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.




Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When 'Lucky' was locked up

Salvatore Lucania, widely known as Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, late in 1931 became the most powerful crime boss in the U.S. He personally commanded a sprawling New York-based Mafia organization, held one of seven seats on the Mafia's ruling Commission and maintained valuable alliances with non-Italian racketeering organizations across the country.

Less than five years after achieving gangland eminence, however, Lucania was taken into custody on compulsory prostitution charges. Due to the efforts of Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey, Lucania spent most of the next decade - from the prime years of his life into middle age - behind prison bars.

Held at Clinton State Prison beginning in the summer of 1936, he was largely out of touch with the rich criminal empire he assembled and remote from friends and family. He depended upon pennies earned through manual toil and occasional contributions from relatives and associates to finance his many purchases through prison commissaries.

Yet, even during a lengthy and humiliating prison stay, Lucania found a way to make himself important. In the spring of 1942, Lucania convinced New York County prosecutors, New York State corrections officials and the United States Office of Naval Intelligence that he was indispensable to the U.S. war effort.

In the remaining years of World War II, Lucania arranged for a more convenient placement at Great Meadow Prison in the Lake George area and for suspension of visitation rules and recordkeeping. He managed in those few years to build a reputation for patriotic service that led to a 1946 commutation of sentence.

Very few official records remain of Lucania's long term in state prisons. From the period before 1942, only a small collection of documents is held at the New York State Archives. These include receiving blotter pages, health and psychiatric reports, visitor logs and financial transactions that shed some light on his brief time at Sing Sing Prison and his longer incarceration at Clinton Prison. From the period between his 1942 transfer to Great Meadow Prison and his 1946 parole and deportation, even less survives. Some details of these later years were pieced together when the State of New York, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Navy looked into Lucania's alleged contributions to the war effort. Wartime records of the Office of Naval Intelligence, which could have provided the most useful window into Lucania's service, were deliberately destroyed.

Available details of Lucania's time in prison and related events have been assembled into a 1936-1946 timeline on The American Mafia history website. These details range in excitement level from hum-drum to spectacular. Quotes from documents and links to documents - including all available pages of the Clinton Prison files - are included.

See: "When 'Lucky' was locked up."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Historian reveals identities of Mafia informants

The FBI makes every effort to hide the identities of its confidential underworld informants, even long after the informants have passed away. Unlike the famous Joe Valachi and other Bureau cooperating witnesses, who exchange public testimony for government protection, confidential informants continue in their dangerous underworld roles while secretly feeding information to investigators.

In reports, the FBI refers to its informants only by code numbers. Before any reports are made available to the public, revealing details about the informants are deleted. But subtle clues to their identities may remain within the text.

For years, Toronto-based crime historian Edmond Valin has been combing through publicly available information, including declassified files of the FBI, for these clues. He has shown a remarkable ability to discover the identities of some of the most important and most secret Mafia turncoats by comparing seemingly insignificant details from different documents.

Valin has consented to allow the American Mafia history website to publish a collection of his ground-breaking articles online. These articles, grouped under the heading of "Rat Trap," deal with informants from major U.S. Mafia organizations, including the Chicago Outfit, the Philly Mob, the Bonanno Crime Family and the Gambino Crime Family. Six articles are in the collection at this time, and more are on the way.

Valin's often shocking conclusions are painstakingly defended through document citations (many of the related documents can be accessed online through links provided in the articles' endnotes).

Visit Edmond Valin's Rat Trap articles.

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.