The history I write is not a complete one. Unfortunately, for the crime historian, sometimes writing history drudges up more questions than it answers. Poor record keeping, biases in newspaper publication, missing documents, and other unforeseen factors can lead to writing a respectable record of organized crime very difficult. I must be honest and say this is how the following accounts may have happened, instead of assuring you it is how it happened. Most historians, or the ones that I have met, would not bother with such a subject. If you have to speculate, then it’s not history; is what some people might think. But should such a hurdle stop someone from writing history? It didn’t stop Hebert Asbury when he wrote The French Quarter, or Frank Davis when he wrote Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the JFK Assassination. Some of the information in these books we know now not to be true, but at the time, more Asbury than Davis, the author only had a finite amount of information to draw from. This makes the study of the Mafia in Louisiana especially difficult, because, depending on the time period, there is a shortage of documentation. There are significant gaps in the New Orleans Mafia record, and with this article I hope to help fill in a few of those gaps. In time, this historical record may be either vindicated or dismissed. This is my attempt to bring some respect to a field of study that I feel has always struggled to find academic respectability. I hope you find it as informative as it is entertaining.
A special thanks must be extended to Brandon Hotard. Without his generosity, the research gathered for the writing of this article would not have been possible.
When one thinks of the Mafia in South Louisiana, New Orleans comes to mind. In the late 19th century, stiletto stabbings and lupara blasts became all too common in the Italian colony of New Orleans. The violence between two rival Mafia organizations allegedly crescendoed with the assassination of New Orleans police chief David Hennessey, which in turn would lead to one of the largest mass lynching’s in American history.
In the early 20th Century, Mafia violence seemed to have spread from New Orleans further south, to the two of unlikeliest of locations: Thibodaux and Donaldsonville.
In part one of this series, the Macaroni Wars will be explained. Being a series of conflicts and murders, rather than just one continuous conflict, the victims of the Macaroni Wars would be littered from the banks of the Mississippi River to the back streets of New Orleans.
Part two of this series will deal with a Mafia murder in Thibodaux, La.
The Macaroni Wars (1902-1906)
On the base of one of the levees that defends Ascension Parish from the waters of the Mississippi River, a gruesome scene was discovered. Being one of the “most cold-blooded and horrible crimes ever recorded in that section of the state”, the stabbed and charred remains of a body were found. Originally thought to be a tramp that fell asleep and fell into his own fire, a closer inspection by Sheriff Sam St. Martin discovered something more sinister. A piece of small rope with the end burned off was found near the body. Around the neck of the charred remains there was a black ash, which was the remains of the same rope. Upon identifying the dead man’s shoe as Italian in origin, Sheriff St. Martin suspected that this was a Mafia murder (1).
A trail of blood in the grass ending near the marks of wagon wheels confirmed the Sheriff’s suspicions. This didn’t surprise the Sheriff, in fact, he’d been expecting violence. The Sheriff claims that there are two factions of Italians in Donaldsonville, and a shooting that happened less than a year earlier, at the New Orleans Poydras market, caused the split.
In 1900, a wealthy Italian businessman moved to New Orleans. Franseco Genova became a very respected figure in the Italian colony in the Crescent City. The successful businessman, who Italians would go to settle disputes, was also a member of the Mafia. After managing a few successful businesses in the French Quarter, Genova sought to open a macaroni factory, not in New Orleans, but in Donaldsonville, LA (2).
The only problem is that two brothers, Tony and Salvatore Luciano, already had interest in a macaroni factory in Donaldsonville. When they refused to sell their business to Genova, bad blood developed between the two groups. This bad blood erupted into violence in early 1902. The Luciano brothers ran a hole in the wall boarding house/saloon on Poydras Street in New Orleans. One day, Salvatore Luciano stood outside his saloon and saw Genova, accompanied by another suspected Mafia member by the name of Di Christina. The two men parked their buggy and went about their business. When they returned, Lucaino greeted them with a shotgun blast of buckshot. The blast missed the two Mafiosi, but was close enough to leave powder burns on their faces. When the two men drew their pistols and rushed their attacker, Luciano fled to the safety of his boarding house. The two men followed him in, and were greeted with gunshots by Salvatore’s brother, Tony Luciano. By then the NOPD arrived and arrested both parties (3).
When asked, Salvatore admitted to the police that he tried to shoot and kill Genova. When asked why, he responded simply with Ask him, and made a gesture towards Genova. Genova upheld the sacred law of Mafia silence, omerta, and told the police: This man is crazy. He didn’t shoot at me. I know him well. We’ve always been friends, there isn’t any reason he should wish to kill me. When Luciano went to trial for the shooting, Genova refused to testify against him. The case was dismissed (4). This isn’t the only example of omerta being used in the courtroom to halt the trial of an assassination attempt. In 1957, when Genovese Crime Family boss Frank Costello’s head was grazed by a bullet fired by Vincent “The Chin“ Gigante (who would later run the Genovese Crime Family in the late 80s), Costello refused to testify against him, letting Gigante off the hook (5) .
Four months would pass before Genova would get his revenge. In June of 1902, a card game was being played at the Luciano boarding house. Tony Luciano was playing cards with his guests, three Italians from Donaldsonville. Salvatore was in the next room, writing a letter. Most of the doors and windows of the Luciano boarding house were open, to relieve its occupants from the heat of a long Louisiana summer day. Four men rushed in and stabbed Salvatore to death. Hearing the commotion in the next room, and seeing his brother’s bloody corpse slumped over his desk, Tony rushed upstairs to grab his shotgun. When he returned, he didn’t fire at the assassins in the next room, but rather at the three men he was playing cards with. Tony figured that the three men from Donaldsonville were sent there to keep him occupied while his brother was assassinated. Fearing for his own life now, Tony shot his guests. One of them, Ventura, was killed. Two others, by the name of Gerrachi and Calamia, were both wounded. Louis Luciano, a cousin to the Luciano brothers was also wounded in the fight. The other assassins escaped (6). When the police arrived Tony said he would be more than happy to identify the assassins, as long as police would allow him to do so armed. When the offer was made, he quickly retracted, obeying the code of omerta (7).
Since there was no evidence against Luciano, he pleaded self defense and was released the next day. When he arrived at his boarding house, he did so while an undertaker was preparing his brother’s corpse for burial. Both friends and acquaintances started to come pay their respects to Salvatore. Police, realizing that this was a Mafia murder, placed men around the saloon to prevent trouble. Tony stayed at the foot of his brother’s coffin for several hours (8).
A guest then arrived that must have tested the patience of Luciano. Angelo Ferrara, one of the assassins that stabbed Salvatore Luciano less than 24 hours before, showed up to pay his respects. Luciano watched in silence as Ferrara approached Salvatore’s coffin and kissed him on the head. After thanking Ferrara for coming, Luciano asked if he could speak to him in private. While walking with Ferrara, Tony was able to grab a shotgun that he hid in his boarding house. At some point Ferrara must have turned around, because Tony held the shotgun straight on Ferrara’s chest and fired. Tony then beat what had to be the corpse of Ferrara with his shotgun with such force, that it allegedly broke into pieces. When the police finally pulled Tony off of Ferrara’s corpse he yelled: I am satisfied! I have killed the man that slew my brother! (9)
While Tony Luciano sat in jail waiting to be charged for murder, another murder would happen that would shock the communities surrounding Donaldsonville. On January 17, 1903 the burnt body found at the banks of the Mississippi River that was mentioned at the start of this story. Police visited Lucanio while he was in prison to ask if he had any friends that lived in Donaldsonville. Luciano told police that all of his friends left that area, and moved, fearing for their safety. Luciano then started to tell police that his enemies [the Mafia?] stole his factory from him, the value of it being $4,000. Luciano also said that many Italians in the area were indebted to him, and he left his lawyer, Mr. McLoughin, responsibility to collect. The amounts of the debts ranged from $50.00 to $800 (10).
On February 20th, 1903, Luciano was acquitted for the murder of Ferrara (11). Luciano was so thankful for the acquittal, that he threw a huge feast for all of the prisoners of the New Orleans Parish Prison in honor of St. Anthony’s Day (12). Though he was out of jail, he had to know that he was a marked man. In John S. Kendall’s The Mafia in New Orleans, Kendall explains what state of mind Luciano had to be in after his release. From that day on he went armed. If he talked with another Italian it was with his back to the wall. If he walked along the street, he was careful to halt a little in the rear of his companions. If he ascended a stairway in company, he was last to mount. He regarded every human being as a possible agent of the shadowy but terrible society which, he was convinced, was weaving its tolls around him. A pair of murders would also shock the communities of Whitecaslte and St. James Parish shortly after the release of Luciano.
The question must be asked, was Luciano in the Mafia? If not, was he and his late brother the heads of some criminal enterprise that was similar to the Mafia? Both men solved disputes with violence, and several Italians that lived in Donaldsonville owed money to Luciano. Both Luciano brothers observed the code of omerta, but most Italians that lived in South Louisiana at the turn of the century did not talk to the police. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t known if Luciano was apart of the Mafia, or some other criminal organization. Other histories written about this incident clearly absolve the Luciano brothers of any involvement in organized crime. Both The Mafia In New Orleans by John S. Kendall and Empire of Sin by Gary Krist both portray Luciano as a singular man fighting against the establishment of organized crime.
On May 7, 1903, in the town of Whitecastle, Louisiana, the body of another Italian was found in a Plantation canal. Found very similar to the burnt body, this victim also had his hands bound and several stab wounds. The body would be identified as Antonio Saltoformaggio, brother in law to Calamia, one of the men shot by Tony Luciano the night his brother was murdered (13). Since Luciano himself was out of prison when this murder took place, either himself, or a member of his proposed “gang”, committed the murder. Or Saltoformaggio was murdered by the Mafia for some unknown reason. The only clear motive we currently have is Tony Luciano’s. A man that would beat a corpse to the point of his shotgun breaking, may have no scruples about killing a relative of a man he held responsible for his brother’s death.
Fifteen days after the body of Saltoformaggio was found, another brutal murder would happen right outside the Donaldsonville area. Salvador Laucetta, a successful shop owner in St. James Parish, was shot dead inside his store (14). By the time police arrived, the only trace of the assassins was Laucetta’s dead body. Could this possibly be a retribution murder for the murder of Saltoformaggio? Or was Laucetta another ally of the Mafia killed by the forces of Luciano?
Luciano’s paranoia drove him from his boarding house on Poydras Street. He relocated and opened a grocery store on the corner of Gravier and Saratoga, conveniently placed near the Central Police Station (15). In Luciano’s state of mind, he couldn’t have had many friends. Thinking everyone is a Mafia assassin waiting around the corner, life must have been very difficult. Though ever vigilant, Luciano let in the one person he should have guarded against.
A Sicilian named Sam Sparo visited Luciano’s store. Sparo must have made a good impression on Luciano, because Sparo would frequent Luciano’s store (Sparo was living only a block away from Luciano’s store on Saratoga St). Then finally one day Sparo offered to pick up items from the market for Luciano, and the two became friends. On August 9th, 1903, Luciano mentioned that he recently had his children photographed. Sparo mentioned that when the photographs were developed, that he would like to see them. Luciano assured that a wait would not be necessary because they can go to the studio and look at the proofs. The two hopped in a buggy and headed towards the studio that was on the third floor of a building on Canal and Rampart. Sparo had to keep a level of calm, intending to look at pictures of Luciano’s children knowing fully what would happen next. As the two departed the closed studio, Luciano, letting his guard down, led. Sparo would follow Luciano as they descended the stairs. As Sparo reached the second floor going down, he stopped, allowing Luciano to continue down the stairs. Sparo then quickly drew his pistol, and fired six shots into Luciano’s back. Luciano revealed his pistol and returned fire. But Luciano, wounded, lost his footing and fell down the remaining set of stairs, straight in the gutter. When people on the street rushed to Luciano’s aid, he was already dead (16).
Shortly after Luciano’s assassination, another one of his enemies would be murdered. Guisseppi Impazatto, Macaroni manufacturer and former suspect in the assassination of police chief David Hennessy, was shot to death on Piety Street on November 29th, 1903 (17) . During his trial, Tony Luciano identified Impazatto as one of his enemies and someone with close ties to the Mafia. New Orleans detectives have associated Impazatto with several murders, and was identified as a leader of the Mafia during the Hennessy investigation. It isn’t known whether or not Impazatto was in the Mafia, or was just an associate, but he considered his work dangerous enough to always carry a pistol with him.
It turns out that Impazatto was cheating on his wife. On the day of his murder, he was supposed to attend a wedding in Kenner. After his mistress wanted him to stay with her, he abandoned his plans to attend the wedding. When the NOPD investigated the matter, there was no wedding to take place in Kenner on that evening. Detectives thought this was a Mafia plot to lure Impazatto out of the city. If he did indeed evade this assassination attempt, the Mafia would have to lure Impazatto out of his lover’s bed another way. After his business was concluded with his mistress on Rampart Street, he left her house around 7:00pm, telling her that he had an appointment. His mistress became suspicious of her lover’s actions, and got her sister to follow him. The sister, the names of the two women were left out of the papers for obvious reasons, saw Impazatto meet three men on the corner of Rampart and Esplanade. Her testimony suggested that Impazatto knew at least one of these men. Two of the men, and the awkwardly overweight Impazatto, crammed into a Dauphine Street car and presumably traveled to Piety Street (18). After arriving to a dimly lit Piety Street, Impazatto was ambushed. Shortly after lighting a cigar, he was shot once in the head, in the mouth, in the abdomen, and lastly in the right knee. Impazatto’s half burned cigar was still in his hands when police found his body (19) .
Police had a number of theories on why Impazatto was murdered. Shortly before his death, Impazatto sold his macaroni factory on 610 and 612 Dumaine St. and planned to open a wine store in the French Quarter (20). It could be possible that someone or some group (the Mafia?) either did not want Impazatto to sell his factory or open a wine store in the Quarter. Impazatto was also a known money lender. It is possible that someone who couldn’t pay him back organized his murder. For reasons unknown, the Mafia could have also wanted Impazatto dead. Or, Impazatto’s murder could have been retribution for Luciano’s assassination, in the event that Luciano was in charge of a criminal gang, as theorized earlier in this article.
No one was ever arrested or charged with Impazatto’s assassination. One of the most interesting things to come out of his murder is a fact that took the FBI 56 years after this act of violence to admit: collusion between Mafia organizations. Quoting The Times Picayune: Whether or not the local band is connected with the societies flourishing in Eastern and Western cities is hard to say just now, but the detectives are quite satisfied that there is an understanding with all the leaders throughout the country (21). Charlie “Lucky” Luciano’s (no direct relation with the Lucianos earlier mentioned) organization of the Mafia Commission in 1931 is historically credited with bringing all of the Mafia “families” in the United States together so the violent clashes of prohibition could be avoided in the future (22). Could there have been a similar alliance between these pre-prohibition Mafia organizations that the greed of prohibition destroyed?
Sparo was arrested for Luciano’s murder. Despite being a poor laborer wearing rags in the courtroom, Sparo could afford the best defense (23). The invisible arm of the Mafia was again in New Orleans’s court rooms. But this was the arrest that law enforcement in New Orleans must have been waiting for. Maybe, in an effort to reduce his sentence, Sparo would cooperate with the authorities and expose the Mafia (24). Sparo, obeying the sacred law of omerta, broke down in court, but didn’t reveal any secrets. After being sentenced to death for Luciano’s murder, the only thing Sparo did reveal was his eagerness for the deed to be done. Even while on death row, police kept Sparo heavily guarded. When they caught wind of an alleged murder plot, Sparo was immediately moved to another cell. Sparo’s cell was also constantly searched for poison (25). Sparo would be hung on April 28, 1905 (26). It was later revealed that “Sam Sparo” was just an alias. Tony Luciano’s assassin’s real name was Sebastiano Glunta. Authorities discovered this during this during the trial, but decided to withhold the information until it was over. It is revealed that Glunta was married in New Orleans, and had children. The day, August 9th, that Glunta assassinated Luciano was also his wedding anniversary (27). Glunta lost his wife, children, and then his life because of the murder he committed. He also lost his name as well. Because he was tried, convicted, and executed under the name Sam Sparo, that’s how all legal records, and his tombstone, will read. History seems to ignore that Sparo’s execution was the first Mafia execution in the United States.
