08 December 2019

Vitale dinner holdup sparks investigations

Incident leads to city magistrate's removal,
mayor's resignation, Tammany Hall's defeat

New York Times
On this date in 1929...
 
Seven gunmen entered a Bronx, New York, testimonial dinner for city Magistrate Albert H. Vitale early in the morning of December 8, 1929, and robbed the guests, including political leaders, well known hoodlums and one off-duty NYPD detective.

The testimonial, begun Saturday night, December 7, was drawing to a close at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when Vitale rose to make some remarks. At that moment, the seven men, who had quietly entered and positioned themselves at the rear of the second floor banquet room of Roman Gardens, 2401 Southern Boulevard near 187th Street, drew handguns and politely instructed the fifty attendees to turn over their valuables. One of the seven had a handkerchief wrapped around the lower half of his face. The others were not masked. Some accounts indicated that the partly masked gunman was the leader of the group. Working at a leisurely pace, they gathered several thousand dollars' worth of cash and jewelry and departed the restaurant at one o'clock.

Vitale
Little is known of what occurred at the restaurant immediately after the robbery. The incident was not officially reported to police until about 2 a.m. The delay in reporting raised numerous questions and eventually cost Detective Johnson his job.

Hours later, the service revolver taken by the robbers from Johnson was returned through Vitale at Vitale's office in the Tepecano Democratic Club, 187th Street, in the Bronx. Published reports indicated that much of the rest of the loot taken in the robbery also was returned. Rumors suggested that the influence of organized criminals, in league with Vitale, forced the robbers to send back the stolen items.

The robbery occurred just a month and a half after the Black Tuesday stock market collapse, when the U.S. was beginning to sink into the Great Depression and Americans were beginning to blame rampant lawlessness and official corruption for their economic woes.

After the robbery and related oddities were reported in the press, investigations were launched into Vitale's associations with crime figures. Special attention was given to the testimonial dinner and to reports that underworld boss Ciro Terranova and several of his men were in attendance. The situation also sparked a New York State Senate investigation (known as the Hofstadter Committee and as the Seabury Investigation) into corruption within the Tammany Hall-aligned administration of Mayor James Walker.

Suggestions of Vitale wrongdoing in connection with that event were unproven. Vitale's explanations for the presence of gangsters in the Roman Gardens restaurant hosting his dinner and for the return of the service revolver were accepted as plausible. But other examples of faulty judgment came to light.

Roman Gardens
The Bar Association found that Magistrate Vitale had acted improperly in accepting a large 1928 loan from underworld financier Arnold Rothstein (a charge first leveled by mayoral candidate Fiorello La Guardia late in his unsuccessful 1929 campaign) and in discharging a thief represented by a Rothstein-retained attorney. It recommended Vitale's removal from the bench.

In March 1930, the five justices of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division agreed that the Rothstein loan brought "the court into public disrepute and suspicion." The justices made Vitale an ex-magistrate but stopped short of disbarring him.

Vitale returned to a private law practice, while investigations led to the removal of a number of corrupt officials, to a reform of the city courts and to an end of Tammany Hall's domination of city government. Mayor Walker resigned in late summer 1932. He was immediately succeeded by Tammany nominee John P. O'Brien. After a year, La Guardia and a reform administration was brought in through the 1933 municipal election.

05 December 2019

Chicago Gangster Hazed By Frat Brothers

James Clark is familiar to most crime buffs as a member of Chicago's North Side Gang during Prohibition. A capable, all-purpose muscleman and assassin, Clark joined the North Siders in the early 1920s. He acted as a pallbearer at the November 1924 funeral of his boss Dean O'Banion and was suspected by Chicago police of being one of the killers (along with Frank and Pete Gusenberg) of Pasquale Lo Lordo, càpu of Chicago's traditional Sicilian Mafia burgàta and president of the Italo-American National Union (formerly known as Unione Siciliana).

Chicago gangster James Clark

However, Clark is probably best known for being slaughtered in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, when he and six of his colleagues were lined up against the north wall of the S.M.C. Cartage garage at 2122 North Clark Street and mowed down by hitmen masquerading as police officers. Most people do not know that nineteen years before Clark got his fatal love letter from two Thompson submachine guns, he botched a burglary at a University of Chicago fraternity house and got a whole lot more than he bargained for in the process. The details of Clark's bungled crime are darkly funny, as if they were ripped from the pages of the script for Animal House.

