Friday, October 13, 2023

My Washington Times On Crime Column On The Italian Squad, Part Two

The Washington Times published part two of my On Crime column on Paul Moses’ The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia. 

You can read the column via the below link or the below text:

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Italian Squad,' part two - Washington Times


As I noted in part one of my coverage of Paul Moses’ “The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia,” I’m half Italian, and I grew up in South Philadelphia’s Little Italy.


I knew many future Cosa Nostra members as a kid. As a writer, I’ve interviewed many Cosa Nostra members, including Philip Leonetti, the former underboss of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra crime family who became a cooperating government witness; Ralph Natale, the former boss of that crime family who became a cooperating government witness; and Michael Franzese, a former New York Colombo Cosa Nostra crime family captain who walked away from the criminal life and became a Christian public speaker and author.


I also know many Italian police officers.


So with my background, I was interested in “The Italian Squad.” I contacted Mr. Moses (seen in the below photo) and asked him who the most interesting and prominent Italian Squad members were.


“After Joseph Petrosino, three of the detectives he’d worked closely with took center stage at various times. All three — [Anthony] Vachris, Lt. Charles Corrao and Sgt. Michael Fiaschetti — were nationally celebrated sleuths. Vachris (seen in the above photo) completed the mission Petrosino was on in Italy when he was murdered.

“He was an impressive commander, but throughout his career he ran into political obstacles. A commissioner transferred him to patrol in far-off City Island in the Bronx — a four-hour commute from his home in Brooklyn — in retribution for speaking up. Corrao was the first recipient of the NYPD’s highest award, the Medal of Honor; he snuffed out a bomb’s burning fuse in a tenement. Fiaschetti was a national celebrity for, among other cases, using his sources in New York to help convict the killers of four police officers in Akron, Ohio.”


Was the Black Hand in America affiliated with the Cosa Nostra in Sicily?


“No. The first thing to know about the Black Hand was that it wasn’t a single organization, but rather a brand name that different groups of thugs used, aware that drawing a black hand on a blackmail letter would terrify the recipient. The Italian Squad detectives often made that point to reporters, but it didn’t sink in.

“There was one gang with ties to the Mafia in Sicily, however. Ignazio Lupo and Giuseppe Morello, brothers-in-law who both fled from criminal charges in Sicily, were the leaders. The evidence indicates they were probably responsible for the murder of Petrosino in Sicily, working with a leading Sicilian mafioso. No one was convicted of the murder, but the Secret Service sent Lupo and Morello to prison for counterfeiting.”


Did the Italian Squad make a difference in New York?


“It made a big difference for the many people who found a unit of savvy detectives willing to take them and their crime problems seriously. It helped to break up some serious gangs that were starting to grow into multi-tasking criminal enterprises, but ultimately, the Italian Squad wasn’t able to stop the rise of an American Mafia. It was shut down in 1922, just when needed most: Thanks to Prohibition, the gangs were becoming rich and powerful.”


Why was the Italian Squad disbanded?


“One reason was that leaders of the Italian community, who’d initially wanted the squad when it was created in 1904, began to push back against having an ‘Italian’ squad. After all, there were major gangs from other ethnicities, but no specific squads for them. Another reason is that it lost all sponsors in the internal police politics.”


Like me, you are part Italian. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about immigrant Italians in your research?


“Yes, my ancestry is Italian on my mother’s side. My grandfather was from Cerasi, a village in the Aspromonte mountains in Calabria, and my grandmother from Laurenzana, a town in Basilicata. (Both died before I was born.) Writing this book further heightened my appreciation for what they went through to establish themselves in America; they lived on Mott Street, right in the middle of many of the crimes I describe.


“From researching this book and the previous one on the Irish and Italians, I was surprised to see just how much Italian immigrants were despised. I knew, of course, that it was difficult for them, but saw that under eugenic theory that was widely accepted at the time, they were viewed as if inherently unfit to be Americans. It’s humbling, but I also came to appreciate the innate sense of dignity those Italian immigrants had. Through their focus on the family and willingness to work hard, they rose above it.”


Readers interested in history and a good crime story will enjoy “The Italian Squad.”


 Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.

You can read part one of my On Crime column on The Italian Squad via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times On Crime Column On 'The Italian Squad: The True Story Of The Immigrant Cops Who Fought The Rise Of The Mafia,' Part One 

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