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
With many of Joe Aiello's gunmen dead and now Frank Uale in the grave with them, the Aiello brothers resorted to one more plan of action. This plan struck at the pocket book of Capone and Aiello, but it also tore apart the Chicago neighborhood known as "Little Sicily." Never in the history of gang warfare in American - or SINCE - has any war except the Capone-Aiello war had such results among the populace of a city.
A Chicago Daily Tribune reporter, with the unlikely name of Orville Dwyer, went into the Sicilian community and, with the help of an informant, described the neighborhood and what happened there. Here are the highlights of his investigation:
"The north side Sicilian colony called 'Little Sicily,' bounded by Division street on the north, Chicago avenue on the south, Sedgwick street on the east, and Larrabee street on the west, has been one of the numerous battle grounds stretching away to New York and elsewhere.
"Once, years ago, this district was one of Swedish and Norwegian and German immigrants. The Sicilians followed and in a few years had established themselves in one solid community. They had their feuds which they brought with them from the south of Italy; but in the main they drank their red wine and made music and sang and danced in happiness and in peace.
"Then came prohibition and stills and moonshine and gangsters and shotguns and machine guns and the transformation began. Almost every man became a potential alcohol cooker, almost every home a potential cookery. They found they could make more money out of cooking alcohol and moonshine than they had ever dreamed of having.
"Lombardo and the Aiellos (who own much property in this area) in their last two years of fighting have battled not alone with bombs and terrorism, shotguns and machine guns, but they have employed economic measures as well. As a result of it all terror has seized the community. A campaign of threats and warnings has been carried out - cross currents of intimidation have sent the people into panic.
"More than 300 families have moved away from here since August 1… 'Why did they all go?' They were told to go. They got a mysterious telephone call or anonymous letters. And the next day they were gone. A few weeks ago laughter and music came out of these houses, lights twinkled in them in the evening. Now they are empty and their windows stare like blind eyes in the sun. There are hundreds of vacant flats, whole buildings.
"There are 300 to 400 fewer children in the (Edward) Jenner school this year than there were last year. St. Philip's has lost more than 200 children. 'Do you know you cannot buy any meat in practically this whole district?' It is true. A few weeks ago the butcher shops started suddenly and mysteriously to close, one by one. They have all been closed for several weeks now. The same sinister, inexplicable force.
"The Sicilian people, unorganized, are peaceful and industrious. Organized, with bad leaders, they are a terrific power for evil. They (Lonardo and the Aiellos) have chased dozens of families out of each other's properties just so those properties would stand vacant and fail to be a source of income."
Friday, September 7, 1928 was a normal business day for Tony Lombardo. Alson Smith tells us that at "exactly four o'clock" the phone rang in the Italo-American National Union headquarters. Lombardo was said to have been in his office speaking to nine men, seven of whom were never identified, when the call arrived from Pete Rizzito, a Unione Siciliana president wannabe. Rizzito kept Lombardo on the phone until 4:15. Lombardo then let his office with bodyguards Joe Ferrara and Joe Lolordo.
Stepping out onto Dearborn Street into a sunny afternoon in the heart of Chicago's famous Loop, the trio was surrounded by crowds bustling along the sidewalk heading home from work or a day of downtown shopping. At the corner of Madison and Dearborn, which the Chicago Daily Tribune stated was "a block from the world's busiest corner," Lombardo and the two Joes stopped and watched as a small airplane was being pulled up the side of the Boston Store, one of the city's largest department stores, for a display.
As the men passed Raklios Restaurant at 61 West Madison, bodyguard Lolordo would later testify he heard someone say, "Why, there they are." With that a man wearing a gray suit stepped out of Raklios, hurried up behind Lombardo, aimed a .38 caliber revolver loaded with dum-dum bullets behind his left ear and pulled the trigger twice. Lombardo, killed instantly, plowed to the pavement face first.
The Chicago newspapers associated the Unione Siciliana almost generically with the Mafia. The Chicago Daily Tribune ran the headline, KILL LOMBARDO, MAFIA CHIEF. Father Louis M. Gianbastiano, who had once implored his congregation to help police in the wake of the Joseph Laspisa murder outside his church, posted a sign outside his San Filippo Benizi house of worship. In translation, "He urged his brothers - for the respect they owed God in Whom they believed and the honor of their country and humanity - to pray for an end to the horrid slaughter that dishonored the Italian name before the civilized world."
While one assassin had been shooting Lombardo, another gunman, dressed in a brown suit, fired two shots into the back of Ferrara. The bodyguard fell to his knees while trying to pull his gun from a shoulder holster. The two gunmen dropped their weapons and took off in opposite directions.
Lolordo drew his own gun and took off after the man in gray. According to Lolordo, the killer dashed into a shoe store at 53 West Madison and when Lolordo went in after him he ended up in the arms of a Chicago police officer who disarmed him.
Despite the shooting taking place in broad daylight on a crowded city street, there were few eyewitnesses. Warrants were immediately issued for Joe and Dominic Aiello and Jack Zuta. All three men had airtight alibis and witnesses claimed the killings were done by "a big man dressed in brown and a medium-sized man dressed in gray, neither of whom appeared to be Italian." The three were then released. The police then released a "guarded" statement claiming the killers were thought to be Frank and Pete Gusenberg.
The Chicago Police department was under the gun as newspapers in the city and across the country editorialized on the brazen daylight assassination on a crowded city street.
Lombardo's murder made for a truly great "who-done-it," especially in the first twenty years after his death. Today most organized crime historians have come to the conclusion that Lombardo's murder was carried out for Joe Aiello at the hands of Frank and Pete Gusenberg. However, Alson Smith, in 1954, gave us several more theories to ponder. The first of which questioned Joe Lolordo's involvement.
Lolordo was on Lombardo's left and the Unione president was shot behind the left ear. Why hadn't the gunmen tried to shoot or kill Lolordo? The two assassins fired a total of four bullets before dropping their weapons and running off in opposite directions. Could one of the two .38 caliber revolvers left behind have been used by Lolordo? When captured, Lolordo was carrying a .45, but he had six .38 caliber dum-dum bullets in his pocket.
During the coroner's inquest, held on September 13, Assistant State's Attorney Samuel Hoffman didn't believe Lolordo's account of the shooting. First Lolordo claimed he was not a bodyguard of Lombardo and that he had been in the Italo-American Loan Plan Bank making a loan payment and just happened to leave the building at the same time Lombardo and Ferrara did. The police officer who disarmed Lolordo claimed he never saw a man in gray enter the shoe store, nor did anyone in the store. Famed Chicago Police Captain John Stege "essentially" believed Lolordo's story and finally convinced Hoffman that Lolordo had no apparent motive to kill Lombardo. However, Hoffman's theory reared up again when Lolordo's brother, Pasquilino, became the new president of the Unione Siciliana.
The next question was about the telephone call from Pete Rizzito. Police and historians contend that the call was placed to keep Lombardo in his office while the hit team took their places. Police questioned him for hours during which Rizzito adamantly denied putting Lombardo "on the spot." On October 27, 1928 Pete Rizzito was murdered while standing at the corner of Oak and Milton Streets, shot from a passing automobile.
A rumor soon surfaced that Lombardo had cut his ties to Capone and had made an alliance with Lawrence "Dago" Mangano. The rumor claimed that the seven men in Lombardo's office that Friday were Mangano's men who were making final plans for Lombardo's split with Capone. Mangano was actually a lieutenant for Capone, but the rumor, if true, would account for an order to kill Lombardo by Capone.
Still, another theory had the killers coming from New York to avenge the murder of Frank Uale. Ferrara was murdered because he was believed to have been part of that hit team. Ferrara succumbed to his wounds on September 9, two days after the shooting. The bullets that struck him had severed his spine and he would have been paralyzed had he lived. He refused to divulge anything to the police.
Ferrara himself was a mystery. He told police his name was Tony Ferrea, even though a passport with his picture indicated he was Giuseppe Ferraro. When he died his body was taken to the county morgue because there were no relatives to claim it. Lolordo claimed he didn't know Ferrara. A few days later, an aunt by marriage claimed the remains. Later a brother came forward and revealed Ferrara was really Joe Moreci. It was believed he was related to the two grocery owners murdered in January 1926.
On September 11 the funeral for Tony Lombardo was held. Mrs. Lombardo had considered a private ceremony without the pomp which surrounded the funerals of the previous Unione Siciliana presidents, but she relented. A massive crowd gathered early outside Lombardo's South Austin Avenue home. In front of his house, across two trees, was strung a huge floral arrangement that spelled out "T. Lombardo." The T was made of pink carnations, the rest of the name was in white. The flowers sent filled the entire house, the back yard, the front lawn, the passageways between the houses, and a neighboring lawn.
Al Capone held court in the back yard. Funeral attendees wishing to talk to Capone, or shake his hand, had to pass through an army of bodyguards.
Lombardo was refused a church funeral and burial in consecrated ground. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:
"Women seemed to predominate in the vast congregation outside the home as the hour arrived for the body to be borne to the cemetery. They pushed and tugged and perspired as they forced their way closer to the lane through which the twelve tuxedoed pall bearers carried their burden of bronze and silver and silk and mortal remains."
The two-mile long funeral cortege, containing 17 flower cars, circled the Lombardo home once before heading to Mount Carmel Cemetery. There the coffin was placed in a mausoleum until a final resting-place was determined. In a tent erected around the mausoleum a male quartet sang in Italian what had become the customary tune at gangster funerals, "Nearer, My God, to Thee." The 36 year-old Lombardo left a wife and two young children, Sammie, 6 and Rose, 3.
Cleveland Statler Hotel Meeting - Organized Crime's First Summit
During the pre-dawn hours of December 5, 1928, Cleveland Police Patrolman Frank Osowski was winding up his tour of duty, a foot patrol assignment that brought him to the Statler Hotel at Euclid Avenue & East 12th Street. He watched while eleven men alighted from two touring cars. "These boys looked tough," he thought to himself as he decided to follow them into the hotel and wait while they checked in. Osowski then copied down their names from the register and dropped off the list at the detective bureau before going off duty.
When detectives arrived later that morning, they were floored by the names on Osowski's list, which included some of the most well known bootleggers in the country. Shortly a small army of law enforcement officers descended on the Statler, and the group was quickly rounded up and taken to the police station where they were booked, photographed and fingerprinted. Then each of the hoods was questioned individually by detectives.
Of the 23 men arrested, nine were from Brooklyn, seven from Chicago, two each from New Jersey and St. Louis and one each from Buffalo, Gary and Tampa. All were believed to be of Sicilian origin.
Once informed of the arrests by Sam Tilocco, Cleveland "Sugar Baron" Joseph Porrello contacted family and friends in the neighborhood and headed down to the police station to post bond for the gangsters who had been booked on "suspicious persons" charges with bonds set at $10,000 each. Approximately $400,000 worth of homes, small business, and real estate in the Woodland - East 110th Street neighborhood would be pledged to furnish the bail. All but one gangster, who was wanted on a murder charge in New Jersey, were released pending a hearing.
At the time William R. Hopkins was Cleveland's City Manager (Cleveland was using the city manager form of government at this time instead of an elected mayor). Hopkins blasted the police department for their handling of the arrests and then attacked the clerk of municipal courts for accepting the over-inflated pledges that had been offered as bail, claiming them to be near worthless, most of them having already been pledged in other cases.
While the police department was giving itself a pat on the back, Hopkins was wondering why they had arrested the men in the first place thinking it might have been wiser just to keep them under surveillance and find out what they were up to.
What were they up to? Much speculation has taken place over the years as to why the meeting was being held. It was rumored that other gangsters had checked into several hotels in Cleveland, or were on their way when the arrests were made. It was also rumored that Al Capone was planning to attend. Further investigations failed to establish there were any other hoodlums in town other that those staying at the Statler. What is known is that at least four of the men arrested had met with the Porrello brothers at their sugar warehouse, and that Joe Porrello desperately wanted to be recognized by the national crime cartel as the leader of the Cleveland underworld. Porrello had his childhood friend and rival, Big Joe Lonardo and his brother John, murdered on October 13, 1927. Lonardo had been the recognized head of the Cleveland underworld up until that time.
There is a high probability that this was the first national meeting of the Unione Siciliana. In the past six months both Frank Uale of Brooklyn and Anthony Lombardo of Chicago had been murdered on the streets of their respective cities. If this were indeed the case it would explain why gangsters of other ethnic backgrounds were not present.
On December 15, fifteen of the arrested pleaded guilty to "suspicious persons" charges and were fined $50 each and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Both the fines and jail time were suspended if the men agreed to leave town immediately and not return for one year. Five pleaded "Not Guilty" and later that same day they were tried and found "Not Guilty," and quickly left town with the others.
Among those arrested in Cleveland were men who would become powerful heads of two of the original New York City crime families. Joe Profaci, who along with Joseph Magliocco would also have the distinction of being the only gangsters to be arrested at two different nationally organized crime meetings - the second being the 1957 Apalachin summit - headed the Profaci crime family until his death in 1962. Joseph Magliocco would succeed Profaci for one year before his death in 1963. That family today is known as the Columbo Crime Family. Vincent Mangano was the other leader to run a New York City family until his disappearance in 1951. Today that group is known as the Gambino Crime Family.
In July 1930 Joe Porrello and Sam Tilocco were murdered in the Little Italy section of Cleveland during a meeting with members of the Mayfield Road Mob.
To be continued next week.
Copyright A. R. May 2000