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

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.


Sources:
  • 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...

Madden
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.

Sources:

  • "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.

Bioff
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.

Browne
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:
Sources:
  • 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.

30 October 2017

CIA joins with Mafia in effort to kill Castro

Some Kennedy assassination-related documents released through the National Archives last week (October 26, 2017) and earlier this year (July 24, 2017) discussed CIA cooperation with American organized criminals in an effort to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The documents revealed little about CIA-underworld interaction that was not already known to historians through other sources, but the release provides an occasion to reflect upon that interaction and its aftermath.

Another release of documents is expected in six months' time. Any additional pages will likely be in general agreement with those we already have. The key features of the government-underworld conspiracy appear to be these:

  • A small group of CIA officials decided to accomplish the assassination of Cuba's Communist President Fidel Castro by working with American Mafiosi, who had been deprived of Havana casino income by Castro's rise to power.
  • No written approvals of the plan by top CIA administrators or White House officials were ever obtained, though the CIA plotters later insisted that oral approvals from CIA higher-ups were obtained and that some discussion occurred with the White House.
  • In an effort to keep CIA involvement in the plot a secret, an outside intermediary was used to make contacts with Mafiosi. CIA was prepared to pay $150,000 to the Castro assassin.
  • The intermediary met and plotted with Mafiosi Santo Trafficante, Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. The mobsters refused to take any money. Despite the efforts to keep CIA involvement a secret, the mobsters quickly figured out that CIA was involved.
  • A level of cooperation between the Mafia and the CIA was first exposed early in the planning process, when a technician illegally wiretapping a Las Vegas entertainer's telephone for Giancana was arrested and sought help from the CIA. CIA became involved and succeeded in having charges dropped, but FBI investigated the matter.
  • As FBI reported to Attorney General Robert Kennedy about the incident, the Bureau warned that any CIA-Mafia arrangement could subject the U.S. government to underworld blackmail.
  • Several times, Giancana and Roselli sought to use the CIA relationship to their personal advantage.
  • CIA scientists designed six poison pills. Those pills were delivered in two separate batches to Mafia contacts in Cuba so they could be placed in food or drink consumed by Castro. The pills reportedly were never used.
  • CIA-Mafia plans to poison Castro were called off following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. CIA conspirators remained in contact with Mafiosi for several years and continued to develop Castro assassination plans, though new leadership at the CIA did not know of the contacts or the plans until they were brought to light by the FBI.
  • Columnist Jack Anderson wrote about CIA plotting against Castro in 1967 and exposed Mafia involvement in the plotting in 1971. Official documents relating to the CIA-Mafia venture were discovered by the Rockefeller Commission and the Senate's Church Committee in 1975. Some secrecy was maintained until the New York Times published information about the government's relationship with Giancana and Roselli the following year.
  • Giancana was murdered in 1975. Roselli was murdered in 1976. Their killings appeared to be gangland "hits," but some were concerned that the murders related to their work with the CIA.

Click here to read the full article (including links to released government documents) at the American Mafia history website (mafiahistory.us)

27 October 2017

Many, but not all, JFK files released

TIME photograph
Last night, the U.S. National Archives publicly released 2,891 previously classified documents relating to the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The documents are accessible through the National Archives website.

National Archives
The release was made in accordance with a law passed in 1992, which required that assassination records be made public after 25 years. Then-President George H.W. Bush signed the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act on Oct. 26, 1992, setting a final release date of Oct. 26, 2017. A batch of 3,810 documents were released July 24, several months before the deadline. A last remaining batch of at least 3,140 files - many thousands of pages - remained secret through the final day, waiting on a release authorization by President Donald Trump.

In the evening, President Trump issued a memorandum approving the release of 2,891 of the remaining files but permitting an additional six months of review on 249 others. Reports indicate that officials of the CIA and FBI urged that those files not be released.

The President said the continued secrecy was necessary to address "national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns." He further stated, "This temporary withholding from full public disclosure is necessary to protect against harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure." The review of remaining material is scheduled for completion by April 26, 2018, but some information may remain classified after that time if agencies can demonstrate a continued national security threat from its exposure.

Portion of released document

Working through the night to digest the just-released documents, historians and researchers discovered some interesting items:

 - One CIA document, dealing with Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City two months before the Kennedy assassination, suggested that Oswald was accompanied on that trip by anti-Castro Cuban Francisco Rodriguez Tamayo. Rodriguez Tamayo was a captain in Castro's army before defecting to the U.S. in June 1959. He subsequently led an anti-Castro training facility in Louisiana.

