Archive for the ‘Mafia’ Category

Johnny Torrio and Roxy Vanella

Reformed gangster and member of Johnny Torrio’s first gang, Roxie Vanella opened this funeral parlor at 29 Madison Street.

Location: 29 Madison Street: Vanella’s Funeral Chapel

Status: Standing


He was the King of the Ragpickers and the Mayor of James Street. He knew judges and congressmen, and was a personal friend of Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, and Presidential Candidate Alfred E. Smith. His name was Robert “Roxie” Vanella, an ex-gangster turned prohibition-era undertaker who was the namesake of Vanella’s Funeral Chapel located at 29 Madison Street in one of the last-vestiges of the old Corlears Hook neighborhood.


A Young Man, Willing to Do Anything:


Born and raised in a district ruled by river pirates and street walkers, Vanella was born in a bleak tenement at 68 James Street, giving him virtually no other options but a life of crime.  In 1899, the sixteen year old Vanella proved his desperation by posting a classified ad in the New York Herald, which stated:


Roxy Vanella Johnny Torrio


The ad was a surprisingly accurate resume, and Vanella went on to prove that he was in fact, “Willing to do anything.”


Johnny Torrio and The James Street Gang


He became best friends with Johnny Torrio, whose stepfather ran an illegal moonshine still across the street from Vanella’s home, and together they founded The James Street Gang, an East River auxiliary for Paul Kelly’s Five Pointers.


By 1907, the duo had parted company. Torrio relocated to Brooklyn, while Vanella moved to Montana, a strange place for an Italian from New York to say the least. While he was in the Big Sky State, Vanella’s traveling companion suddenly died of an acute gunshot wound to the head. Vanella claimed it was suicide and the cops claimed it was murder. The jury believed the cops, and they slapped Vanella with life in prison.


Roxy Vanella

Ethel Eppstein would help Vanella win his freedom from a Montana Prison


After serving seven years in the Deer Lodge Penitentiary, Ethel Eppstein, a socialite prison reformer investigated Vanella’s case and found that he had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. In 1914, the state granted a re-trial and the New York gangster walked out a free man.


Johnny Torrio and Roxie Vanella: Together Again


After beating a life sentence, Roxie headed straight for Chicago where his old pal, Johnny Torrio, had become a big thing, managing Big Jim Colosimo’s brothel empire in the Levee District.It didn’t take long for the slugs to start flying.


Roxie and Torrio kicked off a shootout that left a policeman dead and Vannella wounded, but once again, Roxy beat the charges. However, after dodging two life sentences in a seven year period, the gangster smartened up and went straight. Click to read the newspaper story on Vanella.


Once again proving that he was willing to do anything, he returned to James Street where he joined the staff of Tammany Hall’s Big Tom Foley, was elected President of the Ragpickers Union, and opened Vanella’s funeral chapel where he made it big burying the casualties of the roaring twenties.


Vanella's Funeral Chapel located at 29 Madison Street.

Vanella’s Funeral Chapel located at 29 Madison Street.


Torrio never forgot Roxie. When the Mayor of James Street wed in 1921, the New York Tribune reported:


John Torrio, the best man, well known in Chicago politics, came in a special [train] car, bringing a party of fifty with him.


One can only imagine the identities of Torrio’s fifty associates. Click to read the full story of Vanella’s wedding.


If anyone else has any info on Vanella, I’d love to hear it.



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105 South Street

Status: Standing

On the morning of May 19, 1926, Police investigators stumbled upon the bullet riddled body of William Mack, a labor organizer, sprawled out in a bloody heap in front of the United Seafood Workers Union headquarters. To anyone who knew anything about the Fulton Fish Market, the murder was the clearly the handiwork of New York City Mobster Joe Socks Lanza.


Socks Lanza

Joseph “Socks” Lanza, overlord of the Fulton Fishmarket, was nicknamed for the knockout power of his two ham sized fists.

The rub-out of Mack was yet another slaying in a minor war waged by the Irish mob to wrest the Fulton Fish Market from the Mafia’s slimy tentacles. No angel himself, Mack’s record included arrests for assault, burglary, and carrying a pistol, but it seemed that the Irish hoodlum’s luck ran out when he tangled with Lanza.

Following a trail of blood, Sergeant John Armstrong traced the body back to a speakeasy on the second floor of 105 South Street (M Slavin and Sons) where the Sergeant discovered a blood splattered bar and a lone bullet hole blasted through a wall. Lanza and three of his associates were tried for the crime, but as usual, the charges failed to cling to the slippery fish boss who went on to make headlines fighting Nazis with the Mafia in WWII.


