Friday, January 29, 2016

The Card Game With an Abrupt Ending

A masked executioner entered the cafe around the midnight hour, He was carrying a shotgun by his side.  Quickly, and with such precision, he raised his weapon and aimed.

Four men were sitting around a table, playing card games, drinking and enjoying their late evening out.  They had no idea that within seconds, two of them would lay dead. Two would be wounded.

Four loud shots were discharged from the sawed off shotgun. The blasts was heard by the deputies at the Springfield police station, just around the corner from the cafe.  By the time they had arrived at the scene, the gunman was whisked away by a Cadillac touring automobile, dark in color and tagged with Missouri state license plates.

The slain men were identified as members of a widely known bootlegging gang, with a territory that stretched from St. Louis to Chicago and places in between.  Robert  Aiello, age 23, and his younger brother, Frank, 20, were the victims.  The seriously  wounded men were identified at Vito Wallace, alias LaPacolo,28, and Lee Meachum, 26.

Robert Aiello, slumped forward in his chair, died immediately.  Frank died on the way to the hospital.  The two other men's wounds were treated and they were released from the hospital. They were questioned by the Deputy Coroner, Robert Stubbs, and said they knew of no motive for the attack.

Several women patrons were bystanders, but they could not identify the masked slayer, and were too upset to even notice that he left in an automobile, driven by a companion that had been waiting for him just outside of the cafe. Helen, owner of the cafe, and her sister, Mildred Joinella, were shaken, but reported that the gunman companion had also entered the cafe, but did not shoot. They also said that a third Aiello brother, Salvatore Aiello, left the cafe just before the gunman appeared. (Oh, really?  Did they try to find him?  Was he was involved in the demise of his brothers?) Others who peered from their nearby windows described the two offenders as "short, fat Italian types", although after being questioned about their statements, they admitted that they really could not identify the ethnicity of the men. But, they did say that they appeared to look just like the "hoodlums" they would hear about on radio news broadcasts.

The Aiello brothers were related to Charles Palmisano, who had been assassinated the night before, on November 10, in St. Louis.  It was reported that a car with Illinois license plates was used in the Palmisano slaying.  The Aiello brothers deaths could have been a reprisal, suggested a Springfield deputy. Mr. Palmisano was a wealthy wholesale fruit merchant.  He was killed as he stood in the doorway of his business.

Jasper Aiello, nephew of the slain men, was killed in front of his home in St. Louis in 1926. Tony Aiello, brother of the victims, was being held in St. Louis in connection with the murder of Alfonso Palazzolo in the previous year. Tony was a brother-in-law of William Russo, leader of a large Italian faction in St. Louis.  Russo was mentioned to be a nephew of the slain Charles Palmisano, although his widow, Mrs. Palmisano, denied they were related. (Are you beginning to see a pattern here????)

Police from St. Louis and Springfield had been collaborating their detective work and came to these conclusions for the slayings:

   Factional differences between Italian gangs

   Whiskey deals gone bad

   Black Hand threats

   Refusal to sign bail bonds

This story was reported in various newspapers across the nation, most dated 11 November 1927.
Among my sources were : The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Sedalia Democrat, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), Journal Gazette (Mattoon, Illinois), The Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, Illinois)

As always, if you know further information about this case, please share it in the comments section.  We need to share our knowledge with each other to fully understand each story.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Bootlegger's Truck

It was 2:30 a.m. on August 14th in 1924 when the fire fighters and police officers of Decatur, Illinois were called to the scene.  A truck, parked on the side of the road at the intersection of  Williams and Seventh Streets, had burst into flames.  Onlookers crowded around the blaze at a safe distance.

Some nearby pedestrians had noticed that two men had driven the truck, and pulled to the side of the road at the 2500 block of East Williams Street.  They exited the truck and walked away.  Several hours had passed when smoke began to billow from the vehicle and flames came from the engine.  The citizens ran to put out the blaze.  It was discovered that the truck was hauling over 230 gallons of alcohol, in 46 five gallon containers.  They were camouflaged by crates of tomatoes,

Police hid in the bushes and overgrown lots around the area, armed with sawed off shotguns, waiting to see if the two men would return to the truck. After several hours, the truck was hauled to the Decatur police station.

It was determined by the fire fighters that oil had spilled on the alternator in the engine, which probably caused smoke and the smell of an electrical fire.  The men in the truck were probably alarmed, and decided to abandon the truck at this location in Decatur.

recent map of the Decatur, Illinois area.
Seventh Street no longer exists in Decatur, Illinois

Police had traced the license plates to the owner of the truck.  Mr. Tony Sansone, of St. Louis, Missouri, was contacted by reporters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  After interviewing Tony, it was revealed that he had rented his truck to a man for $35, who wanted to haul tomatoes to Springfield, Illinois from St. Louis.  He said that he could not recall the name of the person, and futhermore, he had no idea that this man had intended to haul booze along with his tomatoes.

Sansone traveled to Decatur to claim his truck, or what was left of it.  The Decatur police refused to release the truck to Sansone, stating that they had several problems with the story that he told them.  The truck was being held on the prohibition statute. It had been determined that no long distance phone call had been made to Sansone from the Decatur area from any persons within the previous 24 hours.  Sansone was cleared of prohibition charges. But, he could not have his truck.

There was an investigation with the Springfield police department to determine the identity of the party that rented the truck, and stuffed it with the tomatoes and all of that alcohol.  Meanwhile, upset that he was unable to regain possession of his truck, Sansone said that he would take the train to Springfield and find that man himself. He said he would "grab ahold of his hair and drag him back to Decatur".

Tony Sansone was the owner of a produce company located at 1007 Wash Street in St. Louis.

This story was published in The Decatur Herald, 14 August 1924, page 3

Friday, January 15, 2016

Who Killed Gus Rizzo?

A young man, Gus C. Rizzo, was interred in 1924 in the St. Louis Archdiocese Cemetery of Calvary, Section 12, Lot 1657.
He is laid to rest with his parents, Charles and Rose (Quattrocchi), siblings Anthony and
Charles, and grandparents,  Frances and Michael Quattrocchi.

Gus was wounded in the stomach with a bullet during a very mysterious affray.  He was taken to City Hospital and passed at 3:40 a.m. on April 19.  He never mentioned how or why he became a victim, nor did he reveal who might have committed this crime.

The image of his death certificate can be found on the Missouri Digital Heritage site :
Young Gus was only 16 years old.  Such a shame.  He was questioned by doctors and police about the incident.  He told them of three "unknown" men who had driven by him in an automobile.  But, he seemed to change his story, making conflicting statements.

His cousin, James Russo, was the person who had taken him to the hospital.  James also reported another story which did not  match any information that young Gus had relayed.  The police went to the site of the shooting where they found a large pool of blood, in addition to two caps and two bullet holes in a nearby fence.  The location was by the home of James Russo.

James Russo was the brother of "Shorty" Russo, a black hand mobster believed to have murdered a man just three days prior to the death of young Gus.  An accomplice of his was Vincent Spicuzza, also believed to have been dabbling in the black hand business.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered the story in a short three paragraph article on April 19, 1924.

As of yet, I have not found the names of the men who slayed young Gus Rizzo.  If you have any further information on this case, please add it to the comments section.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Lemon King Update

Gaspare DiCola was entombed on September 24, 1916 at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.  On January  17, 1917 he was removed, and his remains were shipped to Italy, to be buried with family members in the cemetery in Termini Imerese, Sicily.  His entombment was meant to be temporary until his family was able to make arrangements for his body to be sent to Italy for permanent burial.  This information was recently sent to me by the Records Department of Holy Cross Cemetery.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Death of the Lemon King

Welcome to our first story.

This is the tale of Gaspare DiCola, a successful fruit importer in Boston, Massachusetts.  Gaspare was born in 1866 in the northern seaport town of Termini Imerese in Sicily.  His father, Giovanni, was a wealthy farmer that specialized in lemons and olives.  The family also started a spaghetti factory : the DiCola Pasta Company.

Gaspare DiCola, 1866-1916

Gaspare caught the eye of a young woman who happened to be married to Mariano Bova-Conti.  Antonina and Mariano also lived in Termini-Imerese, and the two families knew each other well.

Gaspare served in the Italian army, and then decided to travel to America in 1892.  He used his family expertise in the produce business and became known as The Lemon King. Antonia left Sicily with her young son, Antonio.  She followed Gaspare to Boston.  Her husband came to America to persuade her to return to Sicily with him, but she filed divorce papers in Massachusetts to free herself from his grasp.  Mariano was a poor peasant man with little to offer her and their son.  But Gaspare had plenty to offer as his business was growing rapidly.  He quickly became a very well respected businessman, and was appointed the president of the Italian Red Cross Society, as well as a leader in the local Dante Alighiere Society.

