Page 1


FROM THE PUBLISHER LISA M. FIGUEREDO |

2014 Fall Edition Publisher & Owner

Lisa M. Figueredo Senior Writer and Managing Editor

Scott M. Deitche Editorial Contributor

Alex Hortis

Editorial Contributor

Christian Cipollini Editorial Contributor

Jack Colhoun

Editorial Contributor

Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon Art & Photography Contributors

Special Collections Department Christian Cipollini Tampa Mafia Magazine A Division of Cigar City Magazine, LLC P.O. Box 18613 Tampa, Florida 33679 (813) 358-3455 www.TampaMafia.com

©2014, Tampa Mafia is a division of Cigar City Magazine, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction of, or use without written permission of the publisher, of editorial, pictorial, or design content in any manner is prohibited. Printed in the U.S.A.

10 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

INFO@TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Welcome to the premier issue of Tampa Mafia Magazine! I would first like to thank the readers of Cigar City Magazine another magazine we published from 2005 and ending its final print run this fall. At first I have to admit I was a bit leery of writing about the Tampa Mafia but I soon discovered as publisher of a history magazine like Cigar City, it was hard to overlook that part of our history. In a weird and maybe sorted may it was a part of our history that put Tampa on the map, good or bad. As we began writing stories about the Tampa Mafia I discovered emails were flooding in, our social media pages were blowing up and our website was averaging about 35,000 visitors a month looking for these stories. It was obvious our Cigar City Magazine readers wanted more! When you start talking about organized crime, things can get dicey. The people of Tampa, especially the ones still around to remember those days still feel a “duty” of sorts to keep quite of these things, as if these people are still amongst us and can hear our chatter. We have to admit we are fascinated by the whole idea of the mafia and the people we knew and the whispers we grew up hearing. We can’t help ourselves when it comes to watching mob films like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the iconic cable TV show, The Sopranos. We found ourselves in a love affair with Tony Soprano and we could not stop watching. At this point in our collective history, we're not sure anyone would be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, something called “The Mafia.” What you might be surprised to learn, however, is how prevalent-even rampant–organized crime in Tampa was in the early and mid-20th century. From bolita–an illegal version of the now-legal Florida lottery–to narcotics, Tampa’s experience with organized crime is as notable as Chicago’s or New York’s. Still, there’s a fine line between exploring a topic and glorifying it. Indeed, some people would rather not dwell on the less-than-noble aspects of our local history. In the 1950s, Tampa’s reputation for corruption and vice was so bad it prompted one national magazine to label the area the “Hell Hole of the Gulf Coast.” Given such negativity, who can blame people for just wanting to forget? Despite all of this or, perhaps, because of it, a few writers and filmmakers have chosen to focus on organized crime, determined to give Tampa it’s due. We are one of them!

Lisa M Figueredo Owner of Tampa Mafia Magazine


CONTENTS

16

20

24

FEATURES

16

20

Tampa’s First Mafia Boss

34

Florida Fells The Fat Man

24

Maimi Beach and The American Gangster

40

Last Plate of Fries

52

1891 Lynch Mob Streets

49

D.C.’s Most Notorious Gambler

Al Capone’s Tampa Bay Connection

EXTRAS

12 14

The Don’s Smoking Room on the Casa Cuba The Mob Lounge

34

Visit our web site at www.TampaMafia.com

40

2014 FAll EDITION 11


Arturo Fuente Casa Cuba! A tribute to the early days of cigar making, this new release from Arturo Fuente was personally blended by Carlos Fuente Sr using the time-honored traditions he learned from his father as a young boy. His intent was to recreate the experience and flavor of Cuban cigars he rolled and enjoyed in this youth. Released in four sizes, Casa Cuba cigars are named after Cuban dominoes and elegantly packaged with vintage flair. Carlos Fuente, Sr selected an Ecuador Havana wrapper tobacco and chose a mix of Cuban-seed Dominican long filler and binder, and blended them in the came manner he used blending Cuban tobacco many years ago. TASTE AND STYLE: The Casa Cuba is not only blended in an old style, but the cigar is designed to look and feel like a vintage Cuban cigar. The pleasantly surprised oily wrapper gives off a strong woodsy, cedar aroma while the foot only gives off a mild tobacco scent. The cap cut clean. The cold draw produces a pretty mild set of cedar, honey, and a bit of spice. THE BURN: From a burn perspective, the Casa Cuba performed excellent. The burn line remained straight from start to finish. The resulting ash was a light, silvery gray and the ash stayed firm. The burn rate and burn temperature were both ideal and the draw was stellar. STRENGTH AND BODY: From a strength perspective the Casa Cuba is a medium strength cigar. You will notice a slight increase in strength toward the last third of the cigar where the Casa Cuba moved into the medium to full strength range. The flavors start out medium to full-bodied however it is not an overpowering cigar. If you want a cigar that emphasizes flavor, Casa Cuba is for you!

12 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

CONCLUSION: This cigar is a MUST try for the novice or experienced cigar enthusiast and it's one that we would smoke again and again! SUMMERY: Burn: Excellent Draw: Excellent Complexity: Medium Strength: Medium, Medium to Full (last third) Body: Medium to Full, Full (last third) Finish: Excellent

WE RATE THE CASA CUBA A VERY HIGH 98!


King of the Artichokes In the pantheon of mob nicknames, there is a wide array from the fearinducing (Sarface, The Blade), ot the descriptive (lips, The little Guy). But there was only one “King of the Artichokes.” That moniker was bestowed on Ciro Terranova, an early Mafia figure in Ciro Terranova New York City. He acquired the name by cornering the market on artichokes, buying them from west coast suppliers and inflating the price. He pressured grocers in the Italian immigrant neighborhoods to purchase his exorbitantly-priced vegetable, making the “King” a wealthy man. Terranova died in 1938, but had he lived another 14 years, he would have been able to experience the

launch of an intriguingly flavored spirit, the artichokeinfused liqueur known as Cynar. First off, Cynar does not taste like artichoke. Cynar is made from a combination of 13 herbs and plants, which give it a surprisingly smooth yet complex flavor, with a slightly bitter taste. Campari brought Cynar under its corporate umbrella in 1995, putting it alongside two other iconic Italian aperitifs, Campari and Aperol. low in alcohol (33 proof), Cynar is classified on the Campari as a digestif aperitif, or after-dinner drink. However, it works equally well as a pre-dinner aperitif. Cynar tastes greats with a little club soda or plain on the rocks. It also lends a degree of complexity to a variety of cocktails and can be used interchangeably with other bitter spirits. It’s well worth grabbing a bottle of Cynar for your home bar. It’s certainly a good talking point, and makes amazing cocktails. Cynar is not easy to find in the Bay area. The larger liquor stores, like Total Wine, do not carry it anymore. I found some at B-21 Fine Wines & Spirits on US-19 in Tarpon Springs.

Cyn-Cyn The Cyn-Cyn is basically a Negroni, with Cynar replacing Campari. This is the recipe featured in the book Boozehound.

Cyn-Tito A simple creation of mine, using Tito’s vodka.

1 oz dark rum 1 oz light rum 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice 1/2 oz almond flavored syrup (orgeat syrup) 1/2 oz orange curacao 1/4 oz simple syrup Maraschino cherry Combine the Cynar, gin, sweet vermouth and bitters in a cocktail shaker along with a squeeze of juice from 1 orange wedge. Fill with ice and shake until well chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the remaining orange wedge. 14 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

1.5 ounces Cynar 1 ounce Tito’s vodka Club Soda 1 orange slice Ice

Combine Cynar and Tito’s in a highball glass with ice, Stir for 30 seconds. Add in club soda to the top, garnish with orange wedge.


16 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Ignazio Italiano's 1928 mugshot.


TaMpa’s FirsT

MaFia BOss By Scott M. Deitche

Sicilian Black Hand activities existed in Tampa and Ybor City since the early 1900s, with loose knit groups of criminals shaking down merchants and running illegal gambling. Along with Cuban and Anglo gangs, the Sicilian groups worked mainly in their own communities. By the time of Prohibition, the Sicilian gangs coalesced into a more formalized Mafia family, and the boss was Ignazio Italiano. Not much was written about Italiano during his reign as boss. Part of that was due to the fact he was in the shadows, allowing Charlie Wall, the “Dean of the Underworld”, to take up the spotlight as the face of organized crime in the City. But Italiano’s reputation in the underworld was well known. A confidential informant told the FBI that he knew Italiano as “the old time head of the Mafia in Tampa.” Ignazio Italiano was born on May 13, 1860 in Villabate, a municipality in the Palermo province of Sicily. He moved to Santo Stefano, where he lived before immigrating to the United States. He departed out of Naples aboard the steamship lahn. Italiano arrived at Ellis Island on October 28, 1903. Sometime after that he departed for Tampa. In Tampa, Italiano made a name for himself as the owner of a wholesale grocery business. He was a wellknown fixture in the Ybor Italian community, and a member of the la Sicilia Club as well as the Italian Club. But in December of 1928 his name appeared in newspapers across the country for a very different reason. He was among the suspected bootleggers and gangsters arrested at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland. Italiano’s presence at one of the first major meetings of organized crime figures reflected his importance in the underworld. One of those arrested with Italiano was Joe Profaci, a friend of Italiano’s from Sicily who later went on to become boss of one of the New York Mafia’s Five Families. Italiano maintained that he was attending the Statler

meeting to visit with Profaci and discuss the purchase of olive oil from Profaci’s company. Profaci later echoed those sentiments to the Kefauver Committee in 1951: Halley: Did you know Ignacio (sic) Italiano? Profaci: That is right. Halley: You went to Cleveland to see him? Profaci: Yes Halley: Was Italiano in the olive oil business? Profaci: He was in the grocery business. I was selling to him too. Ignazio Italiano died on August 11, 1930, at the Tampa Municipal Hospital. Services were held at the Italiano residence, continuing with his burial in a standalone tomb at the l’Union Italiana Cemetery. His successor as boss of the Tampa Mafia was Ignazio Antinori. Postscript: In 1954, Italiano’s son Anthony went to New York City to meet with Mafia figures in order to, according to an informant, “straighten things out with the mob.” Anthony, along with his companion Dominic Ferrara, was never heard from again. Check out the mug shots on the next page!

2014 FAll EDITION 17


18 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM


2014 FAll EDITION 19


Miami Beach

American Gangster Vacation Home of the By Alex Hortis

“I’m just here for the rest,” Al Capone told authorities in 1928. The Chicago bootlegger had just bought a 36,000square-foot, Art Deco waterfront house at 93 Palm Avenue on Miami Beach from a member of the Busch beer family (the house sold for $7.4 million in 2013). Scarface’s reputation preceded him. local residents wanted to know why the nation’s most notorious gangster had decamped in their sunny paradise. Bowing to public pressure, the Mayor and City Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing Capone’s move. There was more than a little hypocrisy in the vote: then-Mayor Newt lummus, a part-time real estate agent, had actually helped show Capone the estate. Gangsters flocked south to Miami Beach for a variety of reasons. During Prohibition, Miami lay along “Rum Run”–the coastal route for distilled spirits smuggled in from the Bahamas. Miami’s close proximity to Cuba also made it a convenient jumping-off point for gangsters with interests in the casinos of Havana like Meyer lansky and Joseph “Joe Rivers” Silesi. Still others were drawn by the open gambling and vice tolerated by the local police. In March 1930, no less than Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria–then the capo di capi or boss of bosses of the American Mafia–was arrested in the company of other Italian mafiosi and Jewish gangsters at a gambling resort on Miami Beach (undermining the notion that “Joe the Boss” did not socialize with Jews). Within Cosa Nostra, Miami Beach was considered an “open town,” meaning no one Mafia Family had the “right” to dominate it. The majority of mobsters, however, came less for criminal than meteorological reasons. Simply put, Miami Beach was a beautiful, sunny, newly-development for the nouveau riche. After World War II, tens of thousands of northerners flocked to this beautiful set of islands on the Atlantic Ocean. Among them was a sizeable share of Mafia wiseguys who became prosperous off bootlegging, 20 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

labor racketeering, narcotics trafficking or gambling. Mike “Trigger Mike” Coppola ex-wife Ann said that he used to count out hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash on their dining room table. Mike Coppola told her that it was his take from the Harlem number’s lottery, which the luciano Family had taken over back in the 1930s. That money bought him a beautiful little beach home at 4431 Alton Road on Miami Beach. In 1950, Miami Beach’s mobster came under the scrutiny of a congressional committee chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. At the time, the “S&G Syndicate” had a huge illegal bookmaking operation, which it ran out of a plush office suite with upwards of 200 bookies on the streets. Few people were “shocked! shocked!” that there was illegal gambling going on in the Sunshine State. Florida had already legalized local slot machines, and pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing. More troubling was the ability of the S&G Syndicate to shield itself from local law enforcement through pervasive corruption. “The S & G Syndicate operated with the protection of the Miami Beach Police Department and of the Dade County sheriff,” charged the Kefauver Committee. The publicity hardly slowed down Miami’s gangsters. When the Fontainebleau Hotel opened in 1954, the epic resort hotel quickly became a popular destination for gangsters from around the country. Its regular guests included such out-of-town gangsters as Paul “Skinny” D’Amato of Atlantic City and Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld of Minneapolis. Mobster Joe Fischetti brought in big-name talent like Frank Sinatra to the Fontainebleau; the gambler Max Eder was a regular its high-stakes card room. later on, aging gangsters were among the growing retiree population of South Florida. Well into the 1980s, elderly gangsters like Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo and his longtime crony Meyer lansky could be seen strolling down Miami Beach, enjoying the sun and sea breeze.


2014 FAll EDITION 21


By Christian Cipollini

24 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Ed Diamond, Jack Diamond, Fatty Walsh, Charles Lucania Arrested for the assault of an insurance broker, 1926. (Author’s Collection)


Dawn was just breaking. liquor was still pouring and aces still drawn. But so too was a revolver. After the short burst of gunshots ceased and the hysterical patrons had scattered, all that remained was a lifeless body resting underneath a card table. His burly and intimidating physical presence was only surpassed by an even more audacious personality. Considering the laundry list of then and future mob-star chums he ran with–it’s of no surprise Thomas “Fatty” Walsh had this overabundance of cockiness to both his walk and talk. He seemed to revel in the role of gangster. Perhaps it was also that unfiltered mouth or intimate knowledge of so many gangland brethren that dealt him an early trip to the afterlife.

When you get right down to it, the underworld tends to give up many of its secrets over time; there exists very little genuine ‘honor among thieves’. Conversely, the underworld rarely surrenders all the skeletons in the cupboard, and that’s why the old adage ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ is so befitting of gangland tales. Unless you were right there, at the very moment a word was uttered or a weapon was drawn–we will never know the full truth. Still, we can glean some ideas or theories and always revel in what historical facts do exist. The story of Fatty Walsh plays out like an incredible cinematic drama, but it was real, and filled with over-the-top characters, unbelievable situations, and of course a lot of unknowns. From Manhattan to Miami, his story spanned not just

George Uffner, Thomas “Fatty” Walsh and Charles “Lucky” Lucania. A candid & rare photograph taken of the trio while being held by police following the Arnold Rothstein murder, 1928. (Author’s Collection) 2014 FAll EDITION 25


Arnold Rothstein (Author’s Collection)

geography of gangster playgrounds, but also some of the most enigmatic underworld events of the late 1920’s. If something illicit was going on–there was a good chance Walsh was around. Booze, dope and gambling were prime examples of irresistible exploits for Fats and his compatriots. Walsh shared in the aforementioned spoils with a diverse collective of associates throughout the latter 1920’s; many of whom would go on to become mob superstars, while still more met similar deadly fates. What so many of Walsh’s pals had in common all revolved around a man named Arnold Rothstein–chief financier of virtually any and all profit making endeavors that were of a questionable nature. Rothstein mentored them, employed them, dressed them, and refined them. But Arnold had troubles and more dangerously–he had ‘things’ that even loyal followers envied. On November 4, 1928, the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan became a crime scene. Summoned for a phone call, Rothstein ventured right into a waiting gunman’s path–taking two bullets. Though he clung to life for a 28 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

day, “The Big Bankroll” never offered investigators any useful information. The murder conjured hundreds of theories as to why it happened. There were arrests, wildly made up confessions, acquittals and rumors of everything from gambling debts to drug deals gone awry. The case is still unsolved. However, three interesting characters were picked up together just thirteen days after the murder. George Uffner, Fatty Walsh and Charles “lucky” lucania were together at 225 Park Central West when Detectives Butler and Tunney arrived. None of the suspects offered much information to either detective. Furthermore, no officer involved assumed much of anything these three did have to say was going to be on the level anyway. All had records, and all had reputations. Walsh was already quite known as a Rothstein bodyguard, not to mention a membership in Jack “legs” Diamond’s gang. lucania called himself a ‘restaurateur’ but was largely considered a ‘Broadway Racketeer.’ Though Uffner was the most shadowy of the trio, he was viewed as a gambler, and suspected as a chief narcotics man for Rothstein. Uffner and lucania remained tight-lipped during the interrogation process, and the police knew they couldn’t hold any of them for very long. So, all three were formally charged with assault relating to a payroll robbery. It was a swift solution to keep grilling them. Still, the only ‘talking’ was from Walsh, and that wasn’t shedding any new info the cops didn’t already basically know.

