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

31 August 2018

Gangster 'Legs' Diamond shows up in Europe

On this date in 1930...

Legs Diamond
Authorities had speculated for days about the location of notorious New York gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond, when Legs appeared aboard the Red Star Line steamer Belgenland in the English port of Plymouth on Sunday, August 31, 1930. Alerted by New York police to reports that Diamond was sailing for Europe, British and Irish Free State officials pledged to refuse him admittance to their countries. As Diamond made no attempt to disembark from the Belgenland at Plymouth, law enforcement merely noted his presence on the ship.

An international search for Diamond was first noted in newspapers on Tuesday, August 26. At the time, police were investigating the disappearance and likely murder of Harry Western (also spelled Weston), operator of a roadhouse near Kingston in upstate New York, and the discovery of a Diamond-linked arsenal in Brooklyn. (Some newspapers engaged in wild speculation about the bullets, bombs and bulletproof vests found in Brooklyn, insisting that an interstate underworld conflict was about to erupt between a New York gangland army and forces loyal to Chicago underworld boss Alphonse Capone.)

In the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, New York State Police from Saugerties and Troy raided Diamond's summer home in the hamlet of Acra, about thirty-five miles southwest of Albany. They found only Mrs. Alice Diamond, her friend and the friend's young daughter, a maid and nineteen-year-old errand boy William Warring. Warring told police that Diamond boarded a transatlantic liner in New York several days earlier.

Wrong ship

Lucania
Warring's story was initially considered a red herring, but police checked into it. They found that Diamond had purchased a ticket to travel to Europe aboard the White Star Line's Baltic, scheduled to stop at Cobh, Ireland, on August 31, and then at Liverpool, England, on September 1. The police contacted authorities in Ireland and England and managed to send an image of Diamond using radio and transatlantic telephone.

White Star Line contacted the captain of the Baltic, and he reported that no one matching Diamond's description was aboard the vessel. Police had some lingering doubts.

On August 30, the New York Times reported that Jack "Legs" Diamond was aboard the Baltic and accompanied on the liner by four of his henchmen: Salvatore "Charlie Lucky" Lucania later known as Charlie Luciano, Charles "Charlie Green" Entratta, Salvatore Arcidiaco and a man named Treager. The report caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the pre-FBI Bureau of Investigation.

Years later, the FBI made note of the trip in a memorandum:
A confidential circular from the Bureau of Narcotics in the files of the Identification Division reflects that Luciana was an associate of the late Jack Diamond and accompanied him, Diamond, and [name deleted] to Europe in the summer of 1930, when it was believed that a conspiracy existed to smuggle narcotics from Europe into the United States...

Entratta
When the Times report hit the streets, the police had already become convinced that Diamond was not on the Baltic. Concerned that his travel plans were known by too many people, Diamond made a last minute switch and boarded the Belgenland, they reasoned. Belgenland left on the same day and from the same location - New York's North River Pier 60 - as the Baltic. It was due to land at Plymouth before proceeding on to Cherbourg, France, and Antwerp, Belgium.

While British authorities noted the arrival of Belgenland on the thirty-first and the presence of Diamond, reportedly traveling under the name of Jack Nolan, there was no mention in press accounts of the Diamond companions named in the New York Times. Lucania, Entratta, Arcidiaco and Treager possibly were unnoticed. They may have sailed as originally planned on the Baltic or they may not have made the trip at all (despite the later claims of FBN and FBI).

New York Sun, Aug. 30, 1930

In Europe

Diamond remained aboard Belgenland until she docked at Antwerp on September 1. As he disembarked, Brussels officials ordered him detained.

Diamond expressed astonishment when interviewed by the press:
I do not understand what is going on. I embarked from New York under my own name and not for one moment have I concealed my identity. I wonder who imagined I was traveling under the assumed name of Knowland or Nolan. I left the states to take a rest on the continent where I was years ago. I even have a French identity card dating from my first visit three years ago. It is not my intention to remain in Belgium more than a day or so. I am suffering from my stomach and I want to go to Vichy immediately to cure myself.

Diamond
While Vichy was mentioned to the press, Diamond also expressed an interest in visiting Magdeburg, Germany, and in conferring with German medical specialists about his stomach problems. United States officials believed that his trip was related either to securing a source of high quality liquor for New York bootlegging operations or to establish narcotics supply connections with European pharmaceutical companies.

Officials at Antwerp found his travel papers in order and released him. They quickly changed their minds about Diamond and took him again into custody and insisted that he leave Belgium. Because he was found to possess a valid visa for Germany, he was allowed to exit the country at the German border.

German police arrested him as he entered that country. The United States embassy suggested to German authorities that Diamond was a wanted criminal in New York. That was not entirely true. While New York police had been looking for the gang leader, they publicly stated that there were no current charges against Diamond.

Germany decided that Diamond was an undesirable alien and ordered him out of the country. On September 6, he was driven by detectives to the port of Hamburg and placed aboard the freighter Hannover bound for the U.S.

'Clay pigeon'

Three weeks after his return to the U.S., Diamond was seriously wounded by gunmen who broke into his room at Manhattan's Hotel Monticello. Doctors saw little chance that he would survive. But Diamond managed to recover from his wounds and walked out of the hospital before the end of the year.

Near the end of April 1931, he was shot several times outside a roadhouse near Acra. Again he recovered.

As Diamond was charged with bootlegging offenses that summer, the often-targeted gang leader was referred to in the press as "the clay pigeon of the underworld." The bootlegging case resulted in a conviction and a prison sentence, but Diamond remained free pending legal appeal.

Several bullets to the skull, fired as Diamond was asleep in a cheap Albany roominghouse, ended the gangster's life on December 18, 1931.


Sources:

  • "'Legs' Diamond to be barred from Ireland," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 29, 1930, p. 14.
  • "Asserts Diamond is on the ocean," New York Sun, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Britons think 'Legs' Diamond is in London," Syracuse NY American, Aug. 31, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Charles Luciana, with aliases," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-X, Aug. 28, 1935, accessed March 2017.
  • "Diamond held upon arrival at Antwerp," Malone NY Evening Telegram, Sept. 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Diamond home Catskill raid gives no clue," Albany Evening Journal, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Diamond in Antwerp detained for checkup," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Germany arrests 'Legs' diamond, American gunman," Saratoga Springs NY Saratogian, Sept. 2, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Ireland will refuse landing to Diamond," New York Times, Aug. 30, 1930.
  • "Irish Free State bans Legs Diamond, New York gangster," Niagara Falls NY Gazette, Aug. 30, 1930, p. 18.
  • "Jack Diamond shot 5 times by gunmen in a 64th St. hotel," New York Times, Oct. 13, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Legs Diamond hiding out, New York police believe," Buffalo Courier-Express, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 5.
  • "Legs Diamond is now believed to be passenger on Belgenland," New York Sun, Aug. 30, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Sails from Hamburg," Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 7, 1930, p. 8.
  • "The four-year sentence...," Boston Globe, Aug. 14, 1931, p. 18.
  • Berger, Meyer, "'Legs' Diamond slain in sleep at Albany by two assassins," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1931, p. 1.
  • Reynolds, Ruth, "And Legs came sailing home," Catskill NY Recorder, Sept. 19, 1930, reprinted from New York Sunday News, Sept. 11, 1930.
More about "Legs" Diamond:


Legs Diamond: Gangster by Patrick Downey.

29 August 2018

Trial of king's killer takes just one day

On this date in 1900...

Bresci
Gaetano Bresci, accused assassin of Italy's King Umberto I, stood trial August 29, 1900, in Milan's Palace of Justice. The trial was concluded in a single day. A jury unanimously found him guilty. Bresci was sentenced to life in prison (the greatest punishment then allowed under Italian law), with the first seven years to be spent in solitary confinement and the rest to be spent in penal servitude.

King Umberto was shot to death in front of numerous witnesses at Monza on July 29. As the monarch concluded an appearance at an athletic awards presentation, three bullets were fired from point-blank range into his neck and chest.

Bresci, with a smoking revolver still in his hand, was attacked by the crowd. A force of carabinieri police rushed in to take custody of Bresci, likely saving him from a beating death at the hands of the angry mob.

The authorities identified their prisoner and learned that he was born in Prato, near Florence, on November 10, 1869. Though raised in a family with no known Leftist leanings, Bresci reportedly was influenced by the teachings of Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta and became a radical opponent of the political and religious establishments of his day. Records showed that he was imprisoned for about two weeks in 1892 after disregarding police instructions during an Italian labor strike.

Further radicalized in U.S.

La Questione Sociale HQ
He subsequently sailed for America, settling in the Paterson, New Jersey, area, then the center of the United States textile industry as well as of a growing anarchist-communist movement. Paterson was the home of the Gruppo Diritto all'Esistenza (Right to Existence Group) anarchist organization. The organization's newspaper, La Questione Sociale (The Social Issue), had an international readership.

Bresci worked in New Jersey silk mills, married mill worker Sophie Knieland and started a family during the few years he was in America. He spent much of his free time with the Gruppo Diritto all'Esistenza.

His political thinking in the period moved further Left, leaving behind the teachings of Malatesta. He aligned himself with the political philosophy of recently deceased Carlo Cafiero and La Questione Sociale editor Giuseppe Ciancabilla. That philosophy called for individual acts of violence against the establishment - referred to as "propaganda by the deed" - in an effort to trigger a worldwide worker revolution.

With little advance notice or explanation, Bresci said goodbye to his wife and young daughter in May 1900 and set sail back across the Atlantic to his native Italy. He was determined to energize the anarchist cause through a bloody deed of propaganda.

At trial in Milan

Umberto I
Bresci's defense counsel at his August 29 trial was the influential radical Francesco Saverio Merlino. As the trial began, Merlino stated that his defense strategy would be to show why Leftists like Bresci considered the assassination of the king to be essential to curing social, economic and political ills in Italy. The attorney planned to recount the crimes of Umberto against his people and to portray Bresci's action as justifiable retaliation.

The court refused to allow Merlino to make any such arguments.

Bresci went to the witness stand in the afternoon. His testimony only aided the prosecution. He admitted to returning to Italy for the purpose of murdering the king. In the time between his return and the assassination, he practiced his marksmanship and prepared special bullets by carving notches into their tips and filling them with dirt, which he believed would make their wounds more deadly.

He readily admitted firing three shots into King Umberto "to avenge the misery of the people and my own." Bresci insisted that he planned and carried out the assassination "without advice or accomplices."

When the jury returned its guilty verdict, Bresci stated, "Sentence me. I am indifferent. I await the next revolution."

After sentencing, Bresci was taken from Milan to an old Bourbon prison on the island of Santo Stefano in the Tyrrhenan Sea. He was to serve his sentence there.

Martyr to anarchism

Bresci's "life" prison term lasted less than nine months. On May 21, 1901, he was found dead in his prison cell. Officials attributed his death to suicide. It was reported that he used a towel to hang himself. Guards discovered the word, "Vengeance," scratched into his cell wall.

Sophie Bresci
Despite the official report, Leftists around the globe believed that the Italian authorities were responsible for Bresci's death.

Back in New Jersey, Sophie Knieland Bresci had recently given birth to a second child and, with the support of local radical organizations, had opened a boarding house in Cliffside Park. The young widow refused to accept the suicide account. She told the press that her husband had recently written to her and told her that prison guards were trying to talk him into killing himself. She said he was too strong to succumb.

(Shortly after Bresci's death, Sicilian Mafia leader Vito Cascio Ferro traveled to the United States. A political radical in his homeland, Cascio Ferro reportedly met with Sophie Knieland Bresci in New Jersey.)

Two strong anarchist groups in the region, Gruppo Diritto all-Esistenza and Gruppo L'Era Nuova (New Age Group) echoed Sophie's position. La Questione Sociale openly accused the Italian government of deliberate murder.

Bresci became a martyr to the anarchist cause. The philosophy of initiating revolution through individual violent action won many converts. A young anarchist group based in East Harlem, New York, expressed its high regard for him by naming itself the Gaetano Bresci Circle. A short time later, that group waged war on the United States government and on prominent capitalists through a wave of terror bombings.

Read more:



Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution" by Thomas Hunt

Visit:
Wrongly Executed? website.

17 August 2018

Mafia boss shot down at Philly's 'Bloody Angle'

On this date in 1936...
Camden Morning Post

Local Mafia boss John "Big Nose" Avena and associate Martin Feldstein were standing in front of 718 Washington Avenue in Philadelphia, a few paces from the intersection with East Passyunk Avenue, at about 2:20 in the afternoon, August 17, 1936. A small sedan approached on Washington. It slowed as it reached them. A gunman inside the vehicle pointed the muzzle of a submachine gun out a window and sprayed the two men with bullets.

Avena appeared to be the gunman's target. He fell with numerous wounds to his chest. Feldstein, a minor numbers racketeer, merely picked a bad moment to stand on the sidewalk with the boss. He was struck by slugs in his arm and midsection.

The sedan turned onto Passyunk and disappeared into the city traffic. Police later found the vehicle abandoned at 7th Street and Watkins, about a half mile from the scene of the shooting. Witnesses saw several men climb out of the car, one seemed to carry a piece of long luggage, and move off in different directions.

Patrol officers and detectives in the area heard the gunshots and rushed to the corner of Washington and Passyunk. It was the southernmost intersection of a one-fifth mile of diagonal-running Passyunk that had been nicknamed "the Bloody Angle" because of the number of murders committed there.


Avena and Feldstein were rushed to Pennsylvania Hospital. Avena was pronounced dead a few minutes later. Feldstein was rushed into emergency surgery. Surgeons extracted several slugs from his body, but the damage was extensive. Feldstein died that night.

Avena
The coroner formally announced that Avena died of gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. Less formally, newspapers were told that Avena's heart was nearly blasted to pieces by a dozen well-placed slugs.

Following the testimony of witnesses at an inquest, two men were named as suspects in the killing: John Fosco, alias John Martin, and Peter Gallo, alias Peter Wallace. John Amato, chauffeur for gang leader Pius Lanzetti, was later named an accessory to the murder.

Police investigators decided that the murder of Avena was the result of a feud between the Avena Mafia and a gang run by the Lanzetti brothers. The groups had been quarreling over Avena's recent intrusions into Lanzetti numbers rackets.

That Avena was deposed as Mafia leader through a drive-by shooting along the Bloody Angle was widely viewed as appropriate. He had first come to the attention of the public as a suspect in a similar shooting at the northern end of the angle about a decade earlier.


See also:

Sources:

  • John Avena Certificate of Death, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Vital Records, file no. 82485, registered no. 17257, Aug. 17, 1936.
  • "Racketeer, aide killed in Phila. numbers war," Camden NJ Morning Post, Aug. 18, 1936, p. 1.
  • "Suspect gives up in gang slaying; held as accessory," Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 1937, p. 2.
  • "Two men slain by rivals in numbers war," Wilkes-Barre PA Evening News, Aug. 18, 1936, p. 9.
  • McCullough, John M., "2 slain by gang in flareup of numbers war," Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 18, 1936, p. 1.

16 August 2018

'Dandy Phil' exits in his pajamas

On this date in 1962...

Shreveport Times
Nancy Kemp, a private nurse caring for aging gambling racketeer Philip F. "Dandy Phil" Kastel, was startled by the sound of a gunshot on Thursday, August 16, 1962. The noise came from inside Kastel's ninth-floor apartment at New Orleans' Claiborne Towers, Claiborne Avenue and Canal Street.

Entering the bedroom of her patient, she found a pajama-clad Kastel slumped in a chair, a gunshot wound through his skull and a .38-caliber handgun on the floor beside him.

Kastel's wife Margaret, who had a separate bedroom, was awakened by the shot. She was terribly upset but apparently not surprised by the obvious suicide. Phil Kastel had been distraught by his failing eyesight and a recent discovery of cancer in his abdomen. When police arrived, she told them that her husband had spoken about killing himself.

Police found the bullet that caused Kastel's death embedded in the bedroom wall. A coroner's examination determined officially that the wound was self-inflicted and confirmed the diagnosis of cancer.



Philip Kastel
Government records and press reports indicated that "Dandy Phil," longtime gambling racketeer and close friend of New York-based crime boss Frank Costello, was sixty eight years old at the time of his death. That was probably just an estimate, as available Kastel-related records suggest a range of birthdates spread out across more than a decade.

Census records believed to be of Philip Kastel's family in 1905 and 1910 suggest that he may have been as old as seventy-seven when he passed. A World War II draft registration card shows Kastel's birthdate as April 2, 1891, making him seventy-one. The 1940 U.S. Census suggests a birth year of 1892 or 1893, making him sixty-nine or seventy. During a 1931 trip to Havana, Cuba, Kastel said he was born on March 2, 1893. Social Security records contain a birthdate of April 2, 1893. Those birthdates would have made him sixty-nine.

When Kastel was called to testified before the Senate's Kefauver Committee in 1951, he told the committee that he was born in New York in 1898. If that was true, it would have made him just sixty-three or sixty-four when he breathed his last.

13 August 2018

What happened to girl wounded by stray bullet?

Media quickly lost interest in
Connecticut girl caught up in
New York City underworld hit

When Mafia assassins opened fire in a crowded Manhattan intersection at midday, Aug. 11, 1922, they inflicted a mortal wound on their target but also wounded two bystanders.

The intended victim, Umberto Valente, died an hour later at St. Mark's Hospital. A young girl and a municipal street cleaner - "collateral damage" in the hit - were rushed to Bellevue Hospital for treatment of gunshot wounds.

Agnes Egglinger
Street cleaner Joseph Schepis, forty-two, suffered a wound to his throat that was not life-threatening. Eleven-year-old Agnes Egglinger, a visitor from Connecticut, was more seriously hurt.

Newspapers in New York City and around the country told of Agnes being struck by a stray slug in the right chest. The New York Daily News, "New York's Picture Newspaper," ran a photograph of the girl. The papers said the young girl might lose her life. It appears, however, that no one in the media thought of following up to see whether Agnes survived.

Public records indicate that she did. Federal and state census records show Agnes becoming an adult, and state records appear to show her marriage as well as her death.

Agnes was the third child - and first daughter - born to Harry and Erna Schultz Egglinger of Jamaica, Queens, New York. At least two additional siblings were born after her. Harry worked as a metal lathe operator. The Egglinger family moved in 1919 from Queens to New Haven, Connecticut, first settling at 34 Sylvan Avenue and later moving about a mile south to 42 Hurlbut Street. While in New Haven, Erna's younger brother Reinhold Schultz, Jr., - Agnes' Uncle Reinhold - lived with the family as a boarder.

New York Daily News, Aug. 12, 1922.
Scene of the attack on Valente.

In early August of 1922, the Egglingers went to visit Erna's father, Reinhold Schultz, Sr., at his Manhattan home, 232 East Twelfth Street. They were a few days into their visit when a feud within the New York City Mafia erupted in gunfire at the intersection of East Twelfth Street and Second Avenue.

Agnes and her four-year-old sister Dorothy were playing on the sidewalk, as gunmen loyal to Manhattan gang boss Giuseppe Masseria murdered Umberto Valente. Valente, a trusted assassin of Brooklyn-based Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila, had failed in an assassination attempt against Masseria just three days earlier (a half-dozen striking garment workers were wounded - at least one fatally - when their group got in the way of the getaway car and mobsters fired at the ground to disperse them). Little Dorothy was fortunate to escape injury as the bullets flew on August 11; reports stated that a slug passed through the fabric of her dress.

Masseria
The media lost track of Agnes Egglinger after her arrival at Bellevue Hospital. But the 1925 New York State Census showed that Agnes was alive and living with her family at 12009 Baisley Avenue back in Jamaica, Queens. Sometime between the 1922 visit to Manhattan and the 1924 birth of Agnes' little brother Alfred, the family had returned to New York from New Haven, Connecticut. Agnes, eighteen, also appeared in the 1930 United States Census. She was still living with her parents, though their address had changed to 120-19 153rd Street, Queens. Harry Egglinger owned the home at that address. The census placed the home's value at $10,000 and noted that it was equipped with a radio.

A decade later, eighteen years from the shooting that nearly cost Agnes her life, the 1940 U.S. Census found the twenty-eight-year-old in her parents' home on 153rd Street. Her two younger siblings were also still in the household, and an older brother was renting rooms in the house for himself, his wife and their young son. Agnes was working as a clerk in an insurance office.

While available records are not definitive, it appears that the Agnes Egglinger who was accidentally shot in the summer of 1922 was the same Agnes Egglinger who became the wife of Frank Seelinger in Queens in late September of 1946. It could be argued that marriage was a greater threat to her health than a bullet. Records show that Agnes Seelinger died in July 1949 - twenty-seven years after the nearly fatal gunshot wound and less than three years after taking her wedding vows.

Sources:
  • "1 dead, 2 shot, as bootleggers again fight on East Side," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Bootleggers at war," Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 2.
  • "Cloakmaker, victim of gunman, dies; 3 more in hospital," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 20.
  • "East Side bad man killed as shots fly," New York Herald, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "Eight men shot in mysterious battle on street," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Gang kills gunman; 2 bystanders hit," New York Times, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Gunman's volley fatal to striker," New York Times, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 13.
  • "Gunmen shoot six in East Side swarm," New York Times, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Man dies from bullet, girl is seriously hurt," New York Evening Telegram, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Mystery in rum street battle near solution," New York Tribune, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "New Haven girl wounded in New York bootleggers' feud," Bridgeport CT Telegram, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One killed, two shot in pistol battle," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One man killed, two wounded, in gang war," New York Call, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 4.
  • "Three shot down in crowd in East Side gang warfare," New York Evening World, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Valente's arrest balked by murder," New York Evening World, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 3.
  • New York City Death Index, certificate no. 8666, July 3, 1949.
  • New York City Marriage License Index, license no. 10522, Sept. 28, 1946.
  • New York State Census of 1915, Queens County, Jamaica village, Assembly District 4, Election District 27, Ward 4.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Queens County, Baisley Park village, Assembly District 4, Election District 36, Ward 4.
  • United States Census of 1920, Connecticut, New Haven County, City of New Haven, Enumeration District 505.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Queens County, Baisley Park, Assembly District 4, Enumeration District 41-376.
  • United States Census of 1940, New York State, Queens County, Enumeration District 41-1287B.

See also:

10 August 2018

Dallas gambling chief ends his own life

On this date in 1932...

Warren Diamond, fifty-five-year-old Prohibition-Era gambling czar of Dallas, Texas, ended his own life at his Highland Park West home on August 10, 1932.

Austin American Statesman
Diamond had been a patient at St. Paul Hospital (formerly St. Paul Sanitarium, located at the western corner of Bryant Street and Hall Street). Early on the morning of Wednesday, August 10, he decided to leave the hospital. He called for a taxi and rode three and a half miles to 4224 Armstrong Parkway, the large home he shared with his wife Nellie. A surprised and uneasy Nellie greeted him at the door. Diamond brushed past her and proceeded to his upstairs bathroom. Knowing that her husband had been despondent over his health issues, Nellie quickly summoned George Foote, Diamond's longtime friend and business associate.

A short time later, a gunshot was heard.

Foote entered the bathroom and found Diamond dead of a bullet wound to the head. An automatic pistol was on the floor a couple of feet from Diamond's body. A coroner's investigation determined that Diamond committed suicide at about 8:45 a.m.

Newspaper reports of his death referred to the gambling racketeer as a "sportsman and philanthropist" and as a former druggist. Later reports revealed that he suffered from an untreatable cancer of the prostate and his deteriorating condition drove him to suicide.

Diamond death certificate
Diamond's funeral was held on the morning of Friday, August 12. The Rev. Louis Harrington, pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, conducted the services. Diamond was interred in a family mausoleum he earlier constructed at the Grove Hill Cemetery. His pallbearers included two of his known lieutenants, F.L. "Dub" McClanahan and Ben Whitaker.

(Findagrave.com)
Diamond's gambling empire, assembled over decades, was dismantled after his death. George Foote, his top aide, reportedly took over the Dallas-area policy (numbers) rackets. Ben Whitaker, who also dabbled in bootlegging, assumed control over the bookmakers and wire news service. Dub McClanahan took the popular no-limit craps games.

Gambling operations within Diamond's old headquarters at the St. George Hotel, between Main Street and Commerce Street, were taken over by Dallas Mafioso Joseph Civello. Civello's operation, which included craps, bookmaking and a race wire service, was said to be under the protection of the local police department.

Behind the scenes, a former Warren Diamond apprentice was scheming to take control of it all. Benjamin "Benny" Binion reportedly broke away from the Diamond organization in the latter half of the 1920s and established his own organization at Dallas's Southland Hotel. His operation was said to be protected by Galveston-based mob boss Sam Maceo.

St. George Hotel on Main Street (smu.edu)

Just a few years after Diamond's death, Binion was regarded as the top man in Dallas gambling. In 1936, he started to force independent bookmakers to make protection payments to him. Control of policy rackets was nailed down with the fatal shooting of holdout independent operator Ben Frieden in September of that year. The St. George Hotel gaming rooms fell under his control when Joseph Civello was arrested on a federal narcotics charge (local police protection was little help). Years later, Civello was released from prison and pardoned after evidence surfaced that his own attorney and his trial judge conspired to remove him from the Dallas gambling scene through a narcotics frame-up.

Political changes in the late 1940s made Dallas an unfriendly place for Benny Binion. He moved on to become a key figure in the growth of gambling casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sources:
  • Cartwright, Gary, "Benny and the boys," Texas Monthly, October 1991, p. 137.
  • Edgerton, Harold J., "Joseph Francis Civello," FBI report, file no. 92-2824-137, NARA no. 124-10290-10440, May 17, 1968, p. 26-29.
  • Glass, Mary Ellen, excerpts of interview of Lester Ben "Benny" Binion, "World Series of Poker: A retrospective," University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Gaming Research, May 20, 2009, accessed Aug. 9, 2018. (https://gaming.unlv.edu/WSOP/BennyBinion.html)
  • Kuykendall, Leo E., "Lester Benjamin Binion," FBI report, file no. 92-3241-7, NARA no. 124-90088-10054, Feb. 28, 1958, p. 11-12.
  • Reid, Ed and Ovid Demaris, The Green Felt Jungle, Cutchogue NY: Buccaneer Books, 1963.
  • Death certificate of Warren H. Diamond, Texas State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, certificate no. 33744, Aug. 1, 1932.
  • John F. Worley Directory Co.'s Dallas City Directory 1925, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1925, p. 866.
  • Worley's Dallas City Directory 1929 Vol. XLII, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1929, p. 361.
  • Worley's Dallas City Directory 1932 Vol XLV, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1932, p. 615.
  • "Warren Diamond ends life after leaving hospital," Dallas Morning News, Aug. 11, 1932, p. 1. Funeral announcement, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 12, 1932.
  • "Wealthy sportsman found dead at Dallas," Austin American Statesman, Aug. 10, 1932, p. 1.
  • McCormick, Harry, "Crime in Texas III: Benny Binion Dallas' gift to racket ranks," Dallas Morning News, Feb. 13, 1951, p. 1.

