The destruction of Antonino Luciano

The destruction of Antonino Luciano

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/>

Francesco Motisi, alias Genova

Francesco Motisi, alias Genova

The New Orleans Mafia boss killed more men with lies than with bullets.

After the lynching of nineteen Italians in the New Orleans jail, there was a period of relative calm in which people outside the Sicilian community were not troubled by violence from the Mafia. What is usually described as a hate crime against Sicilians, was the culmination of a battle over control of the docks between two Mafia gangs. Charles Matranga and his Stupppagghieri emerged triumphant, and enjoyed a decade without serious opposition. 

The respite ended with the arrival of Francesco Motisi, alias Genova. The convicted murderer had been on the run with his family, living first in London and then New York City, where he became associated with Giuseppe Morello. He arrived in New Orleans around 1900 and started calling himself “Genova.”

Francesco Genova appeared to be an Italian gentleman, the sort the American press found charming and Sicilians rightly regarded as dangerous to cross. Genova closely fit the mold of the old country mafioso. He owned a successful business in New Orleans, heard and settled disputes, dispensed advice and favors, and was well-informed about his newly adopted community. It appears that no one recognized him, or knew that Genova was an alias.

Francesco Motisi was born on 24 June 1862 in Mezzomorreale-Oreto, a district of the city of Palermo. He married Cristina Pedone in 1892 and their first five children were born in Palermo. 

Francesco Genova’s closest co-conspirator, Paolo Di Christina, was also a fugitive murderer from Palermo, living in New Orleans under an alias. They were in the driver’s seat of a wagon together when Salvatore Luciano fired upon them in May 1902. When Luciano missed, he signed his own death warrant. Genova’s refusal to press charges, or even admit to a police officer that he’d been shot at, were exactly what one would expect from a mafioso. The court date came, and neither of the wronged parties appeared before the judge. The message was clear: Salvatore and his brother, Antonino, knew judgment was coming for them. 

Genova was not present at the shootout in the Luciano brothers’ place on Poydras Street, but he undoubtedly set it in motion. His multi-fronted war upon the Luciano brothers spans years, and begins soon after his arrival in New Orleans. As described in the previous installment, he staged a takeover of Antonino Luciano’s Donaldsonville macaroni factory by planting key personnel, including Luciano’s partner, Di Christina, Vincenzo Vutera, and Joseph Gerrachi. These men also came to the shootout to prevent Antonino from intervening while members of a raiding party assassinated his brother, Salvatore. 

If his cunning is not yet evident, consider the third front on which Genova attacked: the Luciano brothers’ reputation. 

“Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”

It’s been said that “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.” A story Genova spun for the news, “The other side of the vendetta story,” (1902) gained traction, and was reported as fact. Genova let it be known that his aunt and uncle in Palermo were suppliers of Antonino Luciano’s store in New Orleans. The honest and elderly merchants sent him consignments of goods and he returned payment. But over time, his payments became less consistent. When questioned about this, Luciano’s reply was surprising. He suggested they send their daughters to him, because he was sure he could find them good husbands in America. Even more surprising was that Genova’s aunt and uncle did as Luciano advised, and he met their daughters at the dock when they arrived. However, he immediately refused to assist them. The two young women managed to find cheap rooms on Poydras Street and worked menial jobs to survive. When their parents learned their fate, they cut ties with Luciano. Salvatore, Tony’s hot-tempered brother, decided to mend the rift by marrying one of the sisters and courted her, but was rebuffed. 

Genova, learning of these events, was outraged. As the hero of his tale, he resolved to rescue his cousins and take revenge upon Luciano. He came from Palermo to New Orleans, studied his enemy’s businesses, and emulated them at close range, directly competing with Luciano’s enterprises, beginning with his store on Poydras Street. Genova’s aunt and uncle began supplying his store on Julia Street instead of Luciano’s. Soon, Francesco Genova was successful enough to consider buying a macaroni factory.

To understand why Genova wanted to take over Luciano’s businesses does not require a romantic tale of family honor and virtue. The traditional mafioso seeks a monopoly in his territory: at a minimum, over his own profession, in which he is self-employed. This pattern is repeated everywhere by old school mafiosi. Pasta was big business in Louisiana, the bar for entry was low for Sicilian immigrants, and situated as Tony Luciano’s factory was, in the midst of thousands of Sicilian agricultural workers, at the confluence of two major waterways, it might as well have been printing money. Best of all, it was a legal venture. Using violence and intimidation to achieve a business advantage is a classic Mafia mode of operation.