Albert Rudolph Kachellek was born in Krojanke, Germany (present-day Krajenka, Poland) on February 25, 1889, and landed in America with his mother Anna and siblings a month after his fourth birthday. While growing up in Chicago, he quickly fell in with the wrong crowd. By the age of sixteen in 1905, he did a four-month jail sentence in the Bridewell for robbery. That same year, he also drew a four-year sentence for burglary. By this point, Kachellek started calling himself "James Clark"; his sister stated that "he did not want to hurt my mother's feelings." While he was destined to eventually become a professional gangster, James Clark in the winter of 1910 was a twenty-five-year-old ex-convict who was firmly planted at the bottom of Chicago's criminal totem pole. Clark began setting his sights on houses in the affluent South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park which bracketed the University of Chicago. A few of the stately homes in the district acted as rooming houses for fraternities at the nearby college. For a tough skel who had done hard time at Joliet, surely those college kids would be easy marks.


Alpha Tau Omega was established at the Virginia Military Institute on September 11, 1865 by Otis Allan Glazebrook, Erskine Mayo Ross, and Alfred Marshall as a means of using Christian brotherly love as a way of fostering reconciliation after the Civil War. The fraternity is noted for holding several retreats and training conferences; Altitude, Encounter, Valiant, President's Retreat, and Emerging Leader's Conference. All had specific goals; Altitude was meant to challenge members physically, mentally, and emotionally and currently entails a rigorous hike into the Rocky Mountains and the attainment of a 14,000 foot summit; Valiant puts roughly 100 members through a values-based curriculum that emphasizes effective leadership, communication, ethics, goal setting, and teamwork.

By the winter of 1909-10, Alpha Tau Omega had over one hundred chapters all over the United States and outside many major universities. The University of Chicago's chapter featured about twenty young men from such diverse states as Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, Texas and Louisiana. Most of the young students who were members of the fraternity lived in a house at 923 East Sixtieth Street that fronted Midway Plaisance Park. It was a quiet residence in a generally quiet neighborhood that houses one of the best colleges in the state of Illinois. It was towards this house that James Clark went in the early morning hours of March 6, 1910.

Although it was still technically winter in Chicago, the weather was quite mild and a harbinger of the coming spring; the temperature peaked at sixty-three degrees earlier that afternoon. Around five-thirty on that Sunday morning, Clark approached Alpha Tau Omega frat house on Sixtieth Street. Standing outside the dark and silent building, and with no one to be seen or heard in the pre-dawn stillness, Clark jimmied open a downstairs window. Whether Clark acted on impulse or pre-planned the burglary is unknown; the former seems likely, as he brought nothing to hold his loot. Once inside the quiet frat house, Clark moved with the noiseless stealth of the long-term burglar.

As the Alpha Tau continued their slumber, Clark's nimble fingers pocketed an array of loot such as brushes, neckties, change purses, gloves, spectacles, a knife, fountain pen, and an open-faced gold watch. With his pockets crammed to capacity, Clark reached for a packet of love letters tied with a maroon ribbon. Just as he was putting the letters in his jacket, Clark's heart leaped up into his throat at the unexpected sound of an angry voice asking him just what he was doing. The voice belonged to Henry Brown, the "porter" of the frat house. The sight and sound of the frightened, muscular Black man seemed to have caused Clark to freeze. In the blink of an eye, Brown struck Clark with a stick and quickly went away to find a gun.

On the third floor of the house, pajama-clad frat brothers were aroused by the commotion and began spilling from their beds. Loud footsteps and numerous voices bombarded the concussed Clark, who despite his befuddlement at the sudden wrong turn the evening's burglary had taken had enough presence of mind to make way. Clark managed to hop right out the window that he had originally entered no more than fifteen minutes earlier. The fleeing thief found his legs and sprinted across the street and down Midway Plaisance with porter Henry Brown hot on his heels.

The roused Alpha Tau frat brothers saw the beginning of the chase and promptly burst out the front door of the frat house and joined Brown in persuing the suspect. While James Clark was in reasonable shape, he wasn't exactly a track-and-field star, and Brown and the Alpha Tau brothers ran him down in the park, about a block and a half away from the house. Clark was pinned into the grass and pummeled with curses, fists, feet, and general righteous indignation. And the Alpha Tau were just getting started.

The frat brothers hauled the dazed and bleeding Clark to his feet, and with Brown marched him back to the house. The adrenalized youths began singing their college songs loud enough to wake residents of the surrounding homes. Once they reached the stone steps of their frat house, the youths punctuated their songs with a unison bellow of "CHICAGO!" They then proceeded to haul their prize catch up the steps and into the house. Said prize catch was probably wondering by this point just what the hell he had gotten himself into.

Exactly what the Alpha Tau brothers did to James Clark in the frat house may never be known. An anonymous Chicago Tribune scribe, tongue planted firmly in cheek, wrote, "…did they place Mr. Burglar in a large leather chair? No. On second thought, they took Mr. Burglar upstairs and put him in the bathtub. They gave the treatment usually accorded unwilling and recalcitrant freshmen. They then called up a doctor to 'fix up' Mr. Burglar. Lastly, they called the police."

At six-thirty that morning, Lieutenant John L. Hogan and Officers Curtin and Loey arrived at 923 Sixtieth Street from the Woodlawn Station. According to the same Tribune reporter their arrival, "saved Mr. Burglar from further punishment à la college." James Clark was booked for burglary while eight of the frat brothers donned buttoned-up sweaters and Dutch trousers to come down to the Woodlawn station in order to identify some of their property if they could. Louis T. Curry claimed a knife and a muffler; Dwight Hill a watch and a change purse; J.M. Sutherland of Marlin, Texas a $5 watch and fifty cents in change; M.E. Seeley from Ohio reclaimed two pairs of eyeglasses while D.T. Long of Indiana claimed his $30 watch and two neckties.

Suddenly the mood turned sour when Lieutenant Hogan decided to hold all the stolen property as evidence against Clark. Young Seeley protested, "…if you don't give me back those glasses, I'll have a deuce of a time. One pair is for reading and the other is for seeing where I'm going. If you don't give 'em back to me, I won't be able to study or find my way back to the frat house." Seeley's pleas went for naught. The only piece of property that the lieutenant failed to get his hands on was the packet of love letters tied with the ribbon. They had mysteriously disappeared in the commotion of the hazing and arrest. The youths pointedly declined to reveal which one of them had written the letters.

James Clark was eventually convicted of burglary and, because this was his so-called "third strike," was sentenced to a term of one year to life in the state prison at Joliet. Clark would not be paroled until 1914.

Six of the seven victims of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Lying perpendicular at the base of the wall is James Clark.
History does not record what became of Henry Brown and the rest of the Alpha Tau Omega frat brothers who made Clark's life a living hell during a burglary gone wrong in the winter of 1910.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1910.

Keefe, Rose. The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story. Nashville, Cumberland House, 2005.

World War I Selective Service Draft Card, Albert Kachellek.

Ellis Island passenger arrivals, 1893.


02 December 2019

KC's Gurera gave info to federal agents

In his latest contribution to the Mafiahistory.us website's "Rat Trap" section, researcher Edmond Valin identifies Mafioso Joseph Gurera as the confidential FBI informant referred to in government reports as "KC-586."

Read:

Joseph Gurera
Gurera possessed a great deal of information on the Kansas City and Milwaukee crime families, as he was well connected to leaders in both organizations. Coming of age within the rackets of Kansas City, there is evidence that Gurera was involved in the 1950 murders of underworld-political leaders Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta.

When Milwaukee boss Frank Balistrieri sought new revenue streams for his organization, he brought in Gurera to help shake down operators of illicit enterprises in southeastern Wisconsin. While Gurera's activities generated income, they also brought a lot of "heat" on Balistrieri's crime family. The boss soon ordered Gurera to return to the Kansas City area.

The FBI became aware of goings-on in both criminal organizations through data revealed by informant KC-586. Comparing evidence found in FBI documents with the details of Gurera's life, Valin proves that Gurera served as an informant over a period of a few months before he died of a heart attack in 1967.


01 December 2019

Another month, ANOTHER RECORD!

November 2019 was another record-setting month for the Writers of Wrongs blog. A total of 45,212 pageviews were generated in the month - an average of more than 1,500 views per day.

It was the second consecutive surprising month for the blog. In October, Writers of Wrongs exceeded a 1000 views per day average for the first time, finishing with a total of 37,334.

Through the blog's three years of existence (since October 2016), no monthly total had been better than 26,729. In recent months, pageviews settled in the 22,000 to 25,000 range, and the 30,000 barrier was looking like the crime-history blog version of the four-minute mile.

We send our thanks to the crime-history writers, who provide valuable content to the Writers of Wrongs blog, and to our readers, whose interest and support is expressed in these pageview numbers.

(All figures were acquired through site host Blogger - based on Google algorithms - with the site manager's visits not counted in the totals.)