A single pistol shot echoed along New Orleans' St. Philip Street at about ten o'clock in the evening of Thursday, January 5, 1888.
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.
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.
Hunt, Thomas, and Martha Macheca Sheldon, Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia.
- "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.