Chicago’s Unione Siciliana
1920 – A Decade of Slaughter
By Allan May
The Unione Siciliana was as mysterious an organization as the Mafia, the Black Hand and the Camorra. In some circles there is still a belief that the Black Hand, known in Italy as Mano Nera, became the Mafia and in turn the Unione Siciliana.
In 1962, Italian historian and author Giovanni Schiavo wrote the hard-edged book, The Truth About The Mafia and Organized Crime in America. Schiavo was a prolific author on Italian/American history. His writings spanned four decades. His 1962 publication, however, seemed to have come right from the public relations department of Mafia, Inc.
Schiavo begins his discussion of the Unione Siciliana with the line, “Let us get a few facts straight, once (and) for all, about the drivel that has been written regarding the Black Hand and the Unione Siciliana.” To say Mr. Schiavo’s views are somewhat slanted would be an understatement. He attacks both the Kefauver Hearings and the McClellan Committee as Italian-bashing productions.
One of the more ridiculous chapters in the book deals with the Apalachin Conference in November 1957. Schiavo blasts writer Frederic Sondern, Jr. and Bureau of Narcotics field supervisor Charles Siragusa for portraying Apalachin as a “Mafia Grand Council” meeting. He claims the raid came about due to a personal vendetta between New York State trooper Sergeant Edgar Crosswell, who was given credit for uncovering the conclave, and Mafia host Joseph Barbara.
Schiavo claims the purpose for the gathering was to have a “steak fry” for a sick friend – Barbara, who was recovering from a recent heart attack. Schiavo’s book was written prior to famed Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi’s Senate Rackets Committee testimony in 1963, where the real reason the notorious crime summit was revealed. It would have been interesting to hear Schiavo defend his “steak fry” story after this revelation.
So, why, you might be thinking, am I using Schiavo’s book to explain the Chicago chapter of the Unione Siciliana? He offers the best explanation of the origin of the society … at least in terms of how it affected the Windy City. Schiavo gives us the following description of the organization in Chicago:
“The Unione Siciliana – not Unione Siciliano or Unione Sicilione – was one of the thousands of fraternal organizations which the Italians established in America along the lines of mutual benefit societies. It was organized in Chicago in 1895 and for a time its membership was limited to Sicilians. After the turn of the century, however, natives of other parts of Italy were anxious to join and were accepted, so that by the end of World War One there were several lodges of non-Sicilians, like the Tuscan lodge, the Roman lodge, the Venetian lodge, and so on.”
If the Unione Siciliana actually allowed members of non-Sicilian ancestry in, when it came to leadership of the society it was a different story all together. This exclusivity would act as a stone in the shoe of the most infamous gangster of all time – Alphonse Capone, who was of Neapolitan heritage – and result in most leaders of the organization being murdered during the 1920s because of their gang allegiances.
As the turbulent decade of the 1920s got underway, Anthony (Antonio) D’Andrea was the leader of Chicago’s Unione Siciliana. Born in Sicily, D’Andrea was a graduate of the University of Palermo where he was a linguist and studied for the priesthood. In 1902, he was convicted of counterfeiting and served 13 months in prison. He was pardoned in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt after a former student of D’Andrea interceded on his behalf.
In Chicago, D’Andrea was said to be a “former power in the old red light district.” During the early teens he was suspected of being connected to a gang of Italian counterfeiters and bank thieves who operated throughout the country. While this was going on in Chicago, Ignazio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta was arrested in New York City and sent to prison, and Anthony and Frank Milano were apprehended in Cleveland – all on counterfeiting charges. This is interesting to note because it indicates that Italian underworld criminals may have been working together many years prior to Prohibition.
After his release from prison in 1903, D’Andrea went to Chicago and settled in what was then the 19th Ward. He became involved in politics and some local unions. D’Andrea’s brother, Joseph, was president of the Sewer Diggers, Tunnel Workers, and Water Pipe Extension Laborers’ Union. The newspapers claimed Joseph had introduced “the peon system of extorting money from Italian laborers.” Joseph D’Andrea was murdered during a labor quarrel that took place during the building the union station on Canal Street. His brother Anthony would take his place as president.
John Powers, called “Johnny De Pow,” by his Italian supporters, had been the Alderman and Democratic political boss of the 19th Ward since 1888. Powers had won the alderman’s seat (in other cities this position would be called city council member) in the ward for 16 consecutive elections. Over this period of time, the ward had changed from predominantly Irish to 80 percent Italian. A good portion of the population was now looking for an Italian Democrat to represent them, much like “Diamond Jim” Esposito was representing the Italian Republican voters in the ward.
D’Andrea’s first run-in with Powers came in 1915 when they backed opposing candidates for mayor. On several occasions “downtown leaders” were called upon to workout a truce between the two men. D’Andrea made his first political move in 1915 running for the office of County Commissioner as a Democrat. His opposition tried to have him taken off the ballot because of his counterfeiting conviction. A Chicago Daily Tribune article called D’Andrea an “unfrocked priest.” D’Andrea fought back pointing out that he had cleaned up his act and had been elected president of the Italian Colonial Committee of the Italian Societies of Chicago, and was president of the International Hod Carriers’ Union. D’Andrea was defeated.
In February 1916, D’Andrea ran for the Democratic alderman’s nomination against Power’s hand picked candidate, James P. Bowler. On February 21, Frank Lombardi, a Bowler supporter and a political leader in the 19th Ward, was killed in a Taylor Street saloon. Lombardi was behind the bar serving drinks to three men, two of which asked him to join them in a toast.
“Long life and happiness to you,” said one of the men in Italian.
The toast over, one of the men drew a revolver and shot Lombardi twice. He died at a nearby hospital. Lombardi’s 18 year-old daughter, Annie, told authorities that her father was murdered, “because he had dared to head a determined fight against D’Andrea, who had lorded it over a fear stricken ward, too afraid of his power to cross him.”
Police from the Maxwell Street station claimed that Lombardi’s killing was just the “latest addition to the Black Hand toll.” On February 24, the Chicago Daily Tribune printed a front page article titled “Police On Guard Over Two Homes in Mafia Terror.” The article pointed out that police were convinced the killing was a result of a “Sicilian feud,” as opposed to a 19th Ward political war.
Before his next political endeavor, D’Andrea became the business agent for the Macaroni Manufacturers’ Union. D’Andrea ran for the Democratic nomination to be the Constitutional Convention representative from the Democratic Second District. Although D’Andrea won, a judge gave the election to D’Andrea’s opponent after voter fraud had been determined.
In Organized Crime in Chicago, John Landesco writes that, “D’Andrea was then elected president of the Unione Siciliana, one of the strongest organizations of foreign groups in America.” Recognizing D’Andrea’s new constituent strength, Powers tried to make peace with him. Powers turned down the committeemanship of the 19th Ward in March 1920 and urged the ward organization to support D’Andrea. In return, D’Andrea agreed to support Powers for the alderman’s position. However, the Illinois Supreme Court voided the election and Powers retained the position. After this turn of events it became a political war to the death.
On September 28, a bomb exploded on the front porch of a residence belonging to Alderman Powers. The home, on McAlister Place, had been owned by Powers for nearly four decades. In recent years he had taken to living on Michigan Avenue. His political opponents claimed Powers kept the house on McAlister Place so he could claim residency within the 19th Ward. On the night of the explosion, five people, including Powers, were asleep inside the house and claimed to have been knocked out of bed by the blast. The front of the home was destroyed and most of the windows of houses in the neighborhood were shattered.
Sometime after the bombing, D’Andrea announced his candidacy as a non-partisan, for the alderman’s position in the 19th Ward. On February 11, 1921, eleven days before the aldermanic elections, a powerful bomb exploded at a D’Andrea political rally in a building on Blue Island Avenue that was attended by 300 supporters. The bomb, consisting of three sticks of dynamite secured inside a wooden box, was placed alongside a wall outside the building. Whoever planted the bomb had either been in the building, or received inside help, as it was placed where it would have the best possible chance of injuring D’Andrea. The explosion blew a three foot hole in the wall and hurled bricks twenty-five feet across the room. Seventeen people were injured, three severely, two of whom nearly had their legs torn off.
The blast took place around 9:30 p.m. just after a speech by prominent civic leader Dr. Gaetano Rongo. (Rongo would be the future father-in-law of Capone gang leader Frank Nitti.) Outside the building police officers shot at a man who fled the scene on the running board of a red automobile in which another man and a woman were spotted.
Alderman Powers was quick to make a statement about the bombing to the news media:
“I deplore it very much.
“I am the sorriest man that it happened, and the injured surely have my sympathy.
“Why only last Saturday D’Andrea and I sat down together for two hours in the Sherman house and agreed to conduct a clean campaign. There was to be no mud slinging and absolutely no gunmen on election day, or any other time. We shook hands and parted the best of friends.”
Illinois State’s Attorney Robert E. Crowe, who over the years would prove to be a man of questionable integrity, responded to the bombings by vowing to draft a new state bill. Under his proposed law the minimum sentence would be 25 years in the penitentiary and the maximum punishment would be the death sentence. He stated, “Any one guilty of placing a bomb where woman and children are endangered should be hanged.”
D’Andrea’s political nemesis, James B. Bowler, claimed the bomb was planted by the D’Andrea forces to “discredit Alderman Powers.” After the bombing Bowler proclaimed:
“Conditions in the Nineteenth Ward are Terrible. Gunmen are patrolling the streets. I have received threats that I was to be ‘bumped off’ or kidnapped. Alderman Powers’ house is guarded day and night. Our men have been met, threatened and slugged. Gunmen and cutthroats have been imported from New York and Buffalo for this campaign of intimidation. Alderman Powers’ forces can’t hold meetings except under heavy guard. Owners of halls have been threatened with death or destruction of their buildings if they rent their places to us. It is worse than the middle ages.”
Less than a week later, on February 18, the home of Joseph Spica, a political lieutenant of D’Andrea’s, was bombed, and later, a bomb destroyed D’Andrea’s political headquarters. After each incident Powers posted a $2,000 reward for the arrest of the perpetrators.
On Election Day, February 22, police were out early and in force throughout Chicago. They picked up 150 men during the day; the most notorious of which was Edward “Spike” O’Donnell the leader of a South Side gang. The biggest catch of the day turned out to be a cache of dynamite. In what law enforcement called “the headquarters for the preelection bomb outrages” in the 19th Ward, police raided a “farm” at 71st Street and Central Park Avenue. There they uncovered 200 pounds of dynamite and a large sack of blasting powder. Two men, residents of the 19th War, were arrested.
More than 400 policemen were stationed within the 19th Ward alone and over 50 people were arrested before noon. Despite the police presence, three of Powers’ workers, including an election judge and precinct captain, were kidnapped during the morning hours.
Powers won by a slim margin of just 435 votes. However, this did not put an end to the violence. On March 9, less than three weeks after the election, two of Powers’ precinct captains were mercilessly slain. Around 9:00 o'clock that morning Municipal Court Deputy Bailiff Paul A. Labriola left his wife and two young children and was walking to work. A short distance from his home, Labriola was confronted by two men of whom he nodded in recognition of one. Both men pulled automatics and began blasting. As Labriola dropped to the sidewalk on Congress Street near Halsted, two more gunmen ran up and fired. One man, later alleged to be Angelo Genna, was reported to have straddled the prone victim before shooting him three more times.
Labriola was hit nine times. The coroner later reported that any one of eight of the wounds would have proved fatal. Mrs. Labriola heard the gunfire and ran to the scene screaming. She was aware that her husband had received several recent death threats. She fainted at the sight of her husband’s body. When an ambulance arrived, Labriola’s body was taken directly to an undertaker’s parlor.
An interesting side note to the killing. A Chicago police sergeant reported that for several days “the district has been flooded with youths carrying ‘dynamite canes,’ with which they produced explosions similar to pistol shots.” The sergeant claimed that this was done to “dull the attention of residents, who thought that the actual murder shots were nothing more than a recurrence of the ‘cane’ explosions.” As bizarre as this may sound, police were able to find only one witness, a woman, who saw the killers run away.
Just hours after the murder of Labriola, Harry Raymond (real name Raimondi) was murdered in his cigar store on Taylor Street. Four men, believed to have taken part in the earlier killing, arrived outside Raymond’s store around 1:00 p.m. Two of the men walked inside, purchased cigars, and walked out. An eyewitness recounts what happened next:
“They had been gone only a few minutes when the front door opened again. Two other men entered. They like the others, walked to the counter and asked for cigars. Raymond served them. One of them proffered a 50 cent piece. Raymond took it and reached his right hand into his trousers pocket for the change.
“With that movement both men whipped out automatics pistols. There were three shots. The first hit Raymond at the left temple and went clean through his head, coming out on the right side. The other two struck him in the chest, penetrating the lungs.
“For a moment he stood upright and rigid, his mouth opened as though he would like to say something. The he toppled to the floor, dead.”
The two killers ran from the store dropping one of the murder weapons on the sidewalk. Immediate speculation was that the gunmen in both killings were “imported” from New York. Alderman Powers arrived at the Labriola home and told reporters that, “Labriola was my best friend. I don’t know of any enemies he had.”
Powers was later asked to comment about his second slain precinct captain. The alderman stated, “Raymond was a warm friend of mine and very active for me in the campaign. It seems impossible that things like these can occur in this age of civilization. It is worse than the middle ages.” This was becoming a popular line.
It was later alleged that the four gunmen were responsible in both killings. Police suspected Angelo Genna, Samoots Amatuna, Frank Gambino, and “Two Gun Johnny” Guardino.
When confronted by reporters, D’Andrea angrily denied any knowledge of the murders. “It is a most regrettable incident,” he claimed. “I knew nothing of it and I can’t see why my name should be dragged into it.” While D’Andrea may have denied knowledge and involvement, when Amatuna and Gambino were arrested they were identified as saloonkeepers and friends of D’Andrea as well as political supporters. The newspapers claimed D’Andrea, working with Assistant State’s Attorney, Stephen A Malato, a friend, was instrumental in securing their release.
D’Andrea was worried about his own well being though. He began to carry a gun with him wherever he went. On April 12, he was arrested after a raid in a social club on Taylor Street. Several men inside were arrested for gambling and D’Andrea was charged with possession of a concealed weapon, which was found in the pocket of his overcoat. In court, D’Andrea was found not guilty because he was not wearing the overcoat at the time of the search.
It was reported that the violence and killings appalled D’Andrea. He announced that he was going to withdraw from politics, “rather than have it thought his political ambitions caused bloodshed.” D’Andrea was also fearful for his own life. Apparently this wasn’t enough to satisfy his adversaries. A neighbor, who lived across the hall from D’Andrea on South Ashland Avenue, began receiving death threat notes that were intended for D’Andrea. The neighbor gave the letters to D’Andrea, then quickly moved out of the building. The killers then moved in.
In the early morning hours of May 11, 1921, Anthony D’Andrea was having dinner with two friends at “Diamond Joe” Esposito’s Neapolitan Restaurant at Taylor and Halsted Streets. After dinner he was driven to his apartment by Joseph Laspisa, a friend who served as D’Andrea’s bodyguard. D’Andrea said goodnight and turned to climb the stairs. Assassins, hiding in the recently vacated apartment, blasted away at him. The 49 year-old D’Andrea staggered inside the doorway and called out to his wife.
“Lena, Lena,” D’Andrea cried. “I’m dying. I’m dying.”
D’Andrea was carried into his home and a doctor was called. An ambulance arrived and took D’Andrea to Jefferson Park Hospital where, suffering from massive internal bleeding, he arrived in critical condition.
Police searched the vacant flat from where the gunmen had fired. They found a new shotgun – with the barrel sawed off – and a hat that was left behind. Inside the hat band was a $20 dollar bill with a note marked: “For Flowers.”
The police were out in force the morning after the shooting. In the time-honored tradition of omerta, the Italian code of silence, D’Andrea wouldn’t, or couldn’t, provide any clues for the police. It was reported that he told his friend, Assistant State’s Attorney Malato, that he didn’t recognize his assailants.
On the street the police met the usual wall of silence. One resident told police detectives, “The man who talks is a marked man. Our safety lies in minding our own business.” A local attorney described the neighborhood in the wake of the recent rash of killings and bombings. “Conditions here are terrible,” he said. “Flats are vacant because the fear of bombs prevents any one from moving in. Houses cannot be mortgaged nor insured because of the danger. And no one dares complain, or his life would be forfeit.”
D’Andrea, with thirteen shotgun slugs in his body, succumbed to his wounds 36 hours after the shooting, but not before, police allege, he asked “Two Gun Johnny” Guardino to avenge his death.
On May 17, the day of the funeral, D’Andrea’s body was to be taken from his home to Our Lady of Pompeii, for the service and then to Mount Olivet for burial. As his $3,000 bronze casket was being carried down the front steps of his apartment, word arrived that the Catholic Church refused to allow the remains to be brought to the church, or to be buried on consecrated ground. The explanation was that D’Andrea, “had not lived as a Catholic, therefore he should not be buried as one…as he lived so shall he be buried”
The pallbearers, which included “Diamond Joe” Esposito, Dr. Gaetano Rongo, and Peter Russo (listed as D’Andrea’s replacement as the president of the Unione Siciliana) placed the casket on the sidewalk in the exact spot where he had been shot. Two of D’Andrea’s brothers, Horace and Louis, both priests, took over. The Reverend Horace D’Andrea conducted the prayers and sprinkled holy water on the casket of his late brother. He then said a prayer, which the newspapers described as not being from the ritual, but from the heart. A chorus of “Amen” followed the prayers from the 8,000 estimated mourners who filled the street.
D’Andrea’s body was driven to Mount Greenwood Cemetery amid a caravan that included twelve flower cars. The funeral cortege was estimated to be two and a half miles long. Of the 39 honorary pallbearers, 21 were judges. The Chicago Daily Tribune wrongly stated, “Representatives of thirty branches of the Unione Siciliana, a fraternal organization founded by D’Andrea and of which he was the first president, were among the foot marchers who followed the body from the home.”
The day following the D’Andrea shooting, police arrested Paul Labriola, a cousin with the same name of the slain Municipal court bailiff. Labriola, who suffered from tuberculosis, had returned from Mexico, where he was living for health reason, for his cousin’s funeral.
“I didn’t kill D’Andrea,” Labriola told detectives. “I would have killed him in a minute though, if I had the opportunity. Some one beat me to it. I’m glad they got him.”
Police detectives claim when Labriola returned, he purchased a “large revolver and vowed he would avenge his kinsman.” Police claimed Labriola and a brother of the victim, Felix, swore an oath of revenge at the gravesite. When Labriola’s fingerprints didn’t match those found at the ambush site he was released.
Police were also looking for “Two Gun Johnny” Guardino. He had been missing since the day he allegedly received word from D’Andrea from his deathbed to avenge the shooting. On May 15, police raided a poolroom on West Polk Street and arrested 38 men for gambling, including Guardino. The poolroom was the scene of a shooting shortly after the Labriola murder. Guardino and Giuseppe Nuzzo, the poolroom owner, were wounded during a drive by shooting while standing out front.
Despite the murder of D’Andrea, the bodies continued to pile up. On May 14, employees of the sanitary district discovered the body of a man in a drainage canal. The victim’s head had been crushed and mutilated and a grain sack was tied around the neck with wire. Tied to the feet was another sack weighted down with cobblestones. The man had been dead for about one week. Although the victim was never identified, the police determined the murder was part of the 19th Ward political feud.
Less than two weeks later, Michael Laccari was shot to death. Laccari was a former D’Andrea friend and political supporter. One month later, on June 22, another D’Andrea friend and supporter met the same fate. Clemento Basile, a father of three, was sitting outside a candy and fruit store when two men shot him to death. The newspapers reported that when the killers struck there were, “Hundreds of children playing in the Ghetto streets,” near the store.
Four days later, former D’Andrea bodyguard Joseph Laspisa was murdered. Laspisa was the president of an Italian mutual benefit society called Ventimiglia and was busy planning its annual picnic. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon Laspisa had dropped off his son at relatives and was taking care of some business involving the outing. Around 2:00 p.m. Laspisa was seen driving on Oak Street with two men in the back of his automobile. All of a sudden the two men drew guns and aimed them at the back of Laspisa’s head and fired. Laspisa’s body was blasted forward over the steering wheel. While the two killers jumped out and vanished, the automobile hopped the curb and came to rest after hitting a building located next to St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church. As a crowd of onlookers gathered around, the shadow from the cross of the church rested on the car.
At the sound of the shooting and the crash, many of the parishioners ran to the street. They were soon joined there by Reverend Louis M. Gianbastiano who urged the crowd, “If you know who the men were who have done this fearful crime, and if there is in you the least spirit of Americanism, you will go to the police and tell. You owe it to the good name of your race, which has been shamed on many occasions by your silence. If you know these men, I implore you in the name of all good Italians, in the name of all good Americans, and in the name of the Lord, to tell the police.”
Laspisa’s wife soon arrived at the scene. Upon seeing her husband’s body she became hysterical. She cried out, “Why did they kill him. He was not a politician. He was not a gunman. He was not of the Black Hand. He was the best man in the world. He was just as good a friend to Alderman Johnny Powers as he was to ‘Tony’ D’Andrea. Everybody liked him, loved him. Why? Why? Why?”
Found in the car, next to posters advertising the upcoming picnic, was Laspisa’s straw boater, which had powder burns on it. Police advanced two theories for the murder. The first was that D’Andrea’s killers silenced him in case he knew more about the murder than he told the police. The second theory, in spite of all the wonderful things his wife had to say about him, was that Laspisa was murdered in revenge for a killing he had allegedly been involved with in 1913. A boarder at the Laspisa household had been found in an alley a short distance from the home riddled by shotgun pellets. When Laspisa’s body arrived at the morgue it was placed on the same slab as his alleged victim.
Laspisa’s attorney made a statement to the police that the murder was surely a mistake. He claimed, “No one would want to kill Joe Laspisa. Everyone liked him” Commenting on Laspisa’s memberships in Italian social associations he said, “As far as I know he did not belong to the Unione Siciliana, D’Andrea’s organization. No they must have killed the wrong man.”
On July 7, another shooting took place involving a former D’Andrea supporter. Joseph Sinacola lived across the street from Laspisa. The two men were best friends; Sinacola was godfather to one of Laspisa’s four children. Sinacola had seven children and when Laspisa was murdered, Sinacola became a father figure to his children. Sinacola was leaving the Laspisa apartment walking across the street to his home when an automobile pulled up and one man got out. As Sinacola’s 13-year-old daughter Josephine watched in horror, the man pulled a gun and shot him in the head. The bullet entered Sinacola’s right temple and exited through his left cheek. Incredibly, Sinacola recovered, but refused to identify his attacker.
Still another D’Andrea loyalist was murdered on July 21. Andrew Orlando, a 30 year-old barber, took eleven bullets in the head and back as he sat in his automobile at 11:30 at night. The killers, three gunmen who were in the backseat of Orlando’s automobile, fled to another vehicle, which pulled alongside after the shooting.
The bloodshed was not over. Two days after the brutal murder of Orlando, assassins struck again. This time it was “Two Gun Johnny” Guardino, the man selected to extract revenge for D’Andrea’s murder. Guardino was standing with two friends in front of a grocery store on Polk Street across the street from the poolroom where he had been wounded several months earlier. While the men talked, a lone gunman approached and fired six shots at Guardino, striking him three times.
The gunman ran a few feet down the sidewalk, knocked over a youth, and disappeared down an alley. Guardino’s two friends stopped a man driving a pickup truck and placed the dying man on board. On the way to Jefferson Park Hospital Guardino died. His two companions fled the truck once they reached the hospital leaving the driver to explain what happened. By midnight police were holding 35 men for questioning, but again they were frustrated with not being able to find anyone witness who would talk about the shooting. By the following day, police had brought in more than 150 men for questioning, all to no avail.
Violence had become a typical way of life in the 19th Ward. Nothing was more indicative of that and the neighborhood’s attitude toward crime than an event which occurred on July 24, 1921. Mrs. Mary Esposito (it is not known if she was related to “Diamond Joe”) was sitting on the steps of her flat watching the excitement of a Sunday bridal party as they prepared to head to the church. Mary Esposito’s husband had been a victim of the 19th Ward political feud. A henchman of Johnny Powers, he had been murdered several months back.
