Shotgun blasts on the evening of February 15, 1926, ended the underworld career of well-connected Chicago Mafioso Orazio Tropea.
|Orazio Tropea (Chicago Daily Tribune)|
Witnesses saw Tropea step off an eastbound streetcar at the corner of Taylor and Halsted Streets shortly after nine o'clock that night. As he walked east across Halsted, an automobile advanced on him from behind and nearly struck him. Tropea yelled angrily at the driver. The car stopped next to him, and a man emerged from it and raised a shotgun to Tropea's head. The Mafioso had just time enough to shout and raise his arms before the first barrel of the shotgun was discharged. The gunman then fired the second barrel.
Tropea absorbed much of the lead, but some fragments scattered, breaking through the windows of nearby businesses and wounding a bystander.
No shortage of suspectsAfter spending some time in New York City and Buffalo, Tropea, known in underworld circles as "the Scourge," became a lieutenant in the Genna gang of Chicago in the early 1920s. He organized extortion rackets and extracted tribute payments from local businessmen.
Tropea's secret betrayal of the Genna clan and his allegiance to a breakaway Mafia faction became apparent following the January 1926 murder of Genna in-law Henry Spingola. Tropea and Spingola were playing cards at Amato's Restaurant on Halsted Street. Tropea stepped briefly away from the game as it was wrapping up. It was said that he either made a telephone call or raised a lighted match in front of a street-facing window. Spingola was then shot to death as he got into his car.
In February, Tropea was assigned with collecting money for the legal defense of Mafia gunmen John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi, charged in the shooting deaths of two Chicago detectives. That he was skimming from the collections could be deduced from his comfortable living arrangements at the Congress Hotel. And that, too, likely added significantly to his enemies list.
Tropea's personal life did not improve his popularity. With a wife and child in Catania, Sicily, Tropea married another woman and had another child while in Buffalo. After moving on to Chicago, he began a new relationship with a local teenager and sought to marry her as well (the wife in Sicily had reportedly died by this time, but he was still married to the woman in Buffalo). Her parents refused to permit the marriage, but Tropea continued seeing the girl.
Any of the individuals betrayed, hurt or terrorized by Tropea could have played a role in his murder.
ConnectionsInvestigators discovered that Tropea had been carrying almost one thousand dollars in cash and wearing a large diamond ring when he was shot. They also learned that he was preparing to leave the city for a vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Police also recovered Tropea's small addressbook. It included a number of personal and business contacts from the Chicago area, including Mafioso Antonio Lombardo and members of the Aiello family. It also had information for underworld figures in Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn.
Read more about Tropea's addressbook on Mafiahistory.us.
Divisions within the Chicago Mafia came to the attention of investigators. They learned that gunmen initially brought into Chicago to act as Genna enforcers had decided to break away. The resulting factional struggle resulted in the killings of several Gennas, "Samoots" Amatuna and others.
One mournerFollowing the Tropea murder, according to the press, no one in the Chicago area had a single good word to say about "the Scourge." Many in the Italian-American community expressed relief at his passing.
While his mother-in-law in Buffalo considered having the body brought to western New York for burial, that plan seems to have been quickly abandoned. Only two visitors went to the funeral home: his wife and his young girlfriend.
|Arrow shows Tropea as|
pallbearer for Angelo Genna
(Chicago Daily Tribune)
Tropea was buried on February 20. There was no religious service, none of the gaudy trappings of Chicago gangland funerals (as seen in the recent funeral of Angelo Genna, for whom Tropea served as pallbearer). Only the girlfriend went to the gravesite for his burial. As Tropea's city-funded casket was placed there, she fell onto it and wept.
Killings continueThe murder of Tropea did not bring an end to the warfare in Chicago's Sicilian underworld.
|Baldelli (left) and Bascone|
One day after Tropea was buried, a friend of his was found dead in a field in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. Vito Bascone had been shot in the head. It looked as though his body had been thrown from a passing automobile. Police knew that he had quarreled with the Spingola family and concluded that Bascone's murder was related to the ambush of Henry Spingola.
Three days after that, the body of Edward "the Eagle" Baldelli was found in a Chicago alley. Baldelli had been severely beaten and then shot twice through the head. Police believed that the body had been driven to the alley and left there to be discovered. In Baldelli's possession, police found a number of business cards, including one for a business partner of Orazio Tropea.
- Bio of Tropea in Who Was Who section of Mafiahistory.us
- DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona
- "Certificate of identification," photograph, Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 38.
- "Deportation or death seen as gangster fate," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
- "Feudists slay Sicilian ally of Genna gang," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
- "Fight to free city of thugs given impetus," Belvidere Daily Republican, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
- "Forty-first victim of gang war," Buffalo Evening Times, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 15.
- "Gennas' friend slain; spurs war on aliens," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
- "Latest slaying occurs during lull of one day in drive against gunmen," Rock Island IL Argus, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 1.
- "List of names found," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
- "One dead in gang fight," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
- "Orazio the 'Scourge' buried without friends or clergy," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 21, 1926, p. 4.
- "Parents weep over clewless Mafia murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 4.
- "Police raid Mafia; get 121," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 23, 1926, p. 1.
- "Raiders find old haunts of gunmen dark," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 1.
- "Rival loves weep for Orazio but his real widow is sought," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
- "Say man killed in Chicago son-in-law of Buffalo woman," Buffalo Daily Courier, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 16.
- "Sicilian gang kills again," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
- "Son-in-law is killed by gang in Chicago row," Buffalo Morning Express, Feb. 17, 1926.
- "Trace Sicilian killers in fight for deportation," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.