The bosses of Springfield, Massachusetts

The bosses of Springfield, Massachusetts

Organized crime in Springfield, Massachusetts has long been controlled by a faction of the Genovese family, based in New Jersey and originally led by Willie Moretti. Rackets in Hartford, and elsewhere in Connecticut, are controlled by the local crew in Springfield. In other parts of the state, organized crime is dominated by the Patriarca Family, also known as the New England Crime Family.

The Patriarca and the Genovese use the Connecticut River as a line of demarcation, with exceptions for the big cities. Springfield and New Haven have always belonged to the Genovese, along with the rest of Massachusetts on the west side of the Connecticut. But these old boundaries have sometimes been contested, such as when William Grasso encroached on Springfield in the late 1980s. Further complicating relations between the neighboring families, there is a pool of seasoned gangsters who have long histories of affiliation with both the Patriarca and Genovese.

Despite being led by a New Jersey Family, most of the crew’s members and leadership have been Springfield locals who trace their roots to the same two villages in the region of Naples, Italy, as Pasqualina Albano and Carlo Siniscalchi. Pasqualina’s family was important in Springfield, even before Prohibition. Her uncle, John Albano, who like her was born in Bracigliano, is heralded as one of the founding fathers of Springfield’s Italian-American community, in a 1976 history that calls John’s son, Felix, the King of Little Italy. Felix is the father of labor leader John “Jack” Albano, and grandfather of the former mayor of Springfield, Michael Albano.

In the decade before Prohibition, the elder John Albano and his son, Felix, were already in the alcohol distribution business. But John was dead before the start of Prohibition, and his two oldest sons died young. The eldest daughter of his brother, Louis, and her husband, Carlo Siniscalchi, took over the liquor distribution business from Pasqualina’s late uncle and cousins. Carlo was killed within a year, and Pasqualina, before Prohibition’s end in 1933. One of their orphaned sons, named after his father, lived with Louis’ son, his uncle Antonio Albano, as a young man, in 1940. Antonio, a grocer like his father, opened a store in 1942 that remained in the family until 2015.

In New Haven, Connecticut, Colombo Crime Family member Ralph “Whitey” Tropiano shared turf with Salvatore Annunziato, a boxer and the son of a bootlegger, for decades, despite their mutual hatred. (Rumor was that Tropiano had been given New Haven for his part in killing Moretti, who was compromised by advanced syphilis, and about to testify before the US Senate in 1951.) Tropiano’s protege was William Grasso, who became underboss to Ray Patriarca, Jr, when the new boss’ first choice went to prison.

Sam Cufari
Sam Cufari

The first boss of Springfield’s Genovese crew that I know of, after Prohibition, was “Big Nose Sam” Cufari, born Salvatore Cufari in 1901 in Bianco, Reggio di Calabria. Calabria, the region south of Naples, is home to the Ndrangheta, an organization similar to the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra. Cufari lived in Springfield by the 1920 census and can be seen returning from Cuba with his wife in 1932. Another Springfield associate with ties to pre-Castro Cuba is Carlo Mastrototaro, who occupied positions in both the Patriarca and Genovese families.

Sam Cufari was arrested in 1943 for bookmaking. By 1948, he was the acknowledged boss of Springfield, running his family from his newly opened restaurant, Ciro’s. One of Cufari’s soldiers was Al Bruno. Other Cufari associates who would be active gangsters in Springfield for decades were Felix Tranghese and Felix’s first cousins, once removed, Frankie “Skyball” Scibelli and his brothers, Albert (called “Baba”) and Anthony. Frankie Skyball was first arrested at age twenty, in 1932.

Scibelli-4
“Frankie Skyball” Scibelli

The Scibelli and Tranghese families both trace their roots back to Quindici, the same place Carlo Siniscalchi was born. Quindici is in Avellino, on the provincial border with Salerno. Its neighbor on the other side of the border is Bracigliano, where Pasqualina Albano, his wife and successor in bootlegging, was born. The nearest large city is Naples.

Italy map
Italy before the Italian Republic. Naples was once its own country, one of the Two Sicilies.
Quindici Bracigliano map
The Naples region today. Quindici and Bracigliano are neighboring towns on the provincial border between Avellino and Salerno. (Google Maps)

The vast majority of Italian immigration to the US occurred between 1900-1915, and their descendants have few ties to the old country. But in many of the families from Bracigliano and Quindici who live in the Springfield area, movement between the two places has never ceased.

After WWII, a number of immigrants from Bracigliano and Quindici arrived in Springfield, which had hosted an “Italian colony” since around 1878. Many of these new immigrants had ties to the city, in some cases, for generations: their ancestors worked here before the Great War, or they had family members still living in the area. Immigrants from Bracigliano include the late boss, “Big Al” Bruno, and Amedeo Santaniello, a long-time second in command of the Springfield crew. Grasso’s killer, Gaetano Milano, came from Naples as a young child with his parents, not long after WWII.

In 1961 Frankie Skyball was turned in to police by a nun, for running a gambling ring from the phone booths at Providence Hospital, a crime for which he served nineteen months in jail. He had a son-in-law, Victor C. DeCaro, who disappeared in 1972 after Skyball dropped him off at work. (Rumor was that Victor was cheating on his wife, Skyball’s daughter.) DeCaro’s body was pulled from the Connecticut River two months later. Sometime during the 70s, when Frankie was still in his fifties, he had a cancerous lung removed. Scibelli served a federal prison sentence in 1976. In the next few years, he lost both his parents. Cufari died a natural death in 1983 and Frankie succeeded him.

adolfo bruno
“Big Al” Bruno

Mastrototaro was Patriarca’s second in command in 1984 when he was arrested with future Springfield boss Al Bruno on gaming charges. Bruno was convicted of racketeering and gambling in 1987. In 1988, he was arrested again for gambling operations. This time his co-conspirators included two brothers and their wives: his long-time second in command, Amedeo Santaniello; Amedeo’s wife, Anna; his brother Italo; and Italo’s wife, Josephine.

Anthony Delevo followed Scibelli in 1998, passing over Al Bruno, who moved his family to Florida. Meanwhile William Grasso of New Haven, known for his ruthlessness, was becoming the head of the Patriarca Family in all but name.

anthony delevo younger
Anthony Delevo

Carlo Mastrototaro had a reputation among his peers as an honest man. The same source that ties him to Lansky and Cuba, the published memoir of Patriarca associate Vincent Teresa, says of Mastrototaro that if he owed you money and you disappeared for six months, when you returned, he would still have that money for you, down to the penny. According to testimony from his killers, Grasso thought he going to the arbitration of a dispute about vending machine territories in Springfield—Genovese territory—with Mastrototaro, who was seventy years old at the time. Grasso was 62.

william grasso
William Grasso

The Patriarca underboss was shot and killed in a moving van on Interstate 91, in June 1989. His body was found near the Connecticut River the same day another high ranking Patriarca member, “Cadillac Frank” Flemmi, was wounded in an attempt on his life.

springfield metro
Springfield, Massachusetts, and neighboring towns near the Connecticut border (Google Maps)

Grasso’s killer was Gaetano Milano, of East Longmeadow. Milano was born in Naples in 1951 and immigrated when he was three years old. He graduated from Longmeadow High School, married, and had two children. In the late Seventies, he was a boxing promoter. Later, he went into business with his childhood friend Frank Colantoni, Jr., as owners of a nightclub, Club 57, in Southwick. (Nightclub ownership in Springfield is a family business, one that deserves a separate post.)

gaetano j milano
Gaetano Milano

William Grasso was asked to the meeting by Frank Pugliano. (Pugliano reportedly approached Jimmy Santaniello early in 2004 to set up a meeting with Mastrototaro, when several gangsters sought Santaniello’s tribute, following Al Bruno’s murder. Jimmy is of no known relation to Amedeo.) Brothers Frank and Louis Pugliano are both named as participants in Grasso’s killing. Frank is identified both as a “Patriarca associate” and as a made member of the Genovese Crime Family. The Pugliano brothers are a few years older than Carlo Mastrototaro. Frank Colantoni, Jr. was 35 at the time of the murder, and Milano, 37.

