Friday, January 13, 2017

$5,000 awarded to family of lynch victim

On this date in 1894, a federal jury returned a sealed verdict in a lawsuit related to an alleged New Orleans Mafia leader who was killed by a lynch mob three years earlier.

Rocco Geraci was one of the eleven victims of the Crescent City lynchings at Orleans Parish Prison in March 1891. He was one of a total of eighteen men arrested and held for trial as principals and accessories in the assassination of local Police Chief David Hennessy. The lynchings occurred after a jury failed to convict a number of the accused assassins.

As a mob swarmed the prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, the warden opened the cells of the Italian prisoners and advised them to hide themselves as best they could within the institution. Seven prisoners, including Geraci, Pietro Monastero, Antonio Bagnetto, James Caruso, Loreto Comitis, Frank Romero and Charles Traina rushed toward the women's side of the prison. A well-armed group of New Orleans citizens soon arrived at the women's courtyard, and the seven Italians emerged from their hiding places and assembled in a group in the corner of the courtyard. Some crouched and others knelt, begging for mercy. At close range, the gunmen opened fire. A second volley was then fired into the group.

Geraci was among the prisoners shot in the courtyard.

All but Bagnetto were killed by the gunshots. The gunmen dragged Bagnetto outside the prison and hanged him from a tree. Three other prisoners were located and killed on an upper floor of the prison. One other prisoner was hanged from a lamppost outside the building.

Suit was filed in the spring of 1892 against the City of New Orleans on behalf of Geraci's widow and their children. The city was accused of failing to protect Geraci, a foreign national, while he was in government custody. Damages amounting to $30,000 were sought. The case was the sixth suit stemming from the lynching deaths to be heard in United States Circuit Court. Each of the previous plaintiffs had been awarded cash compensation from the municipality.

Geraci heirs began presenting their case on Jan. 12, 1894. Their first obstacle was proving that the Rocco Geraci killed at the parish prison was the same person as the Francesco Geraci noted in public records. Police Captain John Journee and local businessman Joseph Provenzano were called to the stand to establish his identity. Testimony resumed the following day with Geraci's brother Salvatore and businessman J. Salomoni. Closing arguments were delivered by the plaintiffs' attorneys Chiapella and Sambola and city attorney O'Sullivan.

As in previous cases, the charge delivered by Judge Alexander Boarman to the jurors left them little choice but to find in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge apparently felt $5,000 was an appropriate reparation - he had already allowed for several retrials of cases in which lower amounts were awarded.

Jurors brought back their verdict just a bit late for the court session of Jan. 13. The verdict was therefore sealed. It was revealed as the court day opened on Jan. 14. The plaintiffs were victorious in the amount of $5,000.

As a number of the related lawsuits were brought up for retrial, the City of New Orleans found new grounds for its defense. It successfully argued that the articles of Civil Code protected the municipality against suits relating to loss of life (though it specifically allowed suits relating to property damage). A retrial of the suit filed on behalf of the widow and children of Pietro Monastero was found by Judge Parlange to have no merit. In a 20-page decision, Parlange supported the city's position that it was exempt from such lawsuits.

Monday, April 20, 2015

End of the Agnello clan

April 20, 1872 (details from Chapter 3 of Deep Water): 

New Orleans Mafia leader Joseph "Peppino" Agnello was shot to death during a gunfight at the Picayune Tier, a preferred docking spot for Sicilian lugger vessels and ships involved in the fruit trade.

Successor to the leadership of his murdered brother Raffaele's underworld organization, Joseph Agnello was wounded in several assassination attempts from 1870 to 1872. More than once, he was reported to be near death but miraculously recovered. 

He finally met his end after gunmen cornered him on the dock. Agnello tried to escape by jumping aboard the moored schooner Mischief, but after some exchange of gunfire a large-caliber horse-pistol slug fired by Joseph Maressa struck him in the midsection. 

The slug passed through Agnello's body and ripped a gaping hole in his back.

The murder of Joseph Agnello apparently concluded a four-year New Orleans underworld civil war between the Agnello-dominated Palermo-born Mafiosi and a rival group composed of crime figures from Messina and Trapani. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

124 years ago: Eleven prisoners killed

March 14, 1891: One day after a jury refused to convict the accused assassins of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy, an angry mob assembles on Canal Street. Under the direction of political leaders, the mob marches to Orleans Parish Prison, where the Hennessy assassination defendants remain incarcerated. A carefully selected and well armed execution squad enters the prison and murders eleven men, including Joseph P. Macheca. 

(Two men are taken outside the prison walls and hanged. The hangings are performed sloppily, and several attempts are made before the victims lives are extinguished.) 

The execution squad and its political leaders describe their eleven victims as members of the New Orleans Mafia. However, recognized Mafia leader Charles Matranga and his chief lieutenant - both held within the prison - are spared. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

124 years ago: None convicted

Court Clerk Richard Screven reads the jury verdict
in Judge Joshua Baker's courtroom.
124 years ago today (March 13, 1891): The trial of nine men accused of the assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy concludes without a conviction. Much of the city is enraged as the jury acquits six defendants and announces a deadlock on the remaining three. 

Joseph P. Macheca, Charlie Matranga, Bastiano Incardona, Antonio Bagnetto, Antonio Marchesi and Asperi Marchesi are acquitted. A mistrial is declared for Manuel Polizzi, Antonio Scaffidi and Pietro Monastero.

The defendants, all widely suspected of membership in the Mafia criminal society, continue to be held at Orleans Parish Prison overnight on a legal technicality. Their release is expected the following day.

City political leaders hastily arrange for a morning gathering of New Orleans residents on Canal Street.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tampa Mafia magazine

An article written by Deep Water coauthors Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon appeared in a recent issue of Tampa Mafia magazine. The article deals with a confession of sorts written years after the 1891 Crescent City lynchings by one of the men involved.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

1874: Armed rebellion in New Orleans

On this date in 1874, Joseph Macheca played a critical role in the White League victory over a militia/Metropolitan Police force controlled by Louisiana's Reconstruction Era state government. The conflict stemmed from contested elections that resulted in the creation of competing state administrations and legislatures.

Following failed negotiations, Republican forces led by former Confederate General James Longstreet and Metropolitan Police "General" Algernon Badger moved several thousand men into position on the downtown side of Canal Street. Badger commanded hundreds of Metropolitan Police, along with 12-pound cannons and Gatling guns, in a location between the Customs House and the levee.

The White League paramilitary forces assembled uptown and hoped to lure Republican forces from their positions at the edge of the French Quarter. Shouted taunts, snipers and a quick attack and retreat failed to entice Longstreet into an advance.

Captain Macheca's Company B of Second Regiment "Louisiana's Own" made the decisive move. Using an approaching train as cover, Macheca's 300 men (the roster of his Company B at Jackson Barracks Military Museum lists only 120) advanced along the levee and flanked Badger's position.

As Company B swarmed in from the levee, most of Badger's men fled back into the French Quarter. Badger himself fell wounded and was protected from further injury by Macheca and his men. (Some wished to hang the wounded Badger as a traitor.)

Though Republican positions melted away into the French Quarter, the White League did not pursue. The White League victory was not complete until the following morning, Sept. 15, when White League Colonel Angell began to probe across Canal Street. In the French Quarter, Macheca's men were found to be in possession of key Republican positions, thousands of seized weapons and two artillery pieces, and hundreds of surrendered prisoners.

Democratic forces retained control only for a short time, as President Grant moved the federal military into the area to support the return of the Republican government. White League supporters, viewing the conflict in New Orleans as a battle against oppression, later named the fight, "the Battle of Liberty Place."

A number of Macheca's men later became key figures in the New Orleans Sicilian business community and the Sicilian underworld organization.

Read more about the Battle of Liberty Place and the early days of the American Mafia in New Orleans - Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia