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Q. When did the press first begin to use the term "Mafia"?


The earliest known print mention of any variation of the term "Mafia" occurred in the title of an 1862 Sicilian play, I mafiusi di la Vicaria. The term is not specifically explained, suggesting that it was already well understood by the people of that time and place. There are suggestions that the word "Mafia" developed following the 10th Century Arab domination of Sicily and that it initially referred to a spirit of arrogant independence, perhaps later to a network of local nobles that lingered despite Sicily's string of foreign rulers.

Even in our Information Age, it is difficult (maybe impossible) to determine the very first use of "Mafia" or derivative terms in the press. A very early English language usage occurred in the October 11, 1866, issue of the London (UK) Times. An article in that newspaper reported, "Indeed, the Maffia [sic], a secret society, is said to include among its members many persons of an elevated class." The article clearly distinguished members of the Mafia from criminals and outlaws.

Early in the following decade, the London Times reported frequently on "brigandage" in Sicily and in southern Italy. These reports largely stood separate from its coverage of "Maffia," indicating that the secret society was not yet considered an outlaw society.

New York Times article of 2 Nov. 1874

NY Times

In November of 1874, the New York Times ran an article about the "Mafia" (just one 'f') of Sicily, noting that it was a "long-standing secret organization." This article linked the Mafia with control of organized criminal activity and detailed government efforts to suppress and destroy it.

Note that these early London Times and New York Times mentions appear to conflict with a number of popular Mafia-genesis tales. Some insist that the Mafia was created from Sicilian peasantry during Italian unification efforts of the 1860s by Giuseppe Mazzini or Giuseppe Garibaldi. If there was any truth to the tales, the Mafia would not have had members of an "elevated class" in 1866 and would not have been regarded as a particularly "long-standing" organization by 1874.

The "Mafia" term of the 1860s and early 1870s appears to refer to an exclusive social class that had already existed for a great many years. That class held political and economic power in Sicily and seems to have been able and willing to undermine, corrupt and to some extent control the nominal rulers of the island. Eventually, the press noted that Mafia had influence over gangs of Sicilian brigands. Over time, Mafia seemed to merge with the brigand groups (in press accounts and perhaps also in fact) and "Mafia" became the name of a widespread and entrenched secret organization of Sicilian outlaws.

A United States Mafia has been mentioned fairly consistently in the press since the 1890 assassination of Police Chief David Hennessy in New Orleans.

See these sources:



Q. Why do you use the term "Stuppagghieri" to refer to the Mafia branch that originated in Monreale, Sicily, and spread to the U.S. through New Orleans? Others use "Stoppaglieri."


Location of Monreale

There has been some difference of opinion on the better spelling of the organization name. Some have used the "Stuppagghieri" name. Others have noted that this Mafia organization from the Monreale region was referred to as "Stoppaglieri" in official Italian government reports. That reference was sufficient to justify their use of that term. They may have failed to consider - or perhaps disregarded - that the term is meaningless and impossibly spelled for Sicilians.

If the term "Stoppaglieri" had been more widely used when I began writing about the organization, I probably would have used that term merely to avoid confusion. (Example: A Sicilian underworld member was originally said to be "Mafiusu," but the mainland Italian pronunciation "Mafioso" has been so widely used over the years that the original appears to be the error.) But "Stoppaglieri" had gotten little attention by that time, and there seemed little reason for abandoning a more appropriate Sicilian spelling.

We can rule out the possibility of knowledgeable organization members providing a written and carefully spelled name of the secret criminal society for the authorities. So, official Italian documents likely contain a best guess - a spelling approximation - of an occasionally whispered term. We should also assume that the spelling approximation was constructed to fit a mainland Italian rather than a Sicilian tongue.

In the Sicilian language (I agree with many others that Sicilian is more significant than a "regional dialect"), the vowel "o" is seldom encountered. In Sicilian, an "oo" sound and the vowel "u" generally occurs where mainland Italians use "o." It seems likely that a law enforcement official, perhaps originally from the Italian mainland and certainly writing for superiors on the mainland, changed a pronounced "u" to an "o."

When the New Orleans press of the late 19th Century encountered local Sicilian pronunciations of the organization name, it printed the name as "Stoppaghera" and indicated that an English-language nickname for the group was "Stoppers" (referring to bottle-neck closures, like corks).

The Sicilian word for stopper is "stuppagghiu." Given the various spelling approximations and the link to the term "stuppagghiu," it seemed appropriate to me to use the "Stuppagghieri" spelling.



Q. Chicago mobster Orazio Tropea had an addressbook at the time of his death.
What do we know about the information inside it?