Before a suspect was named in Grasso’s killing, the following March, Milano was arrested along with Frank Pugliano on charges of conspiracy and racketeering. But he was free on bail in October 1989, four months after the murder, sponsoring the induction of Vincent Federico into the Patriarca crime family. Federico, 30, was on a 28 hour furlough from the Massachusetts Corrections Institute at Shirley on “family business.”

Milano owed his freedom to a number of friends and family members, both his own and of his friend, Frank Colantoni, Jr., who together raised Milano’s $1.6M bond with the equity in their homes. Milano and his wife mortgaged two houses, one of them a duplex. His parents put up their home, as did his uncle, his brother and sister-in-law, and on his wife’s side, another brother- and sister-in-law. Colantoni’s mother put up her house, despite the danger that her own son would need the equity; he was arrested a few months later.

Other people of no known kinship to Gaetano Milano, who put up equity from their homes for his freedom, include Claudio Cardaropoli, whose family immigrated from Bracigliano with a young Al Bruno, and owned Springfield real estate with Milano in 1978. Francesco and Rosa Ferrentino of Hampden also put up $75,000 equity from their newly constructed home. Francesco’s brother, Mario Ferrentino, was suspected with Gaetano Milano of intimidating Mario’s co-defendant and witness against him in a manslaughter trial, the month before Milano’s bail was raised.

Emilio Fusco full
Emilio Fusco

Emilio Fusco, who arrived in 1989 or 1990 from Quindici, was a protegee of Baba Scibelli, Frankie Skyball’s brother. Baba sponsored Fusco’s membership in the Genovese family. In 2000, Emilio and his wife were arrested on gambling charges with other known members of the Springfield crew.

When Skyball got out of prison in 1998, he retired from the Mafia and passed on leadership to Al Bruno. Bruno, who had already survived one attempt on his life, in 1993, was assassinated in 2003 on orders from his protegee, Anthony Arillotta. Among those tried in Bruno’s murder was Emilio Fusco, who fled to Italy and was extradited. Felix Tranghese cooperated with the police investigation into Bruno’s murder, allowing prosecutors to convict Genovese acting boss Artie Nigro. Tranghese was sentenced to four years in prison, and has returned to the Springfield area.

anthony-arillottajpg-050307
Anthony Arillotta

Tranghese was made acting boss after Bruno’s death, but Arillotta was soon recognized as the leader of the Springfield Crew. Tranghese, who is 66 this year, later testified that he was “‘shelved’ by a group of young upstarts in 2006.” Arillotta was succeeded by Albert Calvanese, upon the latter’s release from prison, in 2011. Arillotta, imprisoned in 2009, returned to Springfield in 2017 after serving eight years for his part in two murders, of Bruno and another man, his brother-in-law Gary Westerman. Recently, it’s been reported that the Springfield Crew is led by Amedeo’s son, Ralph Santaniello, with his father’s backing. However Ralph, 50, charged last year in a federal extortion case, is expected to plead guilty on 6 November 2017.

Ralphie Santaniello
Ralph Santaniello

Two of Arillotta’s co-defendants, brothers Freddy and Ty Geas, are serving life sentences. Fusco, sentenced to 25 years for racketeering, will be in prison until 2032. Gaetano Milano was convicted of the murder of William Grasso and sentenced to 33 years. He is scheduled for release in 2033.

Sources

Amoruso, David. “The Bruno Hit: How the Genovese Springfield Crew Killed Itself.” Published 4 April 2011. https://gangstersinc.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-bruno-hit-how-the-genovese Accessed 22 May 2017.

Barry, Stephanie. “Felix Tranghese of East Longmeadow gets 4 years in connection with 2003 Al Bruno murder, other crimes.” Published 7 December 2012 in The Republican. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/12/felix_tranghese_of_east_longme_1.html Accessed 15 October 2017.

