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/>

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

Giuseppe Morello and the Macaroni Wars

Giuseppe Morello and the Macaroni Wars

How a gunfight in New Orleans over pasta production, and the assassination of a New York police officer, were related to counterfeiters in upstate New York.

Antonio Comito was the captive printer, forced by Morello’s gang to produce counterfeit bills at their Highland, New York farm, the winter of 1908-09. Introduced by “Don Pasquale” (most likely Vasi, one of two brothers found guilty for their participation in the counterfeiting operation) in New York City to Don Antonio Cecala, as a prospective printer for Cecala’s Philadelphia press, Cecala in turn introduced Comito to Cecala’s godson, Salvatore Cina. Cina, Comito, and a cart driver, Nicholas Sylvester, shopped in New York for a printing press, then left the city. Instead of taking Comito and his companion, Katrina Pascuzzo, to Philadelphia, as discussed, they went to Cina’s 42 acre fruit farm in Highland, across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie. Cina’s brother-in-law, Vincenzo Giglio, was at the farm when they arrived.

Someone called Uncle Vincent (possibly Giglio), who said he raised cattle in his hometown, stayed with them that winter. He told Comito of killing two men, then fleeing, first by train to Palermo, then sailboat to Tunis, and from there to Tokyo and then Liverpool, before making his way to New Orleans in March 1902.

New Orleans was the first city in America to have a Mafia presence. In 1894, when the Morello-Terranova family went south, looking for work, they made contacts among local mafiosi. A so-called “cousin” got Giuseppe Morello and his stepfather work in sugarcane country; he may have been Antonino Saltaformaggio, an early immigrant from Corleone who would marry Morello’s half-sister. Given Antonino’s youth—he was just twenty at the time—Morello’s most important contact may have been Antonino’s father, Serafino.

Giuseppe Morello and Antonio Saltaformaggio, each of them an eldest son, were at least the second generation of mafiosi in their respective families. Morello was an active Fratuzzi member in Corleone, as was his stepfather, Bernardo Terranova. Saltaformaggio has two maternal uncles who were active in the Fratuzzi, in the years after his death. When his body was identified, the local newspaper pointed to his mother as the source of trouble for the slain man.

***

Lucia Terranova was seventeen when she left Sicily for the first time. She came to the United States with her parents and younger siblings, following her older half-brother, who was fleeing arrest. “Piddu,” as his family called him, was implicated in one murder in Corleone and his companion in flight, Gioachino Lima, was wanted for another. Lima would later marry Giuseppe and Lucia’s sister, Maria Morello.

cropped-giuseppe-morello-mug-shot
Giuseppe Morello

It was March 1893, when Lucia and her family met up with Giuseppe in New York City’s East Harlem, where many immigrants from Corleone lived. Along with Lucia and her family, were her sister-in-law, Maria Marsalisi, the wife of Giuseppe, and their first child, a son born after Giuseppe’s flight, and named after his late father, Calogero.

The family was unable to find work in New York, due to the financial crisis, so in January 1894, Morello went on a scouting mission to Louisiana, while Bernardo Terranova and his young family stayed in East Harlem: the Terranova brothers were still children, ages four through nine. In February, Lucia Terranova married Antonino Saltaformaggio in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

It would have been most correct for Serafino to have met with Bernardo Terranova in person to arrange a marriage between their two children. Based on the known timeline, the decision appears to have either been made quickly, in Louisiana, or else at great length: perhaps arranged years ago in Corleone, or during the Terranova family’s year in New York. If Bernardo was unable to travel, Serafino and Giuseppe—and possibly the groom, Antonino—may have made the arrangements.

The Morello-Terranova family only stayed in Louisiana for about a year before moving on to a new opportunity, farming cotton in another community of transplanted Corleonesi, in Bryan, Texas. Most likely, Lucia stayed in Louisiana with her new husband, whose parents and siblings lived in the area.

***

Serafino, age 52, died in 1899 on a sugar plantation in Poydras, Louisiana, in St. Bernard Parish. His widow, Caterina, appears in the federal census the following year, living in the same parish with two sons and three daughters, including Teresa, who married Santo Calamia in 1901. The marriages between Lucia and Antonino, and between Antonino’s sister, Teresa, and Santo Calamia, bound Giuseppe Morello and the Calamia men in a relationship which Santo would later abridge to brothers-in-law.

Santo Calamia was born in 1875 in Gibellina, Sicily, due west of Corleone, in Trapani province. In Santo’s case, as well, the evidence suggests that Mafia activity ran in the family. It’s not known when his father, Giuseppe, arrived in the United States, but Santo claims to have arrived in 1889. Father and son lived in New Orleans for many years, although Giuseppe returned to Gibellina by 1909.

A Mafia boss, Francesco Genova, fled Sicily, detouring in London and New York before arriving in New Orleans in 1902. On the strength of his criminal reputation, he soon came to rule the Sicilian underworld of New Orleans.

Because of the large Sicilian population in New Orleans and the surrounding area, macaroni was becoming a big business. Stores serving neighboring sugarcane plantations stocked the versatile product among other basic provisions. The largest, most modern macaroni factory was built in New Orleans in 1902 by Jacob Cusimano, of Palermo.

Using agents, Genova attempted to take over a macaroni factory in Donaldsonville, in northeastern Louisiana, on the Mississippi River. “Factory” indicated manufacture at any scale; many macaroni factories at this time were run out of homes and other businesses, such as from the backs of groceries.The factory in Donaldsonville must have been one of the larger operations, to be worthy of a takeover war.

A duplicitous partner in the venture, backed by Genova, was called Paolo (or Charles) Di Christina, an alias for Francesco Paolo Marchese. A letter found in Giuseppe Morello’s possession, from Genova, recommended Marchese to Morello as a fine young man.

The legitimate owners of the Donaldsonville factory, Antonio and Salvadore Luciano, fought back against Genova, but were unlucky enough to miss at close range. When Genova and Di Christina failed to appear in court for a hearing related to the Luciano brothers’ unsuccessful attack, they prepared themselves for a vendetta. They did not wait long.

In May 1902 Santo Calamia, along with Genova, Di Christina, and Joseph Geraci, stormed the Luciano brothers in their “dingy” storefront on Poydras Street. Vincenzo Vutera, who was also killed in the attack, may have also been a Genova plant. Vutera is reported by one witness, a Luciano cousin, to be the first to respond to the attack, firing in their direction with a pistol. According to other accounts from inside the store that night, Vutera—who is described as recent Italian immigrant weighing “fully 800 pounds,” also in the macaroni business—mortally wounded Salvadore Luciano, himself, and was seen doing so by the man’s brother, Antonio.

The record of Vutera’s death cites multiple gunshot wounds, and the news reports that the “big man” continued firing at the invaders, even after he was shot. After the Genova party left, as Salvadore lay dying, people in the street could hear a final shotgun blast: Antonio Luciano’s revenge for Vutera’s treachery. By their exchanges in the police station, Luciano clearly held Calamia responsible. Calamia and Genova were charged with the Luciano and Vutera murders, but acquitted.

Vincenzo Vutera death cert
Vincent Vutera, alias A. Cusimano, a merchant, age about 42, died from “Mult. G. S. Wounds.”

A year after the Luciano shooting, Santo Calamia’s brother-in-law, Antonino Saltaformaggio, was killed. Antonino worked, at the time, in cotton country as “a kind of labor agent,” and made his home in the same northern town as the Luciano brothers’ coveted macaroni factory. His body was found on 7 April 1903 near White Castle, about ten miles upriver. He had been stabbed nine times, and strangled with a rope, then thrown into a canal. Another victim, never identified, was killed not long before him, in the same area.

Weeks after his body’s discovery, when the victim was finally known, the news mentions Saltaformaggio’s wife and infant son, left behind in Donaldsonville, but not by name, and no connection is drawn to the Morello-Terranova family of New York City. Instead, the Times-Picayune points the finger in the direction of Antonino’s widowed mother and siblings, living in New Orleans, as the probable cause of the violence against a well-liked and hard working young man.

A week later, the body of a Buffalo, New York stonemason was found in a sugar barrel, in New York City. Police detective Joseph Petrosino investigated the crime. The “Barrel Murder” victim, Benedetto Madonia, who was originally from Lercara Friddi, was discovered to be part of a “secret society,” of which Giuseppe Morello was also a part. Vito Cascio Ferro, who was also known to police as a counterfeiter, was among the men brought in on suspicion of the murder.

After her husband’s murder, Lucia Terranova reunited with her family in New York City. The young son mentioned in the news did not go with her. Descendants of Santo Calamia tell me he was named Serafino, after his paternal grandfather, and called “Joe Fino.” I have not found any vital records for Lucia and Antonino in this period, or evidence of any children. (It is notable that in ten years of marriage, Lucia and Antonino had just one child. Lucia had six children in eleven years, in her second marriage.)

In December of that year, three of the Morello-Terranova siblings married, including Lucia, to an associate of her brothers, Vincenzo Salemi. His sister, Lena Salemi, married Giuseppe, who was a widower of eleven years by this time. Ignazio Lupo married Lucia’s sister, Salvatrice.

A 1905 census records Giuseppe Morello in close proximity to the Lo Monte brothers, who were among his closest criminal associates. In this state census, Morello lives with his wife and two children, (one from his first marriage), and calls himself a salesman. Morello was a counterfeiter in 1903, but he also had other ventures, legal and illicit, and whether he continued counterfeiting in those years is not certain. His building cooperative was active and seemingly legitimate in the years after his second marriage. However, in 1907 there was another banking panic, and the Ignatz Florio Building Co-op changed its tactics, a move that more closely aligned them with a growing network of Mafia families in the United States, and at the same time distanced the Co-op from the support of the local Sicilian community. Morello began dipping into the cash reserves of the already strained business.

In 1908, Comito was taken to Highland to print counterfeit bills on Cina’s farm. While he was there that winter, New York homicide police lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was murdered in Palermo.

Joe_petrosino
Joseph Petrosino

In February 1909, Petrosino went to Italy to retrieve the criminal records of Italians in the United States, so they could be arrested and deported. The trip was supposed to be confidential, but one of his superiors leaked it to the press.

That month Giuseppe Palermo, introduced to Comito as “Uncle Salvatore,” (Palermo was also known as Salvatore Saracina) and Ignazio Lupo visited the Highland farm. The conversation among Uncle Salvatore, Ignazio Lupo, and the others who showed up on 12 February 1909 (Cecala, Cina, and Sylvester) strongly suggested that Morello arranged to kill Petrosino while he was in Sicily.

Morello was not the only one implicated in Petrosino’s shooting. Vito Cascio Ferro was also suspected of involvement, because the New York police lieutenant had arrested him in connection with the “Barrel Murder,” in 1903. In one version of events, Cascio Ferro left a dinner party, took his host’s coach into the city where he met Petrosino in a public plaza, shot him, and returned to the party; his host supplied Cascio Ferro with an alibi. Other accounts of the assassination have two gunmen, fleeing the scene. The case was never officially solved.

After Petrosino’s assassination was announced in the news, the Highland counterfeiters discussed the crime again in Comito’s presence. Uncle Vincent said something Comito considered significant, that because Petrosino was killed in Palermo, that “it was well done.”

Santo Calamia’s father, Giuseppe, living in Gibellina, was also wanted by Italian police, as an accessory to the Petrosino shooting. Calamia fled Sicily via London and New York, before being arrested in New Orleans, very near his son’s address on Poydras Street. Reporting at the time indicates his family and close friends were hiding him with the intent to send him to the west coast.

The following winter, Giuseppe Morello and his associates were arrested and found guilty of counterfeiting. Antonio Comito, the captive printer, testified against them. Morello was sentenced to ten years in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

Santo Calamia visited Giuseppe Morello in prison in Atlanta four times between 1917-20; in the visitor log, he calls himself Morello’s brother-in-law. Santo’s father, Giuseppe Calamia died in 1921 in Gibellina, and Santo applied for a passport soon after, to settle his father’s estate and arrange for his burial.

Santo Calamia
Photo from Santo Calamia’s passport application, taken the year before his death

He never made it back from Sicily. Santo died in his native town the following spring.

 

Sources

Babin, D. (2015, April 28). Bumped Off On The Bayou: The Macaroni Wars.

Jon Black at Gangrule, “The Morello and Lupo Trial.”

Comito’s Story. (2010, April). Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement. April 2010. Pp. 5-17.

David Critchley’s The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931.

The Murdered Italian Found at Whitecastle. (1903, May 7). Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)

Donna Shrum in Country Roads, When the French Quarter Was Italian.

Sicilians in Battle to Death. (1902, June 12). Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)