Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Martha Macheca Sheldon, author, 84

Martha Macheca Sheldon, award-winning author of a New Orleans underworld history/biography, died August 29, 2020, following a valiant battle against cancer. She was about two weeks shy of her eighty-fifth birthday.

Known to her many friends as “Marnie” and “Mardi,” Sheldon was coauthor of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, published by iUniverse early in 2007. The book’s release – the culmination of more than a decade of research into her own family history – was celebrated with an April signing event at the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans. Deep Water became silver medalist in the South Region Nonfiction category of the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A second edition of the book was released early in 2010.

Sheldon followed family roots to 19th century New Orleans. In that time and place, her Macheca ancestors were generally well-to-do, law-abiding entrepreneurs and pioneers of the fruit trade. Her ancestor, John Macheca, was a principal owner of the New Orleans-Belize Royal Mail and Central American Steamship Company, which transported Central American produce to U.S. ports and held a contract for delivery of mail to the British colony of Belize.

However, Sheldon learned that John’s half-brother, Joseph P. Macheca, had been the leading suspect in the 1890 Mafia assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy and one of the victims in the 1891 Crescent City lynchings, the single largest lynching event in American history.

“I heard a lot about family history while growing up,” Sheldon remarked in 2007, noting that there had been no family discussion about Joseph P. Macheca. “When I learned there was a missing piece of the story, I was determined to find it. My father and other relatives wouldn’t talk about it. Over the years, I was able to pick up bits of information from various sources, until the skeleton was finally out of the closet.”

Sheldon was born Martha L. Macheca on September 14, 1935, in St. Louis County, Missouri. (The 1940 U.S. Census located the family home on Conway Road in Clayton Township.) Her parents were Arthur M. Jr. and Marie Lucks Macheca. She graduated from Villa Duchesne Sacred Heart High School and earned a bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis. While at college, she met Stephen B. Sheldon, a St. Louis native (born November 27, 1931) and a veteran of the U.S. Marines. They were married in 1958. Stephen Sheldon became a highly regarded freelance cartoonist, animator and painter.

The Sheldons lived for a time in Los Angeles, California, where they worked in the production of television commercials for Gardner Advertising. Martha Sheldon also worked for an interior design company.

They later returned to their home city of St. Louis, where they raised their daughter Kate. Martha Sheldon’s favorite activities included tennis, spending time with family and communicating with friends. She became involved with volunteer work for SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Malcolm Bliss Mental Health Center and Barnes Jewish/Christian (BJC) Hospital. She served on the Auxiliary Board of Directors at BJC, and was a member of the Risk Management Board, a Patient Representative Director and Public Relations Director. Stephen Sheldon set aside his art supplies in 1996 and became a dispatcher for the ranger base at the St. Louis Zoo.

At that time, Martha Sheldon began the research that would lead to Deep Water. Near the end of 2002, she communicated with Thomas Hunt, a Connecticut researcher then assembling a website dedicated to American Mafia history, and they shared information they had discovered about Joseph P. Macheca. They agreed in December 2002 to partner in the telling of Macheca’s life story and the events surrounding the 1890 Hennessy assassination. 

Tragedies struck just as their book was taking shape in 2005. Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in late August, imperiling Sheldon’s family and friends in the region as well as Macheca-related documents just discovered by New Orleans archivists. On October 28, 2005, Martha Sheldon’s husband of forty-seven years succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of seventy-three.

According to an online obituary, Martha Sheldon spent her last days at St. Sophia in St. Louis. She is survived by her daughter, Kate, and her brothers John Macheca and Arthur Macheca III. In addition to her husband Stephen, she was preceded in death by her sister Mariana O’Conner. 

Services were private. At Martha Sheldon’s request, her ashes were to be scattered under a full moon at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.
 
Martha Sheldon (left) at a book signing event in St. Louis.

 

 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Vendetta killings at French Market

On this date in 1869...

French Market, New Orleans

Two leaders of a Sicilian underworld faction were murdered on the morning of July 22, 1869, outside New Orleans' French Market.

Joseph Banano and Pietro Allucho, top men in a coalition of gangsters who emigrated from the Sicilian provinces of Messina and Trapani, died almost instantly from shotgun and pistol wounds. They had been involved for some time in a bloody feud with the Palermo-based Agnello Mafia organization. They recently returned to New Orleans after hiding out with friends in Galveston, Texas. Efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict were abandoned following the assassination of Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello in April 1869 and the succession of Joseph Agnello to his brother's leadership post.

New Orleans Times
The murders of Banano and Allucho occurred at the foot of Ursulines Street, beside the busy produce market. Though many people were nearby at the time, all claimed not to have seen the shooting.