Jack “Legs” Diamond Legs ran a gang with brother Ed, Charles Lucania, Fatty Walsh and others, often doing business with Arnold Rothstein. Some theories point to ‘bad blood’ between Diamond and Rothstein that got the latter killed. (Author’s Collection)


Thomas “Fatty” Walsh and Arthur L. Clark. Photograph taken of the pair outside Walsh’s Miami home, just one day before he was murdered. (Author’s Collection)

“I quit,” Walsh explained of his former employment with Rothstein. “Rothstein was too cheap. He wouldn’t pay his bills.” The three suspects were released from all charges and the Rothstein case remained open. As many winter-weary gangsters often did, Fatty soon made his way to Florida for some fun in the sun. He owned a beautiful Spanish Villa on Ferdinand Street in Miami, frequently gambled on the 14th floor of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and adored being noticed in various posh locales- smoking expensive cigars while one or two attractive young women clung to his arm. On the night of March 7th, 1929, Fatty and another Diamond Gang alumnus, Arthur l. Clark, were among the usual gamblers and partiers at the 30 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Biltmore. However, and in similar fashion to the mysterious fate of his former boss, Thomas Walsh was felled from a projectile launched by mysterious gunman. Clark was also hit–the slug pierced his chest and stopped in his arm. His was not a mortal wound; Walsh however died on scene. Patrons quickly scattered from the hotel and police were left with a multitude of unanswered questions. Clark was taken to Miami General Hospital in critical condition, but coherent enough for questioning. “I don’t know anything about it,” he chided. “And you won’t get anything out of me. I don’t think they were shooting at Fatty at all.” Soon after Walsh’s murder, half a dozen arrests were made. Three suspects had given their names as


William Wallace, Bert Griffith and one simply called “Faro.” Investigators also discovered a young New York nightclub hostess/entertainer named Demaris Dore was also present at the scene, as was the gambling suite’s proprietor–Ed Wilson. The following morning, a lawyer named Fred Pine burst into the county jail, requesting the names of all the men in custody. When police asked for what incident he was referring, Pine refused to say specifically. “Well,” he replied, “I’m here for anyone you have got and I want to see him.” Basically, Pine was there on a ‘blanket assignment’–sent by someone to represent anyone hauled in for the Walsh murder. Although Demaris Dore had already spirited out of Miami just hours after the murder, an enterprising tabloid reporter tracked her down in New York. Consequently, police quickly apprehended and placed her in protective custody. During question she admitted, “Yes I was there.” But echoed Arthur Clark’s sharp taunt to police, adding, “But you’ll get nothing out of me. They’ll kill me!” Neither Dore nor Clark was anxious to talk, though police were still overly confident they would break them both. Two indictments were then issued against Ed Wilson. Prosecutors didn’t expect to grab the notorious gambler quickly though, as rumors circulated the gambler fled to Cuba immediately after Walsh’s murder. Eventually Dore explained that four men engaged in an argument scenario. Walsh, she said, had been ridiculing one of the entourage for a speech impediment. Shots were fired in anger, and chaos ensued. Still, investigators were anxious to find Wilson, while also leaning towards a theory of either an unpaid liquor deal or simply that Walsh knew entirely too much about the Rothstein murder. New York prosecutors in the Rothstein case shared knowledge with Miami of the loose-tongued Walsh boasting to friends, “Say, I know all about who was out to get A. R.” Walsh’s four sisters and elderly mother Katherine publicly denounced he was a ‘gangster, inferring he was merely a financial advisor to Rothstein at one time. “Tom had plenty of money,” Irene Walsh declared. “He had hundreds of thousands and was interested in real estate in Miami.” Naturally, very few if, anyone at all, actually believed the family’s explanation for Fatty’s Floridian interests. Walsh’s body was guarded in a local funeral home until arrangements were made for travel back to New York. Just before the remains were loaded on a train bound for Manhattan, Arthur Clark was taken to the funeral home to identify his friend and offer one final farewell. “He was

Demaris Dore The New York entertainer was known to run in gangland circles, and considered a key witness in the Walsh murder investigation, 1929. (Author’s Collection)

shot down like a dog,” Clark cried. “He never had a chance.” On March 12th, 1929, Fatty was given a grand sendoff fit for a king, with guests lined up outside his Manhattan home, and a casket blanketed with hundreds of roses. The local press reported that the elaborate funeral spectacle was attended by both a large ensemble of criminal types and plenty of law enforcement officers as well. Still, the underworld has not yet divulged the entire truth behind Walsh’s murder and most likely never will. Nobody was ever convicted of the crime and most of the characters involved wound up in similar fates or simply faded into obscurity. And then a few of Walsh’s old cohorts in Rothstein’s stable of criminals, well, they went on to be rather successful; George Uffner, Frank Erickson, Frank Costello and Charles “lucky” luciano in particular. Some believe even Fatty Walsh himself isn’t quite ready to put the tale to rest either. Stories circulated after his death, and still do today, that the raucous fat man is definitely very present in the Miami Biltmore Hotel, albeit in an ethereal form.

Thomas “Fatty” Walsh Funeral His casket is loaded into a hearse while attendees line the street outside the Manhattan apartment building where Walsh lived,1929. (Author’s Collection)

2014 FAll EDITION 31


Tampa Mafia Fatty Factoids

Like many other gangsters of the era, Walsh used a multitude of aliases and nicknames. Among them, he was known as Paddy, James Lockman, James Walsh, Tom O’Brien and just plain Fats. Fatty’s brother, whose name was actually James, joined three other would-be robbers during a failed heist of the South Bronx Homing Pigeon Club in April of 1930. To their surprise, a plainclothes police officer interrupted the robbery and fired on the group; Walsh was hit in the spine and thought to have died in Lincoln Hospital shortly thereafter. Detective Tunney, one of two officers that took Walsh, George Uffner and Lucky Luciano into police headquarters after the Rothstein murder, was the brother of retired heavyweight boxing champion James Joseph "Gene" Tunney. Police in Miami had actually been shadowing Fatty for days as he frequented the Biltmore Hotel. Their original mission was to gather information on a Rothstein murder suspect named Hymie Miller. Ironically though, police did not immediately know who the gunshot victim was until the name “Tom Walsh” was found in his clothing. Even then, the connection was not realized or confirmed for several hours.

Inez Norton, 1938 Once the mistress of Arnold Rothstein, she received a large life insurance payout from his estate. She was also present in the suite where Walsh was murdered, but had left prior to the shooting. She was under some suspicion, yet never formally arrested and went on to become a fashion designer.

Following Fatty’s demise, reporters that interviewed the Walsh family were sure to inform the public of another highly-newsworthy element to the story, noting how his sisters were all “attractive and unmarried.” Although New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen publicly suggested the possibility that Rothstein, on his deathbed, could have told Fatty Walsh who the perpetrator was–many investigators scoffed at the idea. While later in the investigation of Walsh’s murder, the theory–Fatty having been ‘silenced’ by fellow gangsters–gained more momentum and consideration as motive. Arnold Rothstein’s showgirl mistress (and life insurance benefactor)–Inez Norton–was also in the Biltmore gambling suite the night Walsh was killed, but left several hours before the shooting occurred. Found on the train that carried Walsh’s body from Miami to New York was an unnamed witness to the murder who later told police the killer was definitely not Ed Wilson, but a gangster who originally hailed from Chicago named “Potatoes.” The witness claimed he saw “Potatoes” fire the shots and that the oddly nicknamed assailant–“had plenty to do with Arnold’s drug ring.” To prevent any unwanted publicity, Walsh’s body was shipped back to New York under a fictitious name. According to a direct descendant of George Uffner, some family members believe Uffner, Luciano, Frank Erickson and Frank Costello were among those that ‘removed’ and/or “benefited from” important documents kept in Rothstein’s office–taken well before police investigators could get to them. 32 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM


34 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM


Joe Valgica’s Last Plate of Fries By Scott M. Deitche In the early morning hours of December 5, 1928, most logical theory, that the meeting was held to patrolman Frank Osowski, was walking his beat in discuss the killing of Brooklyn mob boss Salvatore downtown Cleveland, when he noticed a car pulling D’Aquila and additional assassinations in Chicago. up in front of the Statler Hotel on Euclid Avenue. A But authorities were unable to directly tie the Statler group of men emerged that caught the officer’s eye. guests to any specific crime. On December 15th, ten As he told a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, days after their arrest, the men were released after “Well, it was this way. A car all covered in dust, drew pleading guilty as ‘suspicious persons’. up in front of the hotel. It was about sunrise. I didn’t Two of the men arrested were not on the Cleveland pay much attention to them at first. lots of people PD’s radar at the time. They were Tampa residents come to hotels in the Ignazio Italiano and Joe morning. But these boys Vaglica. Italiano was the looked tough, as you boss of the Tampa Mafia might say. There were at the time of the meeteleven of them.” ing. Vaglica’s exact posiOsowski followed them tion in the Mafia was into the hotel and after unknown, though his they checked in, he jotted appearance with down their names and Italiano at the Statler returned to the meeting suggests he was White Spot Barbeque on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa. station to give them to the at least a trusted capo if detective bureau, before his shift ended. One of the not a major power in his own right. In a 1963 FBI detectives, Emmet Potts, recognized some of the report, Vaglica was described by an informant as “defnames as gangland figures. He had also just received initely a member years ago of the Italian group a telegram form Chicago stating that some of referred to as the Mafia”, and that “Vaglica had been Al Capone’s men were traveling to Cleveland for a dealing in narcotics and diamonds.” meeting. With reinforcements Potts went to the hotel Joe (Giuseppe) Vaglica was born in 1894 in Italy. He and quietly rounded up 21 men in total. arrived in Ellis Island on January 24, 1895, at 11 At the station the men were booked and photographed. months old. He traveled across with his 15 year old The newspapers were already on the scene calling it a sister and 7 year old brother, and their mother, Maria. meeting of suspected bootleggers and gunmen. Some The family sailed out of Naples on the SS Kronprinz powerful names were in the crowd, from New York Friedrich Wilhem. mob powers Joe Profaci and Vincent Mangano, to Vaglica had spent some time in Chicago before Capone men Joseph Giunta and Pasquale lolordo. relocating to Tampa in the 1920s. In the 1930 census The real reason for the Statler Hotel meeting is not Joe listed his occupation as cigar maker. By 1937, Joe was running the White Spot Barbeque, an eatery and fully known. David Critchley, in his essential The dance hall on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, just south Origin of Organized Crime in America, presents the 2014 FAll EDITION 35


of the intersection of Nebraska and Broad St. Just after 3:00AM, on the morning of July 11, 1937, Joe Vaglica was sitting at the outside counter of the White Spot eating a plate of French fries. He was chatting with the waitress, Ethel Hamilton. “I was leaning on the counter talking to Mr. Vaglica and when I reached over his shoulder to take a potato, I heard a car stop across the street.” The car was a black 1937 two-door Ford, slowly cruising past the front of the White Spot. The vehicle stopped directly across from the counter. The back passenger window lowered and four .20 gauge shotgun blasts ripped through the front of the restaurant and the back of Vaglica. Ethel saw the shots and watched the car speed away, east down Broad St. She later told investigators that there were three men in the backseat. The witnesses were only able to give a description of the car and a vague description of the driver, described as ‘stout’. After the shots rang out, Ethel and two other customers in the restaurant ran over to Joe, but it was too late. He had been hit with ten slugs and died instantly. Ethel described the event to a reported from the Tampa Morning Tribune. “There were four shots, fast, one right after another and they were fired out the back window of the car. I was in three feet of Mr. Vaglica when he was hit. He was dead before he hit the ground.” Police questioned all the witnesses, except for one waitress, Alice Haneleaf. The 20-year old fled the scene before police had a chance to take her statement. They caught up with her a few days later and held her at the station, thinking she may have been involved in some capacity. However, after questioning her for a few hours, she was released. Vaglica’s death was the third unsolved gangland homicide within a year, preceded by the deaths of Gus Perez, Frank Carrao, and Charlie Walls’ chief lieutenant Eddie Virella. Police chalked Vaglica’s death as the latest in the gangland war that was rocking Tampa. That war was being fought between the upstart Sicilian Mafia and Charlie Wall and his loyalists. With Vaglica’s stature in the Mafia, his killing was a major notch in the belt of the Wall faction. But it was not the end to the killing. And though Wall’s group seemed to take the upper hand with the death of Vaglica, the streets of Tampa would run red with gangster blood for years to come. 36 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM


40 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Reprinted with permission of DC Public Library, Star Collection, Copyright Washington Post

Joe Nesline at the time of his indictment for his illegal gambling operation at the Sportsman Club in 1963


Joe Nesline: Washington, D.C.’s

Most Notorious Gambler By Jack Colhoun

Washington, D.C. gangster Joe Nesline cut a dapper figure. Nesline dressed smartly and sported a diamond ring on his finger and diamond cufflinks. At a little over 5 foot 7 inches, he was not a big man. But he had swagger when it came to gambling, boasting to the FBI he was the world’s “best crap-shooter.” He had been arrested more than 20 times for liquor law violations and gambling, yet he only spent three years in jail. From the 1950s to the mid-1960s, Nesline was D.C.’s best known and best connected gangster. He came up in the tradition of past D.C. crime bosses. From the Warring brothers, who ran bootleg whiskey during Prohibition and numbers in the 1930s in Foggy Bottom and Georgetown to Roger “Whitetop” Simkins, who ran a numbers operation in Petworth, to Nesline’s gambling houses, D.C. underworld operations were local in character and relatively small-scale. The Mafia did not absorb local gangster operations in D.C. as it did in other cities. And the Mafia never became entrenched in D.C. as it did in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, or Philadelphia. In Nesline’s declassified FBI file, there is no evidence he was a “made man” of a Mafia family. He was not Italian. But Nesline’s close ties to leading Mafia gamblers made him unique among D.C. gangsters. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took a personal interest in Nesline, calling him “a notorious Washington, D.C. gambling figure,” in a memorandum to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1961. Hoover’s interest in Nesline was piqued when the FBI learned Frank Sinatra and Hollywood actor

George Raft spent the night gambling at Nesline’s Spartan American Club in downtown D.C. on January 21, 1961. Two nights earlier Sinatra had hosted “The Gala,” a star-studded celebration of John Kennedy’s inauguration as president at the D.C. Armory, featuring Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, and Nat King Cole. Hoover used the FBI’s intelligence on Sinatra and Raft’s night at the Spartan American Club from a “ confidential informant” to tweak Robert Kennedy. As Attorney General, Kennedy planned to prosecute gangsters aggressively in the federal courts in a “war on organized crime.” Kennedy had prodded Hoover to make the Mafia the FBI’s top investigative priority since he was counsel to the Senate Rackets Committee in the late 1950s. But Hoover dragged his feet.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover 2014 FAll EDITION 41


Frank Sinatra and President John F. Kennedy

Hoover wrote in a February 10, 1961 memorandum to Robert Kennedy, “The informant advised that while at the club, both Sinatra and Raft lost heavily at the crap table. Raft was heard to say that he had never seen a larger crap game outside of las Vegas or Reno, Nevada.” Hoover added, “Recently a highly confidential source in Washington, D. C., stated that Frank Sinatra is regarded as having control of the entertainment industry in las Vegas, Nevada. The source indicated that when someone in las Vegas desires entertainment, arrangements must be made through Sinatra who negotiates for this entertainment to his financial benefit.” In a “personal” note to Robert Kennedy, Hoover referred to his brother’s friendly relations with Sinatra, whom the FBI considered an “associate of well-known hoodlums.” The FBI had received reports Senator John Kennedy partied with Sinatra in las Vegas, New York, and Palm Springs during his 1960 presidential campaign. John Kennedy also used Sinatra’s hit song “High Hopes” as his campaign theme song. Nesline, born in 1913, grew up in the neighborhood around 6th St. and Massachusetts Ave., NE, the eldest of five children. He attended St. Aloysius grade school and went to Gonzaga High School. He dropped out of Gonzaga after his freshman year. He got his start in the D.C. underworld as a “bootlegger” and a bookmaker during Prohibition. As a teenager Nesline got an education in gambling working at Jimmy’s Place, an old mansion turned into a gambling house across the D.C. line in Maryland on 42 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Blandensburg Road. Frank Kuznik described the third floor of Jimmy’s Place in an investigative piece on Nesline in Regardie’s in 1987. Kuznik wrote, “[O]ne huge open room with crap tables, card games, a roulette wheel, and a monster board of racing results along one wall.” In 1951, Nesline gained big-time notoriety when he killed George Hardy, a fellow D.C. gangster, in the stairwell of the Hide-Away Club, an after-hours club, at 3135 K St., NW in Georgetown under the Whitehurst Freeway. He convinced a jury he shot Harding, who was found with a loaded .38 caliber handgun in his hip pocket, in self-defense. He was acquitted of first-degree murder, but found guilty of carrying an unlicensed .45 caliber pistol. He served a year in prison. Washington Post reporter Benjamin Bradlee pointed out Judge Alexander Holtzoff took the unusual step of questioning the jury’s wisdom. “This defendant is a dangerous individual. He is a racketeer and professional gambler,” Holtzoff declared. “The court feels a more appropriate verdict would have been guilty of manslaughter.” Nesline’s reputation as a gangster grew after his acquittal in the Harding murder trial. Nesline boasted about his skills as a gambler in an interview with the FBI in 1963. A FBI report of the interview stated, “He considers himself to be ‘the best crap-shooter and crap-dealer in the world.’” Nesline also admitted he was involved in sports betting–baseball, basketball, and football–using las Vegas handicappers to set the odds and point spreads. He said he had known Mafioso Charlie “The Blade” Tourine for 30 years and worked with him in various “gambling enterprises.” He explained Tourine, whose formal education ended at the fourth grade, needed his assistance “in these matters inasmuch as he can neither read nor write.” Tourine was “one of his few friends.”

Gambling Casino in Cuba


In 1958, Nesline left D.C. to be Tourine’s right-hand man at the Capri Hotel casino in Cuba. He had a front row seat from which to watch Cuban gangsterismo (gangsterism) in action and the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess to leading Mafia gamblers in Cuba. The FBI reported Tourine earned his street name “The Blade” as a “strong-arm man and enforcer for gambling elements.” Tourine, originally from New Jersey, was “deeply involved in gambling activities” in Cuba and Miami. He had “connections with major hoodlums” in the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe, including Charles “lucky” luciano with whom he met in 1960. A 1959 FBI report from Havana described Tourine’s close working relationship with leading Mafia gamblers in Cuba. “Tourine frequently visited Santo Trafficante and had extensive conversations with him. He frequently visited Jack lansky [Meyer lansky’s brother],” the FBI report stated. “Tourine was reported as frequently meeting with numerous American gamblers in Havana to discuss problems of mutual cooperation on the part of the gambling casinos located in the Hotels Capri, Riviera, and Havana Hilton.” Tourine was also well connected with Cuban politicians, starting with Cuban strongman General Fulgencio Batista. The FBI reported Tourine “frequently met” with Roberto “Chiri” Mendoza, a business

Meyer Lansky

Santo Trafficante, Jr

associate of Batista who acted as Batista’s liaison to Mafia gamblers. Mendoza was one of the principal owners of the Havana Hilton Hotel casino. Tourine also maintained “close relations with numerous important [Cuban] politicians.” Tourine was the manager of the Salon Rojo, a casino in the Capri Hotel, according to declassified FBI records. Charlie Tourine was an investor in the casino along with Meyer lansky and Santo Trafficante, Jr., the two most important North American Mafia gamblers in Cuba. In Cuba, Nesline shared living quarters with his boyhood pal Dino Cellini, whom he had known when they were apprentice gamblers at Jimmy’s Place. In the mid1950s, Cellini ran a school for croupiers at lansky’s Hotel Riviera Hotel casino in Havana. Cellini also had close ties to Trafficante, according to the FBI. Nesline was in Havana during the heyday of the Mafia gamblers in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. tourists flocked to the island, where they spent freely at Mafia owned casinos, hotels, and nightclubs. Havana gained a reputation for the best gambling and wildest nightlife in the Caribbean. The Salon Rojo, with its red damask walls, fancy chandeliers, and roof-top swimming pool, was a magnet for U.S. tourists. George Raft, who gained fame playing Al Capone’s bodyguard in Scarface and other gangster 2014 FAll EDITION 43


Illustartion of the Havana Hilton in Cuba

roles in Hollywood movies in the 1930s, added the allure of celebrity as a casino “greeter.” Raft had rubbed elbows with notorious Mafiosi like Benny Siegel, Frank Costello, and Vito Genovese in his youth in Manhattan’s lower East Side. The Capri and Havana Hilton were the legacy of a deal struck by Meyer lansky and Batista in 1933. The two men laid the foundation for what would become a full-fledged gangster state in Cuba. Batista accepted lansky’s offer to share the gangsters’ gambling profits with Batista, his inner circle, and senior Cuban army and police officers. In return, Cuban authorities allowed the Mafia to operate its establishments without interference. Batista took gangsterismo one step further in the 1950s. He dipped into the Cuban treasury and the Cuban Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union pension fund to subsidize the construction of four new Mafiaowned hotels with casinos, including the Capri and Havana Hilton. The curtain came down on the era of gangsterismo in Cuba, when Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement revolutionaries triumphed over Batista on New Years Day 1959. On January 8, Castro vowed to “clean out all gamblers who used the influence of Dictator Batista’s regime to build an empire here” in television interview broadcast in New York. Nelsine joined the exodus of North American gamblers out of Cuba. Tourine, however, remained in Cuba until mid-1959, moving Mafia money out of Cuba. According to a FBI report, Tourine took “bags of money out of Cuba for a short time following the takeover by Castro.” Tourine was arrested by Cuban authorities along with 44 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Trafficante, Jake lansky, and other Mafia gamblers. He was detained briefly and deported in June 1959. After fleeing Cuba, Nesline returned to D.C., where he went back to operating the Spartan American Club, a half-dozen blocks from the White House. The club was a second-story gambling room centered around a crap table at 1016-A 14th St., NW, near Franklin Square, popular with local crap shooters and bookmakers. D.C. police raided the Spartan American Club in June 1959. U.S. Attorney Oliver Gasch was confident D.C. police would find a trove of incriminating evidence when the police raided the club. Telephone wiretaps and phone records showed a large number of calls from a sports betting operation in Norfolk, Virginia to a telephone in the Spartan American Club. Gasch believed the club was the headquarters of a sports betting syndicate. But the raid turned into a bust. Nesline was at the door to welcome the police to the Club, “smiling like a Cheshire cat,” according to Gasch. No evidence of a sports betting operation was found.

Fidel Castro


Nesline was tipped off about the raid in advance says Josephine Nesline Alvarez, Nesline’s mistress and later wife and still later ex-wife. “Joe always did that when he knew he got over on you,” Alvarez recalls in her memoir lucky “325,” referring to Nesline’s big grin. “Joe knew how to keep the guys in blue happy, paying the boys off to keep his places open.” But the times were changing. Nesline had not counted on Attorney General Kennedy’s war on organized crime or Hoover’s personal interest in him. He overplayed his hand. D.C. police Captain James Stargel served notice on Nesline in 1961. Stargel told Nesline, “There is no room in this precinct for both of us. You will have to move.” Nesline retorted, “You will be the one to go. We have connections to have you transferred.” Stargel organized a campaign of police harassment. D.C. police stood at the front and back doors of the Spartan American Club and snapped pictures of the club’s patrons. Billy Rorer, a bookmaker from Alexandria, Virginia, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, remembers the police harassment campaign at the Spartan American Club. “You went there in a cab because the police checked car tags,” Rorer told me in an interview. “There was a lot of gambling going on up there. Bookmakers from Alexandria, Arlington, and D.C. were there standing around the crap table.” He added, “Of course, the police were paid off. Nesline’s problem was his mouth. He talked too much.” The police harassment campaign was successful. Nesline shut down the Spartan American Club in August 1961. In December 1961, Nesline opened a new casino, the Amber Club, at 1453 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, 14 blocks east of the Capitol. The Amber Club, like the Spartan American Club, was a second-story “sawdust room” for craps, horses, and 21. A FBI report on the Amber Club stated, “large scale dice games have been conducted at this club in the past.” In another report the FBI noted, “Nesline owns the majority interest in the Amber Club.” Tourine was also an investor in the club. Frank “lefty” Rosenthal, a sports betting oddsmaker tied to gangsters in Chicago,

was involved in the club. Rosenthal would later gain notoriety for introducing sports betting to casinos in las Vegas. His career inspired Casino, the book and movie screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi. The D.C. police also harassed Amber Club patrons. The Amber Club fought back by lodging a legal protest, represented by an attorney from the Edward Bennett Williams law Firm. The firm would represent Nesline in subsequent legal matters. In late 1962, the Amber Club closed temporarily, while Nesline was in Miami. He returned to D.C. to reopen the club on January 21, 1963. D.C. Deputy Police Chief Roy Blick informed the FBI a “large crowd” attended the reopening of the Amber Club. Blick summoned Nesline for a talk. Nesline complained about police harassment of Amber Club customers, according to a FBI report. He hastened to add he had already shut down the club’s gambling room. Blick, in no mood to negotiate, replied, “The Amber Club has got to go.” In February 1963, Nesline shuttered the Amber Club. He also had the gambling equipment and furniture removed. But law enforcement kept the heat turned up on Nesline. Maryland police had raided the Sportsman’s Club a few days after it opened in June 1963. The police seized gaming equipment and arrested several men at the club, including George Raft. Raft had teamed up again with Nesline and Tourine to play a reprise of his role at the Capri’s Salon Rojo: The Hollywood “gangster” was the featured “greeter” at the Sportsman’s Club. Then, in May 1965, a D.C. grand jury indicted Nesline, lefty Rosenthal, and nine other men for having run an illegal gambling operation at the now defunct Amber Club. The grand jury also indicted Nesline and Tourine for transporting gambling equipment across state lines from D.C. into Maryland for use at the Sportsman’s Club in St. Mary’s County. They were also charged for bribing a deputy sheriff to ignore the illegal casino in Charlotte Hill on Route 5. Raft was questioned for 15 minutes by the D.C. grand jury in January 1965. He refused to comment on his testimony to reporters but posed for photographers before returning to los Angeles. He was not charged. 2014 FAll EDITION 45


Nesline’s friend Duke Zeibert, a popular Washington restaurateur, was also caught up in the Sportsman’s Club raid. Nesline ate several times a week at Zeibert’s Restaurant at Connecticut Ave. and l St., NW, a few blocks from the White House. His restaurant was a favorite of Washington politicians, journalists, lawyers, and gamblers, including Edward Bennet Williams and las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek. Though arrested in the raid, Zeibert was not charged in the case. As a result of the raid, Nesline and Tourine were found guilty of violating Maryland’s gambling laws. But they avoided a one-year prison sentence by paying $9,500 in court costs and agreeing to stay out of St. Mary’s County. In July 1967, Nesline fared better in U.S. District Court where he and ten other men were charged with running illegal dice games at the Amber Club. A hung jury spared Nesline and his gambling associates the possibility of going to jail. The judge dismissed the jury after it became “hopelessly deadlocked” over the charges. Members of the jury disagreed about whether Nesline was in charge of the dice games. Nesline denied responsibility, insisting he was a “member” of the club but not the owner. The Washington Post took note of an air of empathy for Nesline that infused the Amber Club trial. “[Nesline] was so popular and well-liked that even cops hate to see him in court,” the Post commented. “Even men who have lost money to Nesline in alleged dice games are rooting for him to emerge victorious over the Justice Department.” Though Nesline’s post-Cuba gambling operations in the Washington area had been stymied, Nesline’s stature as

Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo & Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno 46 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

one of the top gambling figures in the country continued to grow. Alvarez fondly recalls a Frank Sinatra show at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach in February 1965. She sat next to Nesline at a table reserved for prominent Mafiosi, the only woman, like “a Mafia bride.” Seated around the table were: Trafficante, who divided his time after Cuba between Miami and Tampa; Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, a lieutenant of Meyer lansky; Joe Fischetti, a cousin of Al Capone who promoted Sinatra’s career; and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, a member of the Genovese crime family, who ran the lucrative Harlem numbers racket and sports betting operations in New York City. At the end of the show, Sinatra, and his co-star Joe E. lewis, came over to the table and “exchanged words with the men.” The then 23 year old former nightclub dancer was awe-struck. A FBI report confirms Nesline and Alvarez were in Miami. The report states, “Informant advised Nesline and his girlfriend Josephine Alvarez were staying on subject’s [Charlie Tourine] Miami Beach apartment as of 3/8/65.” Nesline would increasingly spend more of his time away from D.C., pursuing new gambling opportunities, elsewhere in the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. Nesline lamented the passing of the old days of gambling in D.C. with $20,000 rolls in an interview with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in 1972. “Gambling, craps, and numbers are at their lowest ebb in Washington,” Nesline said wistfully. “The only dice in Washington is in monopoly games.” Nesline’s last clash with law enforcement in D.C. occurred in the mid-1980s. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for trafficking in counterfeit video games and poker video games in 1986. He was charged with 24 counts of copyright and gambling violations. The next year Nesline, then 73, pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation in support of racketeering. In return, U.S. prosecutors did not seek imprisonment for Nesline. Joe Nesline died in 1995 in a nursing home in Delaware. The story of Joe Nesline grew out of Jack Colhoun’s Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba, and the Mafia, 1933-1966 (OR Books, 2013). He lives 5 blocks from the site of Nesline’s old Amber Club on Pennsylvania Ave, SE.


The mob works to batter down a door at Orleans Parish Prison on March 14, 1891. Andrews, E. Benjamin, History of the United States, Vol. V, New York: Scribner's, 1912.

48 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM


1891 Lynch Mob secrets from an aging New Orleans newspaperman By Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

Sirs: I have read in the past many versions of the now famous Mafia affair, most of which were incorrect. I have never written anything about it, as I knew many of the squad were alive and would resent it, but now that most of us are dead and I am 68, there is little chance of trouble. All of the names I am giving have been published at some time or other; all of the facts are on record in New Orleans. So began a letter from George Parke to the editors of several of the accused who had not yet been tried were Truth magazine in November, 1936. Parke was a former killed within the prison walls the next morning. New Orleanian writing from Farmhaven, Mississippi. The Along with trial defendants Macheca, Bagnetto, Polizzi, infamous Crescent City lynchings were forty-five years in Monastero, Scaffidi and Antonio Marchesi, untried pristhe past, but Parke clearly remained haunted by his oners Rocco Geraci, James Caruso, Frank Romero, loreto involvement. Comitis and Charles Traina were slain. (Curiously, acquitParke’s letter outlined the history of ted defendant Charles Matranga, wideNew Orleans’ late 19th Century strugly regarded as the leader of the local gles with the Mafia and described the Mafia, and Matranga’s top aide Bastiano October 1890 assassination of local Incardona were unharmed.) Police Chief David Hennessy. Parke acknowledged that he was a Hennessy had been engaged in a crumember of a preselected execution team sade against the criminal society dating that entered the prison under cover of a from his 1881 arrest of Sicilian fugitive lynch mob and killed eleven defenseless Giuseppe Esposito. A grand jury invesmen. A twenty-three-year-old New tigating the assassination returned Orleans newspaperman in 1891, he murder indictments against nineteen recalled being enlisted into the execuItalian Americans in mid-November. tion squad by vigilante leaders conThe defendants were said to comprise a vinced that the Hennessy assassination Sicily-linked criminal society known as trial jury had been bribed and intent on the Mafia. Prosecutors separated the correcting that jury’s not guilty verdicts. defendants into two groups. The first Though Parke went along with the New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy group, comprised of nine defendants, vigilantes, he apparently was not confiwas brought to trial in February of 1891. dent in the virtue of their cause. Following the killing of On March 13, a jury found none of the nine defendants the nine men inside Parish Prison, many called for guilty. The jury acquitted six, Joseph P. Macheca, Charles Dominick O’Malley, who long opposed Hennessy and Matranga, Bastiano Incardona, Antonio Marchesi, Asperi was suspected of bribing the assassination trial jury, to Marchesi and Antonio Bagnetto, and was hopelessly meet the same fate. Parke secretly provided O’Malley deadlocked on the remaining three, Manuel Polizzi, Pietro with a safe refuge for two weeks, until it was deemed safe Monastero and Antonio Scaffidi. Due to a legal technical- for him to surrender to city officials. ity, all the defendants remained incarcerated in New “His brother-in-law James Coney, resided next Orleans’ old Parish Prison overnight. Crescent City resi- door and thus could communicate all the news to dents were outraged by the verdicts, and a vigilante group him as the days passed,” wrote Parke. “–Years later, was quickly organized. Most of the trial defendants and as owner of the Evening Item and a prominent publisher, 2014 FAll EDITION 49


Members of a vigilante execution squad corner six ItalianAmerican prisoners in the yard of Orleans Parish Prison. Harper's Weekly issue of March 28, 1891.

[O’Malley] succeeded in revenging himself upon many of his former persecutors.” The 1936 letter was the first time Parke publicly acknowledged a role in the prison murders or in the harboring of O’Malley. However, it was not the last time. Parke composed another letter, opened decades later, upon his death at age eighty-seven in a Tampa, Florida, nursing home. That letter was published in the Tampa Tribune of July 18, 1955, as well as the New Orleans Daily States newspaper. It serves as evidence that, even after more than six decades had passed, the events of March 14, 1891, weighed heavily on Parke’s conscience. Parke stated that, as he wrote that second document, he was the last surviving member of a twelve-man execution team. The team members had sworn to keep each other’s identities secret. And Parke kept the secret even to the point of being sentenced to a day in jail for not revealing what he knew to an 1891 New Orleans grand jury investigating the Parish Prison lynchings. Parke recalled that he learned of his selection to the execution team through an anonymous note. The note 50 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

instructed him to report at the Statue of Henry Clay on Canal Street (the statue was moved in 1901 to lafayette Square) on the morning of March 14. A mass rally had been announced at the Clay Statue that morning. When Parke arrived there, he received another note, directing him to a nearby hardware store. At the store, he was handed a new Winchester rifle and a belt of cartridges. “I never ascertained who selected me as one of the executioners,” Parke wrote, “except I believe I was picked by the Committee of Fifty.” That committee, comprised of local dignitaries, had been assigned by the city government to find the assassins of Police Chief Hennessy. The rally drew thousands of angry New Orleanians. After several fiery speeches, the mob marched from Canal Street to Parish Prison at St. Anne and Tremé Streets. While the procession appeared to be a disorganized swarm, vigilante leaders took care to position Parke and the rest of the selected execution team at the front of the marchers. As the mob reached Parish Prison, Parke reported, the jailer attempted to protect the Italian-American prisoners by opening their cells and allowing them to hide themselves in the facility as best they could. The mob forced open the prison doors, but no wholesale entry of the prison was accomplished. Only the assigned execution team entered, according to Parke. When the team came upon two of the prisoners it sought, Polizzi and Bagnetto, they were taken outside to face the “justice” of the assembled citizens of New Orleans. The result was chaos:

Bodies of the lynching victims are laid out for public viewing on March 14, 1891. Illustrated American issue of April 4, 1891.


Crowd lingers following the killing of eleven Italian-Americans at Orleans Parish Prison. Photo courtesy of the Historic New Orleans Collection.

“Some of the crew forced [Polizzi] and Bagnetto out the front door into the excited crowd, which immediately hung one to a tree and the other to a lamp post. They tore off most of the victims’ clothing as souvenirs and mutilated their bodies, so we did not put any others out to the mob.” Parke omitted one detail reported in other accounts: Armed members of the crowd used the hanging bodies of Polizzi and Bagnetto for target practice. Rather than risk repetition of that brutal treatment, the execution team decided to take matters in its own hands. Parke recalled the team’s subsequent advance toward a group of unarmed prisoners cornered in the prison’s central courtyard: There they huddled, some kneeling in prayer and a few clasped in each other’s arms. [Pietro Monastero], the former rifleman, stood out in front with his arms folded and gazed at us unafraid. He recognized me. Just a few months previous I had been in a rifle shooting competition with him. We fired at a distance of fifty feet and in alternate ranks until all movement ceased. Then we piled up the bodies and departed for our homes. “After the work was done,” Parke remembered, “the prison doors remained open and thousands of citizens passed through and viewed the bodies. Then they slowly departed homeward, assured that the Mafia would never again become a menace to New Orleans.” Following the vigilante action, members of the trial jury and many members of the local Mafia, also known to Parke as the “Stopagherra” Society, fled New

Orleans. After Parke himself moved on to the Tampa area, he found that New Orleans Mafiosi were present there as well, preying upon the immigrant Italian work crews on regional rail road projects. Parke’s departure from New Orleans occurred in 1892, but he returned to the city on occasion. Apparently, he kept close track of other execution team members. He never divulged the identities of his fellow executioners for fear that they or their families would be targeted by a vengeful underworld. In his final letter, Parke recalled that one member of the execution team became known to the Mafia and was made an example. While playing cards in a New Orleans saloon, the man was murdered by a spear made of a stiletto knife fastened to end of a fishing pole. “All the other men died in their beds, as I hope also to do,” he concluded. As his final letter on the Parish Prison killings was published, Parke was buried in Oakside Cemetery in Zephyrhills, Florida. Honoring his life in newspapering, his funeral was attended by the Tampa Typographical Union. Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon are the coauthors of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia. Hunt, a resident of Vermont, is a crime historian and publisher of the quarterly journal, Informer. Sheldon is a relative of lynching victim Joseph Macheca, a Macheca family historian and a resident of St. louis, Missouri. Copyright © 2013, Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

2014 FAll EDITION 51


By Scott M. Deitche Few gangsters loom larger in pop culture than St. Petersburg Times) about a house on Shore Acres, Alphonse Capone. Though his reign over the Chicago guarded by two stone lions, that was supposedly underworld was brief, it was one that lived on through owned by Capone. Capone allegedly had the house the years, gaining a legend-like status. Capone was a built in 1925 for his mother. There is also a large brick brash press-savvy gangster and the public ate it up. He house on 22nd Avenue South, near 16th Street, in St. hobnobbed with celebrities of the day, showed a Petersburg, that also at one-time was either built or humanitarian side by providing food and clothes for owned by Capone, according to lore. down-on-their-luck These houses do not Chicagoans during the show up on county Depression, but most of all property records as thumbed his nose at the being owned by National Prohibition Act Capone. That certainly which enforced the 18th doesn’t mean he didn’t Amendment (commonly have a financial interknown as Prohibition)–a law est in them or that he that many in the United States never lived in them for broke on a regular basis. a time, just that the Al Capone’s ties to Florida official record is lackare well-known. His last years ing. There are, howevwere spent on his estate in Palm er, a number of parcels Island, near Miami. He frequentthat were owned by The Shore Acres home is 2,350-square-feet with 10 rooms that Capone reputedly built in 1925 for his mother. ly visited South Florida during the Chicago gangster his heyday and was followed by photographers every- outright. where he went. What are less well-known were his The parcels that Capone owned were part of a joint ventime, and his investments, in St. Petersburg. In fact, ture with three other men, under a company called Capone, along with some “legitimate business Manro Corp. The first partner was a real estate agent, Jack partners, in addition to the expected underworld Vanella. There is little known about Vanella other than he partners,” owned a good deal of property in the ‘burg, represented Capone’s interest in a number of properties as well as other areas around Pinellas. in Pinellas and was listed on the deeds. Another partner locally the urban legends and stories of Capone in was Jake Guzik, better known to his underworld cohorts Pinellas have been around for decades. Many of the as “Greasy Thumb”. Born in Moscow, Greasy Thumb areas top hotels, including the Don CeSar and the was one of the major political fixers for Capone in Vinoy, claim Capone as one of their guests. He was a Chicago, greasing the palms (hence his nickname) of big baseball fan and a friend of Babe Ruth. Sightings of politicians, judges, and police. The last of the partners was Capone at spring training games were common, and he Johnny Torrio, Capone’s mentor in organized crime, and a major mob figure in Chicago before he left the Windy frequented some of the area’s speakeasies. There was an article in the Tampa Bay Times (formally, City and handed over the reins to Capone. 52 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM


Capone’s land deals in Florida coincided with the under guidance from Ignazio Italiano and early mob 1925 land boom that brought speculators, investors, figures like Giuseppe “Joe” Vaglicia, but bootlegging grifters, and marks down to St. Petersburg to take part was big business, especially in Ybor City. In addition to in what eventually became a massive bubble. The liquor being brought in through the Port of Tampa, largest parcel in St. Petersburg was a 28-acre tract in there were also shipments of corn sugar, molasses, and South St. Pete/Gulfport, which now is the site of the other raw materials which were made into moonshine Twin Brooks Golf Course. Capone also reportedly had in the thousands of stills that were scattered throughan interest in land Torrio owned in downtown St. Pete, out rural Hillsborough County and into surrounding near a speakeasy known as the Green Cabin. The Cabin areas. It would have been a natural interest to Capone, sat on land that was eventually turned into the but without any evidence that he met with local mob American legion Hospital for Crippled Children in leaders, it would only be wild speculation. It wasn’t 1927. Capone also owned a large tract that spanned until the mid-1930s and into the early 40s that the from 22nd Avenue South to 28th Avenue South, and Tampa mafia began cementing their relationships with 38th to 41st Street, Chicago and the near Gulfport. main commodity When Capone was narcotics. came to St. In St. Petersburg, Petersburg he also Capone’s real estate spent time on the ventures started falling city’s far west side. apart in the 1930s. He His men would stay managed to avoid the at the Jungle Prada major real estate bust, Hotel, now but other issues were Admiral Farragut complicating his propAcademy. Capone erty investments. frequented the Capone was in no Gangplank Club, shape to actively now the site of Max manage the properand Sam’s Bar & ties; he was senAmerican gangster Al Capone ('Scarface') (1899 - 1947) relaxes in his vacaGrill, and just up tion home, Miami, Florida, 1930. Capone smokes a cigar and wears a striped tenced to 11 years in the road from dressing gown and slippers. prison in 1932 for Admiral Farragut, on Park Boulevard. In the restaurant income tax evasion. In 1936 the feds filed a tax lien sat a safe which legend has it, contained valuable against the Twin Brooks property. It was sold off a few papers of Capone’s. But throughout the years, no one years later. One of the Capone properties, a 10-acre plot attempted to open it. In early 2011, on an unaired in the 1300 block of North Disston Boulevard in St. episode of the (now-cancelled) Discovery Channel Petersburg (now 49th Street), resulted in a civil case show American Treasures, the show’s hosts open the relating to the non-payment of the mortgage. safe only to find it empty, much like Capone’s vaults The note holder sued Capone and his partners for were when Geraldo opened them in the 1980s. $250,000. By the time the case went to trial in 1942, Nonetheless, Capone’s place in the lore of the Jungle Vanella had died, and Torrio and Guzik had evaded Prada area is secure. subpoenas, leaving only Capone to fight the charges. While Capone wined and dined in St. Petersburg, On March 17, 1942 a circuit court jury in Clearwater what’s interesting is that there is no evidence suggest- handed down a verdict in favor of Capone. ing any meetings or joint criminal enterprises between But by that time Capone’s health was in decline. Capone and the underworld in Tampa. At the time Although he was paroled in November of 1939, his Capone was frequenting St. Petersburg, the under- days as a crime kingpin were over and he was spendworld in Tampa was under the control of Charlie Wall. ing his time on his estate in Palm Island. Al Capone The fledgling mafia was just getting their bearings, died on January 24, 1947. 2014 FAll EDITION 53


While Capone’s land deals were a memory by then, Johnny Torrio, his mafia mentor, was still buying and selling property throughout St. Petersburg and the beach communities. At any given time, Torrio owned over a dozen properties in Pinellas County, including parcels on Pass-A-Grille, where he lived for a while in the late 1930s (though he listed his home address as Brooklyn). But it wasn’t until 1950 that the extent of some of his dealings became publicly known. That December, the traveling mob-busting Congressional investigation known as the Kefauver Committee, had brought its fact finding mission to Tampa to investigate the corruption between the Tampa mafia and local politicians and law enforcement. Some time was made to discuss Johnny Torrio. The investigators were particularly interested in the sale of a parcel on Pass-A-Grille, which was sold to Hillsborough County Sheriff Hugh Culbreath on December 21, 1944. The real estate agent who brokered the deal told the Kefauver Commission: “There is a record of the closing or sale of the Pass-A- Grille property by John Torrio and wife to Hugh L. Culbreath and wife, showing 'the purchase-price credit and deposit paid, which was $1,600, and received from the purchaser so much money and marked "collected $1,600" by Tracey.” Culbreath’s dealing with Tampa mobsters were the main thrust of the Commission’s inquiry into his financial dealings. They were trying to ascertain how he managed to own to much property on his salary. During the hearings, former bolita dealers told of underworld payoffs to Culbreath, who earned the not-so-flattering nickname “Cabeza de Melon” (melon head in Spanish), among the underworld denizens who kicked up money to him and others in the Sherriff’s Department. But it was interesting to the Congressmen that Culbreath also managed a deal with Torrio. What was also interesting was that Pass-AGrille property was right near a fish house owned by Salvatore “Red” Italiano, a major mafia figure in Tampa, and known associate of Culbreath. Torrio unloaded most of his properties after the Kefauver Commission and returned to Brooklyn where he died in 1957. With Torrio’s death, the gangland era of Capone was drawing to a close. While the legacy of the Chicago mob presence in Pinellas County was over, the attachment of the respective crime organizations in Tampa and Chicago only grew, and as the era of Al Capone and Johnny Torrio faded, the criminal partnership between Santo Trafficante Jr and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana was just beginning. 54 WWW.TAMPAMAFIA.COM

Tampa Mafia Factoids

The Columbia Restaurant 2117 E 7th Ave Tampa, FL

A Tampa landmark. And it was the favorite eating establishment of the enigmatic Santo Trafficante, Sr., as well as his son and namesake, Santo Jr. The elder Trafficante was a virtual unknown to law enforcement for most of the early 20th century. He stood back in the shadows, while men like Ignazio Antinori and Charlie Wall were well-known crime figures about town. When his son, Santo Jr., took over the family operations, he was also a regular fixture at the Columbia. It was also popular with FBI agents tailing the crime boss; dozens of field intelligence reports were recorded over plates of the “1905 Salad.” Trafficante, Jr.’s bodyguard James Costa Longo worked at the Columbia from the late 1950s through at least the early 70s, as well as at various other legitimate enterprises. This, of course, was in addition to his alleged bookmaking and stolen property rackets. Longo often used the Columbia as a meeting place, like in April of 1962 when he was spotted meeting with Santo Trafficante, Jr., and Lou Coticchia, a notorious Miami racketeer. The next time Lou had dinner with Trafficante, in Miami, he disappeared for good.


Tampa Mafia 2014 Fall Edition  

Tampa First Mafia Boss Miami Beach Mafiosi Gangster Fatty Walsh DC's Most Notorious Gambler Arturo Fuente's Casa Cuba The Mob Lounge

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you