South Brooklyn Vendetta or Mafia? 1896 Part IV

Is It Mafia or Simple Vendetta

If it be not the Mafia, Cocchiara is pursued by a vendetta of marvelous and murderous persistency. For testifying about a murderer, he must die; and Prestijiacamo, the prime minister of assassins, with his sly friend, Pedro, are free.

Meantime the coroner's jury has met and decided that Serrio died from a bullet fired from the revolver of a man unknown. There are many things that have not been told in connection with this meeting of the persistent Prestiliacamo and his talk with Serrio. If the latter did not promise to bring Cocchiara back with him, why did he arm himself and lend a pistol to his friend? If Prestijiacamo was merely speaking idly to Serrio of the alleged treachery of Cocchiara, why did he and Pedro immediately fire upon the man before he had had time to defend himself? If Prossita, Cincotta, Desarvia and the other men present when the shooting took place were entirely innocent, why did they fly from the city and keep in hiding from the police when a story as such as they told at the inquest would have freed them? If there is no band of Mafias to protect assassins, how was it possible for Pedro and Prestijiacamo to escape from that crowded street without one man being able or willing to say when or how they went?

Catanazaro laughs at the suggestion of the Mafia, but Mrs. Serrio shudders at the name. Catanazaro says it was a mere quarrel that culminated in a shooting affray. But Cocchiara has been pursued for nearly ten years. Italians say that there is no such thing as the Mafia, but the police say that the deadly organization is as strong as ever and the colony in South Brooklyn shelters a powerful band.

Prossita, Desarvia, Cincotta and Costa are in jail awaiting examination. Costa has had nothing to do with the Union street affair. He is held for interfering with Detective Farrell when the latter arrested Cincotta, who was hiding in Costa's house in East New York.

"Mafia! Why, there is no such organization. It was stamped out years ago in Sicily and Premier Rudini gave it its final death blow. The idea that the Mafia exists in this country is nonsense. I am an Italian myself, mix with Italians of all classes and can assure you that I know of no such organization."

So spoke a cultivated Italian to an Eagle reporter last Friday night in Captain Cullen's room in the Hamilton avenue police station. Coroner Coombs had just concluded the inquest in the case of Salvatore Serrio.

The cultured Italian was sitting with the reporter in Captain Cullen's room when he declared that there was no such organization as the Mafia. Captain Cullen had been showing some friends some of the ghastly exhibits in the tragedy. There were five revolvers, one a murderous weapon of French pattern, with pin fire cartridges and carrying a .44 caliber bullet. This was the instrument of death carried by Cocchiara. He had identified it as the one be carried on the fatal night and by a singular coincidence he had borrowed it from his friend Serrio. The dead man carried a bullet which unquestionably came from this weapon in his breast. The captain had the fatal bullet and a button of bone, which it had carried from the dead man's arm clean through his lung and into the heart. Death in Serrio's case had been almost instantaneous. In addition to the revolvers the captain had in his possession three big stilettos, which had been picked up in the back room of Catanazaro's wine shop after the fray.

"It was just like the Fourth of July," Cocchiara said grimly, when he had been detailing the circumstances of the murder to the coroner's jury. But he would not admit that his assailants were of the Mafia hand. No Italian will speak of the Mafia with any degree of freedom. A recollection of the Italian lynching in New Orleans over five years ago of the eleven alleged members of the Mafia who had been arrested in connection with the murder of Police Chief Hennessy prompted the reporter to ask the Italian what the Mafia really was and how far reaching its operations extended. The Italian, who happened to be a native of Naples, proceeded to negative nearly everything that was said about the Mafia and the Mafioso or members of the so called organization of assassins.

An Italian's Description of the Mafia

"There is no such thing as a Mafia." he said. "There is no organization of the kind. We Italians call a bad and revengeful man a Mafioso, but we know of no society of the kind. Of course, there are men who stick together and do what they can to avenge each other's wrongs. Once in a while may be they kill a man who has been guilty of double dealing among them and the murder is ascribed to the Mafia. Well, you may call it the Mafia if you like, but there is no recognized organization. They are men generally in the lower ranks of society and invariably Sicilians who are banded together for mutual protection. Oh, yes, When one of their own clique is arrested or in trouble they will stick together and lie him out of it. But they are not real Mafia.

"The original Mafia," he continued, "was organized in Sicily in 1848 and consisted of high toned gentlemen led by Giovanni Mafia. It was a political association and such men as Crispi and Rudini, who were both Sicilians, belonged to it. But after the political necessity for its existence passed it degenerated and finally Rudini himself helped to disband it. Since that time there has been no organized Mafia, although half organized bands of assassins have from time to time taken the name.

"Then you admit that the Mafia now exists as an association for assassination?" suggested the reporter.

"No," was the rejoinder. "Still we Italians may call a wicked countryman a Mafioso."

What the Mafia Really Is

The usually well informed speaker was unquestionably misinformed concerning the Mafia, which although not recognized as a thoroughly organized society, had existed in Sicily for many, many years, long before Rudini or Crispi were born. In fact, the Mafia dates back for more than a century. It was the spontaneous outgrowth of a revolt against legal methods of criminal punishment. It had no head, but there were signs among the members like the grips and passwords of legitimate secret societies. The main raison d'etre was an opposition to law. The members of the Mafia were banded together to carry out their own individual ideas of justice. Oddly enough it is purely a Sicilian association and does not in any way resemble the Camorra of the Neapolitan. The single thought of the members of the Mafia is that the law has no right to punish evil doers among their own members. If one is arrested for a crime it is a solemn obligation of the Mafioso to swear him out of his troubles. If one of the Mafia betrays an associate the penalty is usually death. In the old days of the Mafia the society left its own sign on the victim. If an associate had heard too much and spoken too much he was first killed and then mutilated in such a way that his relatives would know the reason of his sudden taking off. After death his ears would be cut off and his tongue slit. That was sufficient to warn the surviving members of the family that the Mafia would not tolerate listening and injudicious talking. If a member said too much to the disadvantage of his associates he was quietly stiletto or shot through the head and then the skin of his forehead was drawn down over his eyes; a gentle hint to his relatives to keep their eyes closed in future. But that there was no head to the Mafia seems to be a recognized fact. One observer who made a close study of the subject in Sicily, says:

"The Mafia is not a single formal and organized association like the Camorra of Naples, but a state of society existing in every part of Sicily, which is in revolt against the law, contrives in any convenient manner to defeat it and lives on the contributions it can levy on the industrious part of the community."

The creed of the Mafia is summed up in one word, "Omerta," which in effect is that the unorganized organization stamps with infamy and holds up to public execration and vengeance whoever has recourse to the tribunal or court of justice or aids its investigations. Professor Villari, who has especially studied the subject, declares that "the Mafia has no written statutes; that it is not a secret society and hardly an association. it is formed by spontaneous generation."

Continue on Part V

Website: The History
Article Name: South Brooklyn Vendetta or Mafia? Part IV 1896
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 7, 1896
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