Crimetown U.S.A.Why Youngstown?
By Allan R. May
“Crimetown, U.S.A.” is a narrative of organized crime in Youngstown, Ohio and the surrounding Mahoning Valley during the years 1933 to 1963. It begins with the Valley's participation in the Midwest Crime Wave of 1933-34, describing the demise of the legendary bank robber “Pretty Boy” Floyd. This is followed by the demise of one of the Valley’s own in the brutal slaying of “Happy” Marino, which also happens to be one of the Valley’s few gangland murders in which all the participants were tried, convicted and sent to prison.
Allan R. May writes about his book Crimetown U.S.A.: The History of the Mahoning Valley Mafia: Organized Crime Activity in Ohio's Steel Valley 1933-1963
By Allan R. May
There's no way John Young could have foreseen how the city of Youngstown would turn out when he arrived in the early 1800s after purchasing some 15,000 acres of land in the Western Reserve from the Connecticut Land Company. In fact, neither could the Mahoning Valley's next generation of wealthy landowners - the Butlers, the Stambaughs, the Tods and the Wicks; nor the prominent families that followed them.
Mr. Young and the others would be as hard pressed back then, as well we are today, to explain how Youngstown, with a beginning based on so much abundance, could have turned into a city whose very name conjures up visions of car bombings, political corruption and rampant crime to the outside world. Most citizens of Youngstown hold in disdain the nicknames the city has had to endure over the decades; forced upon it by the outside media - Bomb Town, Murder Town and Crimetown, USA.
Many people, both inside and outside the area, wonder "why Youngstown?" What makes this city so unique when it comes to organized crime and corruption? One of the answers to that question is Youngstown's size. No other American city with a prolonged history of organized crime is as small as Youngstown. Because of that simple factor, most residents of the city, even the "average Joe" on the street, knows the participants. And everyone seems to have a personal story about them…or, at the very least, an opinion.
Another factor in Youngstown's crime heritage is its resilience to change. With the exception of New York City and Chicago, no other city has had such a long history of organized crime tied to political corruption like Youngstown. Most residents today don't even know when this reputation began. Did it start with the numerous bombings of the 1950s? Was it due to the violent killing spree in the early 1960s? Most younger residents can only point back to the Carabbia / Naples War of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Try again! Here's a quote from Youngstown Mayor Fred J. Warnock as he addressed his officers on the eve of Prohibition, January 16, 1920:
"Youngstown has the reputation in the outside world of being one of the worst cities morally in the country. There is not any reason for this, except for the fact that a mere handful of people, possibly 300 to 400, openly defy law and decency."
This alone proves that even city officials were keenly aware more than 90 years ago that there was something wrong with Youngstown.
Another characteristic unique to the Valley is that never before in one city had efforts been so concentrated at the citizens to help clean up the criminal element and help run them out of town. This effort - by churches, schools, social clubs, politicians and police - was focused on the "bug" players and those who frequented the gambling houses, brothels and bookie joints throughout the county.
Fueling the fire, adding to the negative reputation of the city, have been the jokes about Youngstown. What other city in the country has its name attached to the description of a car bombing - the "Youngstown tune up?" Then there's the famous joke, "In Youngstown the barber will charge you two bucks to give you a haircut, but he'll charge you three bucks to start your car."
The corruption here has led to what people call the "Youngstown mentality." A young lady who had moved here from Texas explained this to me. She said, "When people from where I come from get a speeding ticket, they go to the courthouse or police station and pay the damn thing. In Youngstown, they find a crooked lawyer who knows a crooked judge and they get the thing fixed."
One morning, a few years ago, I was driving to Youngstown to appear on the Louie Free Radio Show. Louie was quite aware of the "mentality." As I was nearing the station, Louie was on with a guest and they had just finished listening to a song by performer Jackie Wilson; the popular singer suffered a heart while performing in 1975, which resulted in brain damage and death some nine years later. The question came up, "What a great singer he was, what ever happened to him?" To which Louie answered, "I think someone murdered him." I poked fun at Louie when I arrived. "So, Louie, just because the guy died before his time, doesn't mean someone murdered him. That's just your Youngstown mentality!"
