Francesco Motisi, alias Genova

Francesco Motisi, alias Genova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Birth of Francesco Motisi. (1862, June 24). M.O. v. 864 n. 31. https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/detail-registry/?s_id=877229 Img. 117 of 330

Birth of Giovanni Battista Matissa. (1905, July 22). “Louisiana, Orleans Parish Vital Records, 1900-1964,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QGVC-HWMT : 19 October 2018), Giovanni Battista Matissa, 22 Jul 1905; citing Birth 22 Jul 1905, New Orleans, Orleans, Louisiana, United States, certificate ; Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge.

Birth of Ignazio Motisi. (1906, July 8). “Louisiana, Orleans Parish Vital Records, 1900-1964,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QGVC-5TDF : 19 October 2018), Ignazio Motisi, 8 Jul 1906; citing Birth 8 Jul 1906, New Orleans, Orleans, Louisiana, United States, certificate ; Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge.

Birth of Salvatore Motisi. (1894, September 15). https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/detail-registry/?s_id=877235 Img 156 of 433.

Critchley, D. (2009). The origin of organized crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. New York: Routledge.

Dash, M. (2009). The first family: Terror, extortion, revenge, murder, and the birth of the American Mafia. Random House.

Fear that John Luciano is missing. (1904, July 4). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 9.

Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 06 February 2019), memorial page for Ignazio Domenico Motisi (28 May 1903–14 Jan 1906), Find A Grave Memorial no. 140476117, citing Saint Roch Cemetery #01, New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave (contributor 8) .

Francisco Motisi family. (1911). “England and Wales Census, 1911,” database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XWTM-V3Z : 21 December 2018), Francisco Motisi, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, Lancashire, England; from “1911 England and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast(http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO RG 14, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.

Gauthreaux, A. G. (2014, February 4). Italian Louisiana: History, heritage & tradition. Arcadia Publishing.

Italians held for barrel murder. (1903, April 16). The World (New York, NY). Pp. 1-2. 

Jones, T. L. (2010, November 10). The sun king of the mafia. Retrieved 6 February 2019 from https://gangstersinc.org/profiles/blogs/the-sun-king-of-the-mafia 

Jones, T. L. (2019, April 7). Out of Africa: The story of New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello.

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

Kendall, J. S. (1911, October 1). The mafia in New Orleans. The Times Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 33.

Krist, G. (2014). Empire of sin: A story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans. Crown. 

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

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

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

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

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

Work of the dreaded mafia. (1903, August 12). The Minneapolis journal. (Minneapolis, Minn.). Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045366/1903-08-12/ed-1/seq-1/>

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

The 800-pound gangster

The 800-pound gangster

News of the shootout at the Poydras street boardinghouse described one of the victims as weighing “fully 800 pounds.” 

One of the first men killed in the Macaroni Wars was Vincenzo Vutera, placed in the Luciano’s business to suppress the opposition during a raid led by Santo “Joseph” Calamia. Like Vutera, Calamia is described as a “big, fat man” who could nonetheless move quickly. Straining credulity, local reporting on his death claims Vutera’s weight was “fully 800 pounds” (Sicilians in battle to death, 1902).

Another standout quality Vutera possessed was being from Corleone, the hometown he shared with Calamia’s professed brother-in-law, Giuseppe Morello, and his actual brother-in-law, Antonino Saltaformaggio, whose body turned up in a canal near White Castle in 1903. Hundreds of people from Corleone emigrated to Louisiana for work, with most of them dispersing into the plantations along the Mississippi River. Several families from Corleone lived in Donaldsonville, at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Bayou Lafourche

1895 map of Louisiana showing the course of the Bayou Lafourche before it was dammed.
In this 1895 map, New Orleans is centered, just south of Lake Pontchartrain. The Mississippi River enters the frame from the northwest and intersects Donaldsonville and the Bayou Lafourche between the “S” and the “I” in “LOUISIANA.”

In 1902, after a particularly bad flood season, the bayou was dammed, and a series of locks were discussed but never built. With access from the river blocked, 130 miles of navigable stream through coastal wetlands became accessible only from the Gulf of Mexico. The temporary dam permanently harmed the economy and health of Bayou Lafourche, Donaldsonville, and the surrounding area. The Mississippi no longer supplied fresh water to the bayou, devastating the ecosystem. The city of Donaldsonville, once the capital of Louisiana, entered a period of decline from which it did not rally until automobile traffic replaced riverboats as the primary form of transportation. 

