South Brooklyn Vendetta or Mafia? 1896 Part V

The Mafia in This Country.

In spite of all that has been said about the lack of organization the interesting fact remains that the Mafia exists in this country and that the lesson of the New Orleans lynching has not in any way diminished the power of this terror creating band of avengers. The tragedy in New Orleans in March, 1891 when eleven Sicilians were taken from prison by an infuriated but well organized mob of indignant citizens, was the natural outcome of a belief that the administration of the law was interfered with by the Mafia. it had been found impossible to find among Italians sufficient evidence to convict the alleged murderers of Chief Hennessy. The angry citizens argued that the mafia was blocking the work of the courts and when juries failed to convict the six men who had been on trial for the murder, the indignation of the people flooded reasonable bounds and the lynching were the natural result.

It is no secret even in the east that it is difficult for the proper prosecuting authorities to convict an Italian or Sicilian malefactor on Italian or Sicilian evidence. They stick together and will prove an alibi in the case of a criminal which will prove most convincing to a jury. A Sicilian will never betray a fellow countryman, according to the statements of experienced police officials. Why? Because of the fear of that awful vengeance which falls upon the informer.

It has been argued that Italians would be useful members of the police force. The enormous emigration of late years from Italy and Sicily to this country has peopled the lower districts of all the large cities on the continent with an undesirable class of men. They naturally went to Southern state, but recently there have been large droves of them who have settled in New York and Brooklyn. Over and over again within the last fifteen years the police have been called upon to investigate mysterious cases of the deaths of Italians by violence, but unless evidence could be procured from outside sources it has been impossible to secure a conviction. The Italians and Sicilians have too active a dread of the awful national organization and they do not propose to put their lives in jeopardy.

Why Italians are Useless in Police Work

A police captain was congratulated the other day on having an Italian policeman in his precinct when the captain was called upon to ferret out a singular case of Italian murder. "You are lucky in having an Italian in the precinct to look this thing up for you," he was told.

"Rats!" he exclaimed, with expressive vigor. "Give me an Irishman or an American to work up such a case, but none of your dagoes. They are all tarred with the same stick. They are afraid to say their souls are their own. They are in dread of the vengeance of the Mafia. I asked my man for some information on this case and he said: "Captain, I dare not act as an informer. They may be would not all attack me because of my uniform, but some member of my family would suffer, you may depend on that. To tell you the truth, captain, I don't want to get into trouble with these people, I'd be a marked man if I was to act as a spy among them."

I told the fellow," proceeded the captain, "that if he felt that way about police duty he'd better give up his shield and leave the business. He didn't take the hint. I have him yet and he's good enough in ordinary duty, but when dagoes are concerned he isn't in it, not even a little bit. I let my Irish detective work up these Italian cases and he is not a bit afraid of the stilettos or pistols. He just goes ahead and gets the information he wants if he can. But these Italians are close mouthed when other Italians are interested. I've had one or two convictions, but not in cases where I had to depend on the evidence of the Italians themselves.

Italian Tragedies in Brooklyn

The history of the Brooklyn police force tells the story of many Italian outrages with the knife and pistol. Tragedies in Italian or Sicilian circles have been more frequent, it is true, within the last fifteen years, but the stamp of the dreaded Mafia has been seen on tragedies in this vicinity as far back as 1871.

About twenty-five years ago a Sicilian was found murdered on the sidewalk on Bedford avenue, near the fountain in the eastern district. A dagger had pierced his heart and as in the old days of organized feuds the murderer had impaled on the dagger a piece of paper with the Italian equivalent of the word "vengeance" written on it.

Within the last ten years Italian murders have not been uncommon but have rarely been explained. The brother of a Myrtle avenue photographer was murdered on Staten Island several years ago. It was said to have been the result of a duel, but this is generally discredited. it is believed to have been a Mafia assassination pure and simple. The story of the circumstances which led to the tragedy has never been told and never will be.

Only a year or two ago there was a series of Mafia murders in the eastern district and the police are convinced that his latest murder is the work of the Mafiosi. The Mafia may not be organized but its operations are far reaching. Italians in the lower walks of life are rarely unarmed in this country. Eighty-nine per cent. of the Italians who are arrested are found to be armed with either a knife or a loaded revolver and many throw-away their concealed weapons when they have reason to believe that they are about to be taken into custody. The revolvers carried by these men are not toys, the knifes have blades rarely under four inches in length.

Cocciara, the man who was shot at the Union street saloon, spoke of his revolver at the inquest the other night in the most matter of fact way, a loaded pistol seemed to be a part of his daily equipment.

"Oh, yes; I had a gun," he said, in broken English. "Yes (examining the largest of the five weapons before the coroner), that is the gun I carried. I borrowed it from my friend Serrio. It was too big to put in my pocket with the muzzle down, so I carried it with the butt in my pocket. I had it because I though I might need it to defend myself. When I got into the back room of the saloon the other men began firing at me. I was struck in the shoulder by one of the bullets and then I drew my own revolver and fired, too."

"What other men had pistols?" asked young Mr. Cladwell of the district attorney's office calmly.

"I don't know, sir," replied Cocchiara very naturally, "I was hurt in the shoulder, didn't know how badly and I did not pay much attention to the other men. I just draw my gun and went bang, bang, bang, too."



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


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 7, 1896
Time & Date Stamp: