THE MUSTACHE PETE’S : - CHICAGO.
Giacomo Colosimo [Diamond Jim].
Born in Cosenza, Calabria in 1875 Colosimo was the founder of what would become the Chicago Family. Arrived in America in 1895, came to Chicago and did menial jobs for some years. Eventually he organized the street sweepers into a Union. This brought him to the attention of local politicians Kenna and Coughlin, who made him a Precinct Captain. He became their “bagman”, collecting graft and delivering votes. Soon he opened a brothel, then married Victoria Moresco, who already ran some. This allowed him to build the biggest vice empire in Chicago. This success attracted Blackhand extortioners, who hounded him for years. Finally, in 1909, he imported John Torrio, a relative of Moresco, to help him. Three ex-Pittsburgh extortioners were soon found murdered. Colosimo made Torrio his right-hand, and opened Colosimo’s Cafe in 1910. Torrio re-organized and expanded the vice empire, making Colosimo a rich man. With the coming of Prohibition in 1920, Torrio wanted to move into bootlegging in a big way. However, Colosimo claimed it was too risky and refused. Torrio, a visionary, was not going to let this stop him earning millions and planned Colosimo’s death. Importing his old Brooklyn associate Frankie Yale, he set-up Colosimo’s murder in May 1920 in the Cafe.
Born in 1872 in Valledolmo, in Caltanisetta Province,Sicily. Emigrated to the USA in 1895, going to a brother in Buffalo, NYS. Previously attended the University of Palermo, and trained to be a Priest. Left the Church to marry, was Naturalized in 1899 and moved to Chicago about 1900. Became a partner in a Macaroni factory, but convicted in 1902 of counterfeiting and jailed. This counterfeit ring was connected to Vito Cascio Ferro, and possibly Giuseppe Morello, in NYC. He was Pardoned in 1905, and released. Succeeded Joseph D’Andrea, no relation, as head of various unions, after the latter’s murder in 1914. This may have been part of a power struggle within the local Mafia, as the head Rosario Dispenza was also killed that year. D’Andrea emerged as the leader of both the Unione Sicilione, and the local Cosca. Associated with him was Michele Merlo, the Genna brothers and local non-Sicilian powers Joseph Esposito and Jim Colosimo. However D’Andrea was defeated several times, 1914+16+19, when he stood for political office. During these violent years, he was arrested for carrying a gun, and in 1916, one of his political opponents was killed. Nicola Gentile tells us that D’Andrea was a power in national Mafia affairs during the 1910’s. In 1921 he made one last attempt to get elected as Alderman of the 19th ward. His opponent John Powers was the longstanding power in the ward, and fought violence with violence. D’Andrea was narrowly defeated again, and was warned to leave Chicago. Even his position as leader of the Sicilian underworld could not save him, and he was killed in 1921. Michele Merlo succeeded him, and later his Nephew Phil also headed the Unione Sicilione.
Born in Pizzone in the Molise region of Italy, he entered America in 1887 and settled in Chicago. There was a large immigration from Molise to Chicago in these years, and he became a citizen in 1895. He married into the Fosco family, his brother-in-law Peter became a well known union racketeer. He was acquitted of the murder of Antonio Mezza in 1902. By 1911 he was head of the Hod Carriers union, and soon added the Tunnel Workers union too. Some sources say he headed the Unione Sicilione , but as a non-Sicilian this is improbable. However he was associating with powerful underworld figures like Jim Colosimo, Antonio D’Andrea and Joseph Esposito. Union unrest in 1914 caused him to be shot, and he died from his wounds soon after. He was succeeded in his union positions by Antonio D’Andrea.
Mariano Zagone + Rosario Dispenza.
These two men were associated in a Mafia group in Chicago, with connections to the Morello family in NYC. Both were born in Cimmina, Sicily in the 1860’s [Zagone in 1862, Dispenza in 1869] and came to America in 1899. Zagone went first to NYS, then settled on the Near Northside of Chicago. He was arrested for counterfeiting in 1901, probably the same case involving Antonio D’Andrea, Vito Cascio Ferro and Giuseppe Morello. He became a cigar maker, and got involved in the Unione Sicilione. The violence surrounding this almost cost him his life in 1906 when he was wounded. Zagone was killed in 1909, with his suspected killers being his stepson Joseph Spatafora, and his in-laws the Nicolosi brothers.
Rosario Dispenza, known as the Heartess, came straight to a brother-in-law in Chicago in 1899. He seems to have succeeded Zagone as leader of this group. He too was related to Spatafora, and along with his partner Antonio Puccio, bought a saloon from him. The partners were soon running a bank and Society for immigrants from Cimmina. Possibly organized Zagone’s removal in 1909, and that same year he was in correspondence with Giuseppe Morello about the induction of a member into his group. 1914 saw both Puccio, and then Dispenza killed in faction fighting within the local Sicilian underworld. Antonio D’Andrea possibly succeeded them.
[Source for this is an article by Rick Warner + Tom Hunt in the April 2009 issue of the Informer].
Giuseppe Esposito [Diamond Joe].
Born in 1872 in Accera, near Naples on the Italian mainland. He emigrated in1895, landing at Boston, and moved onto New York. Settling on Navy Street in Brooklyn, he opened a bakery. Rumour has it that he killed a man while living in Brooklyn, before he left for Chicago in 1905. In Chicago he became a “Padrone”, controlling votes and jobs in the Italian ghettos. He also sponsored immigrants, including the Sicilian Genna brothers. Was a founder of the Accera club, and his influence allowed him to participate in 19th ward politics. In 1913 he opened the Bella Napoli cafe, with Anthony [Mops] Volpe as manager and Paul Ricca as a waiter. During the 1910’s he was arrested many times, including gun possession in 1915, and the murder of Cuneo Colletta in 1917.
With the coming of Prohibition in 1920 Esposito entered the bootlegging trade, gaining a monopoly on sugar importation from Cuba. Joe Fusco was his main associate, with the Genna gang his largest customers. Soon he grew wealthy, and ranked with Torrio, Merlo,and D’Andrea as a power in the Italian underworld. The bootleg wars of the 1920’s gradually removed Esposito’s associates, 3 Genna brothers and a cousin all killed. Esposito, a long time Democratic power, switched his support to the Republicans in the 1928 election. This went against the Capone gangs wishes, and he was repeatedly warned to change or leave Chicago. Ignoring them he hired two bodyguards, but they could not protect him from being killed.
Born in Sambuca Zabat, Sicily in 1880 and arrived in the USA in 1890 at New Orleans. He lived in New Orleans for 10 years, before moving to Chicago in 1900. Closely associated with the Unione Sicilione, he was Naturalized in 1905. Variously described on documents [Passport Application, WW1 Registration card] as a Commission Merchant or Business Agent for a Labour Union. Merlo was generally admired, and acted as a peacekeeper amongst the warring factions. He was close to Antonio D’Andrea, who was a partner to Merlo’s brother, and was his right hand man. Merlo was on a visit back to Italy in 1921, when D’Andrea was murdered. On his return he was elected head of the Unione Sicilione, and ordered the death of D’Andrea’s bodyguard who was suspected to have betrayed him. During his short reign he kept the peace between the Genna and O’Bannion gangs, before dying of cancer in 1924. His funeral attracted 10,000 mourners, and his son John served for many years as an Alderman. His death was followed by a surge in faction fighting.
Born in Termini Imerese Sicily in 1855, the date of his arrival in the USA was 1885. His early activities are unknown, but eventually he became a Commission Merchant. He was not alone in Chicago as his brothers Frank, who ran a saloon, Vito and George were all active in criminal life. They lived in the Little Sicily section of the Near North Side. Morici first came to public attention in 1901 when arrested for the murder of Salvatore DiGiovanni, a political power amongst the Neapolitan community. He went on trial, but was acquitted. Thereafter he, and his brothers, formed a powerful group within the Sicilian underworld. In 1908 he was again arrested for murder, along with Vito and George. Yet again avoiding prison we last hear of him in 1911, when he was arrested for Arson. Nothing further is reported until his death in 1925.
This man is the first known leader of the Italian underworld in Chicago Heights. Born in Lascari Sicily in 1877, he entered the USA in 1904. He became a citizen in 1908, and on his WW1 Registration card is listed as a druggist. Later he became a ticket agent for the shipping companies bringing immigrants from Italy. By the mid-1910’s he was an Alderman, a position he held until 1921. By this time he was also the head of the local branch of the Unione Sicilione. With the coming of Prohibition in 1920, he moved into bootlegging and grew wealthy. In 1924 his ambitious subordinate Phil Piazza plotted his death, and he was killed. Piazza lasted only two years before being murdered. Eventually a Calabrian faction, closely allied to the Capone gang, gained control of Chicago Heights.
Giovanni Torrio [Terrible Johnny / J.T.].
Generally recognised as a criminal genius, and the real organizer of “The Outfit”, Torrio was never an actual member of Cosa Nostra / Mafia. Born in Irsina in Basilicata [or Orsara], Italy in 1882 and coming to America as a toddler in 1884. He was steeped in criminal life from a very early age, his Step-father running a saloon on James Street on the LES of New York. Soon he was running his own saloon and brothel, and acting as a boxing manager and promoter. He also gathered a collection of associates called the James Street gang. As both an Italian gang leader, and involved in boxing, he soon came to know Paul Kelly [an ex-boxer and gang leader], Jack Sirocco and Jim Kelly [leaders of the Five Points gang]. Paul Kelly, real name Vaccarelli, treated Torrio as a protégé and helped him mature. While the Five Points leaders used Torrio’s men in time of need. The violent inter-gang wars of the 1900’s persuaded Torrio to move his operations to Brooklyn. Here he set-up the John Torrio Association, and ran his rackets from a billiard hall in Navy Street. This area would become home to several future Torrio associates, such as Frank Nitti, Al Capone, and Frankie Yale. Yale, real name Ioele, became his partner in the Harvard Inn on Coney Island, where Capone worked as a waiter and got his famous facial scars. Around 1909 Torrio received a call for help from a relative called Victoria Moresco in Chicago. Her husband “Big Jim” Colosimo was being threatened by blackhand extortioners. Torrio went to Chicago, handled the problem by killing three extortioners, and returned to Brooklyn. Colosimo was impressed, and asked him to move to Chicago and handle a string of brothels. Torrio sold all his holdings to Yale, and became Colosimo’s second-in-command. Upon arrival he started reorganizing and expanding Colosimo’s vice empire. Pushing out into the suburbs, he bought saloons and brothels and corrupted local police and politicians. Colosimo, grown wealthy and lazy, divorced Moresco and married a young singer. He also refused to invest in the new bootlegging racket, considering it too risky. Torrio, shrewd businessman that he was, could see the vast financial potential, and was not going to be denied. Importing his old partner Yale from Brooklyn, he set-up Colosimo’s murder in 1920. Now the head of a large vice and booze organization, he arranged for all the local factions to share-out territorial control of Chicago’s underworld. Torrio also brought Capone to Chicago, and groomed him to be his righthand. Despite enmity between the Sicilian Genna gang and the multi-ethnic Northside gang the peace brokered by Torrio lasted till 1924. Then he was double-crossed by the Northside gang leader Dion O’Bannion over a brewery sale. The death of Mike Merlo, the head of the Unione Sicilione, provided the opportunity to eliminate O’Bannion, who was killed in his flower shop. The Northsiders reacted violently, badly wounding Torrio outside his home. Upon recovering, Torrio went to prison for an old bootlegging charge, and on release sold-out to Capone and left Chicago for good. Taking his wife, he went to Italy on a long holiday [1925-28]. His return to NYC coincided with attempts to form a nationwide bootleg organization [the Big 7]. At a meeting in Atlantic City in 1929, Torrio was put in charge of organizing it. This combine thrived till the end of Prohibition in 1933. Torrio retired from illegal activity in the mid-1930’s, surviving an arrest for Forgery in 1936. Thereafter he operated as a legitimate real estate agent for the rest of his life, which ended in a heart-attack in 1957.