Gaspare and Antonina never married, but lived together in a nice apartment at 21 Fairbanks Street.  Her son lived with them until he was old enough to get out on his own. Antonio, her son, constantly tried to persuade his mother to marry Gaspare, as he felt she was living a life of sin.

21 Fairbanks Street, Brookline, Massachusetts

The Lemon King set up his business office amidst the best area to oversee his fruit import business. 
The 1916 Boston directory shows he is listed as:

All seemed to be going well for the couple, until September 21 in 1916.  Gaspare and Antonia were returning home after 10 p.m. from a meeting with the Dante Alighiere Society.  After leaving the streetcar at the Fairbanks Street station, they walked in the direction of their apartment.  Suddenly shots rang out, and Gaspare fell to the ground just outside the doorway to their apartment building.  Antonia screamed and rushed to his side.  A neighbor heard the blasts and ran into the street where he saw the couple and tried to assist them.  The other neighbors summoned the police, and Gaspare was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital.  He had taken 5 bullets in the back which all lodged in his abdomen.  Things looked grim.

Location of the Fairbanks Station and the vicinity of apartment where Gaspare was shot
Gaspare was not expected to live through the night.  He asked that his attorney be summoned so that he could compose his will.  Antonia was very distraught and hardly paid any attention to what the attorney was composing while her husband tried to hang onto life.  He  signed the document with an X, as his right hand was bandaged from his fall.  Gaspare passed peacefully and Antonia was escorted back to her apartment.

The newspapers were full of coverage from the murder in the Brookline area. No one was able to identify the gunmen, or even speculate who they might be.  Mrs. DiCola remained silent, as did many others in the Italian community. A group of businessmen decided to post a reward for the capture of the culprits, which totaled $5000. Stephen Malato served as the attorney to represent the family.

There were many theories as to why someone would want to kill Gaspare. Some include:

1. The fact that Gaspare awarded his "wife", Antonia, $100 per month in addition to the use of their apartement at 21 Fairbanks Street until her death

2.  The fact that Gaspare awarded his brother, Giuseppe DiCola, the total control of the fruit import business and all its premises and assets, totaling well over $250,000 (not too shabby for 1916)

3.  The fact that the son of Antonia, Antonio Bova-Conte, was not awarded any part of the assets.

4.  The fact that the sister of Gaspare, Miss Antoinette DiCola (who lived in Termini Imerese with her brother, Giuseppe) was not awarded any part of the assets. She later tried to contest the will.

5.  The fact that Gaspare had received 2 Black Hand letters in the months before his death.  The letters were written in their usual harsh way :  Give us $25,000 and deposit it in the agreed place, or you will have consequences sent your way.  Gaspare paid no attention to these letters, and he gave them to the local police captain for safekeeping.

6.  The fact that Gaspare had won the heart of Antonia, a married woman, who discarded her husband, forcing him to return to a  lonely peasant life in Sicily,  The husband could not be found by the police detectives when they were trying to follow up with suspects from the murder case.

Meanwhile, the funeral of Gaspare DiCola became one of the largest that the city of Boston had ever seen.  The service was held at the old Italian church, St. Leonard of Port Morris Catholic Parish.  This is the oldest Italian Catholic Church in New England, built in 1873.  He was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Middlesex County.  It was reported that over 5000 people attended the church service, and 2000 followed the funeral procession to the cemetery.

The death register simply states : Name, sex, age, address of home and where died, birthplace, job

Parents, their place of birth, cause of death, name of coroner, place of burial and undertaker name

So, who do you think was the slayer?  I have not found any documents that show an absolute conclusion to this case.  Let's hope that Gaspare can rest in peace, and the gunmen, too.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Welcome to Friday's Fallen Acorns and Other Nuts


I have started this new blog to complement my first blog,

In my years of research I have come across some very interesting characters.  Some are my relatives, and others are collateral relations.

All of the persons mentioned are deceased.

The Persons of Interest in these stories have been involved in Murder, Conspiracy, Extortion, Kidnapping, Bombings and many other incidents.  Their stories have begun with a news article, a police report and death certificates.  Research follows.

The stories are all a part of history.  There will be no attempt to discredit any persons.  All stories are open to discussion, as long as respectful language is used.

If anyone would like to add information to any of the stories that I post, please do so.  I have learned that there are many sides to a story, and keeping each other informed is beneficial for all.

New posts will be added each Friday.

Looking forward to sharing some very interesting characters and their stories with you.