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
The Unione Siciliana was as mysterious an organization as the Mafia, the Black Hand and the Camorra. In some circles there is still a belief that the Black Hand, known in Italy as Mano Nera, became the Mafia and in turn the Unione Siciliana.
In 1962, Italian historian and author Giovanni Schiavo wrote the hard-edged book, The Truth About The Mafia and Organized Crime in America. Schiavo was a prolific author on Italian/American history. His writings spanned four decades. His 1962 publication, however, seemed to have come right from the public relations department of Mafia, Inc.
Schiavo begins his discussion of the Unione Siciliana with the line, “Let us get a few facts straight, once (and) for all, about the drivel that has been written regarding the Black Hand and the Unione Siciliana.” To say Mr. Schiavo’s views are somewhat slanted would be an understatement. He attacks both the Kefauver Hearings and the McClellan Committee as Italian-bashing productions.
One of the more ridiculous chapters in the book deals with the Apalachin Conference in November 1957. Schiavo blasts writer Frederic Sondern, Jr. and Bureau of Narcotics field supervisor Charles Siragusa for portraying Apalachin as a “Mafia Grand Council” meeting. He claims the raid came about due to a personal vendetta between New York State trooper Sergeant Edgar Crosswell, who was given credit for uncovering the conclave, and Mafia host Joseph Barbara.
Schiavo claims the purpose for the gathering was to have a “steak fry” for a sick friend – Barbara, who was recovering from a recent heart attack. Schiavo’s book was written prior to famed Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi’s Senate Rackets Committee testimony in 1963, where the real reason the notorious crime summit was revealed. It would have been interesting to hear Schiavo defend his “steak fry” story after this revelation.
So, why, you might be thinking, am I using Schiavo’s book to explain the Chicago chapter of the Unione Siciliana? He offers the best explanation of the origin of the society … at least in terms of how it affected the Windy City. Schiavo gives us the following description of the organization in Chicago:
“The Unione Siciliana – not Unione Siciliano or Unione Sicilione – was one of the thousands of fraternal organizations which the Italians established in America along the lines of mutual benefit societies. It was organized in Chicago in 1895 and for a time its membership was limited to Sicilians. After the turn of the century, however, natives of other parts of Italy were anxious to join and were accepted, so that by the end of World War One there were several lodges of non-Sicilians, like the Tuscan lodge, the Roman lodge, the Venetian lodge, and so on.”
If the Unione Siciliana actually allowed members of non-Sicilian ancestry in, when it came to leadership of the society it was a different story all together. This exclusivity would act as a stone in the shoe of the most infamous gangster of all time – Alphonse Capone, who was of Neapolitan heritage – and result in most leaders of the organization being murdered during the 1920s because of their gang allegiances.
As the turbulent decade of the 1920s got underway, Anthony (Antonio) D’Andrea was the leader of Chicago’s Unione Siciliana. Born in Sicily, D’Andrea was a graduate of the University of Palermo where he was a linguist and studied for the priesthood. In 1902, he was convicted of counterfeiting and served 13 months in prison. He was pardoned in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt after a former student of D’Andrea interceded on his behalf.
In Chicago, D’Andrea was said to be a “former power in the old red light district.” During the early teens he was suspected of being connected to a gang of Italian counterfeiters and bank thieves who operated throughout the country. While this was going on in Chicago, Ignazio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta was arrested in New York City and sent to prison, and Anthony and Frank Milano were apprehended in Cleveland – all on counterfeiting charges. This is interesting to note because it indicates that Italian underworld criminals may have been working together many years prior to Prohibition.
After his release from prison in 1903, D’Andrea went to Chicago and settled in what was then the 19th Ward. He became involved in politics and some local unions. D’Andrea’s brother, Joseph, was president of the Sewer Diggers, Tunnel Workers, and Water Pipe Extension Laborers’ Union. The newspapers claimed Joseph had introduced “the peon system of extorting money from Italian laborers.” Joseph D’Andrea was murdered during a labor quarrel that took place during the building the union station on Canal Street. His brother Anthony would take his place as president.
John Powers, called “Johnny De Pow,” by his Italian supporters, had been the Alderman and Democratic political boss of the 19th Ward since 1888. Powers had won the alderman’s seat (in other cities this position would be called city council member) in the ward for 16 consecutive elections. Over this period of time, the ward had changed from predominantly Irish to 80 percent Italian. A good portion of the population was now looking for an Italian Democrat to represent them, much like “Diamond Jim” Esposito was representing the Italian Republican voters in the ward.
D’Andrea’s first run-in with Powers came in 1915 when they backed opposing candidates for mayor. On several occasions “downtown leaders” were called upon to workout a truce between the two men. D’Andrea made his first political move in 1915 running for the office of County Commissioner as a Democrat. His opposition tried to have him taken off the ballot because of his counterfeiting conviction. A Chicago Daily Tribune article called D’Andrea an “unfrocked priest.” D’Andrea fought back pointing out that he had cleaned up his act and had been elected president of the Italian Colonial Committee of the Italian Societies of Chicago, and was president of the International Hod Carriers’ Union. D’Andrea was defeated.
In February 1916, D’Andrea ran for the Democratic alderman’s nomination against Power’s hand picked candidate, James P. Bowler. On February 21, Frank Lombardi, a Bowler supporter and a political leader in the 19th Ward, was killed in a Taylor Street saloon. Lombardi was behind the bar serving drinks to three men, two of which asked him to join them in a toast.
“Long life and happiness to you,” said one of the men in Italian.
The toast over, one of the men drew a revolver and shot Lombardi twice. He died at a nearby hospital. Lombardi’s 18 year-old daughter, Annie, told authorities that her father was murdered, “because he had dared to head a determined fight against D’Andrea, who had lorded it over a fear stricken ward, too afraid of his power to cross him.”
Police from the Maxwell Street station claimed that Lombardi’s killing was just the “latest addition to the Black Hand toll.” On February 24, the Chicago Daily Tribune printed a front page article titled “Police On Guard Over Two Homes in Mafia Terror.” The article pointed out that police were convinced the killing was a result of a “Sicilian feud,” as opposed to a 19th Ward political war.
Before his next political endeavor, D’Andrea became the business agent for the Macaroni Manufacturers’ Union. D’Andrea ran for the Democratic nomination to be the Constitutional Convention representative from the Democratic Second District. Although D’Andrea won, a judge gave the election to D’Andrea’s opponent after voter fraud had been determined.
In Organized Crime in Chicago, John Landesco writes that, “D’Andrea was then elected president of the Unione Siciliana, one of the strongest organizations of foreign groups in America.” Recognizing D’Andrea’s new constituent strength, Powers tried to make peace with him. Powers turned down the committeemanship of the 19th Ward in March 1920 and urged the ward organization to support D’Andrea. In return, D’Andrea agreed to support Powers for the alderman’s position. However, the Illinois Supreme Court voided the election and Powers retained the position. After this turn of events it became a political war to the death.
On September 28, a bomb exploded on the front porch of a residence belonging to Alderman Powers. The home, on McAlister Place, had been owned by Powers for nearly four decades. In recent years he had taken to living on Michigan Avenue. His political opponents claimed Powers kept the house on McAlister Place so he could claim residency within the 19th Ward. On the night of the explosion, five people, including Powers, were asleep inside the house and claimed to have been knocked out of bed by the blast. The front of the home was destroyed and most of the windows of houses in the neighborhood were shattered.
Sometime after the bombing, D’Andrea announced his candidacy as a non-partisan, for the alderman’s position in the 19th Ward. On February 11, 1921, eleven days before the aldermanic elections, a powerful bomb exploded at a D’Andrea political rally in a building on Blue Island Avenue that was attended by 300 supporters. The bomb, consisting of three sticks of dynamite secured inside a wooden box, was placed alongside a wall outside the building. Whoever planted the bomb had either been in the building, or received inside help, as it was placed where it would have the best possible chance of injuring D’Andrea. The explosion blew a three foot hole in the wall and hurled bricks twenty-five feet across the room. Seventeen people were injured, three severely, two of whom nearly had their legs torn off.
The blast took place around 9:30 p.m. just after a speech by prominent civic leader Dr. Gaetano Rongo. (Rongo would be the future father-in-law of Capone gang leader Frank Nitti.) Outside the building police officers shot at a man who fled the scene on the running board of a red automobile in which another man and a woman were spotted.
Alderman Powers was quick to make a statement about the bombing to the news media:
“I deplore it very much.
“I am the sorriest man that it happened, and the injured surely have my sympathy.
“Why only last Saturday D’Andrea and I sat down together for two hours in the Sherman house and agreed to conduct a clean campaign. There was to be no mud slinging and absolutely no gunmen on election day, or any other time. We shook hands and parted the best of friends.”
Illinois State’s Attorney Robert E. Crowe, who over the years would prove to be a man of questionable integrity, responded to the bombings by vowing to draft a new state bill. Under his proposed law the minimum sentence would be 25 years in the penitentiary and the maximum punishment would be the death sentence. He stated, “Any one guilty of placing a bomb where woman and children are endangered should be hanged.”
D’Andrea’s political nemesis, James B. Bowler, claimed the bomb was planted by the D’Andrea forces to “discredit Alderman Powers.” After the bombing Bowler proclaimed:
“Conditions in the Nineteenth Ward are Terrible. Gunmen are patrolling the streets. I have received threats that I was to be ‘bumped off’ or kidnapped. Alderman Powers’ house is guarded day and night. Our men have been met, threatened and slugged. Gunmen and cutthroats have been imported from New York and Buffalo for this campaign of intimidation. Alderman Powers’ forces can’t hold meetings except under heavy guard. Owners of halls have been threatened with death or destruction of their buildings if they rent their places to us. It is worse than the middle ages.”
Less than a week later, on February 18, the home of Joseph Spica, a political lieutenant of D’Andrea’s, was bombed, and later, a bomb destroyed D’Andrea’s political headquarters. After each incident Powers posted a $2,000 reward for the arrest of the perpetrators.
On Election Day, February 22, police were out early and in force throughout Chicago. They picked up 150 men during the day; the most notorious of which was Edward “Spike” O’Donnell the leader of a South Side gang. The biggest catch of the day turned out to be a cache of dynamite. In what law enforcement called “the headquarters for the preelection bomb outrages” in the 19th Ward, police raided a “farm” at 71st Street and Central Park Avenue. There they uncovered 200 pounds of dynamite and a large sack of blasting powder. Two men, residents of the 19th War, were arrested.
More than 400 policemen were stationed within the 19th Ward alone and over 50 people were arrested before noon. Despite the police presence, three of Powers’ workers, including an election judge and precinct captain, were kidnapped during the morning hours.
Powers won by a slim margin of just 435 votes. However, this did not put an end to the violence. On March 9, less than three weeks after the election, two of Powers’ precinct captains were mercilessly slain. Around 9:00 o'clock that morning Municipal Court Deputy Bailiff Paul A. Labriola left his wife and two young children and was walking to work. A short distance from his home, Labriola was confronted by two men of whom he nodded in recognition of one. Both men pulled automatics and began blasting. As Labriola dropped to the sidewalk on Congress Street near Halsted, two more gunmen ran up and fired. One man, later alleged to be Angelo Genna, was reported to have straddled the prone victim before shooting him three more times.
Labriola was hit nine times. The coroner later reported that any one of eight of the wounds would have proved fatal. Mrs. Labriola heard the gunfire and ran to the scene screaming. She was aware that her husband had received several recent death threats. She fainted at the sight of her husband’s body. When an ambulance arrived, Labriola’s body was taken directly to an undertaker’s parlor.
An interesting side note to the killing. A Chicago police sergeant reported that for several days “the district has been flooded with youths carrying ‘dynamite canes,’ with which they produced explosions similar to pistol shots.” The sergeant claimed that this was done to “dull the attention of residents, who thought that the actual murder shots were nothing more than a recurrence of the ‘cane’ explosions.” As bizarre as this may sound, police were able to find only one witness, a woman, who saw the killers run away.
Just hours after the murder of Labriola, Harry Raymond (real name Raimondi) was murdered in his cigar store on Taylor Street. Four men, believed to have taken part in the earlier killing, arrived outside Raymond’s store around 1:00 p.m. Two of the men walked inside, purchased cigars, and walked out. An eyewitness recounts what happened next:
“They had been gone only a few minutes when the front door opened again. Two other men entered. They like the others, walked to the counter and asked for cigars. Raymond served them. One of them proffered a 50 cent piece. Raymond took it and reached his right hand into his trousers pocket for the change.
“With that movement both men whipped out automatics pistols. There were three shots. The first hit Raymond at the left temple and went clean through his head, coming out on the right side. The other two struck him in the chest, penetrating the lungs.
“For a moment he stood upright and rigid, his mouth opened as though he would like to say something. The he toppled to the floor, dead.”
The two killers ran from the store dropping one of the murder weapons on the sidewalk. Immediate speculation was that the gunmen in both killings were “imported” from New York. Alderman Powers arrived at the Labriola home and told reporters that, “Labriola was my best friend. I don’t know of any enemies he had.”
Powers was later asked to comment about his second slain precinct captain. The alderman stated, “Raymond was a warm friend of mine and very active for me in the campaign. It seems impossible that things like these can occur in this age of civilization. It is worse than the middle ages.” This was becoming a popular line.
It was later alleged that the four gunmen were responsible in both killings. Police suspected Angelo Genna, Samoots Amatuna, Frank Gambino, and “Two Gun Johnny” Guardino.
When confronted by reporters, D’Andrea angrily denied any knowledge of the murders. “It is a most regrettable incident,” he claimed. “I knew nothing of it and I can’t see why my name should be dragged into it.” While D’Andrea may have denied knowledge and involvement, when Amatuna and Gambino were arrested they were identified as saloonkeepers and friends of D’Andrea as well as political supporters. The newspapers claimed D’Andrea, working with Assistant State’s Attorney, Stephen A Malato, a friend, was instrumental in securing their release.
D’Andrea was worried about his own well being though. He began to carry a gun with him wherever he went. On April 12, he was arrested after a raid in a social club on Taylor Street. Several men inside were arrested for gambling and D’Andrea was charged with possession of a concealed weapon, which was found in the pocket of his overcoat. In court, D’Andrea was found not guilty because he was not wearing the overcoat at the time of the search.
It was reported that the violence and killings appalled D’Andrea. He announced that he was going to withdraw from politics, “rather than have it thought his political ambitions caused bloodshed.” D’Andrea was also fearful for his own life. Apparently this wasn’t enough to satisfy his adversaries. A neighbor, who lived across the hall from D’Andrea on South Ashland Avenue, began receiving death threat notes that were intended for D’Andrea. The neighbor gave the letters to D’Andrea, then quickly moved out of the building. The killers then moved in.
To be continued next week.
Copyright A. R. May 2000