22 JOE AIELLO
There were hoodlums more violent but of the Chicago gang leaders Joe Aiello was the most truculent and difficult. Without Joe Aiello the number of 1920s gangster fatalities would have been fewer and the history of gangland Chicago different. Capone wanted to maintain a violent free cartel but he was willing to authorise murderous reprisals when he felt justified. Joe Aiello was not just competitive but provocative. He was responsible for ending the peace treaty that had existed among the Chicago gangs after the killing of Hymie Weiss. In his book Beer Wars author John J Binder describes Joe Aiello as ‘a disturber of the peace par excellence.’ Capone was at his most vicious and vengeful when he reacted to Joe Aiello.
Before bootlegging and absurd wealth arrived the Aiello family were successful and legitimate businessmen. Joe Aiello was born September 27 1890. His parents had fourteen children. Nine of them were brothers. Joe emigrated to the USA when he was seventeen years old. After being footloose and working menial jobs he settled in Chicago and joined the family business. The family imported foodstuffs and ran a successful bakery. Prior to 1925 the Genna gang had controlled the ‘alky’ cooking syndicate that they had established in Italian working class homes. The demand for the alcohol produced by the numerous families created a need for wholesale sugar. The Aiello family was able to provide this essential ingredient. Like the Gennas, they became rich. After the Gennas disbanded in 1925, Joe Aiello pieced together the ‘alky’ cooking organisation and ruled the Italian working class homebrewers.
The ego of Joe Aiello makes it difficult to determine how much his ambition was driven by a need for status, autonomy or increased wealth. The Unione Siciliana had been formed to protect the interests of the Sicilian community. Unione officials realised that a community provided commercial opportunities. In Chicago that meant dealing with gangsters. The Gennas and the Aiellos wanted the Unione Siciliana to be exclusively Sicilian. In November 1924 the post of president of Unione Siciliana became vacant when existing president Mike Merlo died of cancer. Angelo Genna claimed the job but he was shot and killed by Bugsy Moran on the 26th of May 1925. The replacement Sam ‘Samutts’ Amatuna was shot in the autumn of 1925. There is no evidence that identifies his assassins. Some believe his murder was another consequence of the impact the ‘alky’ cooking was having on the bootleg activities of Moran on the north side.
Capone was not involved in the killing of Amatuna. Capone recognised, though, the commercial importance of the Unione Siciliana. Capone was not Sicilian but he felt that his economic eminence entitled him to direct or at least influence affairs. Antonio ‘Tony’ Lombardo was the preferred choice of Capone to be the president of the Unione Siciliana. Antonio Lombardo was installed as president. Joe Aiello resented the influence of Capone and the rise of Lombardo. Complaints were made by Joe Aiello to the other branches of Unione Siciliana. He visited New York, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St Louis and Dayton. Lombardo was more resilient than either Angelo Genna or Sam Amatuna. He was president of the Unione Siciliana from November 1925 until September 7 1928 when Lombardo and his two bodyguards were shot and killed. The third bodyguard survived. This bodyguard was a brother of subsequent Unione Siciliana president, Pasqualino Lolordo. No one was convicted for the crime. Prior to the murder of Lombardo there had been private talks between the Aiello gang and the north side men Bugs Moran, Bill Skidmore and Jack Zuta. Most think that this surprising consortium was responsible for the assassination of Antonio Lombardo.
Joe Aiello arranged four separate attempts on the life of Capone. In case anyone had doubts that Joe Aiello was serious, he offered $50,000 to anyone that would kill Capone. Four corpses that were discovered between May and October 1927 were identified as professional killers. All were hired by Joe Aiello. Their names were Anthony Torchio of New York, Anthony K Russo and Vincent Spicuzza of St Louis and Samule Valente of Cleveland. Assassinations were not restricted to out of town hired gunmen. Six members of the Aiello gang were killed. Lawrence La Presta, Diego Attlomionte, Numio Jamericco and Lorenzo Algano were all murdered in June. Giovanni Baudins and Dominic Cinderellla were killed in July. Joe Aiello also offered $10,000 to the chef of Little Italy Cafe to put prussic acid in the soup of Al Capone. The chef denouncing the murderous intent of Joe Aiello sparked the reprisals from Al Capone. These reprisals also included Capone arranging a bullet-loaded destructive attack on the Aiello bakery.
The escalating slaughter between Capone and Aiello inspired Chief Detective William O’Connor to hire extra men to patrol in armoured cars. The extra men were recruited on the basis that they had all fought in the first world war. The additional force may have been visible but it achieved little. When the police did intervene in the conflict between Joe Aiello and Al Capone it required coincidence. The Capone siege of the Chicago Detective Bureau that occurred on November 22 1927 is famous. The police raided the offices of the Chicago Candy Jobbers Union. The police not only killed Frank Herbert, a bodyguard of southside bootlegger Joe Saltis, they arrested and charged 45 gangsters. On the same day and following a tip from an informer the police visited both 4442 Washington Boulevard and a house ten miles away in North Western Avenue. The police discovered a machine gun nest in the apartment at Washington Boulevard and dynamite and percussion caps in the house at Western Avenue. Discovered amongst the dynamite was a hotel registration slip that referred to the Rex Hotel and a guest, called Angelo La Mantio.
The cops headed for the Rex Hotel where they captured La Mantio and four of the Aiello gang including Joe. After being isolated and interrogated by the police, La Mantio admitted that he had been hired by Joe Aiello to kill Al Capone and Tony Lombardo. The police held Joe Aiello and La Mantio at their Detective Bureau in Belmont Street. Six taxis carrying 25 men arrived an hour later. Some of the men patrolled the street outside the Bureau. Others stood guard. The cops responded and stepped outside to make arrests. The visitors were troops sent by Capone. They disappeared quickly but not before Louis Campagna, Frank Perry and Sam Marcus were arrested. The three men were put in the cell next to Joe Aiello. The conversation across the cell bars has not been recorded but someone is supposed to have heard Campagna say, ‘You’re dead, friend. You won’t get up to the end of the street still walking.’ The response from Joe Aiello was as unimpressive as the feeble retreat from Capone’s men outside the Bureau. ‘Give me fourteen days,’ said Joe. ‘I’ll sell my stores, house and everything and quit Chicago for good. Can’t we settle this? Think of my wife and baby.’
The accusers were unimpressed with the pleas of Aiello. When Aiello was released from custody he demanded police protection. Aiello was escorted to a cab and escaped unharmed. The killings continued. Pasqualino Lolordo became the Chicago head of Unione Siciliana on September 14 1928 when he replaced Tony Lombardo. The reign of Lolordo was brief. Three men assassinated Lolordo in his home on January 8 1929. The wife of Lolordo was in another room while it happened. A month later the St Valentine’s Day massacre occurred. In May the gang leaders met for three days at the President Hotel in Atlantic City. They needed to determine how they would maintain income after the expected ending of prohibition but the agenda also included a discussion on previous differences. Torrio chaired the meeting which explains why Capone accepted Joe Aiello as Chicago head of the Unione Siciliana. Capone, on his return trip to Chicago, was arrested in Philadelphia. Police charged him with carrying a gun. Speculation as to why Capone let himself be arrested is varied. Some think he engineered the arrest to help maintain the peace in Chicago. Others have suggested that his short stay in prison was part of the deal arranged by Torrio. It is doubtful that Capone expected a twelve month prison sentence. Capone spent seven months in a cell.
The peace engineered at the President Hotel lasted no more than a year. Peter Gnolfo had been a member of the Genna gang but after their demise he transferred to the Aiellos. The killing of Gnolfo in May 1930 is described as spiteful by Kenneth Allsopp in The Bootleggers. The killing might or might not have been related to what happened next. Frankie Lake and Terry Druggan ran bootlegging in a southside Irish community located west of the Chicago river. By 1930 the Druggan-Lake gang were allies of Capone. In the early hours of Sunday morning June the 1st a group of five sat on the terrace of a small hotel at Fox Lake, Illinois. The five people were George Druggan, Joseph Bertsche, working with the Druggan-Lake mob, Michael Quirk a labour racketeer, Sam Pellar an election strong arm man and Vivian Ponic McGuiness, wife of a lawyer. Machine gun fire interrupted the pleasantries. Bertsche, Quirk and Pellar were killed, and Druggan and McGuinness were wounded. Thomas Somnerio was not without importance in the Aiello gang. The next day he was found dead and garroted in West Harrison Street, Chicago. Four days later a tugboat found the body of Red McLaughlin, a member of the Druggan-Lake gang. The following day a bullet riddled Frank R Thompson swerved into a filling station at New Milford an Illinois village 90 miles north of Chicago. Thompson had supplied the machine gun that was used in the St Valentine’s Day massacre.
Much of this might have been based on a misunderstanding. Authors have claimed that Moran was more likely to have launched the Fox Lake slaying. The Druggan-Lake gang had been making inroads into Moran territory. The attack might have also been the work of a lone gunman with a grievance. No one was prepared to give Aiello the benefit of the doubt. He made matters worse. Aiello went into hiding but his men, supported by the Jack Zuta gang, continued to raid the speakeasies owned by Capone. At some point Joe Aiello decided to quit. October 23 1930 a taxi was hired to take Joe to the train that went to Brownsville, Texas. He was killed as he approached the waiting taxi. 59 slugs were found in his body.
Howard Jackson has had fourteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book BORIS JOHNSON PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES is now available here.