Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts

14 June 2021

Spilotro bros killed by underworld colleagues

On this date in 1986...

Michael and Anthony Spilotro
Michael and Anthony Spilotro

Brothers Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro, forty-eight, and Michael Spilotro, forty-one, were murdered by underworld colleagues in the basement of a Bensenville, Illinois, home on Saturday, June 14, 1986. The brothers' remains were discovered buried in an Indiana corn field nine days later.

Nicholas Calabrese, an Outfit member who later turned informant, told authorities that the Spilotros were called to a June 14 mid-afternoon meeting with Chicago bosses. The brothers left Michael's Oak Park, Illinois, townhouse (1102 S. Maple Avenue) at about two o'clock and traveled in Michael's 1986 Lincoln Continental to their appointment. Reports indicate they were met by James Marcello, who brought them to the basement in Bensenville, a suburban DuPage County village adjacent to O'Hare International Airport.

The pretext for the meeting reportedly was the promotion of Michael Spilotro from Outfit associate to full member. The brothers had schemed against Outfit bosses and were apprehensive about the meeting. Michael told his wife if he wasn't back home by nine o'clock that night, "it was no good." But they went to their appointment unarmed.

Nicholas Calabrese

When the brothers arrived, they were attacked by Nicholas Calabrese and other mobsters. Years later, Calabrese recalled that James LaPietra, John Fecarotta, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Sam "Wings" Carlisi, Louie "the Mooch" Eboli, James Marcello, Louis Marino, Joseph Ferriola and Ernest "Rocky" Infelise were present at that time. Calabrese asserted that he tackled Michael Spilotro and held his legs, while others beat and strangled him. Anthony Spilotro made a last request: for a moment to say a prayer. No one responded to his plea, and he was mercilessly beaten until he was dead.

Fecarotta and others were responsible for disposing of the brothers' remains. They drove the bodies about seventy-five miles southeast of Bensenville (sixty miles south of Chicago) to the outskirts of Enos, in Newton County, Indiana. There, the brothers' bodies, stripped down to their underwear, were buried on top of each other in a shallow grave in a recently planted corn field.

When Michael did not return home that night, his wife called police to report him missing. On the sixteenth, the Lincoln Continental was located at a Schiller Park motel near O'Hare. There was no indication that any struggle or violence had occurred within the car, and its doors were found locked. The next day, federal agents joined the search, as a fugitive arrest warrant was issued by a U.S. magistrate in Las Vegas for Anthony Spilotro. "The Ant" had been due to appear in a Las Vegas court on the seventeenth in preparation for a retrial on a burglary ring case.

Farmer Michael Kinz discovered a patch of freshly turned earth within his corn field at the Willow Slough wildlife preserve on June 23. He first thought that a poacher had covered up the carcass of a deer killed out of season. Kinz contacted Dick Hudson of the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, and they began digging. They discovered the human remains about three feet down. The Newton County Sheriff's Department was summoned.

Law enforcement reportedly identified the bodies using dental records. Autopsies on June 24 revealed that the Spilotros died of blunt force trauma to head, neck and chest, which the medical examiner attributed to punches and kicks, and asphyxiation due to hemorrhage. (The listing of asphyxiation as a cause of death prompted some in the news media to incorrectly conclude that the brothers had been buried alive. The medical examiner could not precisely relate the time of death to the time of burial but noted that asphyxiation was caused by the lungs filling with blood.) Toxicology reports indicated that they had consumed alcohol shortly before their deaths, giving rise to the speculation that they may have had drinks with the men who killed them. Each of the brothers was survived by a wife and three children.

On June 26, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago determined that the brothers should be denied church funeral services. That decision was made after the Rev. Thomas Paprocki, vice chancellor of the archdiocese, reviewed criminal information supplied by an undisclosed source. Father Paprocki indicated that the church refused to grant funerals to crime figures in order to avoid public scandal. But the denial itself turned into a scandal, as many in Chicago protested it and called attention to the church's willingness in the past to accept large financial contributions from Michael Spilotro. (Father Paprocki argued that cash contributions from known crime figures were sometimes rejected by the church and that donations generally did not result in public scandal as they were made privately.)

