Joe Raimo and the Black Hand Part 2

May 29, 2017

In the second and final episode Gary and Aaron reveal the subsequent investigation by the Kansas City Police Department.

Officer Joseph Raimo was assassinated at 11:15 PM on March 28, 1911 at 5th and Holmes. The officer was noted for his bravery and diligence in the performance of his duties. He had been especially assigned to the various Italian cases, and his untiring efforts aroused considerable enmity among the criminal classes of that nationality. Officers will use every means to bring to justice the perpetrators of this foul crime.

March 29, 1911, KC Police arrest 4 men for the murder of Paulina Pizano. They are Lorenzo Messina, Nick DeHernnado, Sam Genuso and Joe Denusisio. The paper identifies as Syrians. They are found in possession of 3 shotguns exactly like the shotguns left by the assassins of Joe Raimo. We don’t know the disposition of these three men.

By April 7, 1911, 300 copies of a reward poster were published in both English and Italian. The City Council offered a $1,000.00 reward. The Police Board discussed offering their own reward, but they never offered any reward. Because Joseph Raimo had recently become a member of the Police Relief Association, his widow was to be paid about $1500.00 from a life insurance policy they purchased for each officer. The Police board did pass a resolution to ask the court council to pay Raimos’ widow his salary for 6 months.

During the next few days, speculation abounded. Some Italian residents speculated that the “bad” Italians were trying to raise a lot of money in the United States to be sent back to Italy to pay for the defense of a member of the Camorra. When asked what that had to do with the death of Joe Raimo, the residents said that Officer Raimo must have possessed that knowledge and since he was a man who treated all alike and would do his duty to stop them from using criminal methods to obtain this money. They also speculated that the spectacular killing of a man like Joseph Raimo would strike terror into the hearts of the gang’s proposed victims making their work easier. By this time, all Italian residents understood that only Sicilians could be members of the Black Hand and the public murder of a police officer was more likely to be a Black Hand crime.

During the investigation, the KC Star printed an article explaining the two different Italian criminal organizations. One gang was the Camorra and to be in the Camorra, the member had to be from Naples. The paper said these two organizations never worked together and the Camorra was highly organized. The Camorra was a degeneration of several secret societies that brought about the unification of Italy. They learned the Black Hand was Sicilian and any members had to be from Sicily They believed the Black Hand was more a criminal method rather than an organization. They hold power by inveigling hope in some by hope of gain, in others by the fearful knowledge of its unscrupulous vengeance people it deems as traitors to their organization. The paper asked the question, does the Black Hand in Kansas City have anything to do with the Black Hand anywhere else?

 

The police and the KC Star had obtained the Black Hand Letter by this time. They are convinced this was a legitimate Black Hand letter because it was written in Sicilian and in the manner the Sicilian words were pronounced. They noted the letter was written by two different people because there were two distinct handwriting styles. They connected this with the fact there were two assassins. A prominent Italian businessman agreed to provide some information on the Black Hand if he could remain anonymous. He said that until a couple of years ago, there was no La Mano Nera. Since that time, he knows of several businessmen who have received extortion letters from the Black Hand or La Mano Nera. He said they feel safer paying the protection money than going to the police and that is how they obtained power. He told the story of a friend who received an extortion letter and he tried to borrow money to pay the protection. The money lender advised him to take it to his brother in law who was a saloon keeper. The bother in law showed the letter around to his customers and told them that whoever sent this letter to his family member made a mistake and that was the end of it. Another friend went to the police over a letter that demanded $3,000.00 or his children would be kidnapped. He said he was going to put out a parcel with the money as directed by the letter. He believed the police would watch and arrest the suspects if they came for the money. He watched himself and abut 3:00 AM, two men appeared on the street acting like they were sweeping the street. They got close and he recognized them as Sicilians from the neighborhood. The police never put in any appearance.

As the police investigated Joe’s death, they were told that there were only 6 men responsible for this outrage of killing Joe Raimo and all the other Black Hand crimes. However, no one would reveal those 6 names. One informant was quoted by the paper, “If Raimo was allowed to live and given the proper backing, he would have cleaned up the gang singlehandedly. He was ambitious and after he knew he was marked by the gang, he was desperate. He could have driven them out of town, but he wanted to gather enough information to convict them of their crimes”

On April 3rd, at noon, Chief Wentworth Griffin and his chief of Detectives directed 23 detectives, 17 patrolmen in plain clothes and 15 uniform patrolmen to the area around Joe Raimo’s murder at 5th and Charlotte. The conducted a systematic search of all houses and inhabitants for three blocks around. This drew thousands of citizens from the surrounding neighborhoods to observe this invasion of Little Italy. These officers entered and searched every house and business. They arrested 60 men said to be of Sicilian extraction, recovered 29 shotguns, revolvers and rifles, a stiletto, a cane sword and many shotgun cartridges filled with the same kind of buckshot that killed officer Raimo. The police chief grew nervous at the sight of so many spectators, and ordered more police officers from the Walnut Street police station, the west bottoms station on Mulberry street and the Woodland Street Station in the south part of the city. The crowd was quiet and orderly out of respect for officer Raimo and they were content to bear silent witness to this raid.

