Lamare, Cesare (1884-1931)

Born Italy, Jan. 6, 1884.
Killed Detroit, MI, Feb. 7, 1931.

Cesare "Chester" Lamare led the Detroit Mafia for a brief period in 1930 at the start of the open fighting of the Castellammarese War. He became a casualty in that conflict early in 1931.

Lamare was born in Italy (while he was referred to in the press as a Sicilian, he may have been born on the southern Italian mainland) and traveled to the United States as early as 1897. Lamare was noted in the Detroit area around 1909. He involved himself in various rackets - protection, bootlegging, narcotics, smuggling, gambling - in the Italian colonies to the west and north of Detroit, including the community of Hamtramck.

Police arrested him often between 1915 and 1921. So often, in fact, that Lamare sought (and temporarily received) a restraining order against the metropolitan police force. At the time, he noted that his only convictions had been for speeding and for carrying a concealed weapon.

Known to be the proprietor of the Village Cafe (later Venice Cafe) in Hamtramck, Lamare was believed in the early Prohibition Era to control alcohol, narcotics and gambling in the area. He was suspected of the murder of Sol Conrad, which  involved the wounding of four bystanders, in 1923.

Evidence of his expanding influence in the Detroit area was his role as best man at the wedding of "Black Bill" Tocco to Rosalia Zerilli, sister of Joseph Zerilli. Both Tocco and Zerilli were important gangsters on the East Side of Detroit. It appears that Lamare was an ally of the East Side Mafia at this point.

Federal Prohibition agents shut down the Venice Cafe for alcohol violations in the summer of 1924 and sought to arrest Lamare. They were unable to bring him to trial until 1926, when he was convicted but let off with a fine and probation. In that period, Lamare went to work for the Ford Motor Company, and reportedly added some labor racketeering to his underworld resume. He controlled an automobile dealership and also organized produce sellers in the region.

In the late 1920s, Lamare separated from the East Side Detroit Mafia. He became an ally of Wyandotte beer baron Joe Tocco (reportedly no relation to "Black Bill") and a strong supporter of New York City based Giuseppe Masseria, who became U.S. Mafia boss of bosses in 1928. Masseria encouraged Lamare to expand his underworld interests into areas controlled by the Mafia of "Black Bill" Tocco, Joseph Zerilli and Angelo Meli and an affiliated group commanded by Castellammarese Mafioso Gaspar Milazzo.

Lamare attempted to assassinate the rival Detroit area Mafia bosses by calling a phony peace conference May 31, 1930, at a Detroit fish market, 2739 Vernor Highway. Of the invited leaders, only Milazzo and his companion Sam Parrino showed up for the meeting. They were shot to death by Lamare gunmen. Many believed that Masseria personally approved the murders. The incident was used to rally many Mafiosi to a growing anti-Masseria faction and helped to trigger the Castellammarese War of 1930-31.

Masseria supported a Lamare claim as the boss of the Mafia in the Detroit area. But there was little support for him in Detroit. By September of 1930, Lamare was in hiding - traveling to New York City and to Louisville, Kentucky. Newspapers reported that other local Mafiosi had passed a death sentence against him because of his previous treachery.

Lamare business partner and chief lieutenant Joe Marino was mortally wounded at his Dearborn, Michigan, home on September 27 (he succumbed to his wounds a couple of days later). Lamare ally Joe Tocco became bogged down in a gang war against Zerilli-supported Mafiosi in Wyandotte.

In February 1931, Lamare quietly returned to his fortified home on Detroit's Grandville Avenue. Rivals tracked him down and had him shot him to death in that home just after midnight on Feb. 7, 1931. The assassin was probably someone known and trusted by Lamare, as the gang boss appears to have allowed him into the house.

Police, summoned to the location by Lamare's wife, found the gang leader with a bullet holes in his head. They also found a small arsenal in the place, including six revolvers, a tear gas gun, two rifles, 4,000 rounds of ammunition and some hand grenades.

Joseph Zerilli and "Black Bill" Tocco  were held for questioning after the murder. They were quickly released when no evidence connected them to the killing.

Related Links:
  • Chester Lamare Death Certificate, Michigan Department of Health Division of Vital Statistics, State office no. 140778, register no. 1599, Feb. 7, 1931.
  • Detroit, Michigan, marriages, Certificate no. 256195, license dated Sept. 19, 1923, ceremony performed Sept. 26, 1923.
  • Detroit City Directory 1928, p. 1283, 
  • United States Census of 1920, Michigan, Wayne County, Detroit, Ward 2, Enumeration District 68.
  • United States Census of 1930, Michigan, Wayne County, Detroit, Ward 16, Precinct 33, Enumeration District 92-523.  
  • "Alleged gangsters arrested in Detroit," Marshall MI Evening Chronicle, Feb. 10, 1931, p. 2. 
  • "Arrest Detroit man following shooting," Battle Creek MI Enquirer, Sept. 7, 1923, p. 1.
  • "Detroit gang leader killed in own kitchen," Lansing MI State Journal, Feb. 7, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Feudist chief falls to foes; another slain," Detroit Free Press, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Gangs receive machine guns," Detroit Free Press, Sept. 18, 1930, p. 1. 
  • "Hamtramck waits move by governor," Lansing MI State Journal, July 14, 1924, p. 5.
  • "Is refused review," Battle Creek MI Enquirer, Oct. 18, 1927, p. 13.
  • "LaMare, lord of West Side, assassinated," Escanaba MI Daily Press, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 1.
  • "LaMare's slayer still at large," Escanaba MI Daily Press, Feb. 12, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Marino dies; story doubted," Detroit Free Press, Sept. 30, 1930, p. 5.
  • "Mob leader 'put on spot,' belief of investigators," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Secures protection from illegal arrest," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 5, 1921, p. 3.