|New York Daily News|
Scores of afternoon produce shoppers on a busy Brooklyn street scurried for safety on September 12, 1931, as underworld gunmen blasted away at a gangster with ambitions to resurrect the former "Clutching Hand gang" and dispose of its enemies.
The gunmen vanished into nearby buildings, leaving Joseph Manino (also known as "Marino") dead at the entrance of 149 Union Street in South Brooklyn. He had been struck by eight slugs - one in the head, four in the chest and three in right arm.
When police arrived, they found no trace of the killers and learned little of any use from the pushcart peddlers and their patrons. The neighborhood had grown accustomed to violence - it was known at the time as "Death Valley" - and it had grown accustomed to remaining mum about it.
Reluctant witnesses said only that three men (early reports said there were only two) met Manino at a little before three o'clock, got into a loud argument and drew handguns. Manino tried to escape through the hallway of 149 Union Street but didn't make it.
Manino's body was identified by his brother Anthony, a nearby resident. Police found Manino's Lincoln automobile parked at the curb just a few doors from the spot of his murder.
As they began their investigation into the murder, detectives theorized that Manino may have been killed because of a relationship with a woman in the Union Street neighborhood or because he was trying to muscle in on some local underworld rackets.
|Brooklyn Standard Union|
Early in the investigation, police discovered that Manino had once been arrested for a Prohibition violation and was given a suspended sentence. They toyed with the idea that Manino's killing might be related to the assassination of Mafia chief Salvatore Maranzano in Manhattan two days earlier. It took a little longer for Manino's underworld connections to become clear.
Arrested with him in the 1920 Prohibition matter were his close friend Giuseppe Piraino (also written "Peraino") and some other associates. Piraino, whose twisted and partially paralyzed hand resulted in his "Clutching Hand" nickname, was a major Prohibition Era power in the Italian underworld of Brooklyn. The group was convicted of stealing alcohol from a pier at Atlantic Basin in Red Hook. Though Manino escaped with a suspended sentence, Piraino went to prison.
Clutching Hand gang
During Piraino's incarceration, Manino continued his bootlegging activities. In spring of 1923, he and four other men were arrested and charged with operating a large distillery in a supposedly vacant building at 61 Kouwenhoven Place (this short street formerly ran between Overbaugh Place and Kings Highway in Flatlands, southeastern Brooklyn). Press coverage at that time noted that it was Manino's third Prohibition violation. For the offense, he was sentenced to pay a $250 fine. His codefendants were each fined $25.
When Piraino was released from prison, Manino reassumed his top lieutenant role, and the rackets of the Clutching Hand gang expanded. The group came into violent conflict with other underworld powers. Piraino was considered a top contender to assume the Brooklyn rackets and gang membership of the Frankie Yale organization following Yale's 1928 murder.
Rivals put Piraino on the spot in March of 1930 during a visit to South Brooklyn. He was shot to death in front of 151 Sackett Street, near Hicks Street.
Manino reportedly tried to hold the Clutching Hand gang together after the loss of his friend and boss. The forces arrayed against him were powerful, but he reportedly swore that he would drive them all out of Brooklyn.
Authorities decided that Manino's stated determination to eliminate his rivals prompted them to arrange his murder. The Union Street location where Manino breathed his last was one city block south of the site of Piraino's murder.
Due to a tip provided in October to Detective Cal McCarthy of the Hamilton Avenue Police Station, Brooklyn racketeers Guglielmo Guica and Tito Balsamo were arrested and charged with participating in the Manino murder. But the evidence was insufficient to make the charges stick. Guica and Balsamo went free early in November.
Vengeance for Manino appeared to be the motive behind Guica's murder two weeks after his release.
Near midnight on November 16, 1931, Guica sat down in the Court Open Kitchen restaurant, 337 Court Street, with Benedetto Ruggiero and a third man, name unknown. Almost immediately, the third man dropped to the floor beneath the table as four other men jumped out of a car and entered the restaurant with guns blazing.
Guica's unknown companion crawled out of the restaurant through the kitchen. Shot ten times, Ruggiero died at the table and slumped onto the floor. Guica lunged for the kitchen but was brought down by the gunfire. He had been shot a dozen times.
The Prohibition Era exploits of the Clutching Hand gang made news again in March of 1949, as police in Brooklyn arrested Nicolo Failla, who had been a fugitive since jumping bail in the alcohol theft case back in 1920. The sixty-three-year-old Failla was arrested at an apartment used by some of his children. At the time, authorities speculated that Failla was the last surviving member of the Piraino underworld faction.
- "13 suspects in new roundup," Brooklyn Standard Union, Oct. 7, 1931, p. 7.
- "Arrest three men for barrel murder," Brooklyn Standard Union, Jan. 24, 1919.
- "Brooklyn man slain amid rush hour crowd," Syracuse American, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 3.
- "Brooklyn shooting laid to gang war," New York Times, Sept. 14, 1931, p. 6.
- "'Clutching Hand's' son assassinated as his father was," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 7, 1930, p. 23.
- "Gang killing perils crowd in Brooklyn," Syracuse Herald, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 1.
- "Gunmen kill two in Court Street restaurant trap," Brooklyn Standard Union, Nov. 17, 1931, p. 2.
- "Holdup man gets 3 to 7-year term for $7,500 failure," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 17, 1923, p. 3.
- "Man shot dead in Union Street," Brooklyn Standard Union, Sept. 12, 1931, p. 1.
- "Manino killed in rum squeal, police theory," Brooklyn Standard Union, Sept. 14, 1931, p. 2.
- "Many see killing in Brooklyn street," New York Times, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 25.
- "Prohibition days reviewed by arrest," Kingston NY Daily Freeman, March 7, 1949, p. 12.
- Giuseppi Piraino death certificate, Department of Health of the City of New York, no. 7070, filed March 29, 1930.
- New York City Extracted Death Index, certificate no. 19560, Sept. 12, 1931, Ancestry.com.
- O'Brien, Michael, "Mafia victim slain, 2 shot; hint revenge," New York Daily News, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 56.