During my research the name of a Vindicator photographer named Ed Shuba came up. My partner in crime, Charlie Molino questioned if he might have been related to George Shuba, a professional baseball player. I entered George Shuba's name into the Internet search engine and his professional and biographical record came up. Sure enough, it stated Shuba was from Youngstown. As I looked at the information about him it listed his nickname - Shotgun! What better nickname to come out of a city known as Crimetown USA.
As cute and witty as these tales might sound, the truth is they are based on a very long history of tragic and senseless loss of lives - some totally innocent. The victims include fathers, husbands, sons - in some cases, very young sons and in one instance a devoted daughter.
What is the reason for the slaughter? Simple greed!
In my classes on the History of Organized Crime, I provided an elementary formula:
The greed comes in two forms - money and power.
Murder in the underworld normally comes in two forms also: competition murders and revenge killings. Sometimes murders are committed as punishment. In several Youngstown cases, the killings were accidental. Whatever the reason for the murders, in the end they all proved to be quite senseless. The competition murders during the Prohibition years, liquor is now legal; the battle for control of the "bug," we now have state controlled lotteries; the war to see who controlled gambling, Ohio now has legalized gambling and casinos, plus people can drive into neighboring states and do it without fear of raids or arrest.
All those senseless murders destroyed families. Do family members recover? Sometimes. Some relatives never do. Children are raised without fathers, wives are left without husbands and forced to be the family breadwinners. Parents are forced to live out their lives in neighborhoods many times in shame and humiliation due to the deaths of sons. Some young women carry the stigma of being a "mob widow" to the grave, never remarrying.
In writing this book I had hoped to receive more participation from family members of the individuals involved. During radio interviews and lectures I never failed to mention that I would love to speak to relatives and let them share their views. But sadly, few did. Some who were interviewed unfortunately passed away before the book was published including John Terlesky, William Gruver and Donald Hanni. I especially wanted to meet Billy Naples' widow, Enez. But, those who cooperated will be happy with the result.
The progression of crime in the 20th Century in Youngstown was not unlike that of any other city. With the influx of Italians flooding in during the last decade of the 19th Century and for the first two decades of the 20th Century, a small portion of that population were criminals who continued their trade here in the new world - mostly against their fellow countrymen. The most popular crime was Black Hand extortion, which for the most part ended with the dawn of Prohibition. Bootlegging, the cash cow of the underworld from 1920 to 1933, replaced the extortion rackets. After Repeal, organized crime focused on gambling, sports betting and, later, the playing of numbers, also known as policy, clearing house, the lottery or the "bug" as it was called in Youngstown. Toward the end of the century the selling of drugs was the number one moneymaker of organized crime. Throughout the century, prostitution prospered as one of the staples of the underworld.
Another thing unique to Youngstown in its underworld history is that the hoodlums who made their names during Prohibition did not dominate the illegal activities during the decades that followed Repeal. Nearly every city with a reputation for organized crime was dominated by mobsters who had "made their bones" during the 14 years of the "Noble Experiment."
The book also focuses on the noted personalities of these eras with in-depth coverage of the following individuals - Joseph "Fats" Aiello, Frank and Joseph Budak, Donald "Moosey" Caputo, Joseph DiCarlo, Vincent DeNiro, Frank and Peter Fetchet, Baxter Lee Harrell, George, James and Nick Limberopoulos, Roy "Happy" Marino, Billy and Sandy Naples, and Jerry Pascarella. These men are from many nationalities; this book is not about Italian criminals. Few of the early lottery house operators were Italian. There was a strong Greek presence in organized crime in the Valley, as well as Irish, German, Syrian and Croatian. Too many times books on organized crime single out just the Italian element. Youngstown has an incredibly strong Italian community with a miniscule proportion involved in crime. A look at the books by Tony Trolio about Brier Hill, point out the incredible heritage of one Italian neighborhood and many of its accomplished residents.
One thing this book is not is a study of the politics and politicians of that day. That would require another book…or two, or three…to cover. Governors, mayors and councilman are mentioned only as they relate to certain individuals or events. I also refrained from comment on local politics - Democrat or Republican - as it pertains to the belief that corrupt politicians helped organized crime to exist in the Mahoning Valley.