Orazio Tropea

Orazio Tropea

Just a quick summary of what is known about Orazio Tropea (see photo): He did a fair amount of traveling in his lifetime. Born in Catania, Sicily, in 1880, upon reaching the United States in 1909 he first settled in Brooklyn, New York. He moved on to Buffalo, where he lived with a woman named Helen Brown. The couple had a son in 1917. Tropea became acquainted with the "Terrible" Genna brothers of Chicago and the Aiello brothers, then residents of Utica, New York. Around 1920, Tropea moved to Chicago and joined with the Genna Mafia organization there. He was known for extortion rackets and acquired the nickname, "the Scourge."

During his time in Chicago, several of the city's underworld leaders died. Antonio D'Andrea, a regional Mafia chief, was murdered in May of 1921. His highly regarded successor Michele Merlo died of natural causes in November of 1924. Just days after Merlo's death, North Side Gang boss Dean O'Banion was shot to death in his North State Street flower shop. Police suspected two visitors from Brooklyn of having something to do with the O'Banion murder. They were Frank Yale and Saverio Pollaccia. (Yale was suspected of involvement in the earlier murder of "Big Jim" Colosimo, which also occurred during one of the Brooklyn gangster's Chicago visits.) Yale and Pollaccia were arrested and questioned, but authorities had no evidence against them.

In 1925, the Genna gang broke apart into warring factions. Tropea sided with a rebel group that included Albert Anselmi and John Scalisi (later members of Al Capone's Outfit) and "Samoots" Amatuna. Several of the Genna brothers were murdered in the spring and summer of that year. The rest of the family decided to leave Chicago and return to Italy. The departure of the Gennas permitted the Aiello brothers, recently arrived from Utica, to take over as Mafia leaders in Chicago.

On a number of occasions, Tropea terrorized Italian businessmen and residents into making cash contributions for the legal defense funds of his underworld colleagues. He is believed to have raised a good deal of money for the defense of Anselmi and Scalisi, when they were accused of having shot and killed a police officer. There was widespread speculation that Tropea was skimming from the collected money.

On February 15, 1926, a gunman jumped out of an automobile at the intersection of South Halsted and Taylor Streets in Chicago and unloaded both barrels of a shotgun into Tropea. As detectives arrived at the scene, they discovered Tropea's list of contacts.

The list included addresses and telephone numbers for Chicago area businesses, for Tropea's common law wife and son and for his girlfriend, a former Chicago resident then living in South Haven, Michigan. Home and business data was included for Antonio Lombardo, a powerful underworld leader who served as president of the Unione Siciliana organization. Other Chicago entries on the list included Amato Mongelluzzo and Caterina Amara. Mongelluzzo owned a restaurant where Genna brother-in-law Henry Spingola was recently murdered at the conclusion of a card game with Tropea. Amara was the maiden name of Joseph Aiello's wife.

Siragusa name

One product of an experiment to see whether the name "Siragusa"
could be written to approximate "Louognino."

Also on the list were Buffalo residents Sam LoVullo, known to be a Mafia member, and grocer Joseph Quattrone; Pittsburgh Mafia boss Giuseppe Siragusa (police thought that this scribbled name was "Louognino"); a number of contacts in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, and Los Angeles, California; and a single name from New York City, Saverio Pollaccia, one of the Brooklyn suspects in the O'Banion murder.



Q. Who were the members of the very first Mafia "Commission" formed back in 1931-32?


This question seems to be a simple one. However, a lack of source material and some conflicting viewpoints complicate things and make a long answer necessary.

While many have written about the first Commission, created in 1931 under the guidance of Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, only two sources can be considered authoritative. Nick Gentile recorded his memories of a lifetime in the Mafia in the autobiographical Vita di Capomafia. Joseph Bonanno did the same years later in A Man of Honor.

Each man was in a position to know the membership of the Commission. Gentile was an elder statesmen of the Mafia. By 1931, he had served as boss, caporegime and consigliere for several families in the United States. He was on very friendly terms with Luciano, with whom he had discussed the Commission concept before it was adopted, and he had strong relationships with Luciano's allies. Gentile also served as mentor for many underworld leaders in the Midwest. Though Bonanno's 1931 résumé was less impressive, he could have boasted of better first-hand knowledge, as he was one of the first Commission members.

The accounts of the two men are largely in agreement. They both include the leaders of the five New York families - Luciano, Bonanno, Tom Gagliano, Joe Profaci and Vincent Mangano - and Chicago's Alphonse Capone on the 1931 Commission. But both indicate that the Commission was comprised of seven members.

Frank Milano

Frank Milano

Bonanno says the seventh member was his relative Stefano Magaddino, boss of the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. Gentile says the seventh member was Frank "Ciccio" Milano (see photo) of Cleveland. We are left with those two choices. (Despite what you might have read elsewhere, no one from Detroit or Philadelphia or New England served on the first Commission.)