Barry, Stephanie. “Organized crime in Springfield evolved through death and money.” 11 December 2011. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/12/organized_crime_in_springfield.html Accessed 15 May 2017.

Claffey, Kevin. “WMass ‘soldier’ gives up – Indicted in mob sweep.” Published 28 March 1990 in The Republican/Union-News. P. 1.

“Federal jury indicts seven in connection with numbers operation.” The Recorder (Greenfield MA) on 4 August 1988. Page 7. Accessed via http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html on 21 May 2017.

“Officer cleared,” The Recorder (Greenfield MA) 13 September 1989. P 9 W Mass Briefs.

Treeger, Don. “Albano’s Market in Springfield will end its 74-year run.” Published 26 February 2015. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/albanos_market_in_springfield.html Accessed 29 May 2017.

USA Bicentennial Committee of Springfield, Inc. Springfield’s Ethnic Heritage: The Italian Community. USA Bicentennial Committee of Springfield, 1976.

Whearley, Jay. “Mob leader, WWII veteran Carlo Mastrototaro dies”.  Published 7 October 2009 in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. http://www.telegram.com/article/20091007/NEWS/910070385/1003 Accessed 15 October 2017.

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Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Genovese connection

Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Genovese connection

The story of Corleone’s influence on the Mafia extends to dozens of cities and towns throughout the United States.

Springfield, Massachusetts, has been controlled by the Genovese crime family for as long as there has been a mafia presence in New England. The marriages of Pasqualina Albano Siniscalchi Miranda, called the “Bootleg Queen” of Springfield’s Little Italy by the local newspapers of the time, may be among the earliest documented relationships between the crime families of New York and Springfield.

At the onset of Prohibition, in 1920, Vito Genovese went into bootlegging in New York with his childhood friend, “Lucky” Luciano, as well as Frank Costello, Gaetano “Three Finger Brown” “Tommy” Lucchese, Meyer Lansky, and “Bugsy” Siegel. Prohibition was a period of enormous growth for organized crime, and it was during this time period that the Sicilian Mafia became the most powerful force among the gangs of New York. Neapolitan immigrant Michele Miranda, also active in the Mafia in New York at this time, was an associate of both Tommy Lucchese and of Gaetano Reina’s crime family in the Bronx: Reina is from Corleone.

In western Massachusetts, Carlo Siniscalchi, an immigrant from Quindici, a small village in Naples, was about to become the Bootleg King of Springfield’s Little Italy. His 1915 marriage to Pasqualina Albano, who was born in the neighboring town of Bracigliano, calls him a saloon keeper from Brooklyn. The couple lived on the South Side and had five children. In Springfield, Carlo reportedly made and sold first candy, and then macaroni. On the eve of Prohibition, according to the federal census, Carlo owned a candy store. Within a year, he was killed by a fellow bootlegger, whose supply Siniscalchi had cut off. Indications are that his widow continued the business.

Carlo Siniscalchi birth announcement
Carlo was born Salvatore Carluccio Siniscalchi in Quindici

Two years into Prohibition, Costello, Luciano, and their closest Italian associates joined the Sicilian Mafia crime family led by Joe “the Boss” Masseria. Genovese’s work for Masseria would extend from bootlegging to extortion and murder. He and Frank Costello are both said to be associates of Pasqualina Albano’s second husband, Antonio Miranda, whom she married sometime between early 1923 and the fall of 1924. Antonio and Michele Miranda are brothers from San Giuseppe Vesuviano, in the same region of Naples as Quindici and Bracigliano, a hotbed of Camorra activity.

