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 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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Alo biography added

A biography of Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo has been added to the website's Who Was Who section. Alo, a longtime pal of Meyer Lansky, was the inspiration for a number of fictional underworld characters, including "Johnny Ola" of the movie, The Godfather Part II. In real life, Alo was born in Harlem and became an important figure in the Genovese Crime Family, organizing rackets in Bronx and Westchester Counties, as well as in eastern Florida. He helped to link the crime organization led by Frank Costello, and later Vito Genovese, with Lansky. (Three dozen sources are listed following the article.)

Click here to jump to this biography.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

'Murder While You Wait'

After his retirement, former NYPD Homicide Bureau leader Arthur A. Carey penned an autobiographical book called, Memoirs of a Murder Man. A chapter in that book looked back at the 1903 Barrel Murder and police efforts to put the early Mafia organization of Giuseppe Morello out of business. Carey's account is noticeably different from the better known story told by William Flynn of the U.S. Secret Service (significant when you note that Flynn's was published first in book and serial forms and was certainly available to Carey at the time he wrote his book). That chapter, entitled "Murder While You Wait," has been added to the website.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Additions to Who Was Who

Several biographies have been added to the Who Was Who section of the website (click on a name to jump to the bio):

All of these biographies have source listings at the end.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Morello article

A brief biography of early New York Mafia boss and U.S. Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello has been added to the website. Entitled, "Sinistro: The Underworld Career of Giuseppe Morello (1867-1930)," the article includes more than 40 endnotes containing references to numerous sources.

Click here for a direct link to the article.