice in the summer and fall of 1946, the project was halted for a review by the federal government's Civilian Production Administration (CPA).

The year-old CPA, a postwar version of the War Production Board, was tasked with prioritizing the use of construction resources. In spring 1946, CPA had put a temporary stop on all non-essential commercial building not already started in order to concentrate resources on the housing needs of returning U.S. servicemen.

Columnist Hedda Hopper called attention to the Flamingo construction and a wider building boom in the Las Vegas area in a September 10 column. She also mentioned financial backer Siegel by name:

A huge night club, backed by Bugsy Siegel and called the Flamingo, was started only a few months ago. It features four swimming pools, and reservations are already being taken for a November opening. Yet our returned soldiers can't even find a shed for shelter.

The "only a few months ago" remark was a problem, as it suggested the building effort began after the March 26 effective date of CPA's Veterans Housing Project No. 1 regulation. A federal compliance commissioner reviewed the project in mid-September and announced that work on the night club had started before March 26 and that the planned hotel and connecting shops of the horseshoe-shaped complex were merely phases of the project already underway and not separate projects.

That decision was pushed aside in early October, as the CPA ordered a halt to the project and conducted a further review. At that moment, reports indicated that just $400,000 - about one-tenth of what was then the expected project cost - had been spent on construction.

Focus on casino

Resources appear to have been channeled into the completion of the casino before year-end. The casino was mentioned regularly in the press during the month of December.

  • Columnist Leonard Lyons wrote on December 19 that the movie and radio comedy team of Abbott and Costello had committed to work at the Flamingo for pay of $15,000 a week.
  • Columnist Louella O. Parsons commented a few days later: "Quite a lot of people are goig to Las Vegas the 26th and 27th for the opening of the Flaming." Parsons mentioned that Cugat and Durante had been booked as entertainers.
  • Columnist Hedda Hopper immediately expressed surprise: "I can't believe Jimmy Durante will give a two-week guest shot to the new Flaming gambling casino in Las Vegas."
Benjamin Siegel and George Raft
Opulent playground

One of those covering Flamingo's opening was journalist Bob Thomas. He reported that "a covery of movie names flew over for the opening, including Lon McAllister, George Sanders, Sonny Tufts, Charles Coburn, Vivian Blaine, George Raft, Eleanor Parker and George Jessel."

Thomas said the older hotel-casinos in the area responded to the big-name talent booked at the Flamingo by providing their own entertainment. El Rancho Vegas, he reported, hired comedians the Ritz Brothers and singer Peggy Lee.

He noted that Las Vegas at that moment had "more big-time entertainment than one could find in a week of touring Hollywood night spots."

While the entertainment brought publicity to the Vegas establishments, Thomas reminded his readers that the casinos' wealth was generated through constant gambling. He noted that in the Flamingo casino, patrons at roulette, crap, 21 and chuckaluck tables were busily helping "to defray the $5,000,000 cost of the place." And he confessed, "I made my contribution at a nickel slot machine."

In a United Press report of the opening, the financial backers of the casino were named as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; Harry Rothberg, vice president of American Distillers; Billy Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter; and Joe Ross, Hollywood attorney.

Problems ahead

The enthusiastic contributions made by gamblers were not sufficient to please Flamingo's investors. In the weeks following the opening, there were reports that the casino's income was not close to covering its expenses and there was evidence that Siegel was scrambling to keep the business afloat. Newspapers said he took out a $1 million loan in order to pay off a contractor.

Siegel's underworld friends expressed their unhappiness with his management of the casino on June 20, 1947. On that evening, less than six months after the Flamingo's opening gala, Siegel was shot to death.


Sources:

  • "An evening in Las Vegas," Los Angeles Times, advertisement, Dec. 24, 1946, p. 4.
  • "Flamingo hotel permit allowed," Nevada State Journal, Sept. 15, 1946, p. 21.
  • "Las Vegas club building halted," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 1946, p. 6;
  • "Nevada politics," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 20, 1946, p. 19.
  • "New colossus on the desert," Des Moines IA Register, Jan. 1, 1947, p. 5.
  • "State boss of bookmaking slain in south," San Mateo CA Times, June 21, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Work halted on Las Vegas club pending probe," Santa Cruz CA Sentinel, Oct. 3, 1946, p. 8.
  • "Work is halted on Vegas club," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 3, 1946, p. 4;
  • Hopper, Hedda, "Hedda Hopper in Hollywood," Miami News, Dec. 23, 1946, p. 11.
  • Hopper, Hedda, "Looking at Hollywood," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 10, 1946, p. 11.
  • Johnson, Erskine, "In Hollywood," Visalia CA Times-Delta, June 14, 1946, p. 10.
  • Lyons, Leonard, "Broadway Medley," San Mateo CA Times, Dec. 19, 1946, p. 12.
  • Lyons, Leonard, "The Lyons den," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 22, 1946, p. Mag. 5.
  • Parsons, Louella O., "Deborah Kerr and Gable cast in another picture," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 23, 1946, p. 9.
  • Thomas, Bob, "Las Vegas is called new Barbary Coast," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1946, p. 6.

23 December 2019

Calamia caught, called killing conspirator

Despite D.A. claims, DeJohn murder remains unsolved

On this date in 1948...

San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948.
A fugitive, indicted for conspiring in the May 1947 San Francisco gangland murder of Nick DeJohn, was captured in New Mexico on December 23, 1948.

