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