The Mafia came for Luciano and he fought back.

They turned the store into a fortress, drilling holes to allow shooters to defend the entrance from the second floor, and stashing guns behind a sofa in the card games annex. Although they had a saloon and had started keeping later hours, the brothers began closing at 9 PM (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). Vincenzo Vutera parked himself there a few days before the shootout, and remained a guest of the Lucianos until he was carried out by the coroner’s office.

Read Parts I, II, and III in this four-part series on the Macaroni Wars:

New Orleans, 1905: Who is Sam Sparo?

The 800-pound gangster

Francesco Motisi, alias Genova

The Macaroni Wars, in most tellings, covers primarily the 11 June 1902 shootout in the Luciano brothers’ store. The larger story of the conflict begins with Francesco Genova’s arrival, around 1900, and continues until Tony Luciano’s death in 1903. At least seven men died in a fight that was ostensibly over a small pasta factory. As with the Mafia wars that came before and after it in New Orleans, the true spark, actors, and stakes in the violence have sometimes been distorted or overlooked. The Mafia came for Luciano and he fought back. He wasn’t a mafioso, but as a Sicilian man, he and his adversaries shared certain outlooks and principles. Men of Luciano’s class were the model of gentleman that mafiosi like Genova strove to emulate.

Sketch of Antonino Luciano from his trial

Antonino Luciano was born in 1866 in Palazzo Adriano, the son of a master builder (Atto di nascita Salvatore Luciano, 1875). In 1894, he married Ignazia Chiovaro in Mezzomorreale, a district of Palermo (Atto di matrimonio Antonino Luciano and Ignazia Chiovaro, 1894). The civil announcement of their marriage calls Luciano a “possidente,” which translates to “landowner,” and means that he owned enough property that he did not have to work for a living.

Antonino and Ignazia emigrated in 1895 to New Orleans (Manifest of the Montebello, 1895). They may have lived in Donaldsonville, 75 miles away, for a time before opening a grocery on Poydras Street in New Orleans in 1897. Their first child was born in February 1898. Salvatore, Antonino’s younger brother, arrived in time for the 1900 census, in which he appears in his brother’s household, working as a clerk in their grocery store. Ignazia gave birth to a daughter later that year.

Francesco Genova and Paolo Di Christina, both fugitive killers using aliases, were criminal associates from Sicily. Di Christina may have first worked for Antonino Luciano as a salesman at his New Orleans store before they jointly opened a pasta factory in Donaldsonville. Genova, who had quickly established himself as the leading mafioso in New Orleans, was the driving force behind Di Christina in a plot to take over the factory. 

Di Christina made himself a disagreeable partner in the venture, so that hiring a manager and splitting the proceeds became the most sensible solution (Bloody battle, 1902; Kingman, n.d.). Genova used the split to place even more of his men in the business. Vincenzo Vutera, a grocer in financial ruin, was one whose bitterness at owing money to Luciano was easily turned to Genova’s advantage. 

According to a most unreliable source, a 1902 article titled “The other side of the vendetta story,” one of the raiders that night, Bartolo Ferrara, lived with the Luciano family in New Orleans for a long time, and conducted their correspondence. When he wanted to open his own store, Tony advanced him money and merchandise (The other side of the vendetta story, 1902). Ferrara died in debt to the Lucianos, on their books owing $288.81. His partner in his new store owed Luciano a similar amount. Vutera, and even Joseph Calamia, a successful grocer in the neighborhood, also owed Luciano money.

By the spring of 1902, Tony must have known he was in trouble. If he did not yet know he was being played by Di Christina, or that Genova was his more powerful, silent partner, he would soon. Tony recruited a cousin, Louis Luciano, who came from Tampa with his wife, to add his manpower to the defense (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). Louis, who made cigars, opened a small factory in an outbuilding behind Tony’s store. 

A month after Louis’ arrival, Salvatore saw an opportunity: Genova and Di Christina were sitting together on a wagon across the street, and Salvatore fired at them. They chased him into the Lucianos’ store, where they were forced to retreat from Tony, ready at the defense. No one was seriously harmed, and Genova refused to press charges, but privately Salvatore was warned to leave the country or “pay for his assault upon the leader of a secret order of Sicilians who swear by stilettoes” (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). In “The other side of the vendetta story,” it’s Salvatore who offers an ultimatum to Genova—leave or die—and his rash stubbornness is presented as the reason violence erupted a month later.

The Lucianos prepared to defend themselves. Although they had started keeping later hours, they began locking the doors at 9 PM (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). Joseph Calamia, who knew of the changes, led four men into the store just as the Lucianos were closing for the night. With him were Bartolo Ferrara; Joseph Gerrachi, who worked for Luciano as a manager of his macaroni factory; and two men whose descriptions are vague and contradictory, Galdarone and Scaffino. In the same article that names Joe Galdarone as a wagon driver for Tony Luciano, and Vincenzo Scaffino, a fruit dealer with a stand nearby, they are called “two vagabonds who wash the holds of fruit ships” (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). Another writer calls them drifters recruited for the attack (Kingman, n.d.). Police sought but did not find them, further frustrating efforts to identify the two men.

Unloading bananas, New Orleans (Library of Congress)

When Calamia and his gang entered the Poydras Street storefront, Salvatore Luciano was writing a letter to his mother. His brother and cousin were in an annex at the rear of the store, playing cards with Vincenzo Vutera, who was a guest in their boardinghouse. As many as three of Calamia’s men, one of them Bartolo Ferrara, rushed in and stabbed Salvatore many times with knives and stilettos. The attack came so quickly that Salvatore did not even have time to reach for his gun. Louis was wounded in the chest or shoulder. Tony Luciano shot and wounded Gerrachi and Calamia, who both ran off. After his accomplices stabbed Salvatore Luciano, Vutera shot him in the head. Tony Luciano then shot Vutera, perhaps with all three of the bullets the coroner found in the big man’s torso; he died on the scene. 

Calamia’s injury was slight, but Gerrachi, who was shot in the urethra or the bladder, died in the hospital weeks later (Death of Giuseppe Gerachi, 1902). Both men told police they’d come to the Lucianos’ on business and been caught in the crossfire of a fight they knew nothing about.

Police interviewed other survivors and witnesses, including Ignazia and Annie, Louis’ wife, but their testimonies contradicted one another and the physical evidence. Tony and his family members were arrested; he was held overnight. With what would prove to be characteristic boldness, Bartolo Ferrara visited Tony in jail after the shooting, and tried to have him released. If he’d succeeded, Tony later said, he was sure Bartolo would have tried to kill him.

The next day, Antonino was released from jail to attend his brother Salvatore’s burial. He came home to find his brother’s remains being attended to by a mortician. Tony stayed beside the body for hours, praying. In the afternoon Ignazia had a fainting spell and went upstairs to rest; she was in the first trimester of what would prove her most difficult pregnancy.

In the hours before the viewing, a police officer spotted an “ugly” man lurking around the Luciano establishment on Poydras Street. The officer drove him away twice, but apparently didn’t recognize the little grocer from Julia Street as one of the assailants from the night before (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). 

The store was full of mourners when Ferrara entered. Salvatore was laid out in a coffin on the card table in the annex. His face was covered with a cloth. Ferrara made his way to the body he had stabbed nine or a dozen times the night before. His victim’s grief-stricken brother sat beside him as if in a trance. Bartolo lifted the gauze from Salvatore’s face and kissed him on the lips. Tony stirred, but did not display any anger. 

Ferrara was playing a dangerous game, pretending to be so intimate with the deceased. Tony would bring them closer. I’m glad you came, Tony murmured. Let’s go out to the yard and talk. He led his colleague to an enclosure, where he had a shotgun hidden. In broad daylight, and with dozens of witnesses close by, he stuck the barrel end in Bartolo’s chest and shot him four times, then used the gun stock to beat his head to a pulp. Ferrara was still breathing when police arrived, though he could not speak. He lived for twenty minutes (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902).

Antonino Luciano evaded indictment in the deaths of Vutera and Gerrachi, but he went to trial for the brutal murder of Bartolo Ferrara. His defense attorney was Chandler Luzenberg, who would go on to defend Tony’s assassin.

Tony had the resources to hire the best legal counsel available. Although his storefront on Poydras was described as a cheap boarding house whose clientele were mainly Sicilian farm laborers, New Orleans historian John Smith Kendall writes, as storekeepers in New Orleans “The Lucianos were men considerably above their occupation in education and abilities.” (Kendall, 1911, p. 45, col. 1, para. 3). A “possidente” when Antonino married, at emigration he was listed as a merchant, distinguishing him from the vast majority of Sicilian men arriving in the port of New Orleans, almost all of whom were farm laborers. His other brother, John, followed their father’s profession and worked as an architect in Italy; their sister, Rosa, was a school teacher. However, most of Tony and Ignazia’s wealth was tied up. At the time of the dispute with Di Christina, Tony had $8,000 invested in the Donaldsonville macaroni factory (More murder in the feud of Sicilians, 1902). In an inventory conducted while Luciano was on trial, the value of the store’s equipment and inventory was a fraction of this amount, and their liquid assets were about $650 (Succession of Ignazia Chiavaro, 1903). (Multiply these numbers by thirty for their approximate 2022 values, adjusted for inflation, or use the Inflation Calculator.)

While awaiting trial, Luciano’s wife, Ignazia, moved the family business to a new location near the jail/police station where Tony was held. Pregnant, with two young children, and her husband on trial for murder, she ran the store alone, making deliveries and fetching merchandise from the port with a horse-drawn wagon. While out on business, Ignazia’s wagon was struck by an electric car, and she broke her leg in the accident. After weeks of convalescence, she broke the leg again. Ignazia delivered a baby girl on December 4th, and died hours later (Death of Ignazia Luciano, 1902; Luciano lured to a mafia murder, 1903). 

After her death, an inventory of the Luciano estate was conducted: standard practice to protect the assets belonging to their young children. The total value was about eight thousand dollars. In addition to Bartolo Ferrara and his business partner, Salvatore Lo Biundo, both of whom carried three-digit debts with the Luciano store, regular customers included the mother of Antonio Saltaformaggio, whose brothers were mafiosi in Corleone; “A. Cusimano,” most likely Vutera; and Joseph Calamia (Succession of Ignazia Chiavaro, 1903).

Luciano was acquitted of killing Ferrara in February 1904. He had become more religious during his confinement. Upon his release, he paid for a celebratory saints’ day dinner to be served to the jury in his trial and the residents of the jail with whom he’d lived for months (Peña, 2018). His celebration was cautious and short lived. Soon after reuniting with his family, his infant daughter died (Death of Ignazza Antonina Luciano, 1903). 

In freedom, he lived like a hunted man. Though he had evaded legal consequences for the men he killed, Tony Luciano remained marked for death by the Mafia. In his last months on Earth, Tony watched everyone but close kin with suspicion. He retreated to his new business, a store and saloon like the old place on Poydras, but operating within sight of the police station.

In May, Sam Sparo moved into a rented room nearby, and became a regular fixture in Tony’s family saloon. Noting that the widower did not do his own marketing—for fear of assassination—Sparo offered to shop for the Luciano family when he went to get his own provisions. Tony’s brother and sister, who had come from Sicily to help after his wife died, were still living with him, caring for his two young children, and helping to keep his businesses running. John Luciano and local police regarded the newcomer with suspicion, but Tony appeared to trust his new friend (Luciano lured to a mafia murder, 1903). 

He invited Sparo to join him for a short wagon trip to Snell’s photography studio at the corner of Rampart and Canal, where new proofs of Luciano’s family, posed in front of their store, awaited his examination. After inspecting the portraits together, they left the third-floor studio. On the first landing, Sparo hesitated and Luciano, abandoning his usual caution, went down the stairs first. Sam shot him in the back at such close range, Tony’s jacket caught fire. He turned and Sam continued unloading his weapon into Luciano’s body. Tony managed to return fire, but missed his target. He died soon after arriving in the hospital (Kendall, 1911; Babin, 2015).

So thoroughly did Genova destroy Luciano with his campaign of vengeance that no one came to his wake. Police officers and news reporters were drafted to carry his coffin to the tomb (Luciano lured to a mafia murder, 1903; Work of the dreaded mafia, 1903).

A year later, John Luciano disappeared while on collections rounds for his late brother’s estate. He’d gone into the Louisiana countryside in the company of a known mafioso from the Gulotta (or Culotta) family. His fate is still unknown (Fear that John Luciano is missing, 1904; Babin, 2015).

Sources

Atto di matrimonio, Antonino Luciano and Ignazia Chiovaro. (1894, November 18). Record no. 13. “Italia, Palermo, Palermo, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1910,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L97B-VZRL?cc=2051639&wc=MCTM-4M9%3A351055601%2C351055602%2C351736301 : 22 May 2014), Palermo > Palermo > Matrimoni 1892-1903 Cittadinanze 1866-1896 Morti 1866-1868 > image 457 of 2836; Tribunale di Cagliari (Cagliari Court, Cagliari). 

Atto di nascita, Salvatore Luciano. (1875, January 21). Record no. 13. “Italia, Palermo, Palermo, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1910,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G97B-V5JH?cc=2051639&wc=MCTM-2WL%3A351055601%2C352853301%2C954437801 : 22 May 2014), Palermo > Palazzo Adriano > Nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, cittadinanze, morti 1867-1875 Indici decennali (vari) 1866-1875 Nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, cittadinanze, morti 1876 Indici decennali (vari) 1876-1885 > image 1139 of 1584; Tribunale di Cagliari (Cagliari Court, Cagliari).

Babin II, D. (2015, April 28). Bumped off on the bayou: the macaroni wars. Retrieved 2 February 2019 from https://louisianamafia.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/bumped-off-on-the-bayou-the-macaroni-wars/ 

Bloody battle. (1902, June 12). The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA). 

Death of Giuseppe Gerachi. (1902, July 1). “Louisiana, Orleans Parish Death Records and Certificates, 1835-1954,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS9Z-T99D?cc=3559088 : 28 March 2020), > image 1 of 1; Louisiana, Department of Health. Bureau of Vital Records, New Orleans.

Death of Ignazza Antonina Luciano. (1903, March 17). “Louisiana, Orleans Parish Death Records and Certificates, 1835-1954”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:CT14-GQ3Z : 9 April 2020).

Death of Ignazia Luciano. (1902, December 5). Vol. 128, P. 900. Ancestry.com. Louisiana, U.S., Statewide Death Index, 1819-1964 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2002. State of Louisiana, Secretary of State, Division of Archives, Records Management, and History. Vital Records Indices. Baton Rouge, LA, USA.

Kendall, J. S. (1911, October 1). The Mafia in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 33.

Kingman, W. A. (n.d.) The Axeman of New Orleans. Retrieved 29 January 2019 from Serialkillercalendar.com

Luciano lured to a mafia murder. (1903, August 10). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 1.

Manifest of the Montebello. (1895). “Louisiana, New Orleans Passenger Lists, 1820-1945,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G5V7-WZV?cc=1916009&wc=MFVK-VNL%3A1029673801%2C1029690701 : 8 October 2015), 1820-1902 (NARA M259) > 081 – 1 Apr 1895 – 31 Dec 1895 > image 86 of 343; citing NARA microfilm publications M259 and T905 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

More murder in the feud of Sicilians. (1902, June 13). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). Pp. 1+.

New Orleans, Louisiana, City Directory, 1897 Ancestry.com. U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

The other side of the vendetta story. (1902, June 15). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 10.

Peña, C. G (2018, October 8). Death over a diamond stud: the assassination of the Orleans parish district attorney. Arcadia Publishing. 

Sicilians in battle to death. (1902, June 12). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA).

Succession of Ignazia Chiavaro, Inventory of estate. (1903, January 26). Images 1791- 1810 of 1995. Case Papers, 1880-1929; Author: Louisiana. Civil District Court (Orleans Parish); Probate Place: Louisiana Notes: Civil District Court Case Papers, No 69203-69337, 1902 Ancestry.com. Louisiana, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1756-1984 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Work of the dreaded mafia. (1903, August 12). The Minneapolis journal. (Minneapolis, Minn.). Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045366/1903-08-12/ed-1/seq-1/>

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