11 November 2019

Two killed at Castellammarese colony in Brooklyn

On this date in 1917...

Two men were shot to death at a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, street corner late Sunday afternoon, November 11, 1917. Authorities surmised that the double-killing stemmed from a Mafia feud.

The victims were residents of the neighborhood, largely a Sicilian colony populated by immigrants from Castellammare del Golfo: Antonino Mazzara, thirty, lived at 230 North Fifth Street, and Antonino DiBenedetto, forty-three, lived at 343 Metropolitan Avenue.

Witnesses saw the two men at about five-thirty that afternoon, speaking with two others on North Fifth Street just northwest of the intersection with Roebling Street. As two teenage girls walked by, they overheard an argument. They recalled that one of the men threatened, "If you don't tell us, we will kill you."

Moments later, there were gunshots. New York Police Detective James Kenny, walking home at the end of his workday, was on Roebling Street approaching North Fifth when he heard four rapid shots, a pause and then three more shots. As Kenny reached the corner, he saw two men on the ground and two others, with guns in their hands, running northwest in the direction of Driggs Avenue. He ran after the gunmen.

One fled through the hallway of a building and got away. Kenny caught up with the other at Driggs Avenue. He overpowered and disarmed the man, using a choke hold and an arm twisting move to bring him to his knees and cause him to drop his firearm. The gunman was later identified as Antonio Massino, twenty-seven, of 165 East 112th Street in Manhattan. Massino's firearm was a magazine-fed pistol. Reports indicated that its magazine was empty.

The sound of the shots brought hundreds of area residents onto the street and caused police officers Wagner, Clancey and Reilly of the Bedford Avenue Station to rush to the scene. Acting Police Captain James Green sent in reserves to disperse the crowd. An ambulance was summoned. Mazzara, shot through the heart, was already dead when it arrived. DiBenedetto, shot above the heart and in the neck, survived just a bit longer. He succumbed to his wounds within minutes of his arrival at Eastern District Hospital, then located about a half mile away on South Third Street.

Police Captain Daniel Carey and a number of detectives came out to search the area. In a vacant lot near the intersection of North Fifth Street and Driggs Avenue, beside a school construction site, they found two loaded shotguns and an empty guitar case. They concluded that the guns had been brought to the location in the case. But only geography linked the guns to the killings of Mazzara and DiBenedetto.

Manhattan police officials were notified of the murders and of the arrest of Massino. Manhattan Detective Marci was put on watch at Massino's building on 112th Street, in case his accomplice showed up. At about 2:30 the next morning, the detective observed a man approaching the building cautiously, looking up and down the street, and then dashing for the entrance. Marci placed the man under arrest. The suspect, identified as Giuseppe Martinnico, thirty-three, of 90 Main Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, was found to be in possession of a handgun very similar to the one found on Massino.

The two girls who witnessed the argument before the shooting were unable to identify the suspects. Police brought Antonino Mazzara's brother Joseph to the Bedford Station to look over the suspects. Joseph said he did not remember ever seeing the men before. Massino offered a weak explanation for running from a murder scene with a gun in his hand. He had armed himself after recently receiving two threatening letters, and drew the firearm to protect himself after hearing shots fired.

Sources:
  • Antonino DiBenedetto, New York City Extracted Death Index, certificate no. 21982, Nov. 11, 1917.
  • Antonio Mazzara, New York City Extracted Death Index, certificate no. 21983, Nov. 11, 1917.
  • "Double murder due to feud, police say," Brooklyn Standard Union, Nov. 12, 1917, p. 4.
  • "Two die in street after seven shots," New York Herald, Nov. 12, 1917, p. 14.
  • "Two killed in street battle," Brooklyn Citizen, Nov. 12, 1917, p. 2.
  • "Two men are held on homicide charge," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 12, 1917, p. 4.

05 November 2019

'Mafia Cop' Eppolito dies in federal custody

Eppolito
[From Mob-News blog
Louis Eppolito, 71, a former New York Police detective who was convicted of committing murders for organized crime, died Sunday, November 3, 2019, at the Tucson Medical Center in Arizona, according to published reports.

The inmate locator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirms that Louis Eppolito, register number 04596-748, died November 3, 2019. There is no indication of the cause of death.

Eppolito and his former NYPD partner Stephen Caracappa were sentenced in March 2009 to life in prison, following a 2006 conviction for participation in mob murders, attempted murders, racketeering and conspiracy.

Caracappa
Caracappa died in the federal detention center at Butner, North Carolina, on April 8, 2017. (See "'Mafia Cop' Caracappa dies in prison.") The cause of his death also was not released, but Caracappa had earlier requested a release from prison on the grounds that he was suffering from cancer.

Their trial revealed that Eppolito and Caracappa, both highly decorated law enforcement officers, secretly worked with Lucchese Crime Family leader Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso. They received a retainer of $4,000 a month to provide him with police data and to help arrange mob murders. Authorities charged that they received a $65,000 bonus for personally handling the murder of a mobster during a phony traffic stop.

The 2006 convictions of both men were thrown out by the trial judge, who decided that the statute of limitations on their more serious federal offenses had already expired. A federal appeals court reversed that decision in September 2008. They were sentenced to life in prison on March 6, 2009.

Eppolito, son of Gambino Crime Family member Ralph Eppolito, authored (with Bob Drury) a 1992 autobiography entitled, Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob."

See other Mob-News posts on the Mafia Cops.

Sources:

31 October 2019

Thank you for another record-setting month

The Writers of Wrongs site set surprising new records in the month of October, and there are still some hours left before the month is complete. 


For the first time since our small crime history site was launched three years ago, its unique pageviews daily average figure climbed to more than one thousand per day, according to site hosting service Blogger.com. The daily average during October 2019 is just over 1,140 and still growing. This is an improvement of more than 32 percent over the old record. The previous high for average daily pageviews was 862, generated during the month of July, 2019.

The total unique pageviews for October stands at this moment at 35,378, according to Blogger, and is likely to cross 36,000 by end of month. [Nov. 1, 2019, Update: The final figure for October was 37,334, making the daily average 1,204.] The monthly figure had never before exceeded 26,729 - that record was set during this past summer.

So far this year, The Writers of Wrongs has added forty-two articles to bring the total available on the site to 229. The most-read articles in the month of October 2019 were:
  1. "Anastasia delayed, did not escape death in 'chair,'" by Thomas Hunt.
  2. "The assassination of Sam Giannola," by Daniel Waugh.
  3. "Wealthy Los Angeles-area Mafia leader vanishes," by Thomas Hunt.
  4. "3 things you probably didn't know about Lucky Luciano," by Christian Cipollini. (This is the site's all-time most-viewed article.)
  5. "Michigan mobster Joe Tocco succumbs," by Thomas Hunt.
Over the course of the past three years, the site's pages have been visited more than half a million times. At this moment, the total figure stands at 571,436.

While more than half of the pageviews (56 percent) have been generated within the United States, the site has also been supported by other countries around the world. The top visiting countries have been Russia (22,000 pageviews), Israel (20,000), Ukraine (17,000), United Kingdom (11,000), Germany (11,000), China (9,000), United Arab Emirates (9,000), France (6,000), Poland (4,000), Canada (4,000), Brazil (3,000).

Thank you, readers, for supporting this project and for expressing through visits your interest in and approval of the work we do here.

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

29 October 2019

Intimate family portrait, detailed Mafia history

[Disclaimer: The author provided me with several revisions of Colorado's Carlino Brothers before publication. I contributed edit suggestions and provided a foreword to the book.  - TH.]
 A decade ago, Mountain Mafia: Organized Crime in the Rockies by Alt and Wells first put the Colorado underworld on the map. Now, author Sam Carlino has provided the map with important connections between Denver and Pueblo Italian-American racketeers and national organized crime leaders.

https://amzn.to/2WmNdKR
His just-released book, Colorado's Carlino Brothers: A Bootlegging Empire (The History Press), is at once an intimate family portrait and a detailed Mafia history. The author deftly tracks the development of the regional crime family before and through the Prohibition Era, revealing its proper place in the national scene, while providing personal insight into his ancestors, who were members and leaders of the organization. The author's unique perspective helps to fully develop and humanize the book's primary subjects, brothers Pete (the author's grandfather) and Sam, and reveals the often painful impact of their career choices on their extended families.

The book deals in depth with the career and murder of early Pueblo Mafia leader Pellegrino Scaglia, the long and violent Carlino-D'Anna rivalry, the successful infiltration of the Carlino operation by an undercover federal agent and the Denver police raid that exposed a budding regional bootlegging syndicate. It explores Pete Carlino's travels to Mafia home cities in the Midwest and the East in a seemingly desperate effort to strengthen his position at home. And it chronicles the tragic and bloody ends of the Carlino faction leaders.

But its most momentous revelation concerns a link between Pete Carlino and the powerful but short-lived New York City-based Mafia boss of bosses, Salvatore Maranzano.

The author uses some circumstantial evidence and a long-forgotten ("missing link") news source to build a convincing case for a connection between the two old-school "Mustache Pete" Mafiosi. For researchers of underworld history, this heightens the importance of the often overlooked Colorado underworld. It also adds greatly to the significance of the nearly simultaneous murders of Maranzano and Carlino, occurring 1,800 miles apart on September 10, 1931, and may be viewed as supportive of the legendary "Night of Sicilian Vespers" purge of Maranzano loyalists.

From Colorado's Carlino Brothers
Carlino Bros. contains a wealth of photographs supporting its history text. These include family photos, gangland group shots, mug shots, news photos, scenics, document images and newspaper clippings.

The author's deep affection for the subjects of the work and his joy at having discovered their true stories - long-closeted skeletons and all - are evident in his selection of family images, in his commentary in the "Introduction," "Conclusion" and "Special Thanks" sections of the book, and certainly in his decision to share with the reader the often praised Carlino family recipe for spaghetti sauce.

