Mafia's Code In New York:1893

Italians who avenge their own grievances in blood. Assassination a favorite penalty for real or fancied wrong.

Why one element of the Italian population of this city and its environs should for many years have brought undeserved obloquy upon the industrious and law-abiding majority of the race is partly explained by the fact that nine Italian immigrants, who are said to have served varying terms in prison at home for felonious crimes, were detected among the Bolivia steerage passengers yesterday and detained at Ellis Island.

Aliens who place but slight value on human life have hitherto found easy entrance through the port of New York, and many of them have carried with them the criminal habits and propensities acquired in the haunts of bandits and the home of the vendetta. it is for this reason that the newspapers have to record so many shooting and stabbing affrays among persons of Italian nativity.

While an Italian was wandering in the streets of Brooklyn yesterday morning with some of the contents of a Mafia carbine in his body, another Calabrian was hiding in ambush for an intended victim in Harlem.

When the moment was opportune the Harlem watcher sprang on the man he had lain in wait for, wounded him with a revolver, and slashed his companion with a razor for interfering, as he would have done in his native country to avenge a real or fancied slight.

John J. Brennan, a young mechanic, who lived with his family at 2,449 Second Avenue, was assaulted last month by Filipo Vetro, an Italian laborer, thirty-six years old, and residing in First Avenue, between One Hundred and Twelfth and One Hundred and Thirteenth Streets, which region is part of the district known as "Little Italy." The assault grew out of his paying court to an Italian girl, who was wooed by Vetro also.;

Brennan's impulses are American, and he followed them by procuring a warrant for the arrest of Vetro, who was held on bail at the Harlem Police Court.

Vetro's impulses are dominated by the traditions of the Mafia. His arrest was an insult that cried for retaliation, and finding out what Brennan's habits were, he decided to "get even" with him in true Palermitan style.

Crouching in One Hundred and Fifteenth Street, near First Avenue, until 1:15 A.M., the swarthy assassin was not disconcerted when he saw that his rival was accompanied by a friend, Frank Albert of 329 East One Hundred and Eleventh Street. To make sure of his intended victim, Vetro had armed himself with a revolver and a razor.

As Brennan was about to pass the doorway in which the Italian was concealed, the latter sprang out, shot him in the muscle of the right thigh, and could doubtless have put another bullet into a more vital part had not Albert grappled with him.

Here the razor came into play. One slash of it across Albert's head produced a deterrent effect, and Vetro attempted to escape, but a policeman who had heard the shot intercepted him.

Brennan's wound, although not serious, was severe enough to necessitate his removal to the Harlem Hospital. Albert went home after an ambulance surgeon had dressed a long cut on his head.

Surgeons in the Long island College hospital were busy yesterday extracting leaden slugs from the anatomy of Giuseppe Citarella, twenty-eight years old. Special Officer Romer had found him talking wildly in Van Brunt Street, near President, the heart of Brooklyn's Italian colony. At the station house his boisterousness increased and he was locked up on a charge of intoxication.

Twenty minutes later Citarella informed the doorman that he had been shot. He drew aside his clothing and showed three bullet wounds in the abdomen, forming a triangle with the apex about two inches above the base. The wounded man refused to give any information about the assault, even when one of his countrymen was brought to act as interpreter.

At the hospital it was thought for a time that Citarella would die. Dr. Wakeman, however, succeeded in removing the bullets, and it is said that the Italian will probably recover.

In the meantime the police had found at the place where Citarella was arrested an old-fashioned pistol lying in the gutter. It had been fashioned from a double-barreled shotgun sawed off about six inches above the lock, and is a type of weapon favored among italian desperadoes.

One of the barrels of the improvised pistol was empty. The other contained three buck-shot the size of a thirty-two-calibre bullet which corresponded exactly with the three extracted from Citarella's body. He still maintains that he knows nothing of his assailants and that he can ascribe no cause for the assault. He is a laborer and resides at 30 Carroll Street.

Police Sergeant Spreckley of the Eleventh Precinct, who has been scouring the Italian colony for Citarella's assailant, said yesterday:

"Our chief trouble is not with the Italians who live here, but those who come from New York on Saturday nights and Sundays. The Italian sailors are also a bloodthirsty lot. This case mystifies me. It bears all the earmarks of the Mafia's work, and all the Italians whom I have approached about it are as dumb as oysters."

A city official w ho was born in Italy, and whose duties require him to have an accurate knowledge of the Italian community in New York, discussed this blot on his countrymen's reputation with the understanding that his identity should not be revealed. "There's no knowing what might happen if what I say was traced to me," was his excuse for avoiding publicity.

"Understand me," he began, "that I am proud to be an Italian in spite of the doings of these banditti. And I know what I say is true when I assert that there are just as good people from Naples or Messina or Palermo as from any other part of italy, although those cities are the headquarters of the Maffia and Camorra. These good Southern Italians, however, are more apt to aid their murderous compatriots by keeping silent when their testimony could convict because they have been reared to dread the vengeance of these criminal refugees.

"We Italians speak contemptuously of the Neapolitans and Sicilians. We call them Calubriani, or what not, but they are none of ours. We are proud to be Italians because our nation has in art, music, statesmanship, and manufactures produced men that are  the peers of those of any nation, and the love of home and what is decent is as strong with the italian who is not of the criminal class as with the French Vigneron, the Scotch shepherd, or the English farm hand.

"Take the Italians and Austro-Italians of the Northern States-the States north of the States of the Church_and they are acknowledged to be as acceptable immigrants here as the people of any country. Can you class a poniard currier of Reggio or Girgenti with the frugal and industrious silk weavers, wine growers, stone cutters, farmers, seagoing folk, fruit and essence cultivators, who loathe, yet fear, the bandits who flourish under the shadow of Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius.

"Can these Calabrians compare with the Savoyards, Tuscans, Piedmoniese, Genoese, Milanese, Venetians, Florentines, and the mild and industrious folk of Parma and Modena?

"A little pluck and every one standing shoulder to shoulder, and politics left unconsidered, would have saved New Orleans the necessity of taking the law into its own hands. Here the Mafia canker can be eradicated. All that is needed is a clear understanding that Southern Italy's practices in New York must cease at all hazards. Police court magistrates, the District Attorney's office, the Grand Jury, and the higher criminal courts should fall into line, and the law should be firmly and impartially enforced.

"To begin with, no Italian found carrying a weapon should be allowed to go unpunished, and the penalty for this offense might be made much more severe. Then competent Italian interpreters in every place when witnesses on behalf of an Italian charged with a criminal offense are to be examined should understand that it is as much their sworn duty to detect perjury as to translate, and that distorting evidence is a crime. The employment of an Assistant District Attorney who understands Italian would aid materially, and witnesses for the people should be encouraged to believe that the entire machinery of justice will protect them at all hazards.

"By the way, do not believe that the Mafia and the Camorra are one. The Neapolitan rascal speaks contemptuously of the Sicilian cut-throat, and vice versa. The gentleman of Pezzo don't shake hands across the Straits of Messina with the gentleman of Pace.

"New York may, if it does not put its foot down firmly, repeat the history of New Orleans. It does not interfere with the disgraceful herding of low Italians in tenement houses or their "stale beer" orgies, while Germans and Irish have to fear the sanitary officers and "go dry" Sundays. The so-called "Italian" colonies are easily known by their squalor, overcrowding and odors. This should not be. All classes should be compelled to be clean and respect the law. Any distinction puts a premium on shiftlessness and degradation, and "Little Italy" up town is a counterpart of the slums of Palermo or any Calabrian town.

"Just now these Southern Italians have monopolized many disagreeable callings. They have run out the Genovese fruit sellers. Scow trimming, street cleaning, sewer work, boot-blacking, and organ grinding are done by them. It may surprise you to know that the wives of the Neapolitans are smart tailoresses, and that their number in not only "slop" shops, but in better clothing factories, increases every year. Many Sicilians are barbers.

"The majority of the Italian waiters here are from the north of Italy, as are the best stone-cutters and remember that nearly all the fine-stonecutting in Central Park was done by Northern Italians. The Piedmontese are brick-layers, and the Genovese have almost run the Irish out of the nod-carrying business.

"The principal Italian colonies are in the Sixth and Fourteenth Wards and in the Twenty-ninth Police Precinct. There are several colonies in the Eighth Ward and in the Twenty-seventh precinct. In the Twenty-ninth precinct the colony numbers from 17,000 to 18,000, and the district is known as "Little Italy." Its boundaries are One Hundred and Seventh to One Hundred and Fourteenth Street and First Avenue to the Harlem River.

"I go there sometimes on business. When I hear that a man has been found dead on the sidewalk and that no witnesses have been secured, I say to myself, "Sicilians!"

"When there has been a sudden brawl, like milk boiling over, and wounding or death results, I say, "Neapolitans!"

"See the distinction?"

Website: The History
Article Name: Mafia's Code In New York:1893
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Times May 16, 1893
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