Giannola, Salvatore (1887-1919)

Born Terrasini, Sicily, June 2, 1887.
Killed Detroit, MI, Oct. 2, 1919.

Sam Giannola succeeded as boss of a Detroit-area Mafia following the assassination of his brother Tony. Sam Giannola's brief reign included a continuation of his brother's gang wars followed by an apparent effort to establish peace. Sam was murdered nine months after Tony.

During Tony's reign, Sam appeared to be the organization's most active racketeer and top enforcer. Sam was arrested in 1911 for stealing a quantity of olive oil and wine from the D&C steamship line, misrepresenting himself at the D&C warehouse as the legitimate owner of the commodities. Law enforcement found the stolen oil and wine at a Ford City grocery run by Sam and Tony. The D&C line refused to prosecute.

During the 1910s, Sam ensured that the Giannolas had a monopoly on produce in the Wyandotte area by terrorizing competitors. When a fruit merchant named Cohen was stubborn about remaining in business, he found that his horse was badly burned by acid. Cohen filed charges against Sam Giannola but then suddenly disappeared.

Harry Paul and Morris Harris were shot to death in 1916 after opening a competing store. Sam Giannola first agreed to buy out their business and put $200 down on a sale price of $7,000 but then failed to make required payments. The sellers confronted Giannola, insisting he pay the remaining $6,800. Soon after, Paul and Harris were found dead. Sam was arrested but soon released due to a lack of evidence against him.

Around the time of brother Tony's death in January 1919, the Giannolas appeared to be preparing to move out of the Detroit area. One report suggested they intended to open a macaroni factory in Cincinnati. But Sam remained too long after burying his brother.

In February, he was nearly killed in a shooting that took the life of his brother-in-law Pasquale Danni. Sam apparently figured that rival John Vitale was behind that shooting. At the time of Danni's funeral, a drive-by shooting but numerous holes in the front of a Vitale grocery in Wyandotte. Vitale was subsequently jailed for opening on police officers investigating the incident, believing them to be Giannola gunmen.

When Vitale visitors - Vito Renda, Salvatore Evola and Vitale's teenage son Joseph - showed up at county jail on February 26, they were met by two Giannola men. Renda was shot more than 20 times. Before he died, he told authorities that his killer was Sam Giannola. Evola and Joseph Vitale were wounded but recovered.

In the early afternoon of October 2, Sam Giannola visited a bank at Russell Street and Monroe Avenue to cash a $200 check. As he exited the building, gunmen opened fire on him. Giannola managed to get back inside the bank but then fell dead with more than two dozen bullet wounds in his body.

Sources:

  • Salvatore Giannola Death Certificate, State of Michigan Department of State Division of Vital Statistics, reg. no. 9756, Oct. 2, 1919.
  • "Arrested often fined twice, is Sam's record," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 3.
  • "Auto bandits kill two men," Lansing MI State Journal, Nov. 16, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Fruit dealer arrested," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 15, 1911, p. 16.
  • "Gunmen murder 'Tony' Giannola, fuedist leader," Detroit Free Press, Jan. 4, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Men in disguise of women shoot down Italians," Port Huron MI Times-Herald, Nov. 16, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Murdered men suspected as German spies," Detroit Free Press, Nov. 17, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Trial of 4 for Peter Bosco murder begun," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 30, 1919, p. B1.
  • "Sam Giannola, feudist, slain; shot 28 times," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Victim of feud gasps name of Sam Giannola," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 27, 1919, p. 1
  • "Vitale, Giannola foe, builds alibi in advance," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 3.
  • "Wyandotte murder suspect released," Lansing MI State Journal, Nov. 23, 1916, p. 13.
  • Murray, Riley, "Sicilian gang guns blazed in city feud," Detroit Free Press, Aug. 27, 1950, p. E8.
  • Rice, Dennis, "Salvatore Giannola," Find A Grave, findagrave.com, memorial no. 7814145, Sept. 1, 2003, accessed Nov. 24, 1018.