New York's Black Hand: Part 1

Widely known as the Black Hand Gang, New York's first Mafia family sprung up in Manhattan and gradually evolved into the group now known as the Genovese Crime Family. Part 1 features the early years of the gang under the leadership of Ignazio "Lupo" Saietta and Giuseppe "Joe" Morello.

Ignazio "Lupo" Saitta A depiction of the dreaded Mano Nera (Black Hand) was traditionally used in extortion letters in Sicily to infer the threat of violence. Sicilian criminals such as Ignazio "Lupo" Saietta continued this practice when they went to the US. Saietta was a member of the Mafia in his hometown of Corleone, Sicily, and he founded the New York branch of that notorious society when he emigrated in 1898. His nickname "Lupo" means "Wolf" and he was sometimes inaccurately referred to as "Lupo the Wolf" by English-speaking gangsters. Saietta set up a counterfeiting and extortion ring known as the "Black Hand" in the East Harlem and Greenwich Village areas of Manhattan.

The first Mafiosi in New York were family in the literal as well as metaphorical sense. Two members of the Black Hand, Vincenzo and Ciro Terranova, strengthened their alliance with Lupo by arranging his marriage to their sister in 1901. The Terranova’s widowed mother was married to a widower named Morello, and his son Giuseppe "Joe" Morello became Saitta’s underboss. Like Saietta, the Morello-Terranova family were immigrants from Corleone, Sicily. Joe Morello brought his sister’s husband, Giuseppe Catania into the gang.

At that time, there was a community group int the US known as the Unione Siciliana. Sicilian immigrants who could not speak English depended on the Unione to help them find jobs and homes. It also gave insurance policies to members. The Black Hand infiltrated the organization to such an extent that Saietta became the national chairman. The Unione was the first place the impoverished Sicilian immigrants went when they had problems, and it was an ideal recruitment agency for the Black Hand Gang. It also provided a legitimate front for the gang’s activities and may have been an easy outlet for Saietta’s counterfeit currency. As a result of Saietta's leadership, the charitable side of the Unione was degraded to the status of a cover for the co-operating criminals that ran the various lodges around the country.

In 1901, police Lt. Joseph Petrosino obtained a search warrant for the headquarters of the Unione Siciliana and discovered the bodies and body parts of approximately 60 murder victims concealed on the premises. Saietta was promptly arrested but other than the fact that he owned the building, there was no evidence to link him to the crimes. The building entered the history books as the "Murder Stable" and the Unione Siciliana’s image was tarnished forever.

After the incident, Lt. Petrosino set out to rid New York of the Black Hand. In 1902, police arrested gang-member Giuseppe De Primo who was found in possession of counterfeit $5 bills. The plates from which the bills were printed had been stolen earlier in the year from the National Bank of Morristown, New Jersey.

On April 14 1903, the body of De Primo’s brother-in-law Benedetto Madonia was found in a barrel. He had been stabbed to death and his dismembered penis had been jammed into his mouth. Petrosino questioned De Primo who revealed that Madonia was a counterfeiter who didn’t see eye-to-eye with Joe Morello. The New York Police arrested 9 men in connection with the murder: Joe Morello, Ignazio Saietta, Giuseppe Fontano, Tony Genoa, Giuseppe Favarro, Giovanni Pecoraro, Vito Lo Baido, Vito Cascio Ferro and Gaetano Petto. Eventually, Petto was convicted of murder, but during the course of the investigation, Petrosino made an interesting discovery. He found that two Black Handers, Vito Cascio Ferro and Paulo Marchese (who went by the alias Paul Di Cristina) had entered the US illegally. Both men were powerful Mafiosi in their native Sicily where they were both wanted for separate murders. Petrosino immediately contacted the Italian authorities. Unfortunately, the two Sicilians fled to New Orleans before they could be extradited.

Over the next four years, the gang were involved in at least five more murders. An extortionist named Michael Savona (who was not connected to the Black Hand) tried to extract money from a barber, but Savona should have researched his victims better. The barber was Andrea Gambino, a relative of Joe Morello and a member of the Black Hand. Gambino shot Savona dead on March 23 1905.

Also in 1905, Brooklyn butcher Gaetano Costa was murdered after he refused to pay protection money to Saietta. Then in 1906, Vincenzo Terranova (Saietta's brother-in-law, Morello's half-brother) shot a man named Frederick W. Schneider. Terranova was arrested for murder but acquitted.

In 1908, Giuseppe De Primo (the man who implicated the Black Hand in the murder of his brother-in-law Madonia) was released from prison and deported to Sicily. The Black Hand wanted revenge on De Primo for becoming a police informant, and they contacted Vito Laduca. Laduca was an ex-Black Hand member who returned to his native Sicily 3 years before De Primo's release. Laduca attempted to kill De Primo but it was Laduca's body that Sicilian Police found with bullet holes.

1908 was also the year that "Diamond Sam" Sicco died from gunshot wounds. Sicco dominated the Italian Lottery in East Harlem and Vincenzo Terranova killed him in an effort to take control of "Diamond Sam’s"' business. Another Black Hand victim was shot dead on April 15 1909. He was Andrea Gambino, a relative of the Morello's who was last seen in the company on Ignazio "Lupo" Saietta, the suspected culprit. The motivation for the killing was never disclosed.

The reign of Saietta and Morello came to an end in 1910 when the two gangsters were convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. They were paroled 10 years later, but in the meantime, the gang passed into the hands of Joe Morello's brothers, Nicholas Morello and Vincenzo and Ciro Terranova.

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