Colorado's Carlino Brothers was released October 28, 2019, in 160-page paperback and Kindle editions.

26 October 2019

The Jersey Kid


“Are you hurt buddy? Are you hurt?”
George Lee, twenty-six-year-old over-night cashier for the Public Service Coordinated Transport, was indeed hurt, mortally.  A .32 caliber bullet had just ripped into his side and the man who fired it, Frank McBrien, stood over him, panicking. Miller didn’t answer, so McBrien tore the wounded man’s shirt open and tried to staunch the flow of blood. McBrien’s confederates, momentarily stunned, continued with the task at hand, looting the garage of its money. One entered the cashier’s cage where McBrien and Lee were and asked about the pillow cases that were brought along to carry out the loot.
“To hell with the money,” McBrien told his confederate, “this poor guy is dying. I’m going to call the cops,” turning again to the prostrate figure on the floor, he pleaded again, “Gee Buddy, are you hurt?”
     The job wasn’t supposed to go down like this. They planned it for three weeks. McBrien was a careful bandit, he liked to rehearse the robbery repeatedly so each man in the gang knew what to do and they could be in and out without trouble. The mob’s previous job went much smoother. On September 24, 1928, they hit the Alderney Dairy Corporation, also located in Newark. In this caper they managed to herd around twenty employees into a vault, another ten or so were covered while the gunmen collected five thousand dollars. McBrien fired his gun here as well, but not to hurt anyone. Only one employee was slightly injured, a woman, who was smacked across the head with a pistol butt because she wasn’t moving as fast as the bandits wished.
    After the Alderney job, the gang rendezvoused back at the rooming house where McBrien, the only tenant, lived to divvy up the loot. High on success and swimming in greenbacks, they decided the next target would be Newark’s, Public Service Coordinated Transport garage. The location where the city bus drivers, after finishing their shifts, came to deposit the day’s fares. It was decided that the time, around 2 a.m. Monday morning, would be the most lucrative because the weekend receipts would still be on hand. The gang consisted of six men: Frank McBrien, known in the underworld as the “Jersey Kid”, Frank “the Wop” Orlando, Victor Giampietro, Louis “Lefty” Malanga, Andy “Red” Silesia and Joe Rado. The idea to rob the Public Service garage probably came from Giampietro, a former bus driver.
        In preparation for the robbery Giampietro and Orlando stole a car on October 12 and parked it in a garage. On Sunday afternoon, Giampietro also gave his old bus driver outfit to Orlando, who would wear it during the heist. Around midnight of the Fifteenth, the gang gathered at McBrien’s room where the land lady made them all breakfast. After eating, the men left the house individually so as not to cause suspicion. Giampietro and Lefty Malanga went to retrieve the stolen car. Orlando left followed by McBrien and Rado, who were all picked up by Giampietro and Malanga at different spots. For some reason Red Silesia stayed behind in McBrien’s room. A decision that would save his life.
     Arriving at the garage, Orlando, dressed as a bus driver, went in to case the place. After a few minutes he returned to the street and told his confederates that two men were in the drivers’ room and six in the garage.
                “Let’s wait until later when the last bus has pulled in,” said Giampietro.
                “The hell with it,” McBrien retorted, “let’s get in and get it over with.”
The five men, all wearing gloves, exited the car and approached the garage. Lefty Malanga stayed at the door to keep guard. Orlando and Rado went down stairs and approached the cashier while Giampietro and McBrien went into the drivers’ room, which had since been vacated. After a moment they heard a shot. In an attempt to intimidate George Lee, the cashier, Orlando had fired through his screen. Entering the room, Giampietro saw Lee, peeking out from a rear room.
                “Put your hands up!” Giampietro barked.
Lee complied. Taking command, McBrien ran up to Lee and, wanting to get the cashier over to the safe, thrust his gun into his side and snarled, “Get over there.” As the last word was leaving McBrien’s lips, he accidentally pulled the trigger to his gun.
Hearing the shooting, Lefty Malanga ran down and met Giampietro who told him, “Mac shot that fellow.” The bandits quickly filled the pillowcases with cash boxes and coins. Too many coins in fact, as one of the cases ripped and spilled money across the floor. While this was taking place, McBrien picked up the phone and dialed the company operator. “There’s a robbery at the Lake Street garage, a man was shot, call the cops or send an ambulance.”
     Dropping the phone, McBrien ran from the garage and joined his confederates who were already in the car. Orlando took off the bus drivers hat and puttees and tossed them from the window. “I hope the cashier doesn’t die,” McBrien said. Afterwards the car was ditched, and the men split up.
     Returning to McBrien’s room by twos, the men gathered to divvy up the proceeds from the robbery, which amounted to about eight hundred dollars per man. After a while, McBrien went out and bought a paper, returning to the group he said, “Well, the man is dead, you know what that means.” 

The Jersey Kid

     Deciding that Newark would be too hot for them, the gang headed to Detroit where they hid out for a short time. Deciding that it would be better if they split up, Giampietro, Lefty Malanga and Red Silesia headed for upstate New York; Giampietro, carrying the gun McBrien used to kill the cashier. The remaining three men, McBrien, Orlando and Rado headed to Chicago.

     After the operator at the Public Service received the phone message from McBrien, a man was sent to the basement to see what it was all about. There he found Lee dead and the police were called. After sunrise there was a search of the neighborhood and detectives found the hat and puttees that Orlando had jettisoned from the car. All bus drivers working for the company were investigated and none were missing the items that the police had found. Next there was a check on former employees and Victor Giampietro’s name came up, working on a hunch, investigators also looked up former employees of the Alderney Dairy Company and there too was Giampietro’s name. They rushed to his house only to learn that he hadn’t been seen there since the day after the robbery.
     Detectives visited the haunts in Giampietro’s neighborhood and learned that he hung around with Red Silesia and Lefty Malanga. Follow up investigations proved that both men were also missing since the robbery. Wanted posters of the three men were produced and sent around the country. At the homes of the wanted men the mail was watched, and the phones were tapped but nothing came of it.
    On November 10, 1928, Newark detectives received a break. In the upstate town of Lackawanna, New York, Giampietro, Silesia and Malanga had gone into a roadhouse and, while there, they got into a fight with another patron. The police were called. When they arrived, Silesia was still there so they took him into custody. Back at the station Silesia remained silent, but one of the cops recognized him from one of the recent wanted circular the station had received. They also found a slip of paper with the address where he had been staying. The officers went to the house and managed to capture Giampietro and Malanga as they were leaving with their suitcases in hand. All three were returned to New Jersey where, in hopes of leniency, Giampietro turn states evidence and spilled the story on the robbery and murder.
     Seven weeks after the capture of their confederates, McBrien, Rado and Orlando were lunching in a restaurant in Chicago. They finished their meal and stepped to the counter to pay. Perhaps it was planned or a spur the moment decision since two cashiers were counting up receipts. Anyhow, one of the bandits punched one of the cashiers in the face while another grabbed the money. Orlando drew a pistol and held the crowd at bay while his cohorts ran out.
     When they hit the streets, McBrien and Rado ran in one direction and Orlando in the opposite. Orlando was pointed out to two nearby cops who saw him run into a furniture store. As they entered, the officers saw Orlando speaking to a salesman, pretending to be interested in a radio. As they neared him, Orlando spun around and, using the salesman as a human shield, opened fire on the police, hitting one in the groin. The clerk managed to pull away from Orlando and then the police opened fire. With bullets in his stomach, chest and forehead, Orlando crumbled to the floor mortally wounded.

     The following summer found McBrien back in New Jersey with a new gang. Taking part with McBrien was a former seaman named Robert Tully, a hardened gunman named James Sargert, who went by the nick name “California Eddie”, and Frank “Lefty” Long. There was a successful robbery in Philadelphia on June 17, but things started to go awry after that job. A robbery of a Philadelphia shoe factory was planned for August 2 and a payroll heist planned for Neptune, New Jersey to take place the following day. Philadelphia police learned about the shoe factory robbery and set a trap but at the last moment the bandits became aware of the ploy and fled the scene, returning to New Jersey. Though they were unable to arrest the gang police got a look at the getaway car and license plate. The gang’s driver, Robert Tully, had used his brother’s car and never bothered to change the plates.
     The very next day the gang was in New Jersey executing a payroll robbery that had been in the works for ten days. Tully was friendly with Russell Baxter, an employee of Steiner and Sons, Company; a pajama factory located in Neptune City. Through him the gang learned that the company’s $7000 payroll was delivered by sixty-five-year old George Danielson who transferred the money from the bank by himself, armed only with a revolver. At approximately 9 a.m. on Saturday August 3, Danielson was approaching the Steiner and Sons factory. Some witnesses claims say that two of the bandits were loitering in front of the factory prior to Danielson’s arrival, others have them pulling up in a sedan as Danielson approached. What is known as that the sixty-five-year old messenger found himself surrounded. The bandits demanded the payroll and Danielson went for this gun; two shots rang out in quick succession and Danielson dropped to the pavement as one of the bandits grabbed the payroll. The gunmen jumped back into their sedan and drove off.


     After the heist the gang rendezvoused at the Verdgemere hotel in Asbury Park to divide the loot. The men had some drinks during the split and sent Tully out for some gin. When he returned McBrien, California Eddy and Lefty Long were gone. He had been double crossed. Tully grabbed his bag and headed out of town. While fleeing he pulled over and tossed his grip into the Shark River. Unbeknownst to him, somebody saw him do it and had the wherewithal to remember part of his license number. The following morning the witness returned to the river and retrieved the bag and turned it over to the police along with the license number.
     Since Tully foolishly used his brother’s car in both the botched Philadelphia robbery and the Neptune City job, authorities quickly arrested his sibling, who in turn informed them that he had lent his car to his brother. Detectives managed to trace Tully to his boarding house located at 116 North Fourth Street in Camden, New Jersey.  They surrounded the place at 2 a.m. August 9 and arrested him without any resistance.

