Showing posts with label Sing Sing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sing Sing. Show all posts

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.

04 March 2019

Death chair takes Lepke, two aides

On this date in 1944...


Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, longtime New York City racketeer and reputed overseer of the underworld's Murder, Inc., enforcement arm, was electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison, March 4, 1944, along with two underlings.

Buchalter
Buchalter, Emanuel "Mendy" Weiss and Louis Capone were sentenced to death following their 1941 New York State conviction for the September 1936 murder of Joseph Rosen. Rosen was a former trucking contractor forced out of business by Buchalter-led rackets. At the time of his murder, Rosen, then proprietor of a candy store at 725 Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn, was reportedly threatening to assist Manhattan Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey in his investigation of rackets in the trucking industry.

Buchalter, believed to have ordered as many as eighty murders in his underworld career, insisted that he was completely innocent of the killing of Rosen. Weiss and Capone claimed that they had been framed. While their legal appeals of the state verdict were unsuccessful, some reviewing judges noted weakness in the state's evidence against the trio.

48 hours earlier

The executions of Buchalter, Weiss and Capone had been delayed repeatedly by legal maneuvers and by government stays. The most recent postponement occurred within an hour and a half of their scheduled appointment with the prison Death Chamber.

Weiss
At 9:35 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, Governor Thomas Dewey (Dewey won election to Manhattan district attorney in 1937 and to governor in 1942) ordered a forty-eight-hour stay in response to a last-ditch Buchalter appeal to federal courts. Buchalter's attorney argued that U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle improperly released Buchalter from federal prison, where he was serving a fourteen-year sentence for narcotics violations, to New York State authorities.

Dewey telephoned Sing Sing Warden William E. Snyder, who sent word of the postponement to the Death House prisoners through prison chaplain Father Bernard Martin. It was the sixth time their date of execution was moved. But it was the closest the prisoners had come to the electric chair. They accepted the news without visible emotion.

Capone
Buchalter, Weiss and Capone had already said their goodbyes to family members in the large pre-execution space known by inmates as "the dancehall." They had been clothed in the black pants and white shirts known as "death suits," and spots had been shaved on their heads to allow a clean connection to an electrode carrying a fatal dose of electrical current.

They already had eaten their "last meals": steak, french fried potatoes, lettuce and tomato salad, rolls, pie and coffee for lunch; roast chicken, mashed potatoes, lettuce and tomato salad, rolls and coffee for supper. (The selections were reportedly made by Buchalter, and Weiss and Capone ordered the same.)

Some newspapers reported that Dewey ordered the stay because Buchalter decided to cooperate. They wondered about the number of crimes that information from the longtime rackets boss could solve and the number of his old underworld associates that could be brought to justice.

March 4

Federal district and appeals courts were unwilling to involve themselves in the case. At one o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, March 4, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected without comment the Buchalter appeal.

The prisoners were already reliving the execution preparations when the final bit of bad news arrived.

They met with family in the same "dancehall" to say the same goodbyes. Buchalter spent the day with his wife Beatrice "Betty" and their son Harold. During the visit, Beatrice reportedly urged Buchalter to try to save himself by sending for U.S. Attorney James McNally and offering his cooperation. Her husband refused, saying, "The best I could get would be a delay of six or eight months or a year. If that's the way it's going to be, I'd rather go tonight."

Noting the press speculation following the March 2 stay of execution, Buchalter dictated a statement to his wife, who transcribed it on a piece of notepaper.

Superstition may have forced the selections for the prisoners' repeat "last meals." They ordered the same food they had eaten before the execution postponement on March 2.

Several things were different on the evening of March 4, however: Family members were permitted to stay about a half-hour past the usual parting time of nine o'clock; Buchalter was permitted to wear a pair of gray pants instead of the usual black; and there was no telephone call from the governor.

Beatrice Buchalter meets with reporters.

After leaving the prison, Beatrice Buchalter met with members of the press at a nearby restaurant and read her husband's statement:

I insist that I am not guilty of the Rosen murder, that the witnesses against me lied and that I did not receive a fair trial. Four out of seven judges in the Court of Appeals said that Weiss, Capone and I were not guilty. Judge [Harlan W.] Rippey said we were not given even a remote outside chance of any fair consideration of our defense by the jury and that the evidence wasn't enough to submit to a jury.
The one and only thing that I have asked for is to have a commission appointed to examine the facts in the Rosen case. If that examination does not show I am not guilty, I am willing to go to the chair regardless of what information I have given or can give.

Last moments

At eleven o'clock, Louis Capone, forty-seven, followed Father Martin into the Death Chamber. Twenty-four witnesses observed from a gallery.

Newspapers reported that Capone was selected to go to his death first because he was the weakest - emotionally and physically (he had recent heart problems) - of the three. He said nothing when he was strapped into the chair and the electrodes were attached to his body. His lips could be seen moving in silent prayer, as a helmet with a large electrode inside of it and a face-concealing mask on its front was placed on his head.


Executioner Joseph Francel was at the chair controls. At two minutes after eleven, he administered the first brain-killing shock. He followed it with several more jolts of current to burn the life out of Capone's organs. Three minutes later, a guard pulled open Capone's shirt, so Dr. Charles C. Sweet could check for life signs. "This man is dead," Sweet announced.

Capone's remains were removed from the chair, placed on a cart and wheeled next door to the autopsy room.

A minute later, Emanuel Weiss, thirty-seven, strode quickly into the Death Chamber with Rabbi Jacob Katz by his side. Weiss indicated to Principal Keeper Thomas J. Keeley that he wished to make a statement.