Mike Miranda obit NYT
From his obituary in The New York Times

Like Pasqualina’s first husband, Carlo, Antonio Miranda was from Italy by way of New York. Miranda’s travel records call him a carpenter or joiner. In January 1923, he appears on the manifest of the Conte Rosso, joining his brother Michele at an address on Broome Street, in Little Italy, Manhattan. A year later, Michele appears on the Conte Verde, rejoining Antonio half a block away on Mott Street. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics later reported that Michele traveled frequently to Italy, and the same appears to have been true of Antonio, who returned again from Naples in October 1924, this time to his new wife, Pasqualina, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The first week of February, 1930, Antonio Miranda died from septicemia. Local news reported the infection started on his foot, with the removal of a callus. A college student donated blood for a transfusion, in an unsuccessful attempt to save Miranda’s life. The certificate of his death reveals that the infection that killed Antonio was of a more intimate nature. A pelvic infection, and not a surgical site on his foot, was the origin of the blood infection that killed Antonio Miranda. Although the most common causes of such an infection are gonorrhea and syphilis, Miranda’s case was reportedly caused by a bout of the flu.

Non-Italians in Springfield had long regarded “the Italian colony” as a world apart from their own: a foreign, dirty, and dangerous place. Little was known of the wealthy real estate developer who had married the widowed “Bootleg Queen.” His funeral was lavish, on a scale not seen before in Springfield. Mourners arrived from distant cities, deflecting discreet inquiries from journalists. On the day Antonio Miranda was buried in St. Michaels Cemetery, flowers rained down upon the procession, delivered by an airplane rented for this purpose.

The same month Antonio died in Springfield, Joe Masseria, in New York, allegedly ordered two murders: Gaspar Milazzo in Detroit, and Gaetano Reina in the Bronx. These hits sparked the Castellammarese War, which would rage for a year and a half. Vito Genovese is said to have murdered Reina, whom Masseria suspected of helping his archrival, Salvatore Maranzano, in Brooklyn. Genovese and Michele Miranda, also known as Mike, became close near the end of the war. The two were arrested together on murder charges, on which they were acquitted.

Much of what’s known of Miranda’s personal life comes from a Federal Bureau of Narcotics profile. The birth date and relations in the FBN report have been mostly corroborated by census records and travel manifests. He married Lucia DiLaurenzo in 1926, and they had one child, a son. Michele and his wife can be seen traveling together on the same manifest with gangster Davide Petillo and his sister, in October 1932. (Petillo gets a mention in another post, Gay Liberation and the Mafia.)

Two and a half years after Antonio’s death, and one month after Michele and Lucia returned to New York, Pasqualina was killed in a drive by shooting. She was in her car, parked across the street from the home of one of her employees in an illicit distillery operation. The attack came in the early hours of the morning, as Pasqualina sat with her “trusted lieutenant” in bootlegging, Michele Fiore. Fiore, described in the news at the time as having spent more of his time in America inside of prison than out, was a relative by marriage, the brother of Pasqualina’s sister’s husband. The following year, Fiore was killed in a barber shop. None of their attackers were ever identified.

Michele Miranda was respected among the gangsters in New York as a peace broker. He was a made member of the Genovese crime family, which had once been, in the years before Prohibition, the Morello-Terranova gang of East Harlem. Miranda was Vito Genovese’s consigliere from 1957 until his retirement, in 1972. He died the following year.

 

Featured Image: Detail of Water Street and the South Side, from View of Springfield, Mass. 1875.

Gay Liberation and the Mafia

Gay Liberation and the Mafia

Lucky Luciano built the Genovese monopoly on gay nightlife in New York City in the 1930s. The Stonewall Inn was the site of a violent protest against police raids—and against mafia involvement in gay bars. Ed “The Skull” Murphy (top right) was working the door of the Stonewall Inn the night of the famous riot.

Of the Five Families of New York, Lucky Luciano’s was the one we now call the Genovese crime family. Originally the Morello gang, when Luciano took it over in 1931 it had been most recently run by Joe Masseria, Maranzano’s challenger in the Castellammarese War. Until 1957, when Vito Genovese went to prison for trafficking heroin through his gay bars, it was called the Luciano crime family.

Luciano had long experience in running brothels, bars, prostitution rings, and even drug smuggling. To support his speakeasies during Prohibition, Luciano had mafia-backed vendors for liquor, cigarette vending machines, pool tables, and most importantly, police protection. Investing in “fairy places” or “fag bars” was part of a diverse portfolio of organized crime, and an area in which the Luciano family excelled. Their monopoly on gay nightlife in New York City would not be broken for fifty years.

By the mid-1800s, New York had recognizable gay community in several neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village. In George Chauncey’s “Gay New York,” he writes that at least three different locations in Little Italy had young male prostitutes working in them in 1908. Phillip Crawford Jr, in his book, “The Mafia and the Gays,” writes that before Prohibition began in 1920, the LGBT community in the city enjoyed some degree of social acceptance in these gay enclaves.

Yet in 1923, the law in New York City prohibited loitering to solicit gay sex. When Prohibition was lifted, eleven years later, the new State Liquor Authority considered any establishment that served alcohol to gay customers to be “disorderly houses” or places where “unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public.”

A wider group of Americans, including homosexuals, enjoyed a brief period of greater social acceptance during WWII, when everyone was needed in the war effort, whether in the service or as a civilian. When the war ended, large numbers of queer people in the military ended their service, and chose to remain in the cities where there was community. Gay spaces became even more coveted as LGBT people faced increasing discrimination in the Cold War years.

Although decriminalized after 1950, sodomy was still a misdemeanor, and various kinds of discrimination were still legally applied to the LGBT community. Apartment owners and employers did not have to rent to, or employ, people they knew or suspected were queer. A bar could lose its license not only by permitting same-sex kissing, touching, or dancing in their establishment, but simply by allowing gay people to congregate. In his book, Crawford offers an example in the 1965 investigation that shut down the Julius Restaurant: police descriptions of mincing gaits, tight clothes, and men who called one another “honey,” were the legal grounds on which the restaurant’s license was suspended.

The businesses that served the LGBT community, were those that paid off the police. And that meant gay bars were run by the mafia. Historians have connected all five of the families to gay bars in New York, with the majority belonging to the Genovese.

People who would today identify as members of the LGBT community, lived marginalized or hidden lives in the 1950s and 60s. “The down low” was the only option for virtually everyone who patronized gay establishments in those days. For transgender people, the options were extremely limited. “Butches,” “queens,” and other gender transgressors lived in danger roughly proportionate to their visible queerness. The more privileged members of the LGBT community, who could pass as heteronormative and cisgender, were by necessity closeted in most aspects of their lives. They, too, needed public spaces to meet their own kind in relative safety.

At the same time that tourists poured into Anna Genovese’s well-produced drag shows, vice squads enforced antiquated “sumptuary laws” that dictated the number of articles of clothing (some sources say three, others five) corresponding to one’s biological sex, which had to be worn at all times in public, or risk arrest for impersonation of the opposite sex.

In transgender activist Leslie Feinberg’s fictionalized autobiography, “Stone Butch Blues,” Feinberg’s alter ego, Jess, identifies as a butch and dresses as many transgender men do today, binding her chest and wearing a packer in her briefs. Jess and her butch friends work in factories, where they trade the relative freedom to be openly butch, for being the lowest-status workers, whatever their seniority.  When an older member of the community dies, her family buries her in a dress, a humiliation her friends also suffer, in order to be allowed to attend the funeral.

The gendered names, pronouns, clothes, and roles that queer people embraced, fifty years ago, are not the same ones used today by the majority of LGBT people. Choices were more limited, and both mainstream and queer cultures change over time. Feinberg’s book, which also depicts police violence in a bar raid, offers a window on a life that was not much documented, and was often purposely erased by family histories.

Being queer in the 1960s and early 70s was not just grounds for “black sheep” status in the family. Insurance companies would not bond anyone in the financial industry who had an arrest record, whether for “impersonation,” “lewd acts,” “solicitation,” or any of the other crimes under which gay life was categorized. To be publicly, noticeably (to straights) lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender was illegal, which meant accepting as a fact of life, socializing in spaces where illegal activity was protected and flourished. Mafia-managed bars ran the rackets that had always accompanied the gay bar trade, since at least the beginning of the century: prostitution of both sexes, including minors, pornography sale and production, drug trafficking, blackmail, and extortion.