For the owners of a macaroni factory in Donaldsonville, the new dam was bad news. Easy access to half a dozen towns they might have provisioned along the bayou was suddenly cut off. Antonino Luciano had $4,000 tied up in the factory: about $129,000 in 2022 dollars. His partner was the duplicitous Paolo Di Christina, a mafioso in league with Francesco Genova. 

Genova had sworn to destroy Luciano, and Di Christina was part of his plan. Step 1: Place men loyal to the Mafia boss in the business to be overtaken. Step 2: Make the business a source of debt and woe for the rightful owner. Step 3: Sap the owner’s funds, credit, and good name, until he has no choice but to abandon the property to his antagonistic partners. The Mafia has attacked business owners this way for most of its existence. 

The showdown on Poydras Street in New Orleans was an escalation of a fight that began in the Donaldsonville macaroni factory. In the story that unfolded in the newspapers, and echoes in more contemporary tellings, Vincenzo Vutera is sometimes painted as an ally of the Luciano family, brought down from Donaldsonville to aid them in defense against Genova’s men, and at other times described as a plant, one of several men Genova either installed or turned to his purposes.

Illustration of the interior of the Poydras Street store/saloon/boardinghouse accompanying coverage of the shooting in The Times-Democrat (Bloody battle, 1902).

Vincenzo Vutera was born in Corleone in April 1872, and emigrated as a young man with his mother and his first cousin, also named Vincenzo Vutera, who was three years older. The older cousin returned to Corleone and married there in 1906, which is how I can be sure he was not the one shot to death in New Orleans in 1902.

Vutera married his first cousin, Giovannina “Jennie” Cusimano, in Donaldsonville in 1894. His wife’s godparents were her first cousin, once removed and her husband. They were also the parents of Los Angeles Mafia boss Jack Dragna. Dragna and Vutera (and Cusimano and Dragna) are second cousins.

A family tree including Vincenzo Vutera, his same name cousin, his wife, and Jack Dragna
A family tree showing the lines of direct descent shared by Vincenzo Vutera, his emigrating cousin, his wife, and the mafioso Jack Dragna. In this diagram, the godparent relationship Giovannina Cusimano has with her aunt and uncle is illustrated with solid green lines. Vincenzo Vutera, his mother, and his same-name cousin who emigrated together are connected by dotted black lines. All the people with a blue outline migrated to Louisiana. (Jack Dragna’s parents later emigrated to New York, where he grew up. Read more about the Dragna family’s early life in America in Informer.)

An expanded family tree including everyone from the first tree plus Vutera's widow's second husband, Vincenzo "Charles" Peranio.
After Vutera’s death, his widow remarried to another first cousin, Vincenzo Piranio. The fathers of Vincenzo Piranio and Jack Dragna, each marked with a pink upper left quadrant in this tree, were both born of unknown parents. They married first cousins Anna and Rosalia Vutera.

Vutera’s same-name cousin has a maternal uncle, Mariano Colletto, who was a captain in the Fratuzzi, the Mafia of Corleone. The older Vutera may have run into some kind of legal trouble in Louisiana: in November 1901, one of the cousins ran an ad claiming not to be the V. Vutera who was decided against in a local court case. The younger Vincenzo Vutera was, at the time of his death, a grocer with a store in Dorseyville, eleven miles from Donaldsonville, which he ran under the name “A. Cusimano” because his own credit was so poor. The real A. Cusimano was Vincent’s brother-in-law and first cousin, Antonino Cusimano, who named Vincent as his destination contact when he emigrated to White Castle—near Donaldsonville—in 1897.

In January 1902, a notice ran for a “Constable Sale.” At auction were the provisions and equipment from Vincenzo Vutera’s Dorseyville grocery, being sold to satisfy his obligation to “A. Luciano.” The same Antonino Luciano who Genova swore to destroy was one of Vincenzo Vutera’s creditors. 

The same Antonino Luciano who Genova swore to destroy was one of Vincenzo Vutera’s creditors.

Given this history, it’s little wonder that Genova found a willing accomplice in Vutera. “The Lucianos thought it rather strange when Vincenzo Vutera, the big, fat storekeeper, who was running a general merchandise place in Dorseyville under the name of Cusimano, to deceive his old creditors, came to their place a few evenings back and asked for a bed,” The Times-Picayune reported. The Lucianos, who had turned their business into a fortress, welcomed him into their boardinghouse.

Vutera’s debt with Luciano and the auction to pay it were not reported in the days following his death in the shootout. Instead, there was confusion about whose side of the deadly conflict Vutera had fought on. Had he been placed there by Calamia? Or, as Tony Luciano told the police and reporters, did Vutera die in a vain attempt to defend his brother Salvatore Luciano, the target of the attack?

New Orleans police believed Tony’s statement was a ruse. Based on statements from other witnesses and evidence on the scene, members of Calamia’s party killed Salvatore Luciano, and then Tony, his brother, killed Vincenzo Vutera. Tony may have also shot Joseph Gerrachi, who died weeks later in the hospital, and Joseph Calamia, who took two bullets in his left hand. Both Vutera and Gerrachi are described in the newspapers as managers of Luciano’s macaroni factory. A Luciano cousin who was injured in the shootout claimed Vutera was a traitor who had brought Gerrachi with him from Donaldsonville. 

That evening, with Tony Luciano in custody, police told him Vutera had fired Gerrachi from his position in the factory. This appeared to confirm for Luciano his realization that Vutera (and perhaps also Gerrachi) had betrayed him, because it elicited from Luciano the names of the men who had invaded along with Calamia. Gerrachi, who was described as a merchant from Donaldsonville, was one of them, as well as Bartolo Ferrara, and two men who evaded arrest, Vincent Scaffino and Joe Galderone. Di Christina was seen across the street, immediately after the attack. Genova, the most powerful mafioso involved, was not part of the raid, but it was for the restoration of his honor that Salvatore Luciano was killed. Salvatore, Tony’s “hot-headed” brother, shot at Genova and Di Christina a month earlier, and was warned to leave the country or forfeit his life. 

Vincenzo Vutera was playing cards in the annex, to the rear of the store, with Louis and Tony Luciano when Calamia and his men arrived. Salvatore Luciano, sitting near the annex, was killed by multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound to the head. Vutera was killed by three gunshot wounds that entered the right side of his body, lacerating his lungs and liver, and a knife wound to the head. It’s likely that Vincenzo shot Salvatore, who had already received mortal injuries, and then Tony killed Vincenzo. In his pockets were a knife that had shattered on the impact of another bullet aimed at his chest, and some letters signed from “A. Cusimano.” Based on the letters, the coroner correctly assumed this was Vutera’s alias and included it in his death certificate. 

Death record for Vincent Vutera, alias A. Cusimano, of Dorceyville, Louisiana. Married merchant, age “42 Yrs?” died from multiple gunshot wounds on 12 June 1902 in New Orleans.

Luciano avoided indictment in the Poydras Street shootings. Calamia stood trial for Vutera’s murder but was acquitted for lack of evidence. Vincenzo Vutera was only thirty years old, though the coroner indicated he was much older. He left a wife and four children, the youngest just four months old. Jennie Cusimano remarried a few years later to Charlie Peranio, born Vincenzo Piranio in Corleone, with whom she had two more children. 

On this sheet of the 1910 census, taken in Dorseyville, Louisiana, the first family listed is Jennie’s. Vincenzo Peranio, a grocer, is the head of household. Jennie’s uncle and father-in-law from her first marriage, Leoluca Vutera, an elderly widower, lives with them.

Sources

Babin II, D. (2015, April 28). Bumped off on the bayou: the macaroni wars.

Bloody battle. (1902, June 12). The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA).

Constable sale. (1902, January 11). The Weekly Iberville South (Plaquemine, LA). P. 2.

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

Krist, G. (2014). Empire of sin: A story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans. Crown. 

Luciano lured to a mafia murder. (1903, August 10). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 1.

More murder in the feud of Sicilians. (1902, June 13). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). Pp. 1+.

Notice. (1901, November 20). The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA).

Sicilians in battle to death. (1902, June 12). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA).

Read Part 3 in this series on The Macaroni Wars: Francesco Motisi, Alias Genova

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