Showing posts with label Thomas Hunt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Hunt. Show all posts

15 October 2019

Wealthy Los Angeles-area Mafia leader vanishes

On this date in 1931...


L.A.Times, Oct. 18, 1931

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

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

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

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

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

Targeted earlier

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

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

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

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

Underworld boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 October 2019

SoCal rackets bosses tried in federal court

Long-awaited trial reveals Mafia informants

On this date in 1980...

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

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

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

Brooklier, Dragna, Sciortino, Rizzitello

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

12 September 2019

'Death Valley' end for ambitious gangster

Old pal of 'Clutching Hand' put on the spot in Brooklyn

New York Daily News
On this date in 1931...

Scores of afternoon produce shoppers on a busy Brooklyn street scurried for safety on September 12, 1931, as underworld gunmen blasted away at a gangster with ambitions to resurrect the former "Clutching Hand gang" and dispose of its enemies.

The gunmen vanished into nearby buildings, leaving Joseph Manino (also known as "Marino") dead at the entrance of 149 Union Street in South Brooklyn. He had been struck by eight slugs - one in the head, four in the chest and three in right arm.

When police arrived, they found no trace of the killers and learned little of any use from the pushcart peddlers and their patrons. The neighborhood had grown accustomed to violence - it was known at the time as "Death Valley" - and it had grown accustomed to remaining mum about it.

Reluctant witnesses said only that three men (early reports said there were only two) met Manino at a little before three o'clock, got into a loud argument and drew handguns. Manino tried to escape through the hallway of 149 Union Street but didn't make it.

Manino's body was identified by his brother Anthony, a nearby resident. Police found Manino's Lincoln automobile parked at the curb just a few doors from the spot of his murder.

Manino background
As they began their investigation into the murder, detectives theorized that Manino may have been killed because of a relationship with a woman in the Union Street neighborhood or because he was trying to muscle in on some local underworld rackets.

Brooklyn Standard Union
They learned that he was the married resident of 332 Bay Eleventh Street in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, had no children and worked with his father-in-law at a butcher shop at 273 Thatford Avenue in the Brownsville section. (Newspapers reported his age as 35, but official death records indicated he was 33.) It was said that he had arrived in the U.S. from Italy about fourteen years earlier. Manino's wife told police that he had no interest in underworld rackets and was involved in nothing that would get him killed.

Early in the investigation, police discovered that Manino had once been arrested for a Prohibition violation and was given a suspended sentence. They toyed with the idea that Manino's killing might be related to the assassination of Mafia chief Salvatore Maranzano in Manhattan two days earlier. It took a little longer for Manino's underworld connections to become clear.

Arrested with him in the 1920 Prohibition matter were his close friend Giuseppe Piraino (also written "Peraino") and some other associates. Piraino, whose twisted and partially paralyzed hand resulted in his "Clutching Hand" nickname, was a major Prohibition Era power in the Italian underworld of Brooklyn. The group was convicted of stealing alcohol from a pier at Atlantic Basin in Red Hook. Though Manino escaped with a suspended sentence, Piraino went to prison.

Clutching Hand gang
During Piraino's incarceration, Manino continued his bootlegging activities. In spring of 1923, he and four other men were arrested and charged with operating a large distillery in a supposedly vacant building at 61 Kouwenhoven Place (this short street formerly ran between Overbaugh Place and Kings Highway in Flatlands, southeastern Brooklyn). Press coverage at that time noted that it was Manino's third Prohibition violation. For the offense, he was sentenced to pay a $250 fine. His codefendants were each fined $25.

When Piraino was released from prison, Manino reassumed his top lieutenant role, and the rackets of the Clutching Hand gang expanded. The group came into violent conflict with other underworld powers. Piraino was considered a top contender to assume the Brooklyn rackets and gang membership of the Frankie Yale organization following Yale's 1928 murder.

Rivals put Piraino on the spot in March of 1930 during a visit to South Brooklyn. He was shot to death in front of 151 Sackett Street, near Hicks Street.

Manino reportedly tried to hold the Clutching Hand gang together after the loss of his friend and boss. The forces arrayed against him were powerful, but he reportedly swore that he would drive them all out of Brooklyn.

Authorities decided that Manino's stated determination to eliminate his rivals prompted them to arrange his murder. The Union Street location where Manino breathed his last was one city block south of the site of Piraino's murder.

Aftermath
Due to a tip provided in October to Detective Cal McCarthy of the Hamilton Avenue Police Station, Brooklyn racketeers Guglielmo Guica and Tito Balsamo were arrested and charged with participating in the Manino murder. But the evidence was insufficient to make the charges stick. Guica and Balsamo went free early in November.

Vengeance for Manino appeared to be the motive behind Guica's murder two weeks after his release.

Near midnight on November 16, 1931, Guica sat down in the Court Open Kitchen restaurant, 337 Court Street, with Benedetto Ruggiero and a third man, name unknown. Almost immediately, the third man dropped to the floor beneath the table as four other men jumped out of a car and entered the restaurant with guns blazing.

Guica's unknown companion crawled out of the restaurant through the kitchen. Shot ten times, Ruggiero died at the table and slumped onto the floor. Guica lunged for the kitchen but was brought down by the gunfire. He had been shot a dozen times.

