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

20 March 2018

Owner's killing is start of Murder Stable legend

On this date in 1912, Mrs. Pasquarella Mussone Spinelli was shot to death in an East Harlem structure later dubbed "the Murder Stable."

NY Herald, 21 Mar 1912
Just before 6 p.m., Mrs. Spinelli, a resident of 335 East 108th Street in East Harlem, went across the street to the stable she owned and managed in order to do her nightly check of the horses boarded there. Her daughter, Nicolina "Nellie" Lener (also spelled "Lenere") watched from the front window as her mother crossed the street. Nellie noticed some odd movement near a lantern positioned some distance from the entrance. A short time later, Nellie heard gunshots and saw two men rush from the stable and down the street toward Second Avenue. She recognized one of the men as Aniello Prisco.

Prisco, known locally as "Zoppo" (Italian term meaning "lame") or "the Gimp," was the terror of East Harlem. He led a gang that was suspected of murders, robberies, extortion and other offenses. He acquired his nickname and his distinctive gait in the spring of 1909, when he unwisely provoked a gangster known as "Scarface Charlie" Pandolfi. Pandolfi expressed his displeasure by firing a dozen slugs into Prisco's body. Doctors managed to save his life, but had trouble mending a badly shattered bone in his left leg. When the bone healed, the left leg was inches shorter than the right one.

Many suspected that Prisco had been planning an attack against Pasquarella Spinelli due to a bloody incident about five months earlier. On October 29, 1911, Nellie was alone with twenty-four-year-old Prisco underling Frank "Chick" Monaco. Monaco reportedly tried to rob Pasquarella Spinelli's safe, and Nellie responded by picking up a kitchen knife and stabbing Monaco repeatedly until he was dead. An autopsy found that Monaco died of a hemorrhage following stab wounds to the lung and the heart. A coroner's jury found Nellie not guilty of any wrongdoing, but Prisco had a different opinion. The shooting death of Spinelli appeared to be Zoppo's revenge.

Death of Harlem's 'Hetty Green'

A crowd quickly assembled in front of the stable. When authorities arrived, they found Mrs. Spinelli dead of gunshot wounds. Her body was resting on a ramp that led to the building's second floor. One bullet had struck her in the neck. Another had penetrated her right temple and lodged in her brain.

Following a post-mortem examination, a death certificate, issued in the name of "Pasqua Musoni Spinelli Lener," officially established the cause of death as "pistol shot wounds of brain (homicide)." The document stated Mrs. Spinelli's age as 57. It noted that she was born in Italy to Tommaso and Concetta Musoni and spent the last 21 years in the United States.

Press reports of the killing labeled Spinelli the "Hetty Green" of Harlem's Little Italy. The reference, far more easily understood in 1912 than it is today, was to Henrietta Robinson Green. Nicknamed "the Witch of Wall Street," Green was a wealthy and notoriously miserly businesswoman who gathered riches through work, investments and inheritance. Newspapers noted that Pasquarella Spinelli was the richest female in Harlem and owned stores, markets and tenement houses in addition to the stable.

Spinelli was buried on March 23, 1912, at St. Michael's Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were handled by Anthony Paladino of East 115th Street.

Spinelli's story

Mrs. Spinelli's background is a bit hazy. The few available records indicate that she was born in the mid-1850s in the Naples area of Italy and traveled to America in 1892, settling in Manhattan. The 1905 New York State Census located her, then 49, at 345 East 109th Street with husband Pietro Spinelli, a fish dealer, and children Tommaso, 19, and Nicolina, 16.

Nellie Lener
When the federal census was taken five years later, Pasquarella showed up at 2097 First Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets. The census indicated that she was living with her husband Pietro, the fish dealer, and her daughter Nicolina Lener, 19. Curiously, Pietro's name in this document is written as "Solazzo" rather than Spinelli. The federal census revealed that Pietro was Pasquarella's second husband, and Nicolina Lener was Pietro's step-daughter. Apparently, Pasquarella had been married previously to a man with the surname Lener, with whom she had children Nicolina and the older Tommaso (no longer living with her by 1910) and possibly others. (The census record states that Pasquarella gave birth to seven children and had six children living.)

One candidate for the role of Pasquarella's first husband was a blacksmith named Tommaso Lener, who was born in Caserta, Italy, a short distance north of Naples, in 1865, traveled to the U.S. in 1895, and at the time of his 1906 naturalization petition was living at 301 East 109th Street. (For some reason, during the naturalization process, New York County Justice Samuel Greenbaum suspected Lener of underworld connections. Greenbaum asked if Lener's naturalization petition witness, insurance broker Salvatore Tartaglione was a member of the Mafia. Tartaglione said he was not.) What became of blacksmith Tommaso Lener is not known.

In the brief period between the 1910 Census and Spinelli's murder, it appears that she separated from her fish-dealer husband Pietro, moved in with daughter Nellie at 239 East 109th Street, where Chick Monaco was stabbed to death in 1911, and then moved again with Nellie to 335 East 108th Street.


Within a few days of Spinelli's death, police arrested Luigi Lazzazaro, 58, of 337 East 108th Street. Lazzazaro was a business partner of the victim, and Nellie Lener said she saw him standing outside the stable's entrance while two other men murdered Spinelli inside. Lazzazaro was charged with acting in concert with the killers, though he denied knowing anything about the murder.

Prisco was not arrested for Spinelli's murder until June. By then, witnesses were so intimidated by the gangster that no convincing case could be made against him. All suspects in the Spinelli murder were released.

Many killings

Newspapers reported that Nellie, fearing for her life after openly accusing Lazzazaro and Prisco, went to join relatives in Italy. Reports indicated that, even across the Atlantic, Nellie was not safe. It was rumored that she soon died under suspicious circumstances.

Aniello Prisco did not live for very long after Spinelli's murder. During a December 15, 1912, attempt to extort money from Giosue Gallucci, an East Harlem entrepreneur with strong underworld and political connections, Prisco was fatally shot through the head by a Gallucci aide.

Additional killings over the years helped give the Murder Stable its violent reputation. Lazzazara, who became the facility's sole owner after Spinelli's death, was fatally stabbed near the stable early in 1914. Mafia boss Fortunato "Charles" LoMonte took charge of the building and operated his feed business from the location. He was shot to death near the stable in spring of 1914. Mafia-linked East Harlem businessman Ippolito Greco became the stable's owner. Greco was shot to death as he left the building for home in November of 1915.

The legend of the Murder Stable continued to grow. It became linked in tales to the Morello-Terranova Mafia clan, as well as to Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo. While embellishing its history, writers also frequently assigned new addresses for the building, moving it up and down in East Harlem to suit their stories.


  • Death certificate of Frank Monaco, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 32570, Oct. 29, 1911.
  • Death certificate of Pasqua Musoni Lener, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 9128, March 20, 1912.
  • Death certificate of Aniello Prisco, Bureau of Records, Department of Health of the City of New York, registered no. 35154, Dec. 15, 1912.
  • Naturalization Petition of Tommaso Lener, Supreme Court of New York County, Bundle 299, Record 74, index L 560, March 26, 1906.
  • New York State Census of 1905, Manhattan borough, Election District 5, Assembly District 33.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Hindoustan, departed Naples, arrived New York City on July 6, 1892.
  • Trow's General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, City of New York, Vol. CXXIV, for the Year Ending August 1, 1911, New York: Trow Directory, Printing and Bookbinding Company, 1910.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 339.

  • "Murdered in vendetta," New York Tribune, March 21, 1912, p. 2.
  • "Woman murdered to avenge death of band leader," New York Herald, March 21, 1912, p. 1.
  • "'Will kill me,' cries girl, mother slain," New York Evening Telegram, March 21, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Arrest victim's partner," New York Sun, March 23, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Man held in stable murder case," New York Herald, March 24, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Held as woman's slayer," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 24, 1912, p. 58.
  • "Miss Nellie Lenere," New Castle PA Herald, March 29, 1912, p. 8.
  • "Notorious gunman arrested," New York Call, Oct. 4, 1912, p. 3.
  • "'Zopo the Terror' dies as he draws weapon to kill," New York Evening World, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 6.
  • "Blackhand king shot dead when he demanded $100," Bridgeport CT Evening Farmer, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Blackmailer killed as he made threat," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 4.
  • "Man is found dead with bullet holes in his head," New York Press, Dec. 16, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Prisco, lame gunman, meets death at last," New York Sun, Dec. 17, 1912, p. 16.
  • "'Zopo the Gimp,' king of the Black Hand, slain," New York Tribune, Dec. 17, 1912, p. 16.
  • "Kills gangster to save uncle," Wausau WI Daily Herald, Dec. 23, 1912, p. 8.
  • "35 are caught in Black Hand bomb round-up," New York Evening Telegram, July 26, 1913, p. 3.
  • "Cycle of murders," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 20, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Shoots man and woman and makes his escape," New York Evening World, May 23, 1914, p. 2.
  • "Passersby shot in duel," New York Sun, May 24, 1914, p. 7.
  • "Lamonte dies of shot wound," New York Sun, May 25, 1914, p. 5.
  • Thomas, Rowland, "The rise and fall of Little Italy's king," Fort Wayne IN Journal-Gazette, Dec. 12, 1915, p. 33, Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 12, 1915, Sunday Magazine p. 4.
  • "'Murder Stable' around which Baff case centres is scene or cause of 14 deaths," New York Herald, Feb. 13, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Record of deaths in murder stable," Niagara Falls Gazette, April 12, 1916.
  • "Patriotism, pacifism, anarchism, meet here," New York Times, Jan. 6, 1918, p. 12.

19 February 2018

NYPD head exposes Petrosino secret mission

On this date (February 19) in 1909, New York City Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham spoke with news reporters about the absence of Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino from police headquarters. The conversation may have led to Petrosino's assassination.

NY Evening World
19 February 1909
Bingham initially claimed not to know Petrosino's precise whereabouts and then suggested that the Italian-born detective and longtime leader of the NYPD's "Italian Squad" might be on his way across the Atlantic to meet with Italian police officials. The commissioner announced that he appointed Petrosino to the leadership of a privately funded "Secret Service" designed to enable the deportation of many Black Hand criminals, Mafiosi and Camorristi operating in New York's Little Italy communities. (Lieutenant Arthur Gloster took over temporarily as administrator of the Italian Squad.)

The information was widely published, exposing what was supposed to be a secret mission by Petrosino before that mission had even begun.

Less than a month later, on the evening of March 12, 1909, Petrosino was shot to death by Mafiosi in Palermo, becoming the only NYPD officer to be killed in the line of duty on foreign soil. Petrosino was unarmed. Evidence indicated that he was going to meet someone he believed to be an underworld informant when he was killed just outside the Garibaldi Gardens at Palermo's Piazza Marina.

Almost immediately, Petrosino's assassination was used by politicians to score points in a local government struggle in New York.

Commissioner Bingham blamed city alderman for Petrosino's death, charging that their lack of financial support for his Secret Service plan left Petrosino vulnerable. City officials, particularly those backed by the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, placed the blame on Bingham. Alderman Reginald S. "Reggie" Doull stated, "The blame for Petrosino's death attaches directly to Police Headquarters. It was from the Police Department that the news of Petrosino's departure to Italy leaked."

Doull labeled Bingham "the most profane incompetent that holds office in this city today."

Political pressure mounted for Bingham's dismissal. On July 1, Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., succumbed and replaced Bingham with First Deputy Commissioner William Frazer Baker. At that moment, Detectives Antonio Vachris and John Crowley were in Italy, attempting to complete Petrosino's secret mission.

The change in police leadership resulted in Vachris and Crowley being called home. They reportedly returned with Italian police records that could be used to deport hundreds of Italian-born criminals who had settled illegally in New York. The records were shelved and the deportation effort initiated by Bingham and Petrosino was abandoned. 

  • Barzini, Luigi, The Italians, New York: Atheneum, 1964.
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009.
  • Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, James A. McCann Company, 1919.
  • Lardner, James and Thomas Reppetto. NYPD: A City and its Police, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000.
  • Petacco, Arrigo, translated by Charles Lam Markmann. Joe Petrosino. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974.
  • Peterson, Virgil W. The Mob: 200 Years of Organized Crime in New York, Ottawa Illinois: Green Hill Publishers, 1983.
  • Pitkin, Thomas Monroe and Francesco Cordasco. The Black Hand: A Chapter in Ethnic Crime, Totowa NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1977.
  • Smith, Denis Mack, A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713, New York: Dorset Press, 1968.
  • White, Frank Marshal, "Italians seek protection against Black Hand," New York Times, Sept. 4, 1910, p. Mag 5.
  • "Secret service formed to hunt the Black Hand," New York Evening World, Feb. 19, 1909, p. 6.
  • "Bingham gets his fund," New York Sun, Feb. 20, 1909, p. 3.
  • "New secret service to fight Black Hand," New York Times, Feb. 20, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Secret police fund," New York Tribune, Feb. 20, 1909, p. 5.
  • "Il delitto di Palermo," Corriere della Sera, March 14, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Petrosino shot dead in Italy," New York Sun, March 14, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Petrosino slain assassins gone," New York Times, March 14, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Police seek plotters," New York Times, March 14, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Detective Petrosino Black Hand victim," New York Tribune, March 14, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Vachris would go to Sicily," New York Times, March 14, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Il delitto di Palermo," Corriere della Sera, March 15, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Arrests in Petrosino case," New York Sun, March 15, 1909, p. 1.
  • "L'uccisione di Petrosino a Palermo," Corriere della Sera, March 16, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Vote against Bingham," New York Tribune, March 24, 1909, p. 5.
  • "Mayor removes Gen. Bingham from office," New York Tribune, July 2, 1909, p. 1.
  • “Vachris coming back," New York Times, Wed. July 21, 1909, p. 1.

30 January 2018

When 'Lucky' was locked up

Salvatore Lucania, widely known as Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, late in 1931 became the most powerful crime boss in the U.S. He personally commanded a sprawling New York-based Mafia organization, held one of seven seats on the Mafia's ruling Commission and maintained valuable alliances with non-Italian racketeering organizations across the country.

Less than five years after achieving gangland eminence, however, Lucania was taken into custody on compulsory prostitution charges. Due to the efforts of Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey, Lucania spent most of the next decade - from the prime years of his life into middle age - behind prison bars.

Held at Clinton State Prison beginning in the summer of 1936, he was largely out of touch with the rich criminal empire he assembled and remote from friends and family. He depended upon pennies earned through manual toil and occasional contributions from relatives and associates to finance his many purchases through prison commissaries.

Yet, even during a lengthy and humiliating prison stay, Lucania found a way to make himself important. In the spring of 1942, Lucania convinced New York County prosecutors, New York State corrections officials and the United States Office of Naval Intelligence that he was indispensable to the U.S. war effort.

In the remaining years of World War II, Lucania arranged for a more convenient placement at Great Meadow Prison in the Lake George area and for suspension of visitation rules and recordkeeping. He managed in those few years to build a reputation for patriotic service that led to a 1946 commutation of sentence.

Very few official records remain of Lucania's long term in state prisons. From the period before 1942, only a small collection of documents is held at the New York State Archives. These include receiving blotter pages, health and psychiatric reports, visitor logs and financial transactions that shed some light on his brief time at Sing Sing Prison and his longer incarceration at Clinton Prison. From the period between his 1942 transfer to Great Meadow Prison and his 1946 parole and deportation, even less survives. Some details of these later years were pieced together when the State of New York, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Navy looked into Lucania's alleged contributions to the war effort. Wartime records of the Office of Naval Intelligence, which could have provided the most useful window into Lucania's service, were deliberately destroyed.

Available details of Lucania's time in prison and related events have been assembled into a 1936-1946 timeline on The American Mafia history website. These details range in excitement level from hum-drum to spectacular. Quotes from documents and links to documents - including all available pages of the Clinton Prison files - are included.

See: "When 'Lucky' was locked up."

25 January 2018

Stroke complications take Capone

Al Capone, notorious Prohibition Era gang boss of Chicago, died January 25, 1947, at his south Florida home. Dr. Kenneth S. Phillips, who had treated the retired crime figure for years, announced that death was caused by pneumonia and heart failure, complications of a recent stroke.

Miami Daily News
For many years, Capone had dealt with the symptoms of advanced syphilis. Immediately upon the November 1939 expiration of his long prison sentence for tax evasion, Capone was admitted into Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore for treatment of paresis. The former gangland boss, burdened with an ailing body and a failing mind, never returned to command the Chicago Outfit organization he built during Prohibition, instead moving into a quiet Florida retirement.

Capone suffered an apoplectic stroke at about four o'clock in the morning of January 21, 1947, just a few days after his forty-eighth birthday. It was feared that the unresponsive Capone would soon die. At six o'clock, a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor William Barry, went to the twenty-five-room estate, 93 Palm Avenue on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay, to administer the last rites. Newspapers learned of the stroke and scrambled to cover the final moments of Capone's life.

By eight o'clock that morning, Dr. Phillips saw some signs of improvement in his patient. At the family's request, the physician became a spokesman, delivering health updates to the swarm of reporters gathering outside the walls around the estate. Capone regained consciousness later in the day, and Dr. Phillips reported to the press that he could speak, though the doctor urged him to remain quiet and rest.

Dr. Phillips told the press on January 23 that Capone continued to show progress in his recovery. The doctor expressed concern that the stroke might leave Capone paralyzed on the left side. "It'll be two or three days before I can tell conclusively about his condition," Dr. Phillips said. "He's doing just about the same and it looks like he is out of danger if there are no unforeseen complications."

The possibility of pneumonia was discussed early the following day. Dr. Phillips reported that Capone was "harboring considerable lung congestion." The patient's condition worsened quickly. Dr. Phillips rushed to Palm Island that afternoon and returned with Dr. Arthur J. Logie, a Miami-based chest specialist, that evening.

Dr. Logie met with reporters as he left the estate. The specialist's prognosis was grim. "I doubt very seriously if there is a chance for recovery. It is impossible to say how long he will last. His lungs are pretty well filled... Both lungs are badly congested and his heart has begun to fail."

The doctors administered oxygen, using tanks and equipment brought to the Palm Island home. Press reports the following day suggested that Capone would already be dead if not for the oxygen pumped into him during the night.

Dr. Phillips and Capone's wife and son were with Capone when he died in his bed at twenty-five minutes after seven on Saturday night, January 25. As he passed, his wife collapsed and required the attention of Dr. Phillips. The doctor emerged from the estate with news of Capone's death at about eight-thirty.

Capone was survived by his wife and his son, both of his parents, two brothers and a sister. His body was taken to the W.L. Philbrick Funeral Home at Miami Beach. Reports indicated that Louis Rago, funeral director at 624 N. Western Avenue in Chicago, flew to Miami Beach to take charge of arrangements, as the family wished for Capone to be buried in a plot in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago.

  • "Ex-Gangland chief rallies after stroke," Moline IL Dispatch, Jan. 22, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Hint Capone's left side may be paralyzed," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 24, 1947, p. 6.
  • "Doctor speeds to bedside of Al Capone," Miami Daily News, Jan. 24, 1947, p. 23.
  • "Al Capone hit by pneumonia, heart weaker," Baltimore Sun, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 3.
  • "Al Capone gets pneumonia, doctor doubts recovery," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Capone dying, doctor says," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 1.
  • Sosin, Milt, "Capone under oxygen mask, hovers on brink of death," Miami Daily News, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Capone dies at island villa," Miami Daily News, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Al Capone dies in Florida villa," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Al Capone, gang czar, dies," Des Moines Register, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 4.

See also:
Writers of Wrongs: "Out of prison, into hospital."

17 January 2018

Historian reveals identities of Mafia informants

The FBI makes every effort to hide the identities of its confidential underworld informants. Unlike the famous Joe Valachi and other Bureau cooperating witnesses, who exchange public testimony for government protection, confidential informants continue in their dangerous underworld roles during their furtive feeding of information to investigators. So, the FBI's secrecy regarding informants is vital... to a point.

For some reason, the Bureau insists on keeping informants' identities confidential even long after the informants have passed away, through natural or "unnatural" causes.

In reports, the FBI refers to its informants only by code numbers. Before any reports are made available to the public, revealing details about the informants are deleted. But subtle clues to their identities may remain within the text.
For years, Toronto-based crime historian Edmond Valin has been combing through publicly available information, including declassified files of the FBI, for these clues. He has shown a remarkable ability to discover the identities of some of the most important and most secret Mafia turncoats by comparing seemingly insignificant details from different documents.

Valin has consented to allow the American Mafia history website to publish a collection of his ground-breaking articles online. These articles, grouped under the heading of "Rat Trap," deal with informants from major U.S. Mafia organizations, including the Chicago Outfit, the Philly Mob, the Bonanno Crime Family and the Gambino Crime Family. Six articles are in the collection at this time, and more are on the way.

Valin's often shocking conclusions are painstakingly defended through document citations (many of the related documents can be accessed online through links provided in the articles' endnotes).

Visit Edmond Valin's Rat Trap articles.

08 January 2018

Rude guests pump bullets into their host

On this date in 1929: Chicago underworld leader and olive oil merchant Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo, forty-three, was shot to death by visitors to his apartment, 1921 W. North Avenue. 

Lolordo (left), scene of murder (right). Chicago Daily Tribune

Lolordo welcomed three guests at about three o'clock in the afternoon and shared drinks and conversation with them in the livingroom for an hour.

Joe Aiello (left),
Lena Lolordo (right)
At four o'clock, his thirty-eight-year-old wife Lena, tending to the ironing in the apartment kitchen, heard gunshots and ran to the livingroom. She brushed past the visitors on her way to her fallen husband. The visitors left quickly and quietly. Lena grabbed a velvet pillow and placed it under the dying man's head.

Lolordo succumbed to gunshot wounds to his skull, neck and shoulders before an ambulance arrived. Police found an empty .38-caliber pistol on the building stairway and another near Lolordo's body. Three half-filled drinking glasses sat on a livingroom table. A broken glass was in Lolordo's lifeless hand.

Police determined that Lolordo was unarmed when he was shot, though they found a sawed-off shotgun in his bedroom. Eighteen men, believed to be members of the Joe Aiello bootlegging gang, were viewed by Lena Lolordo, but she recognized none of them as her husband's visitors. Later, she picked out a photograph of Aiello himself, saying he was one of the gunmen.

Several months earlier, Lolordo had succeeded the murdered Antonio Lombardo as leader of Chicago's gangland-linked Unione Siciliana organization.

Lolordo death certificate
See also: 

26 December 2017

Survived enemies, killed by friend

NY Evening World
In the early morning of December 26, 1920, gangland legend "Monk" Eastman was shot to death near Union Square in Manhattan. It was an abrupt end to a day of holiday merry-making as well as to a decades-long criminal career.

"Monk" Eastman had spent Christmas evening celebrating with some friends at the Court Cafe at Driggs Avenue and Broadway at the Brooklyn end of the Williamsburg Bridge. Though Prohibition was in effect, bootleg booze was readily available, and the forty-seven-year-old gangster and his associates drank large quantities of the stuff.

Around midnight, the Court Cafe quieted down, and the Eastman party decided to move on into Manhattan to continue the jolly time. The group piled into a car, and Monk directed the driver, twenty-six-year-old William J. Simermeyer, to the Blue Bird Cabaret, 62 East Fourteenth Street. Eastman was a frequent visitor at the Blue Bird and was friendly with its management and staff.

After several hours of singing and heavy drinking, Eastman and friends left the Blue Bird at about four o'clock in the morning and walked a short distance east on Fourteenth Street to the corner of Fourth Avenue. Several gunshots were fired. The group quickly disbanded, leaving a collapsed Eastman dying on the curb.

Sidney Levine, master of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit subway station at Fourteenth Street, heard the gunshots and rushed upstairs to the street. He saw a body by the roadside and found a still-hot .32-caliber revolver on the station stairs.

NY Tribune
Patrons and employees from cafes in the neighborhood and taxidrivers who were parked nearby all rushed to the shooting victim. None apparently recognized him. When the sound of a heartbeat was noted, driver Peter Bailey  loaded the victim into his taxi and sped off to St. Vincent's Hospital. Eastman did not survive the trip.

Still unrecognized, his "gorilla-like" remains were moved to the morgue of the Mercer Street Police Station. Lieutenant William Funston, serving as acting captain in command of the district's detectives, took personal charge of the investigation. Detectives John Bottie and Joseph Gilinson were assigned to the case.

It was about six o'clock when the two veteran detectives had a look at the victim and instantly identified him as former Lower East Side crime czar Monk Eastman. Their identification was confirmed through police fingerprint records.

Evidence indicated that Eastman had extended his arms and hands in a vain effort to shield himself from the gunshots that took his life. There were wounds to both his forearms and to his left hand. Shots were fired at close range, as powder burns were evident on his overcoat. One slug entered at the left center of Eastman's chest. Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris confirmed on December 27 that it was the cause of death, having pierced Monk's heart. Norris also noted that Eastman was very drunk at the moment his life ended.

No weapons were found on Eastman. Investigators did find $144, a heavy watch and chain and two pairs of gold eyeglasses, indicating that Monk's killer did not intend to rob him.

NY Evening World

Press speculation

Assistant District Attorney John R. Hennis, chief of the D.A.'s homicide bureau, became the public spokesman for the investigation. It was a challenging role, as there seemed no limit to speculation by the New York press. In just the first two days following Eastman's murder, newspapers had suggested that it was the result of a disagreement with a bootlegging or narcotics trafficking partner, that it was related to a love affair, that it was an act of vengeance by an old rival and that it was an underworld penalty for cooperating with authorities.

There was some support for each of those possibilities. Investigators in Brooklyn were certain that Eastman was engaged in bootlegging and narcotics distribution, though he had sworn off such activities following his heroic return from service in the Great War. For a time, he made an effort to stay away from gangs and rackets. He worked in an automobile accessories store and tried managing his own pet shop (he had great affection for birds and other pets and had run a pet store many years earlier). But the old life drew him back in. In recent months, police had been following him into Manhattan in the hope of identifying a narcotics supplier.

The romantic angle related to the discovery of a Christmas card signed "Lottie" that was found in Eastman's pockets. Some Eastman friends reported that he had been married years earlier. His wife had not been seen for some time, and one report explained that she died. Authorities doubted that Monk would have jeopardized his life for love, as he seemed never to place a great deal of value in the company of a woman.

NY Herald
As far as enemies and rivals were concerned, Eastman had made plenty since his days as street gang warrior, strike-breaker and Tammany Hall-hired political "slugger," but he outlived many of them. "Eat-'em-up Jack" McManus had his skull crushed back in 1905. Bullets took out Max "Kid Twist" Zwerbach in 1908, "Big Jack" Zelig in 1912, Jack Pioggi in 1914 and "Johnny Spanish" Weyler in 1919. A number of the old brawlers were still around but were giving way to a new generation of Prohibition Era gangsters.

The notion that a lifelong underworld figure like Monk Eastman might be cooperating with police seemed outrageous. However, on the day after Eastman's murder, authorities revealed that Eastman had been holding meetings with narcotics investigators. Acting Captain Daniel Carey, commander of detectives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, went to Eastman's room, 801 Driggs Avenue, in the middle of December and again just before Christmas to discuss an investigation of a drug ring. Dr. Carleton Simon, deputy police commissioner in charge of the narcotics squad, and squad Detective Barney Boylan had also met with Eastman during the month of December. When questioned about the meetings, the police did not deny that Eastman helped to expose an opium ring.

Killed by a friend

Speaking with reporters on December 28, Hennis refused to address the press assumptions. He revealed a belief that Eastman was killed not by an old enemy but by a longtime friend. He refused to identify the suspect, who was not yet in custody.

Hennis explained that, after Eastman and a half dozen partiers left the Blue Bird, they met an old acquaintance. Eastman spoke to the man briefly before the man fired the shots that took Eastman's life. After that, the remaining partiers all scattered.

"We cannot tell whether Monk was double-crossed [by the friends he was with]," Hennis explained, "but we do know that the man who shot him was known to all the rest. He is a well known character, although not so famous as Monk."

A later announcement described the suspect as "not a gangster" but a man who was on intimate terms with criminals in the Union Square area.

On December 30, news reports indicated that the identity of Eastman's killer was learned through the questioning of driver William J. Simermeyer and Eastman friend Sylvester Hamilton, both of Brooklyn. The men were each held in $10,000 bail as material witnesses.


Burial with military honors

Monk Eastman was buried with military honors on December 30, 1920. The funeral was arranged and financed by friends who had served with Eastman in the World War I American Expeditionary Force and could not bear to see him interred in a potter's field.

Infamous for his brutality on the streets of New York City, Eastman earned the respect of his fellow servicemen during the war. He volunteered for military service in October 1917, after emerging from a term in Sing Sing Prison. He enlisted in the 47th Regiment, New York National Guard, under the name of William Delaney. A short time later, part of the 47th, including Eastman/Delaney, was joined with the 106th United States Infantry and sent overseas to fight in France.

Eastman and the 106th participated in the advance along Vierstraat Ridge in Belgium in the late summer of 1918. During that battle, Eastman rescued a fallen comrade, braving enemy fire and suffering two bullet wounds. Following that act of heroism, he was sent to the hospital to recover.

Just three days later, he reportedly left the hospital, without orders and without his uniform, to rejoin his old unit at the front. Wearing hospital pajamas, it is said that Eastman single-handedly slithered through mud to a German machine gun nest and succeeded in taking the position from the enemy.

Eastman's courageous service so rehabilitated his image that Colonel Franklin W. Ward, commander of the 106th Infantry, and First Lieutenant Joseph A. Kerrigan went to New York State Governor Alfred E. Smith to plead that the former gangster's state citizenship, lost due to his felony convictions, be fully reinstated. Governor Smith agreed to the request on May 8, 1919.

On the day of Eastman's funeral, thousands came out to Mrs. Samuel Yannaco's small undertaking establishment, 348 Metropolitan Avenue, to pay their respects. Eastman's body was was dressed in his military uniform, adorned with the American Legion wounded men's button. On his left shoulder was an insignia for his military unit. His sleeves showed three service stripes and two wound stripes.

A silver plate on the coffin was inscribed, "Edward Eastman. Our lost pal. Gone but not forgotten."

At a funeral service, Rev. James H. Lockwood expressed regret at never having gotten to know Eastman: "It is not my province to judge this man's life. His Creator will pass judgment; He possesses all the particulars and is competent to judge any soul. It may startle you to hear me say I wish I had known this man in life. We may have been reciprocally helpful. It has been said there is so much bad in the best of us, so much good in the worst of us, that it does not become any of us to think harshly of the rest of us. That is one way of saying 'let him that is without sin cast the first stone.'"

The American Legion provided a military escort for the coffin to its gravesite in Cypress Hills Cemetery. Taps was played, and a final military salute was fired.

NY Evening World

Drunken quarrel with a Prohibition agent

The press learned the identity of the murder suspect and published it on the final day of 1920.

Jeremiah Bohan, a Brooklyn businessman and longtime pal of Eastman, was believed to have been part of the group of holiday revelers who accompanied Eastman from the Court Cafe to the Blue Bird Cabaret on Christmas night. Police had not found Bohan at his home or his work or any of his usual haunts since Monk was shot to death.

An interesting wrinkle in the story was provided by Bohan's appointment several months earlier as a local inspector working under State Prohibition Director Charles R. O'Connor. With Bohan's job responsibilities - ensuring compliance with the national law against the production, transportation and sale of alcohol - came a license to carry a firearm.

Authorities revealed that Bohan had a police record. He had been arrested several years earlier in connection with the killing of "Joe the Bear" Faulkner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was exonerated by a coroner's jury.

Bohan had worked as a stevedore and as a retail liquor merchant before being assigned to Prohibition enforcement duties. (The assignment was the result of a recommendation by a Brooklyn political leader unnamed in the newspaper reports.)

On January 3, 1921, Bohan surrendered to Acting Captain Daniel Carey in Williamsburg and confessed to shooting Monk Eastman. According to Bohan's statement, he shot Eastman in self-defense during a drunken quarrel.

Investigators found Bohan's description of the quarrel less than believable. He said that the two men argued about whether to leave an especially large Christmas tip for Blue Bird waiter John Bradley. Eastman wanted all in his party to contribute to the tip for Bradley, who was his personal friend. Bohan claimed that Eastman became upset when Bohan objected to contributing. According to Bohan, the idea was objectionable because Bradley wasn't even waiting on the Eastman party's table.

Bohan said he left the establishment with Eastman and the rest of the group following closely behind. At the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fourteenth Street, Eastman grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around and snarled, "Jerry, you've become a rat since you got that Prohibition job." Bohan said he saw Eastman reach for his overcoat pocket and feared he was getting a handgun. Bohan drew his own revolver, fired several times and fled, tossing the revolver into the subway entrance as he left.

Despite their years of friendship, Bohan said he felt certain that Monk was about to kill him. "I knew what his methods were," he said, "and he had his friends with him, and I thought he was going to start something which would end in my being killed. So I drew my revolver and shot him and made my getaway."

As incredible as it was, Bohan stuck to his story. When the matter came up for trial about a year later, on December 22, 1921, he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Judge Thomas Crain of General Sessions Court sentenced him to between three and ten years in Sing Sing Prison. He served just seventeen months in prison before he was paroled.

  • Asbury, Herbert, The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, Garden City NY: Garden City Publishers, 1928.
  • Hanson, Neil, Monk Eastman: The Gangster Who Became A War Hero, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
  • "'Monk' Eastman rewarded," New York Times, May 9, 1919, p. 24.
  • "Monk Eastman, noted gangster, slain in street," New York Herald, Dec. 26, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Eastman slain in feud over bootleg," New York Evening World, Dec. 27, 1920, p. 1.
  • "'Monk' Eastman, gang leader and war hero, slain by rival gunmen," New York Tribune, Dec. 27, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Monk Eastman's murder is laid to squealing on ring," New York Herald, Dec. 28, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Eastman's slayer sought in his gang," New York Times, Dec. 28, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Expect to arrest 'Monk' Eastman's murderer to-day," New York Evening World, Dec. 28, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Eastman met death as drug ring squealer," New York Tribune, Dec. 28, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Eastman's slayer sought in his gang," New York Times, Dec. 28, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Monk Eastman's slayer identified as one of his gang," New York Herald, Dec. 29, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Military funeral for Eastman as police seek nine," New York Evening World, Dec. 29, 1920, p. 12.
  • "'Monk' Eastman buried as hero beside his mother," New York Tribune, Dec. 31, 1920, p. 6.
  • "Chauffeurs name Eastman's slayer," New York Herald, Dec. 31, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Search in vain for 'Monk' Eastman's slayer," New York Evening World, Dec. 31, 1920, p. 2.
  • "Seek dry agent as missing link in Eastman case," New York Tribune, Jan. 1, 1920, p. 3.
  • "Dry agent sought to clear murder of Monk Eastman," New York Herald, Jan. 1, 1921, p. 16.
  • "Prohibition agent admits killing Monk Eastman after row, police say," New York Evening World, Jan. 3, 1921, p. 1.
  • "Dry agent admits he slew Eastman in drunken fight," New York Herald, Jan. 4, 1921, p. 20.
  • "Monk Eastman slayer gets 3 to 10 years," New York Herald, Dec. 23, 1921, p. 3.

04 December 2017

Chased from Boston to Chicago to Pittsburgh

Camorra killers catch up with
their target in the Steel City

1 - Location of the Scalise residence on Sixth Avenue in Pittsburgh.
2 - Frank Yacca is arrested by special officers near the city morgue.
3 - A railroad employee spots a suspicious man at the B&O Railroad yard.
(Map by Thomas Hunt.)

"Get up! We have come to kill you," a man called out.

Peter Scalise was shaken to consciousness. It was about nine o'clock in the evening of December 4, 1904, and Scalise already had been in bed at his sister Louise's Pittsburgh home, 546 Sixth Avenue, for about an hour. The twenty-year-old Sicilian stone carver opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by three Italian men, killers belonging to a criminal society that had followed him through several states.

Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904.
This "rude awakening" of Peter Scalise provided the public a rare glimpse of an interstate Neapolitan criminal network operating in the United States.

Scalise let out a scream for help as the intruders pulled out knives and began stabbing and slashing at him through his heavy winter blankets. His sister and a cousin, who were visiting with neighbors, heard the scream and rushed to his aid. They entered the bedroom and grappled with the knife-wielding attackers, suffering blade wounds to their hands and wrists but continuing a determined fight.

Scalise, wounded more than a dozen times (some accounts said eighteen times, while others claimed more than twenty) and losing blood through slashes on his chest, legs and forehead, rose from the bed to engage one of his assailants. Grabbing at the man's knife, Scalise suffered a hand wound that nearly cost him his left thumb.

The would-be killers, perhaps discouraged by their loss of numerical advantage or perhaps concerned that the police would soon appear, withdrew, fled the building and ran off into the chilly night (it was just below freezing). Peter Scalise, wearing only his underclothes, pursued the men toward the Monongahela River along Ross Street. That route caused the men to pass in front of several city buildings, including the jail and the morgue.

Near the corner of Ross and Diamond Streets, Scalise collapsed to the pavement and shouted for police. Two special officers of the police, John J. Dillon and John McDonough, responded by grabbing one of the fleeing men, Frank Yacca, sixteen years old. They immediately brought him to the fallen Scalise, who identified Yacca as one of the three men who tried to kill him. Yacca was dragged off to the police central station, while Scalise was taken for treatment to Homeopathic Hospital on Second Avenue near Smithfield Street. Scalise's wounds were ugly but, likely due to the protection afforded by the thick, dense blanket, they were not life-threatening.

A short time later, Dispatcher Hugh O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Railways Company, spotted a suspicious person around Try Street near the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yards. O'Donnell went after the man but lost him in the railyard.

At the hospital, Scalise gave a description of the two assailants still at large. He also provided police with an explanation of the attempt to murder him. Scalise said he committed some offense against an Italian criminal society known as "Camorra." While a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, a death sentence was passed against him.

New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904.

Learning of his situation, Scalise traveled west to Chicago. The Camorra discovered his presence in that city and plotted his murder there as well. Apparently benefiting from some inside sources, Scalise was alerted to the threat in time to depart Chicago for Pittsburgh. Fearing for his life, Scalise seldom left his sister's residence. But the Camorra killers eventually followed him to the western Pennsylvania city and all the way into his bedroom.

Believing that Scalise might provide some useful information on the increasingly troublesome Italian underworld societies in the Pittsburgh area, Police Superintendent Alexander Wallace took personal charge of the case.

Scalise's sister and cousin were taken into custody as material witnesses (one early local report suggested that they were arrested as suspects in the stabbing of Peter Scalise). They were locked up in a cell opposite the one occupied by suspect Frank Yacca. Special Officer Peter Angelo, an Italian American, was secretly positioned nearby. According to published accounts, the special officer overheard Yacca making threats against the witnesses. He told them that if they dared to testify against him, his friends in the Camorra would kill them.

Note: The local press provided little in the way of updates to this case - odd, considering the national interest the story generated when first reported. But a Sunday supplement article from a West Coast newspaper months later included the attempted murder of Scalise in a collection of reported "Black Hand" extortion crimes. The article stated that $5,000 had been demanded from Pietro and Luise [sic] Scalise of Pittsburgh.

  • Brandenburg, Broughton, "The spread of the Black Hand," Los Angeles Herald, Sunday Supplement, June 25, 1905, p. 1.
  • "Aroused from sleep to be killed," Mount Carmel PA Item, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 3.
  • "Camorra pursued Sicilian," New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Italian was stabbed in fight," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Incurred enmity of the Camorrata," Elmira NY Gazette and Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 8.
  • "Secret agents stab Italian," Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Waked him and said: 'Get up we have come to kill you,'" Detroit Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.

14 November 2017

Apalachin party-crashers expose Mafia network

[Following is an excerpt from DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime - Vol. II.]

On November 14, 1957, Sergeant Edgar Croswell of the New York State Police, aided by troopers from the Vestal barracks and agents of the Treasury Department, broke up a convention of American mobsters at the rural Apalachin home of regional crime chieftain Joseph Barbara Sr. Scores of Mafiosi from around the country were rounded up and identified. 

With known criminal figures from every region of the country in attendance, the crashed party at tiny Apalachin triggered years of investigations and compelled reluctant federal law enforcement officials to acknowledge the existence of a highly organized, interstate network of racketeers.

Joe Barbara
Croswell learned a day earlier that Joseph Barbara's son made a number of room reservations at the Parkway Motel on Route 17 in Vestal. Knowing of Barbara's underworld connections, the police sergeant and Trooper Vincent Vasisko investigated. They drove up to the Barbara residence, a large stone house surrounded by fifty-three wooded acres on dead end McFall Road in Apalachin. They noted the license plates of the few cars they saw parked on the grounds. One was registered in New Jersey. The officers went back to the Parkway Motel later in the evening of November 13 and found an Ohio-registered Cadillac. When Croswell learned that several men had checked into one of the rooms reserved by the younger Barbara, he asked motel proprietor Warren Schroeder to have the occupants sign registration cards. The men refused to give their names.

Barbara had a record as a bootlegger, so Croswell contacted the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Unit. Agents of the unit arrived in Vestal on the morning of November 14. The troopers and agents drove over to the Barbara estate. They observed a half dozen, expensive, new cars in a parking lot. Many more vehicles could be seen parked behind the home’s detached garage.

The Barbaras apparently were hosting a large gathering. Croswell called the barracks for additional help and advised Inspector Robert E. Denman of the state police headquarters in Sidney, New York.

With no warrant for Barbara’s home and no official justification for setting foot on his property, the troopers recorded the license plate numbers of visible automobiles and then set up a roadblock on the nearest state road, Old Route 17. They monitored traffic passing through toward McFall Road and stopped every vehicle leaving the area, demanding identification from drivers and their passengers.

Word of the police presence outside the estate reached Barbara’s guests by early afternoon, and dozens of men suddenly poured from the home. Many attempted to leave by automobile but were halted at the law enforcement roadblock.

Elmira NY Star-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1957.

At twenty minutes after one, a car carrying Barbara’s longtime friend Emanuele Zicari and Dominick Alaimo of Pittston, Pennsylvania, was the first to reach the roadblock.

Troopers next stopped a black, 1957 Chrysler Imperial registered to William Medico of Pennsylvania. Inside they found New York-New Jersey Mafia leaders Vito Genovese, Gerardo Catena, Joseph Ida and Dominick Oliveto, along with Rosario “Russell” Bufalino of Pennsylvania. A 1957 Cadillac contained Cleveland Mafia boss John Scalish; John DeMarco of Shaker Heights, Ohio; James LaDuca of Lewiston, New York; and Roy Carlisi of Buffalo. Brooklyn underworld figures Carlo Gambino, Armand Rava and Paul Castellano were stopped in a borrowed car chauffeured by Castellano. In another vehicle police found Pittsburgh Mafiosi Michael Genovese and Gabriel “Kelly” Mannarino, traveling with Pittston, Pennsylvania, gangsters James Osticco and Angelo Sciandra.

Some of Barbara’s guests, either lacking automobiles or deciding that escape by road was impossible, ran off into the hilly woods and open fields surrounding the Barbara estate. Observing that suspicious behavior, police pursued them.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nov. 16, 1957
Antonino Magaddino, brother of western New York Mafia boss Stefano Magaddino, was apprehended at McFadden Road to the east of the estate. John C. Montana of Buffalo and Brooklyn underworld leaders Joseph Bonanno and John Bonventre were found in a cornfield nearby. When police reached him, Montana was tangled in a barbed wire fence. James Colletti of Pueblo, Colorado, and Simone Scozzari of San Gabriel, California, slid down a brushy hill to the west of Barbara’s home and were gathered up by police on the avenue leading to the Pennsylvania state line. Santo Trafficante, the crime boss of Tampa, Florida, and the representative of a growing number of Mafia investors in Cuban gambling casinos, was extracted from a wooded area near Barbara’s home.

The law enforcement operation in Apalachin ultimately collected almost sixty underworld figures. Two more – Nick Civella and Joseph Filardo of Kansas City – were picked up fifteen miles away at the Binghamton train station as they attempted to arrange transport home. All the captured men were brought to the Vestal barracks to be identified and questioned.

None provided a reasonable explanation for the gathering at the Barbara home; most insisted that they had all coincidentally dropped in to visit their ailing friend Joseph Barbara Sr., who recently had suffered a heart attack. Genovese, Ida, Catena and Oliveto refused to answer any questions. The authorities were convinced that the gathering had been prearranged for a far more sinister purpose. (Some suggested the meeting was held in order to establish a uniform policy with regard to narcotics trafficking. Others felt it was to divide up the rackets of the recently murdered Albert Anastasia or to settle succession issues in his Mafia organization, later known as the Carlo Gambino Family. Still others speculated that the purpose was to endorse the takeover of Lucky Luciano's former crime family by Vito Genovese.) However, with no legal grounds for holding the men, police had to turn them loose.

Further investigation led authorities to assemble a list of more than 70 underworld-connected Apalachin convention attendees from twenty-five U.S. regions:
  • Apalachin, Binghamton, Endicott, New York – Joseph Barbara Sr., Joseph Barbara Jr., Ignatius Cannone, Anthony Guarnieri, Bartolo Guccia, Pasquale Turrigiano, Emanuele Zicari.
  • Auburn, New York – Sam Monachino, Patsy Monachino, Patsy Sciortino.
  • Boston, Massachusetts – Frank Cucchiara.
  • Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New York – Roy Carlisi, Domenick D’Agostino, James V. LaDuca, Sam Lagattuta, Antonino Magaddino, John C. Montana, Charles Montana, Stefano Magaddino.
  • Chicago, Illinois – Salvatore “Sam” Giancana, Anthony Accardo.
  • Cleveland, Ohio – John DeMarco, John Scalish.
  • Dallas, Texas – Joseph Civello.
  • Elizabeth, New Jersey – Joseph Ida, Louis Larasso, Frank Majuri.
  • Essex-Bergen Counties, New Jersey – Salvatore Chiri, Anthony Riela.
  • Kansas City, Missouri – Nick Civella, Joseph Filardo.
  • Los Angeles, California – Frank DeSimone, Simone Scozzari.
  • Miami, Florida – Bartolo Frank Failla.
  • New York, New York (Bonanno) – Joseph Bonanno, John Bonventre, Natale Evola, Carmine Galante.
  • New York, New York (Gambino) – Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino, Carmine Lombardozzi, Armand Rava, Joseph Riccobono.
  • New York, New York (Genovese) – Gerardo Catena, Vito Genovese, Michele Miranda.
  • New York, New York (Lucchese) – Americo Migliore, Aniello Migliore, John Ormento, Vincent Rao, Joseph Rosato, Peter Valenti.
  • New York, New York (Profaci) – Joseph Magliocco, Joseph Profaci, Salvatore Tornabe.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Dominick Oliveto.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Michael Genovese, Gabriel Mannarino, John Sebastian LaRocca.
  • Pittston, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – Dominick Alaimo, Rosario Bufalino, William Medico, James Osticco, Angelo Sciandra.
  • Pueblo, Colorado – James Colletti.
  • Rochester, New York – Frank Valenti, Costenze Valenti.
  • San Francisco, California – Joseph Cerrito, James Lanza.
  • Springfield, Illinois – Frank Zito.
  • Tampa, Florida, and Havana, Cuba – Santo Trafficante, Joseph Silesi.
  • Utica, New York – Joseph Falcone, Salvatore Falcone, Rosario Mancuso.
News of the roundup of national crime figures in tiny Apalachin shook the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. Despite the earlier discoveries of the Kefauver Committee and other investigators, Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover had insisted that criminal rackets were organized on no more than local or regional levels. The Apalachin incident revealed that known hoodlums from across the country were closely acquainted with each other. Many of the attendees were connected by business and/or family links.

In the wake of Apalachin, the withering attention of media and law enforcement was focused on American Mafiosi from coast to coast. Investigations into the gathering and its attendees were launched by state and federal legislative committees, including the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Government Operations and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee), as well as a federal grand jury in Albany and Hoover's greatly embarrassed Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Additional information on the Apalachin meeting, its attendees and its impact on organized crime can be found in:

DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime - Vol. II
by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

Article sources:

  • Fitchette, Woodie, and Steve Hambalek, "Top U.S. hoods are run out of area after 'sick call' on Barbara," Binghamton NY Press, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1.
  • “65 hoodlums seized in raid and run out of upstate village,” New York Times, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1
  • "Cops spoil mobster Apalachin reunion," Elmira NY Star-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1.
  • “How hoodlum rally went haywire,” Syracuse Herald Journal, Nov. 16, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Cops probe convention of gangland," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 16, 1957, p. 1.
  • Feinberg, Alexander, “U.S. taking steps to deport aliens at gang meeting,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 1957, p. 1.

06 November 2017

Jealousy nearly kills a Gopher

On this date...

In the early morning hours of November 6, 1912, twenty-year-old Owen "Owney the Killer" Madden, leader of New York City's Gophers gang, was shot in the abdomen while attending a dance at the Arbor Cafe, Fifty-Second Street and Seventh Avenue. 

The gunshot perforated Madden's intestines and left him near death. Doctors gave him no more than a one-in-ten chance of surviving, but Madden managed to pull through. In later years, he rose to the leadership of bootlegging and gambling rackets and developed alliances with some of the top organized criminals in Prohibition Era New York City. In addition to his underworld endeavors, Madden became involved in managing boxers, entertainers, hotels and nightclubs. For a time, he held a financial interest in Harlem's Cotton Club. He is said to have aided the careers of actors George Raft and Mae West.

But back in the 1910s, Madden and his Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea-based branch of the old Gopher's gang, was fighting for survival against its rivals, particularly the Hudson Dusters and the Buck O'Brien Gophers of the Upper West Side. Due to a prolonged squabble with his young wife, Madden let his guard down just a bit in early November of 1912.

NY Sun, Nov. 7, 1912
On Election Night, November 5, Mrs. Madden antagonized her jealous husband with an announcement: she would be attending the David Hyson Association Dance at the Arbor Cafe (formerly known as the El Dorado) and would feel at liberty to dance with any of the men attending. Owney followed her there - many blocks north of the territory controlled by his gang. Mrs. Madden was aware of his presence but refused to acknowledge him. Madden took a balcony seat to watch her activities and probably to take note of her dancing partners. It appears he was not taking much note of those who were moving into the seats near him on the balcony.

The dance continued past midnight. At two in the morning, November 6, a friend told Mrs. Madden that someone wanted to see her outside. As she reached the door, a muffled gunshot was heard. Word that Owney had been shot circulated quickly through the crowd.

Madden gave different accounts of the shooting, but reportedly did not reveal the identity of the gunman. Initially, he insisted, "I done it myself." When his wife reached him, he responded to her questions about the gunman with, "How'd I know?"

At Flower Hospital (where he told a surgeon, "Git busy with that knife thing, doc"), he stated to police that he had been surrounded on the balcony by eleven members of the Hudson Dusters gang. As they closed around him, he became aware of the threat and responded with bravado, telling the gangsters they didn't have the nerve to shoot him. But one of them, according to Madden's story, had just enough nerve. He pressed a handgun to Madden's side and fired.

Madden (back row, center) and some of his Gophers gang.
The press speculated that the shooting was payback for Madden's recent killing of a young man named William Henshaw, but noted that Madden had no shortage of enemies in Manhattan.

As doctors were tending to the five holes the bullet created in Madden's intestines, police determined that John McCauley of 440 Tenth Avenue was the shooter. They arrested him on Nov. 7. McCauley admitted being at the dance and being near Madden at the time of the shooting. His account of the incident sounded ridiculous, but it was in agreement with Madden's odd first remark.

According to McCauley, as Madden saw his rivals around him, he handed his own handgun to McCauley and said, "You'll get me someday and it might as well be now." McCauley insisted that he handed the weapon back to its owner, took no further action and merely watched as Madden then shot himself.


  • "Chase for a slayer," New York Times, Feb. 13, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Held on charge of murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 13, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Oweny Madden, 'Killer' shot, sneers at sleuth," New York Sun, Nov. 7, 1912, p. 9. 
  • "Prisoner says Gopher leader shot himself," New York Evening World, Nov. 7, 1912, p. 2.
  • "Dry padlocks snapped on nine wet doors; 'Owney' Madden's 'Club' is one of them," New York Times, June 23, 1925, p. 23.
  • Waggoner, Walter H., "Herman stark dies; owned Cotton Club from 1929 to 1940," New York Times, July 9, 1981.
  • "Owney Madden, 73, ex-gangster, dead," New York Times, April 24, 1965, p. 1.

04 November 2017

Evidence of some lingering hostility

Bioff's body lies in the wreckage
of his exploded pickup truck
(Arizona Republic)
On this date in 1955, a former Chicago Outfit member living under an assumed identity in Arizona was killed in a car-bombing. The fatal explosion was linked to an extortion racket exposed more than a decade earlier.

"Fat Willie" Bioff, a native of Chicago's West Side, relocated to southern California before World War II and became an aide to International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) union President George Browne. As he became a union official, Bioff already had a reputation for violence (Chicago police suspected him of involvement in the murder of Wisconsin gang boss Jack Zuta) and for close affiliation with members of the Capone organization. In California, he remained in close touch with the Outfit's West Coast rackets overseer Johnny Roselli.

In the early 1940s, federal authorities became aware of an ongoing Chicago Outfit scheme to extort vast sums from movie companies through control of motion picture industry unions, and Bioff emerged as a central player in that scheme, the main link between the IATSE union and Chicago organized crime. Word leaked from federal grand jury proceedings in New York City that studio executive Joseph Schenck was revealing the extortion scheme.

Outfit leaders, trying to assess the damage of the Schenck testimony, quickly got in touch with Bioff through Roselli. Bioff's response to the news - "Now, we're all in trouble" - concerned his higher-ups in the mob. Outfit leaders feared that Bioff would make a deal with the federal prosecutor and reveal their connection to the racket. The underworld bosses wanted to kill Bioff in order to resolve the issue, but Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti talked them out of it. Nitti convinced them that Bioff was a "stand-up guy" and could be trusted to keep his mouth shut.

Bioff and Browne were convicted in November 1941 of extorting more than half a million dollars from movie studio bosses at Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and other companies during the 1930s. (Bioff later admitted that the total profit was more than a million dollars. The figure was subsequently inflated in the press to $2.5 million.) Bioff was sentenced to ten years in prison. Brown was sentenced to eight years. Each man was fined $20,000.

While in custody, Bioff betrayed his underworld colleagues and provided evidence to investigators. He confessed that he had arranged annual studio payments ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the studio, and revealed that the racket was directed by a group of crime figures. By cooperating, he earned a sentence commutation - he and Browne were released in 1944 - but he also incurred the wrath of the Chicago Outfit.

Bioff grand jury testimony in 1943 resulted in indictments against Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Frank "Frankie Diamond" Maritote, Johnny Roselli, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (DeLucia), Phil D'Andrea and Ralph Pierce of the Oufit, as well as IATSE business agent Louis Kaufman. Upon learning of the indictments on March 19, 1943, Nitti, friend and staunch defender of Bioff to that time, shot himself in front of witnesses.

The other Outfit mobsters were successfully prosecuted and sentenced on Dec. 31, 1943, to ten years in prison. Gioe, Campagna, Ricca and D'Andrea received early paroles in summer of 1947. Many expected immediate action against the Outfit traitor Bioff. But years passed without any related news.

In 1955, all the past unpleasantness seemed forgotten. Bioff and his wife Laurie were living under assumed names (Mr. and Mrs. William Nelson) in Phoenix, Arizona. There seemed little threat of underworld retribution for Bioff's betrayal. Involved Chicago mobsters had long ago served their prison terms and completed their probations. Most of them were no longer among the living.

Nitti shot himself in front of witnesses immediately upon learning of the extortion indictments. Charles Gioe and Frank Maritote were shot to death in August of 1954. (The FBI determined that their murders were due to Johnny Roselli's suspicions that they had cooperated with federal authorities.) Phil D'Andrea and Louis Campagna had died, reportedly of natural causes, in 1952 and 1955, respectively. (Ricca, Pierce and Roselli lived into the 1970s. Ricca and Pierce died of natural causes, in 1972 and 1976, respectively. Roselli was the victim of an apparent gangland execution in the summer of 1976.)

Evidence of some lingering hostility was seen on the morning of Nov. 4, 1955: Fifty-five-year-old Bioff climbed into his pickup truck inside his home garage. As he stepped on the starter, an explosion suddenly shook the neighborhood.

According to a press account, "The blast threw Bioff twenty-five feet and scattered wreckage over a radius of several hundred. It left only the twisted frame, the motor and the truck wheels. The garage door was blown out, the roof shattered and windows in the Bioff home and several neighboring houses were broken. Jagged chunks of metals tore holes in the wall of a home 100 feet away. The blast rattled windows a mile away."

Bioff's body, minus both legs and a right hand, were found 25 feet from the explosion.

A representative of the local sheriff's office told the press, "I don't know whether this was a professional gangster job or not, but it certainly was an effective one."

Phoenix police had noted a visit to the city of Outfit leader Anthony Accardo a short time before the murder of Bioff but could not meaningfully connect the visit to the bombing. No one was ever convicted for Bioff's murder.

See also:
  • Lahey, Edwin A., "Willie Bioff, who sent Capone Mob to prison, should rest easier with Maritote's death," Des Moines IA Tribune, Aug. 24, 1954, p. 13.
  • Lee, Eddie, "Blast in Phoenix kills Willie Bioff," Arizona Daily Star, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • Loughran, Robert T., "Underworld caught up with 'Fat Willie' Bioff," Sheboygan WI Press (United Press), Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • McLain, Gene, "Willie Bioff blown to bits! Bombed at Phoenix home," Arizona Republic, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • Parker, Lowell, "Willie Bioff has reason to complain he'd been 'Peglerized,'" Arizona Republic, May 7, 1975, p. 6.
  • Wendt, Lloyd, "The men who prey on labor," Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 1941, p. Graphic Section 2.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, July 22, 1964, NARA no. 124-10208-10406.
  • "Campagna, Gioe ordered freed in parole fight," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 5, 1948, p. 17.
  • "Blast in truck kills Willie Bioff, once Hollywood racket leader," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • "Revenge-bent gang killed Bioff, view," Sheboygan WI Press, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.