Excerpt # 2 – Murder and Mayhem in the Big Apple – From the Black Hand to Murder Incorporated


Ignazio Saietta, known as “Lupo the Wolf,” had a different type of journey before he hooked up with Joe Morello and the Terranovas in America.

Saietta was born in Corleone, Sicily, on March 19, 1877. Before he reached the age of 20, Saietta was a top killer for the Corleonesi Mafia. However, after killing a man – he said in self-defense – Saietta was forced to flee to America.

Saietta told this sad story in American court years later, when he was being tried on a counterfeiting case along with Joe Morello.

As was reported in the New York Times, Lupo told the court:


 “When I was a manufacturer in Italy, I trusted Salvatore Morello, a storekeeper in Viapiatepoli for 500 lire (about $100), and I trusted another storekeeper, Francesco Vitalli, an old man. One day Morello came to me and said I must not sell silk handkerchiefs to Vitalli and more. ‘Vitalli is an old man. Do not bother him,’ I told Morello.

“But Morello grew worse and would not pay me the money he owed me. One day he came to my store and said, ‘Did I tell you not to sell any more handkerchiefs to Vitalli?’ Then he added: ‘You will not get your money until you sell me the handkerchiefs instead.’

“‘You are crazy’ I said, but Morello responded, ‘You must obey my orders.’ ‘Are you crazy?’ I told him. And he said, ‘Are you taking his part?’  I said, ‘This is an old man. Do not bother with him.’

“Then he grabbed me by the throat. I tried to get away from him. He seized me by the throat again. He pulled out a stiletto and I broke away and ran behind the counter. I got my revolver and shouted, ‘Don’t touch me.’

“He came and I shot. He fell. I don’t know what was happening then. I ran away.”


According to the New York Times, “Saietta was sobbing when he finished his tale. Saietta then told of going home and telling the story to his family. His family dissuaded him from surrendering to the police, telling him that the Morello family was big and powerful, and the best thing for him to do was to run away.

“He escaped to England, thence to Montreal. Next he went to Buffalo, New York, and finally came here (to New York City).”

Of course, this was all nonsense. Salvatore Morello was not related to Joe Morello, or any member of Joe Morello’s family. Salvatore Morello just happened to have the same last name.

The truth was – Ignacio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta escaped to America to avoid prosecution for the murder of Salvatore Morello, and also to hook up with Joe Morello and the Terranovas to engage in a series of legal and illegal endeavors, most of which terrorized the Italian immigrants in New York City.

When he first reappeared in New York City, Joe Morello ostensibly tried to earn an honest living, but this was all a front for his illegal activities: bookmaking and loansharking. Soon flush with money, Morello invested in several small businesses, including a coal store in Little Italy, and several bars and restaurants in Little Italy, and as far north as 13th Street, all of which soon folded for “lack of business.” In 1899, Morello went back to what he knew best: counterfeiting – but this time the counterfeiting of American currency.

Morello installed a small printing press in an apartment at 329 106th Street, in the area known as Italian Harlem. He printed up mainly two and five-dollar bills, which were the most commonly used American currency. To spread these bills around New York City, Morello hired several men, both of Italian and Irish descent.

The New York City police got wind of the counterfeiting ring and arrested several of Morello’s workers. A man named Jack Gleason (not the comedian) immediately flipped and told the police Morello was the mastermind of the counterfeiting operation. Morello was arrested, but since none of the other men arrested dared to testify against Morello – and also since when Morello was taken into custody he had only legitimate American currency in his possession – Morello strolled out of jail without even being indicted; figuratively giving the middle finger to American justice.

However, this embarrassment taught Morello a stern lesson: never work closely with anyone except men he knew from Sicily.

It is not clear whether Joe Morello or Ignazio Saietta originated the Black Hand extortion scheme in America. What is clear is that around 1898 or 1899 both Morello and Saietta, along with the Terranova brothers Vincenzo and Ciro, began terrorizing local Italian businessmen of some means by sending them “Black Hand”  or  “La Mano Nera” extortions letters.

These letters threatened local Italian businessmen with the bombing of their businesses, or even death, if the businessmen didn’t immediately cough up some substantial cash. On the bottom of the extortion notes was the imprint of a “Black Hand,” which was made by a hand dipped in black ink (due to the inroads law enforcement had made with fingerprinting at the time, the “Black Hand” was later drawn instead).

If the businessmen did not comply with the note’s demands, they would get their business bombed, and sometimes they was tortured and killed in the infamous Murder Stables, located at 323 East 107th Street in Harlem.

An example of such a letter was printed in a local New York City newspaper. It read:


“If you have not sufficient courage you may go to people who enjoy an honorable reputation and be careful as to whom you go. Thus you may stop us from persecuting you as you have been adjudged to give money or life. Woe upon you if you do not resolve to buy your future happiness, you can do from us by giving the money demanded.”


One such incident occurred in 1905, and the unfortunate victim was a butcher named Gaetano Costa, who received a Black Hand letter demanding $1,000. The letter instructed Costa to put the money into a loaf of bread, then hand the loaf of bread to a man who came into his butcher shop the next day and waved a red handkerchief. Costa refused to give in to the extortion, and two days later two men marched into his butcher shop and shot Costa to death.

Literally, hundreds of Black Hand letters were sent out each year. One such letter was sent to a landlord named Salvatore Spinelli, who took his grievance to the New York Times, which printed the following letter from Spinelli:


My name is Salvatore Spinelli. My parents in Italy came from a decent family. I came here eighteen years ago and went to work as a house painter, like my father. I started a family and I have been an American citizen for thirteen years. I had a house at 314 East Eleventh Street and another one at 316, which I rented out. At this point the ‘Black Hand’ came into my life and asked me for seven thousand dollars. I told them to go to hell and the bandits tried to blow up my house. Then I asked the police for help and refused more demands, but the ‘Black Hand’ set off one, two, three, four, five bombs in my houses. Things went to pieces. From thirty-two tenants I am now down to six. I owe a thousand dollars interest that is due next month and I cannot pay. I am a ruined man. My family lives in fear. There is a policeman on guard in front of my house, but what can he do? My brother Francesco and I do guard duty at the windows with guns night and day. My wife and children have not left the house for weeks. How long can this go on?


To increase his collections, Joe Morello added a new wrinkle to the Black Hand extortion scheme. First, Morello would mail an extortion letter to his victim, and then wait near the victim’s store as the postman delivered the letter the following day. While the victim was reading the letter, Morello would enter the victim’s store. Noting the consternation on his victim’s face, Morello would inquire as to the cause of the victim’s distress. The victim, knowing Morello’s high status in the local Mafia, would hand Morello the letter and beg him to intercede with whomever had sent the letter; and maybe reduce the price, if not eliminate the extortion payment completely. Morello would take the letter and tell the victim he would find out who had sent the letter, and what could be done about it.

Of course, since Morello had sent the letter himself, there was no chance of the demand being withdrawn completely. And since Morello was now in possession of the letter, the victim did not have any evidence to show the police confirming the extortion attempt.

In a few days, Morello would return to the victim’s store, and tell a tall tale of how he was able to reason with the extortionist and get the demand reduced to a smaller amount. At this point, the victim was only too happy to still be alive and his store still intact. So he would eagerly pay the extortion money to Morello, who would, in turn, promise he would deliver the cash to the extortionist, putting this matter to rest once and for all.

            To give you an idea of how extensive the Black Hand bombings and murders were in New York City in the first decade of the 20th Century, The New York Times ran the following article on Jan. 26, 1908.






“Murders, bold attempts at extortion, and explosions, all of which the police attribute to the Black Hand, or to small organizations which take advantage of the popular belief in the existence of that society, averaged last year almost one every week. In the first month of the year there have been six such outrages, all serious explosions; and the police believe that many demands for money, under threats, are immediately complied with.

“In view of these facts, a number of prominent Italians, stirred by the blowing up of Pasquale Pati’s bank on Elizabeth Street on Thursday, will hold a meeting on Thursday night at 178 Park Row, above the office of Bolletino Della Sera, an Italian newspaper, in order to devise some means similar to the “White Hand” in Chicago, to suppress Black Hand outrages.”


Pasquale Pati was a self-made man who opened the Pasquale Pati & Son bank at 238 — 240 Elizabeth Street. Pati’s bank was so profitable; it was capitalized at $500,000. Pati was adept at self-promotion and he lured investors with his gimmick of proudly displaying piles of money behind the bank’s secured windows, as proof of his ability to pay depositors. It was said Pati was the most successful banker in New York City; making him ripe for the Black Hand’s methods.

In early January of 1908, Pati received a Black Hand extortion letter. Pati scoffed at the idea that he or his bank could be harmed, and he refused to pay any extortion money to the Black Hand. After his refusal to pay, a bomb blew out the entire front of his bank on January 23, sending the piles of money on display flying in all directions.

Pati’s son, Salvatore, was in the bank at the time and he was able to secure the money, while the bomb-throwers disappeared into a frenzied crowd on Elizabeth Street. However, because of the bombing, worried investors at the bank made a run on their money. In the next four months, $400,000 was withdrawn from the Pasquale Pati & Son bank.

On March 6, 1908, three armed Black-Handers entered the bank in an attempted robbery. However, Pasquale Pati pulled out his own gun and shot one of the bank robbers dead, as the two other bandits escaped empty-handed.

On March 26, a bomb exploded at 246 Elizabeth Street (a few doors down from Pati’s bank), at a small bank owned by Dominick Bonomolo, who, with his wife and two daughters, Marie and Angelina, lived in the tenement above the bank. They also had a kitchen and dining room on the ground floor just behind the bank. Dominick Bonomolo was not there at the time of the explosion, but his wife and two daughters were injured; their clothing nearly torn off their backs from the explosion.