The FBI and Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies arrested Leonard Calamia, aged thirty-two, on a federal warrant. Acting on a tip received from San Francisco, authorities sought Calamia at his new place of employment, the driver's license department of the New Mexico State Revenue Bureau in Albuquerque, but he was not there. They found him next door in the State Highway Department building adjoining the offices of the New Mexico State Police. They learned that Calamia, under the assumed name of Len Tallone, had held two government jobs in the year and a half he lived in New Mexico.

Calamia admitted his identity and his criminal history - he was an ex-convict, former narcotics peddler and Chicago hoodlum. Police determined that Calamia returned to Chicago briefly after the DeJohn murder and then relocated to Albuquerque, adopting his wife's maiden name of Tallone as his own surname.

He was placed in the Bernalillo County sheriff's office lockup. Bail was set at $50,000. Calamia waived a removal hearing and was turned over to San Francisco police on December 29.

Nick DeJohn
The plot against DeJohn

Calamia was one of five men indicted one month earlier for conspiring in the DeJohn murder. Two of his codefendants, Sicilian immigrants Sebastiano Nani and Michele Abati, were arrested in November. Two others, Frank Scappatura and Tony Lima, remained at large. (There were rumors that Lima was prepared to surrender to authorities at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but that did not occur. Scappatura and Lima were never arrested in connection with this case.)

According to prosecutors, Nick DeJohn, a former member of the Capone Outfit in Chicago, had been trying to take over underworld rackets in the San Francisco area and was killed by rivals. DeJohn's body was found stuffed into the trunk of his Chrysler Town & Country convertible on May 9, 1947. Evidence indicated he had been strangled to death two days earlier.

Prosecutors believed that Calamia, known to be a close friend of DeJohn, was called upon to serve as the "finger man" in the murder, leading DeJohn to his killers. Calamia reportedly spent much of May 7, 1947, with DeJohn. The Calamia and DeJohn families had dinner together at the Calamia residence. Leonard Calamia and Nick DeJohn went out for drinks to the Poodle Dog restaurant and bar at 1125 Polk Street and then to LaRocca's Corner at 957 Columbus Avenue in the North Beach section. They parted at LaRocca's Corner. DeJohn was last seen alive as he was walking from the tavern.

Reports, later disputed, claimed that at the time of DeJohn's murder, Calamia was home having coffee and cake with DeJohn's son.

Calamia had been arrested almost immediately after the discovery of DeJohn's body. But he had been released May 31, 1947, due to insufficient evidence.

Authorities insisted for some time that the DeJohn murder was essentially solved. They claimed to know where DeJohn was killed, why he was killed and who was responsible. But assembling a convincing case proved to be a problem.

Trial

Prosecutors thought they had a winning case when Calamia, Nani and Abati were brought to trial. But they found that some of their important witnesses were unreliable and could not withstand cross examination.

Leonard Calamia
As jury deliberations started in early March 1949, the district attorney admitted that he did not believe the testimony of some of his own witnesses. Judge Preston Devine denounced witnesses from both sides for giving obviously false testimony.

After thirty hours of deliberations, the jury stood deadlocked and Judge Devine declared a mistrial.

No retrial

The most inconsistent prosecution witness also was the key witness in the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the original indictments.

Mrs. Anita Rocchia Venza claimed that she had overheard the five men plotting to kill DeJohn. She was in a basement apartment near La Rocca's Corner at the time and heard the conversation from an adjoining room. She claimed that the plotters learned of her presence and offered her $500 to forget what she heard and leave the state.

When her statements were determined to be unreliable, the original indictments were quashed, any chance of a retrial was lost and the fugitive warrants against the two at-large defendants, Scappatura and Lima, were voided.

The murder of Nick DeJohn remained officially unsolved.

See also:
Valin, Edmond, "Former San Francisco boss supplied info to federal agents," Rat Trap, mafiahistory.us.

Sources:
  • "Calamia arraigned here with two other suspects in De John slaying," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 1, 1949, p. 5.
  • "Calamia ask high court for freedom," San Mateo Times, Jan. 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Calamia faces further quiz," San Francisco Examiner, June 1, 1947, p. 3.
  • "Calamia loses plea," San Mateo Times, Jan. 21, 1949, p. 5.
  • "Calamia silent in S.F. prison," San Mateo Times, Dec. 31, 1948, p. 4.
  • "DeJohn case jury dismissed; stood 7 to 5 for acquittal," San Francisco Examiner, March 9, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Delay asked in trial of Nani," San Mateo Times, Dec. 28, 1948, p. 5.
  • "Delay granted in DeJohn trial," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1948, p. 17.
  • "FBI nabs Calamia, accused as 'finger man' in DeJohn case," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Five indicted for De John murder; woman testifies that she overheard plot," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 30, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Hunt pushed for trio in DeJohn case," San Mateo Times, Dec. 1, 1948.
  • "New evidence in Nick DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 2, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Police hunt 4 suspects in De John case," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 24, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Police move to wind up De John case as 'solved,'" Oakland Tribune, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 7.
  • "S.M. man held brains of Nick DeJohn murder," San Mateo Times, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 1.
  • "State to use Calamia story to police at gangland trial," San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 7, 1949, p. 17.
  • "Third DeJohn fugitive caught," San Mateo Times, Dec. 23, 1948, p. 1.
  • "U.S. warrants issued for 2 in DeJohn hunt," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 23, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Warrants voided in DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 20, 1949, p. 5.
  • Pearce, Dick, "Calamia dislosures key to De John trial," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 29, 1949, p. 1.