People both in Donaldsonville and New Orleans must have thought, with Sparo’s execution, that the Macaroni Wars were over. More violence would follow the execution of Sparo. Both Salvatore and Tony Luciano had a brother, John Luciano. Inheriting Tony’s grocery store, the police were convinced that no harm would come to the only surviving Luciano brother. In early July of 1904, John Luciano went missing (28). While some of his family members claimed that he went to Houma, LA to collect on money owed to his late brother Tony, his sister, Rosa, was convinced that he was murdered by the Mafia. As of this writing, the author has not been able to determine whether John Luciano returned back to New Orleans safely, or he was murdered by the Mafia.
It seems that the last act of violence associated with the Macaroni Wars would conclude on November 13, 1906. The grocery store of Peter Laflorio, located on Julia Street, between Camp and Church, was bombed at 12:30 at night. Because the Laflorio family also used the store as their residence, they were all awakened by the blast and rushed outside. By the time the fire crews arrived to the store, Laflorio and ten other men had weapons in their hands, ready to deal with any more trouble. It would later surface that Laflorio signed the bond to get Calamia, one of the men who was shot by Tony Luciano, out of prison (29). It was never determined whether this was an act committed by the Mafia, or by allies of Lucaino.
The Macaroni Wars would be the last outburst of Mafia violence that New Orleans would witness. Murders associated with the Mafia would still occur, but it would not reach the levels of violence seen in the late 19th, early 20th century. The violence seen nationwide with the advent of prohibition would not occur in New Orleans. The almost cinematic public rub outs that would plague New York City after the end of prohibition would also not be seen in the Crescent City.
(1)”The Ascension Butchery Was The Work Of Mafia.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 17 Jan. 1903: Print.
(2) Critchley, David. “First Family” of the New York Mafia.” The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. New York: Routledge, 2009. 58. Print.
(3) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(4) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(5) Raab, Selwyn. “Heroin and Apalachin.” Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2005. 108-10. Print.
(6) “Sicilians In Battle To Death.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 12 June 1902: Print.
(7) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(8) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(9) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(10) “The Ascension Butchery Was The Work Of Mafia.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 17 Jan. 1903: Print.
(11) “Luciano Seeks The Law To Ward Off The Mafia.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 21 Feb. 1903: Print.
(12) “Luciano’s Feast To Be Spread in Prison on St. Anthony’s Day.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 09 Mar. 1903: Print.
(13) “The Murdered Italian Found At Whitecastle.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 7 May. 1903: Print.
(14) “Mafia Murders.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 22 May. 1903: Print.
(15) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(16) Kendall, John S. “The Mafia in New Orleans.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] Print.
(17) “Mafia Murder Starts Again.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 30 November. 1903 Print.
(18) “Impozatto’s Inconsistency May Solve Murder Mystery.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 05 December. 1903 Print.
(19) “Mafia Murder Starts Again.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 30 November. 1903 Print.
(20) “Probing the Mafia.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 06 December. 1903 Print.
(21) “Probing the Mafia.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 06 December. 1903 Print.
(22) Raab, Selwyn. “The Castellammarese War.” Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2005. 32-33. Print.
(23) “Luciano Slayer Arraigned; Evidently Has Backing.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 11 August. 1903 Print.
(24) “Mafia Talk.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 17 August. 1903 Print.
(25) “Sparo’s Cell Searched.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 30 April. 1905 Print.
(26) “Sam Sparo Hung For The Murder of Antonio Luciano.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 29 April. 1905: Print
(27) “Sparo Was Alias.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans]. 16 May. 05: Print
(28) “Fear That John Luciano Is Missing.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 4 July. 05: Print
(29) “Julia Street House Is Dynamited At Midnight Seeming Mafia Attack.” The Times Picayune [New Orleans] 13 November. 1906: Print.