Robert Tully 

    After Tully’s arrest, Baxter turned himself in and admitted to being the tipster. Through testimony police learned that the McBrien, James “California Eddie” Sargert, and Frank “Lefty” Long were the other participants in the Danielson killing. By this time however, all had successfully escaped.
    Police got their next break on August 28 when New Jersey State Trooper David Reed entered a roadhouse in the New Jersey hamlet of Iona near Vineland. Wearing civilian clothes, his presence caused no alarm. After a bit, Reed’s attention was drawn to a table of men and, having worked in Newark the previous year, he recognized Joseph Rado at the table. Drawing his gun, Reed approached the table and announced that he was arresting Rado, who surrendered without a fight, while his companions fled. Back at the station it was determine that one of the men who had been with Rado was the Jersey Kid, whom Reed failed to recognize.
    With Rado in custody police began combing the Vineland area for McBrien but their search was in vain as he managed to allude capture again. As 1929 was winding up, in regard to the Public Service Co-Ordinated Transport job in Newark, authorities had Giampietro, Silesia, Malanga and Rado under arrest but for the Danielson murder, Tully was the only major participant in custody. That changed on November 20, when Lefty Long attempted to single handedly rob a bank in East Orange. The gunman handed a teller a note demanding money then fled empty handed when the clerk pressed an alarm. Police were able to trace him to a speakeasy a short time later and arrest him without trouble.
     After the arrest of Long, it was only two weeks before the law caught up with the Jersey Kid. In the end it was Philadelphia detectives that got him. They learned that the Kid’s paramour had moved from Philadelphia to 196th Street in New York City. They began a stakeout of the apartment and learned that the Kid was indeed inside. At 4:30 a.m. on December 4, both New York City and Philadelphia detectives surrounded the building. The element of surprise was lost when the Kid noticed two detectives in the court yard and took  a couple of shots at them. They returned the fire. After that a truce was called so that the Kid’s girlfriend could surrender and leave via the rear fire escape. The Kid used that time to barricade the front door and prepare for a battle. Intent on killing himself before allowing capture he penned a quick goodbye note to his mother. Detectives at the door informed him that they were getting ready to open fire with tear gas. Realizing that there was no escape and losing the nerve to commit suicide. The Kid surrendered.
The Kid is Captured

     Newark, Neptune City and Philadelphia all wanted the kid, but in the end Newark won out, so the Kid, along with Giampietro, Malanga and Rado went on trial for the murder of transportation clerk George Lee. Hoping to save himself from the electric chair, Giampietro turned States ‘evidence and testified against his codefendants. All were found guilty of murder and all, including Giampietro, were sentenced to death.
     All four men were scheduled to be executed on July 22, 1930. When the time came Giampietro was the first to go, which suited the Kid just fine since Giampietro implicated all of them in the murder in an attempt to get out with his skin intact. Hoping against a last-minute reprieve that might save the man who helped put him in the chair the Kid told the warden he wanted Giampietro to go first saying, “ He’s not going to get out of this, the rat.”    
     Giampietro entered the death chamber at 8:08 p.m. three minutes later he was declared dead. A trio of guards removed the body to the autopsy room and hoisted it onto a large marble slab and forced it to the far side in order to make room for his former confederates who would be joining him.  After Giampietro they came for the Kid. “Take it easy, Mac,” Rado and Malanga shouted to their one time leader. “O.k. boys, so long,” he replied. Entering the death chamber at 8:21 p.m., the Kid bit off the end of a cigar and threw it at the witnesses. Taking a seat in the electric chair, the wet helmet was placed on his head and a strap to his right knee. After a moment he relaxed and then the wheel was turned. The Kid shot out of the seat as two thousand volts went through his body. The executioner turned the wheel to off and the Kid slumped back into the chair unconscious. Another sixteen hundred volts were sent through the body and this was followed by another two thousand. In all it a took only a minute. The Kid then took his spot next to Giampietro on the slab. Next came Malanga who went calmly. Rado was the only one of the condemned men to speak out. Claiming he was innocent until the end he addressed the witnesses. “Spectators to the fact,” he announced, “Look at the gate crashers. Well before I go I want you newspaper guys to tell the world I’m innocent as God himself. I was framed. I hope you all enjoy the show.” As they strapped him into the chair, he continued his diatribe but it was cut short as the electricity coursed through his body. Smoke rose from his skull and leg as the executioner turned the wheel off. A second charge sent him from his chair like it did the Kid. The doctor checked his heart, the two jolts were enough.

25 October 2019

Anastasia delayed, did not escape death in 'chair'

On this date in 1957...

Perhaps Albert Anastasia was fated to die in "the chair."

The longtime New York-area underworld figure, who maneuvered his way out of an appointment with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair in 1922, met his end in the barber's chair thirty-five years later on October 25, 1957.


Anastasia, born Umberto Anastasio in the Calabrian village of Tropea back in 1902, reached America in 1917. He was serving as a deck hand on a tramp steamer when he jumped ship at New York harbor. He and brothers Giuseppe and Antonio settled in Brooklyn, and all went to work at the docks. (Brother Salvatore moved from Italy to New York and entered the priesthood.) Anastasia entered into a waterfront rackets partnership with Giuseppe Florino, who sometimes used the alias "Speranza."

Broken appointment

In spring of 1921, Anastasia and Florino both were convicted of the May 17, 1920, shooting murder of George Turello. Brooklyn Supreme County Justice Van Siclen sentenced the two to be executed in Sing Sing's electric chair on the week of July 3, 1921. They were placed in the prison's "death house" on May 25, 1921.

Anastasia (left) and Florino. New York Daily News.

Legal appeals succeeded in winning a new trial for Anastasia and Florino and, after a period of six and a half months in Sing Sing's "death house," they were transferred to the custody of the Kings County sheriff on December 10, 1921. (Newspapers of the time reported incorrectly that their death house stay was between seven months and eight and a half months.) Due to missing and suddenly uncertain witnesses, the state's murder case against the two men fell apart and they were set free.

Anastasia and Florino immediately went back to work, intimidating longshoremen and eliminating rivals. They were routinely suspected in gangland killings during the Prohibition Era. While Florino gradually faded into the background, Anastasia emerged as a top Brooklyn underworld figure. He was brought into a sprawling Brooklyn and Bronx Mafia organization commanded at the time by Al Mineo - it later became known as the Gambino Crime Family - and led its strong non-Sicilian faction. After a couple of decades, he attained the top spot in the organization after eliminating its Sicilian leaders, brothers Vincent and Philip Mangano, in 1951.

However, it seems Anastasia's date with "the chair" was not canceled but merely postponed.

Barbershop diagram. New York Times.

Chair No. 4

At seven o'clock on the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia left his home, 75 Bluff Road in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in a blue 1957 Oldsmobile registered to his chauffeur and bodyguard Anthony Coppola. Coppola was apparently not with him. Anastasia's movements that morning are not entirely known. The car was parked at Corvan Garage, 124 West Fifty-Fourth Street in Manhattan at twenty-eight minutes after nine. Anastasia entered Arthur Grasso's barbershop in the Park Sheraton Hotel, Seventh Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street, at about ten-fifteen.

A regular at the shop, Anastasia exchanged greetings with the owner, who manned a cashier's stand near the entrance. Anastasia then moved toward Chair No. 4, where his barber Joseph Bocchino worked. Anastasia hung up his topcoat, brown suit jacket and hat and took a seat in Chair No. 4, requesting a haircut.

Bocchino set to work. He was clipping the hair on the left side of Anastasia's head, when two men, faces partly covered with scarves, entered the barbershop from a doorway connected to the Park Sheraton lobby. One of the men quietly instructed  Grasso, "Keep your mouth shut if you don't want your head blown off." Grasso made no sound.

The men advanced with drawn handguns to positions behind Anastasia and opened fire. With the first shots, Anastasia jumped up from the chair, breaking through its footrest. He stumbled forward, crashing into glass shelving in front of a mirror, and then fell to the side, landing and expiring between Chairs 2 and 3. Of ten bullets fired in the attack, five hit their target. Two entered Anastasia's left hand and wrist, which apparently had been raised in an effort at self-defense. One slug penetrated his right hip. One entered his back. The last cracked through the back of his head.

AP photo.

The gunmen silently strode from the shop. Two handguns were later recovered from the area - one a .32-caliber and the other a .38-caliber. One was found in a vestibule of the Park Sheraton. The other turned up in a trash receptacle in a nearby subway station.

Press accounts of the underworld assassination noted that, about three decades earlier, underworld financier Arnold Rothstein had been killed within the same hotel, though it was known at that time as the Park Central.


Investigation

Investigators questioned known underworld figures, including Anthony "Augie Pisano" Carfano, Mike Miranda, Pete DeFeo and Aniello Ercole, as well as Anastasia business partner Harry Stasser.

In the evening of October 25, Anthony Coppola surrendered himself for questioning. Coppola admitted being in the area of the Park Sheraton about forty minutes after his boss and friend was murdered. Without much explanation, Coppola said he intended to meet Anastasia at the barbershop but learned of the shooting on his way there and retreated. He picked up the blue Oldsmobile where Anastasia left it and drove it home to 450 Park Avenue, Fair View, New Jersey. He later had another person drive it back to Manhattan and leave it in a Centre Street parking lot across from the Criminal Courts Building, where it was taken for examination by police.

New York Times
Early press reports suggested that Anastasia was killed in revenge for a recent unsuccessful attempt on the life of Manhattan-based boss Frank Costello. It was noted that Anastasia increased his force of bodyguards immediately after a shot fired at Costello's head resulted in just a superficial wound. These reports misinterpreted the evidence, as it later became clear that Anastasia and Costello were closely allied.

Anastasia's killers could not be identified. There were strong indications that Carlo Gambino, who later became boss of Anastasia's crime family, had been involved in setting up the assassination. Some reports claimed that Joseph Profaci, boss of his own Brooklyn-based crime family, and enforcer Joe "Jelly" Giorelli were also involved.

Anastasia
Investigators learned that Anastasia was planning to establish a private gambling empire in Cuba, effectively invading established underworld territory controlled by Meyer Lansky and Tampa Mafia boss Santo Trafficante and financially supported by Mafia leaders across the U.S. Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan learned that Anastasia met with Lansky and allied gangster Joseph "Joe Rivers" Silesi shortly before he was killed and was warned at that time to stay out of Cuba. That put Lansky, Silesi and Trafficante on the list of suspects.

Early in 1958, the FBI received information indicating that Anastasia had been put on the spot by an Irish criminal organization feuding with him over control over the New York waterfront rackets.

In 1963, authorities heard that Anastasia's killers were gangsters "Joe Jelly" Giorelli and Ralph Mafrici. Giorelli, a top man in the Gallo faction of the Profaci Crime Family, had been missing and presumed dead since the Gallos openly broke with their boss in 1961. This information likely grew out of barroom bragging by "Crazy Joe" Gallo, in which he claimed that his crew was responsible for the Anastasia assassination. Additional reports pointed to Costello rival Vito Genovese as the prime mover of the Anastasia killing and the attempt to kill Costello.

In the autumn of 2001, journalist Jerry Capeci reported that all the earlier suspicions were off the mark. According to Capeci, Anastasia was shot by Stephen "Stevie Coogan" Grammauta and Arnold "Witty" Wittenberg, guided by gangster Stephen Armone. The group was assembled, Capeci said, by a Carlo Gambino ally named Joseph Biondo.

See also:


Sources:

  • Albert Anastasia fingerprint record, Nov. 19, 1953, Anastasia FBI file.
  • Berger, Meyer, "Anastasia slain in a hotel here' led Murder, Inc.," New York Times, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 1.
  • Capeci, Jerry, "The Men Who Hit Albert Anastasia" Gang Land column, Oct. 18, 2001.
  • Cook, Fred J., "Robin Hoods or real tough boys? Larry Gallo, Crazy Joe and Kid Blast," New York Times, Oct. 23, 1966, p. Mag 37.
  • Emrich, Elmer F., "Mafia," FBI report, file no. 100-42303-536, NARA no. 124-90110-10079, April 10, 1959, p. 43-44, 58-59.
  • Evans, C.A., "Albert Anastasia," FBI Memorandum to Mr. Rosen, Oct. 29, 1957.
  • FBI memo, Havana 94-13, March 6, 1958, Albert Anastasia FBI file.
  • Freeman, Ira Henry, "Brothers Anastasia - toughest of the toughs," New York Times, Dec. 14, 1952, p. E10.
  • Marino, Anthony, and Sidney Kline, "Anastasia slain as he feared," New York Daily News, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 3.
  • Meskil, Paul, "Yen for Cuba cash doomed Anastasia," New York World Telegram & Sun, Jan. 9, 1958, p. 1.
  • Sing Sing Prison Receiving Blotter entries for Alberto Anastasio, number 72527, May 25, 1921, and Giuseppe Florino, number 72528, May 25, 1921.
  • Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "'Lord High Executioner' of the American Mafia," Informer, June 2015, p. 5.
  • "2 held in grocer's murder," New York Tribune, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 20.
  • "3 sentenced to chair by Brooklyn judge," New York Tribune, May 26, 1921, p. 5.
  • "Albert Anastasia," FBI report, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1, 10, Albert Anastasia FBI file.
  • "Albert Anastasia: Top Hoodlum," FBI memorandum to Mr. Rosen, Oct. 25, 1957.
  • "Another victim claimed in Degraw Street feud; two suspects in toils," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 17, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Arrested for murder committed last May," New York Daily News, March 7, 1921, p. 3.
  • "Capture alleged slayer," New York Evening World, March 18, 1921, p. 4.
  • "Charged with murder," Brooklyn Citizen, March 7, 1921, p. 1.
  • "F.B.I. giving Hogan Valachi details," New York Times, Aug. 8, 1963.
  • "Found shot near home, man dies in hospital," Brooklyn Standard Union, May 17, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Held for 1920 Brooklyn murder," New York Times, March 7, 1921, p. 11.
  • "Hold Giuseppe Florina for Turello shooting," Brooklyn Standard Union, March 7, 1921, p. 4.
  • "Police hunting hired killers in murder of gangland chief," New Brunswick NJ Daily Home News, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Quiz murder suspect for crime of year ago," Brooklyn Daily Times, March 7, 1921, p. 1.
  • "Two men held in murder of man shot at party," New York Daily News, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 9.
  • "Two who escaped chair are now held in Ferrara murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 17, 1922, p. 2.

21 October 2019

NYC Barrel Murder suspect killed in Pennsylvania

On this date in 1905...


A recent arrival to the mining community of Browntown, in Pennsylvania's Pittston Township, Luciano Parrino quickly became a successful business owner. Immediately following his October 21, 1905, shooting death, authorities discovered that he was a well connected underworld figure and had been the prime suspect in the spring 1903 Barrel Murder in New York City...


15 October 2019

Wealthy Los Angeles-area Mafia leader vanishes

On this date in 1931...


L.A.Times, Oct. 18, 1931

Joseph E. Ardizzone, wealthy southern California ranch owner and Mafia chief, left his Sunland, Los Angeles, home about six-thirty in the morning of October 15, 1931, to visit relatives in Etiwanda. He was never seen again.

A day later, his brother Frank reported him missing. Police were informed that Ardizzone was making the trip from his Mount Gleason Avenue home to the Cuccia ranch at Etiwanda in order to pick up a cousin, Nick Borgia, who had recently arrived from Italy. Ardizzone was driving a dark blue Ford coupe.

Ardizzone was described as forty-five years old (he was almost forty-seven), five feet eleven inches tall, 220 pounds, with brown eyes and gray hair. When last seen he was wearing a brown suit, brown tie and brown felt hat.

After searching the approximately fifty-mile route for almost a week, authorities had not turned up a single clue relating to his disappearance. Local police theorized that Ardizzone had been "taken for a ride," murdered and buried in a remote section of desert.

The Los Angeles Times noted that Ardizzone was known "as a man who settled many of the differences which existed from time to time among local Italian residents."

Targeted earlier

The newspaper also recalled that he had been the apparent target of an assassination attempt earlier in the year. In March, when Ardizzone and companion Jimmy Basile were starting home to Los Angeles from a dinner at Rosario DeSimone's home in Downey, they were overtaken on the Downey-Vernon Road by a large sedan. Shotguns fired at them. Basile was killed, and Ardizzone was seriously wounded.

Ardizzone staggered back to the DeSimone home with seven wounds in his back. DeSimone's son Leon, a doctor, administered first aid and summoned an ambulance to take Ardizzone to Hollywood Hospital.

Authorities speculated that Ardizzone and Basile were targeted as the result of a vendetta stemming from the recent killing of Dominic DiCiolla, described as the "king" or "czar" of the Little Italy underworld at Los Angeles' North End.

Around the same time, a number of Italian Americans disappeared and were presumed murdered in a war over liquor rackets.

Underworld boss

Many today identify Ardizzone as one of the earlier Mafia bosses in southern California. Born in November 1884 in Piana dei Greci, Sicily, Ardizzone crossed the Atlantic in 1899, first settling in New Orleans. Within a few years, he relocated to the Los Angeles area.

Ardizzone emerged victorious in 1906 from a gang war with the forces of George Maisano, though the conflict took the life of Ardizzone cousin Joseph Cuccia. Ardizzone was suspected of the June 2, 1906, fatal shooting of Maisano. (Maisano died of his wounds at the county hospital on July 28.) Authorities could not locate him until spring 1914. At that time he was charged with the 1906 murder. However, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence, after witnesses refused to testify against him.

Later in the 1910s, the Ardizzone underworld faction warred with a Matranga faction. That conflict resulted in several killings in 1919.

Jack Dragna
Ardizzone may have been forced out of an underworld leadership position by the arrival of New Orleans Mafioso Vito DiGiorgio. DiGiorgio appears to have had the backing of powerful eastern Mafia leaders as he attempted to unite the Los Angeles area factions. His May 13, 1922, murder in a Chicago poolroom, may have permitted Ardizzone to return to a boss role.

In the mid-1920s, Ardizzone partnered with Ignatius "Jack" Dragna in an organization called the Italian Protection League. Dragna was president of the league, while Ardizzone was its treasurer. The league's purpose was uncertain, but may have related to bootlegging activities and to a defense of local racket territories from outside influences.

DiCiolla, killed early in 1931, may have been one of the outside influences. It appears that DiCiolla had been friendly with the Genna Mafia in Chicago before relocating to Los Angeles.

The disappearance of Ardizzone left Dragna in command of the Mafia of Los Angeles.