This book is about the who, what, when and where of the history of organized crime in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. The why and how are seldom explained by its participants.
What I would like the reader to keep in mind is that this book is not just a story of the hoodlum element of the Mahoning Valley, but rather a history of how it was dealt with by law enforcement. All too often with the image of the valley of its organized crime and political corruption comes questions about crooked law enforcement officials and cops on the take. While this certainly took place, it was never as widespread as the rumors would have you believe.
During the years covered in this book no police officers were ever brought to trial for corruption. Were policemen on the take? Yes. We know that from the comments of other officers on the force. As mentioned before, with the small size of Youngstown everyone seemed to know someone in this underworld fraternity. With there being different factions - police, prosecutors and judges were in a position to favor one side or another and sometimes both.
So how did this corruption take place? Keep in mind, as far as the vice squad was concerned, for years officers were selected to this squad through their Ward councilman. Because of this, many of these officers were indebted to the politician and kept them abreast of what police actions were being planned inside their wards. When raids or arrests were scheduled, officers could tip off the intended targets or individuals, or pass along the word to others who would. A lot of underworld money was spent to get this type of service from the cops on the beat to the judges on the bench.
A judge in the pocket of an area racketeer could tip off the criminal after a warrant was approved. Officers in authority who were "on the take," such as captains, lieutenants and sergeants directed the men under them to "lay off" certain bug men while they conducted their lottery business, or not to harass specific after-hours establishments. One policeman told me his captain transferred him to different beats three nights in a row because he was not willing to "play ball" with the illegal establishments operating on those beats.
Payoffs from policy chieftains allowed them to run their operations without their bug writers being harassed and let proprietors of houses of prostitution and after hours joints run unobstructed. The payoffs were normally made in the bars and nightclubs the hoodlums operated. When the police were being paid by a certain faction - for instance the Naples or DeNiro - those operators instructed the police which opposition places to raid.
These payoffs didn't mean that the officers were totally corrupt. By backing off the "victimless crime" activity it certainly didn't mean they were negligent in their other duties - chasing robbers, burglars, bank robbers, rapists and traffic violators. This also didn't mean the entire department was on the take. By an insider's estimate only fifteen percent of the force accepted money "to look the other way."
On the other hand, when the police had their hands free, they delighted in "giving the racketeers hell," and were encouraged to do so by their superiors. During every "harassment" campaign the officers went out of their way to make life miserable on these underworld characters. One of their favorite tricks was to enter an establishment like the Purple Cow or the Tropics Night Club after 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and arrest a hood for suspicion. With the judges gone for the weekend, they would then be thrown into lockup until Monday morning at which time they were released before arraignment. The police also enjoyed finding any cars belonging to racket figures illegally parked. They would arrest the owner and impound the vehicle. All these things pissed off the hoods to no end, but they accepted it as being part of the life they chose to live.
As you read this history I hope what will come through as a lasting memory will be the efforts of the honest law enforcement officers on both the city and county level, and the work of dedicated prosecutors and judges in their attempt to put these hoodlums away. I tried my best to highlight the efforts of these individuals as they battled the evils of the underworld and their lawyers who fought so hard to keep their clients free, many times leaving the reader to wonder just who the real criminal was.
It easily becomes confusing when we try to pigeonhole the players in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh struggle - if indeed there even was one prior to the 1970s. Certainly one must consider the role of the Buffalo and Detroit Families also. By most accounts the Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit hoodlums drew the line at Trumbull County, while there is no indication of any infiltration by the Pittsburgh Mafia there. That still leaves DeNiro with his Cleveland connections operating in Youngstown. Making this pigeonholing process even murkier is the role then of "Fats" Aiello, due to his connections with members of both camps. Sandy Naples was obviously with him, as was seen in the Purple Cow shooting incident on New Years Eve 1946. But Aiello's "partnership" with DiCarlo placed him squarely with the Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit faction.
The Pittsburgh and Cleveland Mafia Family's involvement in the Mahoning Valley would become clearly defined in the decades after Youngstown was dubbed "Crimetown USA."
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