 

Officers released 42 of those arrested either on arrival at police headquarters or shortly after questioning. They continued to question the remaining 18 subjects throughout the night. Lt. Edward A. Parker, in charge of the Bertillon room, photographed the many firearms. I wondered what a Bertillon room was. I learned that this must the the room where they photographed criminals and kept identification records. In the early 1800s, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon wanted to improve on the accuracy of criminal identification. What became known as the Bertillon System was an improvement of identification over simple mug shots and basic physical measurements, and was a forerunner to fingerprinting. This identification method was introduced into the United States in 1887. Alphonse Bertillon developed a system to measure certain bony portions of the body, including the skull, foot, cubit, trunk and left middle finger. These measurements were kept on Bertillon Cards which are about 5 6 by 5½ inches. They contain the front/profile photographs of the criminal and Bertillon measurements on the front of the card.

During the day of the raids, Chief Griffin released a statement that he knew the suspects lived within a few blocks of where officer Raimo was killed. He said that he had information that he has known for some time that the Italian criminals in Kansas City have meeting places in Little Italy and they are known to store large quantities of guns and ammo. One of these places the police raided was a poolhall and bar located at 602 east 5th St. (about two blocks from the assassination site). In the front area, the police found pool tables, a counter separated this large room and behind the counter were two tables for card games. Near one of these tables was a hidden trap door in the floor leading to the cellar. In the cellar, they found a case of beer and 8 revolvers, 12 double barreled shotguns and several rifles. They also found many of the special shotgun cartridges loaded with buckshot. The Barbosi family, two brothers and a sister, recently Sicilian immigrants, lived in an apartment over the pool hall.  They fled the city shortly after.

Chief Griffin, Detective Inspector Boyle and Captain Flahive started the questioning as the prisoners were brought in. That evening, Captain J. J. Ennis, Night chief of Police, and Sgt. S. W. Zickefoose continued the interrogation of the suspects taken to police headquarters from Little Italy. As they took prisoners out of the lockup and returned them after questioning, Sgt. Zickefoose noticed the jailers were placing the prisoners who had already been “sweated” back into the same cells with prisoners waiting to be questioned. This allowed the new prisoners to learn the direction of the questioning before they were taken in. He quickly ordered these prisoners to be separated into the persons who had been “sweated” and the ones who had not.

Some of the prominent Italians were questioned by the Kansas City Star reporters and when they were shown a list of the locations raided, like the pool hall, they responded with, “If they ever get anybody, they will get them there.” But, they refused to say any more. A friend of Joe Raimo, who refused to give his name, commented that Joe was a cop who knew Little Italy well and he knew those places and those people were not friendly to him. He said they were known hangouts for bad men.

Many Italians became afraid of law enforcement after this raid, A rumor was started that the City would pass a “law of subsistence.” This was a law used in Italy that gave the police the right to arrest and hold any man who could not satisfactorily give an explanation of how he was able to live, where he worked or how he made his money. The city did promise a strict enforcement of vagrancy laws in the Italian district in the future. The business and religious leaders like Rev. Henry Satrorio and Rev. Louis Laurenzana of the of the Italian Evangelical church, admitted that the Kansas City Italian colony needed cleaning up and it held men worse than any other city.  Father Delbecchi, the priest who presided at Joe’s funeral was asked and he replied that since the murder, he had not gotten out into the community to learn what was going on.

On April 5, 1911, all the Italians rounded up in this raid were released except the three men the police focused on most as the suspects. Brothers Andrea and Samuel Trapani and Charles Musso were taken into the Chief of Police Griffins office and questioned for 3 hours by the Jackson County prosecutor, S. S, Grundlach through an interpreter. They grunted out yes or no answers that indicated they were at home in bed asleep at the time of the Raimo murder. These last three men were released later that afternoon. The Chief would claim that the raid did reveal two pool hall locations where the “bad“ class of Italians congregated and they will be kept under surveillance from now on. The Trapani brothers owned and operated the [pool hall at 603 E 5th where so many guns were found. Charles Musso owned the zyoung Italians Club, a pool hall at 403 Locust and police found guns and ammo here also.  All three persons were recently arrived from Sicilly within the last 3 years. During this short time in Kansas City, chief Griffin alleged they became known as terrors in Little Italy.

In the immediate aftermath of these raids, the pool halls and saloons were vacant every night. More cops were posted on the streets and those streets were quiet with most folks staying inside. Jennie Raimo and her children were afraid to stay at home and after staying with relatives, she appealed to Chief Wentworth for police protection when she returned home.

A month later, the KC Star prints an interview of Mike Pecorarro who owned a restaurant in the North End. He claimed that people were afraid to come down to the spaghetti joints. He said his tables were empty gathering dust and he had not played his automatic piano for weeks. He was quoted, “Nobody has ever been shot or stabbed, except out on the street one man was shot, but not inside here. I always keep the bad men away. There is no Black Hand, anyhow, if there is, they never bother Americans. But, these Americans are funny people, They are afraid of the Black hand and they don’t come here any more, they won’t respect me. I can’t understand. Every night they used to lose their diamonds and rings here and the next day the phone starts ringing. They’d say, “Mike, I lost my ring down there last night, have you seen it. Then I answer, “Its here, I keep it on my sideboard. Then they say, “Mike you are a jewel. Probably I find a hundred rings here I give them all back. And now, they don’t come to my place because everybody is talking about the Black Hand, Bah! Why there is no danger. Americans are so funny when they get scared.

The police were never able to charge any person with the murder of officer Raimo. The Black hand will disappear and the La Cosa Nostra Mafia will develop into a powerful organization during prohibition. His eldest son, Frank Raimo, will go on to start and run a successful business. he will have 4 children and one of them will become a star athlete at a Kansas City high school. He has great grandsons living in Kansas City
Don’t forget to listen to Aaron on the Big Dumb Fun Show, live on Monday nights.
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