A service was conducted the next morning at the non-denominational Salerno Galewood Chapel funeral home on North Harlem Avenue. Numerous floral offerings filled the chapel and surrounded the two bronze coffins. The Rev. John Fearon of St. Bernardine's Roman Catholic Church in Forest Park, of which Michael was a member, delivered a homily. About 300 people attended the service. The chapel was closed to the press, but observers noted the presence of Anthony Spilotro's Vegas lieutenant Herbert Blitzstein and actor Robert Conrad. Following the service, the Spilotro brothers were buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

Background

The motives for the Spilotro murders were fairly well understood in 1986 and became more clear with the passage of time. As soon as their bodies were found, former FBI Special Agent William Roemer told the press, "[Anthony] Spilotro wasn't doing his job in Las Vegas. He maintained too high a profile there... He was under the glare of the harshest spotlight."

Anthony Spilotro

Anthony Spilotro, a "made" member of the Chicago Outfit since 1963, mismanaged Outfit affairs in Las Vegas and drew excessive attention upon himself, while attempting to enhance his own wealth and power. Rather than focus on quietly maintaining order and ensuring a lucrative and smoothly run skim operation, Spilotro insisted on engaging in more conventional and order-threatening rackets, such as extortion, burglary, loan sharking. His obvious criminal activity got him banned from Vegas casinos. His violent tendencies - he was linked with a number of murders but never convicted - caused some of his Vegas underlings, including Frank Cullotta, to seek protection from federal agents and become witnesses against Spilotro and Chicago underworld bosses. Outfit leader Joseph "Doves" Aiuppa was convicted and sentenced to prison in connection with skim operations, in large part because of scrutiny triggered by Spilotro. Reportedly, "the Ant's" fate was sealed when Aiuppa learned that Spilotro was having an affair with the wife of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.

An accomplished and innovative gambler, Rosenthal was responsible for managing Outfit investments in the Stardust and other Las Vegas casinos and maximizing the underworld's illegal "skim" siphoned off pretax casino income. Spilotro endangered important underworld relationships through the affair with Rosenthal's wife, and reportedly went so far as to plot the murder of Rosenthal himself. (Rosenthal also became a government informant, though his role, hidden by the codename "Achilles," was not exposed until after his 2008 death.) Spilotro and Rosenthal had been close friends in Chicago - "Lefty" reportedly once talked Fiore "Fifi" Buccieri out of murdering Spilotro - but their relationship quickly soured after their early 1970s arrival in Las Vegas.

In the 1980s, Spilotro became a favorite target for prosecutors. He faced charges of directing a burglary ring in 1980-1981. Prosecutions relating to his "Hole in the Wall Gang" continued for years. He was due to be retried on the matter in Nevada on the same day his body was discovered in the corn field. A 1986 prosecution for racketeering ended in an April 8, 1986, mistrial, but more charges loomed. He faced federal trial in Kansas City, Missouri, in connection with casino skimming operations and another federal case in Las Vegas, relating to the 1979 murder of a police informant. Before the end of April, a federal grand jury in Chicago indicted Michael Spilotro, owner of Hoagies restaurant in Chicago, for extortion.

Anthony Spilotro

'Family Secrets'

Outfit bosses were brought to trial for the Spilotro killings and many other offenses in the "Family Secrets" case of 2007, which resulted in plea deals and guilty verdicts. Turncoat Nicholas Calabrese testified for five days. While Calabrese listed the mobsters present at the time of the Spilotros' murders, he could not say who specifically was responsible for the fatal beatings given to the brothers. He testified that he, with help from Louie Eboli, was holding down Michael Spilotro and had his back toward Anthony Spilotro.

Though the Calabrese account of the killings included John "No Nose" DiFronzo, DiFronzo was not charged in the case.

Five of the original fourteen Family Secrets defendants remained at the close of the trial. The others had been removed through plea deals. After the ten-week trial, jurors deliberated for four days before finding the defendants - Frank "the Breeze" Calabrese, Sr. (brother of government witness Nicholas Calabrese), Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Paul "the Indian" Schiro and Anthony "Twan" Doyle - guilty on all counts on September 10, 2007.

The jury separately considered the issue of whether Marcello, Frank Calabrese, Lombardo and Schiro used murder to advance the interests of their criminal conspiracy. Eighteen murders and one attempted murder had been charged against the defendants. On September 27, the jury reported that Marcello, Calabrese and Lombardo were guilty of racketeering murders. (The panel deadlocked on the charge against Schiro.) Marcello specifically was convicted of participating in the killings of the Spilotro brothers, as well as in the 1981 beating death of Nicholas D'Andrea.

Government witness Nicholas Calabrese was sentenced March 26, 2009, to serve a term of twelve years and four months in prison. He admitted involvement in a number of mob murders, including the killing of the Spilotro brothers.


Sources:

  • "14 defendants indicted for alleged organized crime activities...," press release of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Department of Justice, April 25, 2005.
  • Anthony Spilotro Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, signed by coroner on July 25, 1985.
  • Cawley, Janet, "Spilotro a 'nice boy' who grew up tough," Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1983, p. B1.
  • Chicago Tribune, "Did reputed mob brothers run or were they killed?" Elyria OH Chronicle-Telegram, June 19, 1986, p. B2.
  • Dwyer, Bill, "Details of Spilotro murders revealed in mob trial," Oak Park Journal, oakpark.com, Aug. 14, 2007, updated Feb. 11, 2021.
  • Goudie, Chuck, "The last family secret: 30 years after the Spilotro hit," ABC-7 Chicago, abc7chicago.com, June 24, 2016.
  • Hidlay, William C., "Mourners weep at funeral for Spilotro brothers," Associated Press (AP), apnews.com, June 27, 1986.
  • Houston, Jack, "Secrets led to Spilotro rites denial," Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1986.
  • Hunt, Thomas, "Family Secrets" coverage, Mob-News, mob-news.blogspot.com, 2007-2009.
  • Hunt, Thomas, "Outfit boss DiFronzo fought the law, and the law lost," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us, 2018-2021.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and Edward Baumann, "Spilotros found beaten to death," Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1986.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and John O'Brien," "Spilotros may have had drinks with killers," Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1986.
  • Manning, Mary, "Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal dies at age 79," Las Vegas Sun, lasvegassun.com, Oct. 14, 2008.
  • Michael Spilotro Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, signed by coroner on July 25, 1985.
  • Schumacker, Geoff, "Tony Spilotro's last act," Nevada Public Radio Desert Companion, May 23, 2016.
  • Valin, Edmond, "'Lefty' Rosenthal was high-level FBI source into activities of Chicago Outfit," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us, 2018.

 

27 May 2020

Heart, lung ailments take 'Joe Batters'

Longtime Outfit boss started as Capone bodyguard

On this date in 1992...



Longtime Chicago Outfit boss Anthony Accardo succumbed on May 27, 1992, to lung and heart ailments at the age of eighty-six.

The former underworld leader had just returned to the Chicago area (he spent summers in the Barrington Hills home of son-in-law Ernest Kumerow) from his winter home in Palm Springs, California, when on Thursday, May 14, he was admitted to St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center. He died there at 7:36 p.m. on Wednesday, the twenty-seventh. A nursing supervisor told the press that the causes of death were congestive heart failure, acute respiratory failure, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmorary disease.

Funeral cortege. (Chicago Tribune)

Accardo was given a private funeral service two days later at the Montclair-Lucania Funeral Home, 6901 W. Belmont Avenue in Chicago. A Catholic priest was observed entering the funeral home through a rear entrance. Accardo's send-off was far more modest than the funerals of many of his underworld contemporaries. Police and press noted no gangland leaders in attendance. Just two floral offerings were seen - "two sprays of yellow and pink roses inside a slate gray hearse," reported the Chicago Tribune. Accardo was laid to rest at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

A life in Chicago crime
Accardo c.1930
Accardo was born in Chicago on April 28, 1906. His parents, Francesco and Maria Tillotta Accardo, were Sicilian immigrants, originally from Castelvetrano, who settled around 1904 on Gault Court in Chicago. His birth name was reportedly Anthony Leonardo Accardo, but later he was known as Anthony Joseph Accardo. Over time, he acquired the nicknames, "Joe Batters," "Joe B." and "Big Tuna."

According to the press, he was a full-time hoodlum by the age of sixteen. In the late 1920s, he served as an enforcer and bodyguard for Chicago underworld boss Al Capone. Accardo was largely able to avoid law enforcement notice until the Capone-orchestrated St. Valentine's Day Massacre intensified the scrutiny.

On February 1, 1930, Accardo was arrested along with "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn (Gibaldi) following the murder of informant Julius Rosenheim. Rosenheim was walking near his home after breakfast that morning, when an automobile pulled up to him and two men got out of it. The men drew handguns and fired five bullets into Roseheim's head, then returned to their car and sped away. Shortly after that, police detectives William Drury and John Howe spotted Accardo and McGurn riding in a taxicab at Dearborn and Harrison Streets and stopped them. They found both men illegally carrying firearms. McGurn had a loaded .45-calibre automatic pistol, and Accardo had a .32-calibre revolver.


Just six months later, Accardo and Sam "Golf Bag" Hunt were named as suspects in the murder of Chicago vice racketeer Jack Zuta. Zuta was killed at a Wisconsin resort hotel. The descriptions of two of his killers matched Accardo and Hunt. Authorities speculated that Zuta was murdered because he knew of Capone connections to the June 9 murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Alfred "Jake" Lingle.

Accardo was again arrested in May 2, 1931, police raids that were part of an investigation into the supposed murder of brothel keeper Mike Heitler. Police believed that a charred body found in smoldering ruins near Barrington, Illinois, was Heitler. The raids were conducted at known Capone headquarters and business enterprises. Accardo and three other men were grabbed at the Club Floridian, 674 West Madison Street. Other raids took place at the Lexington Hotel at Michigan Avenue and Twenty-second Street and at the Western Hotel in Cicero.

At the end of July 1931, the Chicago Crime Commission designated Accardo a "public enemy," adding him and twenty-seven other area hoodlums (including Charles Fischetti, Sam Hunt and Claude Maddox), to a list that had grown to fifty-six men. A photo of Accardo, then about twenty-five, was printed in the newspaper, along with photos of dozens of other crime figures.

Despite the increased attention, Accardo was able to avoid criminal conviction.

After Capone
Accardo's mentor, Capone, was sent off to prison for tax violations the following spring. Over the next decade, Accardo moved into positions of increasing importance within the Chicago Outfit. By the 1940s, he was considered one of the Outfit's top bosses, along with Frank Nitti, Paul Ricca (Felice DeLucia), Louis Campagna and Charles Gioe.

In 1943, the Outfit leadership was decimated by exposure of an extortion racket conducted against the Hollywood movie industry. As indictments were returned against those implicated in the racket, Nitti committed suicide. Near the end of the year, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against Ricca, Campagna, Gioe, Johnny Rosselli (Filippo Sacco), Philip D'Andrea and Francis Maritote. They were sent to prison for ten-year terms.

With other bosses confined to federal prison, Accardo emerged as the single most powerful figure in Chicago organized crime. (Authorities took note of his visits to the imprisoned Ricca.) It appeared that the role weighed heavy on him, and in the 1950s he stepped away from day-to-day management, allowing Sam Giancana to serve as Outfit boss. Accardo continued in an advisory capacity. The FBI learned that Accardo and Giancana were regularly seen together outside of Chicago in the period between 1950 and 1956. They were spotted at meetings in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

In 1957, the year of the Apalachin, New York, convention, the Bureau learned that Accardo had turned over to Giancana his role as Chicago's representative to the Commission, the U.S. Mafia's supreme arbitration panel.

The following summer, the Senate's McClellan Committee accused Accardo of frivolously invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering its questions. Accardo declined to answer basic questions about his birthplace and employment as well as more probing questions about his underworld associates and alleged involvement in mob murders. On August 18, 1958, the United States Senate unanimously held Accardo and a dozen other witnesses, who appeared before the McClellan Committee, in contempt of Congress. The Senate recommended that the Justice Department prosecute the witnesses. Along with Accardo on the list cited for contempt were Jack Cerone, Sam Battaglia, Marshall Caifano, Joseph Aiuppa and Ross Prio of Chicago and Pete Licavoli of Detroit.

Decline
Accardo was charged with federal tax fraud in April 1960, and that case came closest to putting the crime boss behind bars.

The government accused him of lying about business expense deductions for the years 1956, 1957 and 1958. He was convicted on all three counts in November 1960 and was sentenced to six years in prison. However, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found numerous errors in the case and in January 1962 ordered a new trial. Accardo was then acquitted of the tax charges in October 1962.

Giancana's mid-1960s problems with the law and flight from the U.S., pulled apparently reluctant Accardo and Paul Ricca out of their retirements for a time. The aging Accardo seemed to guide the Outfit through a government investigation of Las Vegas casino skimming operations and the sudden reappearance and 1975 murder of ex-boss Giancana.

Accardo's health became a major issue for him the 1980s. In 1984, he visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment of heart and lung conditions. Shortly after returning home to Chicago, he became dizzy and suffered a head injury during a fall. His injury required a hospital stay. Despite his declining health, some believe he continued to advise Outfit bosses until his last days.

Just when his last days occurred seems to be a matter of some disagreement. While contemporary news sources and biographer William F. Roemer, Jr., clearly place his death on Wednesday, May 27, 1992, as of this writing a number of online sources (including Wikipedia and Find A Grave) insist that Accardo's death occurred five days earlier, on May 22 (a Friday). This is made more curious by the fact that a source cited for the Wikipedia death date is a May 29, 1992, Hartford Courant (Associated Press) article that states death occurred the previous Wednesday.
 

Sources:

  • "28 more public enemies named by crime board," Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 1, 1931, p. 5.
  • Cohen, Jerry, "U.S. grand jury summons two Mafia chieftains," Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1970, p. 19.
  • Conroy, L.N., "Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, Committee on the Judiciary, Estes Kefauver Chairman," FBI memorandum to Mr. Rosen, file no. 62-102198-116, NARA no. 124-10347-10011, Nov. 12, 1959.
  • Daniels, Lee A., "Anthony Accardo, long a figure in mob world, dies in bed at 86," New York Times, May 29, 1992.
  • FBI memorandum to Mr. McAndrews, file no. 92-6054-2092, NARA no. 124-10287-10397, July 25, 1967.
  • Hill, Ralph R., "Anthony Joseph Accardo,..." FBI report, file no. 92-3182-79, NARA no. 124-10203-10000, May 26, 1960, p. A-6.
  • Hill, Ralph R. Jr., "Samuel M. Giancana, ..." FBI report, file no. 92-636-3, NARA no. 124-90024-10122, May 5, 1961, p. 10-11.
  • "Illinois shorts," Dixon IL Evening Telegraph, Jan. 6, 1962, p. 4.
  • "Informer is slain by Chicago gunmen," New York Times, Feb. 2, 1930, p. 11.
  • Investigation of Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Hearings Before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Part 33, 85th Congress, Second Session, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958, p. 12782-12797.
  • Kiesling, Mark, "Anthony Accardo's death closes Capone Era," Munster (IN) Times, May 28, 1992, p. 11.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and John O'Brien, "Reputed mob boss Accardo dies," Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1992, p. B1.
  • "McGurn, on trial, claims illegal arrest," Chicago Daily Tribune, June 25, 1930, p. 7.
  • "New names introduced in Zuta killing," Streator IL Daily Times-Press, Aug. 6, 1930, p. 1.
  • O'Brien, John, "Low-key sendoff for Accardo," Chicago Tribune, May 30, 1992, p. 5.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Sicilian Prince, departed Palermo, arrived New York on Feb. 25, 1904.
  • "Raid gangdom for 'slayers' of Mike Heitler," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1931, p. 1.
  • Roberts, John W. Jr., "The Criminal commission; et al Chicago Division," FBI report from Chicago office, file no. 92-6054-131, NARA no. 124-10216-10239, Dec. 21, 1962, p. 2.
  • Roemer, William F. Jr., Accardo: The Genuine Godfather, New York: Donald I. Fine, 1995.
  • "Senate, 87-0, cites 13 for contempt," New York Times, Aug. 19, 1958, p. 16.
  • Smith, Sandy, "Jury acquits Tony Accardo," Chicago Tribune, Oct. 4, 1962, p. 1.
  • Social Security Death Index, SSN 360-14-0886.
  • "Tony Accardo reputedly led Chicago mob," Hartford CT Courant, May 29, 1992, p. C10.
  • "Two more slain by gangs," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 5, 1930, p. 1.
  • "U.S. indicts 23 Capone men," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1931, p. 1.
  • Wehrwein, Austin C., "Accardo receives 6-year jail term," New York Times, Nov. 19, 1960, p. 11.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, NARA no. 124-10208-10406, July 22, 1964, p. 18.

15 February 2020

Shotgun takes out Chicago's 'Scourge'

On this date in 1926...

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 suspects 
After 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.

In a relatively short time, Tropea accumulated an imposing list of enemies. Business owners resented his collection efforts. Adversaries of the "Terrible Gennas" had good reason to fear and hate him. Following the mid-1920s murders of brothers Angelo and Michael Genna, Genna relatives and the new underworld regime of Joseph Aiello quickly joined the enemies list.

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.

Connections
Investigators 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 mourner
Following 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 continue
The 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.

See also:

Sources:
  • "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.

23 December 2019

Calamia caught, called killing conspirator

Despite D.A. claims, DeJohn murder remains unsolved

On this date in 1948...

San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948.
A fugitive, indicted for conspiring in the May 1947 San Francisco gangland murder of Nick DeJohn, was captured in New Mexico on December 23, 1948.

The FBI and Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies arrested Leonard Calamia, aged thirty-two, on a federal warrant. Acting on a tip received from San Francisco, authorities sought Calamia at his new place of employment, the driver's license department of the New Mexico State Revenue Bureau in Albuquerque, but he was not there. They found him next door in the State Highway Department building adjoining the offices of the New Mexico State Police. They learned that Calamia, under the assumed name of Len Tallone, had held two government jobs in the year and a half he lived in New Mexico.

Calamia admitted his identity and his criminal history - he was an ex-convict, former narcotics peddler and Chicago hoodlum. Police determined that Calamia returned to Chicago briefly after the DeJohn murder and then relocated to Albuquerque, adopting his wife's maiden name of Tallone as his own surname.

He was placed in the Bernalillo County sheriff's office lockup. Bail was set at $50,000. Calamia waived a removal hearing and was turned over to San Francisco police on December 29.

Nick DeJohn
The plot against DeJohn

Calamia was one of five men indicted one month earlier for conspiring in the DeJohn murder. Two of his codefendants, Sicilian immigrants Sebastiano Nani and Michele Abati, were arrested in November. Two others, Frank Scappatura and Tony Lima, remained at large. (There were rumors that Lima was prepared to surrender to authorities at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but that did not occur. Scappatura and Lima were never arrested in connection with this case.)

According to prosecutors, Nick DeJohn, a former member of the Capone Outfit in Chicago, had been trying to take over underworld rackets in the San Francisco area and was killed by rivals. DeJohn's body was found stuffed into the trunk of his Chrysler Town & Country convertible on May 9, 1947. Evidence indicated he had been strangled to death two days earlier.

Prosecutors believed that Calamia, known to be a close friend of DeJohn, was called upon to serve as the "finger man" in the murder, leading DeJohn to his killers. Calamia reportedly spent much of May 7, 1947, with DeJohn. The Calamia and DeJohn families had dinner together at the Calamia residence. Leonard Calamia and Nick DeJohn went out for drinks to the Poodle Dog restaurant and bar at 1125 Polk Street and then to LaRocca's Corner at 957 Columbus Avenue in the North Beach section. They parted at LaRocca's Corner. DeJohn was last seen alive as he was walking from the tavern.

Reports, later disputed, claimed that at the time of DeJohn's murder, Calamia was home having coffee and cake with DeJohn's son.

Calamia had been arrested almost immediately after the discovery of DeJohn's body. But he had been released May 31, 1947, due to insufficient evidence.

Authorities insisted for some time that the DeJohn murder was essentially solved. They claimed to know where DeJohn was killed, why he was killed and who was responsible. But assembling a convincing case proved to be a problem.

Trial

Prosecutors thought they had a winning case when Calamia, Nani and Abati were brought to trial. But they found that some of their important witnesses were unreliable and could not withstand cross examination.

Leonard Calamia

As jury deliberations started in early March 1949, the district attorney admitted that he did not believe the testimony of some of his own witnesses. Judge Preston Devine denounced witnesses from both sides for giving obviously false testimony.

After thirty hours of deliberations, the jury stood deadlocked and Judge Devine declared a mistrial.

No retrial

The most inconsistent prosecution witness also was the key witness in the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the original indictments.

Mrs. Anita Rocchia Venza claimed that she had overheard the five men plotting to kill DeJohn. She was in a basement apartment near La Rocca's Corner at the time and heard the conversation from an adjoining room. She claimed that the plotters learned of her presence and offered her $500 to forget what she heard and leave the state.

When her statements were determined to be unreliable, the original indictments were quashed, any chance of a retrial was lost and the fugitive warrants against the two at-large defendants, Scappatura and Lima, were voided.

The murder of Nick DeJohn remained officially unsolved.

See also:


Sources:

  • "Calamia arraigned here with two other suspects in De John slaying," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 1, 1949, p. 5.
  • "Calamia ask high court for freedom," San Mateo Times, Jan. 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Calamia faces further quiz," San Francisco Examiner, June 1, 1947, p. 3.
  • "Calamia loses plea," San Mateo Times, Jan. 21, 1949, p. 5.
  • "Calamia silent in S.F. prison," San Mateo Times, Dec. 31, 1948, p. 4.
  • "DeJohn case jury dismissed; stood 7 to 5 for acquittal," San Francisco Examiner, March 9, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Delay asked in trial of Nani," San Mateo Times, Dec. 28, 1948, p. 5.
  • "Delay granted in DeJohn trial," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1948, p. 17.
  • "FBI nabs Calamia, accused as 'finger man' in DeJohn case," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Five indicted for De John murder; woman testifies that she overheard plot," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 30, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Hunt pushed for trio in DeJohn case," San Mateo Times, Dec. 1, 1948.
  • "New evidence in Nick DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 2, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Police hunt 4 suspects in De John case," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 24, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Police move to wind up De John case as 'solved,'" Oakland Tribune, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 7.
  • "S.M. man held brains of Nick DeJohn murder," San Mateo Times, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 1.
  • "State to use Calamia story to police at gangland trial," San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 7, 1949, p. 17.
  • "Third DeJohn fugitive caught," San Mateo Times, Dec. 23, 1948, p. 1.
  • "U.S. warrants issued for 2 in DeJohn hunt," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 23, 1948, p. 1.
  • "Warrants voided in DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 20, 1949, p. 5.
  • Pearce, Dick, "Calamia dislosures key to De John trial," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 29, 1949, p. 1.

22 December 2019

Jury convicts six Outfit leaders, associate

Found guilty of extorting money from movie executives

On this date in 1943...


Six members of the Chicago Outfit and one associate were convicted December 22, 1943, of conspiring to extort more than a million dollars from the movie industry.

Concluding ten hours of deliberations, a federal jury in New York City returned guilty verdicts against Chicago racketeers Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (Felice DeLucia), Johnny Rosselli (Filippo Sacco), Philip D'Andrea, Charles Gioe and Francis Maritote, and Newark, New Jersey, union business agent Louis Kaufman. Judge John Bright scheduled a sentencing hearing for December 30.

The trial, which began October 5, established that the defendants were behind the extortion activities of Willie Bioff and George Browne. Bioff and Browne, convicted in 1941 of using their influence over the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) to force payments from movie studios, were prosecution witnesses in the 1943 case. (Bioff's betrayal of the Outfit apparently resulted in his car-bombing murder in 1955.) The witness list also included Hollywood executives.

Nine men were originally indicted in March 1943, including Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti and Ralph Pierce. Nitti, the Outfit leader believed to have been Bioff's strongest supporter, committed suicide upon learning of the indictments. Nitti is believed to have given assurances to other underworld bosses when they feared Bioff would betray them. Pierce was acquitted during the trial due to insufficient evidence against him.

On December 30, Judge Bright sentenced Campagna, DeLucia, Rosselli, D'Andrea, Gioe and Maritote to ten years in prison and sentenced Kaufman to seven years in prison. He fined each of the defendants $10,000.

See also:

05 December 2019

Chicago Gangster Hazed By Frat Brothers

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

Chicago gangster James Clark

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1910.

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

World War I Selective Service Draft Card, Albert Kachellek.

Ellis Island passenger arrivals, 1893.


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.

19 May 2019

The Pittsburgh machine gun murder that wasn't

'The Big Gorilla' may have been
killed with his own shotgun

On this date in 1927...

Lamendola
A Pittsburgh booze racketeer known as "The Big Gorilla" was murdered May 19, 1927, in what was initially proclaimed by the local press to be the city's first underworld assassination to involve machine guns. Newspapers subsequently backed away from the machine gun claim, when law enforcement concluded that a shotgun was instrument of death.

Coverage of the killing of Luigi Lamendola involved a great many journalistic disagreements. Newspapers could not agree even on the age of the victim. He was reported to be twenty-seven years old, thirty-two and thirty-five. (He was probably close to twenty-seven.) And the uncertainty did not end there. He was said to be a member of a Black Hand extortion organization or a victim of a Black Hand extortion organization or possibly neither. He suffered either three or six bullet wounds in the head. And he was killed in a hail of machine gun fire or through a double-barreled blast of a shotgun. Or possibly two shotguns.

There was general agreement that Lamendola - known to his friends as "The Big G" - was a bad guy. He was a brutal Prohibition Era gang leader, who held a monopoly on moonshine liquor distribution in Pittsburgh's Hill District and used threats of violence and a fair amount of actual violence to maintain that monopoly.

Some have claimed that he learned his craft from the Capone Outfit in Chicago before striking out on his own. (It is difficult to support this claim. However, Lamendola may have had connections with the underworld in the Hamilton, Ontario, area.) He may have served as a lieutenant of sorts for the Pittsburgh Mafia organization (led in the period by Stefano Monastero) until ambition caused him to strive for greater status.

Lamendola knew well that he had enemies. It was said that he did not often stray from the Hill District restaurant, 27 Chatham Street, that served as his headquarters. The building was also his home, as it contained a well furnished bachelor apartment upstairs. When he did go out, he carried a sword-cane with him. With the touch of a button, the outer cane covering fell away to reveal a fifteen-inch blade.

Late Thursday evening, May 19, after he locked up the restaurant and relaxed in the establishment with a couple of business partners, some enemies came calling. A large touring car with curtained windows pulled up in front. Two men got out and tapped on the restaurant's front window and called for Lamendola to come outside.

The Big Gorilla made it to the doorway. The two who tapped on the window ducked behind the car, and two others pointed weapons - most likely shotguns - at Lamendola through the car window curtains. The weapons fire, according to the Pittsburgh Press, "shattered" Lamendola's head. The damage done left the impression that a machine gun was used.

Pittsburgh Post


Lamendola partner Peter Curatolo, nearby at the time of the shooting, was superficially wounded by some of the shrapnel.

The automobile then proceeded north on Chatham Street, while the gunmen inside of it continued to fire. At least one bit of the fired lead cracked through the window of Charles Sparano's New Italian cafe at the corner with Webster Street - still busy at that late hour - and passed within inches of the head of a violinist in the cafe orchestra. The vehicle turned onto Bigelow Boulevard and sped away to the northeast.

Lamendola was rushed to Mercy Hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Authorities noted that he was wearing diamonds valued at about $12,000 and had four $1,000 bills in his wallet. His death certificate attributed the end of Lamendola's life to "shock and hemorrhage following gunshot wound of head. Prob. murder."

During their investigation of the killing, police searched the Lamendola restaurant and discovered several hundred gallons of moonshine whiskey. In the upstairs apartment, they found automatic pistols, knives and ammunition, including shotgun shells that matched those that took his life. They found no shotgun. At least not right away.

When detectives traced the escape route taken by the gunmen, they found a shotgun discarded on Bigelow Boulevard, near Washington Street. They assumed the gunmen tossed it out of the car as they drove away.

Days later, rumors circulated that Lamendola had been betrayed by someone in his own organization and had been killed with his own shotgun.

Adding further insult to fatal injury, press coverage subsequently suggested that Lamendola was working in the U.S. as an agent of the Fascist government of Italy. That charge seems to have resulted merely from the fact that Lamendola's remains were returned to his native city of Caltanissetta, Sicily, for burial.

Authorities held Lamendola's business partners for a while and questioned known members of the Pittsburgh underworld. But Lamendola's murder was never solved.

Sources:

  • "'Ghost' of murdered bootleg czar stalks through 'Hill' with death in either hand," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 23, 1927, p. 3.
  • "Death spurts from auto in Chatham St.; misses girl," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Hill District man victim of machine gun slayers," Pittsburgh Post, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Hunt slayers of Lamendola," Pittsburgh Press, May 20, 1927, p. 23.
  • "Italian murdered by gang here believed Fascist agent," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 16, 1927, p. 3.
  • "Lamendola, slain here, is buried in Italy," Pittsburgh Press, July 16, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun killers sought in Pittsburgh," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 26.
  • "Machine gun theory falls when weapon that killed Hill District man is found," Pittsburgh Post, May 21, 1927, p. 5.
  • "Man ambushed and killed," Pottsville PA Evening Herald, May 20, 1927, p. 9.
  • "Murder cafe owners held," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 22, 1927, p. D-12.
  • "Nab gangster as murderer of Monastero," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 9, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Pittsburgh police probe slaying of restaurant owner," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 31.
  • "Two more padlocks are clamped on," Pittsburgh Post, April 9, 1926, p. 3.
  • Gazarik, Richard, Prohibition Pittsburgh, The History Press, 2017.
  • Luigi Lamendola Certificate of Death, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, file no. 45184, registered no. 4142, May 19, 1927.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Conte Rosso, departed Naples, Italy, on Nov. 20, 1926, arrived New York, NY, on Nov. 30, 1926.