McWillie, Lewis J. (1908-1986)

Born Kansas City, MO, May 4, 1908.
Died Las Vegas, NV, Jan. 16, 1986.

Lewis McWillie's name will be forever linked with Dallas nighclub owner Jack Ruby. McWillie was a casino gambling operator who worked for notorious crime bosses and was idolized by Ruby. A 1958 Jack Ruby visit to McWillie in Havana, Cuba, and Ruby's 1963 murder of accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald connected McWillie to various Kennedy Assassination conspiracy theories.

McWillie was born in Missouri and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he first became involved in gambling in the early 1930s. About 1936, he moved to Jackson and Osyka, Mississippi, and then, in 1940, to Dallas. He was known to be employed as a dealer in the Blue Bonnet Hotel in the early 1940s. He then became involved in casino-style gambling at the Top of the Hill Terrace in Arlington, Texas, and the Four Duces in Fort Worth. His administration of gambling enterprises brought him in contact with Dallas crime boss Joseph Civello. McWillie was seldom in trouble with the law. He was arrested in connection with a Dallas gambling investigation in 1949 but was quickly released.

Jack Ruby and Lewis McWillie met in the late 1940s. Local officials were forcing Ruby's night club to close early, and he needed a "connection" to set things right. McWillie put Ruby in touch with Julius Schepps, and the problem was resolved. McWillie later recalled, "From then on, I could never get rid of Jack Ruby."

In 1958, as American mobsters began injecting enormous amounts of cash into casino gambling in Havana, Cuba, McWillie relocated to the island nation. In Cuba, he worked at casinos backed by Tampa crime boss Santo Trafficante, underworld financier Meyer Lansky, Meyer's brother Jake Lansky, Norman Rothman, Sam and David Yaras and Dino Cellini.

McWillie first served as manager of the Lansky and Rothman-controlled Tropicana nightclub casino. He held that position until May 1960. He then became pit boss at the Salon Rojo casino of the Capri hotel controlled by Trafficante. While in the casino positions, he was an employee of Cuban brothers Martin and Pedro Fox and made frequent trips to the U.S., often making Florida bank deposits for the Foxes.

A number of McWillie trips from Cuba to the U.S. are documented in immigration records. Providing Dallas home addresses on Raleigh Street, Maple Terrace and Homer Street, he entered the U.S. from Cuba in October 1958; April, July and August, 1959; January, February, March, August, September (twice), October and November, 1960; and January 1961.

Ruby went to visit McWillie in Havana in the summer of 1959 - McWillie sent him airline tickets and arranged hotel accommodations, reportedly hoping that Ruby would bring Dallas newspaper columnist Tony Zoppi with him. Zoppi did not make the trip. Records indicate that Ruby was in Cuba more than a month. McWillie, however, insisted that the visit was no longer than six days. "Jack Ruby was that kind of fellow that six days would be long enough to be around him," McWillie once stated. "I am sure he wasn't there a month."

Ruby's Cuba stay occurred as Fidel Castro built his government, following the successful revolution against Fulgencio Batista. Santo Trafficante had been arrested and was being held at the Triscornia detention camp. McWillie reportedly visited the camp twice that summer but did not recall if Ruby went with him. McWillie recalled going to the camp to see Giuseppe DiGiorgio but also noted the presence of Trafficante, Jake Lansky and Dino Cellini. Trafficante later insisted that he never met Ruby. During Ruby's time in Cuba, Trafficante was released, and that coincidence has led some to insist that Ruby arranged the release.

After returning to the U.S. in 1961, McWillie traveled by car from Miami to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, stopping in Dallas to stay overnight at Ruby's apartment. According to McWillie, that was the last in-person encounter between the two men.

McWillie worked briefly as a pit boss at the Cal-Neva Lodge in Nevada in 1961 and then served as casino supervisor at the Reno, Nevada, Riverside Hotel between October 1961 and late spring or early summer of 1962. In May 1962, he married at Carson City. He later relocated to Las Vegas and took a casino supervisor post with the Thunderbird Hotel on the Strip. He worked there until the summer of 1964.

In the spring of 1963, Jack Ruby reportedly purchased a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Centennial revolver and had it shipped to McWillie in Nevada. McWillie did not accept delivery of the package. Believed to have left the U.S. after that, possibly working in a foreign gambling operation.

Six months later, McWillie became a person of interest for federal law enforcement agents following Ruby's murder of Oswald. The FBI interviewed him in late November 1963 and again in June 1964. The Warren Commission, investigating the Kennedy Assassination, did not call McWillie to testify.

After 1964, McWillie held positions at the Carousel Club, Binion's Horseshoe Club and the Holiday Inn Casino at Las Vegas.

In the late 1970s, McWillie was interviewed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

The HSCA learned that McWillie had indeed made his own trips to the Triscornia camp while Trafficante was confined there. At the time of his testimony, McWillie said he was not certain whether Ruby had accompanied him on the trips. “I don’t recall it, but he could have,” McWillie said. “I don’t know for sure.”

McWillie said he went to Triscornia primarily to visit with his friend Giuseppe DiGiorgio but also saw Dino Cellini, Jake Lansky and Trafficante: “I didn’t talk to Trafficante because I didn’t know him that well to speak to him.”

McWillie died in Las Vegas on Jan. 16, 1986. He was 77 years old. His Nevada death record made him appear four years younger, by moving his birthdate from May 4, 1908, to May 4, 1912.

See also:


  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Oct. 26, 1958.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight 358, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, April 30, 1959.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, July 7, 1959.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight 358, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Aug. 24, 1959.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight CCA-800, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Jan. 12, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Feb. 1, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight CCA-998, departed Havana, arrived New York City, March 16, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, departed Havana, Flight CCA-800, arrived Miami, Florida, Aug. 10, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight CCA-800, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Sept. 2, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight CCA-800, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Sept. 13, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight CCA-810, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Oct. 5, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight PA-412, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Nov. 7, 1960.
  • Air Passenger List, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Flight CCA-804, departed Havana, arrived Miami, Florida, Jan. 2, 1961.
  • Carson City, Nevada, Marriage Index.
  • House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA Hearings), Appendix to Hearings Before the Select Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Volume IX, Staff and Consultant's Reports, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-Fifth Congress, Second Session, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979. Report may be accessed online through the History Matters website ( ).
  • McAdams, John, "Testimony of Lewis McWillie," Kennedy Assassination Home Page, .
  • McAdams, John, "Testimony of Santos Trafficante," Kennedy Assassination Home Page, .
  • Nevada Death Index.
  • Social Security Death Index.
  • United States Census of 1920, Tennessee, Shelby County, Ward 31, Enumeration District 219. 
  • "Lewis Joseph McWillie," Find A Grave,, March 31, 2010.
  • "One-paragraph link to Nevada included in Warren report," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 9, 1964, p. 2.

Trafficante, Santo Jr. (1914-1987)

Born Tampa, FL, Nov. 15, 1914.
Died Houston, TX, March 17, 1987.

Santo Trafficante, Jr., the son of an early Tampa, Florida, Mafia boss, was raised in local organized crime and became boss upon the death of his father. He is known for his close ties to New York underworld bosses and for his management of Cuban casinos, and is frequently mentioned in Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.

Born in Tampa, to Santo Sr. and Maria Giuseppa (Josephine) Cacciatore Trafficante, Santo Jr. grew up in a large Italian family on North Boulevard in Tampa, just outside the traditional boundaries of the immigrant neighborhood known as Ybor City. The 1930 U.S. Census shows him at age 14 as the second of five sons. His brothers were Frank, Sam, Fano and Henry. Santo Jr. attended Hillsborough County public schools but left school in the tenth grade.

By the next U.S. Census, twenty-five-year-old Santo had started his own family. He, wife Josephine Marchese Trafficante and their five-month-old daughter Mary Jo resided at 3105 Eighteenth Street in Tampa. Santo and Josephine married in April 1938. For the census, Santo reported his occupation as clerk for a retail grocery, but he was likely working with his father in underworld rackets by then. A major income source for the Tampa Mafia was a lottery-style gambling racket, known as bolita. A few years later, another daughter, Sarah, was born into the family.

Following World War II, Trafficante began making trips to Havana, Cuba. He was well established with authorities there when U.S. underworld figures began funneling money into gambling facilities and narcotics smuggling rackets on the island of Cuba.

The passing of underworld authority from the late Santo Sr. to Santo Jr. was not acceptable to a local Mafia faction supportive of the Italiano family. At attempt was made on Santo Jr.'s life in 1953 - a shotgun blast fired at his car succeeded only in wounding his arm.

When Santo Sr. died the next year, Antonio Italiano and Dominic Ferrara reportedly went to New York Mafia bosses to complain about the succession. Trafficante business connections with New York were already strong and lucrative, however. The new Tampa boss reportedly had solid support from the Luciano-Costello (later Genovese), Lucchese and Bonanno organizations, as well as Meyer Lansky. The Italiano faction's complaint was ignored and Antonio Italiano and Dominic Ferrara were never seen again.

In that year, Santo Jr. and his brother Henry were convicted of bribing a St. Petersburg detective and sentenced to five years in prison. The trial judge called the Trafficantes, "a couple of rats [who] crept out of the sewer." The conviction was later overturned, but Henry was eventually imprisoned on bribery and gambling convictions.

As the Mafia invested heavily in Cuban casinos under the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista, Santo Jr. spent much of his time in an apartment in the affluent Vedado neighborhood of Havana. He reportedly managed investments of the U.S. underworld in gambling ventures and is widely believed to have organized international narcotics trafficking through the island nation.

Trafficante was visiting New York City at the time of the 1957 murder of crime boss Albert Anastasia. Anastasia was believed to be trying to create a separate gambling empire for his Mafia family in Cuba. Trafficante was also noted at the Mafia convention in Apalachin, New York, later in that year.

American authorities linked Trafficante with gambling at Cuba's Sans Souci nightclub, the Hotel Comodoro Casino and the Hotel Deauville Casino. He is known to have worked closely with Jake Lansky, brother of underworld financier Meyer Lansky, and with Dino Cellini.

Mafia investments and the trust of underworld allies in Trafficante's management were imperiled when the Batista government was toppled. Trafficante was unable to make arrangements with the regime of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro after 1959.

Trafficante and associates Jake Lansky and Dino Cellini were arrested by Cuban authorities in the late spring of 1959. Lansky and Cellini were quickly released, but Trafficante, perceived as being especially close to Batista brother-in-law Roberto Fernandez Miranda, was held at Triscornia detention facility until August. Compelled by Cuban officials to sell his interests in gambling facilities, Trafficante attempted for months to retain secret control of them. He returned to Florida in January 1960.

Trafficante and other Mafia leaders worked with American intelligence agencies to plot the overthrow or assassination of Castro. Castro survived that conspiracy, and some believe he succeeded in turning it to his own advantage. Trafficante is among the underworld bosses regularly named by conspiracy theorists as an organizer of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Trafficante vehemently denied any involvement in the Kennedy assassination. However, statements made by Trafficante during 1962-63 seemed to predict that killing.

In 1966, during a trip to New York, Trafficante was arrested along with a dozen other suspected Mafiosi at an Italian restaurant in Queens. Police dubbed the gathering, "a little Apalachin."

When Tampa detective Richard Cloud was shot to death at the front door of his north Tampa home, Trafficante was suspected of involvement. Authorities hoped that imprisoned underworld figure Victor Acosta would help link the murder to Trafficante, but Acosta suddenly died in his prison cell of an overdose of tranquilizers. The death was said to be a suicide.

Trafficante was called to testify before Kennedy assassination investigators in the late 1970s. At that time, he acknowledged that the CIA had approached him about deposing or killing Fidel Castro. Chicago Outfit leaders Sam Giancana and John Rosselli also had discussions with the CIA. Giancana and Rosselli were both killed in 1975.

In 1986, Trafficante was unsuccessfully tried by federal prosecutors for racketeering and conspiracy. The following year, he was to be tried on a 1981 indictment charging him with taking kickbacks from the International Laborers Union dental and eye health care plans. He died, following a triple-bypass operation at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, before he could stand trial.

See also:


  • Air Passenger Manifest, Pan American World Airways, NC-34948, departed Havana, Cuba, arrived Miami, Florida, July 25, 1946.
  • Air Passenger Manifest, Pan American Airways, NC-45375, departed Havana, Cuba, arrived Miami, Florida, June 17, 1948.
  • Arrival-Departure Record, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Miami, Florida, Jan. 27, 1960.
  • Florida State Census of 1935, Hillsborough County, Precinct 17.
  • Florida State Census of 1945, Hillsborough County, Precinct 22.
  • SAC Miami, "Santo Trafficante, Jr.," FBI airtel, file no. 92-2781-104, June 17, 1959.
  • Santo Trafficante, Jr., World War II draft registration card, 1942.
  • "Santo Trafficante, Jr.," Find A Grave,, June 11, 2010.
  • Social Security Death Index.
  • United States Census of 1930, Florida, Hillsborough County, Ward 6, Election Precinct 17, Enumeration District 29-48.
  • United States Census of 1940, Florida, Hillsborough County, Ward 9, Precinct 17, Enumeration District 70-73.
  • "Trafficante gets order," New York Times, April 15, 1967, p. 16.
  • "Underworld figure refuses to talk before a House assassination panel," New York Times, March 17, 1977, p. 23.
  • Harris, Kathryn, "Santo Trafficante Jr." A Tampa son who made the bigtime with the bad guys," St. Petersburg Times, April 27, 1977, p. 53.
  • "16 indicted over union fund use," New York Times, June 5, 1981.
  • "15 deny racketeering charges," New York Times, June 20, 1981.
  • "Judge declares mistrial in Florida crime case," New York Times, July 10, 1986.
  • Leusner, Jim, and Tom Scherberger, "Florida's reputed don, Santo Trafficante, dies," Orlando Sentinel, March 19, 1987, p. 1.
  • Roy, Roger, "He never spent a night in U.S. jail," Orlando Sentinel, March 19, 1987, p. 4.
  • "Santo Trafficante, reputed Mafia chief, dies at 72," New York Times, March 19, 1987.

Bilotti, Thomas (1940-1985)

Born Staten Island, NY, March 23, 1940.
Killed Manhattan, NY, Dec. 16, 1985.

An intensely loyal lieutenant of Gambino Crime Family boss Paul "Big Paul" Castellano, Thomas Bilotti was murdered Dec. 16, 1985, along with Castellano in front of Sparks Steak House in Manhattan.

Bilotti was born to Anthony and Lillian Rosso Bilotti in Staten Island in 1940. He was raised in Staten Island and was a resident there early in 1970, when he received his first serious notice from the police and the press.

Thirty-year-old Bilotti, resident of 33 Kensington Avenue, Staten Island, was arrested with Thomas Papanier, 25, of Villa Avenue, Staten Island, after a shooting in Jamesburg, New Jersey. African-American teenager Emory Parks of Sheridan Street suffered superficial injuries when he was struck in the back of his head by bird-shot pellets. Bilotti and Papanier were arrested as they ran from the scene of the shooting and were observed discarding firearms.

It was a time of significant racial tension in the Jamesburg area, after riots at the local high school. Police from Spotswood and Monroe Township were on alert, permitting the quick arrest of Bilotti and Papanier. While police believed the two men were responsible for the injuries to Emory Parks, they were initially charged with carrying a concealed weapon, carrying a pistol without a permit and failing to secure a permit to purchase a pistol. A Middlesex County grand jury indicted the duo only for illegal possession of concealed weapons.

Bilotti became a fierce enforcer for Paul Castellano and the Gambino-Castellano faction of the crime family. He was understandably unpopular with a lingering faction that had been forced from power with Albert Anastasia's 1957 assassination. It appears that the Anastasia wing supported boss Carlo Gambino with the understanding that one of their own would succeed Gambino. Their hopes were dashed when Paul Castellano took over the crime family following the 1976 death of his brother-in-law Gambino. Peace within the family was preserved as Aniello Dellacroce, leader of the opposition and an underworld powerhouse in Manhattan, was selected as Castellano's underboss. Dellacroce kept his followers loyal to the Castellano regime for nine years.

During that time, Bilotti served as Castellano's primary driver, bodyguard and most trusted lieutenant. In 1980, Castellano build a palatial mansion for himself at 177 Benedict Road atop Todt Hill in Staten Island. Bilotti moved into a less ostentatious home just a few minutes away. Bilotti worked closely with Salvatore Barbato in providing security for Castellano and his estate. Bilotti and Castellano both regularly vacationed at Pompano Beach, Florida.

Dellacroce's death on Dec. 2, 1985, was followed by two major Castellano missteps. The crime family boss did not attend Dellacroce's funeral, a decision viewed as profoundly disrespectful. And he quickly and unilaterally elevated his aide Bilotti to the position of underboss. Castellano was getting on in years and faced a number of serious federal charges. Dellacroce followers, then led by John J. Gotti, understood that either death or prison would soon remove the boss. But Bilotti's presence as heir apparent would shut their faction out of the crime family leadership for yet another generation.

Castellano had lost much of his underworld prestige as the long-term bugging of his home office by the FBI had recently been revealed. Bilotti was still widely feared but many saw him as lacking in leadership qualities. Gotti found extensive support for his plan to remove both men from administration of the crime family. He appears to have arranged with Salvatore Gravano and Frank DeCicco for the Dec. 16 hit outside of Sparks.

Bilotti's life ended Dec. 16, 1985,
on New York's 46th Street

At about 5:30 p.m., Castellano's black Lincoln, with Bilotti driving, stopped in a no parking zone on 46th Street in front of the restaurant. As Bilotti and Castellano emerged from opposite sides of the car, three men in trenchcoats quickly approached on foot and opened fire at close range with semiautomatic pistols. Both targets were hit repeatedly in their heads and torsos. Castellano collapsed on the sidewalk behind the open passenger-side car door. Bilotti sprawled into the street. The gunmen jogged away on 46th Street, climbing into a waiting getaway car at Second Avenue.

With boss and underboss eliminated, John Gotti seized for himself the top spot in the Gambino Crime Family and selected Frank DeCicco as his second in command. Bilotti and Castellano were buried in Moravian Cemetery at New Dorp, Staten Island.


  • Dileva, Anthony V., "La Cosa Nostra: The Historical Sicilian Mafia's Influence on American Organized Crime," Project Report in partial fulfillment of requirements for Master of Science degree, California State University, Long Beach, CA, 2006, p. 81-85.
  • Michael DiLeonardo testimony, United States of America v. John A. Gotti, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Feb. 22, 2006.
  • O'Brien, Joseph F., and Andris Kurins, Boss of Bosses, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
  • Social Security Applications and Claims Index, Oct. 1958.
  • Social Security Death Index.
  • "Thomas Bilotti," Find A Grave,, July 17, 1999.

  • McCarthy, George, "Jamesburg youth shot, two held," Asbury Park (NJ) Press, April 29, 1970, p. 1.
  • "Jamesburg quiet after outbreaks," Asbury Park (NJ) Press, April 30, 1970, p. 1.
  • "Jury to get case of duo in shooting," Asbury Park (NJ) Press, May 20, 1970, p. 18.
  • "Two indicted as result of shooting," Asbury Park (NJ) Press, June 1, 1970, p. 10.
  • Blumenthal, Ralph, "Aniello Dellacroce dies at 71; reputed crime-group figure," New York Times, Dec. 4, 1985.
  • McFadden, Robert D., "Organized crime chief shot dead stepping from car on E. 46th St.," New York Times, Dec. 17, 1985.
  • Raab, Selwyn, "Authorities now say a slain Mafia aide was a major target," New York Times, Dec. 27, 1985.
  • "Charges stick to 'Teflon Don,'" Columbus (IN) Republic, April 3, 1992, p. 2.
  • Magnuson, Ed, "Hitting the Mafia," TIME, June 24, 2001.

Conti, Gregorio (1874-1919)

Born Comitini, Sicily, March 17, 1874.
Killed Pittsburgh, PA, Sept. 24, 1919.

Downtown Pittsburgh's earliest documented Mafia boss, Gregorio Conti was a duplicitous underworld leader and an unscrupulous businessman. His treachery appears to have been repaid through his assassination at the dawn of the U.S. Prohibition Era.

Conti's native town of Comitini was engaged in sulfur mining and in the farming of grapes, olives and citrus at the time of his birth to Giacomo and Gesua Terrana Conti. Gregorio Conti may have learned about wines and distilled spirits as a young man in Sicily. He appears to have run his own business before deciding to follow his brother - Dr. Gaetano Conti - across the Atlantic.

Gregorio Conti sailed from Palermo on Sept. 17, 1907, and arrived in New York harbor on Oct. 3. He left behind in Sicily his wife and their two young children. He was accompanied on the voyage by fellow Comitinesi Giuseppe Cusumano and Vincenzo Terrana. Cusumano was a nephew of Conti and a trained chemist. Terrana, a surgeon, appears to have been a relative of Conti's mother. All three continued on from New York to Pittsburgh, meeting up with Dr. Gaetano Conti at 29 Chatham Street in the heart of the city's central Hill District. (Dr. Conti maintained the same office until his death in 1927.)

Gaetano already was a man of some importance in the community, serving as physician for the Italian consulate at Pittsburgh. In 1909, Dr. Conti was involved in a criminal investigation of the consulate after his signature was found on phony papers documenting the physical incapacitation of Italian immigrants seeking to avoid military service in their native country. Dr. Conti and Vice Consul Natali reported that seals, stamps and other materials of the consul's office had been stolen by a short-term office worker and used to generate the fraudulent documents, which were then sold. One of several suspects in the case accused Dr. Conti of being behind the racket, saying he paid the doctor $70 for a certificate of incapacitation.

Gregorio Conti was naturalized a citizen of the U.S. early in 1913. Later in the year, his wife and their children sailed from Sicily to join him in Pittsburgh. Conti had opened a business, Pittsburgh Wine & Liquors, at 801 Wylie Avenue, a couple doors down from his brother's offices. The Conti family resided in an apartment above the business. Giuseppe Cusumano worked for his uncle.

Conti seems to have attained a leadership position in downtown Pittsburgh's Sicilian underworld organization at about the time that the city's most successful produce merchant, Salvatore "Banana King" Catanzaro was seriously hurt in a stabbing incident. Conti may have assumed leadership of an organization formerly run by Catanzaro. (As Catanzaro recovered in spring 1914, Pittsburgh produce merchants threw him a large party. The guests included a number of names linked with Sicilian organized crime in the region.)

Western Pennsylvania of that period was home to a large number of small Neapolitan, Calabrian and Sicilian criminal organizations. The Sicilian Mafia units were linked through a loose regional network.

Nick Gentile, whose memoirs recounted many events in early U.S. Mafia history, joined Conti in Pittsburgh in 1915. By then, Conti was well established as boss of the Hill District Mafia and was already rubbing many the wrong way. Gentile noted that Conti frequently picked fights with Cusumano (a problem Gentile resolved by sponsoring Cusumano as a Mafioso, entitled to respect), increased his profits by selling fraudulently labeled liquor and secretly cooperated in Neapolitan Camorra extortion of Sicilian residents.

Gentile claims that he initiated a personal war against the once-dominant Camorra that resulted in its complete capitulation to the Sicilian Mafia. By about 1917, Neapolitan and Calabrian gangs had been incorporated into a regional Mafia-dominated network.

In the spring of 1918, Gentile and grocery business partners Samuel DiBella and Orazio Leone (Leone and DiBella were likely related) were convicted of conspiring to defraud their suppliers out of $22,000 in produce. The men filed a legal appeal. Conti pressured successful fruit merchant J.C. Catalano to provide $4,000 bail for Gentile's release. Once out of prison, Gentile left the country to return to Sicily, and Catalano's bail was forfeited. The merchant demanded that Conti personally compensate him for the loss or acquire repayment through Gentile. Conti stalled for time.

J.C. Catalano (left) is photographed with other Pittsburgh
produce merchants in 1916. (Pittsburgh Gazette Times).

The following year, the Wartime Prohibition Act (too late to provide any Great War benefit but intended to remain in effect through demobilization) made the sale, manufacture and transport of alcoholic beverages illegal. That closed Conti's legitimate business. Any continued sale of alcohol would have exposed Conti to enforcement by Justice Department and its Bureau of Investigation.

In September, Conti suddenly decided that he, his family and his fortune would return to Sicily. This decision coincided with rumors that he recently had earned $5,500 by convincing some Italian purchasers from New Castle, PA, that 110 cases of bottled river water was actually 110 cases of whiskey.

Conti and his wife obtained passports on Sept. 12, 1919, stating that they needed to return to Italy immediately to settle Giovanna's family estate. They prepared to travel by train to New York City on Sept. 25 and then take a steamer to Italy in early October.

On the eve of their departure from Pittsburgh, Gregorio Conti was shot four times through the back while sitting in his automobile, at Twenty-first and Smallman Streets, with J.C. Catalano, J.C.'s cousin Philip Catalano and Orazio Leone. Conti was alive but unconscious when police arrived. He was dead upon arrival at St. Francis Hospital. The official cause of death was "shock and hemorrhage due to gunshot wounds through heart (murder)."

Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 24, 1919.
The Catalanos and Leone were apprehended. They admitted they were with Conti but claimed that a small man unknown to them jumped on the vehicle's runningboard, shot Conti and ran off before they could react to prevent it or detain the shooter. Police investigated the claim, though Captain of Detectives Clyde Edeburn doubted that anyone outside of the automobile could have shot Conti through the back of the driver's seat. Edeburn also noted that the murder weapon was recovered and turned out to be a pistol that required time-consuming manual cocking before each shot could be fired.

Conti's immediate successor as underworld boss of downtown Pittsburgh is unknown. Salvatore Calderone, an Apollo-based Mafia elder statesman and head man of the regional Mafia network, probably played a role in managing the organization. The next documented Mafia boss in Pittsburgh was Stefano Monastero.



  • Certificate of Death, Allegheny County Pennsylvania, file no. 88497, registered no. 7570, filed Sept. 26, 1919.
  • Declaration of Intention, no. 13546, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Oct. 15, 1910.
  • Declaration of Intention, no. 13547, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Oct. 15, 1910.
  • Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993, p. 51-54, 56-57, 62-67.
  • Naturalization Petition, no 7775, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Nov. 6, 1912.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Argentina, departed Palermo on June 14, arrived New York City on June 28, 1911.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Canada, departed Palermo on Nov. 5, 1913, arrived New York on Nov. 17, 1913.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Carpathia, departed Palermo on Sept. 17, 1907, arrived New York City on Oct. 3, 1907.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Ivernia, departed Palermo on April 24, 1912, arrived New York on May 9, 1912.
  • Passport application, no. 117780, U.S. District Court at Pittsburgh PA, Sept. 12, 1919.
  • Passport application, no. 117781, U.S. District Court at Pittsburgh, PA, Sept. 12, 1919.
  • Pennsylvania Wills and Probate Records, Allegheny County,
  • United States Census of 1920, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, Ward 8, Enumeration District 444.
  • World War I draft registration card, serial no. 3830, order no. A663, stamped 37-1-21C, Pittsburgh, PA, Sept. 12, 1918.

  • "Fruit dealer gets damages," Pittsburgh Press, May 5, 1911, p. 3.
  • "Gigantic fraud practiced upon Italian consul," San Francisco Call, Aug. 15, 1909, p. 25.
  • "Italian graft arrests," Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 18, 1909, p. 3.
  • "Many attend banquet; all banana merchants," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 8, 1914, p. 2.
  • "Indictments," Pittsburgh Daily Post, Jan. 11, 1917, p. 12.
  • "Court news," Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 24, 1918, p. 14.
  • "Men are convicted for $22,000 fraud," Pittsburgh Press, May 27, 1918, p. 7.
  • "Court news," Pittsburgh Daily Post, Sept. 6, 1918, p. 13.
  • "Police take three suspects in Conti murder," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Sept. 26, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Nation goes dry under wartime act," New York Times, July 1, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Murdered in Auto," Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 24, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Italian is shot to death at Pittsburgh," Harrisburg PA Evening News, Sept. 24, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Wine merchant foully killed," Wilkes Barre Times Leader, Sept. 25, 1919, p. 18.
  • "Three held in Conti murder case," Pittsburgh Post, Sept. 26, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Police weave strong web about Italians held in murder case," Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 26, 1919, p. 34.
  • "Police take three suspects in Conti murder," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Sept. 26, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Bail refused accused trio in Conti case," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Sept. 27, 1919.
  • "Conti murderer now known to detectives," Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 27, 1919, p. 10.
  • "Conti murder suspects held for coroner," Pittsburgh Post, Sept. 28, 1919, p. 12.
  • "Police still lack clue in Conti case," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Sept. 30, 1919, p. 9.
  • "Three men jailed in murder case," Pittsburgh Post, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 2.
  • "Three accused as accessory in Conti case," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 12.
  • "3 murder suspects held without bail," Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 29.
  • "Murder suspects are released on bail," Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 5, 1919, p. 10.
  • "In Pennsylvania," Indiana PA Patriot, Oct. 11, 1919, p. 4.
  • "Dr. Gaetano Conti," Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 26, 1927, p. 8.