Friday, May 13, 2016

The Black Hand Gets It's Man, image from St. Louis Post Dispatch, 28 February 1908

16 August 1906.....well-off grocer, Damiano Capuano, receives the first of several letters....

"We know you.   We know what money you have.  And you know us.", the note began.  It went on to give directions to place $1000 in a basket and leave it behind a garden fence in an area known as Baden, in the city of St. Louis.  It ended with a warning, if these instructions were not followed, Capuano would be killed. The message was ignored.

20 August 1906...another note is delivered. It contained the same demand. But, this time the note was marked with a red cross, and the sign of the Black Hand (a zig zag mark) with a skull and crossbones.  Again, Capuano ignored the demand.

During the following week, several similar notes were sent, each one becoming more threatening.  Capuano started to become uneasy. He did not contact the police....until a message on the final note read "Capuano will be marked for the knife".  That got his attention.

He reported the incidents to the Carr Street police station, and Sgt. Adreveno was assigned to the case by Captain Johnson. Federal authorities took possession of the threatening notes.

Words overheard late at night by patrolman Tomasso lead to the arrest of five men.  He was tipped off by an anonymous neighbor, who noticed that a group of men were meeting in the back room of a nearby building.  Tomasso listened as the men spoke Italian, and heard a conversation that most certainly had to do with the notes left for Capuano in the previous weeks. They also made several denouncing comments about the government in America.

After their arrest, it was determined that these men were imitators of the Black Hand Society.  All were Italian....because they claimed that they did not know how to speak English.  Handwriting samples were taken of each man, and it was certain that at least one of them closely resembled the writing on most of the notes left for Capuano.

The front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the initial findings of the police department. It had not been determined that any of these men actually wrote the notes.

In the following few years, many others had received similar notes, referring to the Black Hand, and demanding amounts of money from $500 to $1000 each.  This kept the new "Black Hand Squad" in the St. Louis police department very busy.

Unfortunately, late on the evening of 24 December 1910, Damiano Capuano was shot and killed by three bullets as he was walking home.  He had just finished visiting the homes of several colleagues.  Shots rang out in the night and police were summoned into the dark streets of the city.  Capuano was found deceased, bleeding from his wounds.  The Black Hand finally got their man.

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