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
While the Aiello-Capone War over control of the local Unione Siciliana was raging in Chicago, the "Big Fellow" himself was taking in the sunshine of southern Florida. Capone had taken his wife and son to Miami in early 1928. Once the sensation of his presence in the Sunshine State had passed, Capone set about finding a suitable home for himself and his family. He chose a fourteen-room, two-story, white-stucco, Spanish-style home that was, ironically, built for beer brewing magnate Clarence M. Busch of St. Louis. The home was located on what was called Palm Island, a part of Miami Beach. Capone spent an additional $100,000 on home improvements, including the construction of a swimming pool that was said to be the largest private pool in the state.
Capone left the warmth and comfort of Florida to return to Chicago to oversee the mayhem that became part of the April 1928 primary election. Dubbed the "Pineapple Primary," due to the number of bombs that exploded during it, one of the more important battles in the election was for a seat on the Board of Review. Said to be a "tax-setting plum," the Capone forces were backing Unione Siciliana figurehead Bernard Barasa. Despite the number of explosions connected with his campaign, Barasa lost to the incumbent by over 100,000 votes.
When the smoke cleared, Capone headed back to Miami Beach to personally direct the renovation efforts at his Palm Island estate, leaving his Chicago rackets in the hands of his chief lieutenant Frank Nitti. In late June 1928, Jake Guzik, Dan Serritella and Charley Fischetti traveled to Florida to meet with the boss. They were soon joined by "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn and the killing twins, Anselmi and Scalise who had recently been acquitted of killing two Chicago police officers. At this meeting the treachery of Frank Uale, the national president of the Unione Siciliana in New York, was discussed and his fate decided.
Capone's next visit to Chicago was for the funeral of Anthony Lombardo, the Capone-sponsored president of the Unione Siciliana who was murdered by the Aiello forces in September 1928. After seeing to the ascension of Pasqualino Lolordo to the presidency of the Unione Siciliana, now the Italo-American National Union, Capone again headed south.
While Capone was on his way out of Chicago, Joe Aiello was headed back in. Meeting with his new allies on the North Side, Aiello still had fatalistic aspirations of climbing into the president's role of the Unione. The first obstacle in his way was Pasqualino Lolordo.
Less than a month after returning from the Statler Hotel debacle in Cleveland, Lolordo was overseeing Unione business. On Tuesday, January 8, 1929, Lolordo and his wife Aleina were returning from a trip downtown. When they arrived home they were met by two men outside their apartment that Mrs. Lolordo "had seen many times, but whose names she didn't know." The four climbed the stairs to the Lolordos' opulent third-floor suite where Aleina prepared a meal.
After lunch the two guests departed and five minutes later there was knock at the Lolordo door. Three men entered and were cordially welcomed by Lolordo. While Aleina ironed clothes in the kitchen and a Black maid scrubbed the floors, the four men talked business and laughed in the living room. As she worked, Aleina could hear the tinkle of glasses as the men toasted each other during the conversation.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. she heard the men push back their chair as they stood up. While delivering one more toast, two of the men pulled out .38 caliber guns and without any warning shot Lolordo eleven times in the face, neck and chest. Aleina rushed into the living room to see her husband lying on the floor covered with blood. A velvet cushion from a sofa had been placed under the dying man's head. Whether Aleina or one of the killers placed it there was never made clear.
The three men then exited the apartment leaving one .38 on the living-room floor and the other on the second-floor landing. Just minutes after the murder, Anna Lolordo, the wife of Joseph Lolordo, the former bodyguard of Anthony Lombardo, arrived. Anna pulled Aleina away from her deceased husband and they called a local mortuary. The drivers walked in, saw the bullet-riddled remains, and called the police.
When police arrived they discovered three half-filled wineglasses on a table; the fourth glass was smashed, its fragments still in Lolordo's hand. Police tired to contact the victim's brother Joseph, but were told by his wife that he was out of town. One of the early rumors was that Joseph was present at the time his brother was murdered and wounded in the attack.
A search of the apartment by police revealed a sawed-off shotgun and a draft of a new constitution for the North West Italian-American club. Included in the draft was a goal to "improve the education of its members, morally, economically and socially by means of conferences and discussion and by any other means at hand." The police, within an hour of the murder, raided three pool halls on West Grand Avenue that were alleged hangouts for Aiello gunmen. Aleina was taken to the police station where she viewed the 18 men who were brought in, but was unable to identify any of them.
The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that on the evening of the murder Dan Serritella spoke with Aleina at the detective bureau after which she identified Joe Aiello from a photograph as one of the men who was present at her husband's murder. The following day the newspaper ran a follow-up story reporting several inaccuracies about recent Unione Siciliana activities and printing a few assumptions made by the police. Included in this article, in which the leadership of the Unione Siciliana was referred to as a "dictatorship over the Sicilians in Chicago," were the following statements:
"Once Aiello had shared Lombardo's offices and, with Al Capone as a silent member, they ruled as a triumvirate. Aiello rebelled and sought to set up a dictatorship of his own, his domain being principally the north side. Lombardo had the followers of Capone do his violence; Aiello allied himself with Capone's enemies, the George Moran gang.
"Capone, it appears, wasn't interested in the small pickings from the Sicilians and Italians, but in the larger field of booze and vice domination. But when Aiello deserted he joined the vice interests of Jack Zuta and other west siders.
"Then Lombardo was killed. Two months ago twenty-three Italians and Sicilians of Chicago were arrested in a hotel in Cleveland, O., all of them armed. Just recently police have learned that the meeting was called for the purpose of selecting a successor to Lombardo. Aiello wasn't there, the police version continues, but he had agreed to be present. It developed that it was Aiello who notified the police of Cleveland that a gang of Chicago gunmen could be found in the hotel. Aiello, police declare, had hoped thereby to settle the question of Chicago leadership.'"
The article went on to claim that the police were told that Aiello had recently returned to Chicago and had suggested a truce whereby Lolordo had invited him to discuss the terms.
In his book, Mr. Capone, author Robert J. Schoenberg tells to us:
"Early reports said that Aleina had identified a picture of Joe Aiello as one of the three visitors. 'She didn't identify anyone,' said John Stege, by now deputy police chief. 'I don't know how that report got started. It was the same in this case as in other cases - no identification, no aid.'"
Many crime historians still maintain that Aiello was one of the three men present at the time of the murder and that the two shooters were Frank and Peter Gusenberg. Schoenberg suggests the third man was North Sider James Clark. What is interesting is that whether it was Aiello or Clark with the Gusenbergs that day, why was Lolordo so cordial toward them? By this time it was believed Aiello was behind the murder of Lombardo and that the Gusenberg brothers were the killers. Was Lolordo acting out of fear? Is it possible that the Lolordo brothers were in on the plot to murder Lombardo and were playing both sides of the fence? The men who preceded the killers into Lolordo's apartment for lunch that day were never identified. Had they gone there to set Lolordo up? These questions remain unanswered.
To be continued next week.
Copyright A. R. May 2000