A bloodied Angelina Bonomolo told the police, “We were seated at the table about to begin supper when we heard an awful noise and the wall fell in on us, knocking us from our chairs.”

While Angelina was telling her tale to the police, her father fought his way through the crowd in front of his bank, looking for his wife and two daughters. The police stopped Dominick Bonomolo, and assured him his wife and daughter were safe.

Dominick Bonomolo told the attending police (called the Italian Squad and headed by Police Lieut. Joseph Petrosino), “This has happened because I did not heed their warnings. For five years, scarcely a month has gone by that I have received one or more Black Hand letters. They asked for sums from $1 to $1,000, but nothing ever happened, and recently I had paid no attention to their threats. This is to warn me. Next time I will be killed.”

On March 27, 1908, after a group of men tried to set his Brooklyn home on fire, Pasquale Pati closed the Pasquale Pati & Son bank.

Pati left a note pinned on the front door of the bank that said, “The clientele of this bank be calm and trustworthy, as the banker, Pasquale Pati, has long been obliged to absent himself to protect his existence and family. He has been molested and threatened, and will be back soon. He possesses 45 houses and $100,000 life insurance and has bonds of $15,000 with the State of New York.”

It was also reported that Pati had disbursed some of the remaining money to depositors, but had taken the last $50,000 for himself.

On March 28, after Pati had flown the coop, Achilles Starace, the government receiver for the Pasquale Pati and Son bank, opened the large safe at the bank, as hundreds of people pressed close to the windows outside so that they could see what was happening. When the safe was opened, Starace found not even a single cent inside. All the money had been taken by Pati when he left the bank and placed the dubious note on the front door.

According to the New York daily newspapers, “Not a negotiable paper was in the safe. All that was found by the receiver was a little pile of cash books, ledgers, and journals. And some of the entries seemed to have been erased and altered.”

When the crowd outside the bank found out what had transpired, they erupted into a frenzy.

One man bellowed, “If Pati ever comes back he will get what he deserves – death.”

Another man screamed, “All that talk of the Black Hand is rubbish! It was only an excuse to get away with our money! He has robbed us of our savings and we want revenge! And we will have it!”

The crowd started chanting, “We will! We will!”

Then the crowd surged towards the bank, trying to break inside, but they were beaten back by a squad of policemen.

Days later, most of the people in Little Italy did not think Pati had closed his bank because of the Black Hand.

“It was not the Black Hand that he feared,” a well-know Little Italy resident said. “He was afraid that he would be killed by some Sicilian who had lost his money in the Pati bank. Most of the depositors were Sicilian and Pati’s family is from Calabria. A Sicilian will forgive another Sicilian, but he will not forgive a Calabrian. I doubt that Pati will show up in the near future.”

As this man predicted, Pasquale Pati never stepped foot in Little Italy again.

As to why Pati disappeared with the 50 grand (and maybe more), that’s up for conjecture. No doubt, Pati feared the Black Hand, but he absconded with the money because it was there, and because he could. At this point in time, all Pati could possibly lose was the $15,000 bond. Pati probably figured taking the money was a win-win situation.

The mayhem caused by the Black Hand bank bombings forced the residents of Little Italy to lose faith and trust in the local banks. The day the Pati bank closed, the crowd in front of his bank, which had packed Elizabeth Street from Houston to Prince Street, began to hurry towards the next largest Italian bank: F. Acritelli & Son, at 239 Elizabeth Street. After the depositors made a run on their money, this bank was forced to close too.

To show how ambivalent the Italian press was about the Black Hand situation, in February of 1908, before the bombing of Pati’s and Bonomolo’s banks, 500 Italians held a meeting at the offices of  Bollettino della Sera, an Italian newspaper edited by Frank L. Frugone. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the Black Hand extortion scheme and what they could do about it. Yet oddly, the Italian newspaper’s position was that the entire situation was overblown by the American press, and American law enforcement.

The speakers at the meeting said that the Black Hand existed only in Sicily and was a “mild form of the Mafia.”

Robert Park wrote the following in his 1921 publication, Old World Traits Transplanted


“The Italian press got as much news value as possible out of the situation, and threw the blame on the Americans, claiming that they had  admitted too many Italian criminals, and that the American police and court systems were defective in comparison with the Italian’s. The Italian papers protested violently against the blackening of the Italian name. The Bollettino claimed that ‘the fear of the Mafia is in great part a product of the reporter’s fancy.’ The Bollettino resented the fact that the odious word ‘Mafia’ is continually thrown in our faces.”


However, after the epidemic of bank bombings, the Bollettino began to change its tune.

In April of 1908, the Bollettino ran an editorial that called on, “Italians to rise up and put a stop to the crimes which are besmirching the Italian name.”

A few days later, another editorial entitled “The Cry of Alarm” warned that the “doors of this country would be closed to Italians if the Black Hand atrocities continued.”

A third editorial entitled “Against the Black Hand,” advised all honest Italians “to aid Police Commissioner Bingham by sending him all threatening letters, and information about Black Handers and idle Italians, with a description of individuals.”



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