Sources:
  • "Another gang killing hinted," Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1931, p. 3.
  • "Arrest clears old mystery," Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1914, p. 10.
  • "Black Hand in new slaying," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Bootleg gangs open new war," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Domenico 'Dominic' DiCiolla," Findagrave.com, Feb. 8, 2011, accessed Jan. 1, 2016.
  • "Federal agents strike hard blow at racketeering by sweeping rum raids in North End," Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Fruit peddler shoots another," Los Angeles Herald, June 3, 1906, p. 5.
  • "Gang war killers known," Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1931, p. 8.
  • "Gang war stirs police crusade," Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Injuries are fatal after three months," Los Angeles Herald, July 29, 1906, p. 3.
  • "Italian surprises surgeons," Los Angeles Herald, June 28, 1906, p. 7.
  • "L.A. rounds up 21 men for deportation as criminals," Oakland Tribune, March 29, 1931, p. 9.
  • "Liquor-racket murder solution likely as Italian underworld 'boss' aide talks," Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1931, p. 2.
  • "More racket violence feared as asserted gangster vanishes," Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1931, p. II-2.
  • "Police trail the murderer," Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 26, 1906, p. 8.
  • "Search futile for Ardizzone," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 1931, p. II-8.
  • "Seek for assailant," Los Angeles Herald, June 9, 1906, p. 7.
  • "Slain boss of racketeers buried in costly coffin carried by pallbearers in tuxedos," Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Three fined as shooting sequel," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1931, p. II-3.
  • Giuseppe Ardizzone Declaration of Intention, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, No. 13512, July 14, 1920.
  • Giuseppe Ardizzone Petition for Naturalization, District Court for the Southern District of California, No. 9738, Aug. 9, 1922.
  • Joseph Ernest Ardizzone World War I Draft Registration Card, Los Angeles County, Sept. 12, 1918.
  • Reid Ed, The Grim Reapers: The Anatomy of Organized Crime in America, Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1969.
  • Tiernan, M.L., He Never Came Home: The Mysterious Disappearance that Devastated a Family, The Early History of Sunland, California, Vol. 5., Amazon Digital, 2014.
See also:

14 October 2019

SoCal rackets bosses tried in federal court

Long-awaited trial reveals Mafia informants

On this date in 1980...

Shocking revelations from turncoat witnesses were widely expected as five southern California Mafia leaders were brought to trial at Los Angeles federal court on October 14, 1980. It had taken three years and three different sets of indictments to bring the case into court.

Charged with racketeering and other offenses were Dominic Phillip Brooklier, 66, of Anaheim; Samuel Orlando Sciortino, 61, of Rancho Mirage; Louis Tom Dragna, 59, of Covina; Michael Rizzitello, 62, of Los Angeles; Jack LoCicero, 68, of Los Angeles. Brooklier, also known as Dominic Brucceleri and as Jimmy Regace, had been regional Mafia boss since the 1974 death of Nick Licata.

Charges specifically related to conspiracy in the murder of San Diego Mafioso Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero - Bompensiero's role as an informant allowed his murder to be viewed as interference in a federal criminal investigation - and to attempts to extort money from regional gamblers and pornographers.

Brooklier, Dragna, Sciortino, Rizzitello

Turncoats
The trial featured testimony from Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno and Harry Coloduros, former underworld figures who sought government protection. Both admitted to participating in underworld plotting to kill Bompensiero after it was learned that Bompensiero was assisting federal investigators.

Coloduros also revealed that he worked with Los Angeles boss Brooklier and underboss Sciortino to plan the extortion of sports bookmakers. He recalled conversations with the crime family leaders at a city alley and at an underworld "picnic." They decided in summer 1973 to demand an up-front payment from bookmakers of $5,000 and a weekly payment of $300 a week until the beginning of football season, when the amounts would increase to $10,000 and $500. The income was to be evenly split between Coloduros and the crime family leadership.

The attempt to extort pornographers in the region brought Mafiosi in contact with an FBI undercover "sting" operation - a phony company known as Forex, which was said to be making a great fortune selling pornography to South America. Crime family leaders felt that Bompensiero had pushed them toward Forex and became suspicious of Bompensiero.



Fratianno revealed that he had been supplying information to the FBI since about 1970 but began fully cooperating late in 1977, when he faced multiple charges and learned that his underworld associates were planning his murder. He said he testified in exchange for immunity from the death penalty.

Fratianno recounted some local Mafia history and described his own induction into the Los Angeles-based crime family. He had been endorsed for membership in the late 1940s by the influential and well-traveled mobster Johnny Rosselli (often spelled "Roselli"). The crime family boss at that time was Ignatius "Jack" Dragna.

Bompensiero
Fratianno testified that Brooklier and Sciortino, while serving sentences in prison in the mid-1970s, determined that Bompensiero needed to be killed and communicated that to acting boss Louis Tom Dragna (nephew of earlier boss Jack Dragna). Louis Tom Dragna told Fratianno, then serving as acting underboss, of the decision.

Dragna then arranged to elevate Bompensiero to the position of crime family consigliere, as a ruse to cause him to lower his guard. Fratianno scheduled daily phone communications about crime family business with Bompensiero and insisted that Bompensiero use a payphone near his San Diego home for the calls. The routine telephone calls provided a means for locating and isolating Bompensiero. Bompensiero was murdered at the payphone on February 10, 1977.

Bompensiero
Fratianno testified that the killing was performed by Thomas "Tommy Fingers" Ricciardi. Ricciardi, who reportedly described the killing as "beautiful," was an original codefendant in the case against the southern California Mafiosi but died during heart surgery before trial.


Trial surprises
The federal trial ran until the end of the month and included a number of revelations by and about informants within the Los Angeles Crime Family. FBI Special Agent John Barron testified that defendant and one-time acting boss Louis Tom Dragna revealed his own leadership of the organization and the membership of others during a three-hour meeting at Barron's home on October 14, 1976. The agent found the information shared in that session helpful but never heard from Dragna again.

The prosecution's final witness, FBI Special Agent John Armstrong, surprised the defense by stating that Bompensiero, long a leading figure in the California underworld, had been feeding information to the Bureau over a period of eleven years, from 1966 to 1977. The extent of Bompensiero's dealing with federal agents had been unknown to that time.

Attorneys delivered their final arguments on Friday, October 31, and Monday, November 3. Attorney Donald Marks, representing defendant Sciortino, convincingly argued that evidence in the case implicated a Tucson, Arizona, criminal organization led by former Brooklyn, New York, boss Joseph Bonanno in the murder of Bompensiero. Notes found in Bonanno's garbage indicated his knowledge of the San Diego killing.

Convicted and sentenced
U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. turned the matter over to the jury of seven women and five men. The jurors struggled to reach verdicts. Through a ten-day period, they reviewed testimony, reheard the judge's charge and attempted to convince the judge they were deadlocked. Hatter repeatedly sent them back to their task.


On November 14, the jury returned convictions on racketeering counts against all five defendants, but acquitted on a federal obstruction of criminal investigation charges related to the slaying of informant Bompensiero. Despite acquittal on the murder-related counts, lead prosecutor James D. Henderson celebrated the verdict. Obstruction of criminal investigation was a relatively minor offense. It was punishable by no more than five years in prison, while the racketeering counts carried maximum penalties of twenty years apiece.

Jury foreman William Wasil told the press that the panel discounted the testimony of turncoat Fratianno, using it only when it was corroborated by other evidence, and had concerns about evidence linking Bonanno, rather than southern California leaders, to the Bompensiero murder.

Brooklier
Judge Hatter set sentencing for January 1981 and allowed all five defendants to remain free on bail. On January 20, 1981, he announced the following sentences:
  • Brooklier - four years in prison for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion. Hatter said he weighed Brooklier's age and health in calculating the sentence.
  • Sciortino - four years in prison and a $25,000 fine for racketeering. Hatter said he considered reports that Sciortino plotted to bribe a former judge in the case.
  • Dragna - two years in prison and a $50,000 fine for conspiracy and racketeering. The judge acknowledged that Dragna had made an effort to extract himself from involvement in the underworld and establish a successful dressmaking business.
  • Rizzitello - five years for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion.
  • LoCicero - two years for conspiracy, racketeering and one count of extortion.

The defendants remained free on bail during the appeal process. The last appeal was exhausted in February 1983, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case. On April 25, 1983, Judge Hatter ordered the five to report to prison. Brooklier, Sciortino, Rizzitello and LoCicero were ordered to report by June 27. Dragna was allowed some additional time. The judge ordered him to report by June 11.

But that was not the end of the matter. In mid-October of 1983, three years after the trial, Judge Hatter reconsidered the Dragna sentence. The judge found the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' plans to send Dragna to a medium security prison in Texas incompatible with his recommendation that Dragna be kept in a low-security institution. Hatter remedied the matter by changing the sentence to the $50,000 fine and just one year in a local community treatment facility. Dragna was permitted to leave the facility during the daytime to tend to his business.

Sources:

  • "Ex-hitman to testify against Mafia bosses," Lompoc CA Record, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 5.
  • "Informer tells Mafia life and death," Escondido CA Times-Advocate, Oct. 17, 1980, p. 20.
  • "Jurors in Mafia trial get weekend respite," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 1980, p. 31.
  • "Mafia chieftains' conspiracy case goes to jury in LA today," Napa CA Register, Nov. 3, 1980, p. 27.
  • Blake, Gene, "Agent claims Dragna admitted Mafia ties," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 1980, p. 14.
  • Blake, Gene, "Five convicted in Mafia case," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 15, 1980, p. 1.
  • Blake, Gene, "Five reputed Mafia figures sentenced," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 21, 1981, p. 3.
  • Blake, Gene, "Fratianno scoffs at L.A. Mafia's effectiveness," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 1980, p. 3.
  • Blake, Gene, "Hit man bares Mafia secrets," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1980, p. 1.
  • Blake, Gene, "Mafia figure's aid to FBI for 11 years told," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 30, 1980, p. 1.
  • Blake, Gene, "Mafia jury hears final arguments," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 1, 1980, p. 22.
  • Blake, Gene, "Racketeering trial jury reports snag," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 1980, p. 3.
  • Chrystal, Chris, "Feds say witnesses will tell story of Mafia crimes in California," Ukiah CA Daily Journal, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 9.
  • Deutsch, Linda, "Five guilty of racketeering, innocent of murder," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Nov. 15, 1980, p. 1.
  • Deutsch, Linda, "Informant takes stand, links 2 to mob actions," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Oct. 15, 1980, p. 4.
  • Morain, Dan, "U.S. judge orders 5 convicted mobsters to report to begin serving prison terms," Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1983, p. II-3.
  • Welkos, Robert, "Judge tosses out racketeers' term," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 1983, p. II-1.

