Los Angeles sugar man Frank Borgia died as he lived.
Borgia was a tough subject for Mafia Genealogy, considering he has no death certificate, and I couldn’t find a record of his birth. My interest is in the relationships among mafiosi, which often explain why they do what they do. Joe Ardizzone (1881-1931) and Frank Borgia (c. 1893-1951), both active in Jack Dragna’s (1891-1956) Los Angeles Mafia, were said to be cousins with roots in Piana dei Greci. Frank Borgia claimed to have been born in Gela (today, called Terranova). His parents, known from Frank’s marriage and migration records, were from Piana dei Greci (today, Piana degli Albanesi).
There is no death record for Borgia because he disappeared: what they call a “lupara bianca” in Sicily. By most accounts, Mafia associate and vineyardist Frank Borgia was last seen early in December 1951. Judith Moore says it happened six months later, after a wedding the following June. I found one fleck of shaky evidence, written long after the fact, which said Borgia came home to his wife a few days after he was reported missing in December (Blackstock, 2015). Based on this, it looked as though he went missing, came home, and then disappeared for good. However, his return was falsely reported in contemporary sources, and later ruled out by police. I emailed Joe Blackstock about his 2015 reporting and he graciously responded:
“Unfortunately, shortly after that column was published I learned that the information about the reappearance of Borgia was incorrect. A hint that he had returned was later concluded by police to be false information.” (Personal communication, 18 April 2022.)
Joe Ardizzone and Frank Borgia are first cousins, once removed. It was likely Joe’s brother, Stefano, who Frank Borgia called his uncle and destination contact when he emigrated in 1914 (Manifest of the Caserta). Borgia and Jack Dragna were also very close, though they were of no relation. In 1922, Frank Borgia and Jack Dragna married a week apart. Jack and his future wife were the witnesses at Frank’s marriage to Pauline Enna (Marriage of Frank Borgia and Pauline Enna, 1922).
In November 1929, wealthy Austrian-born vineyardist and trucking contractor Frank Baumgarteker (1886-1929) disappeared (Frank Baumgarteker passport application, 1924; Missing man in purple car, 1929; Baumgarteker’s wife asks grand jury, 1930). He was a close friend of Frank Borgia’s; both owned property in Cucamonga. (Upland, Ontario, and Rancho Cucamonga are all within three miles of one another.) Police believed Baumgarteker was “taken for a ride” and buried in the desert. His body was never found. Borgia and Ardizzone were suspected in the wealthy man’s disappearance.
Map showing locations of Sunland (where Joe Ardizzone once lived), Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, an hour from Sunland; the Mojave Desert, and at the bottom of the screen, San Diego and Tijuana. (c) OpenStreetMaps contributors.
Bootlegger Tony Buccola (c. 1888-1930) made enemies among his Italian colleagues, who ran him out of town for years. When they let him return to Los Angeles, out of sympathy for his sick mother, Frank Borgia made a show of forgiving Buccola, befriending him, and giving him a job. Tony’s brother George said that Borgia, Ardizzone, and Dragna, the same men who had run him out of town, had taken Tony out just a few nights before he disappeared, in May 1930. George blamed the three powerful mafiosi for his brother’s disappearance (Moore, 1997).
The year after Buccola went missing, Joe Ardizzone survived two attempts on his life, one of them in a hospital, then vanished in October. He’d been on his way to Joe Cuccia’s ranch to pick up his cousin, Nick Borgia, who’d just come from Italy and was staying at Cuccia’s. This time, Jack Dragna and Frank Borgia were suspected in the Iron Man’s disappearance. Joe’s brother Frank Ardizzone told one investigating officer, “Don’t bother looking for any enemies. It’ll be one of his friends that did it” (L.A. cellar searched for bones of Ontario vintner, 1949).
Borgia managed a wholesale grocery for George Niotta (1889-1955). According to Dragna and Niotta descendant J. Michael Niotta, Borgia tricked Big George, who could not read or write, into signing over the grocery to him. Serendipitously for Niotta, this resulted in Borgia being the only one indicted for bootlegging, despite both being involved.
Through his wholesale business, Borgia was a “sugar man,” supplying brewing ingredients to moonshiners during Prohibition: the crime for which he was arrested in December 1931 (Frank Borgia posts bond for rum trial, 1931; Niotta, 2017, p. 54). By the time he was convicted and went to prison in 1935, Prohibition was over. He served not quite two years and was released in November 1937 (Washington, McNeil Island prison records).