The attention of police Officer Beasley, stationed nearby at the Levee, was attracted by the first shotgun blast that felled Allucho. From a distance, Beasley saw Joseph Banano attempt to help his collapsing friend Allucho and saw Salvatore Rosa, standing beside a "spring wagon," fire a second shell from his gun into Banano's side. As Beasley rushed to the scene, Rosa dropped his shotgun into the wagon, drew a pistol and fired again into Banano. After that, he tossed the pistol into the wagon, and another man drove the wagon quickly away.

Rosa saw Beasley approaching and attempted to escape, but the officer grabbed him after a brief chase.

Six slugs were found to have penetrated Allucho's side and chest and to have caused extensive damage to his lungs. Banano's right ribs were shattered by five slugs. A pistol in his pocket was broken into pieces by the projectiles, and one of the pieces was driven two inches into his body. A pistol shot wound was found on the other side of his body.

City newspapers differed in their accounts of what immediately preceded the attack and did not reveal their sources of information. (Judging from their slants, the competing stories appear to have come from sources close to the competing underworld factions.)

The New Orleans Times portrayed the incident as an ambush. It said Rosa hid himself in the back of the spring wagon until Banano and Allucho, "quietly engaged in conversation," were close by. Rosa then "simply shot one man after the other down as they stood in their tracks," the newspaper reported. The Times also linked the incident to shots fired an hour and a half earlier. At that time, Joseph Agnello was stopped by police. Agnello insisted that he had not done any shooting but was shot at by unknown men.

The New Orleans Daily Picayune suggested a self-defense motive for Rosa. It said Rosa was walking between St. Philip Street and Ursulines Street when he was threatened by a group of men at Ursulines. He reportedly ducked into a nearby building and armed himself. When he emerged, he fired into the threatening crowd.

Rosa was well known to police as a dangerous gunman. He was arrested two years earlier and charged with the murder of Erastus Wells at the Poydras Market. He was acquitted in that case. More recently he was charged in the apparently unintended killing of grocer David Clark, struck by gunfire during an eruption of the Sicilian underworld feud at the end of March, 1869, and also with attempting to kill a witness against him in the Clark homicide case.

As Rosa was locked up, there was speculation that he would use a self-defense argument to escape conviction. But he would never face trial. While incarcerated, Rosa developed a mysterious illness. He was said to be nearly dead when authorities agreed to release him in bail in August. He died August 21, 1869.

Two rumors were widely circulated after his death. The first was that he had been poisoned in his jail cell by Banano and Allucho followers. The other was that he had not died at all, but used phony reports of illness and death to escape from his underworld rivals and from the law.

New Orleans Daily Picayune

Sources:
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Martha Macheca Sheldon, Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, Second Edition, 2010.
  • "An attempt to kill," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 7, 1869, p. 2.
  • "Again arrested," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 7, 1869, p. 12.
  • "Another tragedy - Two Sicilians killed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 23, 1869, p. 2.
  • "The two last assassinations," New Orleans Times, July 23, 1869, p. 1.
  • "The Sicilian disturbances," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 24, 1869, p. 2.
  • "The homicides - a week of blood," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1869, p. 2.
  • "Death of Rosa," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 22, 1869, p. 9.
  • "Salvador Rosa," New Orleans Death Records Index, Aug. 21, 1869, Ancestry.com.
  • "Unfounded rumor," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 25, 1869, p. 2.
Read more:

 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Hennessys capture Sicilian brigand in New Orleans

On this date in 1881: Cousins David and Michael Hennessy, members of the New Orleans detective (or "aides") force, capture fugitive Sicilian brigand Giuseppe Esposito near the St. Louis Cathedral in the Crescent City.

Esposito
Esposito, also known as Giuseppe Randazzo and as Vincenzo Rebello, had escaped Italian authorities while headed to trial for homicide and other crimes. In the 1870s, he crossed the Atlantic and settled briefly in New York City before moving on to New Orleans. Police and press believed the Mafia of Palermo assisted in his escape and flight from Sicily. Esposito became the recognized leader of the Sicilian underworld in New Orleans, settled down and started a family.

He was betrayed to Italian authorities by some of his New Orleans associates. A U.S. private detective firm was hired to locate him and bring him to justice. Private detectives of the Mooney and Boland Agency worked through the New Orleans Chief of Aides Thomas Boylan to arrange the capture.

Esposito's arrest was conducted very much like a kidnapping. The Hennessys caught him alone, grabbed him and threw him into a carriage, taking him off to a secret location. He was prevented from seeing any of his New Orleans family or friends. The following day, he was smuggled aboard a steamship that was already underway for New York City.

The circumstances of his arrest and his New York City efforts to avoid deportation to Italy became international news and the subjects of Congressional inquiries.

NY Evening Telegram
In a series of hearings before U.S. Commissioner Osborn in New York, the prisoner contested his identification as the brigand Esposito and claimed to have been a good citizen in New Orleans at the time that Esposito was committing crimes in Sicily. Witnesses - some of whom were later linked with the Mafia - came from New Orleans to support his story. The prisoner had difficulty in explaining his documented use of aliases. His alibi failed when Italy sent police officials to New York to identify the fugitive brigand.

Esposito's deportation was handled as suddenly as his arrest. Once the U.S. Commissioner was satisfied of his identity and before any legal appeals could be considered, Esposito was turned over to Italian authorities and placed on a ship for Europe. His wife and child were left behind in the U.S. (Esposito trusted New Orleans allies to care for his family. They failed to do so and took Esposito resources for their own benefit. Esposito later tried without luck to sue them from his Italian prison cell. His wife gave birth to a second child after his deportation. Both children were later placed in New Orleans orphanages.)

In his absence, the Crescent City's Sicilian underworld broke apart into warring factions - the competing Provenzano and Matranga organizations.

The Hennessys became instantly famous following the Esposito arrest (though the local police superintendent accused them of insubordination for acting without his approval). Their fame came at a terrible price. Within ten years of Esposito's capture, both of them were murdered. In each case, the killings remained officially unsolved but were widely believed performed by Sicilian gangsters.

David Hennessy
Mike Hennessy, who relocated to the Houston-Galveston area and started a private detective business there, was shot to death a short distance from his Houston home on Sept. 29, 1886. He was shot repeatedly from behind. One suspect, D.H. Melton, was arrested but later released for lack of evidence.

David Hennessy became police superintendent in New Orleans and actively fought the local Mafia. As he returned home from work on the evening of Oct. 15, 1890, he was attacked by a group of gunmen. He was knocked down from a distance by a shotgun blast of bird shot and then mortally wounded by higher-caliber slugs fired into his body at closer range. He died the next day. The assassination of the police superintendent resulted in the imprisonment of members and associates of the local Matranga Mafia and later to the Crescent City lynchings.

Read more about this subject in:
 
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

Sunday, January 5, 2020

New Orleans killing linked to Mafia feud

On this date in 1888...

A single pistol shot echoed along New Orleans' St. Philip Street at about ten o'clock in the evening of Thursday, January 5, 1888.

Times-Democrat
Private watchman Jacob Seither, stationed at the Old French Market at the foot of St. Philip, called for police assistance and then moved up the dark street toward the sound. Midway up the block, in front of a lodging house, Seither found twenty-eight-year-old Antonio Bonora, clutching a wounded abdomen and murmuring in Italian.

Police Officer Frank Santanio soon arrived and summoned an ambulance. He determined that Bonora was calling for his mother and asking for her blessing. Santanio asked Bonora who shot him, but the victim gave no answer. Bonora died before the ambulance arrived.

A stretcher was assembled from available materials, and it was used to take Bonora's body to the Third Precinct Station for examination. Police found a gaping wound in the upper abdomen and severe powder burns on the surrounding clothing and flesh. That indicated that the pistol had been placed quite close to the body when it was fired.

Investigators gained little helpful information from questioning residents of the Italian neighborhood where the killing occurred. In the front room of Salvatore Buffa's saloon, which looked out onto the street where Bonora was killed, police found several men gathered. Those men claimed they had been singing together and neither saw nor heard the nearby shooting.

Daily Picayune
Police learned that Bonora had been in the Buffa saloon earlier that night, sharing wine with local residents Sam Caruso, Vincent Pellegrini and Frank Demar. Caruso and friends reportedly tried to convince Bonora to take a drive with them uptown, but he refused. They parted a short time before the shooting.

Caruso, Pellegrini and Demar were rounded up by the police and brought to the police station. They viewed Bonora's body, but provided no useful information to investigators.

Deputy Coroner Stanhope Jones performed an autopsy on Bonora's remains on Friday morning. He found that death resulted from hemorrhage caused by a bullet that entered the body four inches above the navel and cut through the liver, spleen and right lung. The bullet traveled upward inside the body and lodged beneath the right armpit.

The local press reported that Bonora was a member of the Tiro al Bersaglio organization and the Fruit Laborers Union. Tiro al Bersaglio was an Italian-American benevolent society that hosted marksmanship events and had a paramilitary quality. Some of its more influential members, including Joseph Macheca and Frank Romero, were later linked with the local Mafia.

Related to Mafia conflict?

Bonora's murder was unsolved. But historians have pointed to Mafia enforcer Rocco Geraci as his killer. In the 1880s, the Sicilian underworld of New Orleans was divided into warring factions built around the rival Provenzano and Matranga families. It appears likely that Bonora's murder was related to this conflict. Geraci is also believed responsible for the earlier murder of Vincent Raffo in the same neighborhood.

The Provenzano group, known as the Giardinieri (or Gardeners) included Bonora's drinking buddies Pellegrini and Demar (a Provenzano brother-in-law) and, for a time at least, members of the Caruso family. Geraci was aligned with the Matrangas, known as the Stuppagghieri (or Stoppers). The Carusos appear to have abruptly abandoned the Provenzanos to side with the Matrangas, but they may have been secretly allied with the Matrangas all along.

The Provenzanos for years held a virtual monopoly over Sicilian dockworkers in New Orleans, controlling the Fruit Laborers Union. (In the later 1880s, Provenzanos held the posts of union vice president and financial secretary, while Victor Pellegrini served as union grand marshal.) A Provenzano-aligned stevedore firm held contracts to unload produce ships reaching the city docks.

In this period, a rival Matranga-Locascio firm sprang up and quickly seized control of the docks. A local newspaper report from summer 1888 indicated that the new company's "quick work and careful handling of the fruit" earned it high marks from importers and ship owners. At that moment, the Matranga business was said to include Charles Matranga, Antonio Locascio, James Caruso, Vincent Caruso and Rocco Geraci.

The Provenzanos did not accept the setback gracefully. More violence resulted, and local police, courts and political organizations were pulled into the gangland war.

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

Sources:
  • "From Spanish Honduras with fruit," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Aug. 26, 1888, p. 11.
  • "Fruit Laborers' Union," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 29, 1888, p. 6.
  • "Rocco Geraci," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 27, 1890, p. 6.
  • "Slain," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 6, 1888, p. 2.
  • "The Benora autopsy," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The fruit laborers," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 29, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The Italian murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 7, 1888, p. 3.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 6, 1888, p 3.
  • "Trial of Garaci," New Orleans Times-Democrat, July 27, 1890, p. 10.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Macheca enlists as Confederate private

On this date in 1861: Joseph P. Macheca, a Louisiana native, enlisted in the Confederate Army. (Some legends incorrectly state that Macheca was foreign-born and sat out the Civil War.)


Signed up by Lieutenant John Devereaux of the Louisiana Artillery, Macheca became a private in Gomez's Company of the 22 Louisiana Infantry, Camp Lewis near New Orleans. At that time, it was thought that the war would be over quickly. Macheca's enlistment was for just nine months.

Macheca's term of service concluded just after the federal capture of New Orleans and just before the 22nd Regiment saw serious action. After leaving the army, he is known to have participated in black market activities during the federal occupation of the city and is believed to have helped run the Union blockade of southern ports.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Macheca organizes paramilitary 'club'

Group of 'white citizens' backs overthrow
of Republican government in Louisiana


On this date in 1874...

Joseph P. Macheca, a produce importer and steamship line owner allied with Louisiana conservative Democratic interests, on the evening of September 9, 1874, called to order an organizational meeting of the white supremacist Cosmopolitan Democratic Club of the City of New Orleans.

A press report by the Daily Picayune indicated that the meeting, held at Royal and Orleans Streets, drew a large number of "foreign citizens," including immigrants from Italy, Austria and Spanish-speaking countries. (The Royal and Orleans location is behind the landmark St. Louis Cathedral and about one city square from the Orleans Ballroom, where Macheca's violently racist Innocenti organization regularly met six years earlier.)

The group supported a resolution that was starkly racist:

Whereas it behooves all good citizens to take part in the approaching campaign, in order to redeem the State of Louisiana, and relieve her from the present usurpation - Be it resolved, That we, as white citizens, do form ourselves into a Democratic club, to be known as the "Cosmopolitan Democratic Club" of the city of New Orleans.

Daily Picayune, Sept. 10, 1874.
At the time - the Reconstruction period following the Civil War - a liberal Republican Party (known in the South as "Radical Republicans" and "Black Republicans") encouraged African American voter registration, while an entrenched conservative Democratic Party fought to maintain the status quo. Backed by President Ulysses Grant, a Republican-dominated Congress in Washington, D.C., and the federal military, Republicans controlled the postwar state government (the "present usurpation" referred to in the resolution). Within New Orleans, the Democratic establishment embraced white immigrants, then arriving in increasing numbers, in an effort to offset the new voting power of the Republicans.

When the Cosmopolitan Democratic Club elected officers, Macheca was selected as grand marshal. Today that position would be the ceremonial leader of parades, but it had a more military function in 1874. All present at the meeting must have recalled Macheca's leadership of bloody marches through African-American neighborhoods during the 1868 election season.

The military purpose of the Cosmopolitan Democratic Club became evident less than a week later, as "Captain Macheca" and his men participated in a large-scale insurrection against Republican state government. The revolt was organized by the Crescent City White League, a network of paramilitary groups (like the Cosmopolitan Democratic Club) that was led by former Confederate officers.

Macheca's force played a pivotal role in routing state militia and New Orleans Metropolitan Police in the September 14, 1874, conflict recalled as the Battle of Liberty Place. The victory was short-lived, as federal troops were quickly moved into New Orleans to restore Republican control.