Giannola, Salvatore (1887-1919)

Born Terrasini, Sicily, June 2, 1887.
Killed Detroit, MI, Oct. 2, 1919.

Sam Giannola succeeded as boss of a Detroit-area Mafia following the assassination of his brother Tony. Sam Giannola's brief reign included a continuation of his brother's gang wars followed by an apparent effort to establish peace. Sam was murdered nine months after Tony.

During Tony's reign, Sam appeared to be the organization's most active racketeer and top enforcer. Sam was arrested in 1911 for stealing a quantity of olive oil and wine from the D&C steamship line, misrepresenting himself at the D&C warehouse as the legitimate owner of the commodities. Law enforcement found the stolen oil and wine at a Ford City grocery run by Sam and Tony. The D&C line refused to prosecute.

During the 1910s, Sam ensured that the Giannolas had a monopoly on produce in the Wyandotte area by terrorizing competitors. When a fruit merchant named Cohen was stubborn about remaining in business, he found that his horse was badly burned by acid. Cohen filed charges against Sam Giannola but then suddenly disappeared.

Harry Paul and Morris Harris were shot to death in 1916 after opening a competing store. Sam Giannola first agreed to buy out their business and put $200 down on a sale price of $7,000 but then failed to make required payments. The sellers confronted Giannola, insisting he pay the remaining $6,800. Soon after, Paul and Harris were found dead. Sam was arrested but soon released due to a lack of evidence against him.

Around the time of brother Tony's death in January 1919, the Giannolas appeared to be preparing to move out of the Detroit area. One report suggested they intended to open a macaroni factory in Cincinnati. But Sam remained too long after burying his brother.

In February, he was nearly killed in a shooting that took the life of his brother-in-law Pasquale Danni. Sam apparently figured that rival John Vitale was behind that shooting. At the time of Danni's funeral, a drive-by shooting but numerous holes in the front of a Vitale grocery in Wyandotte. Vitale was subsequently jailed for opening on police officers investigating the incident, believing them to be Giannola gunmen.

When Vitale visitors - Vito Renda, Salvatore Evola and Vitale's teenage son Joseph - showed up at county jail on February 26, they were met by two Giannola men. Renda was shot more than 20 times. Before he died, he told authorities that his killer was Sam Giannola. Evola and Joseph Vitale were wounded but recovered.

In the early afternoon of October 2, Sam Giannola visited a bank at Russell Street and Monroe Avenue to cash a $200 check. As he exited the building, gunmen opened fire on him. Giannola managed to get back inside the bank but then fell dead with more than two dozen bullet wounds in his body.

See also:


  • Salvatore Giannola Death Certificate, State of Michigan Department of State Division of Vital Statistics, reg. no. 9756, Oct. 2, 1919.
  • "Arrested often fined twice, is Sam's record," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 3.
  • "Auto bandits kill two men," Lansing MI State Journal, Nov. 16, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Fruit dealer arrested," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 15, 1911, p. 16.
  • "Gunmen murder 'Tony' Giannola, fuedist leader," Detroit Free Press, Jan. 4, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Men in disguise of women shoot down Italians," Port Huron MI Times-Herald, Nov. 16, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Murdered men suspected as German spies," Detroit Free Press, Nov. 17, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Trial of 4 for Peter Bosco murder begun," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 30, 1919, p. B1.
  • "Sam Giannola, feudist, slain; shot 28 times," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Victim of feud gasps name of Sam Giannola," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 27, 1919, p. 1
  • "Vitale, Giannola foe, builds alibi in advance," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 3, 1919, p. 3.
  • "Wyandotte murder suspect released," Lansing MI State Journal, Nov. 23, 1916, p. 13.
  • Murray, Riley, "Sicilian gang guns blazed in city feud," Detroit Free Press, Aug. 27, 1950, p. E8.
  • Rice, Dennis, "Salvatore Giannola," Find A Grave,, memorial no. 7814145, Sept. 1, 2003, accessed Nov. 24, 1018.

Giannola, Antonino (1878-1919)

Born Terrasini, Sicily, Nov. 15, 1878.
Killed Detroit, MI, Jan. 3, 1919.

Tony Giannola was an early Mafia boss in the Detroit area. He and his younger brother Salvatore "Sam" built a produce monopoly in Wyandotte, extorted payments from successful Italian businessmen in Wyandotte and Detroit and engaged in a series of gang wars that eventually claimed both of their lives.

First noted in Ford City in the early 1900s, Tony Giannola established a successful produce business there. He was later connected with grocery and macaroni businesses. He also built up a Mafia organization that included many of the later leaders of Detroit's underworld.

Around 1910, Giannola pushed into Detroit's East Side business district, conducting Black Hand extortion rackets in that area. Local businessmen embraced rival underworld leader Vito Adamo as their protector and organized a vigilante White Hand Society. Giannola and Adamo fought each other for years. The Giannola brothers were arrested after a September 1913 exchange of gunfire with rivals that seriously wounded a passerby. They were charged with minor offenses and released.

The Giannola Gang lost some of its more powerful members when Tony Giannola and his business partner Peter Bosco parted ways. Giannola apparently believed that Bosco was cheating him. When Bosco was murdered in October 1918, Bosco lieutenant John Vitale and Bosco's entire underworld faction broke with the Giannolas.

Bosco followers were believed to be behind the Jan. 3, 1919, murder of Tony Giannola. That evening, Giannola was visiting the family of a just-murdered friend. As he approached the house, a gunman emerged from a dark alley and shot him in the head and body. Police found the dead Mafia boss outside of 189 Rivard Street.

See also:


  • Tony Giannola Death Certificate, State of Michigan Department of State Division of Vital Statistics, reg. no. 205, Jan. 3, 1919.
  • "Alleged assassins sued by innocent bystander," Detroit Free Press, May 14, 1915, p. 5.
  • "Gunmen murder 'Tony' Giannola, fuedist leader," Detroit Free Press, Jan. 4, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Murdered men suspected as German spies," Detroit Free Press, Nov. 17, 1916, p. 1.
  • "Trial of 4 for Peter Bosco murder begun," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 30, 1919, p. B1.
  • Rice, Dennis, "Antonio Giannola, Jr.," Find A Grave,, memorial no. 7814142, Sept. 1, 2003, accessed Nov. 24, 2018.
  • Murray, Riley, "Sicilian gang guns blazed in city feud," Detroit Free Press, Aug. 27, 1950, p. E8.

Adamo, Vito (1883-1913)

Born Sicily, Aug. 18, 1883.
Killed Detroit, MI, Nov. 24, 1913.

Vito Adamo was an early Mafia leader in the Detroit business district. He and his younger brother Salvatore were killed during a war with the Giannola Gang.

The Adamo birthplace is not entirely certain, though some sources indicate it was Salemi, an inland Sicilian municipality in the western Province of Trapani. (Appropriate age Adamos named Vito and Salvatore and originating in Salemi can be found in the immigration records from the early 1900s, but those Adamos were heading to Boston rather than Detroit.) The Adamo brothers likely led a small Mafia organization in Detroit in the early 1900s, when local Italian businessmen sought their protection from Black Hand extortionists.

Vito Adamo became the champion of a "White Hand Society" formed to eradicate the Black Handers of the Giannola Gang, who were encroaching on the business district from downriver bases in Ford City and Wyandotte.

Black Hander Carlo Caleca was shot and seriously wounded in August 1913. He lived long enough to accuse Vito Adamo and Filippo Buccellato of being his assailants. He succumbed to sepsis on August 8. Adamo and Buccellato were tried for murder. They were acquitted in October 1913 after Caleca's wife and a boarder at their home testified that Caleca told them he did not recognize the men who shot him.

Early in November, Vito and Salvatore were arrested following the shooting of former city police detective Ferdinand Palma. Palma had been forced out of the police department in 1905 after being connected with a human trafficking ring. He became a banker and padrone (labor agent). The Adamos were released after convincing authorities that they had a friendly relationship with Palma. Some considered the shooting of Palma to be an attempt by the Giannola brothers to remove a helpful Adamo ally.

At about five o'clock in the afternoon of November 24, the Adamos finished up work as traveling peddlers of wine and liquor and left the business establishment of their partner Pietro Mirabile at Mullett (close to current Nicolet Place) and Rivard Streets. They walked along Mullett toward their home on Champlain Street (now East Lafayette).

A short distance up the street, two men drew sawed-off shotguns from their coats and fired into the brothers. The gunmen fled. When police arrived, the found the Adamos in the gutter in front of 170 Mullett Street. Vito Adamo died on the way to St. Mary's Hospital. Salvatore died at the hospital a half hour later. Both were buried November 27 at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

See also:


  • Carlo Calego Death Certificate, State of Michigan Department of State Division of Vital Statistics, no. 6327, Aug. 8, 1913.
  • Michigan Death Records, Nov. 24, 1913,
  • Salvatore Adamo Death Certificate, State of Michigan Department of State Division of Vital Statistics, no. 9030, Nov. 24, 1913.
  • Vito Adamo Death Certificate, State of Michigan Department of State Division of Vital Statistics, no. 9029, Nov. 24, 1913.
  • "Dying statement may convict two," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 10, 1913, p. 8.
  • "Ten killed, six wounded; Black Hand record in Detroit in eleven months," Detroit Free Press, Nov. 25, 1913, p. 1.
  • "Two exonerated in murder case," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 14, 1913, p. 5.
  • "Two Italians, brothers, are fiend victims," Port Huron MI Times-Herald, Nov. 25, 1913, p. 6.
  • "Two more marked for death in blood-feud of Detroit Sicilians," Detroit Free Press, Nov. 26, 1913, p. 1.
  • "Two more slain in Detroit streets in bitter Italian feud," Lansing MI State Journal, Nov. 25, 1913, p. 14.
  • "Two Sicilians slain in Italian colony of Detroit; feud result," Detroit Free Press, Nov. 25, 1913, p. 1.
  • "Widow's oath is blamed for bomb deaths," Detroit Free Press, April 13, 1914, p. 1.
  • Rice, Dennis, "Vito Adamo," Find A Grave,, Memorial no. 7319067, March 31, 2003, accessed Nov. 19, 2018.

Altamura, Thomas (1913-1967)

Born New York, Nov. 3, 1913.
Killed North Bay Village, FL, Oct. 31, 1967

Altamura, sometimes called "the Enforcer," was a lifelong criminal who became supervisor of Gambino Crime Family loan sharking in the south Florida area. He was murdered as a result of a turf war with Anthony "Big Tony" Esperti, linked with the Bonanno Crime Family.[1]

Altamura was a native of New York City, the second of nine children born to immigrant parents. His father, Vincent, from Taranto in the southern Italian mainland, worked as a tailor. His mother, Rose, was from Sicily. He grew up in the borough of Queens. His formal education ended shortly after he reached high school. He worked for a time at his father's tailor shop and briefly held truck driving and sales jobs as he moved full time into a career on the wrong side of the law.[2]

His criminal record in New York dated back to 1931. As a minor, he was acquitted following an automobile theft arrest and sentenced to probation unlawful entry after the burglary of a Bronx speakeasy. He later served three long terms in Sing Sing Prison.[3]

He was sentenced in Queens County in April 1932 to serve three to six years on a robbery conviction. (Then eighteen, Altamura of Corona, Queens, also known as Thomas Melba, and accomplice Peter Nastasi, nineteen, of the Bronx, were initially charged with first degree robbery, petit larceny and second degree assault after holding up the owner of a Roulston Grocery store in Corona. They pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery.) Soon after his release from that term, he was convicted of a robbery in the Bronx and sentenced to ten to twenty years.[4]

While on parole in the summer of 1944, he was charged with attempted robbery of a tavern in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.[5] He and two other men entered the tavern on 37th Avenue after hours. During the attempted robbery, the men became frightened and fled. Altamura reportedly dropped his wallet on the way out of the tavern.[6]

In the 1960s, Altamura was involved in Gambino Crime Family loan sharking rackets in south Florida. In this period, authorities noted his ownership of Sonny's Restaurant in Miami Beach and his close working relationship with Tampa-area Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.[7]

At two o'clock in the morning on October 31, 1967, fifty-three-year-old Altamura entered the Harbor Lounge, attached to the Place for Steak restaurant, on the 79th Street Causeway in North Bay Village, Florida. He was immediately struck by bullets. Two .38-caliber slugs hit him in the back of the head and three others penetrated his back and his side as he turned. There were about a half dozen witnesses to the shooting in the well-lit establishment. As Altamura fell to the floor dead, his killer and a woman companion left the lounge. The woman, Audrey Fowler, girlfriend of underworld-connected former boxer Anthony "Big Tony" Esperti, left her purse behind at the bar.[8]

Police found $800 in cash and a $10,000 cashier's check in Altamura's possession. Hours later, thirty-seven-year-old Esperti surrendered to police after hearing that he was wanted for first-degree murder. He claimed to know nothing of the Altamura killing. Esperti, originally from Brownsville, Brooklyn, was at the time free on bond awaiting his appeal of an extortion conviction.[9]

Esperti was indicted in mid-January, 1968, for the Altamura murder.[10] His first trial, in Miami, resulted in a March 1968 hung jury.[11] He once again came to trial in autumn 1971, this time at Bartow, Florida. Esperti was already serving his extortion sentence in Atlanta Federal Prison.

Witnesses stated that they saw Esperti shoot Altamura.[12] A prison cellmate of Esperti, Joseph Delino, testified that Esperti told him about killing Altamura. According to Delino, the two gangsters had quarreled about rackets territories and Altamura warned Esperti to stay away from the 79th Street Causeway, a busy thoroughfare connecting the city of Miami with North Bay Village. (Informant William Dara told the FBI that other Mafiosi attempted to mediate the quarrel between Altamura and Esperti. During this time, Altamura threatened to kill Esperti if he ever saw him at the 79th Street Causeway.) Esperti responded to the warning by murdering Altamura.[13] That second trial resulted in Esperti's conviction.[14]

Discussed in:

  1.  Doerner, Fred W. Jr., "La Cosa Nostra Miami Division," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-2110, NARA no. 124-10293-10346, Sept. 11, 1967, p. 21.
  2.  Sing Sing Prison Admission Register, Inmate no. 85935, received April 18, 1932; Sing Sing Prison Admission Register, Inmate no. 92799, received Dec. 11, 1936; New York State Census of 1925, Queens County, Assembly District 3, Election District 33.
  3.  "2 youths given Sing Sing terms on robbery pleas," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 16, 1932, p. 4; "Mobster slain in Miami; suspect surrenders," New York Daily News, Nov. 1, 1967, p. 3.
  4.  Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers; "2 youths given Sing Sing terms on robbery pleas"; "Dropped wallet nets parolee as thief foiled in tavern raid," Brooklyn Eagle, June 19, 1944, p. 11.
  5.  "Tavern stickup suspect is held," New York Daily News, July 2, 1944, p. B3.
  6.  "Dropped wallet nets parolee as thief foiled in tavern raid."
  7.  "High exposes Miami hoods," Miami News, Aug. 7, 1963, p. 1; "Tampa detective describes how Trafficante tied in," Tampa Tribune, Oct. 16, 1963, p. 13.
  8.  Florida Death Index, Dade County, October 1967; U.S. Social Security Death Index, 081-20-1222, October 1967; "Mobster slain in Miami; suspect surrenders"; Roderus, Frank, "Retrial elements bizarre," Tampa Tribune, Sept. 6, 1971, p. B1.
  9.  "Mobster slain in Miami; suspect surrenders."
  10.  "Esperti indicted in killing," Miami News, Jan. 17, 1968, p. 3.
  11.  Sosin, Milt, "Esperti asks murder charge be dismissed," Miami News, Oct. 30, 1970, p. 5.
  12.  "Two testify they saw Altamura gunned down," Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 14, 1971, p. B1.
  13.  "Second Esperti trial will go to jury today," Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 15, 1971, p. B1; SAC Miami, "La Cosa Nostra AR-Conspiracy," FBI Airtel, file no. 92-6054-2178, NARA no. 124-10289-10186, Nov. 14, 1967, p. 2.
  14.  "Esperti attorney seek new trial," Orlando Sentinel, Nov. 9, 1971, p. 6.