this day in crime history: march 19, 1943

On this date in 1943, Chicago mob boss Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti committed suicide. Nitti, who rose to prominence as Al Capone’s right hand man, was facing a prison sentence for shaking down several Hollywood movie studios. Severe claustrophobia, which had surfaced during a previous eighteen month stint in prison, made the mobster terrified at the thought of being locked up again. On the morning of March 19th, after his wife left for church, Nitti began drinking heavily. Once he had enough liquid courage, Nitti got his gun and went for a walk. He wound up at a rail yard several blocks from his house. He sat down on the ground, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Frank Nitti

Find A Grave – Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti

Wikipedia – Frank Nitti

this day in crime history: march 12, 1909

LtJoeP

On this date in 1909, New York Police Lieutenant Joe Petrosino was assassinated in Palermo, Sicily.

Born in Padua, Italy in 1860, Giuseppe Petrosino came to the United States as a young boy. In 1883, he joined the New York Police Department. In 1895, then-police Commissioner  Theodore Roosevelt promoted Petrosino to Detective Sergeant in charge of the NYPD’s Homicide Division. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1908 and placed in command of the department’s Italian Squad, a special unit manned by Italian-American officers tasked with investigating Italian organized crime.

While head of the Italian Squad, Petrosino arrested members of the Black Hand organization who were attempting to extort money from opera star Enrico Caruso. While working a case involving an anarchist group, he received a tip that there was a plot to assassinate President McKinley while he was at the World’s Fair in Buffalo, NY. He passed the information on to the Secret Service, but McKinley chose to ignore the warning. This, as it turns out, was a fatal mistake. President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.

In early 1909, Petrosino planned a trip to Sicily to investigate connections between the Sicilian Mafia and Italian organized crime in the United States. The trip was supposed to be a secret, but NYPD Commissioner Theodore Bingham inadvertently revealed it to the New York Herald, which reported on the impending trip. Petrosino, believing the Italian Mafia would observe the same prohibition on killing police officers as their American counterparts, decided to go anyway.

Lieutenant Petrosino was in Palermo on March 12, 1909, when he went to what he believed would be a meeting with an informant. The meeting was a setup. Petrosino was killed by Mafia assassins. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

Further reading:

New York Times Blog – “A Park Is Renewed, the Better to Honor the Hero in Its Name”

Officer Down Memorial Page – Lieutenant Giuseppe “Joseph” Petrosino

Find a Grave – Joseph Petrosino

Wikipedia – Joseph Petrosino

this day in crime history: february 15, 1936

gutterball

On this date in 1936, former Chicago Outfit trigger man “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn was gunned down in a Chicago bowling alley.

McGurn was born Vincenzo Antonio Gibaldi in 1902 in Sicily. He changed his name as a teenager while trying to make it as a boxer. McGurn would later go to work for Chicago mob boss Al Capone. He was believed to be the mastermind of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the cops were unable to pin it on him when Louise Rolfe – dubbed “The Blonde Alibi” by the press – claimed that she and McGurn had spent the entire day together.

By 1936, McGurn had been cut loose by the Outfit. His notoriety had made him too hot for the low profile the Outfit was looking to maintain.

A day after the seventh anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, McGurn entered a bowling alley with two men. Another man later joined the trio. After his arrival, a commotion ensued that resulted in Jack being shot dead and the three men leaving the bowling alley together. A Valentine card was left behind bearing the following poem:

You’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your dough;
Your jewels and cars and handsome houses!
But things could still be worse you know…
At least you haven’t lost your trousers!

The murder was never solved. Was it payback from Bugs Moran, whose men were killed seven years earlier? Was it revenge by a relative of one of Jack’s victims? Or was it the Outfit, fearful that Jack’s increasingly loose lips might sink their ship?

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Machine Gun Jack McGurn

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

Wikipedia – Jack McGurn

Mafia Wiki – Jack McGurn

Find a Grave – Jack “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn

this day in crime history: february 14, 1929

On this day in 1929, five of gangster Bugs Moran’s men, along with two men unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were gunned down by men impersonating police officers. The probable sender of this grisly Valentine: Al Capone. I guess Big Al didn’t think flowers and chocolates would do the trick. The killings became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Check out author/crime historian Pat Downey’s interview with Mario Gomes, the man who knows more about Al Capone than anyone. Well, anyone alive, anyway.

Further reading:

Mario Gomes’s My Al Capone Museum: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Mysterynet: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre With Pictures

Ghosts of the Prairie – Blood, Roses & Valentines: The Haunted History of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Wikipedia – The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre   

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

this day in crime history: january 14, 1979

On this date in 1979, Lucchese crime family associate Thomas “Two-Gun Tommy” DeSimone was reported missing by his wife. Turns out he was whacked, reportedly by members of the Gambino family. DeSimone, who was believed to have killed at least ten people, apparently killed someone he shouldn’t have. I guess if you kill enough people, that’s bound to happen eventually. Anyway, DeSimone’s victims included William “Billy Batts” Devino, a made man with the Gambino family, and Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe, a protege of future Gambino family boss John Gotti. Killing made men without permission is a big no-no in the mob, which Tommy found out the hard way.

He was lured to his death by Lucchese family members who told him he was being “made,” and that they were taking him to the ceremony. But instead of getting made, he got dead. DeSimone’s body was never found. His remains were thought to be buried in a “mob graveyard” on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

Tommy DeVito, the character played by Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas, was based in large part on Thomas DeSimone.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Thomas DeSimone

The Free Information Society – DeSimone, Thomas

American Mafia History – Goodfella, Thomas DeSimone

New York PostJohn Gotti killed mobster played by Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas’

this day in crime history: december 16, 1985

BigPaulC

On this date in 1985, Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano and his underboss/bodyguard Thomas Bilotti, were shot dead outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. The hit was reportedly carried out at the order of John Gotti, a captain in the Gambino family. Following Castellano’s death, Gotti would take over as the family’s teflon-covered boss. The teflon wore off in 1992, when Gotti was convicted of thirteen counts of murder, including those of Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Paul Castellano

Gangsters, Inc. – John Gotti

Sparks Steak House