As Mary watched the excited wedding goers, Mrs. Emilia Panico stepped from the crowd and confronted her. Panico cursed at Esposito in Italian and slapped her in the face. Esposito jumped to her feet and the two began fighting – pulling hair and scratching – as members of the wedding party cheered them on. Panico pulled a knife from her “bosom” and cut Esposito on the arm. Esposito screamed and ran down the steps to her apartment trying frantically to close the door behind her. After a short struggle Panico stabbed Esposito in the breast and again in the abdomen.
Panico then ran out of the building where she was stopped by a taxicab driver who disarmed her. The wedding guests moved menacingly toward the driver and told him, “Let go of her!” Panico then disappeared up an alley.
Esposito, true to form, refused to name her attacker and died a short time later on the operating table.
Police soon suspected Panico as the murderer and after searching for her for 24 hours left word with neighbors that if she didn’t turn herself in they would place her six children in an institution. The following day Panico went to the Maxwell Street police station and confessed. She told detectives that she murdered Esposito because, “She was going around with my husband.”
Joseph Sinacola, who had miraculously survived being shot in the head on July 6, became the last victim of the bloody 19th Ward battle when killers returned to finish him off on August 14. Incredibly the murder took place in front of his young daughter Josephine who had witnessed the first shooting. Sitting on a rocking chair in front of his home around 10:00 a.m., two men walked down the street and approached Sinacola. As the pair got closer, Sinacola recognized them and jumped up and drew a gun. The gunmen responded first firing two shots at Sinacola, who dropped his weapon and took off on the run. He got about fifteen feet before he was cut down in a hail of bullets. The assassins dropped their guns and fled. Sinacola’s wife, Catherine, ran outside with several of her children and surrounded her mortally wounded husband.
Two days later an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune claimed:
“Joseph Sinacola was murdered because he was going to talk.
“He had prepared ‘for the good of my people,’ to break the Latin code of silence and tell police the names of the gunmen whose swift and certain vengeance already had taken a toll of twelve lives in less than half as many months.
“He had agreed to bare the mess of ward political intrigue which levied a ‘tax’ upon the business men of the district for the support of the banditti in such a way that evidence could be obtained, witnesses procured, and convictions won.”
Chicago Chief of Police, Charles C. Fitzmorris, made the following eye-opening statement, “Sinacola was killed because he had agreed to talk. The murderers must have learned about it, for they murdered him just in time. Another day or two and … I would have had information that would have sent a lot of fellows to the gallows and cleaned up the Nineteenth ward.”
Reporters asked the chief why Sinacola would break the honored code of silence. The chief replied, “If I told you that I would be tearing down the whole fabric by which we eventually hope to break through the reign of silence in the Nineteenth ward.”
A police official, not wishing to be identified, claimed, “It was money; money and the belief that by telling what he knew he could do his people a real service.”
At the coroner’s inquest Catherine Sinacola was asked who killed her husband. As she opened her mouth to answer, she looked at five of her children who were seated nearby. Then through tear-filled eyes she softly stated, “No, no, I can’t tell.”
Although president of the Unione Siciliana, D’Andrea’s death was not a result of his holding that position. However, at least six of the eight remaining titleholders throughout the decade would be killed directly as a result of their obtaining the office.
Over the years even the most learned of organized crime historians could not agree as to the exact purpose of the Unione Siciliana or its degree of criminality. Below are discussions from four organized crime experts sharing their views of the mysterious society:
A Family Business, by Francis A. J. Ianni: “Our own view is that the Unione Siciliana was a loose confederation of local groups of Sicilian-Americans involved in selling extortion and protection in the Little Italies and in bootlegging activities, particularly in organizing the cottage industry of home distilling in the ghettos. We maintain that by the late 1920’s this organization had all the cultural and organizational features of a new Mafia in the United States. Like the Mafia in Sicily, it served the Little Italies as a means of social control, a mechanism for the management of social conflict (and again like the Sicilian Mafia, a generator of some of the conflict itself) and as a means of providing services to a public which would otherwise remain unserved.”
Theft of the Nation, by Donald R. Cressey: “In Chicago, the ‘Unione’ was in the early period of Prohibition engaged in a kind of piecework, sweatshop, alcohol-distilling enterprise. Hundreds of Sicilian immigrants were equipped with stills, and they sold their alcohol to the central organization.”
Italians in Chicago, 1880-1930, by Humbert S. Nelli: “Journalistic accounts of Chicago crime in the prohibition era generally ascribed control and direction of the production of bootleg booze in the city’s Italian neighborhoods to the Unione Siciliana. Before World War I this organization enjoyed a prestigious reputation for its opposition to immigrant crime as a supporter of the White Hand Society. By 1929 Fred D. Pasley would write that the Union ‘comprises some 15,000 Sicilians, disciplined like an army; implacable of purpose; swift and silent of deed; the Mafia of Italy transplanted to the United States’”
The American Mafia, by Joseph L. Albini: “There is no doubt that since this society had a large Italian and Sicilian membership during the early 1900s, many writers simply assumed that the society was composed of certain ‘Mafia’ elements. Yet they never give any valid evidence that this in fact was the case. Instead they merely state that Unione Siciliana was another name for the ‘Mafia.’ Oddly, however, we find that in these descriptions ‘Mafia’ now has a president rather than a chief. This again indicates the desire of those writers to force their argument that this fraternal organization, which had a president, vice president, and other positions, was the same as (the) ‘Mafia.’”
Albini also states, “It is obvious in the literature that, as with the terms mafia, Black Hand and Camorra, writers have employed the term Unione Siciliana so loosely that it becomes meaningless.”
There was nothing meaningless about the death rate of Unione Siciliana presidents as the decade wore on.
John Landesco, in Organized Crime in Chicago, lists one of Anthony D’Andrea’s pallbearers, Peter Russo, as president of the Unione Siciliana at his funeral. If he was, and whatever role he played in the organization, it is lost to history. The next president to emerge was Michele “Mike” Merlo.
Merlo was born in Sicily in 1880 and came to America when he was nine years old. While rising in stature within the Unione Siciliana, he exploited the membership to increase his political power, but he was said to have had a genuine concern for the welfare of those in the community. Merlo worked hard to maintain the peace in the Chicago underworld. He had the respect of not only the Torrio / Capone mob and the Genna brothers, but also of the North Side Gang headed by Dion O’Bannion.
Unlike D’Andrea and the men that would hold the office of president of the Unione Siciliano throughout the 1920s, Merlo’s death from natural causes did not create front-page headlines. In fact, below is the entire article from the back pages of the Chicago Daily Tribune covering his death:
MICHAEL MERLO, LEADER OF CHICAGO ITALIANS, IS DEAD
Michael Merlo, 44, 433 Diversy parkway, president of the Union Sicilian society and a leader of Chicago Italians in the Democratic party, died yesterday at his home of a complication of diseases. Mr. Merlo is survived by his wife and six children.
This was hardly a fitting accolade to Merlo’s prestige in the community, especially in view of the $100,000 in floral tributes spent on him. Merlo’s death would trigger a series of events that would change the face of Chicago’s underworld.
In Edward D. Sullivan’s Rattling the Cup, he describes the Genna family as, “the most tempestuous, vengeful and reckless family of fireworks that ever whirled itself to death and disorder in Chicago’s crime history.” The six Genna brothers – Angelo, Antonio, Mike, Peter, Sam and Vincenzo – dominated bootlegging in the 19th Ward, now more popularly known as Little Italy. When Prohibition began they found there was a fortune to be made. The brothers were able to obtain a federal license to manufacture industrial alcohol. They then re-distilled the alcohol to make it palatable and sold it illegally. From their headquarters, a three-story warehouse on Taylor Street, they watched the money pour in and their product pour out. Soon they were unable to keep up with the demand.
A solution to this problem was arrived at by Henry Spignola, a lawyer, businessman and politician, whose sister later married Angelo Genna. With financing from Johnny Torrio, the Gennas installed stills in the homes of Little Italy’s residents. Beginning with a few hundred, the numbers of stills in these mostly tenement flats grew into the thousands. With relatively little work to be done, the still watchers earned $15 a day. As the Gennas’ power and influence grew in Little Italy, the brothers jumped on the political bandwagon of “Diamond Joe” Esposito, the Republican ward boss. They also had a large number of policemen from the Maxwell Street Station on their payroll protecting their alky-cooking operations from harassment. Included in their payroll was said to be five police captains.
With their immensely successful alky cooking operations the Gennas soon had a surplus of bootleg alcohol and began to push the product outside of their agreed upon territory. As they moved north and east they butted heads with Dion O’Bannion’s North Side Gang. O’Bannion supplied a better product compared to the Gennas’ “rot gut” whiskey, so the brothers tried to level the playing field by lowering their prices by $3 to $6 a gallon.
O’Bannion could be savage and unpredictable. Out of respect Torrio, whose genius had helped establish the individual gang territories in the city, O’Bannion complained to him instead of declaring war on the Gennas. Torrio’s influence was enough to make the Gennas recede, although there remained a few border skirmishes.
In the spring of 1924, O’Bannion hijacked a shipment of the Gennas’ alcohol and the precarious peace was teetering. Both Torrio and Merlo used their persuasive talents to keep the Gennas from retaliating. Then O’Bannion dropped a bombshell. He went to Torrio and told him that he had had enough and that he was retiring to Colorado. O’Bannion asked Torrio to purchase his share of the Sieben Brewery, which they jointly owned. The price was $500,000.
Unknown to Torrio was that O’Bannion had been informed the Chicago police had plans to raid the brewery. O’Bannion concocted a plan to make sure Torrio was there when the raid took place. Since this would be Torrio’s second prohibition violation, if convicted, he faced certain prison time. During the early hours of May 19, 1924, Torrio, O’Bannion and 29 others were arrested at the brewery. Torrio soon realized O’Bannion’s treachery. In addition to the humiliation of the arrest, O’Bannion refused to return the money Torrio had paid him for his share of the brewery.
In the weeks following the raid, hostilities increased between the North Siders and the Gennas. During this time it was reported that O’Bannion’s second in command, Hymie Weiss, suggested caution in the gang’s activities against the brothers. O’Bannion is said to have replied with a snarling, “Oh, to hell with them Sicilians.” These words quickly got back to the Gennas and their allies – Torrio and Capone.
Over the summer of 1924 and into the fall, Mike Merlo was still preaching peace and discouraging any plans to kill O’Bannion. Torrio and the Gennas bided their time. O’Bannion had part ownership in a Cicero gambling den called the Ship. He, Weiss and fellow North Sider, Vincent “the Schemer” Drucci would stop by weekly for their split of the profits. On November 3, they met Capone at the Ship, where he was surrounded by three Franks – Maritote, Nitti and Rio. As Capone was divvying up the profits, he told O’Bannion that Angelo Genna had lost a lot of money at the club the previous week. In addition to dropping an untold amount of money, young Angelo had run up a $30,000 marker. Capone suggested that as a courtesy to Genna that they tear up the IOU. O’Bannion responded by heading to the nearest telephone and ordering Angelo Genna to make good on the marker within the week.
This incident proved to be the last straw. Five days later, Mike Merlo succumbed to cancer. The Torrio / Capone / Genna forces, who had capitulated to Merlo’s pleas for peace, used the Unione Siciliana leader’s passing to initiate their plot to murder O’Bannion. On Sunday night, November 9, Vincenzo Genna arrived at Schofield’s flower shop, which O’Bannion jointly owned (he had a love for arranging flowers). Genna picked up a $750 wreath – casing the shop before he departed. Later that evening, Frank Uale (pronounced and sometimes spelled Yale), at onetime Capone’s New York City mentor and recognized as the national head of the Unione Siciliana, called Schofield’s and placed a $2,000 flower order (some references say it was Angelo Genna who placed the call). The order was to be picked up at the shop the following morning.
Around 11:30 a.m. Monday, November 10, three men entered Schofield’s flower shop. Two were members the Unione Siciliana and would gain a reputation as Chicago’s most proficient killers – Albert Anselmi and John Scalise. The third man was never positively identified, although he was believed to be either Frank Uale or Mike Genna. A porter sweeping up in the back room watched either Uale or Genna shake O’Bannion’s hand. As the porter turned his back to continue his chore he heard five gun shots. Turing back around he could see the man was still grasping O’Bannion’s hand. The North Side gang leader was killed instantly.
Before Merlo died, a lieutenant, believed to be Anthony Lombardo, hired a sculptor to create a wax likeness of the Unione Siciliana leader’s head. Done in a tint that mirrored Merlo’s skin tone, the waxen head was taken back to a studio to be completed. Matching brown eyes were implanted and eyebrows and eyelashes made from actual black and gray human hair were added. The head was mounted on a copper wire frame built to match Merlo’s measurements. A suit of blue flowers completed the effigy. At the funeral home, it was said that “fear gripped” the thousands of mourners who came to pay their respects until their eyes became accustomed to the candle lit likeness of the former leader.
Merlo’s funeral was held on November 13. Three thousand mourners gathered around his home the day of the funeral and followed the procession to St. Clement’s Church for high mass. The 266-car cortege made its way to Mount Carmel Cemetery led by the life-sized effigy of Merlo. At the cemetery the crowd of mourners swelled to 10,000. Among the honorary pallbearers were Mayor William E. Dever, State Attorney Robert E. Crowe, Police Chief Morgan A. Collins, and Cook County board president and future mayor, Anton J. Cermak. The following day Dion O’Bannion was buried in the same cemetery.
Police arrested Uale several days later as he was at the train station on his way back to New York. Samoots Amatuna provided an airtight alibi for Uale by producing a waiter that swore he had served lunch to the two men at the Palmer House restaurant while the murder was taking place. This, plus the fact that it would have been questionable for Uale to use his name while ordering the flowers and then showing up to murder O’Bannion, led some crime historians to believe it was Mike Genna who actually held the hand of the North Side leader that day,
O’Bannion’s death would be avenged. In January 1925, a North Side hit squad consisting of Weiss, Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran shot and seriously wounded Johnny Torrio outside his apartment. Torrio eventually recovered, served his sentence from the Sieben Brewery raid, and left Chicago behind. Capone took over the Chicago rackets and would battle the North Side followers of O’Bannion in a war that raged on for four more years culminating in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.
Merlo’s position as president of the Unione Siciliana would be taken by Angelo Genna, the youngest and most volatile of the six brothers. Angelo was one of the top gunmen during Anthony D’Andrea’s ill-fated attempt to take over the Democratic political leadership of the 19th Ward. Of the estimated 30 murders that took place during that war the only person ever prosecuted was “Bloody” Angelo – for the killing of Paul Labriola. At the trial, Angelo was ably defended by D’Andrea’s friend, Stephen Malato, who resigned his position as assistant state’s attorney to handle the case.
Angelo also went free for the murder of Paul Notti in 1922 even though Notti, from his deathbed, had identified Genna. The defense was able to prove that Notti was under the influence of an opiate at the time for pain; the judge tossed the confession out. In August 1922, Angelo interceded for two friends in a Mann Act violation, where a 15 year-old girl was taken across state lines for purposes of prostitution. On the day before the trial was to get underway, Angelo stopped the young lady on the street and told her if she testified that he would kill both her and her mother. The brave girl went to court and exposed the threat. Angelo Genna was sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary for a year for the threat in November 1922.
With Merlo’s death the Torrio / Capone combine saw the opportunity to install their own man as head of the Unione Siciliana. Antonio Lombardo was a friend of Capone and the Aiello brothers, with whom he was a partner in a cheese business. Capone felt his relationship with Frank Uale, the national head of the Unione, would help him get Lombardo the top position, and this would eventually lead to Capone’s control of Little Italy’s alky cookers.
This plan of the Neapolitan Capone didn’t sit well with the Sicilian Gennas, who, as members of the hierarchy of the Unione, saw the position of president as one of prestige and honor among their Sicilian brethren. The brothers quickly lobbied the rank and file and pressed hard to put Angelo in as the next president. Capone, unhappy at the turn of events, bided his time under the patient leadership of Johnny Torrio.
Capone biographer Laurence Bergreen gives us the following account:
“The selection of Merlo’s successor provoked Frankie Yale to return to Chicago. As head of the powerful New York branch of the Unione, Yale had considerable influence over the selection of who would fill the corresponding post in Chicago. He conferred with Torrio and Capone, and the three men decided to appoint Angelo Genna …who wanted only to see Dion O’Bannion in his coffin. As the new president of the Unione Sicilione, Angelo had no objection to the immediate elimination of a certain North Side bootlegger who had recently humiliated him on the telephone over a little IOU.”
On January 10, 1925, after his ascension to the Unione Siciliana throne, Angelo Genna got married. Kenneth Allsop in his classic work, The Bootleggers: The Story of Prohibition, claims, “They (the brothers) had married off Angelo to Lucille, younger sister of an important member of the Sicilian community. The marriage was a happy consummation of this business bond, the fusion of money and blood in the manner which the Sicilians valued.”
The wedding was viewed as a “social and commercial conquest.” Angelo advertised the blessed event in the newspaper with an invitation to the entire neighborhood – “Come one, come all.” Three thousand “guests” were in attendance at Carmen’s Hall of the Ashland Auditorium on the city’s West Side. The highlight of the reception was a 12-foot high, 2,000-pound wedding cake. Described as the “most elaborately decorated cake ever baked in Chicago,” it was designed by a local artist/sculptor.
The newly married couple moved into a $400 a month hotel suite on Sheridan Road near Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson’s home, just north of the Gold Coast. The honeymoon would be a short one. Four months had passed since the wounding of Johnny Torrio. During this relative calm only two underworld murders had been recorded – Walter O’Donnell, the brother of Spike, and Harry Hassmiller were murdered in a roadhouse in Evergreen Park, Illinois on April 17. The calm was about to end and the killings that followed did not favor the Gennas.
Packing a wad of cash totaling $11,000 into his pocket, Angelo Genna kissed his 18 year-old wife Lucille goodbye and headed out the door on the morning of May 25, 1925. Angelo was on his way to purchase a dream home Lucille desired in Oak Park. As Angelo tooled down Ogden Avenue in a new $6,000 roadster, a sedan with four men in it began to overtake him.
At the sound of sawed-off shotgun blasts, Angelo floored the gas pedal and the chase down Ogden Avenue reached speeds of 60 miles-per-hour. Angelo, who always carried at least two guns, pulled one from a belt holster and returned fire. At Hudson Avenue, Angelo tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a turn. His car crashed into a lamppost and Angelo was momentarily stunned by the collision. The sedan pulled broadside and the assassins fired a barrage at the helpless man.
The sedan sped away and when bystanders arrived they found Genna trying to reach for his second gun, the first lay emptied nearby. One of the shotgun blasts had severed his spine. Angelo was taken to Evangelical Deaconess Hospital. As he lay mortally wounded on the operating table a detective sergeant gave him the bad news.
“You’re going to die, Angelo,” he said. “Tell us who bumped you off.”
Genna shrugged his shoulders in arrogance.
Lucille Spignola Genna was rushed to the hospital. Calling him “sweetheart” she asked who had shot him. Genna shook his head and soon died. Sam Genna, who had arrived too late, Lucille and Peter Spignola were taken to the detective bureau where they were questioned by Chief of Detectives William Schoemaker and Captain John Stege. No information was forthcoming other than, “Angelo had no enemies, everybody liked him.”
At the coroner’s inquest, a young man came forward to say that he was close enough to see the license plate number of the killer’s automobile. A check of motor vehicle records showed the car had been stolen two weeks before the murder. Without a clear-cut explanation, police attributed the murder to the North Side gang in retaliation for the killing of O’Bannion and claimed that Weiss, Drucci and Moran were three of the four men in the car, the driver of which was alleged to be Frank Gusenberg, one of three brothers in the gang.
Angelo Genna’s funeral procession consisted of 300 automobiles, 30 containing flowers. The Catholic Church denied a church ceremony and burial in consecrated ground. Genna’s active pallbearers were all members of the Unione Siciliana. Among the mourners were a state senator, two state representatives, “Diamond Joe” Esposito, and Al Capone. Oddly enough, Alderman John Powers, whose associates were murdered by “Bloody Angelo,” was also in attendance. In a unique twist to this funeral, Angelo’s “crepe-hung,” shotgun-peppered roadster was towed along.
Angelo’s death and the loss of leadership of the Unione Siciliana were the least of the remaining brothers’ worries. Capone had covertly stolen away the firepower of the Gennas – Scalise and Anselmi. On June 13, 1925, Mike Genna was killed by a police officer interrupting what crime historians believed to be a one-way ride for him by Scalise and Anselmi. On July 8, Antonio was murdered on the street. In a period of 44 days three of the Genna brothers were killed. Later, on January 10, 1926, Angelo’s brother-in-law, Henry Spignola was murdered. The remaining Genna brothers – Peter, Sam and Vincenzo – fled to Sicily. The Genna family reign over the Unione Siciliana had lasted a little over six months.
Samoots, whose real name was Samuel Samuzzo Amatuna, had a short but colorful career in the underworld. Called the “Beau Brummel of Little Italy” by the newspapers, his rise and fall paralleled that of the Genna family with whom Amatuna was once closely associated.
In 1916, at the age of 17, Amatuna’s rise in the crime world began when he was credited with the murder of D’Andrea foe Frank Lombardi on February 21. Five years later, on March 8, 1921, he was a participant in a Genna hit team that killed both Paul A. Labriola and Harry Raimondi. In the Maxwell Street neighborhood where he was so popular, Amatuna had the reputation of a tough guy who never carried a gun. Apparently when he did carry one, he was accustomed to using it.
In the wake of Angelo Genna’s murder, and without the blessing from New York, Amatuna seized the opportunity to make himself head of the Unione Siciliana. He accomplished this by hiring two bodyguards, Edward Zion, and Abraham Goldstein, and then walking into the Unione headquarters and proclaiming himself the boss.
The real muscle of the Genna gang came from the killing duo of Scalise and Anselmi, who, unbeknownst to Amatuna and other Genna loyalists, had switched allegiance to Capone. The two were facing separate trials for the recent murders of two police officers who were killed during the ill-fated attempt to murder Mike Genna. Amatuna busied himself and his men with raising $100,000 for their legal defense.
While this was going on, Antonio Genna was murdered and the remaining three brothers fled town. This left Amatuna with the unenviable task of trying to regroup the remnants of the once powerful Genna organization.
In addition to rebuilding an underworld empire left in shambles, Amatuna was also planning his wedding, which was to “set a new high-mark in the festivities of the kind.” Amatuna was engaged to Rose Pecorara, the sister-in-law of the late Unione president Mike Merlo. The wedding was planned for the previous December, but postponed when Merlo passed away.
On Tuesday night, November 10, 1925 Amatuna and his fiancee had tickets to attend the opera to hear Aida. As was his custom before any social event, Amatuna visited his barber at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt. After receiving a shave and a manicure, Amatuna was preparing to leave when two men entered the busy shop and drew guns. As the pair started shooting, Amatuna ducked behind a chair while barbers and customers dove for cover. Both gunmen fired four times each, but only one bullet struck Amatuna, entering his neck and coming out his back below the shoulder blade. Friends of Amatuna’s standing outside the shop rushed in after the gunmen fled and carried him to a taxi which took him to the hospital.
At Jefferson Park Hospital Dr. Gaetano Rongo, the former D’Andrea supporter attended to Amatuna. The bullet that entered Amatuna’s neck passed close to his spinal cord. Doctors feared that if he lived he would be paralyzed. Amatuna lingered through Wednesday, but by Thursday afternoon he knew he was dying. His brother had spent the afternoon canceling wedding arrangements that had been made for the following week. Meanwhile, preparations were underway for a deathbed wedding for late Thursday night. Before the ceremony could begin, Amatuna slipped into a coma. At 2:00 a.m. Friday morning he was pronounced dead.
The wake was held on November 16 at Miss Pecorara’s home where $20,000 worth of floral arrangements spilled out onto the front lawn, back lawn and neighbor’s lawns. The following day the funeral cortege wove its way through Little Italy passing the barbershop where Amatuna was shot. The procession ended at Mount Carmel Cemetery where Amatuna was placed in a temporary vault. His body would soon be sent home to his native Sicily where it would be buried in consecrated ground with much pomp.
A friend of Amatuna’s, speaking anonymously, told a reporter after the shooting, that the relationship between Amatuna and the Genna’s had soured sometime before Amatuna took over the Unione. Amatuna had confided to a policeman friend that he was in debt some $22,000 due to the money he had to cough up for the Scalise and Anselmi defense fund. Meanwhile, the police, incensed over the killing of two fellow officers, kicked over all of the stills in the Maxwell Street territory of the Gennas. Amatuna complained, “More than half of those stills were mine.” The friend stated that each time Amatuna set up a new still, “it cost him $800 to $1,000, and every time he set one up the police came along and kicked it over again.”
After Amatuna’s funeral his ex-bodyguards were next to go. On November 18, after returning from the funeral, two men shot Edward Zion to death in his driveway. On November 20, Abraham Goldstein was shot twice in the head while standing in a drug store.
Over the years the killers of Amatuna were believed to be Jim Doherty of the West Side O’Donnell gang and Vincent Drucci of the North Side gang. In his book “Mr. Capone,” author Robert Schoenberg presents a logical argument that the killers were actually members of the Capone mob instead of Doherty and Drucci. Whatever the case, Capone was certainly the one who benefited. Finally he was able to get his own man into the presidency of the Unione Siciliano, and second, he now believed he had the Genna’s “fabulously profitable alky-cooking empire” to himself.
Amatuna’s time atop the Unione Siciliano leadership was under six months, just weeks short of Angelo Genna’s reign.
With the death of Samoots Amatuna in November 1925, Al Capone was finally able to place his own man, Tony Lombardo, into the leadership of the Unione Siciliana. It was not an easy task. Opposing the Capone interests was Joseph Aiello, one of nine brothers who were active in the Unione. Aiello desired the throne himself. He bided his time…and plotted.
Antonio "Anthony, Tony" Lombardo
By his own account he came by boat to America. He arrived in Chicago by train with just $12 in his pockets. Lombardo got into the commission business. Some accounts describe him as a wholesale grocer and a cheese merchant in partnership with the Aiello family. Another source claims he was a sugar broker and became rich by supplying the Genna brother's alky cookers.
Although not much else is known about Lombardo's earlier years, two things are certain. First, Lombardo was the man Capone wanted as president of the Unione Siciliano, and second, when he became president, his friendship with the Aiellos deteriorated into what some historians called the "War of Sicilian Succession."
Author Alson J. Smith, in his 1954 classic Syndicate City: The Chicago Crime Cartel and What To Do About It, explains that Chicago Municipal Court Judge Bernard Barasa was the "top dog" in the Unione Siciliana in the wake of Amatuna's murder, but only in a figure-head position. Smith gives us his description of the Unione Siciliano:
"Up until 1920 or thereabouts it had been a reasonably law-abiding organization. It provided insurance and burial benefits for its members and functioned as a go-between for Sicilian immigrants and American politicians, police authorities, labor leaders, etc. On the side it acted as an intermediary in the settlement of personal feuds between various members of the Sicilian community who did not wish to take their dispute before the legal authorities. Quite often these private matters involved extortion, kidnapping, etc., which in the Old World had been the province of the Sicilian Mafia, the old Black Hand. The Unione was also the custodian of a set of weird medieval customs by means of which the Sicilian community in America was bound to that back in Sicily, such things as 'blood brotherhood' and 'omerta,' the law of silence."
Smith contends that after Amatuna's death he was "succeeded as president not by one man but by two - Antonio Lombardo and Joe Aiello." Smith claims a "beautiful friendship came to an abrupt end" when Capone "installed" Lombardo as president. Aiello's appeals to the Unione's national president in New York, Frank Uale, went unheeded - initially.
Lombardo changed the name of the Chicago chapter of the Unione to the Italo-American National Union and opened the society's membership to all Italians. The new face-life included moving the organization's offices, opening a publishing house, starting a youth program, and hiring a New York University professor to write a history of Italians in Chicago. Unione member Dan Serritella became the society's representative in "Big Bill" Thompson's administration when he was appointed to the office of City Sealer.
Despite the positive accomplishments, and Capone's backing, Lombardo faced a dangerous road. With Amatuna's death, the raising of funds for Albert Anselmi and John Scalise's defense against charges of killing two policemen continued - with bloody consequences for those who were not making significant contributions. Angelo Genna's brother-in-law, Henry Spignola, was shot to death on January 10, 1926 while leaving a South Halsted restaurant. Spignola, who had already contributed some $10,000 to the fund, balked when pressed for more. Later that month two local grocers, brothers Augustino and Antonio Moreci, yeast suppliers for the Genna alky-cooking operators, were approached for contributions. Both men gave $2,000 apiece, but made it clear that would be the end of their generosity. On January 26 the two brothers were found shot to death.
The overseeing of Amatuna's collection efforts had fallen on Orazio Tropea, a former Genna gunman so widely feared that he had been given the nickname "the Scourge." After the murders of Spignola and the Moreci brothers, retaliation was swift, but by whom was unknown. In a period of just nine days, between February 15th and 24th, 1926, Tropea, and two other fund collectors - Ecola Baldelli and Vito Bascone - were found shot to death. It was rumored that Tropea and his collectors were holding out on the two jailed gunmen.(On June 23, 1927 Anselmi and Scalise were acquitted of the murders of the two policemen.)
Meanwhile, North Side mobsters were still gunning for Capone in the wake of O'Bannion's death. Capone forces struck back twice during August 1926. Within a six day period two attacks were orchestrated on Earl "Hymie" Weiss and Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci, both times in front of the Standard Oil Building on South Michigan Avenue. The North Siders fought back in spectacular fashion on September 20, when a motorcade of ten automobiles shot the Hawthorne Hotel in Cicero to pieces in an attempt to kill Capone.
At this point Lombardo, who acted as a consigliere to Capone, was commissioned by "Big Al" to arrange a peace initiative with the North Side leadership. Willing to agree to anything within reason, Capone had Lombardo meet with Weiss at the Hotel Sherman. Weiss demanded that Anselmi and Scalise be turned over to him for execution for the slaying of O'Bannion. When Lombardo telephoned with this demand Capone responded, "I wouldn't do that to a yellow dog." Weiss then stormed out of the hotel. Perhaps he should have been more conciliatory: three weeks later Capone's gunmen slaughtered him.
With Weiss dead, Drucci was more open to a peace proposal. It wouldn't take long. This one was initiated by one-time Capone ally Joe "Pollack" Saltis, who was found recently to have committed to the Weiss camp in Chicago's on going beer war. Saltis was fearful that his new allegiance would make him Capone's next target. Maxie Eisen, a Chicago labor racketeer representing Saltis, called for another meeting to be held at the Hotel Sherman on October 20. Eisen, flanked by Lombardo, spoke to a gathering of approximately 30 of the city's top mobsters and a five-point peace plan, submitted by Capone, was accepted by the warring factions.
There was relative calm between the warring gangs in Chicago for almost seven months. Then Aiello offered the chef of Capone's favorite restaurant, Joe Esposito's Bella Napoli Café, $35,000 to put prussic acid in Capone's soup. The chef allegedly agreed, but later changed his mind and exposed the plot to Capone. Infuriated, Capone prepared for war. Aiello then offered $50,000 to anyone who would kill Capone. William Helmer, in his book Public Enemies: America's Criminal Past, 1919-1940, chronicles the chain of events:
May 25, 1927 - New York gangster Tony Torchio is machine-gunned to death in Chicago, after responding to Joe Aiello's bounty on Al Capone.
June 1, 1927 - Aiello gangster Lawrence LaPresta is killed by the Capone gang.
June 29-30, 1927 - Diego Attlomionte, Numio Jamerrico and Lorenzo Alagna, Aiello gangsters, are gunned down by the Capone gang.
July 11, 1927 - Giovanni Blandini, an Aiello gangster, is shot to death in Chicago.
July 17, 1927 - Dominic Cinderello, an Aiello gangster, is murdered in Chicago.
September 24, 1927 - Sam Valente, Cleveland gangster hired by Joe Aiello to kill Capone, is machine-gunned in Chicago.
Aiello, who was suffering huge loses, aligned himself with the North Side gang now under the control of George "Bugs" Moran. Included in the Moran group were Jack Zuta, Billy Skidmore and Barney Bertsche. At the time of the Hotel Sherman Peace Treaty, this trio ran several North Side prostitution houses and gambling dens. As a result of the treaty, their operations now came under Capone who collected a percentage of their profits. The three men, who hated Capone, snubbed him and conspired with the Moran - Aiello combination against him.
November 9, 1927 - "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn shot and wounded by the Moran gang's Gusenberg brothers, Pete and Frank, in the cigar store of Chicago's McCormick Hotel.
November 10, 1927 - Robert and Frank Aiello, rivals of Capone, are shot to death at Springfield, Illinois.
November 20, 1927 - Bombs damage restaurant owned by gangster Jack Zuta at 323 North Ashland in Chicago.
November 23, 1927 - Bomb damages headquarters of Jack Zuta - Billy Skidmore - Barney Bertsche vice syndicate, at 823 West Adams in Chicago.
On November 13, police raided an apartment across the street from Lombardo's home on Washington Boulevard and discovered shotguns and a large supply of ammunition. Lombardo's followers went to Joe Aiello's home to get an explanation but were told he was away in New York City.
Aided by a series of tips, the police made three more raids. At an apartment on Western Avenue they found a cache of dynamite and percussion caps. Next they went to the Rex Hotel on North Ashland where they arrested Milwaukee gunman Angelo La Mantio and four Aiello associates. Taken to the South Clark Street station to be questioned, La Mantio, only 23, confessed that he had been hired by the Aiellos to kill Capone and Lombardo and had been paid a $5,000 advance.
From the Rex Hotel, police went to a room in the Atlantic Hotel where they found two rifles and ammunition in a room that overlooked a saloon owned by former alderman Michael Kenna. Both Capone and Lombardo were known to frequent the place. Capone and Lombardo were brought to the detective bureau on South Clark Street to view the suspects. Both Capone and Lombardo refused to identify any of the men.
In the meantime, police, acting on the La Mantio confession, went to the Aiello home and found him there. When word got back to Capone that Aiello was being held at the South Clark Street station he reacted as Capone normally did - sensationally. Six taxicabs soon approached the station house, one behind the other. Twenty to twenty-five gunmen got out and began to take up positions around the station.
Louis "Little New York" Campagna, a top Capone bodyguard, along with two other men, stood near the front door of the station. Campagna drew a revolver from his shoulder holster and stuck it in his coat pocket. This caught the attention of a policeman inside the station and he went outside with several other officers and seized the three men. They were placed in a cell next to Aiello. The police then placed into a nearby cell an officer, disguised as a prisoner, who understood Sicilian. Aiello quickly recognized his enemies and became terrified.
"You're dead, friend, you're dead," Campagna told Aiello. "You won't get to the end of the street still walking."
"Can't we settle this thing?" Aiello pleaded. "Give me fifteen days, just fifteen days, and I will sell my stores and my house, and leave everything in your hands. Think of my wife and my baby, and let me go."
"You dirty rat," replied Campagna. "You started this thing. We'll end it. You're as good as dead now."
A short while later, Aiello was booked for conspiracy to commit murder and had his bond approved. Aiello and his wife and child were given a police escort to a taxicab and driven away to safety. The following day, three bakery shops owned by the Aiellos were found closed. Due to appear in court the following day, his lawyer announced Aiello had suffered a nervous breakdown. This brought smiles to the faces of Campagna and the other Capone associates in the courtroom. Joe Aiello then disappeared from Chicago - for a while.
The assault continued however, into early January 1928.
January 3, 1928 - Bombs damage the Forest Club, an alleged gambling resort at 7214 Circle Avenue, Forest Park, Illinois, and the Newport Hotel, a Zuta-Bertsche-Skidmore gang hangout, at West Madison in Chicago.
January 5, 1928 - Capone gangsters shoot up the Aiello Bros. Bakery at 473 West Division Street in the Capone-Aiello war. Dago Lawrence Mangano and Phil D'Andrea, Capone lieutenants, are sought by the police.
Joe Aiello and several of his brothers reportedly headed to Trenton, New Jersey to lie low. While there Aiello visited Brooklyn to meet with Frank Uale. According to Alson Smith in Syndicate City, "Frankie was not particularly concerned about justice, but the dues hadn't been poring into national headquarters from Chicago in their customary volume and Frankie assumed that Al and Tony were holding out on him. So he listened to Joe Aiello's tale of woe and issued a ukase (order) - Tony was to step down and let Joe run the Chicago Unione."
If Uale felt that Capone had been holding out on him, this might have been the reason the Brooklyn leader of the national Unione Siciliana had been hijacking liquor shipments headed for the Chicago mob boss beginning in June 1927. Capone certainly suspected as much after an old Brooklyn friend, James DeAmato was gunned down on July 7, 1927. DeAmato had been asked by Capone to watch a few of his shipments. DeAmato reported back that Uale had been behind the hijackings.
With the latest edict from Uale to remove Lombardo, and because of the hijackings, Capone decided to move against his old mentor. On July 1, 1928, a brilliant Sunday afternoon, Capone gunmen snuffed out the life of one of New York City's most popular gangsters. The killing was the city's first Tommy gun murder and Uale's funeral was one of the grandest ever held in the Big Apple.
With many of Joe Aiello's gunmen dead and now Frank Uale in the grave with them, the Aiello brothers resorted to one more plan of action. This plan struck at the pocket book of Capone and Aiello, but it also tore apart the Chicago neighborhood known as "Little Sicily." Never in the history of gang warfare in American - or SINCE - has any war except the Capone-Aiello war had such results among the populace of a city.
A Chicago Daily Tribune reporter, with the unlikely name of Orville Dwyer, went into the Sicilian community and, with the help of an informant, described the neighborhood and what happened there. Here are the highlights of his investigation:
"The north side Sicilian colony called 'Little Sicily,' bounded by Division street on the north, Chicago avenue on the south, Sedgwick street on the east, and Larrabee street on the west, has been one of the numerous battle grounds stretching away to New York and elsewhere.
"Once, years ago, this district was one of Swedish and Norwegian and German immigrants. The Sicilians followed and in a few years had established themselves in one solid community. They had their feuds which they brought with them from the south of Italy; but in the main they drank their red wine and made music and sang and danced in happiness and in peace.
"Then came prohibition and stills and moonshine and gangsters and shotguns and machine guns and the transformation began. Almost every man became a potential alcohol cooker, almost every home a potential cookery. They found they could make more money out of cooking alcohol and moonshine than they had ever dreamed of having.
"Lombardo and the Aiellos (who own much property in this area) in their last two years of fighting have battled not alone with bombs and terrorism, shotguns and machine guns, but they have employed economic measures as well. As a result of it all terror has seized the community. A campaign of threats and warnings has been carried out - cross currents of intimidation have sent the people into panic.
"More than 300 families have moved away from here since August 1… 'Why did they all go?' They were told to go. They got a mysterious telephone call or anonymous letters. And the next day they were gone. A few weeks ago laughter and music came out of these houses, lights twinkled in them in the evening. Now they are empty and their windows stare like blind eyes in the sun. There are hundreds of vacant flats, whole buildings.
"There are 300 to 400 fewer children in the (Edward) Jenner school this year than there were last year. St. Philip's has lost more than 200 children. 'Do you know you cannot buy any meat in practically this whole district?' It is true. A few weeks ago the butcher shops started suddenly and mysteriously to close, one by one. They have all been closed for several weeks now. The same sinister, inexplicable force.
"The Sicilian people, unorganized, are peaceful and industrious. Organized, with bad leaders, they are a terrific power for evil. They (Lonardo and the Aiellos) have chased dozens of families out of each other's properties just so those properties would stand vacant and fail to be a source of income."
Friday, September 7, 1928 was a normal business day for Tony Lombardo. Alson Smith tells us that at "exactly four o'clock" the phone rang in the Italo-American National Union headquarters. Lombardo was said to have been in his office speaking to nine men, seven of whom were never identified, when the call arrived from Pete Rizzito, a Unione Siciliana president wannabe. Rizzito kept Lombardo on the phone until 4:15. Lombardo then let his office with bodyguards Joe Ferrara and Joe Lolordo.
Stepping out onto Dearborn Street into a sunny afternoon in the heart of Chicago's famous Loop, the trio was surrounded by crowds bustling along the sidewalk heading home from work or a day of downtown shopping. At the corner of Madison and Dearborn, which the Chicago Daily Tribune stated was "a block from the world's busiest corner," Lombardo and the two Joes stopped and watched as a small airplane was being pulled up the side of the Boston Store, one of the city's largest department stores, for a display.
As the men passed Raklios Restaurant at 61 West Madison, bodyguard Lolordo would later testify he heard someone say, "Why, there they are." With that a man wearing a gray suit stepped out of Raklios, hurried up behind Lombardo, aimed a .38 caliber revolver loaded with dum-dum bullets behind his left ear and pulled the trigger twice. Lombardo, killed instantly, plowed to the pavement face first.
The Chicago newspapers associated the Unione Siciliana almost generically with the Mafia. The Chicago Daily Tribune ran the headline, KILL LOMBARDO, MAFIA CHIEF. Father Louis M. Gianbastiano, who had once implored his congregation to help police in the wake of the Joseph Laspisa murder outside his church, posted a sign outside his San Filippo Benizi house of worship. In translation, "He urged his brothers - for the respect they owed God in Whom they believed and the honor of their country and humanity - to pray for an end to the horrid slaughter that dishonored the Italian name before the civilized world."
While one assassin had been shooting Lombardo, another gunman, dressed in a brown suit, fired two shots into the back of Ferrara. The bodyguard fell to his knees while trying to pull his gun from a shoulder holster. The two gunmen dropped their weapons and took off in opposite directions.
Lolordo drew his own gun and took off after the man in gray. According to Lolordo, the killer dashed into a shoe store at 53 West Madison and when Lolordo went in after him he ended up in the arms of a Chicago police officer who disarmed him.
Despite the shooting taking place in broad daylight on a crowded city street, there were few eyewitnesses. Warrants were immediately issued for Joe and Dominic Aiello and Jack Zuta. All three men had airtight alibis and witnesses claimed the killings were done by "a big man dressed in brown and a medium-sized man dressed in gray, neither of whom appeared to be Italian." The three were then released. The police then released a "guarded" statement claiming the killers were thought to be Frank and Pete Gusenberg.
The Chicago Police department was under the gun as newspapers in the city and across the country editorialized on the brazen daylight assassination on a crowded city street.
Lombardo's murder made for a truly great "who-done-it," especially in the first twenty years after his death. Today most organized crime historians have come to the conclusion that Lombardo's murder was carried out for Joe Aiello at the hands of Frank and Pete Gusenberg. However, Alson Smith, in 1954, gave us several more theories to ponder. The first of which questioned Joe Lolordo's involvement.
Lolordo was on Lombardo's left and the Unione president was shot behind the left ear. Why hadn't the gunmen tried to shoot or kill Lolordo? The two assassins fired a total of four bullets before dropping their weapons and running off in opposite directions. Could one of the two .38 caliber revolvers left behind have been used by Lolordo? When captured, Lolordo was carrying a .45, but he had six .38 caliber dum-dum bullets in his pocket.
During the coroner's inquest, held on September 13, Assistant State's Attorney Samuel Hoffman didn't believe Lolordo's account of the shooting. First Lolordo claimed he was not a bodyguard of Lombardo and that he had been in the Italo-American Loan Plan Bank making a loan payment and just happened to leave the building at the same time Lombardo and Ferrara did. The police officer who disarmed Lolordo claimed he never saw a man in gray enter the shoe store, nor did anyone in the store. Famed Chicago Police Captain John Stege "essentially" believed Lolordo's story and finally convinced Hoffman that Lolordo had no apparent motive to kill Lombardo. However, Hoffman's theory reared up again when Lolordo's brother, Pasquilino, became the new president of the Unione Siciliana.
The next question was about the telephone call from Pete Rizzito. Police and historians contend that the call was placed to keep Lombardo in his office while the hit team took their places. Police questioned him for hours during which Rizzito adamantly denied putting Lombardo "on the spot." On October 27, 1928 Pete Rizzito was murdered while standing at the corner of Oak and Milton Streets, shot from a passing automobile.
A rumor soon surfaced that Lombardo had cut his ties to Capone and had made an alliance with Lawrence "Dago" Mangano. The rumor claimed that the seven men in Lombardo's office that Friday were Mangano's men who were making final plans for Lombardo's split with Capone. Mangano was actually a lieutenant for Capone, but the rumor, if true, would account for an order to kill Lombardo by Capone.
Still, another theory had the killers coming from New York to avenge the murder of Frank Uale. Ferrara was murdered because he was believed to have been part of that hit team. Ferrara succumbed to his wounds on September 9, two days after the shooting. The bullets that struck him had severed his spine and he would have been paralyzed had he lived. He refused to divulge anything to the police.
Ferrara himself was a mystery. He told police his name was Tony Ferrea, even though a passport with his picture indicated he was Giuseppe Ferraro. When he died his body was taken to the county morgue because there were no relatives to claim it. Lolordo claimed he didn't know Ferrara. A few days later, an aunt by marriage claimed the remains. Later a brother came forward and revealed Ferrara was really Joe Moreci. It was believed he was related to the two grocery owners murdered in January 1926.
On September 11 the funeral for Tony Lombardo was held. Mrs. Lombardo had considered a private ceremony without the pomp which surrounded the funerals of the previous Unione Siciliana presidents, but she relented. A massive crowd gathered early outside Lombardo's South Austin Avenue home. In front of his house, across two trees, was strung a huge floral arrangement that spelled out "T. Lombardo." The T was made of pink carnations, the rest of the name was in white. The flowers sent filled the entire house, the back yard, the front lawn, the passageways between the houses, and a neighboring lawn.
Al Capone held court in the back yard. Funeral attendees wishing to talk to Capone, or shake his hand, had to pass through an army of bodyguards.
Lombardo was refused a church funeral and burial in consecrated ground. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:
"Women seemed to predominate in the vast congregation outside the home as the hour arrived for the body to be borne to the cemetery. They pushed and tugged and perspired as they forced their way closer to the lane through which the twelve tuxedoed pall bearers carried their burden of bronze and silver and silk and mortal remains."
The two-mile long funeral cortege, containing 17 flower cars, circled the Lombardo home once before heading to Mount Carmel Cemetery. There the coffin was placed in a mausoleum until a final resting-place was determined. In a tent erected around the mausoleum a male quartet sang in Italian what had become the customary tune at gangster funerals, "Nearer, My God, to Thee." The 36 year-old Lombardo left a wife and two young children, Sammie, 6 and Rose, 3.
Cleveland Statler Hotel Meeting - Organized Crime's First Summit
During the pre-dawn hours of December 5, 1928, Cleveland Police Patrolman Frank Osowski was winding up his tour of duty, a foot patrol assignment that brought him to the Statler Hotel at Euclid Avenue & East 12th Street. He watched while eleven men alighted from two touring cars. "These boys looked tough," he thought to himself as he decided to follow them into the hotel and wait while they checked in. Osowski then copied down their names from the register and dropped off the list at the detective bureau before going off duty.
When detectives arrived later that morning, they were floored by the names on Osowski's list, which included some of the most well known bootleggers in the country. Shortly a small army of law enforcement officers descended on the Statler, and the group was quickly rounded up and taken to the police station where they were booked, photographed and fingerprinted. Then each of the hoods was questioned individually by detectives.
Of the 23 men arrested, nine were from Brooklyn, seven from Chicago, two each from New Jersey and St. Louis and one each from Buffalo, Gary and Tampa. All were believed to be of Sicilian origin.
Once informed of the arrests by Sam Tilocco, Cleveland "Sugar Baron" Joseph Porrello contacted family and friends in the neighborhood and headed down to the police station to post bond for the gangsters who had been booked on "suspicious persons" charges with bonds set at $10,000 each. Approximately $400,000 worth of homes, small business, and real estate in the Woodland - East 110th Street neighborhood would be pledged to furnish the bail. All but one gangster, who was wanted on a murder charge in New Jersey, were released pending a hearing.
At the time William R. Hopkins was Cleveland's City Manager (Cleveland was using the city manager form of government at this time instead of an elected mayor). Hopkins blasted the police department for their handling of the arrests and then attacked the clerk of municipal courts for accepting the over-inflated pledges that had been offered as bail, claiming them to be near worthless, most of them having already been pledged in other cases.
While the police department was giving itself a pat on the back, Hopkins was wondering why they had arrested the men in the first place thinking it might have been wiser just to keep them under surveillance and find out what they were up to.
What were they up to? Much speculation has taken place over the years as to why the meeting was being held. It was rumored that other gangsters had checked into several hotels in Cleveland, or were on their way when the arrests were made. It was also rumored that Al Capone was planning to attend. Further investigations failed to establish there were any other hoodlums in town other that those staying at the Statler. What is known is that at least four of the men arrested had met with the Porrello brothers at their sugar warehouse, and that Joe Porrello desperately wanted to be recognized by the national crime cartel as the leader of the Cleveland underworld. Porrello had his childhood friend and rival, Big Joe Lonardo and his brother John, murdered on October 13, 1927. Lonardo had been the recognized head of the Cleveland underworld up until that time.
There is a high probability that this was the first national meeting of the Unione Siciliana. In the past six months both Frank Uale of Brooklyn and Anthony Lombardo of Chicago had been murdered on the streets of their respective cities. If this were indeed the case it would explain why gangsters of other ethnic backgrounds were not present.
On December 15, fifteen of the arrested pleaded guilty to "suspicious persons" charges and were fined $50 each and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Both the fines and jail time were suspended if the men agreed to leave town immediately and not return for one year. Five pleaded "Not Guilty" and later that same day they were tried and found "Not Guilty," and quickly left town with the others.
Among those arrested in Cleveland were men who would become powerful heads of two of the original New York City crime families. Joe Profaci, who along with Joseph Magliocco would also have the distinction of being the only gangsters to be arrested at two different nationally organized crime meetings - the second being the 1957 Apalachin summit - headed the Profaci crime family until his death in 1962. Joseph Magliocco would succeed Profaci for one year before his death in 1963. That family today is known as the Columbo Crime Family. Vincent Mangano was the other leader to run a New York City family until his disappearance in 1951. Today that group is known as the Gambino Crime Family.
In July 1930 Joe Porrello and Sam Tilocco were murdered in the Little Italy section of Cleveland during a meeting with members of the Mayfield Road Mob.
While the Aiello-Capone War over control of the local Unione Siciliana was raging in Chicago, the "Big Fellow" himself was taking in the sunshine of southern Florida. Capone had taken his wife and son to Miami in early 1928. Once the sensation of his presence in the Sunshine State had passed, Capone set about finding a suitable home for himself and his family. He chose a fourteen-room, two-story, white-stucco, Spanish-style home that was, ironically, built for beer brewing magnate Clarence M. Busch of St. Louis. The home was located on what was called Palm Island, a part of Miami Beach. Capone spent an additional $100,000 on home improvements, including the construction of a swimming pool that was said to be the largest private pool in the state.
Capone left the warmth and comfort of Florida to return to Chicago to oversee the mayhem that became part of the April 1928 primary election. Dubbed the "Pineapple Primary," due to the number of bombs that exploded during it, one of the more important battles in the election was for a seat on the Board of Review. Said to be a "tax-setting plum," the Capone forces were backing Unione Siciliana figurehead Bernard Barasa. Despite the number of explosions connected with his campaign, Barasa lost to the incumbent by over 100,000 votes.
When the smoke cleared, Capone headed back to Miami Beach to personally direct the renovation efforts at his Palm Island estate, leaving his Chicago rackets in the hands of his chief lieutenant Frank Nitti. In late June 1928, Jake Guzik, Dan Serritella and Charley Fischetti traveled to Florida to meet with the boss. They were soon joined by "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn and the killing twins, Anselmi and Scalise who had recently been acquitted of killing two Chicago police officers. At this meeting the treachery of Frank Uale, the national president of the Unione Siciliana in New York, was discussed and his fate decided.
Capone's next visit to Chicago was for the funeral of Anthony Lombardo, the Capone-sponsored president of the Unione Siciliana who was murdered by the Aiello forces in September 1928. After seeing to the ascension of Pasqualino Lolordo to the presidency of the Unione Siciliana, now the Italo-American National Union, Capone again headed south.
While Capone was on his way out of Chicago, Joe Aiello was headed back in. Meeting with his new allies on the North Side, Aiello still had fatalistic aspirations of climbing into the president's role of the Unione. The first obstacle in his way was Pasqualino Lolordo.
Less than a month after returning from the Statler Hotel debacle in Cleveland, Lolordo was overseeing Unione business. On Tuesday, January 8, 1929, Lolordo and his wife Aleina were returning from a trip downtown. When they arrived home they were met by two men outside their apartment that Mrs. Lolordo "had seen many times, but whose names she didn't know." The four climbed the stairs to the Lolordos' opulent third-floor suite where Aleina prepared a meal.
After lunch the two guests departed and five minutes later there was knock at the Lolordo door. Three men entered and were cordially welcomed by Lolordo. While Aleina ironed clothes in the kitchen and a Black maid scrubbed the floors, the four men talked business and laughed in the living room. As she worked, Aleina could hear the tinkle of glasses as the men toasted each other during the conversation.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. she heard the men push back their chair as they stood up. While delivering one more toast, two of the men pulled out .38 caliber guns and without any warning shot Lolordo eleven times in the face, neck and chest. Aleina rushed into the living room to see her husband lying on the floor covered with blood. A velvet cushion from a sofa had been placed under the dying man's head. Whether Aleina or one of the killers placed it there was never made clear.
The three men then exited the apartment leaving one .38 on the living-room floor and the other on the second-floor landing. Just minutes after the murder, Anna Lolordo, the wife of Joseph Lolordo, the former bodyguard of Anthony Lombardo, arrived. Anna pulled Aleina away from her deceased husband and they called a local mortuary. The drivers walked in, saw the bullet-riddled remains, and called the police.
When police arrived they discovered three half-filled wineglasses on a table; the fourth glass was smashed, its fragments still in Lolordo's hand. Police tired to contact the victim's brother Joseph, but were told by his wife that he was out of town. One of the early rumors was that Joseph was present at the time his brother was murdered and wounded in the attack.
A search of the apartment by police revealed a sawed-off shotgun and a draft of a new constitution for the North West Italian-American club. Included in the draft was a goal to "improve the education of its members, morally, economically and socially by means of conferences and discussion and by any other means at hand." The police, within an hour of the murder, raided three pool halls on West Grand Avenue that were alleged hangouts for Aiello gunmen. Aleina was taken to the police station where she viewed the 18 men who were brought in, but was unable to identify any of them.
The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that on the evening of the murder Dan Serritella spoke with Aleina at the detective bureau after which she identified Joe Aiello from a photograph as one of the men who was present at her husband's murder. The following day the newspaper ran a follow-up story reporting several inaccuracies about recent Unione Siciliana activities and printing a few assumptions made by the police. Included in this article, in which the leadership of the Unione Siciliana was referred to as a "dictatorship over the Sicilians in Chicago," were the following statements:
"Once Aiello had shared Lombardo's offices and, with Al Capone as a silent member, they ruled as a triumvirate. Aiello rebelled and sought to set up a dictatorship of his own, his domain being principally the north side. Lombardo had the followers of Capone do his violence; Aiello allied himself with Capone's enemies, the George Moran gang.
"Capone, it appears, wasn't interested in the small pickings from the Sicilians and Italians, but in the larger field of booze and vice domination. But when Aiello deserted he joined the vice interests of Jack Zuta and other west siders.
"Then Lombardo was killed. Two months ago twenty-three Italians and Sicilians of Chicago were arrested in a hotel in Cleveland, O., all of them armed. Just recently police have learned that the meeting was called for the purpose of selecting a successor to Lombardo. Aiello wasn't there, the police version continues, but he had agreed to be present. It developed that it was Aiello who notified the police of Cleveland that a gang of Chicago gunmen could be found in the hotel. Aiello, police declare, had hoped thereby to settle the question of Chicago leadership.'"
The article went on to claim that the police were told that Aiello had recently returned to Chicago and had suggested a truce whereby Lolordo had invited him to discuss the terms.
In his book, Mr. Capone, author Robert J. Schoenberg tells to us:
"Early reports said that Aleina had identified a picture of Joe Aiello as one of the three visitors. 'She didn't identify anyone,' said John Stege, by now deputy police chief. 'I don't know how that report got started. It was the same in this case as in other cases - no identification, no aid.'"
Many crime historians still maintain that Aiello was one of the three men present at the time of the murder and that the two shooters were Frank and Peter Gusenberg. Schoenberg suggests the third man was North Sider James Clark. What is interesting is that whether it was Aiello or Clark with the Gusenbergs that day, why was Lolordo so cordial toward them? By this time it was believed Aiello was behind the murder of Lombardo and that the Gusenberg brothers were the killers. Was Lolordo acting out of fear? Is it possible that the Lolordo brothers were in on the plot to murder Lombardo and were playing both sides of the fence? The men who preceded the killers into Lolordo's apartment for lunch that day were never identified. Had they gone there to set Lolordo up? These questions
Joseph "Hop Toad" Guinta
The murders of Anthony Lombardo and Pasqualino Lolordo and the belief by Capone that Aiello orchestrated the killings with the backing of George "Bugs" Moran and his North Side gang incited Capone to drastic action. From his Florida home, working with chief gunman Jack McGurn, Capone plotted the infamous retaliation that would become known around the world as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. On the morning of February 14, 1929, six of Moran's men, including the Gusenberg brothers and James Clark, and one gang hanger-on were slaughtered in a garage on North Clark Street. Moran was believed to be on his way to the garage when he spotted the executioners, disguised as police officers, entering the garage. Moran was never again a factor in the Chicago underworld.
Joseph Guinta, who had accompanied Pasqualino Lolordo to the Cleveland meeting, assumed leadership of the Unione Siciliana. Robert Schoenberg describes Guinta:
"A dandified hyperactive, Guinta loved power and dancing, his gyrations in aid of both pursuits so frequent and frenzied many called him 'Hop Toad.' His elaborate dress, his cocky demeanor and exhibitionism all spoke of a vanity that could make a twenty-six-year-old listen to whisperings of unlikely ambition."
In John Kobler's Capone, the author informs us that after Anselmi and Scalise were acquitted in June 1927 of murdering the police officers, Capone threw a party to celebrate. Kobler claims, "The life of the party was a flip, strutting, bandboxical Sicilian gunman, a crony of Scalise and Anselmi, Giuseppe Giunta (sic), called Hop Toad because of his nimbleness on a dance floor."
Capone biographers give conflicting accounts as to what transpired next. There is some confusion as to who was leading whom into a deceitful plot against Capone that would eventually cost all the participants their lives. From author Kenneth Allsop, in his 1961 classic The Bootleggers, he discusses Aiello's continuing efforts to kill Capone:
"These included the wooing of Scalise and Anselmi. Promising them positions of command once Capone was liquidated and the regional Mafia was under his authority, Aiello persuaded them to urge upon Capone that Guinta would be an admirable replacement for Lolordo in the Unione throne."
This would seem to indicate that Aiello and Guinta were already in cahoots. Perhaps bolstering this claim is author Lawrence Bergreen in his somewhat slanted biography, Capone: The Man and the Era. Bergreen writes:
"What brought Capone back (from Florida) against his better judgement was an appalling rumor that Scalise and Anselmi, the Sicilian gunmen who helped carry out the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, had suddenly shifted their loyalty away from Capone and toward the new head of the Unione Siciliane, Joseph "Hop Toad" Guinta, who had formed an alliance with another enemy of Capone, Joseph Aiello."
It never really has been made clear the turn of events that brought Aiello, Anselmi, Guinta and Scalise together to initiate a murder plot against Capone. However, Guinta, as president of the Unione Siciliana, did align himself with Anselmi and Scalise. Some reports have it that Scalise was named vice president of the organization. Shortly after the massacre there was a marked change in John Scalise. Rumors began to abound about him. One was that he was heard to brag that he was the "most powerful" man in Chicago. Some believe that he now ran the Unione Siciliana and that Guinta was his puppet. If this were true, it would account for his "most powerful" image of himself. While this alone would not mark him for death, what transpired next certainly did.
Scalise had been spotted in a Waukegan restaurant meeting with Joe Aiello. A waiter at the restaurant reportedly revealed this clandestine meeting to a Capone gang member. It was alleged that Anselmi and Scalise would kill Capone for the $50,000 bounty that Aiello was offering. Then Anselmi and Scalise would control the former Capone empire, Guinta would oversee the Unione Siciliana, and Aiello would have the North Side.
The story goes that when Capone was informed of this plot he was still not convinced of Anselmi and Scalise's treachery. Capone, the man who had once saved the two killer's lives at the sake of peace with Hymie Weiss, demanded more proof. He returned from Florida to get it. Sometime in late April or early May 1929, Capone invited Anselmi and Scalise to dinner along with his bodyguard Frank Rio. During the meal Capone and Rio faked a falling out. After a fabricated argument, Rio slapped Capone across the face and stormed out of the restaurant. Taken in by the charade, Anselmi and Scalise met with Rio the following day and let him in on their plot with Aiello and Guinta to murder Capone. Over the next three days Anselmi and Scalise met with Rio to discuss the plan.
Capone now had his confirmation of Anselmi and Scalise's treachery. Schoenberg describes what followed:
"…Capone's hurt fury demanded more than instant vengeance. 'It was Nitti's idea,' says George Meyer (a onetime Capone driver). 'I was in an office and Capone came in with Nitti and Joe Fischetti.' They started to talk and Meyer got up to leave, thinking the big shots wanted privacy. 'Stick around,' Capone told Meyer. 'You're gonna know about it anyway.' Nitti suggested a banquet for the outfit's top people, the three plotters guests of honor. The preceding gaiety and sense of camaraderie and security would make the subsequent terror all the more exquisite.
"Invitations were issued for Tuesday night, May 7, at The Plantation, a roadhouse and casino that dripped Old South magnolia charm near Hammond, Indiana, just over the line from Burnham, Johnny Torrio's first suburban colony. The banquet would be in a private back room. "We frisked everyone going in as usual,' says Meyer"
It was a routine night for Hammond police officers Louis Tebodo and Charles Plant. They were returning a couple of prisoners to the station when two large automobiles sped past them headed towards Chicago at the corner of Sheffield Avenue and Hohman Street. After depositing their prisoners at the Hammond jail they returned to the area where the cars had passed them. As they drove around the vicinity they came across an abandoned automobile. The officers looked inside. Under a brown blanket they found the bodies of Albert Anselmi and Joseph Guinta. A short distance away lay the body of John Scalise.
The death car had been stolen on April 17. The license plate came from another automobile stolen the last week of March. Police and the newspapers immediately surmised that "Bugs" Moran and Joe Aiello committed the murders in retaliation for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. However, on May 9, the Chicago Daily Tribune was already reporting that from "Sicilian" sources the police had been told:
"The three Chicago Sicilians slain near Hammond Tuesday night were the victims of a quartet of their countrymen who, according to police theory last night, aimed in that way to secure peace in the control of rich booze and vice profits.
"According to this report, the triple slaying was not in reprisal for the St. Valentine day massacre (sic) of seven Moran gangsters. The three were killed because they were reaching out with extortionate hands for the rum running profits and levying tribute on tradesmen in legitimate lines of business. The authorities were further informed that the slayings were done in Indiana as an evidence of good will toward the Chicago police."
The article went on to say that the three were lured to the Indiana roadhouse to be slain by four other men. Just who furnished this information to the police is of some interest. It is amazing that in less than 24 hours after the murders they had such an accurate account of not only what happened - but why. With no by-line on the Tribune story, one has to wonder if reporter Jake Lingle was involved based on his close relationship to Capone and the Chicago underworld. The mystery is how the motive for the murders was discovered so quickly.
What is not clear is the number of people who were present at the time of the murders. The movies always show the banquet room filled with tuxedoed mobsters just before the Capone character produces a baseball bat and begins swinging.
The murders themselves must have been terrifying as well as brutal for the three traitors. The legend has Capone savagely beating each of them with a baseball bat. That Capone did the actual beating was never proven, just assumed. Dr. Eli S. Jones, the coroner of Lake County, Indiana, in his examination surmised that after the men were clobbered the assailants brandished guns aiming to finish the traitors off:
Scalise threw up his hand to cover his face and a bullet cut of his little finger, crashing into his eye. Another bullet crashed into his jaw and he fell from his chair. Meanwhile, the other killers - there must have been three or four - had fired on Guinta and Anselmi, disabling them. Anselmi's right arm was broken by a bullet. When their victims fell to the floor, their assailants stood over them and fired several shots in their backs.
After the autopsies the bodies of the three men were returned to Chicago. The remains of Anselmi and Scalise were returned to their families in Sicily for burial - Anselmi in Marsala and Scalise in Castelvertrano. Guinta was taken to the funeral parlor of famed mortician and politician John Sbarbaro.
A side note to the Tribune reporting of the murders. In two consecutive articles following the killings the newspaper refers to two meetings of the national Unione Siciliana taking place in Cleveland, Ohio. It is known that one took place in December 1928. But the paper claims that, "A meeting of Sicilian rulers of various cities was said to have been held in Cleveland last week," which would have meant the first week of May 1929. No other information regarding this second meeting has ever surfaced.
Capone historian Kenneth Allsop gives us an early look at Joe Aiello and his brothers in The Bootleggers:
"The Aiello's gang was a family business. There were nine of them - Joe, Dominick, Antonio and Andrew ruled the roustabouts - and also numerous cousins of the same name. Their entry into bootlegging was via supplying wholesale sugar for the Genna brothers' alky-cooking syndicate. After the Gennas had been cut to pieces and disbanded in 1925, Joe Aiello pieced the organization together to keep Chicago's worst and cheapest rotgut liquor flowing, and the brothers ruled the illiterate peasant families who were their scab labor force with the same kind of harsh paternalism that the Gennas had practiced. But an obstacle to their complete domination of the Little Italy community was the nomination of Antonio Lombardo, by Capone, to the presidency of the Unione Siciliana following the deaths of Angelo Genna and Sam Samoots Amatuna."
Following the death of Pasqualino Lolordo, there was confusion in the minds of organized crime historians about the leadership of the Unione Siciliana. In Capone, John Kobler mistakenly claims that after the murder of Lolordo, "Joe Aiello finally won the presidency of the Unione Siciliana. He held it almost a year."
Right after the murders of Anselmi, Guinta and Scalise, Capone headed to Atlantic City for a crime conference that was in part organized by his former boss, Johnny Torrio. Lawrence Bergreen in Capone: The Man and the Era, states that Capone was dictated to that Aiello would head the Chicago branch of the Unione Siciliana. The author claims that this was part of a fourteen-point peace initiative that only Bergreen seems to be aware of.
After the conference, Capone went to Philadelphia where he allowed himself and his bodyguard, Frank Rio, to be arrested for carrying concealed weapons. It was never clear if this idea was Capone's or if it was done at the suggestion of Torrio, Frank Costello, or Lucky Luciano. (Their respective biographers give the credit for the idea to their own subject.) The general feeling was that the slaughter in Chicago had brought too much heat and unwanted publicity down on the underworld and perhaps if Capone were to take a "short vacation" it would blow over.
Robert Schoenberg states that while Capone was serving his one-year sentence in Pennsylvania, "Joe Aiello had returned to follow Hop Toad Guinta as head of the Unione, which automatically gave him a renewed power base, inspiring him to resurrect dreams of getting Capone. Gossip put him again plotting with Moran - who wisely stayed clear of Chicago…"
There is virtually no information on the activities of Joe Aiello from his attempts to conspire with Anselmi, Guinta and Scalise in April 1929, until his death in September 1930. If Aiello did anything with his "renewed power base" or "resurrected dreams," Schoenberg did not share them with us, nor did any other writer or historian.
Around September 10, 1930 Aiello secreted himself at the rooming house of Pasquale Prestogiacomo. Nicknamed "Patsy Presto," Prestogiacomo was the treasurer and manager of the Italio-American Importing Company of which Aiello was the reputed president. The young daughter of Prestogiacomo, Frances, would later testify that "Mr. Joe," as she called him, "never went out of the house," during his two-week stay.
Aiello remained at the Prestogiacomo rooming house at 205 Kolmar Avenue until Thursday evening, September 23. Reported to have a ticket to Mexico City in his pocket, he asked Frances to call a taxicab to the rooming house. When the cab arrived the driver James Ruane, went into the rooming house, but could not find a doorbell for the name Presto. Returning to his cab Ruane turned his spotlight on the building and noticed "four or five shadowy figures" near a front window. When Ruane returned to the rooming house and "kicked" on the door Aiello appeared.
Aiello followed a few steps behind Ruane on the way to the cab. The driver opened the door for Aiello. As Ruane waited he noticed a window being raised across the street in a second-floor apartment. A dark figure then raised a machinegun and opened fire. Ruane heard Aiello groan after being hit with a burst of fire. He "saw the figure of Aiello rolling, pitching, and staggering south a few feet toward a possible haven."
Reaching for his gun Aiello cried out, but his words were unintelligible. He made it around the corner of the rooming house, just out of harm's way from the stream of bullets. Aiello had unfortunately ducked into the cross fire of another machinegun nest set up on the third floor of another apartment of which the back faced the side of the Prestogiacomo rooming house. These shooters were firing almost straight down on their helpless victim. A police officer later said Aiello was filled "with a ton of lead." As it turned out, it was only a pound. The coroner removed 59 slugs from his body.
After the shooting two men raced from the rear of the Kolmar Avenue machinegun nest and jumped into an automobile parked on West End Avenue. From the second nest, three men ran out the front door of the apartment facing West End Avenue and got into another car. One of the escape vehicles was later found ablaze on Walnut Street.
With the guns silenced, Ruane ran to Aiello. With the help of a motorcycle patrolman they carried Aiello to the cab and sped off to Garfield Park Hospital. Aiello was dead on arrival.
An investigation discovered that a "Morris Friend" and a "Henry Jacobs" had rented the two apartments right after Aiello had taken refuge at the Prestogiacomo rooming house, and had been waiting for him to appear the whole time. A search of the Kolmar Avenue apartment shooting nest, the one facing the rooming house, disclosed "at least 1,000 cigaret stubs," a half eaten box of candy, a pair of rubber gloves and a silk glove. Also found was a copy of Rudyard Kipling's book, Soldiers Three opened to the chapter, "His Chance in Life."
Across the street in the Prestogiacomo home, the walls and the front door were perforated with bullets. A basement flat was also peppered; the occupants had missed the lead downpour by just two minutes. Following the shooting, Prestogiacomo disappeared and went into hiding. Police believed he might have tipped off the killers to Aiello's whereabouts, or to his plans to flee. During the coroner's inquest, Prestogiacomo's lawyer promised he would surrender his client.
Joe Aiello was the eighth person to hold the title of president of the Unione Siciliana since May 1921 - and the eighth to die. Of these dead presidents only Mike Merlo died of natural causes. In John Kobler's Capone, he claims that "Aiello's Capone-supported successor, a macaroni manufacturer named Agostino Loverdo, also reigned for a year before he was killed in a Cicero dive."
The prestige, power and mystique that the presidency of the Chicago Unione Siciliana held seemed to dissipate after the murder of Joe Aiello. Perhaps control of the alky cookers who made up a large percentage of the membership held less significance to Capone's overall liquor income with the real product pouring into Chicago almost unheeded from Canada, Detroit, and the East Coast. After all, even going back to the Genna brothers days, this locally produced alcohol was always considered an inferior "rot gut" liquor product.
As a political entity, the Unione Siciliano continued until at least the mid-1940s. Virgil W. Peterson, head of the Chicago Crime Commission, in his 1952 gem, Barbarians in Our Midst, provides us with the final chapter of this society that caused so much death and destruction during the Roaring Twenties:
"The Italo-American National Union, frequently called the Unione Siciliana, was utilized to advance the cause of Capone candidates for political office. Phil D'Andrea testified that from 1934 to 1941 he was president of the Unione Siciliana and was responsible for bringing his friends, Tony Accardo, Charles Fischetti, Paul Ricca, John Capone and Nick Circella (alias Nick Dean), into this organization as members. D'Andrea, who was very influential in First Ward politics, brought before the Unione Siciliana as speakers those political candidates who apparently had the blessing of the Capone syndicate.
"Paul Ricca testified that he continued to pay his membership dues in the Unione Siciliana until he was committed to the Federal penitentiary in December 1943. During part of the time that Ricca was active in the Unione Siciliana, Joseph Bulger, an attorney, was its president.
"The exploitation of the Unione Siciliana, a benevolent association, for the advancement of the Capone organization was not peculiar to Chicago. In New York, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano and other gangsters became powerful in Unione Siciliana activities, as did gangsters in many of the other large American municipalities."