The different viewpoints of Bonanno and Gentile were surely not the result of favoritism. At the time they wrote their autobiographies, each Mafioso had good reason for strong dislike of the person they named the seventh Commission member. Bonanno experienced a prolonged rivalry with Magaddino and claimed that Magaddino once kidnapped him and threatened to kill him. Gentile repeatedly called Milano a blockhead and blamed him for the unwise choices that cost Gentile friend John Bazzano his life.

Siding with Bonanno is easy in this case, as he actually sat with that first Commission. But, still, I lean more toward Gentile. Bonanno noted that Commission meetings were irregularly scheduled. The first meeting of the Commission - in 1931 - took place at a General Assembly of the nation's mob bigshots in Chicago. It must have been a confusing moment, particularly for a young Mafioso who had just been elevated to the position of boss (and couldn't be sure that new "friends" like Luciano weren't plotting against him). Further, Bonanno's entire book comes across as an argument for the greatness of the Castellammarese. He neglects to discuss many of the major underworld figures of the day, including Sicily's Vito Cascio Ferro and Brooklyn-based boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila, though he must have known of them. It seems possible that he discounted Milano's membership in the very first Commission simply because Milano was not Castellammarese and Magaddino - certainly a Commission member at a later time - was Castellammarese.

Supporting Milano's presence on the Commission is the fact that he was pro-Luciano. Almost everyone else on the panel - except Capone - had sided openly or secretly with the Maranzano forces during the Castellammarese War of 1929-1931. Luciano was a Maranzano opponent until the final year of the conflict and also reportedly arranged for Maranzano's assassination in September 1931, just before the Commission was formed.

But Milano could not have served on the Commission for very long. In 1932, he was in hot water with his fellow Mafia bosses for having approved of Pittsburgh boss Bazzano's murder of his rivals, the Volpe Brothers. Gentile was aware that Milano had coached Bazzano. Certainly, Gentile's friends in New York quickly became aware of the fact as well. Bazzano was executed for his crime. It seems Milano was exiled.

In the mid-1930s, a disgraced Milano quietly went off into Mexico. (Capone, of course, was the first to drop from the Commission. He was sent off to prison on a tax evasion conviction shortly after the Commission was formed.)

So, finally, my best answer to the question is:



Q. What sort of automobile did Mafiosi of the 1950s prefer to drive?


1957 Imperial


Fortunately, automobiles were a major factor in the Apalachin, NY, underworld gathering of top Mafiosi that caught the attention of state and federal authorities in the fall of 1957. That provides some authoritative documentation to use in answering the question.

The cars used by attending mobsters - bosses and top lieutenants - included Cadillacs, Chryslers, Lincolns and Pontiacs. Cadillacs were the most popular. (I do not recall seeing any Fords or Chevrolets mentioned, and I suspect top Mafiosi would have considered those makes unsuitable.)

While there was no definitive "Mafia car," Cadillac came closest to that for the underworld leadership. Mafia chieftains of the period appeared to feel that the appearance of a Cadillac conveyed success and legitimacy.

Those who did not drive late-model Cadillacs would never be seen in a "common" car or one that was more than a couple of years old.

The color would depend on the personality of the owner. Some mobsters in history have wanted their cars to be noticed and selected bright colors - gold, green, white with lots of chrome and tall white wall tires, bright blue, even pink. (I don't recall any that were red.) But many have tried to be as conservative as possible and went with a simple black.

Some car-related details I had handy:



Q. Can you explain the decline of the once powerful Detroit Mafia family?


In Detroit, as elsewhere in the United States, the Mafia was hurt through a combination of old age and successful federal prosecution.

The growing affluence of younger Sicilian and Italian males has helped to dry up the pool of prospective Mafiosi and has helped make long prison sentences and cash penalties into more effective deterrents. Law enforcement infiltration of crime families has also served to discourage families from reaching out to new members. Without new recruits, Mafia organizations wither.

The FBI has played a large part in the Mafia's overall decline since the early 1960s, when Apalachin- and Valachi-related revelations forced the Bureau to recognize the existence of the interstate criminal conspiracy and the appointment of Robert Kennedy as attorney general compelled FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to take action.[1]

The Detroit portion of that conspiracy gained some national attention in fall of 1963, when city Police Commissioner George C. Edwards testified before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said, "The Detroit area Mafia of the 1960s is big business. On the legal side, it is involved in selling everything from horse races to fruit juice; on the illegal, everything from dope to football bets." Edwards identified the leadership of the crime family as a panel of five men - Joseph Zerilli (see photo), John Priziola, Peter Licavoli, Angelo Meli and William Tocco.[2]

