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

19 March 2017

74 years ago: Chicago boss suicide

On this date in 1943, Chicago Outfit leader Frank Nitti responded to news of a federal indictment by sending his wife to pray a novena, getting himself drunk and then firing a bullet into his brain. 


Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943.
The indictment was not entirely a surprise. Chicago mob bosses were well aware that their plot to extort millions from the motion picture industry and theater projectionists had been exposed. Willie Bioff - hand-picked by Nitti to oversee the racket - and Bioff's more visible partners had already been convicted in federal court. And it was clear that federal investigators were not done. News from New York suggested that some mob big-shots in Chicago were likely to be indicted. It seemed certain that Bioff was aiding the investigators, but the extent of the damage was not known until March 19, 1943.

Chicago Daily Tribune
Oct. 25, 1941
That's when authorities in New York announced that indictments for racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud had been returned against Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti (real name Nitto), Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (DeLucia), Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Philip D'Andrea, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Ralph Pierce and Francis "Frank Diamond" Maritote. Bioff's betrayal had been complete.

Nitti had bet his reputation - and, likely, his life - on Bioff's reliability. When the extortion plot first came to light with complaints that mobsters controlled the International Alliance of Theatre and Stage Employees (IATSE), Outfit leaders contemplated severing their most dangerous connection to IATSE by murdering Bioff. Bioff reportedly survived only because Nitti opposed the idea.

On the morning of March 19, attorney A. Bradley Eben (a former assistant U.S. attorney) called the Nitti home at 712 Selborne Road in Riverside, Illinois, and provided his client with news of the indictments. Nitti made arrangements to meet with Eben at his law office that afternoon, but the mob boss actually had other plans.

Nitti told his wife of nine months, Antoinette (known as "Toni") Caravetta Nitto, to begin a prayer novena at Our Lady of Sorrows Church on Chicago's west side. (The Sorrowful Mother Novena was an enormously popular service at the church from the late 1930s into the 1950s.) She left the house at 1:15 that afternoon.

Nitti was next seen by railroad employees at about three o'clock, as he staggered along the Illinois Central tracks near Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, less than a mile from his Selborne Road home. As the railroad men called out to him, the intoxicated Nitti leaned back against a chain-link fence, drew a handgun and fired it twice, sending bullets through his hat. Positioning the weapon more carefully, he then fired a third shot. The slug entered the right side of his head near his ear and traveled upward, lodging in the top of his skull.

Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943.
When police arrived, they found Nitti's driver's license and Selective Service draft card - both made out in the name Frank Nitto - in his pockets. The documents gave his birthdate as Jan. 27, 1886. The draft card contained his Selborne Road address. The license, however, showed an address of 1208 Lexington Street in Chicago, which belonged to Lucia Ronga, mother of his first wife, the late Anna Theresa Ronga Nitto.

Toni Nitto returned home about a half hour later. "The first I knew of what had happened was when [the police] came and told me he was dead," she later told the press. "I knew something was wrong. There were always strange men watching our house. He knew something was up, too. Frank wasn't well - it was his stomach, nerves I think. They were always after him. They wouldn't let him alone. They made him do this."

Toni's brother Charles appeared at the coroner's inquest to testify that Nitti had been dealing with a number of issues: "He was suffering with a heart ailment and he had stomach trouble. I think he was temporarily insane." Some sources indicated that Nitti was also suffering with physical pain from a serious gunshot wound suffered back in 1932 and with lingering emotional pain from the death of his first wife in November of 1940.

A federal informant provided a more direct explanation for Nitti's suicide: "It was that or be killed. [The Outfit] held Nitti responsible for the problem. Bioff has been his man and it was Nitti who had persuaded the group to withdraw the original 'hit' order on Bioff. It was felt that if they had killed Bioff earlier in the investigation, his death would have silenced most prospective witnesses."

Nitti's estate was valued at greater than $74,000. That was divided between the widow Toni and Joseph, Nitti's son by his first marriage.

What happened to Willie Bioff? Click here.

Sources:
  • World War II draft registration card, serial no. U2138.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, NARA no. 124-10208-10406, July 22, 1964, p. 18.

  • Fulton, William, "5 aliases bob up to haunt Bioff at extort trial," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 30, 1941, p. 2.
  • "List gangsters who prey on Chicago unions," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 18, 1943, p. 1.
  • Wiegman, Carl, "Nitti kills himself!," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943, p. 1.
  • "Gang leader Nitti kills himself in Chicago after indictment here," New York Times, March 20, 1943, p. 30.
  • "Nitti long held business chief of underworld," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943, p. 6.
  • Geserick, June, "Nitti sent wife to church at hour of suicide," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943, p. 6.
  • "FBI hunts new clews bearing on Nitti suicide," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 21, 1943, p. 3.
  • "Nitti's widow once was secretary for slain Edw. J. O'Hare," Dixon IL Evening Telegraph, March 22, 1943, p. 7.
  • Wiegman, Carl, "Schenck bares Bioff threats; cash paid here," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 26, 1943, p. 2.
  • "Swears Nitti was treasurer of movie union," Chicago Daily Tribune, July 3, 1943, p. 6.
  • "Bioff reveals tributes paid by movie firms," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 8, 1943, p. 15.
  • "Frank Nitti leaves $75,000 estate," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, Oct. 12, 1943, p. 1.

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.

09 March 2017

'Wrongly Executed?' earns notice

The current issue of Vermont's esteemed alternative newsweekly, Seven Days, provides readers with a glimpse of my recently released book, Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution. That such a fine periodical took notice of my work and decided it was worth sharing with readers is an honor. Thank you to Seven Days and to arts reporter Sadie Williams.


See:

02 March 2017

Disturbance at trial of Hennessy assassins

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sources:

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


21 February 2017

Chicago gangland hit (long before Capone)

Chicago was host to powerful and violent Sicilian-Italian underworld organizations long before Al Capone arrived in the city. 

On this date in 1901: Salvatore DiGiovanni, regarded as a leader of the Windy City's Italian community, was fatally shot through the chest during an 8 p.m. scuffle in a dark alley off Grand Avenue near Milwaukee Avenue. (Another murder linked with the Mafia occurred at nearly the same spot, considered the heart of Chicago's Little Sicily, in 1899.) DiGiovanni was rushed to the hospital but died on the way.

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1901.
DiGiovanni, 50, had been a Chicago resident for a decade. Identified by the press as an immigrant from Naples, he was a political leader in Chicago's Nineteenth Ward. He likely also commanded a Neapolitan gang in the area.

Police investigating the incident found in the alley evidence of a struggle and two DiGiovanni revolvers, one with three chambers empty and the other unfired. A man named Carlo Battista was found at the scene and taken into custody. Witnesses in the area reported hearing at least five shots fired.

Detectives spotted a trail of blood leading from the alley. They carefully followed blood spots to the Erie Street bridge. At that point, they encountered a doctor who reported treating a wounded man at 141 Milton Avenue.

Police raided the Milton Avenue residence at midnight, finding a group of men huddled in a small room with numerous revolvers and daggers. They arrested Joseph Morici and eight other men. Morici had a severe bullet wound through his cheek and was taken to the County Jail hospital for treatment. During questioning, one of the arrested men revealed that Morici was president of an organization known as the Sicilian Society.

At the West Chicago Avenue Police Station, Carlo Battista told investigators that he knew DiGiovanni for some time and met him a day earlier for the first time in seven years. He initially said he just happened to be passing the alley following the shooting and found his old friend mortally wounded. After hours of questioning, Battista admitted that he was present during the shooting.

Police later learned that DiGiovanni had been lured from his home, 114 West Polk Street, by Sicilian rivals. Five Sicilian gangsters, including Morici, attacked him at the alley. Eventually, Joseph Morici admitted his responsibility for the killing of DiGiovanni but insisted that he shot the man in self-defense. Authorities concluded that Morici was leader of a band of Sicilian counterfeiters and "Black Handers."

Morici, a native of the Castelbuono-Termini area of Sicily, worked as a commission merchant in Chicago. His brother Frank ran a saloon at 57 Grand Avenue, close to the alley where DiGiovanni was killed. Morici's self-defense argument was convincing, and a grand jury refused to indict him for the murder of DiGiovanni. Years later, Morici was arrested following a series of suspicious fires.

Chicago's Little Sicily, Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1901.
Sources:
  • "Italian slain; plot suspected," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 22, 1901, p. 1.
  • "Alleged Mafia crime," Indianapolis Journal, Feb. 23, 1901, p. 5.
  • "Say revenge prompted murder of Di Giovanni," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1901, p. 10.
  • "Morici is accused," Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, Feb. 26, 1901, p. 4.
  • "Find Morici shot Giovanni," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 26, 1901, p. 4.
  • "Grand jury releases Morici," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 28, 1901, p. 12.
  • "Most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1901, p. 49.
  • "Police hope now to solve puzzle of 'Black Hand,'" Chicago Daily Tribune, April 21, 1911, p. 1.

18 February 2017

92 years ago: Explosion in Pittsburgh

On this date in 1925: A massive explosion destroyed two buildings and severely damaged several others in the Produce District of Pittsburgh.

The 5 a.m. blast seemed to originate inside the office safe of the Landolina Bros. & Co. wholesale produce firm at 2028 Penn Avenue. The safe itself was obliterated, turned into shrapnel by the detonation within. Investigators wondered if the bomb was placed by a "Black Hand" extortion gang or personal enemies of the East End-based Landolina family.



Fires broke out following the explosion, and it took firefighters until 10 a.m. to get the blazes under control. Though an estimated $110,000 worth of damage was caused, authorities said no one was killed or injured.

In addition to the Landolina building, an adjacent building at 2026 Penn Avenue, owned by produce merchant William J. Joyce, was destroyed. Another Joyce-owned building at 2024 Penn was thrown sideways by the force of the blast and was described in the press as sagging "crazily over the wrecked street." Two bank buildings - the William Penn Trust Co. at Penn Avenue and 21st Street and the Franklin Savings and Trust Co. across the street - were damaged. Warehouses in the district were forced to dispose of large quantities of produce, as shards of shattered window-glass became embedded in the foodstuffs.


Police immediately arrested Angelo Valeti of 2028 Spring Way in Pittsburgh, a partner in the Landolina firm. A witness saw him in the area just before the explosion. Authorities were searching for other roomers at the same Spring Way address who disappeared after the explosion. According to reports, Valeti and others had been arrested and fined just weeks earlier for their roles in a suspicious fire.

At the time of the explosion, no one suspected that it was triggered by an underworld rivalry. By the fall of 1928, however, the Landolina family - originally from the Trabia-Caccamo-Termini Imerese area of Sicily and related to western Pennsylvania Mafia chieftain Salvatore Calderone - was known to be embroiled in a regional bootlegging feud.

In July of that year, 75-year-old Nicaso Landolina was shot to death at his home, 203 Mayflower Street, while he was watering flowers in his front yard. Police noted that Nicaso was carrying a revolver in his pocket as he tended to the garden. An investigation showed that the Landolinas had received a number of threatening letters from Italian gangsters. Two months later, Nicaso's nephew, Anthony, was shot to death in front of 1619 Penn Avenue. Rumors suggested that Anthony had learned the identities of the men and had sworn to kill them. They got him first.

10 February 2017

40 years ago: Mafia executes SoCal informant

Bompensiero
On this date in 1977: Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero, a longtime leader of the southern California underworld, is shot to death near his apartment in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego.

At about 8:30 p.m., police found Bompensiero in a pool of blood on the sidewalk in front of an alley. Nearby were four spent .22-caliber cartridges and cigar stub Bomp was chewing on when he was shot. The Mafioso had four bullet wounds in his head. One slug hit him in the neck near the spine. One entered through his right ear. Two cracked through his skull closely together, creating a large hole behind the ear. Bompensiero was declared dead on arrival at Mission Bay General Hospital.

Detectives found no witnesses. No one had even heard the shots fired. The authorities concluded that a silencer was used by the killer.

Some cash and a notebook were found in Bompensiero's pockets. The notebook held coded loansharking figures and telephone numbers for phone booths around the United States. Bompensiero was convinced that law enforcement agencies had tapped into his own home phone and the phones of other Mafiosi and only communicated with underworld associates through pay telephones. He was said to have been returning home from a nightly visit to a phone booth when he was shot.

Bompensiero was well known to the police as a leading figure in the Los Angeles-based Dragna Crime Family. He was said to occupy the position of consigliere in the organization and to oversee rackets in the San Diego area.

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 11, 1977.

As the story of Bompensiero's assassination hit local newspapers, rumors surfaced that the San Diego underworld chieftain had been supplying information to the FBI for more than a decade. Several years later, Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno testified in federal court that southern California Mafia bosses ordered the murder of Bompensiero because he betrayed the underworld code of silence.

Read more about Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero.

07 February 2017

108 years ago: Future mob boss arrives in NYC

On this date in 1909: Seventeen-year-old Stefano Magaddino of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. San Giorgio

Magaddino's immediate destination was the home of his brother Gaspare, on Brooklyn's North Fifth Street near Roebling Street. The area was already a fair-sized colony of immigrants from Castellammare del Golfo. (It would later become the base of power of the Bonanno Crime Family.)

Magaddino frequently traveled around the U.S. His 1913 marriage in Brooklyn did not settle him down. Within a few years, he moved his family to South Philadelphia but continued to spend considerable time in New York City. He also traveled to Buffalo, Chicago and possibly Detroit.

Shortly after the start of Prohibition, Magaddino relocated to the Buffalo area. Almost immediately, he was selected boss of the western New York Mafia (previous boss Giuseppe DiCarlo died July 9, 1922). Magaddino remained the chief of the underworld in western New York and nearby Canada for more than fifty years.

Stefano Magaddino appears on Line 15 of this page
of the S.S. San Giorgio passenger manifest.

Read more about Magaddino and the Mafia of Western New York in 
DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

31 January 2017

55 years ago: Brooklyn's heroic outlaws

On this date in 1962, Gallo gangsters became neighborhood heroes.

Noticing a fire in a nearby apartment building, Lawrence and Albert Gallo (brother Joey Gallo was in prison at the time), Anthony Abbatemarco, Leonard Dello, Alfonso Serantino, John Commarato and Frank Illiano rushed into the building and rescued six children from a third-floor apartment. They also succeeded in extinguishing the blaze before firefighters arrived.

Anthony Abbatemarco (top left), with Albert Gallo, 
Frank Illiano and the six children they rescued 
from a burning apartment in 1962.

Abbatemarco, Iliano and Albert Gallo were photographed with the children for local newspaper reports. It was a rare moment of positive publicity for the Gallo faction, then engaged in a desperate war against the leadership of the Profaci Crime Family and hampered by intense police scrutiny.

When interviewed, Albert Gallo joked, "We'll probably get locked up for putting out a fire without a license."

Biography of Anthony Abbatemarco.

21 January 2017

Tried to 'take the money and run'

Early Pittsburgh Mafia boss Gregorio Conti assembled a fortune through fraud and double-dealing. In September 1919, he decided to take the money and run. He didn't run quite fast enough. 


On the eve of his planned departure from western Pennsylvania, he was shot to death within his parked automobile. Three associates were in the automobile with him at the time. They claimed to be innocent of the killing. All three said a small, slight-built man jumped up on the car's runningboard, fired the fatal shots and escaped so quickly that they could not act to prevent or to capture him. Police didn't believe the story. They figured it would have taken a giant to reach far enough into the car to fire the shots through the back of Conti's driver's seat, and that giant would have been virtually in the lap of a passenger as he fired. Further, the murder weapon was recovered and turned out to be a pistol that required time-consuming manual cocking between shots.

Read more about Conti and his untimely end in:
The American Mafia history website's Conti biography. 

13 January 2017

$5000 awarded to family of lynch victim

On this date in 1894, a federal jury returned a sealed verdict in a lawsuit related to an alleged New Orleans Mafia leader who was killed by a lynch mob three years earlier.

Rocco Geraci was one of the eleven victims of the Crescent City lynchings at Orleans Parish Prison in March 1891. He was one of a total of eighteen men arrested and held for trial as principals and accessories in the assassination of local Police Chief David Hennessy. The lynchings occurred after a jury failed to convict a number of the accused assassins.

As a mob swarmed the prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, the warden opened the cells of the Italian prisoners and advised them to hide themselves as best they could within the institution. Seven prisoners, including Geraci, Pietro Monastero, Antonio Bagnetto, James Caruso, Loreto Comitis, Frank Romero and Charles Traina rushed toward the women's side of the prison. A well-armed group of New Orleans citizens soon arrived at the women's courtyard, and the seven Italians emerged from their hiding places and assembled in a group in the corner of the courtyard. Some crouched and others knelt, begging for mercy. At close range, the gunmen opened fire. A second volley was then fired into the group.

Geraci was among the prisoners shot in the courtyard.

All but Bagnetto were killed by the gunshots. The gunmen dragged Bagnetto outside the prison and hanged him from a tree. Three other prisoners were located and killed on an upper floor of the prison. One other prisoner was hanged from a lamppost outside the building.

Suit was filed in the spring of 1892 against the City of New Orleans on behalf of Geraci's widow and their children. The city was charged with failing to adequately protect Geraci, a foreign national, while he was in government custody. Damages amounting to $30,000 were sought. The case was the sixth suit stemming from the lynching deaths to be heard in United States Circuit Court. Each of the previous plaintiffs had been awarded cash compensation from the municipality.

Geraci heirs began presenting their case on Jan. 12, 1894. Their first obstacle was proving that the Rocco Geraci killed at the parish prison was the same person as the Francesco Geraci noted in public records. Police Captain John Journee and local businessman Joseph Provenzano were called to the stand to establish his identity. Testimony resumed the following day with Geraci's brother Salvatore and businessman J. Salomoni. Closing arguments were delivered by the plaintiffs' attorneys Chiapella and Sambola and city attorney O'Sullivan.

Boarman
As in previous cases, the charge delivered by Judge Alexander Boarman to the jurors left them little choice but to find in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge apparently felt $5,000 was an appropriate reparation - he had already allowed for several retrials of cases in which lower amounts were awarded.

Jurors brought back their verdict just a bit late for the court session of Jan. 13. The verdict was therefore sealed. It was revealed as the court day opened on Jan. 14. The plaintiffs were victorious in the amount of $5,000.

As a number of the related lawsuits were brought up for retrial, the City of New Orleans found new grounds for its defense. It successfully argued that the articles of Civil Code protected the municipality against suits relating to loss of life (though it specifically allowed suits relating to property damage). A retrial of the suit filed on behalf of the widow and children of Pietro Monastero was found by Judge Parlange to have no merit. In a 20-page decision, Parlange supported the city's position that it was exempt from such lawsuits.

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

05 January 2017

Sberna goes to The Chair

On this date in 1939, Charles Sberna was sent to The Chair. Though he had been convicted of participating in the killing of a New York City police officer, many believed - and many still believe - he was innocent. 

At trial, codefendant Salvatore Gati took the witness stand to confess his own involvement in the incident that led to Police Officer John H.A. Wilson's death. But Gati insisted that Sberna was not present. Gati named two other men as his accomplices. Prosecutors from District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office apparently did not give serious consideration to the testimony or to Sberna's alibi.

Some of the evidence collected at the scene
of the killing of Police Officer Wilson.

The only witness who connected Sberna to the killing of Wilson had serious credibility problems of his own. He likely would have been on trial himself for a number of offenses if Dewey's office had not needed him to testify against Sberna. Did public officials have an anti-Sberna bias that prevented them from dealing even-handedly with the case?

Only much later, after Sberna had been executed in Sing Sing Prison's death device, did journalists wonder about other men who were suspected of involvement in Wilson's killing but never faced trial for it. Were those men released because bringing them to justice would have exposed a terrible injustice done to Sberna?

