A mixture of New Orleans and Marcello stories, factoids, rumors and sayings.
Everyone knows that Mosca’s Restaurant was Carlos’s favorite place to eat. It became Mosca’s in 1946 and is still in operation today. Prior to 1946 it was called Willswood Tavern. The story goes that Carlos liked the cooking of Provino Mosca so much that he gave the place to him and his wife and even built a small house for them to live in next door. It seems however that the word GAVE may not be quite accurate. Recently the Mosca Family announced intentions to sell the place. Don’t know details but have heard from two separate sources that they were told that would not be happening and to leave things as they are. Almost 25 years after his death Carlos’s favorite place is still in the FAMILY.
Provino Mosca, the cook that Carlos Marcello gave the Willswood Tavern to, was rumored to have been a personal cook for Al Capone back in Chicago. The Mosca family denies this though.
A story goes that one night Carlos was stopped for speeding along Gentilly Blvd in New Orleans. As he approached Marcello’s car the officer nervously pulled his gun. When he reached the drivers door Carlos rolled down his window and explained that he had been speeding because he thought they (the police) were stick up men. As a way to apologize Marcello dug into his (deep) pocket and “pulled out a wad of green bills that would have choked a horse” according to the officer. Carlos stuffed it into the officers pocket and drove off. The next day Marcello showed up at the officers station and presented him with a gold cigarette lighter in the shape of a gun laughingly saying:
“Ya like to wave ya gun so much I thought I’d give ya this.”
What do a gangster, a preacher and a stripper have in common? In mid 1960’s New Orleans it was the Sho Bar strip club. The Bourbon Street club belonged to Carlos Marcello and was managed by his brother Pete.
Patti White was a teacher who decided to get into stripping and the preacher was a man named Bob Harrington.
Harrington was saved in the late 1950’s and became known for preaching to people on Bourbon St. and making rounds in the clubs talking to the performers. Somehow, and would love to get the scoop on how this all actually came about, around 1966 Harrington started giving Sunday morning sermons inside the Sho Bar.
Patti would strip on Saturday night and be a featured singer in the choir Sunday morning. A sermon from August 24 1966 was even slapped on vinyl. Out of print now but easily found on Ebay.
Not sure how long these sermons went on in the strip club owned by the Mafia Godfather but I think this the type of story you’ll only hear coming from the Big Easy. Bob Harrington recently passed away in July 2017. Audio of the vinyl sermon at the Sho Bar can be found on Youtube.
America’s first drive-by shooting may have occurred in New Orleans.
In 1908 Corrado Giacona was sitting with his father Pietro on their front porch on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. As a horse drawn wagon passed by around dusk, shots were fired from it at the father and son relaxing and talking.
Neither was hit and though they made their living as wine merchants, Corrado would take over control of the New Orleans Family in 1922 when Charles Matranga decided to retire.
I was told years later during renovations to the exterior of the building the bullet holes were uncovered and repaired.
“Dandy” Phil Kastel was a New York mobster that came to New Orleans in the mid 1930’s with Frank Costello after Governor Huey P. Long offered to let Frank re-locate his slot machines in town (for a nice piece of the pie). Kastel ran things for Costello in New Orleans, especially The Beverly country Club which was the biggest and baddest illegal casino in the New Orleans area. Though some of their operations were shut down after the 1951 Kefauver hearings shed light on the illegal gambling industry in New Orleans, Kastel became more involved in Frank’s Tropicana Hotel operations in Las Vegas and Frank’s power started to wane after 1957, Kastel still kept an apartment in a very upscale apartment building called The Claiborne Towers. On August 16 1962, in failing health and going blind, Kastel decided to cash in his chips with a bullet to the head.
His wife Margaret and a nurse that cared for Kastel were in the apartment at the time of his suicide. When emergency personnel arrived to investigate and remove Kastel’s body his wife, who was a notorious and well known New Orleans prostitute prior to her marriage, reportedly seemed unconcerned about her husband and continued her yoga routine in the living room.
As mentioned above, the Beverly Country Club was the biggest and fanciest illegal casino in the New Orleans area. It was also a legit restaurant and show place where people dressed to the T’s when they went.
Notice the spelling of the club. When you find a casino chip from here the spelling is Beverley.
Every chip is this way and it drove me nuts wondering why this was so. I finally found out that this was a deliberate mistake in the spelling in the event that the place was ever raided. This way Kastel could claim that they were not from the Beverly Country club due to the wrong spelling if a case ever went to court.
Al Copeland, founder of Popeye’s Chicken and who started his popular yardbird eatery in New Orleans, told a contractor who had built a restaurant for him to pound sand when it came time for payment on services rendered. Apparently Copeland had a habit of this. The contractor made a few calls to some associates who made a call to the Little Man and soon Copeland got a call from Marcello saying pay up or you’ll end up in one of your fryers. The contractor was paid soon after.
The Bosses Boss! In a scene reminiscent of the Soprano’s when Carmella threw Tony out and the bathroom scene in The Shining…..Jacquelyn Marcello knew of Carlos’s affairs with other women and tolerated these goings on as a good Mob wife should. However it seems she became highly agitated over one seemingly more serious affair Carlos had with a beautician named Lucille in the summer of 1967. Jackie set a curfew for the feared Mob Boss of New Orleans of 8PM. Apparently the Godfather did not take this seriously and on the very first night of his curfew he arrived home at 8:30 PM. their daughter had several friends over who were in the swimming pool and after getting the kids in the house Jackie barred the door to her late arriving husband. Carlos became enraged over the lockout and apparently grabbed a sledgehammer from a shed with the intention of breaking down the door. From a second story window Jackie pointed a shotgun at the Little Man and told him he could come back home whenever he felt he could stick to his time limit. Apparently Carlos realized that his wife was serious and for a time after that could be seen out and about after 8PM only when his wife was in attendance.
John H. Davis told us in Mafia Kingfish that Carlos’s wife Jacquelyn was the daughter of previous NOLA Boss Frank Todaro. This was not the case. She was actually his niece. Her father was Joe Todaro, Franks brother. He also mentioned that Frank Todaro was present at the meeting that put Carlos in charge of the Family in 1947. This was also not the case as Frank died in November of 1944. He may have been there in spirit but……..
Carlos Marcello seemed to have a penchant for barbecued goat. Have seen several references to it, especially when he would throw parties at Churchill Farms.
Most people assume Carlos Marcello earned his fortune doing Gangster type stuff (or selling tomatoes) and while true that he did make quite a bit from those endeavors he apparently made most of his fortune from land deals. The Little Man owned property all over New Orleans, Louisiana and the South. Reportedly, he especially liked putting together very large land deals. He often would apply some Mob 101 tactics to these deals however. One favorite way when bidding against others for a parcel of property was to outbid anyone as far as the down payment on the land which would secure the deal for him.When it came time to finish paying off the note however he would tell the other party to pound sand and what could befall them if they pursued action against him.
When going into any type of hearing, Marcello would empty his pockets, seal his items into an envelope and give this to his Realty lawyer, Phillip Smith, to hold for him until after the hearing was over.
The popular story about The Little Man’s deportation to Guatemala is that he was flown to the country and dropped into a jungle.
I even read one (ridiculous) version where a parachute was strapped to his back and he was pushed out of the plane. He was actually flown onto a Guatamalan Air Force Base where Colonel Antonio Batres, second in command of the Guatemalan Air Force, met him with all courtesies shown and they promptly disappeared from Immigration authorities radar.
A true bonafide mystery! Joseph Alexander Piraino died in New Orleans in 1918.
In his eighties, having been sick for the last year and feeling the end was near a resident of Amsterdam New York, Joseph Piarno, reveals to two sons that he was in reality the Joseph Piraino who supposedly died in New Orleans in 1918. What exactly was revealed to them has been lost as the sons kept things quiet and have since passed on. In the last few years the family of Joseph Piarno has tried to track down what went on but with several name changes, marriages, fake obituaries and generally inaccurate records it has proved nearly impossible to piece together what happened.
The family suspects Black Hand/Mafia activity as Joseph was apparently not a very nice man and reportedly his family was deathly afraid of him. Since that period of New Orleans history was rife with that type of activity the Underworld theory is very possible.
John H. Davis told us in Mafia Kingfish that the reason for the name change of the Minacore family, Carlos Marcello’s family, was that in the early 1900’s, when Carlos (or Calagero as he was originally named), was still a cute little toddler, Carlos’s father Joseph worked on a plantation owned by a man with the last name of Minacore as well. Not happy about an underling sharing his last name the plantation owner forced Joseph to change his last name. But there is another version as the reason for this. In the mid 1920’s Joseph owned a bar in the black section of Algiers. He worked hard long hours in his bar and kept a cot in the back room as he would often close up late and sleep there. Joseph woke up one morning to find a black man carrying out a case of whiskey. Joseph shot the man dead. Fearing the repercussions Joseph fled and changed his name to Marcello. Years later he was surprised to find out that there was no one pursuing any investigation into the death.
In 1936 Tennessee Senator Kenneth McKellar blasted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for his lack of actual law enforcement experience. Determined to prove them wrong Hoover vowed to capture the current elusive criminal Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.
Hoover would not have to wait long. The FBI located Karpis in New Orleans and notified Hoover who immediately flew there to take personal charge of the arrest. As Karpis and two companions came out of their boarding house on Canal Street and got into a car agents swarmed them.
The official FBI version goes that Hoover personally reached into the car to grab Karpis and prevent him from reaching a shotgun in the back seat. Karpis’s version states that only after he was secured by agents did Hoover leave the protedtion of his vehicle to proclaim him under arrest and call for agents to slap the cuffs on him.
In an apparent over-site on the FBI’s part no one had actually brought cuffs so an agent zipped off his necktie and bound Karpis’s hands with that. Apparently the car that Karpis was captured in, a Plymouth Coupe, had no backseat. No matter which version is true, the end result was what Hoover desired in that it thrust him and his agency into the national spotlight and secured future funding for his agency.
The boarding house where Karpis was captured is long gone now and a bank now sits on that plot of land.
New Orleans seems to have been a destination for Mafia types. Some recognizable names from outside of New Orleans that have spent time in the Crescent City.
Meyer Lansky was a partner with Frank Costello in the Beverly Country Club in Jefferson Louisiana and can be seen in a picture at Diamond Jim Moran’s La Louisiane restaurant with Costello and others around a table. “Dandy” Phil Kastel came from New York with Costello in the mid 1930’s to start a gambling operation and remained a resident until he committed suicide in 1962. Notorious Chicago Hitter Sam “Golfbag” Hunt spent time here and had a relationship with famous NOLA Madame Norma Wallace. Frankie Carbo got into promoting boxing in NOLA when his New York license was revoked. Vito Cascio Ferro hid out in NOLA for about six months after Guiseppe Morello was busted for counterfeiting. He returned to Sicily from NOLA. Morello himself spent a few days here in the early 1900’s to quell Black Hand violence and back Vincent Moreci as leader in New Orleans. Famous Sicilian bandit Guiseppe Esposito hid out in New Orleans under an assumed name from 1878 until his capture in 1881. Ralph Capone apparently enjoyed the horse track in NOLA and was busted as an undesirable in 1928. And of course Santo Trafficante was spotted many times in New Orleans in the company of Carlos Marcello and his brother Joe.
Whitey Bulger spent much of his time when he first went on the run in Grand Isle Louisiana, just down the road (DTR as it’s said locally) from New Orleans. Genovese Capo and La Stella attendee Domonick Alongi actually grew up in New Orleans and was cousin to Frank Gagliano who was also at the La Stella luncheon.
“I decided to see some of my old friends – so we all got together for lunch. Sure, some of those fellows had been in the rackets…But, if they’re in the Mafia, I don’t know a damned thing about that. This was strictly a social gathering; that’s all there was to it. What’s the matter with some old friends getting together for lunch?”
~ Carlos Marcello on why he was in New York at the time of the La Stella bust.
His uncle Salvatore Alongi was a member of the NOLA Family. Nicolo Gentile was busted on drug charges in 1937 in NOLA, supposedly in an operation for Lucky Luciano. Early California bosses such as Sam Matranga and Vito di Giorgio spent years in New Orleans before moving out west. Kansas City mobster Nicolo Impastato lived in NOLA for a period of time. Francesco “Tre Dita” Coppola, known more for his connections in Detroit and St. Louis, also had New Orleans business connections and spent time in the Big Easy. Jack Ruby was known to frequent New Orleans and was spotted at the 500 Club on Bourbon Street meeting with NOLA Family member Frank Caracci a few months prior to the JFK assassination. And finally, while testifying before the McClellan boys Mob turncoat Joe Valachi told the story of one day mentioning to Boss Vito Genovese that he was thinking of taking a trip to New Orleans and Vito’s response was that it was Marcello’s territory and that he needed to get permission to go. Better not to even think about it. No word on if he ever did go or not.
The largest lynching in American history took place in New Orleans in 1891 when eleven Italians, suspected Mafia members, were killed after a Not Guilty verdict in the murder trial of Chief of Police David Hennessey.
During the heyday of illegal gambling in the New Orleans area, in the little town of Gretna Louisiana, there were numerous small, but profitable, casinos in downtown Gretna. A good portion on Huey P. Long avenue, the street named after the man who opened Louisiana up to the New York Mafia and their slot machines, and the main drag in the downtown area. The local police seemed unaware of The Bank Club, The Billionaire Club, The Blue Light Inn, the Roof Garden Club, the Green Mill and the Clover Club. They were also unaware of Jefferson Amusement Club, also on Huey P. Long Ave and ran by Marcello brother Vincent, which serviced slot machine needs for these and many other illegal gambling joints. The local law enforcement seemed unaware even though these clubs virtually surrounded the Gretna Police station and Town Hall and you would essentially have to close your eyes to avoid seeing these casinos if you stepped out the front doors of the building.
I heard a tale about the prior mentioned casino’s in Gretna Louisiana. Apparently one day the Louisiana State Police were sent to Gretna with a mission to raid some of these clubs. They were met by Gretna PD and an actual shootout occurred in front of the Billionaire Club between the two. I’m not sure why as Gretna PD seemed to be unaware of the targeted clubs.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans. His father Robert E. Lee Oswald died a couple months prior to his birth. His father was so named as he was a descendant of the General.
He and his mother left NOLA when he was young but returned a few years later where Oswald spent some of his teenage years living in an apartment in Exchange Alley in the French Quarter which at the time was a haven for pimps, prostitutes, underworld figures, gamblers and gambling joints.
Oswald would leave and return to NOLA several times in his life. The last being in the summer of 1963 before the JFK assassination. He would work part time for his uncle Charles “Dutz” Murett who was a bagman for NOLA Family Member Sam Saia.
Saia at the time owned the famous French Quarter eatery Felix’s Oyster Bar. Saia ran gambling operations from here.
Though a native of Sicily, the founder of the Dallas Mob, Carlo Piraino, lived in Shreveport Louisiana for twenty years before moving to Dallas and founding his Family there in 1921. He would actually move back to Shreveport for a couple of years before his death in 1930.
Boxing buffs and historians may recognize the name Pete Herman as the two time Bantam Weight World Champ between 1912 and 1922 but they may or may not recognize his real name, Pete Gulotta.
And they most probably don’t know that Pete’s father Calogero was a New Orleans Family member. Pete’s brother Gaspar was connected as well but mostly on the fringe of things as I understand it. Gaspar would become a local figure known as The Little Mayor of Bourbon Street.
So called for his control of clubs on the sinful street. Pete would also have a successful night club on Bourbon after his boxing days ended.
Serial killer buffs and anyone who has watched American Horror Story:Coven may be aware of the Axman of New Orleans story. Many who have seen the AHS series are not aware that Coven’s story lines are based in NOLA history though. Madame LaLaurie, Marie Laveaux and, yes, the Axman were all actual figures in NOLA’s past, though all were greatly exaggerated and fictionalized in the show.
Though the identity of the Axman was never revealed there is one man who was highly suspected of being the crazed killer that threw the city into panic for almost two years in 1918 and 1919. The Axman story and details are easily found online so won’t go into detail here. However, what is only barely mentioned in some sources, and none at all, is that there is evidence that the killings were Black Hand/Mafia related. Much of it is speculative and circumstantial, granted.
But there is a lot of it and when the pieces are put together it leaves a not quite finished and an unclear picture but enough of one to make a good guess at the image. I presented the pieces in an earlier story in the Crescent Corner with The Life of Vito Di Giorgio. Please give that a read if you’re further interested in this subject.
Carlos Marcello offered 50 acres of his famous (or infamous) Churchill Farms estate, free of charge, to the City of New Orleans in the late 1960’s. Why, you may ask, would a Mafia Boss be so generous? Because he loved the city and wanted to be a part of improving it? Yes. To some degree I think that was probably true. BUT….50 acres was a small, fractional portion of the 6500 acres of Churchill Farms. He offered it free to the city to build the proposed Superdome on it. With the Superdome built on the site and a planned highway to go in close by Uncle Carlos would have made a killing in the development of the surrounding area. His area. Unfortunately for The Little Man, the deal fell through.
Haven’t been able to uncover details as to why and though a large chunk of Churchill Farms still remains undeveloped today the Marcello Family is still making barrels of dough from it. The Superdome was built in downtown New Orleans…..adding to the general cramped and chaotic streets in the area. Churchill Farms, in practicality, would have been a better spot.
Carlos had six brothers who were all involved in various operations for him. Joe, Anthony, Pascal, Pete, Sammy and Vincent.
However, evidence points to only two of his brothers actually being a MADE part of the New Orleans Family.
Joe served as his Underboss for most of his reign at the top and Vincent was a feared Soldier for the Family.
A little known fact, but just as some of the other Family’s around the country would do, Carlos would import Zips from time to time to handle jobs. Most would often return home after their job was complete but a few would end up staying and settling down in New Orleans.
James Brocato, known as Diamond Jim Moran, was known for his relationships with politicians, celebrities and gangsters. He was a successful restaurant owner who had at one time worked for Frank Costello in his gambling operations. Diamond Jim got his name for the penchant he had of wearing diamond studded jewelry though he was also known to pop a diamond into a meatball at times for some lucky restaurant patron to find. There’s more to this story and how this practice came about but have taken a vow of silence on this! Brocato changed his name to Moran in his younger boxing days so his mother wouldn’t find out what he was doing and get upset. There has always been speculation as to if Moran was actually a member of the Family. Though I can’t say for sure it doesn’t appear so to me and he was actually too high profile to be a good Mafia fella.
- Mr Rice: Now, in your job as a goodwill ambassador, shall we say, what were your duties specifically?
- Mr. Moran: My duties?
- Rice: Yes.
- Moran: To see locations.
- Rice: What do you mean locations?
- Moran: Where we have mint machines, see that it was kept right.
- Rice: What does this mint machine look like?
- Moran: Well, you put a coin in and a mint would drop out, the same as you go into a cigar stand and buy a roll of mints.
- Rice: Yes. Now you put the coin in and the mint drops out?
- Moran: Right sir.
- Rice: All right. Is there a handle on it?
- Moran: Yes.
- Rice: What do you do with the handle?
- Moran: Pull it! It’s good exercise (Courtroom laughter)
Partial testimony of Diamond Jim Moran to The Kefauver Committee in New Orleans, January 1951, about his duties in The Louisiana Mint Company which was owned by Frank Costello. Moran later went on to invite the members of the committee to his hunting camp where he would personally cook for them.
In his three short years as Superintendent of Louisiana State Police from 1952 to 1955, gangbuster Francis Grevemberg confiscated and destroyed over 8000 slot machines from the NOLA Underworld. How I would love to go back in time and rescue a couple of those one armed bandits!
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this collection of little tidbits from New Orleans Mafia history. In some cases this is all the information I have on the subject. In others I have much more but just presented the main meat of it here. Feel free to contact me with questions and would be happy to provide it or refer you to someplace that will have it. I enjoyed this and hopefully will be able to do another piece like it in the future.
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"I'm always learning something new," he says. "Often when I think I have the whole story down on a subject, some new bit of info will pop up and lead off into another interesting direction."
Among the tales of pirates, voodoo priestesses, and vampires, New Orleans holds a long Mafia history. Most people will automatically think of Carlos Marcello, as the father of the New Orleans Mafia. Most people will also assume that the first Mafia family was in New York City. Even many locals don't know that New Orleans has Mafia roots predating the Civil War, giving their wonderful city the distinction of being home to the first Mafia family in the United States.
So let's explore the lesser known stories, facts, and even some OC fiction in a little space of the NCS Ron calls, the Crescent Corner.
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