The story of how Genova came to be living in New Orleans, and chose to buy a factory 75 miles away in Donaldsonville, was contrived purely to defame Luciano. It paints the Lucianos in such an unflattering light, there’s no way the story came from them. If there were any truth to it, Tony could have revealed Genova’s true identity to the press. Francesco Motisi was a wanted man in Italy, and local law enforcement would have been glad for a reason to deport the mafioso.

As the aunt and uncle were a fiction, so were certain other parts of Genova’s story. He did not outperform his competitors through shrewd and honest dealing, but by spreading gossip and threats among Luciano’s customers, and making himself a useful friend to his biggest debtors. Genova’s words were his principal weapon in the Macaroni Wars. His threats, backed up by his intimidating new friends, diverted Luciano’s stream of customers toward Genova’s store.

Despite the Lucianos being massively outgunned in the shootout, Tony managed to kill one of Genova’s men, mortally injure another, and wound his captain. The following day, another of Genova’s men was shot dead. Their war raged through Luciano’s imprisonment, and continued after his release. Bodies showed up in the vicinity of Donaldsonville. Luciano’s old friends and neighbors in that town moved away, in fear for their lives.

Sam Sparo, a hitman who’d spent months wearing down Luciano’s defenses, finally ended the Macaroni Wars on the stairs outside a photography studio, a few blocks from Luciano’s home in New Orleans. Genova’s campaign to destroy his business, happiness, security, and reputation was complete. No one from the Italian community attended the viewing or proceeded with the body to the funeral. Since he had no family or friends left in the city, police officers and members of the press were drafted into service as pallbearers to carry Antonino Luciano to his final resting place.

Genova continued to rule the Mafia of New Orleans. After the trial for Vutera’s death, Di Christina, who was a witness, left town for New York. On the strength of a letter of recommendation from Genova, Di Christina found work with Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo as a bartender and counterfeiter. He did not remain long, and returned to New Orleans.

Francesco and his wife had five children who were born in Palermo, and four more in New Orleans, two of whom died in infancy (Birth of Salvatore Motisi, 1894; Birth of Giovanni Battista Matissa, 1905; Birth of Ignazio Motisi, 1906; Francisco Motisi family, 1911; Find a grave, n.d.). Although Francesco was still hiding behind an alias, vital records found for his family in New Orleans use the surname “Motisi” or a close approximation (i.e. “Matissa”).

In 1907, investigation into the Walter Lamana kidnapping and murder identified a number of suspects, among them a “Mr. Cristina,” who might have been Paolo. Being a known mafioso in New Orleans, Genova was taken into custody and questioned with regard to the crime, but was eventually released for a lack of evidence. Italy sent his criminal records to the US, and Genova/Motisi took the opportunity to leave the country with his wife and children.

Francesco Motisi appears in the 1911 census in Liverpool as a fruit merchant, living with his wife, their eight children, the youngest born in England in 1908, and a servant (Francisco Motisi family, 1911). Thom L. Jones (2019) writes that, according to the Italian Mafia historian Salvatore Lupo, he later went back to Palermo where he was again active in organized crime.

Di Christina seemed poised to take over the Mafia in New Orleans upon Genova’s departure, but his old boss intervened. In 1908, Giuseppe Morello, who was by this time regarded as the boss of bosses in the United States, visited the city and gave his public approval to Di Christina’s challenger, Vincenzo Moreci, sparking another war among the mafiosi of New Orleans.

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https://gangstersinc.org/profiles/blogs/out-of-africa-the-story-of-new-orleans-mafia-boss-carlos-marcello

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Manifest of the SS Argentina, Line 21. (1919). “New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9T4-GZ1W?cc=1368704&wc=4X1L-Q3K%3A1600482430 : 26 January 2018), Roll 2716, vol 6335-6336, 5 Jan 1920-7 Jan 1920 > image 1105 of 1261; citing NARA microfilm publication T715 and M237 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Marriage of Francesco Motisi and Cristina Pedone. (1892, July 16). V. 157 No. 15.

https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/detail-registry/?s_id=877206 Imgs. 387 and 422 of 585.

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

Rawson, R. (n.d.). The life and times of Vito Di Giorgio. https://www.nationalcrimesyndicate.com/the-life-and-times-of-vito-digiorgio/

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/>

Read the last part in this series on The Macaroni Wars: The destruction of Antonino Luciano

New Orleans, 1905: Who is Sam Sparo?

New Orleans, 1905: Who is Sam Sparo?

In 1902 in New Orleans, Tony Luciano and his family fought a battle to the death against Francesco Genova and his allies. Following months of deadly conflict—called the Macaroni Wars—and two murder trials, Sam Sparo penetrated Luciano’s defenses and killed him in broad daylight. After his execution for murder, it was revealed that Sparo was an alias. Who was Sam Sparo?

Samuel Aspara, a native of Italy, age 40, died 21 April 1905 at the parish prison in New Orleans of a fracture of the neck from legal hanging. He was married, and last resided at 1117 Tchoupitoulas St. in New Orleans. His undertaker is P. Lamana of St. Philip Street, who would be the victim of an extortion scheme turned tragic, when his son was abducted and killed in 1907. Francesco Genova, leader of the Mafia, was arrested in a broad dragnet of Italians brought in for questioning. “Mr. Cristina,” likely Paolo Di Christina, Genova’s associate, was also said to be involved. After his release from custody, Genova left the country. Like their hit man, both Genova and Di Christina were living in New Orleans under aliases.

Death certificate for Samuel Aspara

Sam Sparo, as he was sometimes called in the papers, was arrested, indicted, and sentenced to death under the name “Sam Asparo.” The month after his execution, an article ran in The Times-Picayune with the headline, “Sparo was alias.” While doing research for the trial, the district attorney found Sparo’s marriage as Sebastiano Giunta. The article includes the details of this document, which I have found and reproduced below.

Sebastiano Giunta, a native of Palermo, Italy, son of Giorgio Giunta and Maria Giunta, and Angelina Jasmin, daughter of Flavillo J. Jasmin and Marie Lacoste, were married before witnesses on 9 August 1897 in New Orleans. 

Sebastiano Giunta and Angelina Jasmin’s marriage record. This one is harder to read, so you might want to look at the image on FamilySearch, where you can zoom in and adjust the brightness.

Police sought one of Sam’s brothers-in-law and brought him to the jail, where upon meeting Sparo he admitted to their relationship. The Times-Picayune article describes Sam’s wife as bringing the only moments of joy to his long and lonely confinement. She was a New Orleans native who spoke Italian and was initially assumed to be of Italian heritage, but was from a Creole family. She did not converse with anyone else in the prison on her visits.

I don’t know how the DA was able to connect Sam Aspara to Sebastiano Giunta, but once he had, he could easily find the Jasmin family. Angelina, her parents, and siblings were the only Jasmins in the city directory. 

The article makes no mention of another alias, which makes me wonder if the investigator found other records for Sam and Angelina’s family. The year after Sebastiano Giunta and Angelina Jasmin married, Joseph Sparacello was born in New Orleans, the son of Sebastiano Sparacello and Angelina Jasmin. The following year, Mary Sparacello was born to the same couple.

If Sebastiano and Angelina were following the southern Italian naming convention in which the first son is named after the paternal grandfather, the second son after the maternal, and likewise for the daughters, then his father was named Joseph, or Giuseppe, not Giorgio, and his mother Mary, or Maria. Among Italian-Americans, this naming tradition remained strong, sometimes for generations. 

The Sparacellos’ next child died in infancy. Paul Sparacello died at seven days of age at 1613 Ursuline St., New Orleans, on 13 August 1902. He was a native of New Orleans and Colored. His father was born in Italy and his mother in New Orleans.

Infant Paul was recorded as Colored, like his mother, although his two older siblings were registered as White. Angelina and her family of origin appear in vital records as Mulatto or Colored. Her sisters and brothers have French names and married in the Catholic Church. The Times-Picayune called them Creole.

Paul’s death record does not name his parents, and I haven’t found the matching birth record, but I am confident he is Angelina and Sebastiano’s child. No one else in town has the surname “Sparacello,” and his parents named another son Paul: twins Paolo and Giovanni Sparacello were born 29 August 1903 in New Orleans. No information about their race has been captured in the indexed versions of their birth records online.

While Angelina’s father is called Flavillo in her marriage record, in census and other vital records he more often appears as Jean. Based on one record calling him Flavillo J. Jasmin, “Jean” may be his middle name. The name “Paul” was important to the Sparacellos, too, since they named a second son Paolo after the first Paul died. “Giovanni” and “Jean” are the Italian and French versions of the English name “John.” Giovanni was named in honor of Angelina’s father. Who were Giuseppe and Paolo’s namesakes?

I don’t think the information Sam gives at marriage is truthful, for three reasons. The first is that he used another surname with his wife and children. There are no records of Angelina Jasmin and anyone named Giunta having children in New Orleans during the years they lived there. They consistently used the name Sparacello and passed it down to the next generation, with a small spelling change in one branch of the family. The second reason I doubt the marriage record’s veracity is that Sam doesn’t name any of his sons Giorgio, the name he reported as his father’s when he married. 

When Angelina Jasmin Sparacello died in 1961, her death record named her parents and her husband. Their oldest son, Joseph Michael, used the Sparacello spelling in 1918, and Sparcella when he died in 1982. In the 1940 census, Angelina Sparcello lives with her married daughter. Joseph’s obituary calls his parents John Sebastian Sparcella and Angelina Gueydon Sparcella. The addition to his father’s name may be an important clue to Sam Sparo’s true identity. (And “Gueydon” may lead me to more of Angelina’s relatives.) Of the four Sparacello children, none of them named a son Sebastian: the third reason I don’t believe the information “Sebastiano Giunta” gave on his marriage record. Possible clues to his real name are in the names of his grandsons. Two or three of his children had sons named John, and two had sons named Paul. 

Sam Asparo, whatever his real name was, married as Sebastiano Giunta in 1897, and had a son as Sebastiano Sparacello the next year. Last residential addresses appear on the death records of infant Paul and Samuel Asparo, but the family is at neither of them in the 1900 census. They never appear in the New Orleans city directory under any of these names. In what records exist for him, Sam appears as Sparacello until he went undercover, just barely, as Sam Asparo. 

Antonino Luciano was waging a defensive battle against Francesco Genova and Paolo Di Christina that had taken the lives of Salvatore Luciano, Vincenzo Vutera, Joseph Gerrachi, and Bartolo Ferrara: the latter three, members of the Genova faction. Tony Luciano was acquitted of murdering Bartolo Ferrara in February 1903. While he was still in jail, a body was found near Donaldsonville, the site of a contested macaroni factory, where Luciano had many friends. The victim had multiple stab wounds and a rope around his neck; he was never identified. In April, another body turned up in the same condition. This one was identified as Antonino Saltaformaggio, a brother-in-law of Joseph Calamia, who had led the charge that killed Tony’s brother, and of Giuseppe Morello, New York City’s most powerful Mafia boss. 

In May, Sam Sparo rented a room a block from Tony Luciano’s store, and began to slowly earn his trust. Three months later, on the 9th of August, his sixth wedding anniversary with Angelina, Sam shot Tony Luciano on the stairs outside a photography studio. Blocks away, his wife and their two young children waited for him to return. Angelina was nine months pregnant with twins, in New Orleans, in August; incredibly, her life was about to change for the worse.

Sam Sparo fled the scene of the shooting, but he was quickly caught. Tony Luciano died in the hospital awaiting surgery; a widower, he left two young children. Sparo was reported to laugh wildly from the window of the jail when Luciano’s funeral cortege passed in the street. 

Sparo went to trial in January 1904. Despite wearing the ragged clothes of a desperately poor man, he had the best legal representation—the same attorney who saw Luciano acquitted of murdering Bartolo Ferrara at his brother’s funeral. Sparo was not as lucky: he was found guilty of murder in early February. While waiting for a decision on his appeal, he remained in jail.

His appeal was denied the following January. Sentenced to hang, he was moved to Death Row. The man known as Sam Asparo or Sebastiano Sparacello was executed on 28 April 1905 at the parish prison in New Orleans.

Read the second part in The Macaroni Wars: The 800-pound gangster