Postscript
The Prohibition Era exploits of the Clutching Hand gang made news again in March of 1949, as police in Brooklyn arrested Nicolo Failla, who had been a fugitive since jumping bail in the alcohol theft case back in 1920. The sixty-three-year-old Failla was arrested at an apartment used by some of his children. At the time, authorities speculated that Failla was the last surviving member of the Piraino underworld faction.

Sources:
  • "13 suspects in new roundup," Brooklyn Standard Union, Oct. 7, 1931, p. 7.
  • "Arrest three men for barrel murder," Brooklyn Standard Union, Jan. 24, 1919.
  • "Brooklyn man slain amid rush hour crowd," Syracuse American, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 3.
  • "Brooklyn shooting laid to gang war," New York Times, Sept. 14, 1931, p. 6.
  • "'Clutching Hand's' son assassinated as his father was," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 7, 1930, p. 23.
  • "Gang killing perils crowd in Brooklyn," Syracuse Herald, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Gunmen kill two in Court Street restaurant trap," Brooklyn Standard Union, Nov. 17, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Holdup man gets 3 to 7-year term for $7,500 failure," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 17, 1923, p. 3.
  • "Man shot dead in Union Street," Brooklyn Standard Union, Sept. 12, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Manino killed in rum squeal, police theory," Brooklyn Standard Union, Sept. 14, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Many see killing in Brooklyn street," New York Times, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 25.
  • "Prohibition days reviewed by arrest," Kingston NY Daily Freeman, March 7, 1949, p. 12.
  • Giuseppi Piraino death certificate, Department of Health of the City of New York, no. 7070, filed March 29, 1930.
  • New York City Extracted Death Index, certificate no. 19560, Sept. 12, 1931, Ancestry.com.
  • O'Brien, Michael, "Mafia victim slain, 2 shot; hint revenge," New York Daily News, Sept. 13, 1931, p. 56.

21 July 2019

Informer e-book can be pre-ordered now

The official release date of Informer's August 2019 special issue on Salvatore Maranzano is still a few weeks away, but the issue - in Kindle e-book form - can be pre-ordered NOW through Amazon.com. (Link: https://amzn.to/32GaLgr or click on the cover image below.)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VBT73PN/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420&linkCode=ll1&tag=mobhistory-20&linkId=d6b86aa2413ab019800719ddf64793c9&language=en_US

This is only the second time an Informer issue has been available for purchase through Amazon. It is the first time that an issue has been sold in Kindle e-book format.

The usual magazine formats - standard-size print and electronic PDF - will be available soon through the MagCloud service.



14 July 2019

Maranzano-focused Informer issue taking shape

The August 2019 issue of Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement will focus exclusively on Prohibition Era Mafia leader Salvatore Maranzano: life, career, assassination and post-assassination aftereffects. Through articles, photos and maps, Informer will tackle many questions about Maranzano, including:

  • Who was Salvatore Maranzano?
  • What did he look like? (And what did he certainly NOT look like?)
  • What does a recent discovery tell us about him?
  • What was said about him by those who knew him in life?
  • Where were the locations significant to his life and career?
  • When did Maranzano-related events occur?
  • Why was he important in U.S. Mafia history?
  • How has he been portrayed by Hollywood?
  • What do we know of Maranzano's life in Sicily?
  • Was there really a post-Maranzano Mafia purge?

Pages for the issue are currently being assembled. (Issue is expected to weigh in at around seventy-two pages.)

Plans call for the August Informer to be released in the usual print and electronic (PDF) formats, both available through the MagCloud service. And, with some luck, the issue also will be available in a Kindle ebook format.

Stay tuned.

27 June 2019

Lucky's 1916 narcotics conviction

On this date in 1916...

Eighteen-year-old Salvatore Lucania (later known as Charlie "Lucky" Luciano) was convicted June 27, 1916, of narcotics possession. He was sentenced to eight months in the reformatory.

According to court records, Lucania had been a seller of morphine for some weeks. In June, he made his third purchase of a one-eighth bottle of morphine* and began selling doses. He reportedly sold fifteen doses from that eighth-bottle before he was caught by a law enforcement agent. [*Records do not indicate the volume of morphine, but the amount was sufficient for a large number of doses.]

When on trial for compulsory prostitution in 1936, defendant Lucania took the witness stand and was questioned about the 1916 narcotics arrest. He recalled that he was arrested on Fourteenth Street as he made a sale "to a dope fiend."

Morphine sale and possession were regulated under the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson late in 1914 and effective on March 1, 1915. Morphine could only be obtained legally under a physician's prescription for treatment of an issue unrelated to addiction and through a federally licensed and taxed dispensary.

Lucania did his sentence at the recently opened 610-acre New Hampton Farms reformatory upstate in Orange County, New York. He was released early, at the conclusion of six months, close to Christmas 1916.

New Hampton Farms

Sources:

  • "'Ride' victim wakes up on Staten Island," New York Times, Oct. 18, 1929.
  • "Charles Luciana, with aliases," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-X, Aug. 28, 1935, p. 5.
  • "DEA history in depth: The early years," Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA.gov, May 2018.
  • "Heroin, morphine and opiates," History.com, June 12, 2017, updated June 10, 2019.
  • "Lucania is called shallow parasite," New York Times, June 19, 1936.
  • "Open new reformatory," New York Times, April 1, 1916, p. 9.
  • "Charles Luciano, with aliases Charles Luciana, Lucky Luciano, Miscellaneous, Information Concerning," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-2, Feb. 26, 1946.
  • Dewey, Thomas E., Twenty Against the Underworld, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, p. 185.
  • Feder, Sid, and Joachim Joesten, The Luciano Story, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994 (originally published in 1954), p. 46.
  • The People of the State of New York against Charles Luciano, et al., Record on Appeal, Volume III, Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division - First Department, 1937, p. 5182, 5200, 5209.