In addition to crime, poor conditions and sleazy business practices went along with black markets, and gay bars were no exception. The Stonewall Inn was re-opened in 1967 by Tony Lauria, the son of a mafioso, with Genovese family backing, as a bottle club, meaning it didn’t need a liquor license. The Stonewall’s claim to fame was that it was the only gay bar in town that permitted dancing. The missing amenities included an emergency exit and running water. In 1969, the Stonewall was responsible for transmitting hepatitis by serving drinks in dirty, used glasses.

The mafia has always preyed upon the most downtrodden of its own people. Despite the predatory relationship between them, the mafia and the LGBT community, they were not mutually exclusive in their membership. Vito Genovese’s wife, Anna, ran one of his gay nightclubs and was reputed to be lesbian. Figures including David Petillo, Ed Murphy, and John D’Amato, tell us that gay mafiosi existed, with varying degrees of acceptance by the mafia, and by the gay community. Matty “the Horse” Ianniello, acting boss of the Genovese family for ten years (between prison terms for racketeering), was widely acknowledged as “the Genovese capo who controlled much of New York’s gay nightlife.” He paid off the police to protect Lauria’s Stonewall.

Ed Murphy (1926-1989), born Edward Francis Murphy and nicknamed “The Skull,” was a former pro wrestler (not to be confused with another wrestler called Skull Murphy, who died in 1970). Ed was a mafioso, and in 1969, a closeted gay man. He ran prostitution rings, and worked as a bouncer in gay bars. The Skull was working the door of the Stonewall the night of the police raid that kicked off the riots. The police, according to David Carter and Lucian K. Truscott IV, were targeting mafia activities, not the clientele, but as Zagria points out, if that was their goal, they were failures, from planning to execution. If you’re really going after someone for blackmailing closeted patrons, do you raid the bar when it’s open for business and full of customers? And then do you let your target slip away into the crowd while arresting a paddy wagon full of trans patrons?

The predation of both the police and the mafia were the targets of the fury that was unleashed when police raided the Stonewall Inn in June, 1969. One of the goals shared by the Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front, two groups that came out of the Stonewall protests, was to get organized crime out of the gay bars. But with gay liberation, those same bars were now cash cows, and the mafia was less likely than ever to want to let go of them. It would be another generation before Giuliani’s aggressive targeting of organized crime in New York in the mid 1980s broke the monopoly on gay bars in the city. The anti-mafia part of the Stonewall story is virtually unknown in the LGBT community. Perhaps this is a sign of the mafia’s success in suppressing anti-mafia sentiment, and riding the coattails of the civil rights movement after Stonewall.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, as it was first called, commemorated the Stonewall uprising on its first anniversary, 28 June 1970, with a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Four years later the Stonewall’s old bouncer, Ed Murphy, convinced the committee to reverse the parade route to its present trajectory, so it ended on Christopher Street, where attendees could drink in the many Mafia-owned establishments. Murphy came out as gay in the late 70s, and rode in the parade with a sash calling him the Mayor of Christopher Street. He died of AIDS in 1989. Murphy’s obituary called him a gay-rights leader.

 

Sources:

“Stonewall Riots: A Gay Protest Against Mafia Bars.” On the blog “Friends of Ours: Mostly About Organized Crime.” (Written by the author of “The Mafia and the Gays,” Phillip Crawford Jr.) Published 7 June 2010. Accessed http://bitterqueen.typepad.com/friends_of_ours/2010/06/the-stonewall-riots-a-gay-protest-against-mafia-bars.html 13 April 2016.

“The Stonewall Inn” Published 27 June 2011 on “A Gender Variance Who’s Who” blog. Accessed  http://zagria.blogspot.com/2011/06/stonewall-inn.html 14 April 2016. (Quotes Carter, an historian who wrote a book on the subject in 2004, and Truscott, who covered the 1969 uprising for the Village Voice.)