Joseph Zerilli

Joseph Zerilli

Drawing further federal attention to Detroit's underworld - often referred to as "The Partnership" - was the disappearance of former Teamster union boss Jimmy Hoffa on July 30, 1975. Hoffa was last seen in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. He was believed to be waiting to discuss with local and national Mafiosi his plans for returning to the leadership of the Teamsters.[3]

Once it was able to identify the individuals and places associated with the Detroit Mafia, the FBI really went to work. It obtained legal permission for electronic surveillance and tape recorded a 1979 Mafia meeting in Dexter Township. That tape appears to have been used as a lever for acquiring additional information through surveillance and informants over a 17-year period.[4]

In 1996, federal prosecutors unveiled a racketeering case charging senior members of the Detroit "Partnership" with gambling, loansharking, illegal Las Vegas casino investments, extortion and other offenses. The 17 defendants included reputed local boss Jack William Tocco, then 60 years old. Tocco was believed to have succeeded the late Joseph Zerilli as boss. Zerilli died in 1979.

Also charged as Partnership leaders were Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone, 77, who was linked with Hoffa's disappearance; Anthony Joseph Tocco, 65, Jack Tocco's brother; Anthony Joseph Zerilli, 68, son of Joseph Zerilli and cousin to the Toccos; and Anthony Joseph Corrado, 60.[5]

The case was resolved in 1998 with 13 convictions and one acquittal. Prosecutors dropped charges against two defendants and one other defendant died awaiting trial.[6] In that year Jimmy Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa, was elected to his father's old position at the head of the Teamsters union.[7]

The government was apparently unhappy with the light, year and a day sentence imposed on Jack Tocco (he could have received up to 30 years in prison) and appealed. Two appeals served to lengthen Tocco's term of incarceration to just 34 months - time served. Prosecutors decided in March 2004 that they would not seek any more prison time for the 76-year-old mob boss.[8]

It seems clear that the FBI continued to watch the Detroit underworld very closely. While the Partnership bigshots of the early 1960s are out of the picture, some familiar names turned up in a federal racketeering indictment early in 2006. Among the 15 charged with gambling, money laundering and loansharking were Peter Dominic Tocco, 55; his son Peter Tocco, 27; Dominic Corrado, 35; and Jack V. Giacalone, 55.[9]

Boss Jack Tocco was Peter Dominic Tocco's uncle. Other of Peter Dominic's relatives included William "Black Bill" Tocco, the Zerilli family and the Profaci and Bonanno families of New York and Arizona. Jack V. Giacalone's uncle was "Tony Jack" Giacalone. Dominic Corrado's father was Anthony Joseph Corrado, who was convicted of racketeering in the 1998 case. Still, investigators stopped short of calling the betting ring a Mafia operation.

Also noteworthy is the impact that the passage of time is having on that underworld. "Tony Jack" Giacalone died in 2001 while awaiting trial for racketeering. Anthony Corrado died in prison in October 2002.[10] Vincent Angelo Meli, another link to the old Partnership (his uncle was the Angelo Meli named by police as part of the Detroit leadership panel in 1963), succumbed to bone cancer at the age of 87 in January 2008.[11]


[1] Though there was some earlier FBI activity directed against the Mafia, Hoover's wholehearted commitment to battling organized crime seems to date from a letter he issued to his special agents in charge in Feb. 15, 1963. Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991, p. 529.

[2] Perlmutter, Emanuel, "Detroit is called a crime paradise," New York Times, Oct. 11, 1963, p. 28.

[3] Waldron, Martin, "The Hoffa puzzle: Pieces still don't fit," New York Times, Aug. 13, 1975, p. 14; Gage, Nicholas, "Key theory in Hoffa case is still lacking evidence," New York Times, Nov. 26, 1975, p. 11.

[4] Shepardson, David, "Detroit Mafia cases wrap up," Detroit News, March 29, 2004.

[5] Meredith, Robyn, "Aging leaders of Detroit Mafia are among 17 indicted by U.S., New York Times, March 17, 1996.

[6] Jack Tocco's brother Anthony was acquitted. "U.S. finally nails Detroit Mafia," Detroit Free Press, April 30, 1998.

[7] Greenhouse, Steven, "Man in the news: A contradiction to many: James Phillip Hoffa," New York Times, Dec. 6, 1998.

[8] "Mob boss avoids more time behind bars," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 17, 2003. Shepardson, David, "Detroit Mafia cases wrap up," Detroit News, March 29, 2004.

[9] "Racketeering indictment unsealed," press release of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, March 3, 2006.

[10] Shepardson, David, "Detroit Mafia cases wrap up," Detroit News, March 29, 2004.

[11] Ashenfelter, David, "Reputed member of Detroit Mafia dies at 87," Detroit Free Press, Jan. 10, 2008.