Omerta in Utica

Omerta in Utica

Nothing could tear apart these early Mafia families in Utica, New York. Not even murder.

Pietro Lima and his brother-in-law, Dominick Aiello, were in a hurry the night they were killed, summoned by a late night phone call. It was November, and the men left home in such a rush that neither was fully dressed; they’d thrown coats over slippers and pajamas. The men were found dead in their car in the morning, evidently shot at close range by someone sitting in the back seat. In other words, they were executed by someone they trusted. Though never charged, it’s widely believed that the powerful Falcone brothers were behind their deaths.

 

Pietro Lima
Pietro Lima

The Falcones were long time associates of Pietro Lima and his extended family, who had been running and distilling illicit alcohol in Utica since the start of Prohibition. Even after its repeal in 1933, the families continued to dodge taxes with their unlicensed stills. They were also part of a network of criminals that spanned the United States. Despite indictments for conspiracy in the early 1940s, the Falcones were not identified by federal investigators as Mafia bosses until their arrest at the famous 1957 gathering in Apalachin, New York.

 

The elder of the two murder victims, Pietro Lima, was born in 1869 or 1870 in Bagheria, a few miles from the city of Palermo. He immigrated around the turn of the century with his wife, Providenza Aiello, and their oldest child, Grace. They settled first in Brooklyn, where the rest of Pietro and Providenza’s children were born. By 1920, the family had moved, with several of their extended relations, to Utica, in Oneida County, New York, about 75 miles east of Lake Ontario. Across the water was Prince Edward Island, in Canada. It was a good location for transporting alcohol into the US during Prohibition, an activity Pietro was involved in with the husband of his niece, Rosario Gambino. The two were stopped together in 1924 in a car full of Canadian ale, but they were able to overturn their conviction the following year on the grounds the police did not have a search warrant.

Joseph Lima 1928 Utica
Joseph Lima

In 1928, Pietro and Rosario were both prosperous business owners in Utica, and the fathers of large families. Rosario, formerly a longshoreman, owned a gas station. Pietro, a grocer, owned his home next door to his eldest daughter, Grace, and her husband. His son, Joseph, was most likely being groomed to take over the family business. He had been married for four years to Nellie Caputo, whom he’d vigorously courted in her family’s Brooklyn bake shop, and they had one child, a son.

Based on interviews the police conducted with family members, Nellie sparked the fateful argument that November by remarking on how Joseph had let “some Italian girl” wreck his car. The fight escalated and Nellie left the house with their son, going to the home of Rosario Gambino, a couple blocks away.

The Lima, Aiello, Gambino, and Falcone families, all of whom moved to Utica in the years leading up to Prohibition, were related by marriage, as well as through their criminal activities. All recent immigrants from Palermo and Bagheria, they also shared a connection in Brooklyn, having spent time there, upon their arrivals in the US, living in the same Cobble Hill neighborhood. A Falcone stood as godfather to Joseph Lima, in 1901 in Brooklyn, and the Caputo family bakery where Joseph wooed Nellie is still operated by the original owner’s descendants.

It’s not clear why Nellie went to the Gambino home after her argument with her husband. Perhaps she spent a lot of time with Angelina Gambino, making it a natural choice. She may have come to know the Gambinos well in Brooklyn and sought them out as old friends after her marriage brought her to Utica. But she could not have been ignorant of the power play she was about to make.

At around ten o’clock that night, Joseph Lima and his father, who’d both been drinking, decided it was time to bring Nellie back home. They got one of Joseph’s brothers, Charlie, and Grace’s husband, Lawrence, to go with them to the Gambino home to retrieve her. But Nellie refused to leave with them, and Rosario Gambino backed her up, increasing the stakes for the Lima men. He said she could stay the night if she wanted.

Peter Gambino Utica 1928
Peter Gambino

Eventually, Joseph and the other young men left, but Pietro Lima remained in his onetime partner’s driveway, drunk and yelling insults at the house. Close to midnight, Rosario came outside again with his eighteen year old son, Peter, and told Pietro to go home. Pietro refused. Rosario then told his son to move their car, and as Peter started to comply, he saw Lima reach for a gun. Peter leaped in front of his father to protect him. A gun fired, and Peter went down, hit in the chest.

More shots were fired—both Pietro and Rosario were armed with handguns—and the two men managed to seriously injure one another. Rosario was shot in the stomach, and Pietro was struck at least twice, in the leg and the scrotum.

Pietro’s sons and son-in-law returned to the scene, and Charlie and Lawrence took Rosario Gambino, who was evidently the most seriously injured, to the hospital in their car. Meanwhile Pietro and the young Peter Gambino limped off together to find a doctor for themselves. They made it a few blocks before the older man collapsed. His gun was dropped into a sewer, and later retrieved from its catch basin as evidence.

Police arrived at the Gambino home, and the women inside would not let them in, so officers broke in and began searching for evidence. They quickly found Rosario’s gun, hidden in a warming oven. Joseph Lima arrived and claimed to be there to visit his wife, who had been ill. He demanded to know what was going on.

On the street corner where Pietro Lima collapsed was a cafeteria from which an ambulance was called to take the two injured men to the same hospital as Rosario. All three men were operated upon. Peter Gambino had been struck in the collarbone, but was expected to survive.

By the following morning, Rosario was dead. He left a widow and ten children, the youngest under two. A collection was taken at the viewing, to pay for his burial. The following day Peter, still in the hospital, was finally informed of his father’s death. Nearby, Pietro Lima was recovering from his own injuries, and expecting to face manslaughter charges upon his release.

Following news of Rosario’s death, it was reported in the newspaper in Utica that Nellie’s relatives were coming from Brooklyn to take her home with them. Police found Pietro’s discarded gun, as well as those stashed in the Gambino home, and learned that Peter Gambino’s injury came not from Pietro Lima, but from the gun of his late father. A suit was filed by the dead man’s estate against Pietro Lima, to support the widow and children.

As bad as it seemed, immediately after the shooting, it appears that the families worked things out. The manslaughter case against Pietro would be hard to press without the cooperation of the Gambinos. Peter was the only witness to his father’s shooting. In the end, Pietro was charged only with having an unregistered gun, and even in this, his niece, whom he had widowed, pleaded with the judge for a lenient sentence. The practical reasons are clear: better that Pietro was free and earning to support both their families, than for him to be imprisoned. Pietro Lima pleaded guilty to the gun charge and got a suspended sentence and a fine, on the understanding he wouldn’t be prosecuted in Rosario Gambino’s death.

Six years later, when it was Pietro and Dominick who were killed, money and family ties once again kept the victims’ families silent. Four years after her husband’s murder, Paolina Aiello was discovered to possess a high volume, state of the art “super still” in her home. After massive arrests in an alcohol conspiracy netted the Falcone brothers, reporters came around to Mrs. Aiello’s little grocery, which she had run from the family’s garage since the early years of her marriage. She had nothing but good things to say about Mr. Falcone, whom she had known for twenty years and whose son, a lawyer, was married to Mrs. Aiello’s daughter. It was Mrs. Aiello whose real estate holdings financed Salvatore Falcone’s $20,000 bail.

 

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Ten percent of Mafia wives

Ten percent of Mafia wives

Research reveals a common ancestor shared by six Mafia wives, two Mafiosi, and one mafia genealogist.

I’ve identified 101 men who are (or were) known to be involved in organized crime in Corleone. I found them using a selection of primary and secondary sources, in combination with genealogical sleuthing around. News reports, trial records, police blotters, and senate hearings were some of my most important sources for the vital statistics of known Mafia members. I also used the published works of journalists who have written extensively on the subject of the Mafia in Corleone, such as John Alcorn, Mike Dash, and Dino Paternostro. By following the clues of ages and known relationships in these accounts of criminal activity, I’ve been able to connect these individuals with their vital records in Corleone, New York, and elsewhere.

Along with the men, I’ve found three women who are known associates of the Mafia, although the organization does not admit them as full members. Of these, two are wives of known mafiosi. Epifania Scardino was implicated with her husband, Vito Ciancimino, in an S&L fraud. Maria Concetta Leggio, who was a defendant at Bari, is the wife, sister, and daughter of other defendants at the Corleonesi Mafia trial. The third woman is Leoluchina Sorisi, who sheltered Luciano Leggio and who eventually married, away from Corleone.