Nianias, Helen. “How the Mafia Once Controlled the New York Gay Scene” Interview with Phillip Crawford Jr, author of The Mafia and the Gays. Published 30 July 2015. Accessed http://www.vice.com/read/how-the-mafia-once-controlled-the-new-york-gay-scene-616 13 April 2016.

“Edward Murphy, 63, A Gay-Rights Leader.” Published 2 March 1989. Accessed http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/02/obituaries/edward-murphy-63-a-gay-rights-leader.html

 

Image credits: Stonewall image is By Diana Davies, copyright owned by New York Public Library – Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4547643. Ed Murphy mugshot is from http://aelarsen.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/stonewall-strange-but-true/ . Lucky Luciano image is in the public domain.

Mafia genealogy

Mafia genealogy

In legend, the mafia in Sicily dates to the Sicilian Vespers of 1282. Two of the Five Families of New York, the Lucchese and Genovese families, are Corleonesi in origin. Their founders, Gaetano Reina and Giuseppe Morello, immigrated from Corleone, in the heartland of Sicily, to New York City, around the turn of the twentieth century. They came with their families, and settled in East Harlem.

In 1900, two of my great-grandparents were teenagers in Corleone. They were about to lose their fathers, and consequently, their lives would be dramatically altered. After the deaths of their fathers, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano both immigrated to America, each with their mothers and siblings, and settled around 106th St, on the northeast corner of Central Park in New York City. The census reports that my twice-great aunts and uncles found work, and supported their widowed mothers.

I don’t know if Louis and Lucia knew each other in Corleone, or how their marriage was arranged. (It was almost certainly arranged.) According to family lore, after they married, my great-grandmother, Lucia Soldano, sold olive oil to the neighbors, produced and exported by one of Louis’ brothers-in-law back in Corleone. When I first heard this story, I didn’t realize how unlikely it was to be true.

Giuseppe Morello, aka “The Clutch Hand,” was a member of the mafia in Corleone, following in the footsteps of his stepfather, Bernardo Terranova. In New York, Gaetano Riina was one of Morello’s captains. Giuseppe’s half-brother, Vincenzo, married Gaetano Riina’s sister. Giuseppe’s cousin was married to my twice-great aunt Biagia Cascio, Louis’ sister: the one who stayed behind to marry the olive oil producer, while the rest of her family, her mother and all of her siblings, immigrated.

It’s the stories that yield themselves most grudgingly from the facts, that captivate me. Possibly this is because I am one of those people whose lives would have been lived entirely between the lines, if I’d been born in any other time and place in my family’s history. I realized a few years ago that I owed my good fortune to ancestors I didn’t know at all. So I started reading history: American, and Sicilian. I charted the histories of foreign domination and colonization, of feudalism and chattel slavery, and of two of the breadbaskets of a global economy.

And the juncture, where my Sicilian ancestors stepped into American history, coming with the first waves of the mafia: into New Orleans, Chicago, New York, into the coal mines of Pennsylvania and the strawberry fields of Louisiana. How Sicily built parts of the America we know. The intersection of cultures that made me, Atlantic City, and “Don Corleone.” A large part of the story of America’s Sicilian heritage, and my own, the myths and the reality, is about the mafia.

I don’t know for sure that Giuseppe Morello was helping his cousin,  but it seems likely. What’s not very probable, is that Biagia’s husband produced all of that olive oil, himself. Most farmers didn’t own any land, and those who did, had very small plots, enough to support only a handful of trees: not enough to start an export business.

I am documenting the relationships among known mafiosi from Corleone: to one another, to other powerful figures, and to my own family. The mafia of the twentieth century has been written about many times. Few have attempted to trace the connections, as I have been doing, from father to son, through the generations, going back to the revolutionary period of the early 1800s in Sicily, maybe farther.  Myths sometimes point to hidden truths. Myths tell us who we are. The story my great-uncle told was about how my family became American.

This blog is about the truth behind the myths.