Born Catania, Sicily, April 29, 1880.
Killed Chicago, IL, Feb. 15, 1926.
Born in 1880, Tropea left a wife and children behind in Catania, Sicily, when he traveled to the U.S. in 1909. After some time with relatives in New York City, he moved on to Buffalo, New York. He became romantically involved with Buffalo resident Helen Brown around 1916. A son Lawrence was born to the couple in 1917.
In June 1919, Tropea was among a number of U.S. Mafiosi who sent floral offerings to Buffalo boss Giuseppe DiCarlo following the death of DiCarlo's wife. Also sending flowers were Joseph Aiello of Utica, New York (later of Chicago), John Vitale and Gaspare Milazzo of Detroit and others from across the country.
Tropea became husband to two wives when he married Brown in 1920. A short time after that, he relocated to Chicago and joined the Mafia organization commanded by the "Terrible Gennas." Helen and Lawrence accompanied him to Chicago but later returned to stay with Helen's family in Buffalo.
An application for travel papers was filed by Tropea in summer 1924. At that time, he made a number of false and questionable claims. The application stated he arrived in the U.S. in April 1920 aboard the S.S. Conte Russo. That date was years later than his actual arrival and involved a ship that did not sail its maiden voyage until 1922. He stated that his address was 1022 Taylor Street in Chicago. Such an address was unlikely, as 1022 Taylor was the location of the Italian-American Educational Club that served as Genna headquarters. It also appears that, despite his two wives, Tropea indicated on the application that he was single.
Two wives were not yet enough for Tropea. Around 1923-1924, he began a relationship with a Chicago teenager, Beatrice Gould. He reportedly wished to marry Beatrice, but her parents would not permit it.
There was considerable turmoil following the death of Chicago's highly regarded gangland statesman Michele Merlo in November 1924. The Genna leadership was devastated in the violence that followed. In just two months of 1925, three of the Genna brothers were killed. Angelo Genna was shot to death while at the wheel of his roadster on May 26. Mike met his end on June 13 following a chaotic shootout with other gangsters and police. Tony was fatally shot July 8 at Grand Avenue and Curtis Street, while shaking the hand of a mysterious gangland figure known as "Cavallero."
Cavallero, later identified as Antonio Spano, was a disgruntled former Genna gunman, who joined Samuzzo "Samoots" Amatuna in an anti-Genna rebellion.
As a result of the gunfight in which Mike Genna was killed, Genna gunmen John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi were charged with the murder of a police officer. (There was widespread suspicion that Scalisi and Anselmi were in the process of betraying their Genna bosses to side with the Chicago Heights-based forces of "Cavallero" and intended to kill Mike Genna themselves on the day a police bullet caused his death.) Orazio Tropea was assigned the task of raising money for the Scalisi-Anselmi defense fund.
He went about the job by terrorizing local Italian merchants into making large cash donations. As the case involved several trials and a couple of appeals, Tropea conducted multiple rounds of strong-arm collections for the defense fund. The oppression was so great that Sicilians in Chicago referred to Tropea as "The Scourge."
Being squeezed more than once by Tropea did not sit well with a Genna in-law, Henry Spingola. While Spingola was generous in the opening round of collections, accounts say he made a far smaller contribution later. Spingola was murdered in January 1926 after playing cards with Tropea at Amato's Restaurant on Halsted Street. It quickly became apparent that Tropea had signaled the gunmen who killed the popular and well-connected Spingola.
Making matters worse for Tropea were rumors that he was keeping a good percentage of the defense fund donations for himself (preparing to fight a U.S. government effort to have him deported) and that he was secretly in league with "Cavallero."
Tropea was living comfortably under the assumed identity of "O. Trayers" at the Congress Hotel, apparently paying his bill from Scalisi-Anselmi defense moneys. He had been entertaining his girlfriend Beatrice Gould at that hotel. Press accounts said her last visit there was on February 13, 1926 - two days before Tropea's murder.
At the end, Tropea was left with few friends and numerous enemies. The people who may have wanted him dead included the Gennas and Spingolas, the family of Buffalo's Helen Brown, the family of Chicago's Beatrice Gould, his in-laws in Sicily, Chicago businessmen who had been repeatedly terrorized into providing money for what looked to be Tropea's personal slush fund and, possibly, Cavallero and other allies of Scalisi and Anselmi.
On the evening of February 15, 1926, Tropea stepped off an eastbound streetcar at South Halsted and West Taylor Streets. As he crossed Halsted, an automobile came up and stopped abruptly just before striking him. Tropea shouted at the driver. There was no spoken response. The car pulled alongside Tropea. A man with a double-barreled shotgun emerged from the vehicle, put the end of the weapon to Tropea's head and fired.
Chicago's gangland skipped the usual spectacular funeral in Tropea's case. News of his death was received with relief throughout Chicago's Sicilian communities.
The murder exposed connections among Mafiosi across the U.S.
In Tropea's possession at the time of his death, police found $975 in cash, a large diamond ring and a book containing addresses and telephone numbers. The Chicago Tribune published the contents of that book. A number of the entries are discussed below:
- Caterina Amara (reported as "Catherina Anara" in the newspaper) was the wife of Joe Aiello. They married in Buffalo in 1917. After spending some years in Utica, New York, Aiello moved into Chicago and eventually became boss of the local Mafia there.
- Tony Lombardo was a local businessman and president of the Mafia-linked Unione Siciliana organization. Lombardo was angry to be connected in the press with Tropea. He said Tropea had his address and phone number merely because Lombardo had once sold a restaurant to him.
- Sam Lovullo was a member of the Mafia of Buffalo, living on Efner (the newspaper reported it as "Epnor") Street in that city.
- Amato Mongelluzzo ran the restaurant on South Halsted Street where Henry Spingola played his last game of cards.
- James Palese of Detroit may have been the same Palese who corresponded with his cousin Nino Sacco during Sacco's 1910s imprisonment for interstate transportation of women for immoral purposes.
- Sam Pollaccia of Brooklyn, the only New York City resident to appear in the book, was a trusted aide and close friend of Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila before giving his support to D'Aquila's rival Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Pollaccia was the traveling companion of Brooklyn gang leader Frankie Yale during a 1924 visit to Chicago. Both men were suspected of involvement in the murder of Chicago's Dean O'Banion.
- Giuseppe Siragusa (the newspaper interpreted the scribbled letters of his surname as "Louognino") served as boss of the Mafia in western Pennsylvania.
|Helen and Lawrence|
Chicago Police Captain John Stege spoke with Brown. While she and Tropea were living in separate cities, she told the police captain that Tropea visited her four times in recent months and regularly sent her money.
Stege also interviewed Beatrice Gould. He learned that Tropea and Gould recently had been living together as man and wife, that Tropea's legal wife in Sicily had died several years before (it appears that Stege was unable to confirm this) and that the gangster had a twenty-one-year-old son and an eighteen-year-old daughter in Sicily.
Orazio Tropea was buried February 20 in Chicago without ceremony or flowers. His casket was paid for with $300 of public funds. His only mourners were Beatrice Gould and her brother Donald. Beatrice wore a black veil and a mink coat Tropea gave her.
The Chicago Tribune noted, "What following Orazio had died with him. To have shown either sympathy or loyalty would have marked them for death also, was the word that went around."
- "Deportation or death seen as gangster fate," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
- "Feudist's death may renew war," Decatur IL Herald, May 27, 1925, p. 1.
- "Feudists slay Sicilian ally of Genna gang," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
- "Fight to free city of thugs given impetus," Belvidere Daily Republican, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
- "One dead in gang fight," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
- "Orazio the 'Scourge' buried without friends or clergy," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 21, 1926, p. 4.
- "Rival loves weep for Orazio but his real widow is sought," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
- "Say man killed in Chicago son-in-law of Buffalo woman," Buffalo Daily Courier, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 16.
- "Sicilian gang kills again," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
- "Son-in-law is killed by gang in Chicago row," Buffalo Morning Express, Feb. 17, 1926.
- "Trace Sicilian killers in fight for deportation," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
- Herrick, Genevieve Forbes, "New rich rum chief slain by gunmen in car," Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1925, p. 2.
- Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. I - to 1937, 2013.
- Manifest of the S.S. La Gascogne arrived New York City Feb. 1, 1909.