Excerpt from Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

"...Thursday, January 5, 1939, was the 457th consecutive day that Charles Sberna and Salvatore Gati spent behind bars. It was also the last. The Death Row prisoners were granted the luxury of selecting their afternoon and evening meals. Sberna requested an early meal of lamb chops, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls and butter with coffee. He also asked for Chesterfield cigarettes. His requests for cigars and some other items were refused. Gati made no request for his early meal other than to be allowed to eat a can of pork and beans from his own supply. Sberna placed an additional large request for his supper. He ordered roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh tomatoes, rolls and butter, coffee, ice cream and cake. Gati’s requested supper was just another can of pork and beans. The condemned men may have hoped for a last-minute reprieve from Governor Lehman, though Lehman had made it clear by then that he did not intend to interfere with their punishments. They must have understood the reality of the situation as their heads were shaved to allow for direct connection of an electrode with their scalps. During the day, Sberna was visited by his wife, and Gati was visited by his mother Teresa..."


03 January 2017

Joe Adonis deports himself

On this date in 1956:

Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto settled into a luxurious $740 suite aboard the ocean liner S.S. Conte Biancamano. At noon, the liner sailed from New York harbor bound for Genoa, Italy, and Doto's self-imposed exile from the United States began. 

U.S. authorities found that Doto had reentered the country illegally after a 1948 visit to Cuba, claiming a citizenship that was not rightfully his. In interviews and documents, Doto claimed that he had been born in the United States. Authorities learned that he was born at Montemarano, near Naples, Italy, and brought into the U.S. as a young boy.

In November of 1955, federal Judge Walter M. Bastian agreed to suspend a perjury sentence against Doto if he left the country. Doto also faced a two-year perjury sentence in New Jersey and owed the IRS back taxes for the years 1946 through 1951.

Doto left his wife and four children behind in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Before his departure, journalists clamored for interviews with the reputed Mafia bigshot. Doto eventually agreed to speak to one reporter. Asked how he felt about being forced to leave his family, the longtime rackets boss replied, "I don't feel too good and I don't feel too bad... I'm not bitter. I'm just sorry for them that they have to take this shock."

He repeated his belief that he had been born in America.

Adonis remained in Italy for the remainder of his life. He died Nov. 26, 1971, at the age of 69, days after suffering a massive heart attack. He was a resident of the village of Serra de Conti near Ancona at the time.
Arizona Republic, Jan. 4, 1956.

Sources
"Adonis arrives in Italy," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1956, p. 23.
"Adonis to pay $66,859," New York Times, Feb. 14, 1956.
"Gangdom chief Joe Adonis goes into voluntary exile," Arizona Republic, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 7.
"Il 'boss' Joe Adonis è morto in ospedale," La Stampa, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 8.
"Joe Adonis quits U.S. voluntarily," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 28.
"Joe Adonis, morto ad Ancona era il re di un impero mafioso," La Stampa, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 11.
"Joe Adonis, underworld gambling king, dies," New York Times, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 34.
"L'italiano Joe Adonis è sbarcato a Genova," La Stampa, Jan. 17, 1956, p. 5.
"Ritorno di Joe Adonis dall'America a Napoli," La Stampa, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 5.

30 December 2016

One week left in giveaway

There is just one more week to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

The giveaway promotion is being run by Goodreads.com and is open to U.S. residents only. Three signed paperback copies of the book will be randomly awarded on Jan. 5, 2017 - the anniversary of Charles Sberna's execution in Sing Sing Prison. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries.

For more information or to enter, visit Goodreads.

To learn more about the Sberna case, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

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.


15 December 2016

Chance to win a copy of 'Wrongly Executed?'

Three author-signed trade paperback copies of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution will be awarded through a promotional drawing on Goodreads.com. No purchase is necessary to enter. Entries will be accepted until Jan. 5, 2017, the anniversary of Charles Sberna's meeting with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair. Details are available on the Goodreads.com website.



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09 December 2016

Death of former Boardwalk boss

On this date in 1968, eighty-five-year-old Enoch "Nucky" Johnson died of natural causes at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in New Jersey. Johnson had been the Prohibition Era political boss of Atlantic City. 

During his reign, the city was a friendly location for organized criminals. Johnson's relationships with the underworld were brought to light during a feud with the New York Evening Journal newspaper in the early 1930s. His control over Atlantic City ended with his successful 1941 prosecution on federal tax evasion charges. Johnson lived a quiet life after his release from prison in 1945.

Asbury Park NJ Press, Dec. 10, 1968. Camden NJ Courier Post, Dec. 10, 1968.

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.)