105 South Street today.

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Salvatore Maranzano, Helmsley Building, New York Central Building The Helmsley Building is the site of the Salvatore Maranzano Murder.

230 Park Ave.

Status: Landmarked

By the fall of 1931, Salvatore Maranzano had clawed his way to the pinnacle of the New York underworld, one bullet riddled corpse named Giuseppe at a time. During the 1930-31 Castellammarese Mafia War, the Julius Caesar obsessed mob chieftain and his allies roved the Five Boroughs in bulletproof Cadillacs, equipped with swivel mounted belt-fed machine guns, popping Giuseppes like squirrels.

First to eat lead was Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello, the claw fingered capo de tutti capo of the New York Mafia, and his aide, Giuseppe Pirariano. Next to be fitted for pine overcoats by Maranzano’s torpedos were Giuseppe “Fat Joe” Pinzolo and Giuseppe “Joe the Baker” Catania, leaving behind one last living Giuseppe. Maranzano’s arch rival: the corpulent, bullet dodging, Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Massaeria.

GiuseppeMasseria Giuseppe “Joe The Boss” Masseria was the last Giuseppe to feel Maranzano’s bite.

Walking with Vanderbilts

Working with the vigor of a machine age tycoon, Maranzano put the blast to last of his rivals, convinced Lucky Luciano to betray his overlord, Joe the Boss, and unified the American Mafia, like Rockefeller had monopolized oil. And like Rockefeller, Gotham’s newest kingpin needed a headquarters befitting his swollen ego, a command center that projected opulence and power and sophistication, a place where Maranzano could rub shoulders with Vanderbilts, stock brokers, and advertising execs.

That place was the New York Central Railroad Building at 230 Park Avenue.  A sky-scraping, neo-renaissance, 32 story spire, rising out of the center of Park Avenue, the New York Central Building (now the Helmsely Building), as it was then called, towered over Grand Central Station, giving William K. Vanderbilt II’s office a majestic panorama of the city. It would be a picturesque spot for a gangland assassination.

HelmsleyBuilding2Web After unifying the the American Mafia, Salvatore Maranzano moved his offices to the New York Central Railroad Building, a place where he could rub shoulders with stock brokers and Vanderbilts.

A Vast Criminal Empire

From the 9th floor office of his Eagle Building Corporation, Maranzano oversaw a vast criminal empire of speakeasies, hard cider farms, and a fishing fleet that fronted for a $20 million a year immigrant smuggling network. However, a scant three months into his reign, the empire began to crumble. IRS agents were battering down the doors, the INS wanted him deported, and Lucky Luciano wanted him dead, a problem Maranzano hoped to remedy at 2:00pm, September 30, 1931.

Helmsley_Building Now known as the Helmsley Building, The New York Central Building would be a picturesque location for the murder of Salvatore Maranzano.

Double Booking A Meeting with Death

It seems Maranzano had double booked a meeting with Luciano to coincide with a courtesy-call by noted machine gun artist, freelance assassin, and all around psychopath, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll. But as usual, Lucky was lucky.  A four man team of Murder Inc. shooters from Meyer Lansky’s and Dutch Shultz’s mobs arrived on Luciano’s behalf, beating Coll to the punch.

Salvatore Maranzano, Lucky Luciano, Mad Dog Coll, Joe the Boss Masseria, Maranzano’s office was in the New York Central Building, 230 Park Avenue.

Whipping out detective’s badges, the revolver brandishing assassins howled, “We’re the police,”  before lining-up everyone in the office against a wall. Snapping open switchblades, they stormed Maranzano’s private chamber, hoping to silently eliminate the mob boss, but their target proved tougher than a billy goat.

Murder_Inc Yelling, “We’re the police” Four Murder Inc. gunmen posing as plain clothes detectives stormed Maranzano’s office.

Maranzano Tough as an Old Billy Goat

A flurry of rights and lefts knocked the fedoras from the gunmen’s heads, and they let Maranzano have it, stabbing him six times and pumping five bullets into his body as Mad Dog Coll made his way up to Maranzano’s office. The gangsters scrambled down the steps, bumping into Coll as they ditched their revolvers and bloody knives, before disappearing into the crowds of Midtown. Lucky Luciano was now the new king of the New York underworld.

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