In 1911, six-year old Angelo Marino was kidnapped from Gault Court in Chicago’s Little Sicily. Was the Black Hand to blame?
Antonino Marino and Bernarda Gennaro were a young couple from Corleone. So when they moved from East Harlem in New York City to Little Sicily in Chicago, they must have been relieved to settle into an enclave like the one they left: full of their fellow corleonesi.
Among their neighbors was Joseph Nicolosi, who owned a saloon on Gault Court. Joseph married his first cousin, Leoluchina Spatafora, in January 1902. In October, Leoluchina’s mother, Biagia Cutrone, remarried to Mariano Zagone, a mobster who controlled the Italian neighborhood on the Near North Side. Zagone made his step-son-in-law’s saloon his new headquarters.
In the summer of 1903, Antonino and Bernarda asked Joseph Nicolosi and his wife to stand as godparents to their son, Joseph. Sadly, the baby boy died from cholera when he was just two months old. He had a supplemental ceremony days before his death: it’s likely he was already gravely ill.
In September 1906, Joseph Nicolosi’s brother, Carmelo, arrived with his wife from Corleone, and joined Joseph in running the saloon. That year, someone shot Mariano Zagone in the back—one of Leoluchina’s brothers was suspected. Zagone recovered, and was shot at again the following year. The same brother was questioned by police.
Three serious attempts were made on Mariano’s life before he was killed in the saloon on Gault Court in May 1909. After Mariano was gone, Rosario Dispenza, a banker who owned a saloon a block away from the Nicolosi brothers’, became the new Mafia boss in Chicago’s Near North Side.
That year, Antonino Marino received a series of threatening letters. After he paid the Nicolosi brothers fifty dollars, the threats stopped.
In the summer of 1911, Antonio Marino’s youngest child, Angelo, was six years old. Carmelo Nicolosi and his wife, Paola, were expecting their third child, and Giuseppe and Leoluchina’s youngest was four months old.
On the fifth of August, a Saturday, young Angelo was lured away by members of the Nicolosi family. They were his neighbors, people he knew well. It may have taken him some time to realize that he could not go home. Angelo later said that he was held in a house on West Division Street, a few blocks north of Gault Court. His father, Antonino, received a ransom note demanding $5,000. This time, he enlisted the police.
Marino met with first Joseph Nicolosi, and then his brother, Carmelo, at their saloon, and a ransom of $500 was agreed upon. Paola Pomilla, Carmelo Nicolosi’s wife, who was weeks away from her delivery date, came to his house and he paid her using marked bills. Later that day, Angelo Marino was set free a few blocks west of his home. Once he had been safely reunited with his family, police arrested a dozen people, including both Nicolosi couples and the Mafia boss’ widow, Biagia Cutrone.
In his testimony, Antonio Marino pointed to Paola—”Mrs. Cologera Nicolosi,” who took the ransom money—as the ringleader of the kidnapping scheme. Identifying which “Mrs. Nicolosi” was on trial was a challenge, because neither is named Calogera. She is also called the wife of the innkeeper, when both Joseph and Carmelo list themselves as saloonkeepers in the census. Sometimes she is identified as the daughter of Biagia Cutrone. However, only one “Mrs. Nicolosi” was a defendant, and she is described as constantly holding her two-month old baby in the courtroom. Leoluchina and Giuseppe had a son in April who would have been six months old; Paola and Carmelo had a daughter in August, a couple weeks after the kidnapping, who was two months old in October, when the trial was held. Leoluca Macaluso and Calogero Constantino, said to have hidden the boy, were indicted but still on the run when the trial ended.
At the conclusion of the first trial, the sentences were brutal: life in prison for both men, seven years for Paola, and Biagia Cutrone was acquitted. News outlets were divided on what this meant for the local Mafia. “The conviction of the three, in the opinion of the Chicago police, is the hardest blow ever struck to the half organized ‘Black Hand’ bands of the local Italian district,” said The Saturday Blade. However, the Urbana Daily Courier believed “Most of them were relatives of the Marino family, thereby destroying the theory that the kidnaping was brought about by the Black Hand.”
The families were not close kin. While Joseph Nicolosi and his wife were first cousins, Nicolosi and his extortion victim and one-time compare, Antonio Marino, were fourth cousins, related at such distance that they were likely unaware of their common ancestors. The Nicolosis having been godparents to the Marino child in 1903, and the family’s tormentors a few years later, was a powerful clue that something changed between the families. Where once, the Marinos thought it a good idea to enlist the protection of the Nicolosis, soon after they were their victims. Perhaps the Marinos were afraid of the gangster brothers from their hometown, and their request to stand up for their child was made as a symbolic pledge of loyalty, insurance against future harassment. At his untimely death, the bond of compareggio was broken.
A week after the first trial ended, police thwarted an attack on the Marino family, arresting three young toughs in front of their home, one of them armed. Black Hand letters went to the judge and a detective on the Marino case, leading police to close the Nicolosi saloon. A grocery store in the neighborhood was raided and explosives, plus a list of alleged contributors to the Nicolosi brothers’ defense fund, were taken as evidence.
The Nicolosi brothers sought an appeal. It was granted in February and in March, they secured their release.Their celebration was loud enough to make the news. The bail amount had been reduced through the lobbying efforts of John Powers, a Chicago alderman, and he or two other friends of the Nicolosis—reports vary—paid the new amount.
Robert M. Lombardo writes that Joseph Nicolosi was godfather of the kidnapped boy, not of his older brother, and claims that Antonio Marino, in turn, was a godfather to one each of Joseph and Carmelo’s children. This is also untrue. I doubt the validity of the claim Lombardo backs, that the fight had its origins in Sicily, where Joseph Nicolosi and Antonio Marino allegedly once sought the attention of the same woman. Such an old quarrel between paesani, married men with children, one of whom has stood as godfather to the other’s son, does not explain the extortions which came afterward.
Possibly, the Marinos were involved somehow in the events of 1906. Zagone’s murder may have been sparked by the recent arrest of a member of Giuseppe Morello’s counterfeiting ring in Chicago. Zagone’s name and address were found by police in Morello’s New York apartment. Dispenza, who succeeded Zagone, may have been Morello’s Chicago contact.
Antonino Marino and his wife, Bernarda Gennaro, married in Corleone and had eight children that I know of. Their children’s godparents (I’ve found all but one, a daughter who was born in New York) were from Corleone. The kidnapped Angelo Marino’s godfather, Biagio Cammarata, became a US citizen in 1906 and used Joseph Nicolosi as one of his witnesses.
The Nicolosi brothers chose a mix of godparents for their children, some from Corleone and others who were not. Among their notable compari are Antonio Sbarbaro and his wife, Aurelia, godparents of Giuseppe and Laura’s daughter, Arcangela, born in 1909. Sbarbaro was an undertaker who, with Joseph De Voney, a real estate agent and banker, paid the bail for the brothers’ release in 1912. Powers, who negotiated the lowered bail, later stood with Eva Rocca as godparents to John Samuel Nicolosi in 1915. Eva’s parents emigrated from Genoa, Italy, just after the Civil War. Her father, Dominick, was a bank receiver. Eva was already the godmother, with her younger brother, Louis, of John Samuel’s cousin, Maria Antonia Nicolosi: the one born in 1911 and held by her mother through the first trial.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the story is that after the ransom was paid, but before the boy showed up on Gault Court, the Marino family received a letter of apology from the kidnappers. It explained the writers had been misinformed as to Antonino Marino’s fortunes, and had since concluded that he did not have the resources to pay their demand. They asked to be excused, and gave details on when and how the boy would be returned.
From shortly after the kidnapping until the conclusion of the second trial, two years later, the city of Chicago spent thousands of dollars protecting Antonino Marino, their most important defense witness, who worked as a street sweeper. Lombardo suggests that, by the time the appeal was heard in 1914, the city was eager to close the case. This time, the Nicolosis were acquitted of all charges.
The Nicolosi brothers became real estate moguls. In 1927, they sold a building for $450,000 (worth $7.6 million today) and bought three more with the proceeds. After Carmelo died in 1935, his widow and two surviving sons moved to New York City. His remains were transferred to St Raymond Cemetery, in New York, in 1957, no doubt to keep the family together.
Leoluchina “Laura” (Spatafora) Nicolosi died in 1958. Her widower, Joseph, continued to run a cafe/tavern in Chicago with their sons John and Jack (Gioachino Vittorio) until his death at 74, in March of 1947.
Angelo’s mother, Bernarda, did not live to see the case’s resolution. She died of myocarditis in November 1913, at the age of 42. Antonino Marino remarried in 1915, and died in 1929.
Angelo worked in Chicago as a cab driver. He married in 1941 and lived near his stepmother and siblings. He died, a widower with two sons, in Florida in 1991.
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