06 August 2018

Unlucky date for Steel City underworld bosses

August 6 has been a bad date
to be a Pittsburgh Mafia boss.

On that date in 1929, thirty-nine-year-old underworld chief Stefano Monastero was murdered as he went to visit an ailing henchman at St. John's General Hospital on Pittsburgh's North Side. 



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Calogero Spallino (also known as Sparlino), free on bail as he awaited trial for an attempt on the life of Monastero rival Joe "Ghost of the Hill" Pangallo, went into St. John's for appendix surgery. Stefano Monastero drove to the hospital in an armored automobile, featuring steel plating and three-quarter-inch bulletproof glass windows. But he had to leave the protection of the vehicle to enter the building. When he emerged, shotguns erupted from a nearby parked car.

Pangallo
Monastero was knocked down by the shots. One of his assailants then approached with a handgun and fired into the boss's head to finish the job. The murder remained unsolved, but Joe Pangallo was generally believed responsible.

Stefano Monastero rose to power about 1925, assuming control of a regional underworld network in western Pennsylvania assembled largely by the linked Calderone and Landolina families. Monastero and his older brother Salvatore ran a produce business but earned considerably greater income through North Side stores that provided ingredients and equipment for bootleggers. Monastero had been fighting a gang war with Pangallo since about 1927. (In September of that year, the local press reported on a car bombing that threw Pangallo twenty feet into the air but failed to kill him.)

Monastero's Mafia pedigree was noteworthy. He was the son of Pietro Monastero, a Caccamo native who was among those charged with the 1890 Mafia murder of Police Chief David Hennessy in New Orleans. Stefano Monastero was very young, living with his mother and brothers in Sicily, when Pietro Monastero was killed by a lynch mob at Orleans Parish Prison in 1891. The family relocated to New Orleans following Pietro's killing and moved from city to city in the U.S. before settling in the Pittsburgh area.

On the same date three years later, recently installed Pittsburgh boss John Bazzano was called to a meeting of the nation's Mafia leaders on Hicks Street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. He was to answer for his involvement in the recent murders of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, racketeers John, James and Arthur Volpe. Bazzano did not leave the August 6, 1932, meeting alive.

Pittsburgh Press
The Volpes, under the protection of New York underworld power Vito Genovese, were gunned down within Bazzano's Rome Coffee Shop on Pittsburgh's Wylie Avenue on July 29. Genovese, suspecting that the Volpes were victims of an anti-Neapolitan conspiracy among Calabrian and Sicilian Mafiosi in Pittsburgh, New York and Cleveland (including Bazzano and Nick Gentile in Pittsburgh; Albert Anastasia, Joe Biondo and Vincenzo Mangano in New York; Frank Milano in Cleveland), assembled the disciplinary hearing for Bazzano.

During the meeting, the forty-four-year-old Bazzano did not deny responsibility for the murders of the Volpes. Instead, he called on other Mafia leaders to join in a war to exterminate the Neapolitans in their organization.

Bazzano's words and recent deeds presented a threat to the still-shaky underworld alliances that emerged from the bloody Castellammarese War concluded one year earlier. His punishment was immediate. He was gagged and tied with rope, while his body was punctured more than twenty times with ice picks. Some of the wounds reached his heart, causing a fatal hemorrhage. The body was found August 8, wrapped in burlap near the intersection of Centre and Clinton Streets in Red Hook. It could not be identified until relatives from Pittsburgh arrived in New York looking for Bazzano.

Authorities subsequently learned of an assembly of U.S. Mafiosi at New York City and rounded up fourteen underworld figures from Brooklyn (Albert Anastasia, John Oddo, Cassandro Bonasera, Ciro Gallo, Joseph Traina) and Buffalo, New York (Paul Palmeri, Salvatore DiCarlo); Pittsburgh (Calogero Spallino, Michael Bua, Michael Russo, Frank Adrano) and Pittston, Pennsylvania (Santo Volpe, Angelo Polizzi); Trenton, New Jersey (Peter Lombardo). The suspects, represented by attorney Samuel Leibowitz, were quickly released for lack of evidence.

More on these subjects:

03 August 2018

Eight "Black Sox" players banned from baseball

On this date in 1921...

Landis (center) as he is appointed commissioner

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis announced on August 3, 1921, that eight players involved in the "Black Sox" scandal would never again be permitted to play organized baseball.

His announcement came one day after a jury found the players not guilty of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a 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 discussed, and dares no tell his club about, will ever play professional baseball.
Freeport IL Journal-Standard

The players banned from the game for life were
  • Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte, pitcher
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, outfielder
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman
  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, outfielder
  • Fred McMullin, utility infielder
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher

Landis, a veteran federal judge. had been given broad powers to protect the game when he was appointed baseball's first commissioner late in 1920. Major league ballclub owners feared at the time that the Black Sox scandal, just coming to light, would do permanent damage to the reputation of baseball.

Though there had been rumors about the 1919 World Series being "fixed" through the influence of gamblers, the 1920 regular season was almost finished when grand jury investigation was launched. Charles Albert "Commy" Comiskey, president of the White Sox ballclub, suspended the seven suspects who were still on his team (Gandil was no longer with Chicago at the time). This action was taken despite the White Sox remaining in contention for the 1920 American League pennant.

Eddie Cicotte appeared before the grand jury and admitted he was part of a conspiracy to throw the World Series in exchange for cash. Joe Jackson made a similar confession. Eight players were indicted for conspiracy in October 1920. They were placed on baseball's "ineligible list" for the 1921 season and  went to trial that summer. By the time of the trial, the Cicotte and Jackson confessions were missing, and the players were denying any cooperation with gamblers.

See also:

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series (Writers of Wrongs, Sept. 28, 2017)

30 July 2018

Murders his pal on "Good Killers" orders

On this date in 1921...

Asbury Park Press
Aug. 19, 1921
Two old friends from Sicily, recently reacquainted in New York City, went out hunting in the woods along New Jersey's Shark River on July 30, 1921. Only one of the men returned.

Bartolomeo Fontana, the survivor of the hunting trip, later confessed to New York City Police that he deliberately brought his pal Camillo Caiozzo into the woods and shotgunned him to death on orders of a Brooklyn-based criminal network known as "the Good Killers."

Investigation of the Good Killers revealed an interstate organization responsible for many murders around New York City and Detroit, in the United States, and in the Castellammare del Golfo region of Sicily. Gang commanders included Stefano Magaddino, who would soon rise to lead the Mafia in Buffalo, New York.

More about this murder and the Good Killers gang:"The Good Killers: 1921's glimpse of the Mafia," by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

22 July 2018

Vendetta killings at New Orleans' French Market

On this date in 1869...

French Market, New Orleans

Two leaders of a Sicilian underworld faction were murdered on the morning of July 22, 1869, outside New Orleans' French Market.

Joseph Banano and Pietro Allucho, top men in a coalition of gangsters who emigrated from the Sicilian provinces of Messina and Trapani, died almost instantly from shotgun and pistol wounds. They had been involved for some time in a bloody feud with the Palermo-based Agnello Mafia organization. They recently returned to New Orleans after hiding out with friends in Galveston, Texas. Efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict were abandoned following the assassination of Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello in April 1869 and the succession of Joseph Agnello to his brother's leadership post.

New Orleans Times
The murders of Banano and Allucho occurred at the foot of Ursulines Street, beside the busy produce market. Though many people were nearby at the time, all claimed not to have seen the shooting.

The attention of police Officer Beasley, stationed nearby at the Levee, was attracted by the first shotgun blast that felled Allucho. From a distance, Beasley saw Joseph Banano attempt to help his collapsing friend Allucho and saw Salvatore Rosa, standing beside a "spring wagon," fire a second shell from his gun into Banano's side. As Beasley rushed to the scene, Rosa dropped his shotgun into the wagon, drew a pistol and fired again into Banano. After that, he tossed the pistol into the wagon, and another man drove the wagon quickly away.

Rosa saw Beasley approaching and attempted to escape, but the officer grabbed him after a brief chase.

Six slugs were found to have penetrated Allucho's side and chest and to have caused extensive damage to his lungs. Banano's right ribs were shattered by five slugs. A pistol in his pocket was broken into pieces by the projectiles, and one of the pieces was driven two inches into his body. A pistol shot wound was found on the other side of his body.

City newspapers differed in their accounts of what immediately preceded the attack and did not reveal their sources of information. (Judging from their slants, the competing stories appear to have come from sources close to the competing underworld factions.)

The New Orleans Times portrayed the incident as an ambush. It said Rosa hid himself in the back of the spring wagon until Banano and Allucho, "quietly engaged in conversation," were close by. Rosa then "simply shot one man after the other down as they stood in their tracks," the newspaper reported. The Times also linked the incident to shots fired an hour and a half earlier. At that time, Joseph Agnello was stopped by police. Agnello insisted that he had not done any shooting but was shot at by unknown men.

The New Orleans Daily Picayune suggested a self-defense motive for Rosa. It said Rosa was walking between St. Philip Street and Ursulines Street when he was threatened by a group of men at Ursulines. He reportedly ducked into a nearby building and armed himself. When he emerged, he fired into the threatening crowd.

Rosa was well known to police as a dangerous gunman. He was arrested two years earlier and charged with the murder of Erastus Wells at the Poydras Market. He was acquitted in that case. More recently he was charged in the apparently unintended killing of grocer David Clark, struck by gunfire during an eruption of the Sicilian underworld feud at the end of March, 1869, and also with attempting to kill a witness against him in the Clark homicide case.

As Rosa was locked up, there was speculation that he would use a self-defense argument to escape conviction. But he would never face trial. While incarcerated, Rosa developed a mysterious illness. He was said to be nearly dead when authorities agreed to release him in bail in August. He died August 21, 1869.

Two rumors were widely circulated after his death. The first was that he had been poisoned in his jail cell by Banano and Allucho followers. The other was that he had not died at all, but used phony reports of illness and death to escape from his underworld rivals and from the law.

New Orleans Daily Picayune

Sources:
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Martha Macheca Sheldon, Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, Second Edition, 2010.
  • "An attempt to kill," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 7, 1869, p. 2.
  • "Again arrested," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 7, 1869, p. 12.
  • "Another tragedy - Two Sicilians killed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 23, 1869, p. 2.
  • "The two last assassinations," New Orleans Times, July 23, 1869, p. 1.
  • "The Sicilian disturbances," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 24, 1869, p. 2.
  • "The homicides - a week of blood," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1869, p. 2.
  • "Death of Rosa," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 22, 1869, p. 9.
  • "Salvador Rosa," New Orleans Death Records Index, Aug. 21, 1869, Ancestry.com.
  • "Unfounded rumor," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 25, 1869, p. 2.
Read more:

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

20 July 2018

SoCal Mafia tries (again) to take out Cohen

On this date in 1949...

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles area gambling czar Mickey Cohen, a frequent target of Mafia assassination attempts, was shot as he left a Sunset Strip eatery in the wee hours of July 20, 1949. Three companions, including a state agent assigned to guard Cohen, also were wounded in the attack.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Edward Herbert in front of Sherry's
Cohen, then thirty-five, his thirty-eight-year-old aide Edward "Neddie" Herbert, twenty-six-year-old actress Dee David and state agent Harry Cooper emerged from Sherry's Restaurant, 9039 Sunset Boulevard, just before 4 o'clock in the morning and approached Cohen's black Cadillac. Shotguns erupted from across the street. Cohen inexplicably crouched just as the guns went off and, as a result, was the least wounded of the group. He took a slug to the right shoulder.

Edward Herbert, a recent addition to Cohen's gang and the scarred survivor of another recent gangland attack, was struck by several slugs. His spinal cord was damaged, and he was instantly paralyzed from the midsection down. He lingered near death for about a week, as doctors tried surgery and blood transfusions. He died of his wounds and complications on Thursday morning, July 28.

Los Angeles Times
Cooper and Cohen
shortly before the shooting
Dee David was wounded in her back. She was treated at Citizens Emergency Hospital. She recovered quickly.

Two large-caliber slugs struck Harry Cooper in the abdomen. Cooper had recently been assigned - somewhat curiously - by state Attorney General Frederick Howser to serve as a bodyguard for Cohen. As Howser made that appointment, he also urged city and county law enforcement agencies to steer clear of Cohen. Cooper was rushed to Hollywood Receiving Hospital. His condition was critical for some time, but the agent eventually recovered.

The gunmen were well positioned for their escape. They lurked behind tall grass and brush on an old abandoned building foundation. A stairway behind the foundation led downhill into the backyard of 9035 Harratt Street. After firing into Cohen and his companions, the gunmen fled down the stairway, through the Harratt Street home's yard and down a residential driveway. They climbed into a waiting automobile and sped away.

Underworld celebrity

Cohen had been often in the news since the June 20, 1947, Beverly Hills murder of his friend and underworld associate Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. Authorities believed that Cohen controlled gambling throughout southern California following Siegel's killing. In the summer of 1948, Cohen survived an assassination attempt.

Cohen
The following March, seven Cohen gangsters were arrested fleeing from the scene of the brutal beating of Alfred Pearson. When certain police officials ordered that the gangsters not be charged and that records relating to their arrest be destroyed, a grand jury investigation was launched. The investigation exposed Cohen connections to law enforcement and resulted in conspiracy indictments against Cohen, a number of Cohen henchmen, three police officers, an attorney and a local businessman. Trial was originally scheduled for June 27, 1949, but later postponed to October.

In May 1949, police determined that another attempt had been made on Cohen's life. The gang boss's car was reportedly brought to a local garage with bullet holes in its body and blood staining its interior.

Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron was bothered by reports of corruption in the police department. On July 15, 1949, less than a week before the shooting at Sherry's Restaurant, Bowron went to the radio airwaves to promise the citizens of Los Angeles that graft would be exposed. "I want to know what police officers have received favors from Mickey Cohen or his mob and all matters relating to bookie operations within the city," the mayor stated. "I want to know if there are any possible connections between police officers and organized crime in any way at all..."

Attorney General Howser's assignment of agent Cooper to guard Cohen came to light just one day before the shooting.

Los Angeles Times

Investigation

Cohen recovered from his wound while under heavy police guard at the Queen of Angels Hospital. Though he told investigators he had no idea who was responsible for the shooting, there was reason to believe he was lying.

Some in the hospital overheard a Cohen telephone conversation on July 23. Cohen, obviously angry, said into the phone, "I know who did it. They've crippled me for life. Can't use my right arm. But I'll take care of them in my own way. The investigators keep coming up, keep asking me who did it. That's the end. I can handle this and I will handle it."

Jack Dragna
The Los Angeles Times reported on the conversation in its July 24 issue. The authorities questioned Cohen about it that day. But he denied the conversation occurred at all and insisted he did not know who the gunmen were.

The police identified three suspects and brought them in for questioning. Joseph E. Messina, a former barber who was believed involved in gambling, was interrogated and released. Tony Brancato, a Kansas City mobster who relocated to southern California, was taken into custody on July 24 on a charge of suspicion of attempted murder. A Brancato associate, Anthony Trombino, surrendered to authorities on July 25. Brancato and Trombino were released on the twenty-seventh.

Cohen checked himself out of the hospital against his doctor's orders on July 29, in order to attend the funeral services for Edward Herbert. Following the services at Willen Mortuary on Santa Monica Boulevard, Herbert's remains were transported by plane to New York City for burial. Cohen intended to fly to New York and even made plane reservations but changed his mind at the last minute and went to his home. He later told the press, "It would cause too much commotion. It wouldn't do any good to go East now." Cohen reportedly paid $1,500 in hospital bills for himself, Edward Herbert and Dee David and several thousand dollars for Herbert's copper coffin.

Detectives seemed to be on the right track as they connected the shooting at Sherry's Restaurant with underworld gambling rivalries, particularly the long rivalry between Cohen and the Dragna Mafia clan of Los Angeles.

Near the end of July, Ignatius "Jack" Dragna was questioned. Dragna admitted knowing Cohen and also admitted attempting to compete with Cohen's organization in a horse-race wire service racket some years earlier. But Dragna claimed he long ago gave up on that racket and knew nothing about the shooting.

The case remained unsolved.

Weasel's account

Several decades later, Mafia turncoat Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno revealed what he knew of the incident. According to Fratianno, Mafia boss Jack Dragna was obsessed with the idea of killing Cohen and enormously frustrated with Cohen's series of lucky escapes.

Fratianno said Dragna ordered Dominic "Jimmy Regace" Brooklier and Arthur "Army" DiMaria to ambush Cohen outside Sherry's. Their getaway car, according to Fratianno, was driven by Simone Scozzari.

None of those individuals were charged in connection with the shooting that killed Edward Herbert and wounded Cohen, Cooper and David.

Dragna died in February 1956. The next year, Simone Scozzari was one of the Mafiosi noted at the Apalachin, New York, Mafia convention. Scozzari rose to the position of underboss of the Los Angeles Mafia. He was deported to Italy in 1962.

DiMaria reportedly remained a soldier in the crime family. He died in 1972, nine years before being publicly accused of murder by Fratianno.

Brooklier was a recent addition to the crime family at the time of the Cohen shooting, and his assignment as a gunman was intended to test his mettle. His botching of the Cohen hit did not prevent him from rising within the organization. Brooklier became boss of the crime family in the mid-1970s. His poor handling of the organization and hostility toward Fratianno helped convince Fratianno to cooperate with the FBI. Brooklier died in federal custody in 1984.

Mickey Cohen, Dragna's longtime nemesis and longtime target, died of natural causes in the summer of 1976.

Sources:
  • "Jury investigating Cohen case summons four more witnesses," Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Bowron asks grand jury action in police scandal," Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Mickey Cohen jailed, officers get suspensions," San Bernardino County CA Sun, March 23, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Mickey Cohen to appear at grand jury's inquiry," Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Two Mickey Cohen pals arrested in Phoenix home," Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Attorney halted booking of Cohen gang, jury told," Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Jury investigating Cohen case summons four more witnesses," Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Mickey Cohen, three police officers and nine others indicted in conspiracy," Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Last two Cohen men surrender in beating case," Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1949, p. 23.
  • "Cohen and 12 others to go on trial June 27," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1949, p. 2.
  • "New search starts for Allen records," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Court postpones Mickey Cohen and henchmen's trial," Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1949, p. 6.
  • "Bowron vows all-out inquiry of police graft," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1949, p. 2.
  • "Howser assigns officer to protect Mickey Cohen," Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Gang guns wound Cohen and 3 aides," Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Circumstances aid escape of gunmen," Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1949, p. 6.
  • "Mickey Cohen, henchmen blasted in gang warfare," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, July 21, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Cohen lets it slip, he knows assailants," Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Angry Cohen refuses to tell who shot him," Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Control of race information seen as Cohen attack motive," Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Sheriff acts to bar gangs from strip," Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Cohen fails to fly east as planned," Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Former Cohen rival quizzed in shooting," Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Explosion near home upsets Mickey Cohen," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 3, 1949, p. 2.
  • Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno, New York: Times Books, 1981, 36-37.
  • Feather, Bill, "Los Angeles membership chart 1920-50's," Mafia Membership Charts, Nov. 7, 2017. 
  • Murphy, Kim, "The godfather's son," Los Angeles Times Magazine, Sept. 17, 1989, p. 14.