02 October 2019

The Assassination of Sam Giannola

Detroit Mafia boss Sam Giannola

One hundred years ago today, Detroit Mafia boss Salvatore (Sam) Giannola was assassinated as he stepped from the American State Bank branch at the corner of Monroe and Russell streets in Detroit, Michigan. Giannola and his two brothers, Vito and Antonino (Tony), were natives of Terrasini, Sicily and had led the city's Mafia family since the spring of 1914, when they seized control of the burgàta after winning a gang war against incumbent boss Pietro Mirabile. 

Based in the southern Detroit suburb of Ford City, the Giannolas had gained untold wealth and power from their newfound positions at the head of the city's Mafia family. Unfortunately, they had also accumulated a host of enemies both inside and outside of their organization. Sam's brother Tony had been murdered in January 1919 and Sam led his faction in a blood feud against his enemies, a faction headed by Giovanni (John) Vitale. After a peace treaty had been enacted in late May, things seemed to have calmed on the surface, but the bad blood between Giannola and Vitale seemed set to erupt at any time.

On October 2, 1919, Sam spent a good chunk of the day at his Little Sicily headquarters, the Viviano Macaroni Manufacturing Company, at 277 Monroe Street. Around 2 o'clock that afternoon. Giannola went to the American State Bank to cash a $200 check (Sam was looking to place a bet on the upcoming Game 2 of the ongoing baseball World Series). After finishing his business, Giannola was confronted by three assassins who shot him multiple times. Sam staggered back inside the bank and collapsed to the floor, quickly dying of his wounds. His three assassins ran in opposite directions on Russell Street. Sam's funeral in Wyandotte four days later was a elegant and well-attended affair. His widow Rosa swore an oath of vengeance against his killers at his gravesite.

Detroit Free Press


One of Sam Giannola's accused killers, Calogero Arena, was actually found guilty of the crime in March 1920 and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Arena's conviction was reversed on appeal, and he was acquitted at his second trial.

If you'd like to read more about Sam Giannola's life and career, I invite you to check out my book Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia


Sources:

The October 3-6, 1919 issues of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, and Detroit Times

Sam Giannola, Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, No. 9756 (1919).

Recorder's Court of the City of Detroit, The People of the State of Michigan vs. Cologero Arena for murder, 1919, Case # 30216.

Daniel Waugh. Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia. Lulu Publishing Services, 2019. ISBN 9781483496276.


20 September 2019

The Mother Of All Drive-By Shootings


Al Capone (left) and his bodyguard Frank Rio.

On this day ninety-three years ago, members of Chicago's North Side Gang led an extraordinarily violent raid against their archrival Al Capone near his headquarters in the suburb of Cicero, Illinois. A procession of automobiles raked an entire city block with submachine gun fire to avenge the murder of their boss, Dean O'Banion, two years earlier. This attack was unlike anything seen in the American underworld at the time, and it has become one of the canonical stories of Al Capone's rise to power. Many myths have sprung around it over the years, namely around the number of vehicles involved and Capone's bodyguard Frank Rio saving his boss from certain death at the hands of his enemies. It was a scene tailor-made for the silver screen, where it would indeed end up just six years later. The purpose of this article is to give the various accounts of the Hawthorne attack a fresh examination and create an accurate depiction of this seminal event.

Background

By the summer of 1926, twenty-seven-year-old Alphonse Capone had been at the head of an ever-expanding vice empire that raked in multiple millions of dollars from the manufacturing, smuggling, and sale of illegal alcohol for over a year. Other rackets that fed Capone's coffers included illegal gambling, labor racketeering, prostitution, and protection racketeering. Due to the election of reform mayor William Dever in 1923, Capone headquartered his mob just across the Chicago city line in Cicero. Al and his crew installed themselves at the three-story Hawthorne Hotel at 4823 West Twenty-Second Street (modern-day Cermak Road). The gangsters commandeered the entire third floor for their use; Capone installed solid steel shutters on the windows as a security measure. Al was right to take such precautions as he had plenty of rivals who were eager to see him dead. Capone's former boss, Johnny Torrio, had been shot and nearly killed in January 1925 by North Side gangsters Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran, both of whom were eager to avenge the assassination of their friend and leader Dean O'Banion two months earlier.

Earlier in the spring of 1926, Capone had begun a brief move against a West Side gang headed by the O'Donnell brothers. One foray against them on the evening of April 27 resulted in gangsters Jim Doherty and Thomas "Red" Duffy being shot to death outside of the Pony Inn on Roosevelt Road (police later determined that Capone, eager to try out the newfangled Thompson submachine gun, personally did the shooting). Also killed in the assault was Assistant State's Attorney William H. McSwiggin, known around Chicago as the "hanging prosecutor." McSwiggin had merely gone out to have a few harmless drinks with his pals in the O'Donnell Gang when he found himself caught in the crossfire of gangland warfare. Capone was forced to lay low for a good chunk of the summer while the case against him was fixed. Despite the intense uproar over the killing, the Cicero gang boss not only managed to beat the rap but also to neutralize the threat that the O'Donnell mob posed to him.  


North Side Gang boss Earl "Hymie" Weiss



The so-called North Side Gang posed the greatest challenge to Al Capone in the summer of 1926. They controlled lucrative bootlegging and vice rackets on the city's North Side. After their previous leader, Dean O'Banion, was assassinated at the Schofield flower shop at 738 North State Street by men believed to have been sent by Johnny Torrio and Capone, the gang was taken over by Earl "Hymie" Weiss. Twenty-eight years old, Weiss was an intelligent, industrious gangster who had long been regarded as the "brains" behind the North Side mob; police believed that he was the one who had steered the crew into large-scale bootlegging. Weiss was noted for intensity that practically oozed from his pores and a hair-trigger temper. When photographers tried to snap his picture, he'd stare at them and say, "If you take a picture of me, I'll kill you." In one interview, Fred Weiss said he had seen his brother Earl only once in twenty years, "That was when he shot me, six years ago." According to his descendants, Weiss suffered from frequent migraine headaches, and in the mid-1920s was diagnosed with arterial cancer. These health ailments, along with the knowledge that he probably did not have long to live as a result, are said to have contributed to Weiss's fearlessness in the underworld. Despite his fearsome reputation, Weiss was known to secretly pick up the grocery tabs of less fortunate denizens of his North Side neighborhood.

Vincent "Schemer" Drucci

Backing up Hymie Weiss in the ranks of the North Side Gang was an equally colorful cast of characters. Vincent Drucci was a Sicilian-American gangster who got his nickname of "Schemer" because of his wild criminal schemes and madcap personality. While being chased by police through downtown Chicago in 1922 after trying to dynamite a safe, Drucci came upon the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which was raising to allow a river-going freighter to pass through. The Schemer's response was to floor his car's accelerator and gun his ride Bluesmobile-style up and over the bridge's increasing gap. Unfortunately for Drucci, the cops also managed to make the jump and caught up with him a couple of blocks later. Another top echelon member of the North Side Gang was George Moran, who was often incorrectly said to have been of either Irish or Polish extraction; he was, in fact, French-Canadian. Born Adelard Cunin in St. Paul, Minnesota, Moran was known as being a tough and shrewd criminal who had been moving in North Side gang circles since at least 1917, when the crew was primarily a safe-cracking outfit led by Charles "The Ox" Reiser. Due to his occasional fits of temper, Moran was nicknamed "Bugs."

George "Bugs" Moran
By the summer of 1926, Hymie Weiss had managed to forge an alliance with the South Side-based Soltis-McErlane mob. Their territory encompassed what is known as the New City area of the Southwest Side. As gang boss Joe Soltis explained to Chicago police captain John Stege, "My district extends from Thirty-Ninth to Fifty-[F]ifth sts., and from the city limits to Loomis st. And I'll kill any [expletive] who cut in on my business." A tough and often murderous saloonkeeper who had branched into bootlegging, Soltis was a fierce fighter who managed to generate immense profits while navigating the violent, rapidly shifting gangland ecosystem of Chicago's South Side. Soltis's partner was Frank McErlane, one of the most feared men in the entire city. An alcoholic psychopath who made even his own gang mates nervous, McErlane was credited with being the first Chicago gangster to use a Thompson submachine gun on his enemies in the late summer of 1925. Although McErlane was currently in Indiana fighting a murder charge, Joe Soltis secretly made a pact with Weiss to move in on Capone around mid-summer.


Prelude

On the warm summer day of Tuesday, August 3, thirteen-year-old John Novak was horseback riding with his eleven-year-old brother Joseph in a forest preserve in Palos Township in southwestern Cook County. In the early afternoon, with the temperature climbing, the Novak boys sought to water their horses at a cistern. When their mounts shied away from drinking, the brothers investigated and were shocked to find the body of a dead man submerged in the water. The corpse had been bound hand and foot before being weighted down with stones and bricks from a nearby house that had burned down months before. The deceased was soon identified as thirty-six-year-old Anthony Cirringione, aka Tommy Ross, known as Al Capone's chauffeur. Cirringione (his name is usually misspelled as Curingione or Cuiringione) had been abducted over a month earlier, while Capone was still in hiding over the McSwiggin case. The chauffeur had been beaten and tortured severely (one account says his corpse was covered with cigar and match burns) before his skull was crushed by a blunt instrument (some contemporary news accounts mistakenly say he was shot). What Cirringione's killers hoped to get out of him would not become clear for another month or so. While this murder is usually attributed to the North Side mob, the location of the killing (rural southwest Cook County) and the use of torture indicates that the Soltis-McErlane crew was at the very least involved, if not solely culpable, in the slaughter of Capone's driver.

