Oldfield, Frank (1867-1916) - Postal Inspection

Born Ellicott City, Maryland, Jan. 1867.

Died Athens, Ohio, May 25, 1916.

John Frank Oldfield, who went by the name of "Frank," and his younger brother Clarence for a time held local government jobs in their native Howard County, Maryland. They were key men in the Republican Party of Ellicott City (at a time when political rallies often were indistinguishable from street gang clashes). Into the late-1890s, Frank Oldfield served as the sheriff of Howard County.

During the Administration of President William McKinley, Frank Oldfield joined the United States Postal Inspection Service, while Clarence Oldfield became an inspector for the Customs Service. Continued political activity momentarily cost Frank Oldfield his job in the fall of 1899. After his return to the Postal Inspection Service, Frank Oldfield became the most renowned member of what was at the time the highest ranking federal law enforcement agency.

Oldfield worked primarily in the Midwest, but he also had occasion to travel. His authority as a postal inspector gave him law enforcement powers throughout the U.S.

In the early 1900s, he assisted in the conviction of a former congressman for taking bribes related to the purchase of postage stamp dispensing machines. Oldfield also cracked down on several Ohio postmasters he found were taking money from the till and some postal patrons who were using the mails for gambling and pornography.

Oldfield mobilized local government agencies against a growing ring of Mafia black handers in Ohio known as the Society of the Banana. While many of the underworld group's illegal activities were not mail-related, the Society's practice of extorting money through mailed threats brought the case to Oldfield's desk. He succeeded in breaking up the ring, led by Salvatore Arrigo, Francesco Spadera and Salvatore Lima, by 1909.

During his investigation of the Society, Oldfield tracked down branches in Indiana, Illinois, New York, California and Oregon, and established links between the Arrigo-Spadera mob and the alleged assassins of both New Orleans' Police Chief David C. Hennessy and New York Detective Joseph Petrosino. In the summer of 1909, Oldfield arrested Charles Vicario at Bellefountaine, Ohio, charging him with being a fugitive and with having knowledge of the Petrosino assassin.

Oldfield and his family settled in the community of Athens, Ohio, about 75 miles southeast of Columbus. Oldfield spent his final years battling cancer. He died in Athens on May 25, 1916. A small news item in the newspaper of nearby Lancaster, Ohio, stated, "J.F. Oldfield, former postal inspector and famous as one of the shrewdest detectives in the federal service, died at his home here following a long illness from cancer. Oldfield gained national fame in the Black Hand cases in northern Ohio."