Three of the men marry twice: Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciravolo, a Rapanzino associate, in 1815 and 1834; Giuseppe Morello, who led a gang in New York, in 1889 and 1903, the second time in New York; and Marco Maggiore, active around 1900, who married in 1893 and 1908. A few of the mafiosi, I can confirm, never married. But others were born so late that I haven’t found their marriages in public records. So far, I’ve documented fifty-six marriages of known mafiosi in Corleone, performed between 1815 and 1953.

At least a dozen of these marriages are consanguineous. Half of them, about ten percent of the total, are between relatives closer than second cousins. As I’ve noted previously in this blog, my first attempts at finding a baseline of consanguinity in Corleone have not come close to the percentages that Cavalli-Sforza, Moroni, and Zei report for the province of Palermo, which is why I’m planning a control study, in which I will select a marriage record at random from the same year as each of the mafia marriages. I’ll work out the family trees for these control grooms and brides, and report their rate of consanguinity, for comparison.

One fact that has emerged from the study group is unrelated to my current hypothesis on consanguinity, but will certainly play a part in future research I have planned into the cosci of Corleone. Six of the fifty-six marriages I’ve documented were between known mafiosi and women with the surname Cascio. Their shared name is not a coincidence, either: these six women are all closely related to one another, as well as to the two Cascio men I’ve learned were in the Mafia, Antonino and Carmelo.

The six marriages:

  1. Biagio Jannazzo, a member of Rapanzino‘s gang, married Rosalia Cascio in 1843, several years after most of his associates were killed by the police.
  2. Mariano Mancuso, named by Dino Paternostro as an active member of the Mafia around 1900 in Corleone, married Maria Concetta Cascio in 1889. She is the sister of Carmelo Cascio, who served as mayor after Bernardino Verro’s assassination.
  3. Pietro Majuri married Giovanna Cascio in 1897. He and two of their sons are named in a 1962 Italian Senate hearing on the Mafia.
  4. Carlo Taverna and Angela Cascio married in 1904. Carlo and his brother in law, Giuliano, are both named by Dino Paternostro.
  5. Giuliano Riela married Angela’s sister, Salvatrice, in 1907. Angela and Salvatrice’s parents are second cousins in a double in-law marriage.
  6. Dr. Michele Navarra was the boss of the Mafia in Corleone until his assassination by Luciano Leggio. Navarra married his first cousin, Tommasa Cascio, in 1936. Tommasa is the daughter of first cousins, once removed.

Tommasa and her second cousins, the sisters Angela and Salvatrice, are all grandnieces of Rosalia, Biagio Jannazzo’s wife. And they are all descendants of Vito lo Cascio and Antonia la Rosa, a married couple who are the sixth-great-grandparents (6GG) of Maria Concetta and Carmelo, the 5GG of Giovanna, Angela, and Salvatrice, the 4GG of Antonino, and the 3GG of Rosalia. Vito and Antonina are my ancestors, too: they are my eighth-great-grandparents.

 

Of Note: My study of the kinships among known bosses of the Fratuzzi, the Corleonesi mafia, appears in this month’s issue of Informer, a journal of the history of American crime and law enforcement.

 

Image credit: Portrait of Lucrezia de’ Medici di Cosimo by Bronzino. Public Domain. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1202867

Legacy of the Rapanzino gang

Legacy of the Rapanzino gang

While most of Rapanzino’s gang was exterminated by the police in the mid-1830s, their legacy continues, with a clear line of descent, all the way to the Five Families of New York and the Mafia in Corleone today.

The Rapanzino gang of cattle thieves, active in the early 1830s in Palermo province, were closely related to known mafia members in Corleone. Two of the members,  Bernardo and Antonino Palumbo, were brothers, and their second cousin, Leoluca Mondello, was also in their gang. Mondello and the leader, Rapanzino, were killed on the same day by the police. Two other members of the gang were Biagio Jannazzo and his older brother, Paolo. Although not closely related to the Palumbo brothers, by blood or marriage, the two families were evidently close: Biagio and Paolo’s parents were Antonino Palumbo’s godparents.

Ninetta Bagarella
Ninetta Bagarella

On their mother’s side, the Palumbo brothers were cousins of Vincenzo Maida, a rural guard. A common practice in that time, was for guards like Maida to negotiate for the return of stolen property. For this reason, it was a requirement of the position, that guards have close relations with criminals. Salvatore Lupo describes a typical arrangement: a mafia boss would go to the victim of a theft to express his sympathy, and to say maybe he can make some inquiries and find out what happened to the stolen goods. But he’s behind the theft and makes his money from the owner who pays to restore his goods.

Denis Mack Smith writes that the most common crimes in Sicily around this time were smuggling food into towns to avoid taxation, the illicit control of water, extortion—often through threats of arson to crops—and “abigeato”: stealing farm animals. It’s likely that Rapanzino’s gang worked with Maida, and other rural guards, to whom the thieves would kick back a proportion of their gains.

It’s not clear to me, what forces led to the police action against this band. Possibly the geographic scope of their activity brought the thieves from Corleone into conflict with neighboring mafias, each district an ecosystem of peasants, thieves, guards, and landowners. Or members of the band may have angered their local boss in some way. At any rate, by 1833, they were being hunted down by police, on orders from Palermo.

Despite being a wanted man in June 1834, the young widower Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciavarello remarried in Corleone, to Maria Marino. The Palumbo brothers were guillotined in Palermo the following year… that is, unless they escaped to Tunis, as legend has it. Paolo Jannazzo’s fate is not known. He did not marry in Corleone, and there is no record of his death there, either. Possibly he met the same fate as the Palumbo brothers.

In 1838, “Puntillo” and his wife stood as godparents to Mariano Cascio, Maria’s first cousin. Puntillo’s old band mate, Biagio Jannazzo, married Rosa Cascio, the sister of Mariano, in 1843. Rosa and Mariano’s sister, Emmanuela, married Vincenzo Maida, the guard, in 1849. Another of their sisters, Lucia, was the mother of future boss, Michelangelo Gennaro.

In 1840, a sister of the Jannazzo brothers, Lucia, married Vincenzo Terranova. Their son, Bernardo, is a known member of the mafia in Corleone, and the stepfather of Giuseppe Morello, a founding member of the Genovese crime family in New York.

Rapanzino, killed at age 27, didn’t marry. His niece, Maria Carmela Milone, married Domenico Moscato. Domenico’s cousin, Maria Carmela Chiazzisi, married Spiridione Castro, a cart driver—one of the rural entrepreneurial professions associated with the mafia. Spiridione’s nephew, Luciano Castro, is called a mezzano, an “intermediary” or middleman, in the 1853 civil record of his son’s birth: another mafia-related profession.

One of Biagio Jannazzo’s daughters, Leoluchina, married Bernardo Moscato, first cousin of Domenico. Leoluchina and Bernardo’s daughter, Domenica, married Placido Crapisi, son of mafia member Luciano. Her brother, Luciano, married their first cousin on his mother’s side, Angela Gennaro, sister of Michelangelo.

Biagio’s youngest son, born in 1849 and named Paolo, after his uncle, married twice, the second time to his long time domestic partner, when Paolo was considered to be “in extremis,” close to death, in 1906. He lived another nine years.

Epifanio Palumbo, the uncle of the Palumbo brothers, is the third great grandfather of Ninetta Bagarella. Ninetta is the youngest daughter of Salvatore Bagarella, a soldier in the Liggio-Navarra war. Salvatore and two of Ninetta’s brothers were named as defendants in the 1969 trial in Bari. She is the wife of Toto Riina. The family has been in the news recently, after a local Church confraternity paid homage at Ninetta’s home in Corleone. The “inchino” (a word that translates to “bow” or “curtsy”) a gesture of respect made during religious processions, is forbidden toward known Mafia figures by decree of the archbishop in Monreale. When it has occurred elsewhere in Italy, as in Caltagirone in March, there have been charges of disruption of public order. The family and the mayor of Corleone both deny that the inchino happened there.

Sources

“San Michele di Ganzaria tra inchieste e processioni sospese.” Published in Il Giornale d’Italia on 31 March 2016. Accessed http://www.ilgiornaleditalia.org/news/cronaca/875849/San-Michele-di-Ganzaria-tra-inchieste.html 7 June 2016.

Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Josephine McKenna. “Homage to Mafia boss angers Catholic Church.” Published 6 June 2016. Accessed https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/world/homage-mafia-boss-angers-catholic-church/ 6 June 2016.

Real Segreteria di Stato presso il Luogotenente Generale in Sicilia Ripartimento Polizia Repertorio anno 1836. Accessed at http://archiviodistatodipalermo.it/files/inventari/file/1263903377anno1836.pdf 6 August 2015.

Salvatore Salomone-Marino. Leggende popolari siciliane in poesia raccolte. Published 1880. Accessed online 5 April 2015.

Denis Mack Smith, A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713. Dorset Press, 1988.

 

Feature image credit: Giovanni Fattori, Cowboys of the Maremma Driving the Herds, 1893.

Mamma Mafia and the Little Brothers

Mamma Mafia and the Little Brothers

“Mafia” is a feminine term that means beautiful and proud. Paradoxically, women are both essential to and excluded from the criminal organization.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the mafia in Corleone was led by members of a new agrarian bourgeoisie (“nuova borghesia agraria”) of estate managers for absentee landlords. Author and labor organizer Dino Paternostro names three dozen in leadership of the Fratuzzi (“little brothers” in local dialect) around 1900. Many of these men are closely related, often through maternal lines and marriages. Arguably, some of the most important relationships a Corleonese man had, in this time, were his in-laws and maternal uncles.

Under Giuseppe Battaglia, the boss around 1900, the Fratuzzi were headed by Michaelangelo Gennaro, who was the nephew of former boss Salvatore Cutrera. Sources vary in describing their relationship, with some calling him the grandson of Cutrera. Salvatore was, in fact, Michaelangelo’s uncle by marriage: to Maria Carmela Gennaro, Michaelangelo’s paternal aunt. They married in 1859, six years before Michaelangelo was born.

In the next generation, Gennaro was replaced by Luciano Labruzzo and Giuliano Riela, a man from San Giuseppe Jato. Riela married into a well connected family. Salvatrice Cascio, my first cousin three times removed, was related to power on both sides of her family. On her mother’s side, she was Michaelangelo Gennaro’s niece. 

Women have never been part of the formal organization except symbolically, but their real-life relationships are part of the essential glue that holds the mafia together. There’s a clear pattern of inheritance, not only from father to son, but through men’s maternal uncles. From one century to the next, even while the Sicilian mafia is evolving into an international crime syndicate, it remains traditional in this regard. This is one of the ways the mafia makes itself inextricable from daily life, by leveraging the power of family. One’s in-laws are also one’s sworn allies and business partners. They’re the people most likely to help you find a wife, further cementing loyalty. Even more common than cousin marriage, in my own family, are such double in-law marriages as those among Salvatrice Cascio’s siblings. Her sister, Angela, married Carlo Taverna, who is also named among mafia leadership in Corleone at this time. Their brother married Carlo’s sister. 

Dr. Michele Navarra, born in 1905, was the son of a teacher with no family history of mafia involvement. On his mother’s side, however, his uncle by marriage was Angelo Gagliano, who is also named in Paternostro’s article. Gagliano, an associate of Giuseppe Morello’s and a capo in the Corleone mafia, is described as a particularly violent criminal. He appears to have been a successful one: Angelo can be found traveling to New York in 1899, carrying $1,000, which is worth more than $28,000 today. In New York, he owned a car wash where Jack Dragna claimed to work. Before long, Angelo returned to Sicily and married the daughter of another known mafia leader, his godfather, Bernardo di Miceli.

Angelo was indicted for attempted murder in 1910, and acquitted of the murder of labor organizer, Socialist mayor—and Fratuzzi member—Bernardino Verro in 1915. In 1928, a time when the fascists were rounding up hundreds of suspected mafiosi, Gagliano was acquitted of Verro’s murder. Two years later he was killed, at age 68.

The mafia dynasties evident at the turn of the century, continue for at least another generation. In 1936, Navarra married his first cousin, Tommasa Cascio. Like Salvatrice and Angela, her second cousins, Tommasa was from the “new agrarian bourgeoisie” in Corleone.

Image: Detail from “Sicilian Vespers” by Francesco Hayez. Public Domain.