24 June 2019

Peers salute Genovese after murder acquittal

On this date in 1946...

Leaders of Mafia crime families based in the eastern U.S.  assembled at Midtown Manhattan's Hotel Diplomat, 108-116 West 43rd Street, on June 24, 1946, for a welcome home banquet in honor of Vito Genovese, according to Dom Frasca's book King of Crime (New York: Crown Publishers, 1959). Pittson, Pennsylvania, boss Santo Volpe was the first to greet the guest of honor, Frasca wrote. Reportedly the most senior of the crime bosses in attendance, Volpe led "Don Vitone" to a leather chair at the head of table. The remaining twenty-seven Mafiosi, standing around the table, offered their greetings and congratulations.

Genovese actually had been home in the United States for a few weeks by then. He returned from Italy June 1 in the custody of the U.S. Army Provost Marshal's Office and was turned over to New York prosecutors to stand trial for ordering "hits" on Ferdinand "the Shadow" Boccia and William Gallo in 1934. Boccia was murdered, but Gallo survived. (Genovese also was suspected of calling for the 1943 murder of anti-Fascist editor Carlo Tresca.)

As underboss to Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania in the summer of 1936, Genovese was poised to take control of a sprawling and highly profitable crime family when Lucania was convicted of compulsory prostitution and given a lengthy prison sentence.

Genovese was naturalized a U.S. citizen in November 1936, but almost immediately obtained a passport to leave the country, as he feared prosecution for the Boccia murder. He served the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini during World War II but then worked as an interpreter for the occupying American forces beginning in January 1944.

Murder suspects: Genovese, Mike Miranda, George Smurra, Gus Frasca.
(Brooklyn Eagle)

While he was away, Brooklyn prosecutors built the murder case against Genovese and other crime family leaders, largely through the confession of Ernest "the Hawk" Rupolo, who took part in the attacks on Boccia and Gallo, and corroborating testimony of witness Peter LaTempa. On August 7, 1944, a Kings County grand jury indicted Genovese for homicide. That news was transmitted to military officials, and Genovese was arrested in Italy by the end of the month.

It took months for the extradition process to begin. During that process, prosecutors' only corroborating witness, LaTempa, died in a prison holding cell of a mysterious drug overdose. Corroborating testimony was essential to the case, as state law would not permit conviction based solely on the testimony of an accomplice in the crime.

Prosecutors went ahead with the case following Genovese's return. Genovese was arraigned for the Boccia murder in Kings County Court on June 2, 1946. Trial began on June 6. Rupolo stepped to the witness stand the next day and testified that he was hired by Genovese to eliminate Boccia and Gallo. William Gallo also testified. The state rested its case that day, and the defense immediately moved that the charge against Genovese be dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Hotel Diplomat
(Museum of City of New York)
Judge Samuel Leibowitz (a former criminal defense attorney) dismissed the indictment and directed a verdict of not guilty. But he clearly wasn't happy about the situation. "I am constrained by law to dismiss the indictment and direct the jury to acquit you," the judge stated. "...You and your criminal henchmen thwarted justice time and again by devious means, among which were the terrorizing of witnesses, kidnaping them, yes, even murdering those who could give evidence against you. I cannot speak for the jury, but I believe that if there were even a shred of corroborating evidence, you would have been condemned to the chair."

Genovese was freed on June 10, two weeks before the Hotel Diplomat gathering reported by Dom Frasca.

Years of "government" work - first with Fascists and later with occupiers - apparently left Genovese with a large nest egg (or perhaps his colleagues gave him more than just greetings and food at the banquet). One month after the welcome home party, Genovese purchased a $40,000 seaside home at 130 Ocean Boulevard, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. The deal was reportedly made in cash.

Genovese once again became a key figure in the former Lucania Crime Family.

A decade later, following a 1957 botched murder attempt that left a lasting impression on boss Frank Costello's mind as well as his scalp, Genovese finally moved into the top spot of an organization that would from that time on be associated with his name.

Sources:

  • "'Hawk' tips off police to 4 slayings," Brooklyn Eagle, Aug. 9, 1944, p. 1.
  • "Arrest in Italy in Tresca slaying," New York Post, Nov. 24, 1944.
  • "Chronological history of La Cosa Nostra in the United States," Organized Crime: 25 Years After Valachi,Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Washington D.C, 1988.
  • "Court weighs motion to acquit Genovese," New York Times, June 8, 1946.
  • "Death of four is laid to gang," New York Sun, Aug. 9, 1944, p. 6.
  • "Genovese, cleared of murder, buys $40,000 manse in Jersey," New York Sun, Aug. 16, 1946, p. 5.
  • "Genovese denies guilt," New York Times, June 3, 1945.
  • "Genovese free in murder case," New York Sun, June 10, 1946, p. 1.
  • "Murder trade's jargon explained in court," New York Sun, June 7, 1946, p. 1.
  • "Warrants out for 6 in 1934 gang murder," New York Daily News, Aug. 8, 1944, p. 28.
  • Frasca, Dom, King of Crime, New York: Crown Publishers, 1959.
  • Manifest of S.S. James Lykes, departed Bari, Italy, on May 17, 1945, arrived NYC June 1, 1945.
  • People v. Vito Genovese, Ind. #921/44, Brooklyn District Attorney.
  • Vito Genovese naturalization record, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, petition mo. 256403, filed Dec. 19, 1935, certificate no. 4129975, Nov. 25, 1936, canceled Sept. 1, 1955.