Capone was convinced that one way or another, the North Siders were responsible for the murder of his friend, and thus began planning accordingly. On the morning of Tuesday, August 10, Hymie Weiss went to the Congress Hotel at 500 South Michigan Avenue to meet Vincent Drucci, who lived in a suite on one of the upper floors. After they finished breakfast around ten o'clock, both men began walking south on Michigan. At East Ninth Street, the gangsters crossed the street and headed towards the Standard Oil Building. The exact business of Weiss and Drucci that morning is still unclear to this day, but the latter had a total of $13,200 cash in his pocket, money that he would later claim was earmarked for a real estate deal. Police would later note that the Standard Oil Building contained the office of the Chicago Sanitary District, known as perhaps the most corrupt pork barrel in the entire city (an impressive feat in and of itself). At that moment Morris Eller, a Sanitary District trustee and alderman of the Twentieth Ward, was in the office talking with Assistant State's Attorney John Sbarbaro.

As the North Side gangsters neared the Standard Oil Building's entrance, the busy morning calm was shattered by the loud sounds of gunfire emanating from two gunmen who were firing at them from a nearby sedan. Pedestrians screamed and yelled, and Weiss joined most of them in ducking for cover. Drucci knelt behind a mailbox, pulled his own gun, and returned fire. Over thirty shots were fired in the adrenalized melee, with stray shots breaking nearby plate glass windows and hitting parked cars. Despite the bad intentions, the only casualty was an innocent bystander named James Cardan, who was grazed in the leg.

The two triggermen jumped from their car and rushed forward to get a clearer shot at Drucci's defilade position. Just then a squad of police hurried into the block. At the sight of the blue uniforms, the attackers' getaway driver evidently panicked, as he hit the gas and left his comrades behind. Weiss and one of the assailants managed to vanish into the gathering crowd. Drucci ran into the street, jumped on the running board of a stopped automobile, and jammed the barrel of his still-warm revolver against the head of motorist C.C. Bassett. "Take me away, and make it snappy," he yelled. Police yanked him away before Bassett could comply with that command.

The cops also managed to catch the second gunman, an Italian man of about thirty who was dressed in a gray summer suit and straw boater. The suspect had smartly ditched his weapon as he ran away and claimed that he had only fled the scene so he wouldn't be hit by a stray bullet. The man gave his name as Paul Valerie and his address as 3533 Walnut Street, both of which would turn out to be false. Police eventually released him from custody when Vincent Drucci claimed to have never seen the man before. For his part, Drucci denied that the gunfight was gang-related, claiming that it was merely a stick-up gone bad. The gangster was charged with carrying concealed weapons and assault with intent to kill. Mary Weiss, Hymie's mother, signed bonds totaling $5,000 for the release of her son's associate.

A Chicago Tribune rendition of the Standard Oil Building gunfight.

While the cops may have been in the dark about what the Michigan Avenue gunplay was about, Hymie Weiss and his men had no doubt who his would-be killers worked for. While the sheer number of adversaries and the steel window shutters made Capone's Hawthorne Hotel headquarters virtually impervious to an armed assault, one of the facts that had been tortured out of chauffeur Tony Cirringione was that Capone frequently ate lunch at the Hawthorne Restaurant, located just east of the hotel. In this eatery, on the ground floor and out from behind the steel shutters, Weiss knew his enemy would be vulnerable. After contacting their South Side allies, the North Side gang boss planned a spectacular attack that would not only get rid of Al Capone but strike fear into the hearts of every member of Chicago's underworld.


September 20, 1926

That Monday began fair and cool in the Chicagoland area, with the temperatures peaking in the sixties. Local newspapers were filled with stories about the horrific carnage recently wreaked on South Florida by a large Category 4 hurricane that was presently thrashing Alabama and Mississippi; the so-called Miami Hurricane remains the costliest storm in American history.

Twenty-Second Street was Cicero's main thoroughfare. One hundred feet wide with streetcar tracks running down the center, the streets fairly teemed with pedestrians and vehicles. The Hawthorne Hotel was located on the south side of the street, with the Anton Hotel one door to the west. Also on that block were a barbershop, a delicatessen, and a laundry shop. Another notable business was the Hawthorne Smoke Shop, an ostensible tobacco shop that served as a front for one of Al Capone's lucrative gambling joints.

Capone himself had just returned to town the previous week from a trip to the eastern United States. Two days earlier, he had proudly reopened his gambling joints that had been padlocked during the law enforcement crackdown in the wake of the McSwiggin killing. Today Capone had his eye on the horse races at Hawthorne Park, as the autumn racing season had just begun a week earlier. About noon, Capone left the Hawthorne Hotel and headed next door to the restaurant for a bite to eat before he departed for the racetrack.

Clyde Freeman had just arrived in town from rural Louisiana with his wife and their five-year-old son Clyde, Junior. Freeman was a racehorse owner, and like many of the people on the block today, he and his family looked forward to attending the races. Although the street was extremely crowded, Freeman was lucky enough to maneuver his car into a parking space at the curb in front of the Hawthorne Hotel. Pre-occupied with his family, the Louisianian paid little attention to the muscular, well-dressed gentleman who stepped into the restaurant. In contrast to the Freemans, an anonymous face in the mass of people did indeed notice when Capone entered the greasy spoon for lunch. This individual quickly yet stealthily made their way to the nearest pay telephone, dropped a nickel in the slot, and said that the time had come.

The Hawthorne Restaurant featured about fifteen tables and a lunch counter. Although relatively small, the café was jam-packed with racing fans today. Sometime around one o’clock, Capone was sipping coffee at his table located in the back of the dining room. The gang boss sat facing the door so he could see everyone who entered the place. As the first race did not begin until two-thirty, he was in no hurry. The loud din of conversation hung in the air as patrons ate, drank, or perused their racing forms.

At this moment, twenty-nine-year-old Paul Ricca was walking towards the door of the Hawthorne Restaurant. Born Felice De Lucia, he had illegally immigrated to America from his native Italy with at least two murders on his hands. After arriving in Chicago in 1920 and anglicizing his name to Ricca, he found work in Diamond Joe Esposito's Bella Napoli restaurant as a maître d (his underworld nickname was ‘The Waiter'). Esposito was the Nineteenth Ward political boss and a Chicago underworld figure. By the summer of 1926, Ricca had shifted to Al Capone's crew and was now known as one of his rising stars. Ricca was now on his way to the restaurant to join his boss Capone. As Paul put his hand on the door, his finely-honed survival instincts seem to have been aroused. The young gangster looked down the block and saw something straight out of a bad dream heading right for the hotel.

Then it happened. 

The vast majority of Chicagoans in September 1926 did not know what a Thompson submachine gun sounded like. They were living in an era where television did not exist, movies were still silent, and only a fraction of them owned radio sets. Some may well have heard of the weapon, but unless they were a member of the military, law enforcement, or the underworld, the staccato drumming of that gun would have been alien enough that they may have honestly mistaken it for something else. Paul Ricca was another matter completely, as he recognized the song of the Thompson at once. Paul darted into the doorway of the restaurant and shouted a warning to Al Capone, who hit the deck just as all hell broke loose.

Several slow-moving sedans filled with men armed with three or more submachine guns and an unknown number of shotguns began firing into the buildings as they reached the Anton. Passerby screamed and yelled while breaking for cover. Bullets and buckshot strafed both hotels and the five businesses in between. Parked cars were peppered with shots. Trapped and terrified beyond belief, Clyde Freeman and his family screamed in terror as at least thirty slugs raked their car hard enough to make it rock on its axle. The caravan pulled to a stop outside the restaurant, their shots vaporizing the plate glass windows. Straight lines of waist-high and chest-high bullet holes dotted the walls and gouged out chunks of plaster. Dishes, glasses, and coffee cups jumped or outright shattered as they were struck. Patrons in the restaurant hugged the floor and plugged their ears against the loud cacophony of gunfire. Broken glass, porcelain fragments, various liquids, wood paneling, and even ceiling plaster showered down on the cowering diners. Capone remained frozen on the floor.

A man dressed in a khaki shirt and brown overalls stepped out of the second-to-last sedan, a Thompson in his hands. While the others held their fire and kept him covered with pointed weapons, the submachine gunner calmly walked to the front door of the restaurant, knelt in the doorway, and opened fire. The sight of this Angel of Death-like figure seems to have finally broken Capone's inertia, as he peeled himself off the floor and ran for his life. Bullets followed Al every step way until he made it out the café's back door. With his target now out of sight, the overall-clad submachine gunner proceeded to empty the remainder of his one hundred round capacity drum magazine into the already demolished dining room. After this final eff-you salute finished a few seconds later, the gangster walked back to his waiting automobile. A klaxon horn tooted three times and the caravan began to accelerate towards the Chicago city line two blocks to the east. As they went, witnesses noted that the final car was outfitted to look like a Chicago Police detective bureau sedan.

The scene of the crime not long after it happened. The restaurant in the left center of the photo was the focal point of the attack. Photo courtesy of www.myalcaponemuseum.com

Slowly but surely, the diners of the Hawthorne Restaurant and the other bystanders in the area emerged from their hiding places. Some women still may have been screaming, but most people were wide-eyed and panting, adrenaline still whipping through their systems. They were in a mild state of shock and still trying to mentally process what had just happened. Some accounts say Al Capone was discovered in a shop next door to the restaurant, while others state that he had re-entered the restaurant after the shooters had left; contemporary accounts make no mention of Frank Rio at all. Wherever he was, Capone was soon jerked out of his reverie by the screams of a woman coming from a nearby parked car. It was Clyde Freeman's wife. Capone instantly ran outside to see what he could do to help.

The police later claimed that the gunmen had fired about one thousand rounds (this seems to have been a bit of exaggeration; a careful review of the available evidence suggests that a total in the mid-to-upper hundreds range is more accurate). A slew of parked cars (thirty-five, by one reckoning) had been hit by gunfire. To this day, it is uncertain exactly how many cars were in the attacking caravan. Witnesses told differing accounts. The first reports filed later that night varied by newspaper, some saying that there were three or five vehicles, with the most reliable witness accounts settling on the neutral "several." As time went on, journalists and authors eventually added more cars to the tally; eight, ten, twelve, a baker's dozen; most modern renderings of the attack are divided between eight and ten vehicles.