Weiss looked to the gallery and said, "I'm here on a framed case. I'm innocent and God and Gov. Dewey know it. I want to thank Judge Lehman [Appeals Court Judge Irving Lehman]. Give my love to my family and everyone. And - I'm innocent.

Weiss's turn in the chair began at seven minutes after eleven. His lifeless remains were removed from it four minutes later.

Buchalter's remains are
driven out of Sing Sing
Rabbi Katz stepped from the Death Chamber to join Buchalter and escort him in. As Buchalter, forty-seven, walked confidently and silently into the chamber, journalists struggled to find some sign of emotion in the racketeer's movements or expressions.

One reporter said he saw a lip quiver. Another noticed some redness and perspiration on Buchalter's face. A wire service reporter suggested that the prisoner was "so dazed that his attitude could have been interpreted as indifference" and then found a guard to support that view with the comment, "The other two were frightened, but Lepke was paralyzed."

Gilbert Millstein of the New York Daily News observed that Buchalter was not only calm but cooperative. He placed his own arms into position to be fastened to the chair, and he leaned his head forward into the death-delivering helmet.

Executioner Francel delivered the first shock into Buchalter at thirteen minutes past eleven. The fourth shock was completed three minutes later. "Lepke" Buchalter was dead.

Burials

Buchalter's family assembled for a brief service at Park West Memorial Chapel, 115 West Seventy-ninth Street in Manhattan, on Sunday, March 5. Prayers were chanted by Rabbi Morris Goldberg. Buchalter's remains, in a plain oaken casket, were buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, next to the gravesite of his mother.

Buchalter's burial
At almost the same moment, about fifty friends and family attended a ceremony for Weiss at the Midtown Funeral Home, 171 West Eighty-fifth Street in Manhattan. Rabbi Aaron Liss led those services. Weiss's widow Sophia, his mother and his four brothers attended. Weiss was also buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery, a short walk from the Buchalter gravesite.

On Thursday, March 9, the remains of Louis Capone were taken in an inexpensive metal casket from Andrew Torregrossa's funeral home, 1305 Seventy-ninth Street in Brooklyn, to the Church of Our Lady of Solace on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. His funeral, in the neighborhood where he was a longtime resident, drew a far larger crowd than seen at the Buchalter and Weiss services.

After a brief Mass celebrated by Father Francis A. Froelich, a procession of forty cars of mourners and five cars of flowers wended through Brooklyn streets to Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. With his widow Sophie, three children and two brothers at graveside, Capone was interred in the cemetery's St. Charles section.

Sources:

  • "Buchalter dies in electric chair," Burlington VT Free Press, March 6, 1944, p. 1.
  • "Crowds attend funeral of Lepke pal Capone," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 9, 1944, p. 3.
  • "Lepke denied deal, admitted 'talking,'" New York Daily News, March 5, 1944, p. 3.
  • "Lepke dies in chair," Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker, March 5, 1944, p. 1.
  • Feinberg, Alexander, "Lepke is put to death, denies guilt to last; makes no revelation," New York Times, March 5, 1944, p. 1.
  • Hailey, Foster, "Lepke a gang leader who liked his privacy," New York Times, Aug. 13, 1939, p. 61.
  • Millstein, Gilbert, "Lepke and 2 pals die in chair; mobster chief calm, last to go," New York Daily News, March 5, 1944, p. 3.
  • Millstein, Gilbert, "Louis (Lepke) Buchalter: His life and crimes," New York Daily News, March 3, 1944, p. 14.
  • O'Brien, Michael, and Gilbert Millstein, "Gangland shuns Capone funeral," New York Daily News, March 10, 1944, p. M20.
  • Smith, Art, "Dewey orders 48-hour delay in execution of Lepke, 2 pals," New York Daily News, March 3, 1944, p. 3.
  • Smith, Art, "Bury Lepke with only kin at bier," New York Daily News, March 6, 1944, p. 2.

10 January 2018

Criminal Curiosities: Twelve Remarkable reprobates you've probably never heard of.



Out now for the Amazon Kindle.


As a crime writer with a long-time interest in crime's more unusual aspects, I often try to find some of its more overlooked stories. Who needs yet another rehash of Jack the Ripper or JFK reshuffling old evidence while seldom offering anything new? Apart from accountants at publishing companies wanting bestsellers to boost their quarterly balance sheets, at any rate?

All walks of life have their pioneers, those who stand out as the first, last or only example in thier field. Crime is no exception., but crime's stand-outs are seldom as widely acknowledged as, say, the first Moon landing or the discovery of the New World. It's time that changed. Criminal Curiosities is a small step toward that.

Some readers will have heard of William Kemmler or Herbert Rowse Armstrong. Kemmler was, after all, the first convict ever to be legally electrocuted. Armstrong was (and remains, the UK having abolished capital punishment) the first and only British lawyer to be hanged for murder.

But who was the first convict to face the guillotine? Why were legendary figures Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse so closely entwined with William Kemmler and he with them? Whose murder trial saw the victim's body transported to the scene of the crime, then used in a live reconstruction in front of the jury? And how on earth did Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren get away with trading a fake Vermeer for 137 genuine paintings (today worth around $60 million with, of all people, Gestapo founder and Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering? 

You probably don't know. Criminal Curiosities is where you find out.

They're all singular in their own particular way. All have a fascinating tale to tell of their own misdeeds and how they sometimes forever changed the world around them. All of them are often overlooked and some are barely historical footnotes, if that.

Criminal Curiosities is currently available for the Amazon Kindle.