31 May 2019

Detroit fish market murders spark Mafia war

On this date in 1930...

Detroit Free Press
Detroit Mafia leader Gaspare Milazzo and aide Rosario "Sam" Parrino were shot to death May 31, 1930, at an East Vernor Highway fish market. Their deaths helped ignite a widespread rebellion against U.S. Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria.

Cesare "Chester" LaMare, Masseria-aligned leader of an Italian gang based in Hamtramck, had called a conference of regional underworld leaders at the fish market. He secretly planned to eliminate as many as six rival bosses, including top men in the eastern Detroit Mafia dominated by the Tocco, Zerilli and Meli families.

He had once been close friends with the Tocco and Zerilli crowd, but by 1930 most of the bosses apparently knew that LaMare could no longer be trusted. Milazzo and Parrino were the only invitees who showed up for the noon meeting.

Milazzo 
Milazzo, also known as Gaspare Scibilia (and referred to in the Detroit Free Press as Gaspare Lombardo), was a native of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, born to Vincenzo and Camilla Pizzo Milazzo in 1885. In his mid-twenties, he crossed the Atlantic to settle in a growing colony of Castellammaresi centered at North Fifth Street and Roebling Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

He likely participated in a Mafia organization led by Sebastiano DiGaetano. The DiGaetano organization was subsequently commanded by Nicola Schiro, under the strong influence of Castellammarese Mafioso Stefano Magaddino, and decades later became the Bonanno Crime Family.

Milazzo married Rosaria "Sarah" Scibilia, also a native of Castellammare, in 1914. (She entered the U.S. a year earlier with her parents and siblings, heading to 222 North Fifth Street to join an uncle.) After just a few years in New York, where their first child was born, the Milazzo family began traveling, perhaps made necessary by gangland feuds or by Milazzo's involvement in bootlegging rackets. Two children were born to the couple in Pennsylvania between 1918 and 1920. A fourth child was born in California.

In the 1920s, the Milazzos settled down in Detroit. Gaspare Milazzo opened a grocery, which served as handy cover for an illegal brewery operation, and became a respected leader in the local underworld. By 1930, he was owner of a comfortable home at 2511 Lemay Avenue.

Parrino
Born in 1890 in Alcamo, just east of Castellammare, Rosario Parrino and his older brother Giuseppe settled in Brooklyn as young men. Giuseppe's immigration documents indicated that he was heading to Johnson Street in Brooklyn to meet an uncle named Vito DiGaetano. This opens the possibility that the Parrinos were related to the bosses of the DiGaetano underworld organization.

During Prohibition, Giuseppe Parrino became a wealthy member of the Schiro organization. By 1930, he was owner of a tile store and a expensive home on Ocean Parkway in central Brooklyn.

Rosario appears to have been less fortunate. There was uncertainty about his address at the time of his murder. His death certificate stated his address was 2739 East Vernor Highway, the same address typically given for the fish market. Some press reports placed his residence at 2721 East Vernor Highway, a few doors from the market. This was also the address of a Tom Cochello, longtime friend of Milazzo and Parrino who was held by police for questioning following the murders.

The shootings
Milazzo and Parrino were blasted with shotguns at close range shortly after arriving at the market. As the gunfire began, market owner Philip Guastello ran out of his business and did not return.

Powder burns were evident on both of the victims. Milazzo's body was ripped apart, and he died instantly. The official cause of death was listed as "shock, hemorrhage and internal hemorrhage following gunshot wounds, homicide."

Milazzo death certificate

Parrino, struck by slugs to his chest and abdomen, was still alive when police arrived and responded to some questions. He told police that he did not know his assailants and could not imagine why anyone would target him or Milazzo.

Parrino was brought to Receiving Hospital, where Doctor Nathan Schlafer attempted to repair his wounds. Parrino died at two-thirty in the afternoon of internal hemorrhage.

Milazzo was buried June 4 at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit. Parrino's remains were shipped east to relatives. His Michigan death certificate indicated that the body was sent to a brother-in-law named Luigi Tommasso of 264 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. Parrino was buried in St. John Cemetery in Queens.

Aftermath
LaMare
Following the death of Milazzo, "Joe the Boss" Masseria endorsed Chester LaMare as overall leader of Detroit's Italian-Sicilian underworld. But the fish market murders were a strategic failure. The Hamtramck racketeer did not have the muscle to compete with east Detroit Mafiosi. In summer of 1930, LaMare reportedly left Detroit to hide in New York for a while.

The Castellammaresi in Brooklyn were enraged by the Detroit murders and noted that Giuseppe Parrino was oddly accepting of his brother's death. Under pressure from Masseria, boss Nicola Schiro abandoned the organization and returned to Italy. Masseria then backed Giuseppe Parrino as that crime family's new boss, raising Castellammarese suspicions that Parrino was in league with the forces behind the killings.

Many from the former Schiro family secretly assembled under the leadership of Magaddino and Salvatore Maranzano to oppose Masseria. They formed alliances with Mafiosi around New York City and across the country. The resulting conflict became known as the Castellammarese War.

In the late afternoon of January 19, 1931, Giuseppe Parrino dined with three other men at the Del Pezzo Restaurant, on the second floor of 100 West 40th Street in New York City. Just before six o'clock, his dinner companions became argumentative. One of the group resolved the argument, and the men returned to their meals. A gunshot was then heard, and Parrino stood up from his chair. As he did so, the guest who had been the peacemaker held out a handgun and fired a bullet that struck Parrino between the eyes. Two more were then fired into the back of his head.

The dinner companions calmly walked out of the restaurant, leaving the handgun and Parrino's corpse behind them on the floor.

New York Daily News

Weeks later, Chester LaMare quietly returned to his two-story brick home on Grandville Avenue in the northwest of Detroit. His return was noted by local police, who planned to raid the home on the morning of February 7. LaMare was to be arrested and brought to testify before a Wayne County grand jury. He would not live that long.

Overnight, while LaMare's wife was out on an errand, the boss received a visitor. The guest was apparently seen as a friend by LaMare and his two guard dogs. The friendship ended abruptly when the guest fired two bullets into LaMare's head.

Philadelphia Inquirer
Spot of LaMare's murder

Detroit police were certain that the East Side Mafiosi were responsible for the LaMare murder. They arrested Joseph Zerilli and William "Black Bill" Tocco but could not make a case against them.

The war went badly for Masseria in most of the country, as he and his allies suffered serious losses. The one exception was Chicago, where Masseria's man Al Capone emerged victorious over rebel-aligned Joseph Aiello. On April 15, 1931, Masseria's own lieutenants ended the war by arranging the assassination of Joe the Boss at Coney Island, Brooklyn. Castellammarese war leader Salvatore Maranzano was subsequently selected as the next Mafia boss of bosses.

Sources:

  • "5 killings laid to rum racket," Detroit Free Press, June 3, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Alleged gangsters arrested in Detroit," Marshall MI Evening Chronicle, Feb. 10, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Cafe patron put on spot in 'Met' cafe," New York Daily News, Jan. 20, 1931, p. 3.
  • "Detroit gang leader killed in own kitchen," Lansing MI State Journal, Feb. 7, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Gangs receive machine guns," Detroit Free Press, Sept. 18, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Hamtramck waits move by governor," Lansing MI State Journal, July 14, 1924, p. 5.
  • "LaMare, lord of West Side, assassinated," Escanaba MI Daily Press, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 1.
  • "LaMare's slayer still at large," Escanaba MI Daily Press, Feb. 12, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Mob leader 'put on spot,' belief of investigators," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Police death warrants out," Detroit Free Press, June 4, 1930, p. 9.
  • "Police slay thug who defied search," New York Times, Jan. 20, 1931, p. 5.
  • "Riddled by lead slugs," Detroit Free Press, June 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Tip says one of Saturday's victims is wanted for murder," Detroit Free Press, June 2, 1930, p. 3.
  • Chester Sapio Lamare Death Certificate, Michigan Department of Health Division of Vital Statistics, State office no. 140778, register no. 1599, Feb. 7, 1931.
  • Gaspare Milazzo birth certificate, Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, July 18, 1885.
  • Gaspari Milazzo death certificate, Michigan Department of Health Division of Vital Statistics, Reg. No. 7571, June 1, 1930.
  • New York City Extracted Death Index, certificate no. 2435, Jan. 19, 1931.
  • New York City Marriage Index, certificate no. 12669, Nov. 4, 1914.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Luisiana, departed Palermo on March 5, 1910, arrived New York on March 21, 1910.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Prinzess Irene, departed Palermo on Oct. 25, 1913, arrived New York on Nov. 6, 1913.
  • Rosario Parrino Certificate of Death, Michigan Department of Health Division of Vital Statistics, Register no. 7449, May 31, 1930.
  • United States Census of 1930, Michigan, Wayne County, Detroit, Ward 16, Precinct 33, Enumeration District 92-523.
  • United States Census of 1930, Michigan, Wayne County, Detroit, Ward 21, Enumeration District 82-791.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York, Kings County, Enumeration District 24-888.
  • Vito Tocco Marriage Certificate, Detroit, Michigan, Certificate no. 256195, license dated Sept. 19, 1923, ceremony performed Sept. 26, 1923. 
See also:

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.

07 May 2019

Chicago fatal shooting no surprise to U.S. agents

Relatives, phony-money gang may have had grudges against Zagone

On this date in 1909:

Decatur Daily Review
Mariano Zagone, wealthy cigar manufacturer and leader in the Sicilian Mafia of Chicago, was shot and mortally wounded on the evening of May 7, 1909, at his son-in-law's Gault Court saloon. The shooting was not a surprise to some U.S. officials, who knew six years earlier that Zagone was to be put "on the spot."

Chicago Police arrived at the saloon, 154 Gault Court, about seven o'clock, to find Zagone unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk outside. He had been shot through the temple. Police found a fully loaded revolver beneath him. Zagone was taken to Policlinic Hospital, a few blocks away at 219 West Chicago Avenue.
(Note: Gault Court ran between Oak Street and W. Chicago Avenue. It became Cambridge Avenue. One account placed the saloon at 134 Gault Court.)

Brothers Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi, owners of the saloon, were taken into custody, though they claimed to know nothing of the shooting. Joseph Nicolosi, married to the daughter of Zagone's wife, told police he was speaking with a saloon patron at the bar when a gunshot was heard, rushed outside and found Zagone wounded on the sidewalk.

Chicago Tribune
Chicago detectives searched the saloon and found fresh blood spots near a chair by a cigar case. In the rear of the saloon, they found a blood-covered towel and surmised that it had been used to clean up a good deal of additional blood that had been spilled near the chair. Nicolosi said he did not know anything about the blood. Detectives decided that Zagone had been sitting inside the saloon when shot and then had been dragged out to the sidewalk.

Mrs. Biaggia "Bessie" Zagone was questioned by police. She had been nearby, visiting with her daughter Laura at Gault Court, when Zagone was shot. Detectives wanted to know if her husband had received any threatening letters from "Black Hand" extortionists. Bessie was allowed to return home after providing police with a statement:

"My husband has been shot at by someone four times in the last two years. The first time and tonight were the only times he was wounded. The first time he was shot in the back while entering the house at night and a short time after he was able to leave his bed and sit up in a chair a shot was fired from the street through a window at him. This missed my husband, but wounded my son Vincenzo in the left leg and arm as he lay in bed. A few months ago he was shot at a third time, the bullet coming through the front door, but missed him. I never knew my husband had enemies, and don't believe he received letters from the Black Hand."

Mariano Zagone lingered for a day and a half but never recovered consciousness. He died in the early morning of May 9.

Detectives understood that Zagone had enemies. The several previous attempts on his life dating back to November 1906 were well documented. But they found no enemies to charge with his murder. Instead, they had several Zagone relatives booked for murder. Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi and Zagone stepson Joseph Spatafora were brought before Judge Bruggemeyer, charged and held to await the outcome of a coroner's inquiry.

The coroner's jury verdict on May 26 was unhelpful. It stated that Mariano Zagone had been killed by a person unknown. No convincing evidence turned up against the Nicolosis or Joseph Spatafora. The murder case remained a mystery in Chicago. But it was somewhat less mysterious to some federal agents.

Trouble with the boss

Giuseppe Morello, boss of bosses of the American Mafia, was arrested in April, 1903, in connection with Manhattan's infamous Barrel Murder. He also was suspected at that time of running an interstate currency counterfeiting ring.

Flynn
Following his arrest, New York Police and agents of the U.S. Secret Service searched a Chrystie Street apartment where Morello lived with his mistress and their infant daughter. During the search, Agent T.G. Gallagher observed the woman stuffing a package of papers into the baby's clothing. When the papers were removed, they were found to be a collection of correspondence between Morello and leaders of Mafiosi in Chicago and New Orleans.

The letters were examined at the New York office of the Secret Service. Agent in Charge William J. Flynn noted in his daily report of April 17, 1903, that some of the letters contained threatening remarks about a Chicago Mafia leader. The tone of the letters caused Flynn to believe the Chicagoan was already dead, and he reported, "The name Mariano Zagone is mentioned in some of the letters, if he is missing from #97 Milton Ave. Chicago, he may be the murdered man."
(Note: Milton Avenue was renamed Cleveland Avenue. The address referred to was close to the Zagone home on West Oak Street and to the Gault Court saloon. It may have been a Zagone cigar business address.)

A few days later, Flynn received a telegram from Secret Service Chief John Wilkie in Washington, D.C. Wilkie stated that Zagone "is at home, denies ever had any trouble with Morrello."

It is possible that Morello blamed Zagone for allowing law enforcement to learn of a Mafia counterfeiting network in Illinois, New York and New Jersey. The leader of that operation in the Chicago area, Antonio D'Andrea (a former priest and future Mafia boss), was recently  convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to Joliet Penitentiary.

D'Andrea
News released in May 1903 did not help Zagone's position with Morello. At that time it was revealed that the Secret Service learned much about the counterfeiting ring by infiltrating it through Zagone headquarters in the Nicolosi saloon. An undercover operative using the name "Joe Bassini" became friendly with the gangsters and provided information the Secret Service used to bring down D'Andrea. The Zagone gang uncovered evidence of Bassini's treachery but did not succeed in silencing the undercover agent.

At one point, Bassini was confronted by gang members at knifepoint. Threatened with death, he denied assisting law enforcement. Joseph Nicolosi, pretending to be convinced by the denials, stepped in to prevent Bassini's murder. He suggested Bassini and the gangsters patch things up and have a friendly drink. Bassini's drink was drugged. The agent awoke as a captive. Only by repeatedly pleading his innocence and claiming to need a doctor did he eventually win his freedom. On May 20, 1903, he returned with other Secret Service personnel and Chicago detectives and arrested Nicolosi. In announcing that arrest, the Secret Service stated that "the head of the gang of counterfeiters is alleged to be Mariano Zagona."

Zagone was soon arrested. The fact that he was found not guilty of counterfeiting may have convinced Morello that Zagone was secretly aiding law enforcement.

A house divided?

Detectives may have had good reason to suspect Zagone relatives of complicity in his murder.

Rumors surfaced about a Sicilian vendetta. Zagone reportedly stole another man's sweetheart. The man, not a gracious loser, swore to kill Zagone. Police were unable to confirm the rumors, but there may be some connection between them and known Zagone family relationships.

Shortly before marrying Zagone, Bessie was Biaggia Catronia Spatafora. She traveled to the United States in 1898 with her husband Gioacchino Spatafora and five children. The couple had a sixth child after settling in Chicago. The Spataforas appear to have been related by marriage to Rosario Dispenza, a Mafioso from the Ciminna area of Sicily who settled in Chicago in 1899. The Dispenzas and Spataforas lived along Milton Avenue, near Zagone.

About 1901, Gioacchino Spatafora died. The circumstances of his death are uncertain, but old age can be ruled out, as Gioacchino seems to have been in his mid-thirties. Might he have been killed?

Widow Biaggia married Mariano Zagone in October of 1902. Zagone became stepfather to the six Spatafora children and stepfather-in-law to Joseph Nicolosi (married to Laura Spatafora in January 1902).

If Gioacchino Spatafora was a victim of foul play, his kin would have had reason to suspect that the local underworld chief at least had knowledge of the matter. When that chief quickly took Spatafora's widow as his bride, a vendetta could have resulted.

Chicago Tribune 1914
After Zagone

Whatever led to the murder of Zagone, the primary beneficiary of the act seems to have been Rosario Dispenza, banker and saloonkeeper. Dispenza became the new Mafia boss of Chicago's Near North Side Sicilian colony. He also acquired the nickname "Heartless." It is known that Dispenza corresponded with New York-based boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello about Mafia matters. Dispenza's reign was a bloody one. The area near his business on Milton Avenue between West Oak Street and West Hobbie Street became known as "Death Corner."

Dispenza and a business partner, Anthony Puccio, were killed in January 1914, as Anthony D'Andrea brought Chicago's Sicilian underworld under his command.

Bessie Zagone relocated to Rockford, Illinois, for a time, living there with several of her younger children and working as a midwife. She died in Chicago, November 6, 1927, at the age of sixty-one.

(Note: Given the "G" sound of the letter "C" when pronounced by Sicilians, it is possible that Mariano's surname originally was Zaccone or Zarcone. That opens the possibility that he was related to Zarcone Mafiosi, originally from the Bagheria area of Sicily, who settled in Brooklyn, Chicago and Milwaukee. Like Mariano Zagone, a Giovanni Zarcone of Brooklyn had been involved with Giuseppe Morello counterfeiting operations and was murdered after a falling-out with the boss.)

Sources:
  • "Bad money gang raided," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1903, p. 5.
  • "Black Hand got wealthy Chicagoan," Decatur IL Daily Review, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Black Hand victim shot," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Booked on charge of murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Marriage licenses," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 7, 1902, p. 13.
  • "Repeated attempts to kill result from Italian feud," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 21, 1906, p. 3.
  • "Would-be assassin shoots man at threshold of home," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 7, 1906, p. 13.
  • "Zagone dies of his wounds," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Zagone murder still a mystery," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1909, p. 6.
  • Cook County IL Deaths Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Cook County IL Marriage Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 17, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 20, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, New York: James A. McCann Company, 1919, p. 177-179, 206-214.
  • Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, Ancestry.com; Cook County IL Death Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Aller, arrived New York on June 28, 1899.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Naples on May 24, 1899, arrived New York on May 19, 1899.
  • United States Census of 1900, Illinois, Cook County, North Town Chicago, Ward 23, Enumeration District 700.
  • United States Census of 1920, Illinois, Winnebago County, Rockford City, Ward 5, Enumeration District 201.

02 May 2019

Frank Costello: 'Somebody tried to get me'

NYC underworld leader survives assassination attempt

On this date in 1957...


New York City crime boss Frank Costello suffered only a superficial wound late on the evening of May 2, 1957, when a tall, hulking gunman fired a bullet at the back of his head.

The assassination attempt, along with legal battles relating to a tax evasion conviction and government attempts to revoke his citizenship, convinced Costello to retire from crime family leadership. Vito Genovese stepped in as boss of the organization that has since been known as the Genovese Crime Family.

May 2, 1957

Earlier on the night of May 2, Costello, the sixty-six-year-old leader of Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania's former organization, had dinner with his wife at the Monsignore Restaurant, 61 East 55th Street in Manhattan. They were joined by a number of friends, including New York Enquirer Publisher Generoso Pope, Jr. (who, with loans from Costello, would build his newspaper into the National Enquirer), and modeling agent Philip Kennedy. Costello decided to leave the party "early."

New York Times
Leaving Mrs. Costello at the restaurant with their friends, Costello and Kennedy took a taxi for the one and a half mile trip to the Majestic Apartments, 115 Central Park West, near 72nd Street. The taxi pulled up to the building shortly before 11 p.m. Costello and Kennedy spoke briefly, and Costello exited the vehicle.

The Mafia leader passed through an exterior door, descended two stairs and was opening an interior door to the building lobby when the large man in a dark suit and dark hat ran up behind him, said, "This is for you, Frank," and fired a single shot.

Kennedy heard the gunshot as his taxi pulled away from the curb. He told the driver to stop, and he jumped out and rushed to Costello.

The underworld boss had staggered to a lobby bench. Blood was oozing from a wound that stretched across the back of his scalp. Red blotches stained his jacket and shirt collar. He told Kennedy, "Somebody tried to get me."

A taxi was summoned to take Costello to Roosevelt Hospital, where it was found that the bullet had not penetrated his skull. Mrs. Costello joined her husband at the hospital at 11:50 p.m.

Investigation

About an hour later, police escorted a bandaged Costello to the West 54th Street Police Station, where he was questioned.

Though one Roosevelt Hospital doctor believed the nature of the scalp wound indicated that Costello turned toward the gunman at the moment the shot was fired, Costello insisted that he did not see who shot him and had no enemies in the world. "I didn't see nothing," he said. "I feel fine."

Costello claimed that he did not hear the gunman approach and did not even hear the shot that hit him. He merely felt a stinging sensation behind one ear and, when he touched the spot, felt the wetness of his blood.



The doorman of the Majestic Apartments told police that he saw the large gunman get out of a Cadillac double-parked behind the taxi that brought Costello home. He recalled that the man seemed to waddle as he rushed toward Costello. The gunman returned to the Cadillac after firing the single shot, and the vehicle sped away south on Central Park West. The Cadillac had curtains in its rear windows and no light on its license plate, according to the doorman.

(At some point that night, police acquired a slip of paper that had been in Costello's possession. After a fair amount of study, it was determined that numbers written on the paper - 651,284 - matched the gross gambling earnings of the Las Vegas Tropicana Hotel for the period April 3 to April 26. The opening of the Tropicana's casino had been delayed due to reported links to Costello associate Phil Kastel. The State of Nevada granted a license to the casino only after being assured that it had severed its connections with the underworld. Costello's slip of paper strongly suggested a continuing relationship.)

The Chin

For months, dozens of NYPD detectives struggled to identify the shooter. (They even picked up Carl Lucania, cousin of former boss Salvatore Lucania, for questioning, holding him on a vagrancy charge until June 25.) In July, they heard from sources that the gunman was former prizefighter Vincent "the Chin" Gigante. It took until late August to find and arrest Gigante.

Later in the year, resolving the attempted assassination of Costello was shoved to a back-burner, as authorities were busied with the assassination of Albert Anastasia and with a large-scale gathering of known underworld figures at Joseph Barbara's Apalachin, New York, home.

Gigante was tried in May 1958 for the shooting of Costello. On May 27, a jury found him not guilty, and he went free.

Gigante's connection with Vito Genovese - Costello's rival and his successor as crime family boss - became apparent weeks later, when Genovese, Gigante and several dozen others were charged with narcotics conspiracy. Authorities learned that Gigante had been assigned to eliminate Costello, so Genovese could take over the criminal organization.

Sources:
  • "Carl Lucania is freed by court," New York Daily News, June 26, 1957, p. 16.
  • "Costello gunman is sought in vain by 66 detectives," New York Times, May 4, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Costello is shot entering home; gunman escapes," New York Times, May 3, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Costello notation represents 'take' at Las Vegas Inn," Nyack NY Journal-News, June 12, 1957, p. B1.
  • "Gambler Costello shot in 'murder' attempt," Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle, May 3, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Genovese freed in bail of $50,000," New York Times, July 9, 1958.
  • "Gigante beats rap in Costello case," Nyack NY Journal-News, May 29, 1958, p. 9.
  • "Hunt ex-boxer in shooting of Frank Costello," New York Daily News, July 17, 1957, p. 5.
  • "Jury frees Gigante in Costello shooting," New York Times, May 28, 1958, p. 1.
  • "U.S. jury indicts Genovese, Gigante in narcotics plot," New York Times, July 8, 1958, p. 1.
  • Federici, William, "Hogan links Costello's 'notes' to Vegas casino," New York Daily News, June 12, 1957, p. 4.
  • Katz, Leonard, Uncle Frank: The Biography of Frank Costello, New York: Drake Publishers, 1973, p. 203-209.
  • Machirella, Henry, and Henry Lee, "Jail ex-boxer for trying to kill Costello," New York Daily News, Aug. 20, 1957, p. 2.
  • McCarthy, Robert, Joseph Donnelly and Jack Smee, "Costello shot in ambush at door of home," New York Daily News, May 3, 1957, p. 2.

16 April 2019

Death of former Chicago gang chief goes unnoticed

Torrio founded Chicago Outfit
and mentored young Al Capone

On this date in 1957...

Chicago Tribune
May 8, 1957
Johnny Torrio, seventy-five-year-old former Chicago underworld boss, died April 16, 1957. His passing was virtually unnoticed. Newspapers were not alerted until about three weeks later, when his will was filed for probate.

Raised in the gangs of lower Manhattan's Five Points area, Torrio went west (along with longtime friend and fellow Five Points gangster Rocco "Roxie" Vanella) around 1909-1910. He became bodyguard, enforcer and business manager for Chicago vice lord "Big Jim" Colosimo - possibly a relative of Torrio's step-father Salvatore Caputo.

After a while, Torrio brought young Al Capone from Brooklyn to Chicago to assist him. Following Colosimo's 1920 murder, Torrio turned the Colosimo organization into a bootlegging operation and competed with other local gangs and the powerful Chicago Mafia for rackets territory.

A January 1925 assassination attempt convinced Torrio to retire as gang boss, and he turned his organization over to Capone. Following a jail term at Waukegan, Illinois, for Prohibition violations, Torrio returned to New York. He and his wife settled into a Brooklyn residence, spent winters in St. Petersburg and traveled abroad regularly. Torrio continued his involvement in underworld rackets, repeatedly running into trouble with the authorities.

The final decade of his life was spent out of the public eye. His last years were lived quietly in a recently constructed apartment building, 9902 Third Avenue in Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton section.

On April 16, 1957, he suffered a heart attack while in a barber's chair and was rushed to Cumberland Hospital (named for its first home on Cumberland Street but located on Auburn Place in 1957). He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Torrio was survived by his wife of forty years, Anna.

NY Times, May 8, 1957