Similarly, the number of shots fired in the drive-by gradually grew in retellings; one thousand, fifteen hundred, and so on. One recent venture was that a whopping two thousand rounds were fired that day; to show how logistically unfeasible that particular claim is, the raiders would have had to (at minimum) man a total of twenty submachine guns, each fitted with a one hundred round capacity drum magazine that would empty once. That is, of course, if not one of those drums jammed or misfed during operation.

Another oft-told detail of the Hawthorne drive-by involves a Chicago Police detective sedan rolling a block in front of the caravan featuring a submachine gunner firing blanks, a noisy ruse calculated to disperse bystanders and draw a curious Capone either to the street or the front of the café for easy elimination. The problem with this statement is that the Model 1921 Thompson is a friction-delayed blowback firearm. As such, its basic operation depends on high chamber pressure generated by a propellant to push the breech block to the rear, thus enabling the weapon to chamber and fire a new .45 caliber round. If a blank cartridge is used, there is no bullet traveling through the barrel, and the combustion gases will escape through the muzzle without building up enough pressure to chamber and fire the next round. Thus, the submachine gun will not fire blanks unless a constricting device is attached to the muzzle in order to build up enough chamber pressure to facilitate the blowback action. If the gents in this detective sedan were only looking to make some noise, a far easier solution would have been to just fire standard live rounds straight up into the air. Even more importantly, none of the original witness accounts taken at the scene mention such a vehicle. It appears that the blank-firing point car is one of more than a few canards that would pop up in the wake of the attack.

All outlandish claims aside, the drive-by shooting was indeed a savage event, and it was truly miraculous that no one was killed that day. Three of those injured were the unlucky Freeman family, whose car was turned into Swiss cheese by the assailants. Clyde Freeman's knee was grazed by a bullet, as was the scalp of five-year-old Clyde, Junior. Missus Freeman was hit the worst, as a submachine gun bullet passed cleanly through her arm. Despite their injuries, all three Freemans were given a "clean bill of health" by a doctor later that evening.

Many latter-day accounts claim that a sliver of glass from the car's windshield was driven into Mrs. Freeman's eye by the gunfire, with Capone later generously paying $5,000 for the surgery to save her eyesight. Contemporary news reports filed in the immediate aftermath of the shooting make no mention of Mrs. Freeman having such an injury, and it seems unlikely that she would have been given a "clean bill of health" had she been writhing in pain from a shard of glass lodged in her eye. Additionally, the entire Freeman family had recovered enough to view and dismiss two suspects (Bugs Moran and Frank Gusenberg) that police brought before them just a few hours after the shooting. It seems unlikely that Mrs. Freeman would have been in any condition to visually identify a suspect had she sustained such a grave injury to her eye. All in all, it appears that the Mrs. Freeman eye injury/Capone-financed surgery story is yet another tall tale.

The only other casualty that day was Paul Ricca, who took a bullet in his left shoulder just after he had shouted his warning to Capone. As soon as Chicago police Chief of Detectives Bill Shoemaker laid eyes on Ricca, he identified him as the "Paul Valerie" who was busted while running away from the Standard Oil Building gunfight a month earlier. Despite being in considerable pain from his wound, Ricca was alert enough to give police the new alias of "Louis Barko" and claimed that he was "only a lone wolf gambler" or a "bookmaker," depending on which paper you read. The wounded gangster admitted to seeing the attack from start to finish but claimed he could not identify any of the perpetrators.

Paul Ricca as he appeared at the time of the shooting.
For decades it has been assumed that faithful bodyguard Frank Rio had saved Al Capone's life by yanking him to the floor of the café once the fireworks began. Judging by contemporary news accounts and modern revelations, it is uncertain that Rio was even there to begin with. Recent research by Chicago organized crime expert John Binder indicates that it was actually Paul Ricca who was responsible for keeping Capone out of harm's way that day. In 2009, Binder interviewed a confidential source close to the Ricca family who confirmed Paul's role in the Hawthorne drive-by episode. Ricca himself vividly remembered the incident in his later years. As he recounted, "One of the men got out of the car and trained a machine gun on Capone in the restaurant, but Capone fled out the back way." The grateful gang boss certainly knew how to repay the favor to Ricca, who was almost immediately moved off the street and put to work directly under Frank Nitto in the upper echelon of the Capone mob's chain of command. Capone would even act as best man at Ricca's wedding the following spring, something he reportedly never did for any of his other associates.

In warning Al Capone just as the bullets began flying, Paul Ricca not only showed a bold disregard for his own safety but also loyalty, coolness under pressure, and decisiveness. These qualities would serve Ricca well enough to see him eventually ascend to the leadership of the mammoth criminal organization Capone had built.


Aftermath

North Side gangsters Frank Foster (left) and Frank (upper right) & Pete Gusenberg were suspected of taking part in the raid. 

Even before the gun smoke had fully drifted away from the 4800 block of West Twenty-Second Street, police suspected that the North Side Gang was responsible for the Hawthorne drive-by shooting. After questioning witnesses and getting license plate numbers of the cars used in the attack, police sent out the call to arrest Hymie Weiss, Vincent Drucci, Bugs Moran, Pete and Frank Gusenberg, Frank Foster, Michael "Puggy" White, and another pair of brothers named Ben and Ernest Applequist. Also suspected of participating were South Side gangsters like John "Dingbat" O'Berta, Vincent McErlane, and George Darrow, known as the torture expert of the Soltis-McErlane mob. Gangster John Touhy was also questioned after police traced one of the caravan car's tags to him. While no one in law enforcement doubted their guilt, none of these men were prosecuted. Paul Ricca repaid the favor that Vincent Drucci had done him a month earlier and refused to identify him or any of the other suspects.

South Side gangsters John "Dingbat" Oberta (left), Vincent McErlane (upper right) and George Darrow were suspected of taking part in the raid. All three were members of the Soltis-McErlane crew.

Throughout the city, the Hawthorne raid caused shock and indignation. One newspaper headline blared, "THIS IS WAR!" While Chicago newspapers gave the shooting front-page coverage, editors felt it didn't quite rate banner headline status (such treatment indicates that the attack was indeed embellished by subsequent accounts). A modern examination of contemporary news reports shows that despite the considerable power that Al Capone wielded in September 1926, he had yet to become the iconic crime overlord he is currently remembered as. Most news stories somewhat vaguely referred to him as "Caponi" or "Al Brown," his usual alias. Most of the Chicagoland public still considered him to be a Cicero gangster, even though his influence was increasingly felt throughout the entire city.

Just about all the gambling joints that Capone had recently reopened were closed yet again by a new crime crackdown necessitated by the attack. Capone himself paid for the repairs to all the businesses and automobiles damaged in the raid. As one of his underlings said, "The Big Fellow never wants bystanders hurt." About three weeks later, Capone himself discussed the Hawthorne assault with reporters, "It has shown the authorities that I have no corner on the machine gun market. A machine gun was used to shoot up the Hawthorne Hotel a few days ago, and they can't blame that on me. Why, I'm still paying the owners of automobiles parked in front for the damage done to their cars in that raid, and I am trying to save the eye of the poor innocent woman they wounded sitting in a car in front." In trying to gain some good press for himself, Capone may have inadvertently been responsible for the start of the myth of Mrs. Freeman's injured eye.

In the nine decades since the Hawthorne drive-by shooting, it has been portrayed numerous times in film and television, ranging from the 1932 feature Scarface (where George Raft, presumably in the Paul Ricca role, manages to bag one of the passing raiders with a single shot from a revolver before running out of the café and appropriating the fallen gunman's submachine gun) to the 2016 AMC series The Making of the Mob. Each depiction is a bit different in its make-up, much like the accounts of the witnesses themselves.

This still is of a scene in the 1967 film The St. Valentine's Day Massacre that depicts the Hawthorne raid.

In summation, the Hawthorne attack is indeed one of the key events of Al Capone's rise to power, despite the routine exaggerations of the press and the handful of myths that have built up around it (the point car shooting blanks, Mrs. Freeman's eye injury, the bullet and car counts, Frank Rio’s heroism, etc.) The raid showed that Capone was in grave danger as long as both the North Siders and Soltis-McErlane crew were simultaneously gunning for him. It is often said that Hymie Weiss was the only man that Capone was ever truly afraid of, and the Hawthorne attack is Exhibit A for that statement. Despite Capone's immense personal courage, it is obvious that this unprecedented drive-by unnerved him. In an attempt to emulate the tendency of his mentor Johnny Torrio to deal with his enemies peacefully, Capone got word to Weiss that he wanted to talk peace.


Sources

Binder, John J. Al Capone’s Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017.  

Burns, Walter Noble. The One-Way Ride: The Red Trail of Chicago Gangland from Prohibition to Jake Lingle. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1931.

Chinn, George M. The Machine Gun, Volume IV: Design Analysis of Automatic Firing Mechanisms and Related Components. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Ordnance, Department of Navy, 1955.

Helmer William J. & Bilek, Arthur J. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone. Nashville, Cumberland House, 2004.

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

Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone. New York: Putnam’s, 1971.

Pasley, Fred D. Al Capone: The Biography of a Self-Made Man. Pub. 1930. Reprint 1971; Salem, NH: Ayer, 1987.

Schoenberg, Robert J. Mr. Capone. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1992.

Anthony Cirringione Death Certificate. State of Illinois, Cook County, Department of Public Health – Division of Vital Statistics, Registration #1115, 1926.

Chicago Daily News, September 20, 1926

Chicago Herald & Examiner, September 21, 1926.

Chicago Journal, October 13, 1926.

Chicago Tribune, August 4, 11-12 and September 21-23, 1926.

The Hawthorne Hotel at Mario Gomes's myalcaponemuseum.com

Hymie Weiss at Mario Gomes's myalcaponemuseum.com

Vincent Drucci at Mario Gomes's myalcaponemuseum.com