A Mafia summit meeting was held at the home of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, New York on November 14, 1957. Head of the Luciano crime family Vito Genovese called the meeting to discuss various matters and to attempt to take control of the governing body of the Mafia in America, the Commission having long been divided between a “Conservative Faction” that wanted to run the Mafia in America as the Mafia was conducted in Sicily, and a “Liberal Faction”, led by Genovese, that wanted the Mafia in America to chart its own course free of any Sicilian traditions. About 100 Mafiosi showed up, with local law enforcement and the New York State Police quickly wondering why all these expensive cars were showing up at a house in sleepy Apalachin. “Joe the Barber” had been under occasional surveillance by the State Police prior to the meeting. A raid was conducted and about 58 members of the Mafia, including Genovese, were picked up. They all claimed that “Joe the Barber” had been sick and they had come to visit him.
For the Mafia the Apalachin meeting was a long term disaster as it confirmed in the public mind the existence of the Mafia. After Apalchin, J. Edgar Hoover could no longer ignore the Mafia, and a long term war began between the Federal government and the Mafia which would eventually reduce the Mafia to a shadow of its former self.
I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!
Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)
Hard to believe it is 30 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released. My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it. A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang. A truckdriver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather. I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.
The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini. De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone. Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. Continue Reading
Ironies abound in the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre by which Chicago gangster Al Capone sought to destroy his competitor gangster Adelard Cunin, known to infamy as George “Bugs” Moran. Moran had made a failed attempt on Capone’s life, which led to Capone, leading the Italian dominated South Side Gang, to target Moran and Moran’s Irish dominated North Side Gang. Capone had a false call made to Moran on February 13, 1929 tempting him with a truck load of liquor from Detroit that he could have at a bargain price. Moran ordered that the truck deliver the liquor the next morning at 10:30 AM at the garage of the S.M.C. Cartage Company on North Clark Street where Moran kept his bootlegging trucks. Instead, two of Capone’s men, disguised as cops, appeared at the garage and ordered the seven men present to line up against a wall. Two professional killers then entered the garage with tommy-guns and, with the aid of the two fake cops, murdered the men, only gangster Frank Gusenberg survived long enough to make it to the hospital and honor the gangland code of silence prior to his death, refusing to say anything about who was responsible. Ironies to take note of in this example of gangland savagery:
- If Moran hadn’t slept in that morning he would have been among the dead. Albert Weinshank, one of the dead, looked like Moran and probably when he was seen entering the garage caused Capone’s hit squad to go into action.
- Two of the seven men killed had the abysmal bad luck to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One was optician Reinhardt Schwimmer who liked to gamble and palled around with members of the gang. The other was mechanic John May who was working on a car.
- Moran was not put out of business by the murders, but kept control of his territory through the end of prohibition. He would die in prison in 1957.
- The two probable Capone hit men involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre did not live to see another Valentine’s day. The bodies of John Scalise and Albert Anselmi were found in the wee hours of the morning on May 8, 1929 on a lonely road near Hammond, Indiana. They were joined in death by gangster Joseph Giunta. The three men had been severely beaten and then shot to death. It is likely that they had been involved in a plot against Capone. Capone, ever a fanatic baseball fan, had worked them over with a bat before having his gunmen finish the task.
- Public revulsion against the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was so intense that the Federal government made a maximum effort to get Capone. Capone’s tactical victory in the Massacre led directly to his eventual downfall for income tax evasion.
- Both Al Capone and Bugs Moran repented their sins before their deaths and may have stolen Heaven in the tradition established by Saint Dismas.
- I sat next to one of the last survivors of Al Capone’s gang back in the eighties during a Chamber of Commerce dinner. Now a kindly great grandfather, he had gotten out of Chicago decades before and invested in farmland in Livingston County. I resisted the temptation to ask him if any gangster bodies were buried in said farmland.