Joe Bruno on the Mob -Ignazio Saietta (Lupo the Wolf)

Ignazio Saietta was born in Corleone, Sicily, on March 19, 1877. In 1899, he fled Sicily and came to America to escape being tried for the murder of Salvatore Morello. He immediately hooked up with the infamous Morello Brothers, Joe and Nick (distant cousins of Salvatore Morello), and Ciro Terranova. In 1900, Saietta, who was now known to Sicilian immigrants and the press as “Lupo the Wolf,” married Terranova’s sister Salvatrice and they settled into a fine house in Brooklyn.

Saietta, along with the Morellos and Terranova, formed the much-feared Black Hand Society. They terrorized tiny little Sicilian enclaves throughout New York City, by sending notes to businessmen, or anyone whom they suspected had cash, threatening to kill them if they did not cough up some very substantial dough. On the bottom of the extortion notes, was the imprint of a “Black Hand,” which was made by a hand dipped in black ink. But due to the inroads law enforcement had made with fingerprinting at the time, the “Black Hand” was later drawn instead. Saietta was so feared in the Sicilian communities, Sicilian immigrants were known to make the sign of the cross at the mere mention of his name.

In 1905, a butcher named Gaetano Costa got a Black Hand extortion letter, demanding $1000. He was instructed to put the $1000 into a loaf of bread and to give it to a man who came into his shop to buy meat, and pulled out a red handkerchief. Costa refused and the very next day, two men came into his butcher shop and shot Costa to death. No one was charged in the murder, but the police were sure the orders were given by Saietta.

Saietta did most of his Black Hand killings at a horse stable called “The Murder Stables,” which was located at 323 East 107th Street in Harlem. Hundreds of men were dragged in the middle of the night into the stables, where they were first tortured, and if they still insisted on not paying, then they were brutally killed. Even though the entire neighborhood constantly heard blood-curdling screams in the middle of the night, no one ever called the police. It wasn’t until 1907, that New York City Police Detective Joseph Petrosino, in charge of the city’s Italian Squad, heard rumors about the stables and he raided the premises. He had his men dig up the grounds and they found the remains of at least 60 murder victims. One was a teenage Black Hand accomplice, who had been accused of talking too freely about the gang’s activities. He was slowly tortured to death in front of other Black Hand members, as a warning not to deviated one iota from Saietta’s orders.

Shockingly, Saietta was not arrested for any of these murders. The building was registered under his name, and he claimed he was only the landlord and could not be held responsible for the actions of his “tenants.” When Petrosino investigated as to whom these “tenants” may be, all he could ascertain was that they had Italian last names and had disappeared, or more likely, had never existed in the first place.

Due to the heat from Detective Petrosino, Saietta cut down on his Black Hand operations, and with his partner Joe Morello, he opened a bar/restaurant at 8 Prince Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy. The joint was really a front for their extensive counterfeiting operation. Counterfeit two and five-dollar bills were shipped to the restaurant from Sicily in containers of olive oil, or in crates of spaghetti, cheese and wine. These bills were sold throughout the United States for as little as 30 cents on the dollar. Soon the U.S. Secret Service caught wind of their operation, and in 1909 both Morello and Saietta were arrested, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Saietta was paroled in 1920, and he tried to insinuated himself back into the Italian Mob. But his methods were so crude and murderous, the mob bosses chased him out to Brooklyn, where he was allowed to run a small Italian lottery business. While in Brooklyn, Saietta started a baker’s union, whereby he extorted money from bakers, for protection, of course, protection only from him. In 1935, the police caught wind of his scheme and he was sent back to prison to serve out the rest of his original 30-year sentence. Saietta was released from prison in December 1946, and he died less than a month later of natural causes.


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