18 July 2018

Mafia infiltrates Federal Bureau of Investigation

On this date in 1975...

Camden Courier-Post
Former FBI office clerk Irene Kuczynski on July 18, 1975, admitted in federal court to photocopying secret Bureau investigation files and providing the copies to New Jersey underworld figure John DiGilio.

Mrs. Kuczynski, twenty-two, and her husband George, twenty-four, testified as the first prosecution witnesses in the Newark, New Jersey, federal trial of DiGilio and three other men. (The case initially involved several other co-defendants.)

DiGilio
Mr. Kuczynski testified that he was approached in 1971 by defendant Peter Szwandrak of Bayonne, New Jersey, who worked with him at Western Electric in the Newark suburb of Kearny. Szwandrak knew that Mrs. Kuczynski, then eighteen, was a member of the stenographic pool at the FBI's Newark offices and asked if she could obtain copies of information the FBI had assembled on DiGilio's criminal activities. Szwandrak promised "there'd be money in it" for the young married couple if they assisted DiGilio.

Refusing at first to take part in the plot, Mrs. Kuczynski only agreed after suffering several beatings at the hands of her husband. She then made photocopies of parts of DiGilio's file several times between fall of 1971 and spring of 1972. She hid the copies and smuggled them out of the office.

"I would put them in my purse and sometimes I would put them in a knitting bad and other times I would put them in my girdle to take them out," she stated.

Asked her reason for participating in the scheme, Mrs. Kuczynski first responded, "Because I loved my husband very much and I didn't want to lose him in any way." She then recalled her initial hesitation and revealed, "George beat me up black and blue numerous times."

After receiving the copied pages, Mr. Kuczynski delivered them to DiGilio or to DiGilio's co-defendants. He stated that he met with DiGilio in a back room of the Italian American Civil Rights Club in Bayonne. DiGilio provided payments between $20 and $200 for the papers. "Some of them were good, and some of them he didn't like and he wanted better stuff," Mr. Kuczynski explained when questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Robertson.

Mr. Kuczynski found it profitable to turn the documents over a few pages at a time. He told the court that DiGilio provided him "an extra $200 as a Christmas bonus."

At the time the reports were stolen, the FBI was investigating DiGilio's role in loan sharking and extortion rackets in New Jersey and New York City. Federal authorities identified DiGilio as an important member of the Genovese Crime Family. Some of the stolen documents were transcriptions from FBI electronic surveillance. In addition, documents included the names of four underworld informants.

The Kuczynskis were charged for their part in the document theft in 1974, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against DiGilio. The government held them in protective custody.

DiGilio, a forty-two-year-old resident of Paramus, was brought to trial for aiding and abetting the document theft. His co-defendants were Bayonne residents Szwandrak, Harry Lupo and John Grillo.

Before the trial began, the defense team argued that DiGilio was not mentally competent to stand trial due to brain damage suffered during a twelve-year boxing career. After hearing competing testimony from expert witnesses, federal Judge H. Curtis Meanor pronounced DiGilio competent in June. Just as trial was scheduled to open, DiGilio won a short postponement because of injuries he claimed he suffered in an automobile accident. The only witnesses to the accident were three DiGilio associates who had only hazy recollections of it. (DiGilio had a history of conveniently timed but unverifiable health problems. Once he collapsed during a trial and claimed to be suffering from a heart ailment. Doctors found his heart to be healthy. For an earlier trial, DiGilio appeared at the defense table in a wheelchair.)

A few days after the Kuczynskis testified, DiGilio defense counsel called witnesses who stated that George Kuczynski came up with the document theft plan on his own as a money-making scheme and offered documents to a number of Bayonne-area individuals investigated by the FBI.

During the trial, a large number of "burly supporters of DiGilio" took seats in the courtroom gallery. During recesses, these spectators lined up in the hallway to give DiGilio a friendly slap on the back and wish him luck. One of the well-wishers, according to New Jersey press reports, was former Middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano. (Graziano and other boxers attended a DiGilio trial in 1987 as well.)

Asbury Park Press
A number of DiGilio's boxing pals came out to show 

support during a 1987 trial. They included Rocco 
Graziano, Joe Frazier and Jake LaMotta.


The trial jury deliberated for nine hours on July 30 before finding DiGilio, Lupo and Szwandrak guilty. Defendant Grillo was acquitted.

In September, Judge Meanor sentenced DiGilio to nine years in prison (one year less than the maximum sentence) and a $10,000 fine. Szwandrak and Lupo were sentenced to six months behind bars.

For their part in the document theft, the Kuczynskis were given five-year suspended sentences in mid-February of 1976. They were assigned new identities and relocated through the witness protection program.

DiGilio remained free pending his appeal. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia the following summer trimmed about eight years from his sentence.

DiGilio's troubles with the law continued for about another decade. Through that time, he became a liability to Mafia higher-ups. In late May of 1988, his lifeless body was found floating in the Hackensack River near Carlstadt, New Jersey.

The final years of John DiGilio's life are discussed in "Death of 'Benny Eggs' severs link to Genovese Family's foundation," on The American Mafia history website.

Sources:
  • "DiGilio is ruled sane after secret hearing," New York Daily News, June 20, 1975, p. 82.
  • "DiGilio too hurt to stand trial?" Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 15, 1975, p. 24.
  • "Ex-FBI typist sold data to an alleged mobster," Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 19, 1975, p. 30.
  • "Typist admits copying FBI data on DiGilio," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 19, 1975, p. 3.
  • Wechsler, Philip, "Ex-FBI clerk tells of smuggling out reports for Mob," New York Daily News, July 19, 1975, p. 5.
  • "DiGilio lawyers vilify accuser," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 25, 1975, p. 2.
  • Wechsler, Philip, "Witness is called 'liar all his life' in FBI file trial," New York Daily News, New Jersey Edition, July 25, 1975, p. 7
  • "Rival lawyers assail DiGilio defendants, witnesses," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 30, 1975, p. 13.
  • "DiGilio, 2 men guilty," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 31, 1975, p. 3.
  • "Mobster convicted in FBI case," Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 31, 1975, p. 31.
  • "DiGilio out on bail during his appeal," Camden NJ Courier-Post, Sept. 13, 1975, p. 3.
  • "Secrecy protects thieves," Asbury Park NJ Press, Feb. 24, 1976, p. 24.
  • "Sentence sliced," Elmira NY Star-Gazette, June 12, 1976, p. 7.
  • "Body of a reputed mobster is found in a bag in river," New York Times, May 27, 1988, p. 19.