Avena, John "Big Nose" (1893-1936)

Born Novara, Sicily, 1893.

Killed Philadelphia, PA, Aug. 17, 1936

Avena took over the Philadelphia Mafia Family after founding boss Salvatore Sabella stepped down at the conclusion of the Castellammarese War in 1931. The Philly Mob had sided with the momentarily victorious Maranzano faction in that underworld conflict. Avena was an unusual choice as Mafia boss because he was born in the Messina region of Sicily, generally not associated with the Mafia tradition.

During his reign as boss, the Sicilian Mafia in Philadelphia formed a partnership with local Jewish organized criminals from the "69th Street Mob." This appears to have aided the Mafia in entering post-Prohibition gambling rackets.

Avena appears to have had Sabella's full support as boss, but a rebellious faction arose in the Philadelphia area. That group was led by the Lanzetti brothers. A civil war erupted in the Family during the mid-1930s.

The Lanzetti brothers are believed to have been responsible for the shooting death of 43-year-old Avena at the corner of Washington and Passyunk Avenues in the summer of 1936. A gunman firing from the rear window of a passing automobile shot to death both Avena and his lottery racket partner Martin Feldstein. Police noted that three other attempts had been made on Avena's life in the past 10 years.

There was considerable media attention to the September 18, 1937, arrest of Michael Montanaro on Philadelphia's North Broad Street. Montanaro, indicted for robberies and suspected of involvement in the murder of Avena, was shot and wounded by Detective Richard "Pete" McClure during the arrest. He died on September 28, 1937.

Joseph "Bruno" Dovi succeeded Avena as boss.

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