 - Documents also revealed that the government of Mexico was actively aiding the U.S. in electronic surveillance of Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City.

 - Some documents related to CIA efforts to encourage the assassination of Cuban President Fidel Castro and other Cuban communist leaders. There also was discussion of agency outreach to American organized crime leaders for their help in eliminating Castro.

Reviewers of the documents have noted that the collection released last night did not contain any "blockbuster" revelations and shed little light on subjects of intense interest to assassination conspiracy theorists, such as the relationship between Oswald and the Central Intelligence Agency.



Personal note: I am amazed that "national security" is still being used as an excuse to deny U.S. citizens access to documents about the assassination of their President 54 years ago. Assassination is the ultimate breach of national security. Only by completely understanding and appropriately responding to what occurred can we hope to restore that security. I'm sure we will find (someday) that personal/agency embarrassment - government INsecurity - is the real reason documents continue to be concealed. And I would argue that secrecy over embarrassing facts is itself a serious threat to national security.


Links:

23 October 2017

Dutch Schultz, aides, fatally shot in New Jersey

On this date in 1935, mob-affiliated assassins invaded the Newark, New Jersey, headquarters of gang boss Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer. They opened fire on Schultz and his aides, mortally wounding Schultz, Abe Landau, Bernard  "Lulu" Rosencrantz and Otto "Abbadabba" Berman. 

Berman and Landau were dead by the next morning. Schultz lingered through the following day before succumbing to his wounds.  Rosenkrantz died hours after his boss.

The killings reportedly were ordered by the leaders of New York City Mafia organizations, who sought to prevent Schultz's planned murder of prosecutor Thomas Dewey and to consume Schultz's lucrative underworld rackets. Murder, Inc., gunmen Charles Workman and Emanuel Weiss have been identified as the shooters.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

New Brunswick NJ Home News

Plainfield NJ Courier-News

Quad City IA Times

Tampa FL Daily Times

New York Times

Philadelphia Inquirer

Fort Myers FL News-Press



15 October 2017

New Orleans police chief ambushed, murdered

On this date (Oct. 15) in 1890, New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy was fatally shot by several Mafia assassins a short distance from his home. He succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

Scene of Hennessy assassination

Hennessy attended a meeting of the city's police commission during the early evening of October 15. The meeting broke up at about nine o'clock. Hennessy was driven back to police headquarters at the southwest corner of Common (Tulane Avenue) and Basin Streets. Captain William O'Connor of the private Boylan Protection Agency met him there to escort the police chief home. Hennessy, perceived as a partisan in a local underworld feud, received a number of death threats from the local Mafia. City fathers hired the Boylan agency to keep him safe.

New Orleans Police Chief David C. Hennessy
Hennessy
Though Hennessy had a reputation for punctuality (he lived with his widowed mother and tried to avoid worrying her), the chief did not immediately head home. Instead, he and O'Connor, long acquainted, chatted at police headquarters for more than an hour. They left the building a few minutes after eleven.

While Basin Street was the most direct route between Hennessy's office and his home on Girod Street, heavy rains of earlier in the day had caused some flooding in the area. Hennessy and O'Connor took a significantly lengthier route, riverward on Common Street and then up Rampart Street to the intersection with Poydras Street. At that corner, the two men stopped into Dominick Virget's Oyster Saloon for a late snack. A teetotaler, Hennessy had a glass of milk with his plate of oysters.

At eleven-thirty, the men stepped out of Virget's and continued up Rampart Street. They paused in front of the McDonough schoolhouse at the corner of Rampart and Girod, about one and a half city squares from Hennessy's home. O'Connor said goodbye to Hennessy at that point, though he had been assigned with seeing the chief all the way home. O'Connor crossed the intersection diagonally to his left - his intended destination is unknown - while Hennessy turned right on Girod.

The chief took only a few strides and then halted as a young man darted out of a Girod Street doorway and ran toward Basin Street whistling loudly. The youth turned right onto Basin and disappeared around the side of Mrs. Ehrwald's second-hand store.

Hennessy assassins fired from beneath shed roof
The assassins' first
shots were fired from
beneath this shed roof
Hennessy managed just a few steps more. As he reached the front of the residence at No. 269 Girod Street, shotgun pellets tore into him from his left. The initial blast, originating from the darkness under a shed roof on the opposite site of Girod, shredded his umbrella, disabled his left hand and knocked him backward. Hennessy instinctively drew his ivory-handled Colt revolver. Another blast of shotgun pellets ripped through his slacks and shattered his right knee. On his way to the ground, the chief was struck by pellets in the chest and abdomen and then in the face and neck. Hennessy fired his revolver into the darkness across the street as he struggled to stand up.

Two shadowy figures stepped into Girod Street. Illuminated by a streetlamp and within sight of some residents whose attention was caught by the gunshots, they advanced toward the fallen police chief. They fired large-caliber slugs into Hennessy's midsection and then ran off.

Mortally wounded, Hennessy managed to rise to his feet. He stumbled a few yards in the direction of home. At the corner, he turned onto Basin. He dragged his disabled leg just a few more paces and collapsed onto the front steps of No. 189 Basin Street. Captain O'Connor, at most only a single square away when the gunfire erupted, somehow reached the chief's side far too late to fulfill his function as bodyguard.

"They gave it to me," Hennessy gasped, "and I gave it back the best I could."

O'Connor asked if the chief could identify his attackers. Hennessy reportedly replied, "Dagoes."

 - - - 

Hennessy died before he could provide any additional identification of his killers. Suspected Mafia members and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring in the assassination of the police chief. Nine men, including New Orleans-born businessman Joseph P. Macheca, were the first to be brought to trial early in 1891.

Captain William O'Connor, who should have been the prosecution's key witness in the case, was never called to testify. O'Connor might have explained the timing and the route of Hennessy's walk home, factors that brought him late at night into a well-planned ambush. The captain also might have explained his own fortuitously timed departure from the chief's side - just seconds before the shooting began - and his slow return to the chief after the shooting had finished and the assassins had run off.

None of the accused men were convicted. Six of those tried, including Macheca, reputed Mafia boss Charlie Matranga, and Asperi Marchesi, the boy-lookout who whistled upon the arrival of Hennessy, were acquitted. The jury could not reach a verdict for three other defendants identified by witnesses as shooters of the police chief.  After the trial, some jurors revealed that they had been concerned that Captain O'Connor did not testify.

Angered by the jury verdict, a mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, and murdered Macheca and ten other prisoners.

 - - - 

Read more about Police Chief Hennessy
and the early Mafia of New Orleans:


Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon
(Available in softcover and Kindle e-book formats)

07 October 2017

Mafia leader's corpse discovered in Long Island

Cutolo
On this date (Oct. 7) in 2008, a body excavated from a roadside in Farmingdale, Long Island, was officially identified as that of William "Wild Bill" Cutolo, former underboss of the Colombo Crime Family. The partly decomposed remains, found wrapped in a tarp beneath a grassy area east of Route 110, were identified through dental and medical records.

Cutolo had been missing and presumed dead since 1999. On May 26, 1999, the forty-nine-year-old underworld leader told his wife Marguerite "Peggy" Cutolo that he was going to a meeting with acting boss Alphonse T. Persico in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He never returned. His death was immediately suspected when he did not show up for a weekly dinner with his crew at the Friendly Bocce Social Club in Brooklyn that evening.

Investigators noted that Cutolo's underworld rackets - including a lucrative loan sharking operation - and business interests were immediately taken over by Alphonse Persico. In 2001, Persico pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, loan-sharking and money-laundering charges. The case was built in part on Cutolo financial records found in Persico's possession.

In 2006, Persico and his top aide John DeRoss were tried in federal court for racketeering and murder. They were charged with ordering the killing of Cutolo. That case ended in mistrial, but Persico and DeRoss were retried and convicted on the charges in 2007. For that trial, Cutolo's wife emerged from the federal witness protection program to testify against them. In addition to noting that her husband was on his way to meet with Persico when he disappeared, Marguerite testified that, the day after the disappearance, John DeRoss showed up at the Cutolo home demanding all of "Wild Bill's" money and financial records.

Persico
On Feb. 27, 2009, Persico and Cutolo were given life prison sentences. At the time, prosecutors believed that Cutolo's remains had been disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean and would never be found. It was argued that Persico and DeRoss, fearing that Cutolo and his faction (described as remnants of the Vittorio Orena faction that years earlier warred with the Persicos for control of the organization) intended to take over the crime family, had Cutolo murdered.

Acting on a tip from informant Joseph "Joey Caves" Competiello, agents of the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team and police officers from Suffolk County began digging at several Farmingdale locations on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008. They hoped to find the bodies of Cutolo, Richard Greaves and Carmine Gargano, all believed murdered by the leadership of the Colombo Crime Family.

They discovered the tarp-wrapped body, said to still be wearing a pair of Italian loafers, the following Monday, Oct. 6. In addition to dental records, the body was identified as Cutolo's through a distinctive physical feature - the tip of the right middle finger was missing.

Gioeli
The story of Cutolo's murder was made public in Brooklyn Federal Court in March of 2012. "Big Dino" Calabro, a Colombo Family capodecina, cooperated with authorities and testified against his underworld associates. According to Calabro, Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli (who later rose to acting boss) arranged the 1999 hit. Cutolo was to be called to a meeting of crime family leaders. Gioeli planned to drive Cutolo to the meeting at the home of Calabro's cousin, "Little Dino" Saracino. There Cutolo would be killed and his body disposed of.

Calabro recalled; "When the time came, we were sitting in the basement. [Calabro was apparently looking out a basement window at Saracino's house, expecting to see Gioeli and Cutolo walk up.] We seen one set of legs walking by, not two. I went outside to see who it was, and it was Billy Cutolo. I shook hands with him. He asked me where to go. I showed him the stairs. He walked ahead. I pulled out my gun and shot him in the head. I closed the door. I went outside. I seen Tommy. He said, 'What happened?' I said, 'It's done'"

Cutolo's body was then tied up and wrapped in the tarp and buried in what at the time was a wooded lot.

According to prosecutors, Calabro was promoted to capodecina as a reward for eliminating the Cutolo threat.

Sources:

  • Newman, Andy, "Reputed Colombo mob family boss pleads guilty to racketeering," New York Times, Dec. 21, 2001.
  • "Mistrial is declared in mob murder case," New York Times, Nov. 4, 2006, p. B3.
  • Algar, Selim, "Mob widow points finger at Persico," New York Post, Nov. 9, 2007.
  • "Is a mob hitman buried in Farmingdale?" Eyewitness News, WABC-TV, New York, Oct. 1, 2008.
  • "F.B.I. digs for mob bodies on L.I.," New York Times, Oct. 2, 2008, p. B6.
  • "F.B.I. may have found body in search of L.I. burial site," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 27.
  • Marzulli, John, and Leo Standora, "Corpse found at Long Island mob dig may be Wild Bill Cutolo," New York Daily News, Oct. 7, 2008.
  • "Body identified as missing mobster's," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 28.
  • Feuer, Alan, "Awaiting an awkward burial," New York Times, Oct. 9, 2008, p. 31.
  • Wilson, Michael, and William K. Rashbaum, "11 years after officer's slaying, reputed mob figures are indicted," New York Times, Dec. 19, 2008, p. 38.
  • Marzulli, John, "Former Colombo family boss indicted in 1997 murder of NYPD cop Ralph Dols," New York Daily News, Dec. 19, 2008.
  • Marzulli, John, "Colombo boss Alphonse Persico sentenced to life in prison for 1999 hit," New York Daily News, Feb. 27, 2009
  • "Colombo organized crime family acting boss Alphonse T. Persico and administration member John J. DeRoss sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of William 'Wild Bill' Cutolo and related witness tampering," press release of U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, Feb. 27, 2009. (LINK)
  • Rashbaum, William K., "F.B.I. resumes search for mob graves," New York Times, March 9, 2009.
  • Secret, Mosi, "Witness testifies how plot to kill officer was set up," New York Times, March 28, 2012, p. 22.
  • MobNews blog entries for "Cutolo." (LINK)

28 September 2017

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series

On this date (Sept. 28) in 1920, eight players on the Chicago White Sox baseball team were indicted by a Cook County, Illinois, grand jury for conspiracy to commit an unlawful act. The eight were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series (five games to three) to the Cincinnati Reds in what became known as the Black Sox scandal.

Following the indictments, prosecutors tried to locate former featherweight prizefighter Abe Attel, believed to be the link between the players and a gambling syndicate that made payoffs to players and benefited financially from bets on the longshot Reds. At the time, the New York-based Atell, reputedly an associate of Arnold Rothstein and "Legs" Diamond, threatened to release a damaging story with regard to the fixing of the World Series but denied he had a role in it. A Rothstein representative told the press that Rothstein was approached about entering into a conspiracy but refused to take part.

Chicago Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920

Two of the indicted players confessed to the conspiracy. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte admitted he received $10,000 from the agent of a gambling syndicate for his role in throwing the series. Outfielder "Shoeless Joe" Jackson confessed to investigators that he received $5,000. Jackson said he asked for $20,000 but was paid the lesser amount through pitcher "Lefty" Williams.

The others indicted were:

  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, centerfielder;
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman;
  • Fred McMullin, utility;
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop;
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher;
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman.

New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920.

Cicotte met with White Sox owner Charles "Commy" Comiskey in the morning before he testified to the grand jury, and confessed to him. "I don't know what you'll think of me, but I got to tell you how I double-crossed you," Cicotte told the team owner. "I did double-cross you. I'm a crook. I got $10,000 for being a crook."

The pitcher reportedly told grand jurors that Risberg, Gandil and McMullin pressured him for a week before the World Series started: "They wanted me to go crooked... I needed the money. I had the wife and the kids. The wife and kids don't know this. I don't know what they'll think. I bought a farm. There was a $4,000 mortgage on it. There isn't any mortgage on it now. I paid it off with the crooked money."

The Sun and NY Herald, Sept. 29, 1920

Late in 1920, baseball team owners decided that a new central authority was needed for the sport. They voted to install federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. Negotiations over the authority of the office continued into early 1921. Ultimately, Landis was given complete power over all the participants in the sport's major and minor leagues.

Before the 1921 baseball season began, Landis put the eight accused White Sox players on a list that made them ineligible to participate in professional baseball at any level.

In the summer of 1921, the eight defendants were brought to trial. Signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson could not be located and the two players recanted. All of the accused players were found not guilty. There was widespread belief that jury acquittal would be followed by reinstatement in baseball.

One day after the August verdict, Landis announced that his decision on the players' ineligibility was final:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball... Regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.

(When Cicotte attempted to arrange a semi-professional exhibition game in Saginaw, Michigan, a month later, Landis threatened to permanently throw out of baseball any player who participated in the event.)

Eddie Cicotte won 29 games for the White Sox during the 1919 regular season. Though it was thought that his career was over in 1915, he returned stronger than ever in 1916 and was a major factor in the White Sox World Series win over the New York Giants in 1917. Cicotte was known for an unusual delivery that some said made his "shine ball" unhittable.

Joe Jackson, considered one of the finest outfielders ever to play the game, joined the Sox six years earlier after playing six years for Cleveland. He batted .351 in the 1919 season and was a lifetime .356 hitter. Over the course of his big league career, he totaled 1,772 hits and 202 stolen bases.

Buck Weaver entered baseball as a shortstop with the White Sox in 1912. He moved to third in 1917 (when Risberg joined the team) and established a reputation as one of the league's best at the "hot corner." Though Weaver admitted he was aware of the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series and did not report it, he insisted he had no part in it. After batting .296 in the regular season, he turned in a .324 average in the Series against the Reds. Following the decision of Landis, Weaver fought unsuccessfully to win reinstatement to baseball.

Sources:

  • "Two Sox confess," Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1. 
  • "Eight White Sox are indicted; Cicotte and Jackson confess gamblers paid them $15,000," New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Eight White Sox indicted for throwing 1919 series; Cicotte confesses plot," The Sun and the New York Herald, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "The man who rescued baseball," New York Times, Nov. 12, 1920.
  • "Players plan fight," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1920, p. 19.
  • "Majors and minors reach agreement," New York Times, Jan. 13, 1921, p. 1.
  • "White Sox players banned by Landis," New York Times, March 13, 1921, p. 16.
  • "Baseball leaders won't let White Sox return to the game," New York Times, Aug. 4, 1921, p. 1.
  • "Landis warns players," New York Times, Sept. 22, 1921, p. 24.
  • Pomrenke, Jacob, "Closing the door on Black Sox reinstatement," The National Pastime Museum, thenationalpastimemuseum.com, Jan. 4, 2016. (Link)
  • "SportsCenter Flashback: The Chicago Black Sox banned from baseball," ESPN Classic, espn.com, Nov. 19, 2003. (Link)
  • "Buck Weaver," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
  • "Eddie Cicotte," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
  • "Shoeless Joe Jackson," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)


18 September 2017

'Gangland Boston' due in October

Gangland Boston, due out in October 2017, is the newest book by Boston Globe crime reporter and author Emily Sweeney. (In 2012, Sweeney released an Images of America book entitled, Boston Organized Crime.)


From publisher Lyons Press: "Organized criminals have haunted Greater Boston’s history, lurking just around the corner or inside that nondescript building. Packed with photos, sidebars, and maps, Gangland Bostonreveals the secrets of these places, showing how the Italian mafia and Irish gangs rose to power, how the Winter Hill gang ascended to prominence, and how James “Whitey” Bulger became the region’s most feared crime boss. These are the places where deals were made, people were killed, and bodies were unearthed. From South Boston to the North End, Chinatown, Downtown, and Charlestown; Somerville, Brookline, and more . . . come and see where mobsters lived, worked, ate, played, and died."

The book will be available in paperback through Amazon.com.

Signed copies can be ordered now through Sweeney's website: www.bostonorganizedcrime.com/

14 September 2017

1874 White League revolt in New Orleans

J.P. Macheca, later linked with local Mafia,
played key role in Reconstruction Era battle

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
On this date in 1874, New Orleans merchant Joseph P. Macheca played a critical role in the White League's defeat of a militia/police force controlled by Louisiana's Reconstruction-Era Republican state government. The conflict stemmed from contested elections that resulted in the creation of competing state administrations and legislatures. The conservative Democratic administration formed its own militia, calling it "Louisiana's Own," and prepared for conflict.

Macheca
Following failed negotiations on September 14, 1874, Republican forces led by former Confederate General James Longstreet and Metropolitan Police "General" Algernon Badger moved several thousand men into position on the downtown side of Canal Street, at the edge of the French Quarter. Badger personally commanded hundreds of Metropolitan Police, along with 12-pound cannons and Gatling guns, in a location between the U.S. Customs House and the levee. The police force was made up largely of recent African-American recruits. Longstreet oversaw militia units further from the levee.

White League paramilitary forces, including many Civil War veterans, were already assembled behind barricades along Poydras Street, a few blocks uptown from Canal. They hoped to lure Republican forces into an uptown trap. Shouted taunts, snipers and a quick attack and retreat failed to entice Longstreet into an advance.

Captain Joseph P. Macheca's Company B of Second Regiment "Louisiana's Own" made the decisive move. Initially hiding behind piles of unloaded freight on the levee, the unit used an approaching train to cover its movement toward Badger's left flank. Macheca's three hundred men (the roster of his Company B at Jackson Barracks Military Museum lists only 120) consisted largely of Italian and other European immigrants drawn from the French Quarter.

New Orleans Bulletin
Sept. 18, 1874
As the train passed, Company B swarmed in from the levee. Badger's inexperienced police were taken completely off-guard. Most fled into the French Quarter. Badger was injured when his horse was shot from under him. He was protected from further injury by Macheca and his men. (Some wished to hang the police commander.)

Following the collapse of Badger's position, other Republican units melted away downtown into the French Quarter. The White League militia did not immediately pursue, and its victory was not complete until the following morning, September 15. It was then that White League Colonel John G. Angell began to probe across Canal Street and found no Republican resistance. Several blocks into the French Quarter, Angell discovered Macheca's men in control of key Republican positions, including the Republican arsenal. Macheca turned over to Angell thousands of seized weapons,  two artillery pieces and hundreds of prisoners.

Democratic forces retained control in the city only for a short time, as U.S. President Grant moved the federal military into the area to support the return of the Republican government. White League supporters, viewing the conflict in New Orleans as a battle against oppression, later named the fight, "the Battle of Liberty Place" and referred to it as the final battle of the Civil War. (A monument to the battle was installed on Canal Street in 1891. The monument, which became a symbol for the white supremacist movement, was removed during 1989 construction on Canal Street and later erected on Iberville Street. It was dismantled on April 24, 2017.)

Apparently uncomfortable with its debt to the Italian-American force commanded by the Louisiana-born, ethnically Italian Macheca, the White League sought to minimize Macheca's role in histories of the event. (The White League record, published in the New Orleans Daily Picayune and New Orleans Bulletin on Oct. 2, noted that Colonel Angell was ordered to advance from Canal Street on the fifteenth. The report stated vaguely, "By 10 o'clock A.M., Col. Angell was in the possession of all the enemy's important points below Canal street, having received material assistance in this movement from Capt. Macheca.") However, accounts have survived showing that Macheca was first to arrive at the side of fallen General Badger and that he turned over captured Republican strongholds in the French Quarter to Colonel Angell. In addition, when Macheca felt slighted by local press coverage, he sent his own account to the New Orleans Bulletin (see image).

Map of the battle.
A number of Macheca's men later became key figures in the New Orleans Sicilian business community and the Sicilian underworld. Sixteen years after the Battle of Liberty Place, Macheca and members of the New Orleans Mafia were arrested in connection with the assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy. Macheca was one of eleven men killed after an angry mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison early in 1891.

Read more about "Liberty Place," Joseph Macheca and the early New Orleans Mafia in: