Material presented on The American Mafia history website (http://mafiahistory.us and http://www.onewal.com/) was gathered through decades of research into the history of American organized crime. A childhood interest in the subject blossomed into a full-time obsession in the late 1990s, when I began organizing collected newspaper clippings, notebook pages and index cards. That effort gave rise to this website in September 2002. The website is more of a process than it is a document. Very often new historical data becomes available and causes old assumptions to be revised or abandoned. Over the past few years, many underworld legends appearing on these pages have given way to more defensible statements. And other revisions are sure to be made in the months and years ahead. It is a pleasure to be able to share my interest with you. I welcome your emailed comments, questions, criticisms. I hope that the site is useful to you and that you check in from time to time to see what is new. Copyright © 2011, Thomas Hunt. All rights reserved.




Saturday, November 18, 2017

'Rat Trap'

The website recently added a collection of articles by writer (and history detective) Edmond Valin. 

Based in the Toronto area, Valin's specialty is deducing the identities of confidential underworld informants through clues left in government documents, such as FBI files, and other sources. We are calling the article collection, "Rat Trap." At the moment, there are three articles, and we hope to add more soon.

Valin's articles all provide source citations. And we have tried to include web links to online source material and book purchase sites whenever possible.

http://mafiahistory.us/rattrap/rattrap-idx.html


Monday, April 17, 2017

The Writers of Wrongs blog



If you are a reader of crime history, you are certain to find interesting items on The Writers of Wrongs blog

Launched in the fall of 2016, the blog now has four steady contributors, with more on the way. Sixty-four posts have been written to date by these true crime authors:

- Christian Cipollini, author of Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, Murder Inc.: Mysteries of the Mob's Most Deadly Hit Squad; Diary of a Motor City Hit Man.

- Ellen Poulsen, author of  Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang; The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial.

- Patrick Downey, author of On the Spot: Gangland Murders in Prohibition New York City; Hollywood on the Spot: Crimes Against the Early Movie Stars; Legs Diamond: Gangster; Bad Seeds in the Big Apple; Gangster City.

- Thomas Hunt, author of Wrongly Executed?; coauthor of Deep Water, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime; contributor to Mafia: The Necessary Reference to Organized Crime; editor of Informer.

Visit the blog at www.writersofwrongs.com

Thursday, January 5, 2017

1939: Sberna goes to The Chair

On this date in 1939: Charles Sberna was executed in Sing Sing Prison's electric chair. Though convicted of participating in the killing of an NYPD officer, many to this day insist that he was innocent. 

As the son of a fugitive wanted for orchestrating a series of bloody anarchist-terrorist bombings and the in-law of a family of Mafia leaders, could Sberna possibly have received a fair trial?

'Wrongly Executed?' provides the details and historical background of the Sberna case. The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, underworld bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Chance to win a copy of 'Wrongly Executed?'

Three author-signed trade paperback copies of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution will be awarded through a promotional drawing on Goodreads.com. No purchase is necessary to enter. Entries will be accepted until Jan. 5, 2017, the anniversary of Charles Sberna's meeting with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair. Details are available on the Goodreads.com website.



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Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sbe... by Thomas Hunt
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Saturday, November 26, 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

In his book on The Barrel Mystery, legendary crime-fighter William Flynn discussed what he viewed as the two great organized outlaw elements in American society: violent political radicals or "Reds" and a growing Sicilian underworld organization he knew as "The Black Hand." Flynn feared that the Red and the Black might someday combine to form "a mixed brand of terrorism... that would bring every decent citizen to shudder..."

The two elements did combine in the person of Charles Sberna. Son of a leftist radical who fled the U.S. to avoid punishment for orchestrating a series of bloody terrorist bombings, Sberna became the son-in-law of former U.S. Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello. Given that background and his own history of criminal and anti-social behavior, is it possible that Sberna was viewed with impartiality and a presumption of innocence when brought into court accused of killing a New York City police officer?

Sberna claimed to have had no role in the 1937 killing of Patrolman John H.A. Wilson or in the criminal activity related to that killing. Co-defendant Salvatore Gati admitted his own participation but insisted that Sberna was not present. Their jurors were unconvinced. Sberna and Gati were convicted of first-degree murder. Each took his turn in the Sing Sing Prison electric chair.

But there was something odd about the case: Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell called attention to flaws in the case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew that District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office had sent an innocent man to the chair and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Dust jacket for the 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover.

I first became aware of Charles Sberna's story during research into U.S. capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a tale worthy of retelling. Email conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led me to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue. My decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

I examined court documents, the careers of prosecutors and elected officials, the history of law enforcement efforts against the early Mafia and the American anarchist movement, the questionable philosophies and courtroom tactics of D.A. Thomas Dewey and his assistants, and the known and suspected crimes of the men who might have participated with Gati in the murder attributed to Sberna. Much of what I found was deeply troubling.

A fair trial may have been denied to Charles Sberna. Given the mood of the time, the background of the defendant and the circumstances of the case, a truly fair trial may have been impossible.

The product of my research, Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution, is now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. For more information and purchase options, visit the Wrongly Executed? website: mafiahistory.us/wronglyexecuted/

(I wish to express my appreciation to Christian Cipollini, C. Joseph Greaves, Ellen Poulsen and Robert Sberna for their support and assistance on this project.)



Friday, September 23, 2016

Expanding early Mafia timeline

A great deal of information, along with source citations, has recently been added to Timeline Part 1, 1282-1899. Later parts of the Timeline - largely neglected for more than a decade - will soon receive similar attention.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Additions to Who Was Who

Recent additions to the Who Was Who collection of American Mafia biographies:


Frank "Butsey" Morelli was an early leader of Italian organized crime in Rhode Island, mentoring a number of later Mafiosi, including Raymond Patriarca and Henry Tameleo. Morelli and some of his brothers long have been suspected of involvement in the April 1920 South Braintree, Massachusetts, robbery-murders for which Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in August 1927.


Gaspare Messina was one of just two men known to have served as temporary boss of bosses of the American Mafia. He is also distinguished among Mafia leaders by his lack of arrests and apparent competence as a legitimate businessman.


Vincenzo "Jimmy Marino" LePore was one of a small number of Salvatore Maranzano loyalists murdered following Maranzano's Sept. 10, 1931, assassination. His killing helped to give life to the "Night of Sicilian Vespers" legend in the U.S. Mafia.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hoffa / Teamsters timeline

Currently under construction:


We are adding an extensive timeline relating to Jimmy Hoffa and his involvement in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union. At this moment the timeline features nearly 200 events up through the year 1959. All timeline items provide source information. Click on the document icon in an item to acquire source reference details.

You can access the timeline through this link: http://mafiahistory.us/a028/f_hoffatime.html

As always, we welcome your comments / criticisms.