By Thom L. Jones
The man with the heavy black beard had left his comfortable, six-room apartment at 130 West Twelfth Street. It was late in the morning, and he had to go to his office; but first he had a lunch meeting.
It was January 11th, 1943.
There were four of them gathering late on this morning, and they went to eat at one of his favourite restaurants- John’s- also on Twelfth Street, a few blocks east from where he lived. Opened in 1908, it still to this day serves traditional northern Italian cuisine in an atmosphere largely unchanged over generations: dim lighting, old wooden booths, tiled floors and a giant candle centre piece that has been building up wax for over seventy years.
The restaurant had been founded by John Puciatti, an immigrant from Umbria, and soon became a favourite meeting venue for New York’s Italia-American souvveusivi -subversives.
Until 1940, its adverts carried a phrase: ‘A place for all radicals.’
The man often ate here, sometimes lunching with the owner upstairs in his private apartment.
An iconic landmark in this part of the city, twenty years before, it had been the scene of a crucial gang-war confrontation.
In August 1922, Umberto Valenti, fighting for control of New York’s Italian-American underworld, was murdered near John’s. Called to a peace conference with Giuseppe Masseria, another mob boss, to be held in the restaurant, Valenti, ambushed by a group of gunmen at 11:45 am, was chased down to the corner of 2nd Avenue and then, shot dead as he tried to escape in a taxi.
The portly man sat next to his old friend, John Dos Passos, the author, social historian and radical critic of the quality of American life. Across the table, sat Margaret De Silver, the woman the man had lived with since 1931. They had relocated to the Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights in 1939 or 1940. With them was her son- 27 year old Harrison. Although his doctor had been urging him to lose weight, to help overcome the various health problems he suffered from, the big, bearded man- Carlo Tresca- ate with a formidable appetite, enjoying a meal of veal scaloppini, spaghetti and cheese, all washed down with red wine and coffee.
The lunch was long and noisy. The restaurant owner remembered how the company at the table almost vibrated with the noise and excitement of their excited conversations. They were discussing the war in Europe and the inevitability of Benito Mussolini’s collapse in Italy. The man who was the heart of the most intense discussions, was Tresca himself, and he reiterated how committed he was to making sure that the vacuum created by the Italian dictator’s fall, would not be filled by the communists.
He was an old time revolutionary, and once had in fact supported the communists-seeing them as valuable allies in the fight against fascism. However, when the Stalinists crushed the anarchist movement in Catalonia and Aragon, during the Spanish Civil War, Tresca became an implacable enemy of Stalinism.
Sometime during the meal, an old friend, Luigi Antonini, stopped by to speak. The head of Local 89 of The International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which had 34000 members, he was one of the foundling members of the American Labour Party, created in the summer of 1936 to provide support for the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Since at least 1908, Carlo Tresca the elder statesman of the Italian-American radical world had been closely involved in the struggles of the American worker. In Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Massachusetts he had actively campaigned in the mainstream of American extremism and labour disputes, and he had many friends, and enemies among the thousands of workers and hundreds of officials who formed the core of the New York labour movements.
The lunch lasted for several hours and, it was late in the afternoon, when Tresca left his party then walked the three blocks north, to his office. He ran a newspaper called Il Martello, (The Hammer), which he had used since 1920 as a propaganda tool against Mussolini. His office was located on a floor of a building at 96, Fifth Avenue, on the corner of Fifteenth Street, in lower Manhattan.
Carlo Tresca (photo left) was sixty-four years of age. A hulking, overweight man, with a distinct mass of black hair, he also sported a beard and full, flowing moustache. A writer and human rights activist, he had waged a lifelong struggle for social and economic justice and individual rights. Born in 1879, in Sulmona in the province of Abruzzi, Italy, he had from an early age, embraced socialism and developed a powerful, belligerent stance in his beliefs that characterised his whole life.
His political views developed in his early days, in Abruzzi, and by the age of twenty-two, he became elected secretary of The Syndicate of Firemen and Railroad Workers Union, the largest labour organization in Italy; he was also the editor of a newspaper called Il Germe, (The Seed). He was continually in conflict with religious, political and economic figures of power, and in 1904, he had been condemned to two years in prison for creating political agitation. Rather than serve this sentence, he escaped from Italy and travelled via Switzerland to America, arriving in New York on the SS Touraine, in August 1904.
In the 39 years he lived in America, he published at least four newspaper. His activities in the labour movement brought him into contact with The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) also known as ‘The Wobblies’ and he became closely involved in the New York hotel workers strike (1913), the Paterson, New Jersey silk workers strike (1913) and the Minnesota miners strike (1916). He was constantly under attack by the federal government, and time and time again his newspapers were either suppressed or closed down.
In 1921 he became interested in the famous Sacco-Vanzetti case, and was responsible for bringing the controversial IWW lawyer, Fred Moore, into the struggle for the defence, and also in generating considerable publicity and financial aid promoting the innocence of the doomed anarchists.
By the 1920’s, Tresca had become obsessed with the fight against fascism, and was a key activist working against Mussolini’s efforts to organize American-Italians into support groups promoting fascist ideas within America. Pressure by Mussolini’s government eventually persuaded the State Department to suppress Il Martello, and Tresca was imprisoned in 1925 on charges that were so patently false, he was pardoned by President Coolidge after having served only four months of his sentence.
His tireless advocacy of direct action had led through his life to thirty-six arrests during various working class struggles.
Unable to eliminate Tresca from the scene of action by legal process, the fascist's tried to stop him forever. He was the recipient of a number of bomb attacks; there were repeated threats on his life, and he once had his throat cut in an unsuccessful assassination attempt. These assaults encouraged antifascist responses among his supporters, and there were several mass demonstrations and street fights, in New York and other leading industrial cities, between the two warring factions. By the end of 1930 Tresca and his supporters, had to all intents effectively derailed Mussolini’s plans for the creation of a subsidiary of his fascist movement in the United States.
A few hundred yards south of the office Tresca would come to occupy, located on 5th Avenue, and just north of the Little Italy district, was a building at 225 Lafayette Street. Here, once described as a ‘beehive’ of fascist activity, was a concatenation that might come to exert pressure on the events that would take place a few years down the way.
Edward Corsi, a notorious fascist sympathizer, founded an Italian weekly magazine called La Settimana, and moved his office here in 1936. Files in the New York District Attorney’s Office indicate that he attended a meeting in which the murder of Carlo Tresca was discussed.
Vincenzo Martinez, a reporter for Il Progresso, a popular daily Italian newspaper owned by millionaire businessman Generso Pope, was allegedly part of the New York Mafia. He also acted as secretary of the Macaroni Employers Association, whose office was based in the building. In addition he was close to a man called Frank Garofalo, a powerful mob boss allied to what we now know to-day as the Bonanno Crime Family. Martinez was also a confidant of a young, tough gangster called Carmine Galante, who was making a mark for himself in and around the same crime family
Garofalo often dined in a restaurant on the top floor of the building, sometimes holding meetings here with Pope, for whom he worked in at least one capacity.
The building also housed at various times an assortment of men, all linked into the New York underworld.
The Five Borough Truckmen’s Service Association had their office in the building. It was a group of hoods headed by Dominick Didato, Johnny Diougiardi, and his uncle Jimmy Plumeri. They were all part of another New York Mafia crime family then run by Tomasso Gagliano. As extra muscle in enforcing their demands on independent truckers in the city, they used a hoodlum called Natale Evola, someone else who would have known Garofalo, and who in fact one day in the distant future would himself, come to lead the Bonanno’s for a brief period.
Albert Marinelli, the county clerk of Manhattan and leader of the 2nd Assembly also had an office in this building. Some sources claim he was the most powerful leader in Tammany Hall. He was also linked into one of the most extensive mob combinations then operating in the New York area, in the early 1930s consisting of Vito Genovese, Charley Luciano, Johnny Torio, Vincenzo Mangano, Anthony Strollo, Joe ’Socks’ Lanza and Ciro Terranova. It was suggested he often met with Garofalo and Galante and there was a strong possibility that he was mixed up not only in the politics of the mob but also the murky, shifting-sands of Soviet espionage and intrigue rampant in New York in the late 1930s.
Thomas Dewey, the crusading district attorney, referred to him as:
‘…..a political ally of thieves, pickpockets, thugs, dope peddlers and big-shot racketeers.’
Luciano went to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1932 with him as his guest, sharing a suite at the Drake Hotel with the crooked assemblyman.
In the 1930s, Tresca fell in and then out of love with the communist movement. Their devastating brutality in the Spanish Civil War turned him into an implacable foe. By the end of the decade, the communists were conducting a strategy of character assassination against Tresca in the hopes of mitigating and destroying his influence in the anti-fascist movements. Tresca's political views became increasingly more radical over the years, and he soon came to identify himself as an anarchist.
In its simplistic form, anarchy is a culture of free individuals, combining all social and economic activities, unencumbered by any form of ruling authority. The term first came into common practice in 1840, adopted by a Frenchman, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, in an essay he wrote called What is Property? Although closer to communism in terms of its doctrine, anarchy is diametrically opposed to fascism and its extreme right-wing authoritarian principles.
By the time Tresca arrived in the United States, the federal government had already enacted the Anarchist Exclusion Act of 1903 and President William McKinley had been assassinated by Leon Czologosz, a radical anarchist. Mario Buda, an Italian anarchist, would be responsible for the massive Wall Street bombing in September 1920. America was finding out just how committed political activists could be, when often, all they had to look forward to were their dreams.
As 1943 dawned, Carlo Tresca had become a thorn in the side of many people and organizations. The N.Y.P.D. had long listed him as a terrorist. He had a lot of enemies. Historical records indicate for example, that Mussolini had put Tresca’s name on a death list as early as 1931. He was at war with the communists and the fascists, as well as the unions and employers. There were probably enough names to fill a telephone directory. He knew that he lived on the cusp of a perilous mountain of intrigue and danger. He could easily have been the subject of the statement of German leftist Eugene Levine, who at his trial said: ‘We revolutionaries are all dead men on leave.’
Earlier in the year, Tresca had lunched at John’s with two of his associates, Vincenzo Lionetti and Ezio Taddei. They had tried to persuade him to accompany them to Boston to attend a rally.
‘I will come,’ he said: ‘if they do not kill me first.’
At his third floor office he met up with a number of visitors, and then waited for a meeting that was to assemble at eight-thirty that evening.
He sat there, with Giuseppe Calabi, an attorney and exile from Italy, waiting for four other men, who along with Tresca and Calabi had been recently chosen by the New York chapter of the Mazzini Society to establish an expanded committee for anti-fascist campaigning.
The society, the most influential anti-fascist organization in America, had been founded in 1939 by Count Carlo Sforza and Max Ascoli in New York and had established over 40 branches across the country within excess of 1000 members.
The four others to whom Tresca had written, inviting them to meet him in his office, were Vanni Montana, secretary to Luigi Antonini, president of the Italian-American Labor Council; John Sala, an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America along with Giovanni Profenna and Gian Mario Lanzilotti. However they did not appear. No word came from them, and phone calls by the editor failed to locate any of them.
At nine-thirty, Tresca decided they would wait no longer, and suggested that he and Calabi both go to a nearby bar for sandwiches and a drink. It was situated diagonally across Fifth Avenue from Tresca’s office building. The two men exited by a door on Fifteenth Street and arm in arm, walked over to the north-east corner, stopping, before crossing the avenue.
The streets of New York were dark. All the lights were either switched off or dimmed under the war time emergency regulations. It was gloomy on this corner as the two men stopped under a street lamp, next to the trash can. It was now nine-forty five.
A figure moved out of the darkness, down Fifth Avenue, towards the men. He was holding a .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol. Suddenly the blackness of the night was
illuminated by streaks of blue light. Shots rang out, first one, then three more. At the sound of the first discharge, Tresca turned towards the gunman, and then, his body jerked with the impact of the bullets, and he stiff-legged backwards off the sidewalk onto the roadway. As he collapsed onto the ground, his friend, Calabi, leaned in towards him, trying to support his falling body. He saw the killer, a small man, barely five feet four inches in height. His face was pale, with regular features, partially hidden by a fedora, pulled low over the forehead. Long overcoat, dark clothes, slender build, moving fast.
The killer turned, and ran south across Fifteenth Street towards a car that was already pulling away from the curb. He ran with the ease of an athlete, taking long steps, jumping into the opened door at the rear of the vehicle. It accelerated and sped through the gloom, west towards Chelsea, and then like a wraith, was gone.
Samuel Sherman who owned a clothing store at 100 Fifth Avenue also heard the shots and called the police. By the time they and an ambulance from Saint Vincent’s Hospital arrived, Tresca was dead. One shot had blasted into his left side, from the back, scorching through his dark Burberry overcoat and tearing through his lung; the other, hit him on the right side of the face as his body swung under the impact of the first shot. This second round passed through his brain, stopping at the base of his skull. There were powder burns on the skin, and his broad-brimmed black hat was bloodstained across the brim and crown. The killer had come within inches of his target to shoot him dead.
As the killer disappeared, Calabi had called out for help. A cab stopped, and people gathered on the sidewalk to stare at the body sprawled in the gutter.
A newspaper photograph of the scene shows Carlo Tresca sprawled on his back. His feet are touching the curb and his chin is pointing towards the sky. His left arm is tucked into his body, under his dark overcoat, and his right hand lies relaxed across his chest. Beneath his head, blood forms a widening pool across the black asphalt of Fifth Avenue. His hat and ubiquitous pipe lay near him.
There were other witnesses to the murder. A teacher, Rosco Platts, heard the gunfire and saw the group of three men under the lamppost. His description of the gunman closely matched that of Guiseppe Calabi.
Two men employed by the Norwegian consulate, were walking east on Fifteenth Street and heard the shots. One of them, Mentz Von Erpecom, later described the car. He had served in the Automobile Corps of the Norwegian army, and he knew his motors:
‘I judge by the sound of the engine,’ he said, ‘I am absolutely sure it was a Ford. As to the year, I think a ’38 or ’39. It was a dark Ford sedan.’
Tony Ribarich, a close friend of Tresca’s, later told the police that he and his friend had been walking, two days earlier, past the New School for Social Research on West 12th Street, near 6th Avenue when they were almost run over by a similar Ford.
Tresca had changed his routine this evening, which may well have cost him his life. If he worked late, he generally had the support of one or two bodyguards: Vincenzo Lionetti a longshoreman, and Tony Ribarchi, another tough guy, although a tailor by trade. Neither men were present. Presumably had everyone attended the meeting, Tresca would have felt safe in the numbers around him.
After an autopsy had been carried out, Tresca was removed to The Campbell Funeral Parlor on Madison Avenue. Two hundred people tried to cram in to view the body, before the doors were closed.
On January 16th, Tresca’s corpse, dressed in a dark suit and enclosed by a grey, metal casket, was moved to Manhattan Centre on Eighth Avenue. By noon, 5000 people had filed past the open coffin. Fifteen speakers eulogised the dead man, all claiming that the murder was an act of political assassination.
At 2.30 in the afternoon, a cavalcade of 75 cars carrying friends and family, 15 carrying floral tributes, and 10 more, police and reporters, followed Tresca’s body as it was carried across the Williamsburg Bridge to Fresh Ponds Cemetery located in the borough of Queens, where he would be cremated. As the funeral procession made its way through Manhattan, 500 people gathered in silence on the corner of Fifteenth Street and Fifth Avenue, to mourn at a shrine of 500 red carnations.
The funeral and burial left everyone wondering the same question:
Who killed Carlo Tresca, and why?
The man who became the prime suspect was a small-time hoodlum from Brooklyn. Although he was arrested, detained and questioned, off and on for three years, the police were unable to gather enough evidence to indict him. The murder of Carlo Tresca has never been solved, and in due course his life and death were consigned to the history books. His murder may have resulted from political pressure originating from Italy; the result of a conspiracy involving either the Communist or Fascist Parties; an overt act against a known enemy by the Russian secret service or then again, it may have simply been the consequence of one man doing another a favour.
As author Eric Ambler has it in his novel ‘A Coffin For Dimitrios,’ in these affairs what counts is not who pulls the trigger, but who pays for the bullet.
The man who undoubtedly killed him however, was to become one of the most notable figures in a criminal group that has operated in New York, and beyond, for over eighty years. On that dark, miserable January night when he gunned down his target, the probable killer, Carmine Galante (photo left), was already associated with or indeed perhaps a member of a Mafia organization that to-day is known as the Bonanno Crime Family.
Link: Death in the afternoon. The shadow of a dream. The story of Carmine Galante
Joe Bonanno the family head, used the wealth he had accumulated during Prohibition to help fund his way into legitimate businesses. In time he became a partner or whole
owner of a wide range of interests: clothing factories, laundries, a funeral home, and one of the most extensive- the Grande Cheese Company of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He kept these business ventures clean and tidy, paying his taxes on time like any respectable citizen. He also operated on the other side of the law, running the Italian lottery, operating gambling and ‘numbers’ ventures, and no doubt generating cash through loan-sharking, always a speciality of the mob. He based himself, initially in a social club called the Abraham Lincoln Independent Political Club on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The years that followed Prohibition were productive and relatively peaceful among the five rival families, as they manoeuvred around each other, competing for a bigger slice of the Big Apple. Joseph Bonanno claimed that the first thirty years were the balmy days and that until the mid-1950s he was hardly known to the press, and that likewise other members of his crime family generated no publicity.
Then there was the murder of Carlo Tresca in 1943.
Almost fourty years later, General Alberto Dalla Chiesa, carabinieri officer and newly appointed prefect of Palermo, reminisced shortly before his own murder at the hands of the Mafia, on the template for what came to be know as excellent cadavers-the illustrious servants of the state killed by the secret society:
…..‘the powerful man is killed when factors come together to make a fatal combination-when he becomes too dangerous but can be killed because he’s become isolated.’
The killing was investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney who appointed ADA Jacob Gramet to oversee the case handling. He was in turn assisted by six assistant district attorneys, and addition six special investigators headed a task-force supported by thirteen police officers under the direction of Deputy Chief Inspector Conrad Rothengast. Alongside them, worked ten detectives from the Grand Jury Squad, and added to this, were specialist assigned from the Alien Squad, the Police Technical Research Unit, the Manhattan and State Department of Corrections, the State Police Commission, the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and officers from the Special Investigation Bureau of the U.S. Alcohol Tax Unit. A veritable army of gumshoes.
Interestingly, the F.B.I. sat in the wings, watching the developments unfold. At this point in its history, the agency was not too bothered about mobsters. It was interested in Tresca’s murder, more for its political undertones, particularly in connection with any possible communist involvement than anything else
Their main file on Tresca must have been immense because the collateral documents alone run to 1500 pages. In their generosity and benevolence, they sent DA Frank
Hogan a twelve page summary that in their wisdom they deemed,’ this is all the information in the Bureau’s files which it is believed may be of value to the New York authorities in possibly solving the Tresca murder.’
Late in the evening of Tuesday January 12th, at 10:30 pm, the police picked up Carmine Galante as he waited on the corner of Elizabeth and Prince Streets in Manhattan’s Bowery district. He had just left a candy store, fronting as a gambling club, and was in the company of Joseph De Palermo, alias ‘Joe Beck,’ a notorious criminal, and a man who would have a life-long involvement in drug trafficking for the mob. Galante became an primary suspect in the murder investigation because of events that had occurred the previous evening.
Galante had gone to prison on a twelve year stretch for the armed robbery of a Brooklyn brewery. He was currently out on parole, and had to attend his parole office on a regular basis. This was situated at 80 Centre Street. It was common practice for parole officers to follow their parolees in the hope of catching them consorting with known criminals. Galante, after checking with his parole officer, Sydney Fross at 8:15pm in the evening of January 11th, was followed to a car that picked him up. The two parole officers tracking him, Fred Berson and George Talianoff, could not continue the chase by vehicle, because of restrictions placed on such activity by the wartime gas shortages.
They did however, take down a description of the auto- it was a black, 1938 Ford sedan- its registration plate number was IC-9272. This car had been found abandoned about five blocks from the murder scene at West Eighteenth Street, near the Seventh Avenue subway station, by Patrolman Dave Greenberg in the early hours of January 12th. The police were able to trace through the ignition keys that the car had been stored in an eight-vehicle sized garage, leased to one Frank Nuncio, at 265 Elizabeth Street, less than a block from where the parole officers witnessed the pick-up of Galante, an hour or so before the murder occurred.
Nuncio, 24 years old, was arrested in the first week of September by detectives of the Tenth squad, and held on $25,000 bail at The House of Detention in The Bronx. A
small-time bootlegger with a number of arrests, he was not a big league criminal. According to the records, the police held on to him as long as they could because he was their only direct link to Galante, but eventually, after two months, they had to release him for lack of evidence.
Galante was remanded by the police for violating his parole conditions, and consorting with a known criminal- Palermo. Questioned off and on for several months, he always denied any knowledge of the crime. He claimed the night of January 11th after seeing his parole officer, he had taken the IRT uptown and gone to see the movie, Casablanca, at the Hollywood Theatre on Broadway. He confirmed that he went there with his girlfriend, but refused to give up her name, not wanting to get her into any trouble. She turned out to be Helen Marulli, the woman he would eventually marry.
Incarcerated in the massive granite edifice on Centre Street called the Hall of Justice, but usually referred to as the Tombs prison, he was identified in a line up by Guiseppe Calabi, as the man who shot Carlo Tresca. In order to try and prise information out of Galante, the police used an informant called Emilio Funicello, a two-time loser serving a life sentence. A low-level member of the mob, his wife had died while he was in prison, and he blamed his former associates for failing to provide her with medical care. He wanted his freedom to take care of his children, and had been used before by the police as a contact or informant to help break difficult cases.
Funicello eventually was able to gain Galante’s confidence, and at different times, heard versions of what happened that night. In one, Galante referred to the car driver as ‘Buster‘ and another man in the car he called ‘Pap’ or ‘Pep’ They went for a meal that night to a bar and grill on Fifth Avenue, between Fifteenth and Sixteenth streets.
In another account, he said that he met Helen Marulli at the Hollywood Theatre, leaving her there to see the movie, while he had gone to meet ‘Buster’ and ‘Pap’ and driven with them down to Fourteenth Street. There, ‘Pap‘ had left the car and gone to stand in the doorway to Tresca’s building, on the Fifth Avenue side. Galante and ‘Buster‘ had then driven around to park the car in Fifteenth Street.
Galante went after the two men as they left the building. According to Funicello’s statement, Galante said to him: ‘I let him have the first shot in the right side of the head. It looked like I didn’t hit him because he kept on walking. I let him have another….His little friend there……..He was looking at me, but he looked like he was in a daze because he didn’t move……I ran after the car and jumped in. I saw ‘Pap’ standing on the corner. I got out at Sixteenth Street, went uptown.’ There, he went to the theatre, picked up his girlfriend and went with her to a hotel where they spent the night.
‘Pap‘ apparently dropped his gun, a .38 police positive revolver near the Fifth Street entrance to the building. Patrolman Charles Clarke found it hidden here behind some trash barrels. There were no fingerprints on it and it was untraceable. The police were also unable to trace ownership of the getaway car, which had been purchased weeks before in the New York car lot of Con-Fed Motors by a man who gave his name as Charles Pappas. Both the name and address turned out to be bogus. Although ‘Pap‘ was never identified, the New York police were convinced that the driver ‘Buster‘ was in fact Bastiano Domingo who had been one of the ushers at Joseph Bonanno’s wedding in 1931.
Whoever it was, it could not have been this Buster. He’d been shot dead on the evening of May 30, 1933, in a cafe on First Street, Manhattan. (1)
Following Galante's arrest, informants told investigators that a collection had been taken up to pay his legal expenses. Shopkeepers in and around Prince and Mulberry Streets where Galante operated, had been encouraged to contribute and remarkably few refused. The man who apparently organized this was Frank Citrano, alias ‘Chuck Wilson’ a man known to have ‘powerful pull’ with New York leaders and judges. Interestingly enough, he also had a son, called ‘Buster.’
Citrano pops up again in files in the New York District Attorney’s Office. These indicate that the American Labour Party, which Luigi Antonini helped to establish,
contributed funds for Galante’s defence. Memos on file throughout 1944 also reveal that Citrano, Tony Garappa, Galante, and the Palermo brothers- Joe and Peter- were paid $9000 for Tresca’s killing, the money passed over to them by Tony Parisi, a member of the Teamsters Local 27.
It was believed that DA Hogan would present the case to a grand jury in May, but this never eventuated. Galante was jailed for almost a year on violations of parole charges, and then released in December 1944 with no additional charges laid against him. If Galante was the shooter- and it seems certain he was, documents released under the F.O.I. Act establish the N.Y.P.D., F.B.I. and the Manhattan’s D.A. Office had quickly concluded Galante shot Tresca- what was less obvious was who was behind the killing?
In the months immediately following the murder, there was much speculation as to the reason for Tresca’s murder.
Ezio Taddei, who had lunched at John’s earlier in the year with Tresca, made a statement to the police the day after the killing. He said: ‘My conviction is the Communist Party killed Carlo Tresca……they are trying to get control of The Mazzini Society……I am convinced the murder was politically inspired, nothing more.’
Luigi Antonini, the union official who had spoken with Tresca at that last lunchtime meal, also implied that the Communist Party was behind the killing. In turn, the Communist’s countered with allegations that an agent of the Italian Secret Service was behind the crime. They covered themselves with a two-way bet when Benjamin Gitlow, secretary-general of the party, claimed that Tresca was murdered as a result of conflict between himself and Enea Ormenti, aka Vittorio Vidali, an agent of the OGPU (Russian Secret Service) later absorbed into the NKVD. Their dispute stemmed, apparently, from the murder of one of Tresca’s closest friends, killed in Spain during the Civil War in 1937- Italian anarchist writer Camillo Berneri- and the possible abduction and murder also in 1937 of Juliet Stuart Poyntz, a well known Communist agitator and intellectual, who disappeared while walking in Central Park,
one night in June, However the secret agent Ormenti , had an air-tight alibi for the night Tresca was shot. He was seen attending a banquet in Mexico City.
Another story that surfaced lay the responsibility for the murder at the door of Vito Genovese. The under boss of the Mafia crime family headed by Charlie Luciano. Genovese had fled to Italy in 1937 to avoid prosecution on a murder charge. In 1957 the F.B.I. received an anonymous letter stating that Genovese had become extremely close to Benito Mussolini. He had developed strong ties to the Fascist Party, and had arranged the killing of Tresca as a personal favour for the Italian dictator, after being approached by senior members of the group who were deeply concerned about the damage Tresca could do to them in New York..
Ed Reid, the reporter and crime writer, was the first to advance this theory in his articles in the now defunct Brooklyn Eagle newspaper and the New York Post.
Tresca and Genovese had crossed swords seven years earlier according to Nino Mirabini, one time chauffeur and bodyguard to Genovese. In a statement made in 1946, he claimed Carlo Tresca had stirred up a hornets nest on discovering Genovese was opening a Fascist club for Italian sailors in Manhattan. It was it seems, to be merely a cover for Genovese’s burgeoning drug trafficking organization. The plan never went ahead, and a year later Genovese fled New York while under suspicion for being involved in the murder of minor mob figure Ferdinand Boccia.
Louis A. Pagnucco, the assistant district attorney in charge of the Italian side of the Tresca investigation, interviewed an underworld character called Ernest ‘The Hawk‘ Ruppolo, in 1946. He claimed that the murder had been organized by Anthony Bender, aka ‘Tony Strollo‘ and Mike Miranda two captains in the Luciano crime family, and that Galante was accompanied that night by Gus Frasca and George Smurra.
Link: The Life and Hard Times of Ernie 'The Hawk' Rupolo
In 1963 a U.S. Senate subcommittee on organized crime, heard testimony from Deputy Chief Inspector John J. Shanley of the New York Police Department, confirming that the Tresca killing had been organized by Strollo and Miranda acting on behalf of Vito Genovese.
A compelling, if true, allegation by author Dorothy Gallagher, is that two of the most notorious and extreme Stalinists in the history of American Communism, waterfront labour thug Frederick N. (Blackie) Myers, an official of the National Maritime Union (NMU), and Soviet spy Louis Goldblatt, an officer of the West Coast dockworkers' union movement controlled by Harry Bridges of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) were questionably close to Galante on the night of the murder. They were allegedly reported visiting the parole office of Sydney Fross at 80 Centre Street at the same time Galante was checking in.
Myers and Goldblatt were part of unions that employed extensive violence against their political adversaries, including supporters of anarchy-syndicalism such as Carlo Tresca. They would also have had strong ties with the unions represented by the two men who did not turn up that night for the meeting with Tresca-Montana and Sala.
Was there somehow, some connection through this? How for example, did the killer of Tresca know exactly where he would be that night, at around that time?
Another predication generated was that Albert Marinelli, the crooked assemblyman from the 2nd District had also been involved in a Soviet espionage and terror campaign in the U.S. For years after the killing of Tresca, Italian-American anarchists and anti-Stalinist Socialists declared that the Communists had worked out a quid pro quo with the Mafia in New York: the former agreeing to mob rule over certain unions while the latter would ‘rub out’ certain political enemies of Moscow.
There was another person, a man who passed through the last day of Carlo Tresca’s life; a man who perhaps also had a reason to shut down the activities of the radical anarchist.
In a report sent to J. Edgar Hoover, on February 5th, 1943 by Special Agent E.E. Conroy, was information that the nexus connecting Carlo Tresca, Frank Garofalo and Generso Pope was perhaps complemented by the inclusion of Luigi Antonini forming an alliance with Pope. This had come about through a deal brokered by Garofalo to legitimize Pope and help him win a seat on the Italian-American Victory Council. This had been set up to determine the coordination on the establishment of a post-Fascist government in Italy following an Allied victory in Europe. It was based initially in Washington D.C. under the authority of The War Office of Information. Carlo Tresca was vehemently against the inclusion of communists and their sympathisers in this organization.
Pope had secretly been contributing funds to an ILWU hospital being built in Los Angeles. 18 months later a Bureau report confirmed that ‘the only thing that kept Luigi Antonini from publicly joining faces with Generso Pope was Carlo Tresca and once he was out of the picture, there would be no one to impede his move.’
However, the man who rates as the most logical suspect behind the elimination of Carlo Tresca was the under boss of the Bonanno Mafia crime family.
In 1943, Frank Garofalo (photo right) was 52 years old. The son of a leather worker, he was born, like so many of the main characters who populate this story, in Castellammare del Golfo. Apart from anything else, he had an endlessly confusing surname, being referred to as Garofalo, Garafola, Garafalo and Garofolo, as well as using the name Frank Carrol just to confuse the issue even more.
He came to America in 1910 and was naturalised in 1930. A single man, he lived at 339 East Fifty-eight Street, in Manhattan. He was a wholesale distributor of cheese, with an office at 176 Avenue A, and had a police permit to carry a gun. Joseph Bonanno refers to him as an urbane and sophisticated man, fond of opera, good food and lively conversation. He had an particularly strong grasp of the English language (something which evaded Bonanno all his life) and as a result, Joe came to rely upon
him heavily in serious negotiation situations. He also called Garofalo, ‘my right hand man.’ According to some sources, he acted as Bonanno’s second-in-charge for over 25 years. He may also have been instrumental in helping the crime family establish a bridgehead in Montreal, through which they would come to ship heroin, imported by sea from Sicily. Although of average height and build, Don Ciccio as Garofalo was also known, inspired much fear in people.
In an inter office F.B.I. memorandum from D.M. Ladd to J. Edgar Hoover dated February 1, 1946, it states: ‘Frank Garafalo is the head of a large syndicate known as the Castallammarese gang of which Frank Nuccio is a member. Garafalo is reputed to be a big-time racketeer in New York City who allegedly is in control of the Italian section of the New York underworld…….he is thought to be criminally dangerous.’
Apart from spelling his name and the gang’s name wrong, wrongly identify him as the head of the Bonanno family, and the man who controlled all the Mafia families in the city, Mr. Ladd hit it right on the button.
Frank Garofalo went back and forth between New York and Italy several times during the 1930s- in 1929, 1932, 1937 and 1938 at least. No one knows for sure why he made these journeys. He had legitimate business interests and was a key player in the importation and distribution of Italian cheeses into the United States. Joe Bonanno also apparently made frequent visits back to his homeland, although history only seemingly records his famous travels in 1957, which he claimed was a holiday funded by Generso Pope. The two men were also close to Santo Sorge, a powerful business man in New York with major ties into the Mafia in Sicily, and Gaetano Russo who headed up the famous Cusimano and Russo Funeral Home in Brooklyn. Although ostensibly a well-known and respected member of the business community, he apparently had links to just about every key Mafia figure in the country and according to the Federal Bureau of Narcotic set up a substantial drug trafficking arrangement with Charley Luciano in 1955.
Why would Frank Garofalo, one of the most powerful mob bosses in New York want to see Carlo Tresca dead? There were two reasons. One was called Generoso Pope (photo below) and the other Dolores C. Faconti.
Generoso Pope (right), born of peasant stock and originally carrying the name Pappa, in Beneveto, Italy in 1891, emigrated to America in 1906. His life was the stuff of immigrant’s dreams. Starting work as a labourer, he eventually became owner of Colonial Sand and Stone, the biggest construction company in America. He was the first Italian-American multi-millionaire. He owned and published two prominent Italian language daily newspapers and became America’s most prominent pro-fascist. He spearheaded numerous fund-raising drives in support of Mussolini. One of his sons, Fortuna, published Il Progresso, the largest circulation Italian language newspaper in America. His other son, Generoso junior, one day would publish The National Enquirer, funded initially with financial support from Frank Costello, one of New York’s leading underworld figures.
On February 14th, 1943, at a commemorative rally honouring Tresca, Ezio Taddei changed direction away from the Communist Party and accused individuals in the underworld of Tresca’s murder. He also introduced Pope as a key player in the conspiracy. In a pamphlet put out by Taddei called “The Tresca Case,” he described the relationship between Garofalo, Galante and Pope.
Famous columnist, Walter Winchell inferred in one of his Daily Mirror articles that ‘another publisher arranged the assassination through his bodyguard.’
Taddei also drew attention to Miss Dolores Faconti Assistant US Attorney in the Southern Division of New York, who he implied was Garofalo’s girlfriend.
Frank Garofalo had known Pope for a number of years. Some sources claimed that the two were ‘joined at the hip’ so close was their relationship. Garofalo operated a newspaper agency business that distributed Il Progresso throughout New York, and allegedly acted as a intermediary for Pope in times of industrial unrest. In 1934 he had visited Tresca, threatening him with violence if he did not stop haranguing Pope.
Generoso Pope was a leading promoter of Mussolini. He raised $800,000 in support of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, and because of his political power with the Italian vote in New York, he had a lot of influence in the policy of Albany and Washington. Pope’s business and political fortunes depended on his continuing good relations and influence with public officials. The attacks by Tresca were causing him continuing damage.
Tresca, in one of his articles in Il Martello, wrote, ironically: ‘…….who Generoso Pope is and what gangster methods he employs…..In any case we are ready, either to face the courts, or Pope’s assassins.’
In 1942 in a public confrontation, Tresca berated Garofalo, not only for his association with Pope, but also his relationship with Dolores Faconti. He criticised the lawyer for associating with ‘that gunman.’
On September 10th, a dinner was hosted at the Manhattan Club by the War Bond Savings Committee of Americans of Italian Origin. Assured that Generso Pope would not be attending, Tresca went as a guest. He was infuriated to see Pope seated on the main dais with committee members, but then Garofalo came in accompanied by Dolores Falconti. Disgusted, Tresca rose from his seat shouting ‘Not only is there a Fascist here, but also his gangster. This is too much, I’m leaving!’ He stormed out shouting in a loud voice, accusing Garofalo of being a notorious killer. Tresca subsequently threatened to expose Garofalo in Il Martello and his connection to Pope.
Garofalo allegedly replied to the effect that before that would happen, Tresca would be found dead in a gutter.
This outburst by Tresca may well have been the final straw for both Garofalo and Pope. Partly as a result of Tresca’s constant haranguing, the attorney general’s office opened an inquiry on Faconti in 1942, although nothing could be proven against her because of her relationship with Garofalo, and she did not in fact resign her role as an assistant district attorney until 1947.
Faconti is an crucial link in the chain connecting Tresca’s murder to the man believed to have set up his killer, although there is little known about her. She had graduated from Fordham Law School prior to her time in the DA’s office. By 1949 her relationship with Garofalo had run its course and she married a musical conductor called William Scotti, a prominent saxophone soloist and composer, who led the band at the Cotillion Room in the graceful Pierre Hotel near Central Park.
Following the angry outburst at the Manhattan Club, Faconti phoned and then visited Tresca, a number of times, begging him not to publicise what had taken place that night, and exposing her relationship with Garofalo. Tresca agreed not to write about Facconte‘s affair with Garofalo, but that he intended to crucify the Mafia leader, and his patron-Generoso Pope. However, when she eventually disclosed this meeting to her lover, he allegedly beat her black and blue for humbling herself to Tresca.
Garofola was a dangerous man with access to even more dangerous men to do his bidden. Combine this with the almost indissoluble hubris that no doubt was part of his Sicilian personality, and it augured badly for anyone who would cross him, especially in the way Carlo Tresca had done.
On April 28th, 1950, Generoso Pope died of a stroke. His obituary in the New York Times described him as a ‘colourful and sometimes controversial figure in New York’s business, political and philanthropic life…….an outstanding example of an immigrant who made good in America.’
His death finally closed the case on Carlo Tresca. By then the F.B.I., New York Police and the District Attorney’s office had more or less given up on the mystery of Tresca’s death. The SAC (Special Agent in Charge) of the New York office of the F.B.I. who followed the developments in the Tresca case closely, in memos to Hoover, speculated that because of the political ramifications, the New York authorities may well have ‘soft pedalled‘ the investigation.
Carmine Galante and Frank Garofalo continued with their own agendas, and Joseph Bonanno’s life seems not to have been disturbed in the slightest by the Tresca affair, other than that for a while he moved to Arizona as the New York police activity gathered strength and up to 1000 officers were called in to support the investigation.
If the Bonanno family had been involved in the elimination of such a public figure as Carlo Tresca, it seems inconceivable that it proceeded without authorization from the man who had been leading it now for so many years.
Carmine Galante carried on being a hot-headed, rambunctious hoodlum, moving up the ranks of the Bonanno crime family, until he became second-in-command to Joe Bonanno. A consummate drug trafficker, Galante was in an out of prison, following his first arrest in 1921, a major suspect in the murder of a police officer in Brooklyn, and a continual target for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Hated and feared by many of his mob contemporaries, his day in the sun, came, literally one hot and sunny afternoon in July 1979. Lunching with two of his associates in a small, family restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn, he was shot dead by a group of killers armed with pistols and a shotgun.
Frank Garofalo eventually moved back to Sicily in 1955 where he lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity. He apparently returned to America, because on 17th October 1956, a State Trooper patrolling the highway near Binghampton, in northern New York State, at about ten in the evening, stopped a car that was speeding through the town of Windsor. There were four men in it, and the driver produced a license that was clearly not his. It turned out to belong to the front- seat passenger- a man called Joseph Di Palermo, of 246 Elizabeth Street, Manhattan. Trooper Leibe escorted the car to the police substation in Binghampton, where the driver was identified as Carmine Galante.
Inquires revealed that he and Di Palermo, along with Frank Garofalo and John Bonventre, the other occupants of the car, had spent the previous night, at the Arlington Hotel, as hosts of a local businessman called Joseph Barbara.
Garofalo also in 1957, most likely attended the infamous November Apalachin mob meeting following his participation as one of the thirty or so Mafioso who had maybe gathered for a conclave that lasted four days in October, at the Grand Hotel des Palmes in Palermo, Sicily.
Link: Mob Meeting at Apalachin
On August 2nd, 1965, 74 year old Garofalo was arrested by the Italian police as part of a group of ten, the authorities claimed were an international association linking the Sicilian and American Mafia. The group included some of the most powerful and iconic Sicilian mob figures, such as Frank Coppola, Vincenzo Martinez ( the same one connected into 225 Lafayette Street) Giuseppe Magaddino, Calogero Orlando and Diego Plaja. Some men escaped the net that had spread across Italia from Bologna in
the north to Taormina on the east coast of Sicily. One of these was Joe Cerito, the 54 year old mob boss of San Jose, in California, who had been observed by the police meeting with Garofalo in Palermo in October 1964.
The trial of the men in Palermo, for drug trafficking and criminal conspiracy began in 1968, and the Italian authorities wanted Joseph Valachi, the infamous Genovese Family mob informant, to testify as a witness for the prosecution.
The authorities in America rejected the request, as they were worried about Valachi's security issues. Frank Garofalo never saw the proceedings unfold, as he died of natural causes sometime prior to June 1968 when the case was dismissed by the presiding judge.
Murder for political expediency is rarely found in the history of the American Mafia. There have been few examples, the most notable perhaps being the assassination of the John F. Kennedy and possibly that of Martin Luther King.
‘The Cosa Nostra agreed to 'broker' the assassination of Martin Luther King for an amount somewhat in excess of $300,000 ….... James Earl Ray's contact in New Orleans was with a lieutenant of Carlos Marcello, the Southern Mafia chieftain in New Orleans.’
So says a 1968 Justice Department memo that the F.B.I. withheld from the Louis Stokes 1979 congressional investigation into the killings of Dr. King and JFK.
There was another possible link through the mob boss of Chicago, Sam Giancana, who allegedly used a messenger, Myron Billett, to arrange a meeting in Apalachin, upstate New York, in 1968, between Carlo Gambino, perhaps the biggest American Mafia figure of the time, and three representatives of the CIA, who supposedly offered him $1,000,000 to arrange the killing of King. Gambino apparently turned it down. (2)
The deaths of these two major public figures may well have been linked by a thread connecting ambitious and ruthless men determined to achieve their own ends, with an organization equipped to supply the manpower and logistical support to carry out overt acts of terrorism that could however, never be directly linked to the originators.
Not unlike the way the hit had perhaps gone down on Carlo Tresca.
Dorothy Gallagher, who wrote what may be the definitive biography of Carlo Tresca, called her book: ‘All the Right Enemies.’
Between Communist sympathisers, fascist radicals, an Italian dictator, political extremists of both left and right wing ideals, big business conspirators, Stalinist sympathizers, a vengeful Italian newspaper magnate and the Force Majeure acting as an overwhelming impetus that effectively blocked any compromise between Tresca as the victim and Pope/Garofalo as the unequivocal instigators, and no doubt indirect perpetrators of his violent death, there was probably never any doubt that at end of day, Carlo Tresca had them in spades.
A man who spent so much of his life walking around like a bandaged thumb, he perhaps needed to have paid respect to one of Niccolò Machiavelli’s more profound maxims:
‘The gulf between how one should live and does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather that self-preservation.’
(1) David Critchley. The Origin of Organized Crime in America. Routledge. Taylor & Francis Group. 2009.
(2) A Letter to the American People (and Myself in Particular) On the Unspeakable.
Copyright James W. Douglas
I would also like to acknowledge the help of ‘Felice’ from Real Deal who helped me track down some of the Italian end.
© Thom L. Jones 2009