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

25 April 2017

Old 'Black Hand' lie finds a new teller

I figured I would give Stephan Talty's new book, The Black Hand, a try. Any book that gets a movie deal involving Leonardo DiCaprio before it even has been released must be good, right?

After many years of research into the Black Hand, Joseph Petrosino, the NYPD Italian Squad and the early Mafia, I have some familiarity with the subject matter. I acquired the Kindle version as it was released this morning. (Fourteen-ninety-nine?! For a stream of electrons? Are you KIDDING me?) I quickly looked it over. I noted that it has an index, a bibliography and some endnotes - items important to those of us who do research.

I set to reading it, but I didn't get very far before I found something troubling. Chapter 1 begins with a description of what Talty claims was the first U.S. murder performed by a Sicilian "Black Hand Society." This was the killing of Francisco (Talty spelled the name Fransisco) Domingo on January 3, 1855.

According to Talty, the victim was found dead of multiple stab wounds - more than a dozen in all, plus another one across his throat from ear to ear - near the Mississippi River a short distance from New Orleans. Domingo apparently had been dead awhile, as Talty notes the blood on the neck wound was "caking thickly in the heat." (Must have been a particularly warm January in New Orleans.) The waters of the river, Talty says, were just a few feet from the corpse's "out-flung hand."

This is intended to show us that an organized "Black Hand Society" (Talty often refers to it as "The Society") was already extorting payments and murdering uncompliant targets in America at that time.

In the book's endnotes, Talty shares the blame for this tale with historian Michael L. Kurtz. Talty correctly points to Kurtz. That historian started off a 1983 article in the Louisiana History journal with precisely the same January 3, 1855, murder story and almost precisely the same wording (even the same misspelling of Francisco). Kurtz wrote that Domingo had been stabbed "over a dozen times, and his throat was slit from ear to ear."

In that article, Kurtz indicated that the details of the Black Hand murder of Domingo came from a couple of sources. One was the January 4, 1855, issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper and the other was (insert ominous music here) the book Brothers in Blood by David Leon Chandler.

I should mention that Chandler is someone to whom I owe an odd sort of debt. If his 1975 book had not contained so many obvious fabrications, I probably never would have chosen to spend so much of my time and resources digging up and writing about TRUE crime history (thereby avoiding the poverty and obscurity I now cherish).

Kurtz's citation of Chandler was correct. Brothers in Blood did report an elaborate story relating to the Domingo killing. Chandler claimed that Domingo, a truck farmer, was stabbed eighteen times (Eighteen! proving that when Chandler concocted a story, he went all in) and was also slashed across the throat (the "ear to ear" thing was added by Kurtz) before being dumped at the New Orleans levee. The murder of Domingo, according to Chandler, was never solved.

Chandler insisted that Domingo was identified as a Sicilian despite his Spanish-sounding surname. That's strange but very convenient, considering the whole Sicilian Black Hand theme he was about to explore.

The author went on to state that Domingo's widow provided authorities with samples of extortion letters her husband had received. These were signed, Chandler said, by hand prints in black ink. So, there we have the appearance of the dreaded Black Hand that so excited Stephan Talty that he led off his first chapter with this incident.

However, even Chandler, who elsewhere delivered his misinformation with great conviction, was somewhat hesitant to connect the Domingo killing with a Sicilian criminal organization. He noted that Black Handers were not always organized and not always Sicilian or even Italian. He also explained in a footnote that the ethnic backgrounds of the victim and the killer in this case were uncertain.

Chandler reported that the details of his story came from the January 4, 1855, issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper.

The fact that Chandler said these things caused me to doubt them. It didn't take long to find out the truth of the Domingo killing. We will simply have to wonder why Kurtz and Talty repeated the Chandler tale (and imagined they would get away with it).

Daily Picayune of June 24, 1855, thought the case was solved.

I quickly found articles on the killing in the New Orleans Picayune, New Orleans Bee and New Orleans Daily Delta. These articles were entirely in agreement that Francisco Domingo was fatally stabbed at about five-thirty in the afternoon of Thursday, January 4, 1855 - not Jan. 3. Domingo and a man named Guillermo Ballerio (or something spelled reasonably close to "Ballerio"), both fishermen (neither farmed trucks or anything else), had an argument during supper inside a home they shared on Marigny Street with a number of other fishermen. They decided to settle it like gentlemen. When Ballerio quickly found himself at a disadvantage in the fisticuffs, he opted to settle it like something other than a gentleman. He pulled a knife and plunged it into Domingo's side.

Just once. Not more than a dozen times or eighteen times. And just in the side. Not across the throat.

Domingo was never found dead by the side of the Mississippi with his blood baking in the (January) heat. He was, in fact, taken to Charity Hospital. Doctors could do little more than keep him comfortable and await the inevitable. Domingo died at the hospital the following day.

The newspaper accounts mention nothing about extortion, nothing about Domingo's wife, nothing about an inky Black Hand and nothing about Sicily. And it turns out they had good reasons for these omissions.

The case Chandler said was never solved, well, it actually was solved and almost immediately. Ballerio was arrested. An inquest at the end of the month found that he had caused the death of Domingo by penetrating Domingo's lung with a knife. Ballerio was charged before Recorder Seuzeneau in February and brought to trial before First District Judge Robertson in June. A jury returned a guilty verdict for manslaughter late on the evening of June 19 (or perhaps early in the morning of June 20). On June 24, Judge Robertson sentenced Ballerio to serve seven years at hard labor in the penitentiary.

OK, so that's the story from the Daily Picayune and the Bee and the Daily Delta. But the stories of Chandler and Kurtz (and, by extension, Talty) still could have been drawn on some nonsense published in the January 4 issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper. That's the one Chandler and Kurtz claimed to use as their source. Maybe that newspaper - and no others - published the stuff about the wife and the Black Hand and Sicily and multiple stab wounds and the Mississippi River and... all that.

There aren't many copies of the January 4, 1855, True Delta floating around. But with help from Becky Smith, head of Reader Services of the Historic New Orleans Collection at the Williams Research Center, I obtained a copy of that issue.

New Orleans Daily True Delta, Jan. 4, 1855.

It didn't even mention the Domingo killing. And, if you think about it, that actually makes a good deal of sense because those historians placed the killing one day earlier than it actually occurred. True Delta went to press on January 4 before the stabbing happened and a day before Domingo died. The newspaper did not mention the incident even in the January 5 issue. Whether it did so sometime after that seems of little consequence. The Chandler and Kurtz citations of True Delta were False.

Funny thing about Domingo's surname. He had that Spanish-sounding name because - you may want to sit down for this - he was Spanish! He and Ballerio were both from Manilla in the Philippines. As you probably recall, the Philippines were a Spanish colony from the time of Magellan's visit there in 1521 until the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. A listing of passenger arrivals in New Orleans actually shows Spanish citizen Francisco Domingo, then 25, entering the U.S. from Havana Cuba aboard the Brig Salvadora on September 13, 1847.

Interesting side note: the criminal phenomenon that first became known as the Black Hand had its roots in Spain.

After all of this, I was left staring at Talty's book wondering if I should try to read another paragraph. I decided instead to skip around to a few random pages to check things out.

I noticed Talty's use of an alternate spelling for Petrosino biographer Arrigo Petacco's surname. (The name appears as "Petacco" on his book, Joe Petrosino, but has also often been written as "Pettaco." I "Googled" it, and found quite a few uses of this spelling.) There was a far less common alternate spelling for the name of the Trinacria cafe ("Trinarcia" - don't bother "Googling" that one).

The book included an often repeated but still inaccurate mention of Petrosino working as a city street sweeping "whitewing." (The white uniform that inspired that nickname was not in use until years after Petrosino had moved on to other things. He and the other sweepers actually swept streets in their own clothes.) And there was an interesting Talty insistence that Vito Cascio Ferro was such a genius that he masterminded the courtroom defense of 1903 Barrel Murder suspects even though he could not have anticipated their arrest and fled New York for New Orleans as soon as he became aware of it.

In my final random selection, I found some familiar stuff about Petrosino's ostensibly Irish assistant "Hugh Cassidy" actually being an Italian with the real name of Ugo Cassidi. I think I first saw that written in NYPD: A City and its Police by James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto. It's a neat story. But it makes me wonder about the Irish-born city police officer named Hugh Cassidy listed as a resident of East 119th Street in the 1900 U.S. Census. (Coincidence?)

Stephan Talty and Leonardo DiCaprio have no reason to care what I think. But I am unimpressed with what fourteen-ninety-five buys these days.

Sources:

  • Chandler, David Leon, Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975.
  • Kurtz, Michael L. "Organized Crime in Louisiana History: Myth and Reality," Louisiana History, Fall 1983, New Orleans: Louisiana Historical Association, 1983, p. 355.
  • Lardner, James and Thomas Reppetto, NYPD: A City and its Police, New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
  • Talty, Stephan, The Black Hand, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
  • List of passengers arrived from foreign ports in the port of New Orleans, quarterly abstract, September 1847.
  • United States Census of 1900, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 940.
  • New Orleans True Delta, Jan. 4, 1855; Jan. 5, 1855.
  • "Third District: Another Probable Murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 5, 1855, p. 1.
  • "Third District: Probable Murder," New Orleans Bee, Jan. 6, 1855, p. 1.
  • Third District: The Supposed Murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 6, 1855, p. 2.
  • "Inquests," New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, Feb. 2, 1855.
  • "Committed for murder," New Orleans Daily Delta, Feb. 11, 1855, p. 8.
  • "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 20, 1855, p. 2.
  • "City intelligence," New Orleans Bee, June 21, 1855, p. 1.
  • "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 24, 1855, p. 4.


24 April 2017

New Orleans removes Liberty Place monument

Early this morning (Monday, April 24, 2017), city of New Orleans workers dismantled and removed the Liberty Place monument, commemorating the 1874 battle between local conservative militias and Louisiana's Reconstruction Era government.

The battle occurred after the validity of state election results was questioned by both major political parties. Rival election boards announced the election of different governors, and competing state legislatures were assembled. For months, the political situation worsened as rival groups prepared for armed conflict.

Joseph P. Macheca, the subject of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, captained a force of Sicilian immigrants that played a pivotal role in the battle and helped conservative Democratic "White League" forces to rout the well-armed Metropolitan Police, comprised largely of Republican-aligned African Americans and led by superintendent Algernon Badger, and a Republican state militia commanded by former Confederate General James Longstreet.

Following the battle, U.S. President Ulysses Grant ordered federal troops into New Orleans to restore Reconstruction government control. The conflict has been referred to as the last battle of the U.S. Civil War. 

Liberty Place monument at its original location,
the "neutral ground" median on Canal Street.

The "Liberty Place" monument - a 35-foot white stone obelisk - was installed in the center of Canal Street in 1891. (In that same year, Macheca and ten other men held at Orleans Parish Prison were attacked and murdered by a mob.) A white-supremacist message was inscribed upon the structure decades later. Controversy surrounded the monument and its racist inscription. That inscription was subsequently covered by a carved stone plaque dedicating the monument to those killed on both sides of the 1874 conflict.

Due to a Canal Street construction project 28 years ago, the obelisk was removed. There was a considerable argument over whether it should be replaced. Several years later, it was installed at a less visible location on Iberville Street. It remained a divisive symbol for the community.

The Liberty Place monument was the first of four Confederate Era monuments scheduled for removal in the city. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the press yesterday (April 23), "There's a better way to use the property these monuments are on and a way that better reflects who we are."

Read more:

20 April 2017

The murder of New Orleans boss Joseph Agnello

On this date in 1872, New Orleans Mafia leader Joseph Agnello was shot to death during a gunfight at the Picayune Tier.

New Orleans Daily Picayune
April 21, 1872
Successor to the leadership of his brother Raffaele's underworld organization, Joseph Agnello was seriously wounded in several attacks in 1870-72, but managed to recover each time. Agnello was expected to die after a shooting at Poydras Street and Dryades in September of 1871, but he shocked physicians with his quick rebound. He finally met his end after at least two gunmen (and as many as four) from a rival underworld faction cornered him at the dock at six o'clock in the morning, Saturday, April 20, 1872.

After briefly exchanging fire with his attackers, the thirty-nine-year-old Agnello tried to escape by jumping aboard the moored schooner Mischief. He was struck by shotgun blasts as he went over the rail of the schooner and fell onto the deck.

New Orleans Republican
April 21, 1872
Agnello regained his footing momentarily, only to be struck in the midsection by a large-caliber horse-pistol slug fired by Joseph Maressa (reportedly also known as Vincent Orsica). The slug passed through his body from right to left, ripping through his heart and leaving a gaping exit wound.

Two bystanders were injured by flying lead. Customhouse official Joseph Soude was struck in the back by shotgun shot and died of his wounds as he was helped to his home. A youngster named Edward Nixon was wounded in the leg.

Police arrested Maressa and Joseph Florda (also known as Ignazio Renatz) for the killing. Florda had previously been arrested for counterfeiting. The accused were held at the Third Precinct's Jackson Square police station, where they argued that they shot Agnello in self-defense. Authorities recovered an Enfield rifle, two double-barreled shotguns and a horse pistol from the area of the shooting. One of the shotguns was found fully loaded (this belonged to Florda, who raised it to fire but noticed a police officer nearby and decided to drop it instead).

The death of Agnello marked the end of a Mafia war in New Orleans that started in 1868. Mafiosi originating in Palermo, Sicily, were briefly eclipsed in the Crescent City by underworld factions transplanted from Trapani and Messina and by the Stuppagghieri organization based in Monreale.

Sources:
  • "Murder in the Second District," New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869, p. 1.
  • "La Vendetta: shooting affray on Poydras Street," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 6.
  • "The city," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 2.
  • "Another Sicilian vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Sicilian feud again," New Orleans Republican, April 21, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Italian war," New Orleans Republican, April 23, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The Sicilian vendetta," Nashville TN Union and American, April 30, 1872, p. 3 [reprinted articles from the New Orleans Picayune and New Orleans Times-Democrat of April 21].
  • "Vicentio Ossica...," New Orleans Republican, June 4, 1872, p. 5.
Learn more about the early New Orleans Mafia:

Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca
and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

19 April 2017

85 years ago: Luciano, Lansky nabbed in Chicago

Paul Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia, Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania,
Meyer Lansky, John Senna, Harry Brown.

On this date in 1932: Police arrested New York racketeers Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania and Meyer Lansky during their visit to underworld colleagues in Chicago. 

The two men had been under surveillance around the clock since arriving in the Windy City two days earlier. They were picked up by police as they headed out of their hotel to board a train back to New York. Police found them in the company of Chicago Outfit figures Paul Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia, Harry Brown and John Senna.

Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1932.


66 years ago: Mangano murder

On the morning of April 19, 1951, Mrs. Mary Gooch of 7501 Avenue X in Brooklyn, was walking through the tall grass of a marshy area in her Bergen Beach neighborhood when she discovered a man's dead body. 

Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1951.
For Mrs. Gooch the discovery may not have been quite as startling as it would have been for others. It was said that two years earlier, she stumbled across another dead body in the same location - south of Avenue Y near the foot of East 72nd Street. Mrs. Gooch summoned the police.

The partly dressed corpse was lying face-down in the dirt. It was wearing no pants, shoes or coat but had on a white shirt, white shorts and undershirt, black socks, black tie and gold tie clip. The tie clip was still fastened neatly in place.

Police noted three close-range bullet wounds to the man's head - one at the top rear of the neck, one in the right cheek and one in the left cheek. Time of death was estimated at 10 to 20 hours earlier. There were no identifying papers on the body. Through an examination of fingerprint records, police identified the victim as Philip Mangano, 50.

A resident of 1126 84th Street in Brooklyn, Philip Mangano was known to be a waterfront racketeer and political manipulator; a top aide to his brother, Brooklyn-based Mafia boss Vincent Mangano (some sources indicate that Philip was his brother's underboss); and an associate of Mafia leader Joe Adonis. There was a short police file on Philip Mangano. He was arrested twice, once in 1923 for homicide, but never convicted.

Finding no dirt on the bottoms of Philip's socks, detectives concluded that he was murdered at another location and carried to the Bergen Beach marsh for disposal. They surmised that a ten-foot length of rope found near the body was used in its transport.

Philip's wife Agatha, 46, told police that she last saw her husband at a Brooklyn accountant's office on the morning of April 17.

Authorities were unable to locate Vincent Mangano. Investigators of the Kefauver Committee had been having the same trouble for several months. (Though initially believed to be in hiding, Vincent Mangano was eventually presumed dead. He was ruled dead by a Brooklyn court in October 1961. His remains were never found.)

The Kings County District Attorney's Office interviewed seventy-five people, including Mafia big shots like Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis - over the course of the next two days, but learned nothing of value to the murder investigation. Adonis reportedly suggested that Philip Mangano was killed because of an affair with a woman. No evidence could be found to support that theory. And prosecutors also dismissed reports that Philip Mangano had been targeted for mob discipline after secretly meeting with federal investigators.

Philip's 22-year-old son told prosecutors that he believed Philip was killed because he was trying to pull away from the Mafia. He said his father had made two recent trips to Virginia to purchase a construction firm.

Philip was buried quietly on April 23, 1951, at Holy Cross Cemetery. His hearse left the Boyertown Chapel, 38 Lafayette Avenue, a half-hour before its scheduled time in order to avoid reporters. There were no church services. Three empty limousines were sent from the chapel to pick up family members at other locations.

Years later, Albert Anastasia was revealed to be the killer of both Philip and Vincent Mangano. Anastasia seized control of the former Mangano Crime Family and remained its boss until his own bloody end in 1957.

Sources:
  • Bonanno, Joseph, with Sergio Lalli, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 170-171.
  • Gale, J.H., "Criminal Intelligence Digest," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-6054-955, NARA no. 124-10223-10411, Feb. 11, 1965, p. 3.
  • SAC New York, "La Cosa Nostra," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-6054-669, NARA no. 124-10287-10234, July 2, 1964.
  • "Mafia purge seen as probe figure is taken for ride," Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1951, p. 1.
  • "Aide of Joe Adonis is found shot dead," New York Times, April 20, 1951, p. 18.
  • "Raiders seized coat in inspector's home," Brooklyn Eagle, April 22, 1951, p. 3.
  • "No clue in Mangano case," New York Times, April 22, 1951, p. 66.
  • "Mangano burial hour shifted to forestall public," Brooklyn Eagle, April 23, 1951, p. 9.
  • "Adonis, Anastasia queried in murder," New York Times, April 28, 1951, p. 21.
  • "Seek 'passion crime' in Mangano killing," Brooklyn Eagle, April 29, 1951, p. 2.
  • "Mangano killing motive," New York Times, April 29, 1951, p. 60.
  • Reid, Ed, "Mafia leader Mangano's killer known," Brooklyn Eagle, June 26, 1951, p. 1.
  • Gage, Nicholas, "Carlo Gambino, a Mafia leader, dies in his Long Island home at 74," New York Times, Oct. 16, 1976, p. 28.


DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. 2
by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona

14 April 2017

114 years ago: The Barrel Murder

New York Evening World, April 14, 1903.
On this date in 1903 - Agents of the United States Secret Service are called upon to help New York City police identify a corpse found in a barrel at Manhattan's 11th Street and Avenue D. 

The victim.
NY Evening World, April 15, 1903.
The agents recognize the deceased man as the stranger they observed with the Morello Mafia members the previous night. Police arrest known members of Morello's organization, including boss Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo. They are unable to locate Morello adviser Vito Cascio Ferro. They later learn that Cascio Ferro has fled back to his native Sicily through New Orleans.

The Morello Mob
NY Evening World, April 16, 1903.
The victim is soon identified as Buffalo resident Benedetto Madonia, brother-in-law of Giuseppe DePrima, a Morello gangster recently imprisoned for counterfeiting. Authorities believe the New York City Mafiosi lured Madonia to his death because DePrima was judged a traitor.

Police are able to trace the barrel to a Morello gang hangout. They find that a Mafia suspect known as Petto the Ox is in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch that belonged to the victim. Authorities are certain of the gang's responsibility for Madonia's killing but cannot assemble a convincing case. 

Read more about the Barrel Murder on the American Mafia history website:



10 April 2017

80 years ago: NYPD detective fatally shot

Detective Michael J. Foley
On this date in 1937 - Gunmen attempting to rob the Cafe Boulevard restaurant in Manhattan fatally shot Police Detective Michael J. Foley.

The incident led to the wrongful conviction and nearly to the execution of New York resident Isidore "Beansy" Zimmerman.

In 1938, Zimmerman and four other men were convicted of the murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. The case against Zimmerman rested on testimony of alleged accomplices who received immunity from prosecution, a common occurrence in high-profile cases handled by the office of District Attorney Thomas Dewey. Those witnesses stated that, while Zimmerman was not present when Detective Foley was shot, he had planned the armed robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting.

On the day scheduled for execution, Governor Herbert Lehman commuted Zimmerman's sentence to life in prison. "Beansy" was taken from Death Row and evaluated for emotional problems by medical staff before being moved to the prison's general population. He spent the next twenty-three years in penitentiaries - Sing Sing, Auburn, Dannemora and Green Haven. Bitter over his treatment and emotionally scarred from his near-execution, Zimmerman was an uncooperative prisoner and frequently served disciplinary terms in solitary confinement.

Isidore 'Beansy' Zimmerman
Later investigations revealed improper actions by Dewey assistant Jacob Rosenblum. Rosenblum was found to have hidden evidence of conflicting statements by the witnesses used against Zimmerman.

In January 1961, the New York State Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Zimmerman. Prosecutors decided not to retry the flawed case. Zimmerman was released from prison in February 1961. The original indictment against him was dismissed in March 1967.

In 1981, two decades after he was released from prison, New York Governor Hugh Carey agreed to permit a Zimmerman lawsuit. Zimmerman won a court judgment of $1 million in the late spring of 1983. He was left with $660,000, after paying off his large legal expenses. He had little time left to enjoy the money. He bought a new car and took a short vacation in the Catskills before he died.

Sources:
  • “Detective is slain battling 4 thugs,” New York Times, April 11, 1937, p. 21.
  • “Indicted in police death,” New York Times, April 23, 1937, p. 2.
  • “Five are convicted in police killing,” New York Times, April 15, 1938, p. 11.
  • “5 young bandits sentenced to die,” New York Times, April 23, 1938, p. 32.
  • “3 die, 2 are spared for hold-up death,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 1939, p. 42.
  • Howard, Jane, “Wrong man in jail,” LIFE, May 15, 1964, p. 57-64.
  • “Resigns as Dewey aide,” New York Times, Dec. 31, 1941, p. 20.
  • Isidore Zimmerman v. City of New York et al., Supreme Court of New York, Special Term, New York County, 1966, ny.findacase.com, accessed May 5, 2016.
  • “Jacob J. Rosenblum dead at 73; Dewey homicide bureau chief,” New York Times, Jan. 24, 1971, p. 65.
  • Zimmerman v. State of New York, Court of Claims, 76 Misc. 2d 193, 1973, casetext.com, accessed May 5, 2016.
  • “What price a Zimmerman?” New York Times, June 5, 1983.
  • McFadden, Robert D., “Isidore Zimmerman, 66, man unjustly jailed for a murder,” New York Times, Oct. 14, 1983.


06 April 2017

67 years ago: Bullets take KC political leader, aide

On this date in 1950, Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta were found dead inside the First District Democratic Club headquarters,  716 East Truman Road, on the North Side of Kansas City. They were found, several .38-caliber bullet wounds in their heads, at about four o'clock in the morning.

Binaggio was found dead in his political club office.
Binaggio, 40, was the Democratic Party boss in the North Side, where many Italian-Americans resided and voted. A one-time follower of the late Democratic machine boss Thomas Pendergast and John Lazia, who was murdered in 1934, Binaggio served as a link between Missouri Democratic politicians and the Italian underworld of Kansas City and St. Louis. His command of the North Side vote gave him great political power across the state. He was believed to be a close ally of Kansas City Mafiosi, including James Balestrere.

Binaggio's political faction rivaled and quickly eclipsed the Pendergast machine when, after the death of Tom Pendergast, that organization was controlled by Pendergast's nephew James.

Gargotta, 49, was Binaggio's bodyguard and right-hand-man. The local press noted that Gargotta been arrested forty times in a thirty-year period. Charges of murder, gambling, robbery, extortion, carrying concealed weapons and violating liquor laws were all dismissed. Gargotta was convicted once, on an assault to kill charge stemming from the attempted murder of Sheriff Tom Bash. Gargotta served a 19-month prison sentence for that offense. Gargotta also rose to power under the guidance of Pendergast and Lazia.

Before his murder, Binaggio announced that he would soon be leaving politics. His failed efforts in recent years to win approval for legal gambling in the State of Missouri was a costly disappointment to his underworld associates. Binaggio's political manipulations and criminal connections were constantly in the press during that time, and Binaggio became the target of federal investigations.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1950.
Binaggio's body was found slumped in a swivel chair behind a desk in the headquarters' outer office. There were powder burns around his wounds, indicating that a pistol had been placed against his head and fired.

Gargotta's body was found on the floor near the door. He had a gunshot wound to the base of his skull, apparently due to a bullet fired from some distance. Three other wounds in the left side of his head were closely grouped and powder burned.

Recommended books on the Kansas City underworld:

01 April 2017

148 years ago: New Orleans boss murdered

On this date in 1869, New Orleans Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello is shot to death during an underworld feud. 
New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869.

Agnello, accompanied by his godson and bodyguard Frank Sacarro, was on a walk around the French Quarter when a noise from Old Levee Street behind him caught his attention. When he turned back to resume his walk, a bareheaded man in a long frock coat stepped forward and pointed a brass-mounted blunderbuss pistol at the boss's head.

The pistol fired, launching chunks of metal into Agnello's skull and killing him instantly. Some of the blunderbuss's projectiles missed the mark and cracked through the windows and walls of the Joseph Macheca produce store and the Norman & Reiss bakery on Toulouse Street. Sacarro's left index finger was wounded when he thrust out his left hand toward the weapon as it fired.

The gunman in the frock coat fled through the bakery pursued by Sacarro, who drew a pistol and managed to wound him with a shot. The gunman, leaving behind a trail of blood, escaped through a rear exit. Frank Philips, a baker working at Norman & Reiss, was wounded in the right leg by some flying lead.

In the summer, authorities arrested Joseph Florada (who may also have been known as Gaetano Arditto) as a suspect in the Agnello killing. Sacarro would not identify the Florada as the man he saw shoot his godfather, and the suspect was set free.

Agnello had been leader of a Mafia organization comprised of Palermitani. His enemies, an alliance largely made up of Messinesi and Trapanesi, had a momentary advantage in an underworld struggle that had already lasted several months, since the killing of Litero Barba, reputed leader of a Messinian gang. The war was not yet over, however. Raffaele Agnello's brother Joseph stepped up to the leadership of the Palermitani and continued the fight until his own murder in 1872.


For more about this subject:

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.