Saturday, May 5, 2018

Grand jury defends killers

Says number involved in lynchings makes
indictment and prosecution impossible


On this date in 1891...
A grand jury, tasked with examining the March 14 riotous attack on Orleans Parish Prison that left eleven inmates dead, issued a final report that not only refused to indict any involved in organizing and performing the prison break-in and killings but also rationalized and defended the acts of those who took the law into their own hands.


(Pittsburgh Dispatch coverage from May 6, 1891, shown at right.)



An execution squad cornered its helpless
targets in the prison yard and opened fire.

The prison raid occurred the morning after a trial jury failed to convict nine men accused of conspiring in the Mafia assassination of local Police Chief David C. Hennessey. Six defendants in that case were acquitted. A verdict could not be reached on the remaining three. The defendants all were held in the prison overnight, March 13-14, to await the dismissal of a related charge in another court.

Parkerson
The verdict was widely considered a miscarriage of justice achieved through jury bribery. A group of civic leaders let by William Stirling Parkerson gathered as a "Vigilance Committee" on the evening of March 13. They arranged for a mass meeting of local citizens the next day and published an inflammatory ad in local newspapers: "All good citizens are invited to attend a mass meeting on Saturday, March 14, at 10 o'clock a.m., at Clay Statue, to take steps to remedy the failure of justice in the Hennessy case. Come prepared for action." The ad was signed by the committee members.

According to reports, the organizers also selected an execution team of at least a dozen men, provided them with repeating rifles and instructed them on the list of prisoners who were to be killed.

https://amzn.to/2roAxEh
On the morning of March 14, thousands of citizens turned out for the meeting, assembling around the statue of Henry Clay, then positioned in the center of Canal Street's intersection with St. Charles and Royal Streets. Parkerson and other Vigilance Committee leaders made fiery speeches and then organized a march to the Parish Prison, positioning execution team members at the front. When refused entry into the prison, a door was broken down and the execution team was sent inside. Parkerson's committee positioned guards at the broken door to ensure that the assembled mob was kept out of the prison.

Though deliberately planned and carefully executed, the killings at Orleans Parish Prison were classified as lynchings - casualties of irrational mob violence. The incident has since been regarded as the largest lynching in American history. Of the eleven men killed within the prison walls, just six had been among the defendants in the recent trial. The other five were accused Mafia conspirators who had not yet been brought into court. Most of the victims were immigrants from Italy, though a majority had achieved or taken steps toward U.S. citizenship.




As it probed the complete breakdown of local law and order, the grand jury heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses through a period of more than three weeks. Long before its findings were made public, there were indications that the panel would take no action against anyone involved in the March 14 killings. The only indictments it returned during its investigation were against six individuals accused of plotting in the selection and bribery of assassination trial jurors: private detective Dominick C. O'Malley, Thomas McCrystol, John Cooney, Bernard Claudi, Charles Granger and Fernand Armant.

O'Malley
Developments were closely followed around the globe. In advance of the grand jury report, Italy issued a treaty-based demand that the U.S. federal government take action to bring to justice the perpetrators of the March 14 violence and called for reparation payments. When Secretary of State James G. Blaine responded that the federal government had no authority to interfere in the Louisiana matter, Italy withdrew its ambassador to the United States, and newspapers wondered about the possibility of war.

The panel's final report, delivered to Judge Robert Hardin Marr on May 6, 1891, decided that the March 14 raid on the prison was "directly traceable to the miscarriage of justice as developed in the verdict rendered on March 13." It criticized abuses of the jury system by the Mafia secret organization and its associates in the New Orleans community.

The grand jury harshly criticized the combined interests of private detective O'Malley and defense attorney Lionel Adams, who represented the assassination trial defendants: "Such a combination between a detective and a prominent criminal lawyer is unheard of before in the civilized world, and when we contemplate its possibilities for evil we stand aghast."

It accused several on the assassination trial jury of selling their verdict: "...the moral conviction is forced upon us that some of the jurors impaneled to try the accused on the charge of assassination of the late chief of police were subject to a money influence to control their decision. Further than this, we may say it appears certain that at least three, if not more, of that jury were so unduly and unlawfully controlled."

The grand jury referred only in the most glowing terms to those who participated in the break-in at the prison and the killings of helpless inmates held there. It justified the March 14 violence as a correction of wrongdoing:

It is shown in the evidence that the gathering on Saturday morning, March 14, embraced several thousands of the first, best, and even the most law-abiding of the citizens of this city, assembled, as is the right of American citizens, to discuss in public meeting questions of grave import. We find a general sentiment among these witnesses and also in our intercourse with the people that the verdict as rendered by the jury was contrary to the law and the evidence and secured mainly through the designing and unscrupulous agents employed for the special purpose of defeating the ends of justice. At that meeting the determination was shown that the people would not submit to the surrender of their rights into the hands of midnight assassins and their powerful allies.

The grand jury dismissed as impossible the notion of bringing any charges against the March 14 killers, as it was a popular movement and prosecutors could not hope to bring an entire city to trial. The panel claimed to be unable to determine the identities of the vigilante leaders:

We have referred to the large number of citizens participating in this demonstration, estimated by judges at from 6000 to 8000, regarded as a spontaneous uprising of the people. The magnitude of this affair makes it a difficult task to fix the guilt upon any number of the participants - in fact, the act seemed to involve the entire people of the parish and City of New Orleans, so profuse is their sympathy and extended their connection with the affair. In view of these considerations, the thorough examination of the subject has failed to disclose the necessary facts to justify this grand jury in presenting indictments.

The grand jury included foreman W.H. Chaffe, Geo. H. Vennard, O. Carriere, D.R. Graham, David Stewart, T.W. Castleman, G.A. Hagsett, Jr., W.L. Saxon, E. Gauche, A.S. Ranlett, G.C. Lafaye, H. Haller, John H. Jackson, W.B. Leonard, P.J. Christian and Emile E. Hatry.

Coverage of the grand jury report and U.S.-Italy relations:
  • "The grand jury," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "The grand jury," New Orleans Times-Democrat, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Can't indict a whole city," New York Evening World, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Popular will pleaded," New York Sun, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "That grand jury report," New York Times, May 7, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Lynching all right," Pittsburgh Dispatch, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "No indictments," Pittsburgh Post, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "No consolation for Italy," Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
  • "The diplomatic controversy...," Glasgow Scotland Herald, May 5, 1891, p. 6.
  • "Italy in a hurry," Marion OH Daily Star, April 1, 1891, p. 1.
More on this subject:

Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

Sunday, October 15, 2017

1890: New Orleans police chief ambushed, murdered

On this date (Oct. 15) in 1890, New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy was fatally shot by several Mafia assassins a short distance from his home. He succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

Scene of Hennessy assassination

Hennessy attended a meeting of the city's police commission during the early evening of October 15. The meeting broke up at about nine o'clock. Hennessy was driven back to police headquarters at the southwest corner of Common (Tulane Avenue) and Basin Streets. Captain William O'Connor of the private Boylan Protection Agency met him there to escort the police chief home. Hennessy, perceived as a partisan in a local underworld feud, received a number of death threats from the local Mafia. City fathers hired the Boylan agency to keep him safe.

New Orleans Police Chief David C. Hennessy
Hennessy
Though Hennessy had a reputation for punctuality (he lived with his widowed mother and tried to avoid worrying her), the chief did not immediately head home. Instead, he and O'Connor, long acquainted, chatted at police headquarters for more than an hour. They left the building a few minutes after eleven.

While Basin Street was the most direct route between Hennessy's office and his home on Girod Street, heavy rains of earlier in the day had caused some flooding in the area. Hennessy and O'Connor took a significantly lengthier route, riverward on Common Street and then up Rampart Street to the intersection with Poydras Street. At that corner, the two men stopped into Dominick Virget's Oyster Saloon for a late snack. A teetotaler, Hennessy had a glass of milk with his plate of oysters.

At eleven-thirty, the men stepped out of Virget's and continued up Rampart Street. They paused in front of the McDonough schoolhouse at the corner of Rampart and Girod, about one and a half city squares from Hennessy's home. O'Connor said goodbye to Hennessy at that point, though he had been assigned with seeing the chief all the way home. O'Connor crossed the intersection diagonally to his left - his intended destination is unknown - while Hennessy turned right on Girod.

The chief took only a few strides and then halted as a young man darted out of a Girod Street doorway and ran toward Basin Street whistling loudly. The youth turned right onto Basin and disappeared around the side of Mrs. Ehrwald's second-hand store.

Hennessy assassins fired from beneath shed roof
The assassins' first
shots were fired from
beneath this shed roof
Hennessy managed just a few steps more. As he reached the front of the residence at No. 269 Girod Street, shotgun pellets tore into him from his left. The initial blast, originating from the darkness under a shed roof on the opposite site of Girod, shredded his umbrella, disabled his left hand and knocked him backward. Hennessy instinctively drew his ivory-handled Colt revolver. Another blast of shotgun pellets ripped through his slacks and shattered his right knee. On his way to the ground, the chief was struck by pellets in the chest and abdomen and then in the face and neck. Hennessy fired his revolver into the darkness across the street as he struggled to stand up.

Two shadowy figures stepped into Girod Street. Illuminated by a streetlamp and within sight of some residents whose attention was caught by the gunshots, they advanced toward the fallen police chief. They fired large-caliber slugs into Hennessy's midsection and then ran off.

Mortally wounded, Hennessy managed to rise to his feet. He stumbled a few yards in the direction of home. At the corner, he turned onto Basin. He dragged his disabled leg just a few more paces and collapsed onto the front steps of No. 189 Basin Street. Captain O'Connor, at most only a single square away when the gunfire erupted, somehow reached the chief's side far too late to fulfill his function as bodyguard.

"They gave it to me," Hennessy gasped, "and I gave it back the best I could."

O'Connor asked if the chief could identify his attackers. Hennessy reportedly replied, "Dagoes."

 - - - 

Hennessy died before he could provide any additional identification of his killers. Suspected Mafia members and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring in the assassination of the police chief. Nine men, including New Orleans-born businessman Joseph P. Macheca, were the first to be brought to trial early in 1891.

Captain William O'Connor, who should have been the prosecution's key witness in the case, was never called to testify. O'Connor might have explained the timing and the route of Hennessy's walk home, factors that brought him late at night into a well-planned ambush. The captain also might have explained his own fortuitously timed departure from the chief's side - just seconds before the shooting began - and his slow return to the chief after the shooting had finished and the assassins had run off.

None of the accused men were convicted. Six of those tried, including Macheca, reputed Mafia boss Charlie Matranga, and Asperi Marchesi, the boy-lookout who whistled upon the arrival of Hennessy, were acquitted. The jury could not reach a verdict for three other defendants identified by witnesses as shooters of the police chief.  After the trial, some jurors revealed that they had been concerned that Captain O'Connor did not testify.

Angered by the jury verdict, a mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, and murdered Macheca and ten other prisoners.

 - - - 

Read more about Police Chief Hennessy
and the early Mafia of New Orleans:


Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon
(Available in softcover and Kindle e-book formats)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Macheca and the black market

On this date (Aug. 28) in 1863, Joseph Macheca of New Orleans was tried and convicted in a Union military occupation court in connection with a scheme to steal and sell barrels of U.S. Army pork and beef.

Daily Picayune
The barrels officially belonged to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. They had been loaded aboard the steamship North America, a government transport, at Port Hudson, Louisiana (recently fallen to the Union forces after a 48-day siege). The North America steamed its cargo up the Mississippi River in support of the 4th Massachusetts' advance to Cairo, Louisiana. Remaining barrels were brought to New Orleans, and the ship captain and a steward sold some to Macheca for resale through the Macheca family produce store in the city.

While other conspirators were sent to prison, young Macheca was merely ordered to pay a $50 fine.

Joseph Macheca previously had enlisted for service in the Confederate Army and returned home to New Orleans in advance of the Union invasion of the city. Union occupiers generally controlled businesses and provisions in the region. The produce business of Macheca's step-father - a native of Malta and a British citizen - was one exception.

Following his conviction, Macheca left New Orleans for Texas, where he reportedly gathered a small fortune through smuggling. Macheca returned after the Civil War and became a close ally of New Orleans Mafiosi while building a produce business and a shipping line.

Macheca was among those charged, tried and acquitted of the 1890 assassination of Police Chief Hennessy. The New Orleans merchant was one of eleven prisoners murdered after Orleans Parish Prison was stormed by an anti-Mafia mob in 1891.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Liberty Place monument removed

Early this morning (Monday, April 24, 2017), city of New Orleans workers dismantled and removed the Liberty Place monument, commemorating the 1874 battle between local conservative militias and Louisiana's Reconstruction Era government.

The battle occurred after the validity of state election results was questioned by both major political parties. Rival election boards announced the election of different governors, and competing state legislatures were assembled.

Joseph P. Macheca, the subject of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, captained a force of Sicilian immigrants that played a pivotal role in the battle and helped conservative Democratic "White League" forces to rout the well-armed Metropolitan Police, comprised largely of Republican-aligned African Americans and led by superintendent Algernon Badger, and a Republican militia commanded by former Confederate General James Longstreet.

Following the battle, U.S. President Ulysses Grant ordered federal troops into New Orleans to restore Reconstruction government control. The conflict has been referred to as the last battle of the U.S. Civil War. 


The monument - a 35-foot white stone obelisk - was installed in the center of Canal Street in 1891. (In the same year, Macheca and ten other men held at Orleans Parish Prison were attacked and murdered by a mob.) A white-supremacist message was inscribed upon the structure decades later. Controversy surrounded the monument and its racist inscription. That inscription was subsequently covered by a carved stone plaque dedicating the monument to those killed on both sides of the 1874 conflict.

Due to a Canal Street construction project 28 years ago, the obelisk was removed. There was a considerable argument over whether it should be replaced. Several years later, it was installed at a less visible location on Iberville Street. It remained a divisive symbol for the community.

The Liberty Place monument was the first of four Confederate Era monuments scheduled for removal in the city. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the press yesterday (April 23), "There's a better way to use the property these monuments are on and a way that better reflects who we are."

Read more:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The killing of Joseph Agnello

On this date in 1872, New Orleans Mafia leader Joseph Agnello was shot to death during a gunfight at the Picayune Tier.

New Orleans Daily Picayune,
April 21, 1872
Successor to the leadership of his brother Raffaele's underworld organization, Joseph Agnello was seriously wounded in several attacks in 1870-72, but managed to recover each time. Agnello was expected to die after a shooting at Poydras Street and Dryades in September of 1871, but he shocked physicians with his quick rebound. He finally met his end after at least two gunmen (and as many as four) from a rival underworld faction cornered him at the dock at six o'clock in the morning, Saturday, April 20, 1872.

After briefly exchanging fire with his attackers, Agnello tried to escape by jumping aboard the moored schooner Mischief. He was struck by shotgun blasts as he went over the rail of the schooner and fell onto the deck.

Agnello regained his footing momentarily, only to be struck in the midsection by a large-caliber horse-pistol slug fired by Joseph Maressa (reportedly also known as Vincent Orsica). The slug passed through his body from right to left, ripping through his heart and leaving a gaping exit wound.

New Orleans Republican,
April 21, 1872
Two bystanders were injured by flying lead. Customhouse official Joseph Soude was struck in the back by shotgun shot and died of his wounds as he was helped to his home. A youngster named Edward Nixon was wounded in the leg.

Police arrested Maressa and Joseph Florada (also known as Ignazio Renatz) for the killing. Florada had previously been arrested for counterfeiting. The accused were held at the Third Precinct's Jackson Square police station, where they argued that they shot Agnello in self-defense. Authorities recovered an Enfield rifle, two double-barreled shotguns and a horse pistol from the area of the shooting. One of the shotguns was found fully loaded (this belonged to Florada, who raised it to fire at Agnello but just then noticed a police officer nearby and decided to drop it instead).

The death of Agnello marked the end of a Mafia war in New Orleans that started in 1868. Mafiosi originating in Palermo, Sicily, were briefly eclipsed in the Crescent City by underworld factions transplanted from Trapani and Messina and by the Stuppagghieri organization based in Monreale.

Sources:
  • "Murder in the Second District," New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869, p. 1.
  • "La Vendetta: shooting affray on Poydras Street," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 6.
  • "The city," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 2.
  • "Another Sicilian vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Sicilian feud again," New Orleans Republican, April 21, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Italian war," New Orleans Republican, April 23, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The Sicilian vendetta," Nashville TN Union and American, April 30, 1872, p. 3 [reprinted articles from the New Orleans Picayune and New Orleans Times-Democrat of April 21].
  • "Vicentio Ossica...," New Orleans Republican, June 4, 1872, p. 5.


Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca
and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

Saturday, April 1, 2017

148 years ago: New Orleans boss murdered

On this date in 1869, New Orleans Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello is shot to death during an underworld feud. 
New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869.

Agnello, accompanied by his godson and bodyguard Frank Sacarro, was on a walk around the French Quarter when a noise from Old Levee Street behind him caught his attention. When he turned back to resume his walk, a bareheaded man in a long frock coat stepped forward and pointed a brass-mounted blunderbuss pistol at the boss's head.

The pistol fired, launching chunks of metal into Agnello's skull and killing him instantly. Some of the blunderbuss's projectiles missed the mark and cracked through the windows and walls of the Joseph Macheca produce store and the Norman & Reiss bakery on Toulouse Street. Sacarro's left index finger was wounded when he thrust out his left hand toward the weapon as it fired.

The gunman in the frock coat fled through the bakery pursued by Sacarro, who drew a pistol and managed to wound him with a shot. The gunman, leaving behind a trail of blood, escaped through a rear exit. Frank Philips, a baker working at Norman & Reiss, was wounded in the right leg by some flying lead.

In the summer, authorities arrested Joseph Florada (who may also have been known as Gaetano Arditto) as a suspect in the Agnello killing. Sacarro would not identify the Florada as the man he saw shoot his godfather, and the suspect was set free.

Agnello had been leader of a Mafia organization comprised of Palermitani. His enemies, an alliance largely made up of Messinesi and Trapanesi, had a momentary advantage in an underworld struggle that had already lasted several months, since the killing of Litero Barba, reputed leader of a Messinian gang. The war was not yet over, however. Raffaele Agnello's brother Joseph stepped up to the leadership of the Palermitani and continued the fight until his own murder in 1872.


For more about this subject: