Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He teaches classes on the history of organized crime at Cuyahoga Community College. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
Chicago’s Unione Siciliana
1920 – A Decade of Slaughter
By Allan May
Allan May takes us through an eight-part in depth look at Chicago's Unione
Siciliana during the bloody decade of the 1920s. All eight men who held the
position of president of the society died. Seven of them were brutally
Merlo’s position as president of the Unione Siciliana would be taken by Angelo Genna, the youngest and most volatile of the six brothers. Angelo was one of the top gunmen during Anthony D’Andrea’s ill-fated attempt to take over the Democratic political leadership of the 19th Ward. Of the estimated 30 murders that took place during that war the only person ever prosecuted was “Bloody” Angelo – for the killing of Paul Labriola. At the trial, Angelo was ably defended by D’Andrea’s friend, Stephen Malato, who resigned his position as assistant state’s attorney to handle the case.
Angelo also went free for the murder of Paul Notti in 1922 even though Notti, from his deathbed, had identified Genna. The defense was able to prove that Notti was under the influence of an opiate at the time for pain; the judge tossed the confession out. In August 1922, Angelo interceded for two friends in a Mann Act violation, where a 15 year-old girl was taken across state lines for purposes of prostitution. On the day before the trial was to get underway, Angelo stopped the young lady on the street and told her if she testified that he would kill both her and her mother. The brave girl went to court and exposed the threat. Angelo Genna was sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary for a year for the threat in November 1922.
With Merlo’s death the Torrio / Capone combine saw the opportunity to install their own man as head of the Unione Siciliana. Antonio Lombardo was a friend of Capone and the Aiello brothers, with whom he was a partner in a cheese business. Capone felt his relationship with Frank Uale, the national head of the Unione, would help him get Lombardo the top position, and this would eventually lead to Capone’s control of Little Italy’s alky cookers.
This plan of the Neapolitan Capone didn’t sit well with the Sicilian Gennas, who, as members of the hierarchy of the Unione, saw the position of president as one of prestige and honor among their Sicilian brethren. The brothers quickly lobbied the rank and file and pressed hard to put Angelo in as the next president. Capone, unhappy at the turn of events, bided his time under the patient leadership of Johnny Torrio.
Capone biographer Laurence Bergreen gives us the following account:
“The selection of Merlo’s successor provoked Frankie Yale to return to Chicago. As head of the powerful New York branch of the Unione, Yale had considerable influence over the selection of who would fill the corresponding post in Chicago. He conferred with Torrio and Capone, and the three men decided to appoint Angelo Genna …who wanted only to see Dion O’Bannion in his coffin. As the new president of the Unione Sicilione, Angelo had no objection to the immediate elimination of a certain North Side bootlegger who had recently humiliated him on the telephone over a little IOU.”
On January 10, 1925, after his ascension to the Unione Siciliana throne, Angelo Genna got married. Kenneth Allsop in his classic work, The Bootleggers: The Story of Prohibition, claims, “They (the brothers) had married off Angelo to Lucille, younger sister of an important member of the Sicilian community. The marriage was a happy consummation of this business bond, the fusion of money and blood in the manner which the Sicilians valued.”
The wedding was viewed as a “social and commercial conquest.” Angelo advertised the blessed event in the newspaper with an invitation to the entire neighborhood – “Come one, come all.” Three thousand “guests” were in attendance at Carmen’s Hall of the Ashland Auditorium on the city’s West Side. The highlight of the reception was a 12-foot high, 2,000-pound wedding cake. Described as the “most elaborately decorated cake ever baked in Chicago,” it was designed by a local artist/sculptor.
The newly married couple moved into a $400 a month hotel suite on Sheridan Road near Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson’s home, just north of the Gold Coast. The honeymoon would be a short one. Four months had passed since the wounding of Johnny Torrio. During this relative calm only two underworld murders had been recorded – Walter O’Donnell, the brother of Spike, and Harry Hassmiller were murdered in a roadhouse in Evergreen Park, Illinois on April 17. The calm was about to end and the killings that followed did not favor the Gennas.
Packing a wad of cash totaling $11,000 into his pocket, Angelo Genna kissed his 18 year-old wife Lucille goodbye and headed out the door on the morning of May 25, 1925. Angelo was on his way to purchase a dream home Lucille desired in Oak Park. As Angelo tooled down Ogden Avenue in a new $6,000 roadster, a sedan with four men in it began to overtake him.
At the sound of sawed-off shotgun blasts, Angelo floored the gas pedal and the chase down Ogden Avenue reached speeds of 60 miles-per-hour. Angelo, who always carried at least two guns, pulled one from a belt holster and returned fire. At Hudson Avenue, Angelo tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a turn. His car crashed into a lamppost and Angelo was momentarily stunned by the collision. The sedan pulled broadside and the assassins fired a barrage at the helpless man.
The sedan sped away and when bystanders arrived they found Genna trying to reach for his second gun, the first lay emptied nearby. One of the shotgun blasts had severed his spine. Angelo was taken to Evangelical Deaconess Hospital. As he lay mortally wounded on the operating table a detective sergeant gave him the bad news.
“You’re going to die, Angelo,” he said. “Tell us who bumped you off.”
Genna shrugged his shoulders in arrogance.
Lucille Spignola Genna was rushed to the hospital. Calling him “sweetheart” she asked who had shot him. Genna shook his head and soon died. Sam Genna, who had arrived too late, Lucille and Peter Spignola were taken to the detective bureau where they were questioned by Chief of Detectives William Schoemaker and Captain John Stege. No information was forthcoming other than, “Angelo had no enemies, everybody liked him.”
At the coroner’s inquest, a young man came forward to say that he was close enough to see the license plate number of the killer’s automobile. A check of motor vehicle records showed the car had been stolen two weeks before the murder. Without a clear-cut explanation, police attributed the murder to the North Side gang in retaliation for the killing of O’Bannion and claimed that Weiss, Drucci and Moran were three of the four men in the car, the driver of which was alleged to be Frank Gusenberg, one of three brothers in the gang.
Angelo Genna’s funeral procession consisted of 300 automobiles, 30 containing flowers. The Catholic Church denied a church ceremony and burial in consecrated ground. Genna’s active pallbearers were all members of the Unione Siciliana. Among the mourners were a state senator, two state representatives, “Diamond Joe” Esposito, and Al Capone. Oddly enough, Alderman John Powers, whose associates were murdered by “Bloody Angelo,” was also in attendance. In a unique twist to this funeral, Angelo’s “crepe-hung,” shotgun-peppered roadster was towed along.
Angelo’s death and the loss of leadership of the Unione Siciliana were the least of the remaining brothers’ worries. Capone had covertly stolen away the firepower of the Gennas – Scalise and Anselmi. On June 13, 1925, Mike Genna was killed by a police officer interrupting what crime historians believed to be a one-way ride for him by Scalise and Anselmi. On July 8, Antonio was murdered on the street. In a period of 44 days three of the Genna brothers were killed. Later, on January 10, 1926, Angelo’s brother-in-law, Henry Spignola was murdered. The remaining Genna brothers – Peter, Sam and Vincenzo – fled to Sicily. The Genna family reign over the Unione Siciliana had lasted a little over six months.
Samoots, whose real name was Samuel Samuzzo Amatuna, had a short but colorful career in the underworld. Called the “Beau Brummel of Little Italy” by the newspapers, his rise and fall paralleled that of the Genna family with whom Amatuna was once closely associated.
In 1916, at the age of 17, Amatuna’s rise in the crime world began when he was credited with the murder of D’Andrea foe Frank Lombardi on February 21. Five years later, on March 8, 1921, he was a participant in a Genna hit team that killed both Paul A. Labriola and Harry Raimondi. In the Maxwell Street neighborhood where he was so popular, Amatuna had the reputation of a tough guy who never carried a gun. Apparently when he did carry one, he was accustomed to using it.
In the wake of Angelo Genna’s murder, and without the blessing from New York, Amatuna seized the opportunity to make himself head of the Unione Siciliana. He accomplished this by hiring two bodyguards, Edward Zion, and Abraham Goldstein, and then walking into the Unione headquarters and proclaiming himself the boss.
The real muscle of the Genna gang came from the killing duo of Scalise and Anselmi, who, unbeknownst to Amatuna and other Genna loyalists, had switched allegiance to Capone. The two were facing separate trials for the recent murders of two police officers who were killed during the ill-fated attempt to murder Mike Genna. Amatuna busied himself and his men with raising $100,000 for their legal defense.
While this was going on, Antonio Genna was murdered and the remaining three brothers fled town. This left Amatuna with the unenviable task of trying to regroup the remnants of the once powerful Genna organization.
In addition to rebuilding an underworld empire left in shambles, Amatuna was also planning his wedding, which was to “set a new high-mark in the festivities of the kind.” Amatuna was engaged to Rose Pecorara, the sister-in-law of the late Unione president Mike Merlo. The wedding was planned for the previous December, but postponed when Merlo passed away.
On Tuesday night, November 10, 1925 Amatuna and his fiancee had tickets to attend the opera to hear Aida. As was his custom before any social event, Amatuna visited his barber at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt. After receiving a shave and a manicure, Amatuna was preparing to leave when two men entered the busy shop and drew guns. As the pair started shooting, Amatuna ducked behind a chair while barbers and customers dove for cover. Both gunmen fired four times each, but only one bullet struck Amatuna, entering his neck and coming out his back below the shoulder blade. Friends of Amatuna’s standing outside the shop rushed in after the gunmen fled and carried him to a taxi which took him to the hospital.
At Jefferson Park Hospital Dr. Gaetano Rongo, the former D’Andrea supporter attended to Amatuna. The bullet that entered Amatuna’s neck passed close to his spinal cord. Doctors feared that if he lived he would be paralyzed. Amatuna lingered through Wednesday, but by Thursday afternoon he knew he was dying. His brother had spent the afternoon canceling wedding arrangements that had been made for the following week. Meanwhile, preparations were underway for a deathbed wedding for late Thursday night. Before the ceremony could begin, Amatuna slipped into a coma. At 2:00 a.m. Friday morning he was pronounced dead.
The wake was held on November 16 at Miss Pecorara’s home where $20,000 worth of floral arrangements spilled out onto the front lawn, back lawn and neighbor’s lawns. The following day the funeral cortege wove its way through Little Italy passing the barbershop where Amatuna was shot. The procession ended at Mount Carmel Cemetery where Amatuna was placed in a temporary vault. His body would soon be sent home to his native Sicily where it would be buried in consecrated ground with much pomp.
A friend of Amatuna’s, speaking anonymously, told a reporter after the shooting, that the relationship between Amatuna and the Genna’s had soured sometime before Amatuna took over the Unione. Amatuna had confided to a policeman friend that he was in debt some $22,000 due to the money he had to cough up for the Scalise and Anselmi defense fund. Meanwhile, the police, incensed over the killing of two fellow officers, kicked over all of the stills in the Maxwell Street territory of the Gennas. Amatuna complained, “More than half of those stills were mine.” The friend stated that each time Amatuna set up a new still, “it cost him $800 to $1,000, and every time he set one up the police came along and kicked it over again.”
After Amatuna’s funeral his ex-bodyguards were next to go. On November 18, after returning from the funeral, two men shot Edward Zion to death in his driveway. On November 20, Abraham Goldstein was shot twice in the head while standing in a drug store.
Over the years the killers of Amatuna were believed to be Jim Doherty of the West Side O’Donnell gang and Vincent Drucci of the North Side gang. In his book “Mr. Capone,” author Robert Schoenberg presents a logical argument that the killers were actually members of the Capone mob instead of Doherty and Drucci. Whatever the case, Capone was certainly the one who benefited. Finally he was able to get his own man into the presidency of the Unione Siciliano, and second, he now believed he had the Genna’s “fabulously profitable alky-cooking empire” to himself.
Amatuna’s time atop the Unione Siciliano leadership was under six months, just weeks short of Angelo Genna’s reign.
To be continued next week.
Copyright A. R. May 2000