After prison, Frank Borgia worked in manufacturing, bought property, and became wealthy and influential. He was once again a big rancher, and now also an industry representative and business community leader (OPA drops wine grape ceilings, 1944; CC directors elected at meet, 1951).
In March 1951 the Kefauver hearings were televised. Late that year, Frank sold his winery in Cucamonga for $125,000 (Dragna pal, 1951). According to his wife, it was some grape acreage that he sold (Long-missing, 1951). Either way, this windfall prompted an extortion attempt, planned by Jack Dragna and executed through a secret partner, Gaspare Matranga (1898-1971), a San Diego mafioso from Piana dei Greci (Gaspare Matranga 73 dies, 1971). (There is a thicket of relationships among US Mafia families from Piana dei Greci.) Borgia complained strenuously to Dragna about Matranga’s demands for $25,000 from the sale of his vineyard (Valin, n.d.; May, 2009).
Several sources report that his Cadillac was found abandoned in Tijuana, an hour’s drive south of San Diego (Dragna pal, 1951; Niotta, 2017, p. 61). The car was reported to San Diego police by Tijuana authorities on 14 December, and the SDP notified Mrs. Borgia, who arranged for the car to be recovered (Missing vintner, 1951).
Judith Moore wrote about Borgia’s end in the San Diego Reader and a book about San Diego Mafia boss Frank Bompensiero, titled A Bad, Bad Boy. According to Moore, Borgia went to the wedding of a family friend’s daughter in San Diego, driving himself in his black Buick Roadmaster (Moore, 1999). (The 1950 Cadillac coupe de ville and 1950 Buick Roadmaster are similar in appearance.) He checked into a room in the U.S. Grant and drove to the wedding venue, St. Joseph’s Cathedral. There are photos of the guests throwing rice and smiling, the author tells us, and Borgia identifiable among them (Moore, 1999). She doesn’t reproduce the photograph or tell us what other evidence she has besides Demaris’ book.
In her account, after the wedding he went back to his hotel and parked in the hotel garage. Early that evening in June 1952, Tony Mirabile, who was Frank Borgia’s best friend, picked him up from his hotel and took him to Joe Adamo’s house. There, Frank Bompensiero and Jimmy Fratianno were waiting with a rope with which they strangled Borgia to death. His body was never found. His car was retrieved from the parking garage when a hotel employee notified the San Diego police (Moore, 1999).
Moore’s story comes partly from Ovid Demaris’ novel, The Last Mafioso, which was written using interviews of Jimmy Fratianno, some 25 years after the events described. The murder in Joseph Adamo’s house, and the shakedown by Dragna and Matranga, both appear in Allan May’s account. He dates the plans to murder Borgia vaguely to the early 1950s, and doesn’t mention the wedding (May, 2009). Sifakis (2006) confirms the extortion and involvement of Dragna, Matranga, Bompensiero, and Fratianno.
In newspaper coverage of Frank Borgia’s disappearance, and mentions of it in news of his estate, it’s consistently reported that Frank Borgia left home on the second of December 1951 and had not been seen since (Missing vintner not in Hanford, 1951; Trustee is asked, 1952; Moonshine king’s widow, 1952).
Pauline Borgia, Frank’s wife, was evidently used to her husband’s long absences, assumed he’d left home on a business trip, and further assumed he’d gone to Hanford, north of Bakersfield, when she received checks he’d written from their bank. (For those unfamiliar with 20th Century banking practices, a paper check with the bearer’s signature on the reverse was presented to the bank for funds, and following the exchange, the endorsed check was returned to the writer by mail.) The checks, it was later discovered, had been left by Borgia on an earlier trip in anticipation of buying some grapes (Missing vintner, 1951).
Whether she feigned ignorance or practiced it regularly in her marriage, Pauline was not much help in determining her husband’s whereabouts. The most reliable testimony is the one given by Jimmy Fratianno. He is the only witness who has spoken about the murder.
There might be some truth in Moore’s version, but she offers no evidence of it in her book. The details she provides beyond what Demaris published are unprovable (who is the friend’s daughter who married?) or contradicted by a preponderance of evidence (the type of car Borgia drove and where it was recovered, the month and year he disappeared). The author has passed away, so we cannot ask her. In April I emailed the Wylie Agency, which represents the late author’s estate, hoping to access notes on her investigation into Frank Borgia’s disappearance, but I’ve had no response.
What we know about Frank Borgia is that he evidently died as he lived: betrayed by his friends, and then gone without a trace.
Baumgarteker’s wife asks grand jury inquiry of disappearance of mate; asserts police inactive. (1930, April 27). The Sun (San Bernardino, CA). Vol. 66 No. 58. P. 7. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19300427.1.7&srpos=18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Baumgarteker——-1
Blackstock, J. (2015, June 1). Vintner’s disappearance still a mystery despite plenty of ‘clews.’ Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/06/01/vintners-disappearance-still-a-mystery-despite-plenty-of-clews/
CC directors elected at meet. (1951, November 15). The Cucamonga Times (Cucamonga, CA). P. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/image/747935010/
Dragna pal, long missing, feared slain. (1951, December 26). Daily News (Los Angeles, CA). P. 8. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DNLA19511226.1.8&srpos=18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Borgia——-1
Frank Baumgarteker passport application. (1924). “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99DQ-KRV?cc=2185145&wc=3XC5-82Q%3A1056306501%2C1056394301 : 22 December 2014), (M1490) Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925 > Roll 2459, 1924 Apr, certificate no 386850-387349 > image 696 of 761; citing NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)
Frank Borgia posts bond for rum trial. (1931, December 25). San Pedro News Pilot. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SPNP19311225.2.66&srpos=3&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Borgia——-1
Gaspare Matranga, 73, dies; Mafia tie recalled. (1971, July 6). The Sun (San Bernardino, CA). P. C-3. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19710706.1.21&srpos=1&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Gaspare+Matranga——-1
Long-missing Cucamonga man’s friend vanishes. (1951, December 27). The Sun (San Bernardino, CA). P. 16. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19511227.1.16&srpos=8&e=——195-en–20-SBS-1–txt-txIN-Borgia——-1
Manifest of the Caserta. (1914, December 5). Line 12. https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger-details/czoxMjoiMTAwNTM4MDMwMTA5Ijs=/czo4OiJtYW5pZmVzdCI7
Marriage of Frank Borgia and Pauline Enna. (1922, April 23). “California, County Marriages, 1850-1952,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8F1-LYX : 9 March 2021); citing Los Angeles, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 2,074,277.
May, Allan. (2009, October 14). Frank Bompensiero San Diego hit man, boss, and FBI informant. http://www.crimemagazine.com/frank-bompensiero-san-diego-hit-man-boss-and-fbi-informant
Missing man in purple car. (1929, November 29). San Pedro News Pilot. Vol. 2. No. 230. P. 7. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SPNP19291129.2.79&srpos=11&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Baumgarteker——-1
Missing vintner not in Hanford. (1951, December 28). San Bernardino Sun. P. 1. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19511228.1.1&srpos=3&e=——195-en–20-SBS-1–txt-txIN-Borgia——-1
Moonshine king’s widow named estate trustee. (1952, August 29). Daily News (Los Angeles, CA). P. 41. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DNLA19520829.1.41&srpos=4&e=——195-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Borgia—-1952—1
Moore, J. (1997, January 9). San Diego mafia in the 1950s used slayings to enforce rules. San Diego Reader. https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1997/jan/09/cover-honest-to-god-crooks-with-blood-on-their-han/
Moore, J. (1999, February 11). How Frank Bompensiero met his fate in Pacific Beach. San Diego Reader. Retrieved from https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1999/feb/11/concert-shot-dark/
Moore, J. (2009). A bad, bad boy. Reader Books.
Niotta, J. M. (2017). The Los Angeles sugar ring: Inside the world of old money, bootleggers, & gambling barons. The History Press.
OPA drops wine grape ceilings. (1944, July 22). San Pedro News Pilot. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SPNP19440722.2.70&srpos=11&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Borgia——-1
Sifakis, C. (2006). The mafia encyclopedia. Infobase Publishing. P. 211.
Trustee is asked for Frank Borgia’s $500,000 estate. (1952, August 8). Daily News (Los Angeles, CA). P. 15. Retrieved from https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DNLA19520808.1.15&srpos=5&e=——195-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Borgia—-1952—1
Valin, E. (n.d.) Salvatore Piscopo. The man who betrayed Johnny Roselli. The American Mafia. Retrieved from https://mafiahistory.us/rattrap/salvatorepiscopo.html
Washington, U.S., U.S. Penitentiary McNeil Island, Photos and Records of Prisoners Received, 1887-1939 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
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