Balistrieri, Frank P. (1918-1993)

b. Milwaukee, May 27, 1918.
d. Milwaukee, Feb. 7, 1993.

Frank Peter Balistrieri was the best known of Milwaukee's Mafia bosses and the most targeted by law enforcement.

Balistrieri was also the first local Mafia boss who was born in the United States. He was born in Milwaukee in 1918, the son of immigrant Mafiosi Joseph Balistrieri of the Town of Aspra near Santa Flavia, Sicily. He grew up in the city's Third Ward "Little Sicily" neighborhood around the intersection of Jefferson and Detroit Streets. (Detroit Street was later renamed St. Paul Avenue.)

FBI heard conflicting reports about Balistrieri's selection as boss. Some said that Alioto had trained him for the post through years and handed him the reins in December 1961 or January 1962. Others said that Alioto went into retirement at that time opposed to the idea of Balistrieri becoming boss, preferring someone older and more experienced. (FBI heard that Alioto was angered by a Balistrieri romantic relationship outside of his marriage to Alioto's daughter.)

As Balistrieri advanced in the local Mafia, he opened night clubs and gambling spots and attempted to monopolize jukeboxes and coin-operated vending machines. The success of one of his gambling ventures brought him into conflict with boss Sam Ferrara in 1952. Ferrara wanted a piece of the Balistrieri-run Ogden Social Club gambling hall. When Balistrieri resisted, Ferrara ousted him from the crime family.

Balistrieri's father-in-law John Alioto, a capodecina in the Milwaukee organization, brought a protest to the leaders of the Chicago Outfit. Since the establishment of the Mafia's Commission system in the early 1930s, Chicago had been responsible for overseeing Milwaukee. Outfit bosses ruled that Ferrara exceeded his authority and ordered him to step down. The Outfit then installed Alioto as the new boss.

Alioto reportedly groomed Balistrieri as his successor but seems to have had second thoughts as he retired in 1961-62. Alioto was upset by a Balistrieri romantic relationship outside of his marriage to Alioto's daughter. The break between the two men became so severe that Alioto did not attend the funeral of Balistrieri's father in 1971.

As boss, Balistrieri sought to increase the crime family's wealth and influence by assessing a street tax on gambling racketeers and a number of legitimate businesses. He brought in Joseph Gurera and Buster Balestrere from Kansas City (the Balistrieris of Milwaukee and the Balestreres of Kansas City are related) to enforce that protection racket.

He angered segments of his organization by elevating the newcomer Gurera to capodecina rank, as well as by doing away with the "sagia," a leadership panel used by Alioto for dispute resolution, and by acting in an autocratic manner. Balistrieri was protected against rebellion through his close relationship with Chicago Outfit leaders, particularly Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio.

He could not protect himself against the U.S. government, however. In the late 1960s, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for tax evasion. In the 1980s, his participation in extortion and Las Vegas casino skimming rackets were exposed. In 1984, he was sentenced to thirteen more years in federal prison. (His sons, Joseph P. and John J. Balistrieri, were also convicted of extortion and served time in federal prison.) During this imprisonment, Balistrieri's brother Peter stood in for him as acting boss.

Frank Balistrieri was released from federal prison at Butner, North Carolina, in 1991. He died of a heart attack in 1993.

  • "Balistrieri given 13 years," Oshkosh WI Northwestern, May 30, 1984, p. 3.
  • "Balistrieri goes to grave denying being mob boss," Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Feb. 8, 1993, p. 2.
  • "Feds clean up union," Oshkosh WI Northwestern, Aug. 25, 1996, p. 15.
  • "Genealogy search," Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries,
  • Joseph Balistrieri Naturalization Petition, U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Wisconsin, Vol. 111, No. 15152, certificate no. 5199880, filed May 20, 1941, approved July 17, 1941.
  • Le Grand, Alexander P., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-640, NARA no. 124-10287-10189, May 28, 1964.
  • Reed, Carlyle N., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-2105, NARA no. 124-10293-10341, Sept. 11, 1967.
  • Schmitt, Gavin, Milwaukee Mafia: Images of America, Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Schmitt, Gavin, The Milwaukee Mafia, Fort Lee NJ: Barricade Books, 2014
  • Social Security Death Index, 388-18-0128, died Feb. 7, 1993.
  • United States Census of 1920, Wisconsin, County of Milwaukee, City of Milwaukee, Enumeration District 42.

See also:

Balistrieri, Peter F. (1919-1997)

b. Milwaukee, Sept. 12, 1919.
d. Milwaukee, Aug. 16, 1997.

As boss Frank Balistrieri headed  off to prison for a long sentence in 1984, his brother Peter Frank Balistrieri took temporary control of crime family operations.

Frank and Peter were sons of Milwaukee Mafioso Joseph Balistrieri, a native of the Town of Aspra, near Santa Flavia and Bagheria in Palermo Province, Sicily. During his brother's reign as boss, Peter served as a capodecina over a younger Milwaukee Mafia faction.

Frank Balistrieri and his two sons, Joseph P. Balistrieri and John J. Balistrieri, were convicted of extortion in 1984. Frank was sentenced to thirteen years in prison and a $30,000 fine. His sons were sentenced to eight years, later reduced to five years.

Peter Balistrieri presided over a period of great decline in the Milwaukee Mafia. Frank was released from prison in 1991 and died two years later. Peter died in 1997.

  • "Balistrieri given 13 years," Oshkosh WI Northwestern, May 30, 1984, p. 3.
  • "Balistrieri goes to grave denying being mob boss," Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Feb. 8, 1993, p. 2.
  • "Feds clean up union," Oshkosh WI Northwestern, Aug. 25, 1996, p. 15.
  • "Genealogy search," Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries,
  • Joseph Balistrieri Naturalization Petition, U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Wisconsin, Vol. 111, No. 15152, Certificate no. 5199880, filed May 20, 1941, approved July 17, 1941.
  • Le Grand, Alexander P., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-640, NARA no. 124-10287-10189, May 28, 1964.
  • Reed, Carlyle N., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-2105, NARA no. 124-10293-10341, Sept. 11, 1967.
  • Schmitt, Gavin, Milwaukee Mafia: Images of America, Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Schmitt, Gavin, The Milwaukee Mafia, Fort Lee NJ: Barricade Books, 2014.
  • Social Security Death Index, 388-18-0128, died Feb. 7, 1993.
    United States Census of 1920, Wisconsin, County of Milwaukee, City of Milwaukee, Enumeration District 42.
See also:

Alioto, John (1888-1972)

b. Porticello, Santa Flavia, Sicily, Aug. 25, 1888.
d. Milwaukee, Aug. 27, 1972.

Alioto was the only boss of the Milwaukee Mafia to be installed by forces outside of the crime family. His reign marked the return to power of a faction originating in Santa Flavia, Sicily, after a quarter-century of diminished status.

After reaching Milwaukee in the 1900s, Alioto advanced through the local Outfit and formed alliances within the Santa Flavia faction. He served time in prison in the 1930s, following convictions for forgery and larceny. He and his wife Catherine raised a large family on Van Buren Street.

Two younger Mafiosi married into the Alioto family: Joseph Caminiti (a former Aiello Mafia member in Chicago who fled to Milwaukee following the unsuccessful war with Capone) married his daughter Mary; Frank Peter Balistrieri married his daughter Antonina "Nina."

A pivotal moment for Alioto and the Milwaukee Mafia occurred in 1952, when then-boss Sam Ferrara quarreled with Alioto son-in-law Frank Balistrieri. The cause of the quarrel reportedly was a Ferrara effort to acquire an ownership share in Balistrieri's Ogden Social Club gambling hall. Irritated by Balistrieri's resistance, Ferrara expelled Balistrieri from the Milwaukee Mafia. This briefly fractured the Milwaukee underworld and caused the involvement of Chicago Outfit leaders, responsible for overseeing Milwaukee under the Commission system established in the early 1930s.

A panel of Chicago gangsters - the FBI reported Anthony Accardo, Rocco Fischetti and Sam Giancana took part - ruled that Ferrara had abused his authority. The Chicagoans demoted Ferrara and installed John Alioto as new boss. The decision of Chicago Outfit leaders restored the power of the Milwaukee Mafia's founding Santa Flavia faction.

The Alioto administration included underboss Joe Gumina and lieutenants Mike Mineo, Pasquale Migliaccio, John DiTrapani and Frank Peter Balistrieri (restored to Mafia membership following the removal of Sam Ferrara as boss). During his reign, disputes within the family were resolved by a leadership panel, called "sagia."

Shortly after becoming boss, Alioto was faced with an insurrection. John DiTrapani, relative and godson of ex-boss Sam Ferrara, plotted with Frank LoGalbo and Jack Enea to take control of the crime family. The rebellion was put down with the murders of John DiTrapani and Jack Enea in 1954. Frank LoGalbo avoided a similar fate by quickly transfering out of the Milwaukee crime family and into a Chicago Outfit regime in Chicago Heights. He continued to reside in Milwaukee under Chicago protection.

It appears that Joseph Caminiti became an Alioto lieutenant following the murder of DiTrapani.

Alioto entered retirement around December 1961 or January 1962. Frank Balistrieri succeded him as boss. Alioto died of natural causes in 1972 at the age of 83. Following a funeral Mass at St. Rita's Church, he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery.

  • "Balistrieri goes to grave denying being mob boss," Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Feb. 8, 1993, p. 2.
  • "Death notices," Milwaukee Sentinel, Aug. 28, 1972, p. 14.
  • "Executive clemency denied 74 Badger state prisoners," Green Bay WI Press-Gazette, June 30, 1936, p. 19.
  • Le Grand, Alexander P., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-640, NARA no. 124-10287-10189, May 28, 1964.
  • Reed, Carlyle N., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-2105, NARA no. 124-10293-10341, Sept. 11, 1967.
  • Social Security Death Index, 387-40-5134, Aug. 1972.
  • United States Census of 1920, Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, City of Milwaukee, Ward 3, Enumeration District 40.
  • United States Census of 1930, Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, City of Milwaukee, Ward 3, Enumeration District 26.
See also:

Tropea, Orazio (1880-1926)

Born Catania, Sicily, April 29, 1880.
Killed Chicago, IL, Feb. 15, 1926.

Once a feared enforcer and collector for the Chicago Mafia led by the Genna brothers, Tropea became a key figure in an anti-Genna rebellion. He paid the ultimate price for his betrayal.

Born in 1880, Tropea left a wife and children behind in Catania, Sicily, when he traveled to the U.S. in 1909. After some time with relatives in New York City, he moved on to Buffalo, New York. He became romantically involved with Buffalo resident Helen Brown around 1916. A son Lawrence was born to the couple in 1917.

In June 1919, Tropea was among a number of U.S. Mafiosi who sent floral offerings to Buffalo boss Giuseppe DiCarlo following the death of DiCarlo's wife. Also sending flowers were Joseph Aiello of Utica, New York (later of Chicago), John Vitale and Gaspare Milazzo of Detroit and others from across the country.

Tropea became husband to two wives when he married Brown in 1920. A short time after that, he relocated to Chicago and joined the Mafia organization commanded by the "Terrible Gennas." Helen and Lawrence accompanied him to Chicago but later returned to stay with Helen's family in Buffalo.

An application for travel papers was filed by Tropea in summer 1924. At that time, he made a number of false and questionable claims. The application stated he arrived in the U.S. in April 1920 aboard the S.S. Conte Russo. That date was years later than his actual arrival and involved a ship that did not sail its maiden voyage until 1922. He stated that his address was 1022 Taylor Street in Chicago. Such an address was unlikely, as 1022 Taylor was the location of the Italian-American Educational Club that served as Genna headquarters. It also appears that, despite his two wives, Tropea indicated on the application that he was single.

Two wives were not yet enough for Tropea. Around 1923-1924, he began a relationship with a Chicago teenager, Beatrice Gould. He reportedly wished to marry Beatrice, but her parents would not permit it.

There was considerable turmoil following the death of Chicago's highly regarded gangland statesman Michele Merlo in November 1924. The Genna leadership was devastated in the violence that followed. In just two months of 1925, three of the Genna brothers were killed. Angelo Genna was shot to death while at the wheel of his roadster on May 26. Mike met his end on June 13 following a chaotic shootout with other gangsters and police. Tony was fatally shot July 8 at Grand Avenue and Curtis Street, while shaking the hand of a mysterious gangland figure known as "Cavallero."

Cavallero, later identified as Antonio Spano, was a disgruntled former Genna gunman, who joined Samuzzo "Samoots" Amatuna in an anti-Genna rebellion.

As a result of the gunfight in which Mike Genna was killed, Genna gunmen John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi were charged with the murder of a police officer. (There was widespread suspicion that Scalisi and Anselmi were in the process of betraying their Genna bosses to side with the Chicago Heights-based forces of "Cavallero" and intended to kill Mike Genna themselves on the day a police bullet caused his death.) Orazio Tropea was assigned the task of raising money for the Scalisi-Anselmi defense fund.

He went about the job by terrorizing local Italian merchants into making large cash donations. As the case involved several trials and a couple of appeals, Tropea conducted multiple rounds of strong-arm collections for the defense fund. The oppression was so great that Sicilians in Chicago referred to Tropea as "The Scourge."

Being squeezed more than once by Tropea did not sit well with a Genna in-law, Henry Spingola. While Spingola was generous in the opening round of collections, accounts say he made a far smaller contribution later. Spingola was murdered in January 1926 after playing cards with Tropea at Amato's Restaurant on Halsted Street. It quickly became apparent that Tropea had signaled the gunmen who killed the popular and well-connected Spingola.

Making matters worse for Tropea were rumors that he was keeping a good percentage of the defense fund donations for himself (preparing to fight a U.S. government effort to have him deported) and that he was secretly in league with "Cavallero."

Tropea was living comfortably under the assumed identity of "O. Trayers" at the Congress Hotel, apparently paying his bill from Scalisi-Anselmi defense moneys. He had been entertaining his girlfriend Beatrice Gould at that hotel. Press accounts said her last visit there was on February 13, 1926 - two days before Tropea's murder.

At the end, Tropea was left with few friends and numerous enemies. The people who may have wanted him dead included the Gennas and Spingolas, the family of Buffalo's Helen Brown, the family of Chicago's Beatrice Gould, his in-laws in Sicily, Chicago businessmen who had been repeatedly terrorized into providing money for what looked to be Tropea's personal slush fund and, possibly, Cavallero and other allies of Scalisi and Anselmi.

On the evening of February 15, 1926, Tropea stepped off an eastbound streetcar at South Halsted and West Taylor Streets. As he crossed Halsted, an automobile came up and stopped abruptly just before striking him. Tropea shouted at the driver. There was no spoken response. The car pulled alongside Tropea. A man with a double-barreled shotgun emerged from the vehicle, put the end of the weapon to Tropea's head and fired.

Chicago's gangland skipped the usual spectacular funeral in Tropea's case. News of his death was received with relief throughout Chicago's Sicilian communities.

Address book

The murder exposed connections among Mafiosi across the U.S.

In Tropea's possession at the time of his death, police found $975 in cash, a large diamond ring and a book containing addresses and telephone numbers. The Chicago Tribune published the contents of that book. A number of the entries are discussed below:
  • Caterina Amara (reported as "Catherina Anara" in the newspaper) was the wife of Joe Aiello. They married in Buffalo in 1917. After spending some years in Utica, New York, Aiello moved into Chicago and eventually became boss of the local Mafia there.
  • Tony Lombardo was a local businessman and president of the Mafia-linked Unione Siciliana organization. Lombardo was angry to be connected in the press with Tropea. He said Tropea had his address and phone number merely because Lombardo had once sold a restaurant to him.
  • Sam Lovullo was a member of the Mafia of Buffalo, living on Efner (the newspaper reported it as "Epnor") Street in that city.
  • Amato Mongelluzzo ran the restaurant on South Halsted Street where Henry Spingola played his last game of cards.
  • James Palese of Detroit may have been the same Palese who corresponded with his cousin Nino Sacco during Sacco's 1910s imprisonment for interstate transportation of women for immoral purposes.
  • Sam Pollaccia of Brooklyn, the only New York City resident to appear in the book, was a trusted aide and close friend of Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila before giving his support to D'Aquila's rival Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Pollaccia was the traveling companion of Brooklyn gang leader Frankie Yale during a 1924 visit to Chicago. Both men were suspected of involvement in the murder of Chicago's Dean O'Banion.
  • Giuseppe Siragusa (the newspaper interpreted the scribbled letters of his surname as "Louognino") served as boss of the Mafia in western Pennsylvania.

After death

Helen and Lawrence
The Brown family of Buffalo tried to have Tropea's remains transported to Buffalo, so he could be buried in the community where his (U.S.) wife and child resided. Helen Brown and her nine-year-old son Lawrence visited Chicago and tried in vain to persuade funeral director Michael Iarussi to have Tropea buried in Buffalo. The Browns did not have money to finance the transport and burial.

Chicago Police Captain John Stege spoke with Brown. While she and Tropea were living in separate cities, she told the police captain that Tropea visited her four times in recent months and regularly sent her money.

Stege also interviewed Beatrice Gould. He learned that Tropea and Gould recently had been living together as man and wife, that Tropea's legal wife in Sicily had died several years before (it appears that Stege was unable to confirm this) and that the gangster had a twenty-one-year-old son and an eighteen-year-old daughter in Sicily.

Orazio Tropea was buried February 20 in Chicago without ceremony or flowers. His casket was paid for with $300 of public funds. His only mourners were Beatrice Gould and her brother Donald. Beatrice wore a black veil and a mink coat Tropea gave her.

The Chicago Tribune noted, "What following Orazio had died with him. To have shown either sympathy or loyalty would have marked them for death also, was the word that went around."


  • "Deportation or death seen as gangster fate," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "Feudist's death may renew war," Decatur IL Herald, May 27, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Feudists slay Sicilian ally of Genna gang," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Fight to free city of thugs given impetus," Belvidere Daily Republican, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "One dead in gang fight," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Orazio the 'Scourge' buried without friends or clergy," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 21, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Rival loves weep for Orazio but his real widow is sought," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
  • "Say man killed in Chicago son-in-law of Buffalo woman," Buffalo Daily Courier, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 16.
  • "Sicilian gang kills again," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Son-in-law is killed by gang in Chicago row," Buffalo Morning Express, Feb. 17, 1926.
  • "Trace Sicilian killers in fight for deportation," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
  • Herrick, Genevieve Forbes, "New rich rum chief slain by gunmen in car," Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1925, p. 2.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. I - to 1937, 2013.
  • Manifest of the S.S. La Gascogne arrived New York City Feb. 1, 1909.

Todaro, Salvatore (c1897-1929)

Born Licata, Sicily, c1897.
Killed Cleveland, OH, June 11, 1929.

Once the top lieutenant in "Big Joe" Lonardo's Cleveland Mafia, "Black Sam" Todaro was the only non-Lonardo partner in the Lonardo Brothers Company on East Ninth Street. The other partners were Joseph and his brothers Frank and John. While the company outwardly engaged in the selling of cheese, it did far greater business supplying corn sugar and yeast to Prohibition Era moonshining operations.

"Black Sam" Todaro had a falling out with the boss in the mid-1920s. During a Lonardo trip to Sicily, Todaro was left in charge of the business. Todaro reportedly mistreated a Jewish employee in the operation, and Lonardo got word of it. When Lonardo returned, he ordered underling Lorenzo Lupo to murder "Black Sam." Influential Mafioso Nicola Gentile convinced Lonardo to cancel the death sentence, but the damage to the Lonardo-Todaro relationship could not be repaired.

Todaro broke away from Lonardo. With help from the numerous Porrello brothers, Todaro created a rival corn sugar operation and worked to undercut "Big Joe's" prices.

In 1927, while Todaro was on his own trip to Sicily, Joseph Lonardo and his younger brother John were murdered at a Porrello-owned barbershop in Cleveland. The Lonardo family was convinced that "Black Sam" was behind the murder.

Todaro became boss of the Cleveland Mafia, a development with repercussions for the entire Sicilian Mafia in the United States. Lonardo had been a loyal supporter of Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila and assisted D'Aquila in maintaining his national leadership role during a war with Manhattan's Giuseppe Masseria. Todaro and the Porrello brothers repositioned the Cleveland Mafia in the Masseria camp.

D'Aquila was murdered in Manhattan about a year after Todaro became boss in Cleveland. Todaro then hosted a national Mafia convention in December 1928 that was likely the moment of Masseria's coronation as new boss of bosses. 

In the months that followed, Lonardo's widow Concetta repeatedly sought Todaro's financial assistance. It was common for her to be driven to the Todaro-Porrello headquarters and have Todaro chat with her at her car. On June 11, 1929, Concetta's eighteen-year-old son (and chauffeur) Angelo Lonardo and her twenty-two-year-old nephew Dominic Sospirato were in the car with her. As Todaro approached, the two young men shot him to death.

Concetta Lonardo was tried for murder and acquitted. Angelo Lonardo and Dominic Sospirato were tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. They won a new trial on appeal and were acquitted in their second trial.

Todaro's widow Carmela continued to live in the family's $10,000 home on East 126th Street. The Todaro children appear to have split their time between Cleveland and Sicily. Three children were noted at the time of "Black Sam's" murder: Joseph, 7; Mary, 6; Frank, 4. Only Mary was present in the home at the time of the 1930 U.S. Census ten months later.

Dr. Giuseppe Romano, who later served as Cleveland Mafia boss, was administrator of the Todaro estate. Among other responsibilities, he saw to the sale of Salvatore Todaro's 1924 Lincoln Phaeton touring car.

A 1924 Phaeton

  • Cleveland City Directory 1922, Cleveland: Cleveland Directory Company, 1922, p. 2539.
  • Cleveland City Directory 1925, Cleveland: Cleveland Directory Company, 1925, p. 1833.
  • Estate of Sam Todaro, Doc. 220, No. 183151, Probate Court of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, June 27, 1929.
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Kenen, I.L., "Corn sugar racket has taken seven lives," Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 4, 1930.
  • Obituary Index,
  • Organized Crime: 25 Years After Valachi, Hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, 100th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988, p. 530.
  • United States Census of 1930, Ohio, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland City, Ward 29, Enumeration District 18-498. 
See also:

DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. I.

Tagliagambe, Silvio (1893-1922)

Born Finali, Sicily, June 23, 1893.
Killed New York, NY, May 9, 1922.

Silvio Tagliagambe was part of the Brooklyn- and Bronx-based Salvatore D'Aquila Crime Family as it unwisely attempted to take control of rackets in Manhattan. Tagliagambe lost his life in the war between D'Aquila and Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria.

Born in the Sicilian coastal village of Finali in the eastern reaches of Palermo province, Tagliagambe came to the United States as a youth, arriving in 1906-1907. His early residence in the U.S. was in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, home to an "old-school" Mafia faction transplanted from the area of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. During his short life, he was linked with a conservative Mafia faction.

As a young adult, Tagliagambe became involved with a Manhattan gang commanded by James "Jimmy Curley" Carioggi. (Carioggi, whose surname was sometimes spelled "Carrogio," was also known as "Gold Mine Jimmy.")

NY Tribune
In 1913-1914, the Jimmy Curley Gang feuded with a rising Manhattan racketeer named Antonio Celentano. Evidence of the feud first reached the newspapers when Celentano was taken into custody for the July 16, 1913, fatal shooting of Joseph Donato of 57 Kenmare Street. A police officer from the Mulbery Street Station witnessed part of the gunfight between Celentano and Donato in a saloon near the corner of Kenmare and Mott Streets. The officer arrested Celentano, who was found to be unarmed. The officer indicated that another unseen gunman also was involved. Donato died at St. Vincent's Hospital of a bullet wound to the forehead.

Seven members of the Curley Gang struck back just after midnight on February 12, 1914. Celentano was having a late supper with his wife at the Tivoli Restaurant, 341 Broome Street. Eight or nine other diners were also inside the small establishment. At about twelve-thirty, the seven gangsters entered quietly, one at a time, and positioned themselves along the restaurant walls.

The seven drew firearms, as one pointed out Celentano. Gangster Antonio Santini approached Celentano, moved his handgun from his right to left hand and drew a knife with his right. Celentano responded by standing with his hands raised.

The remaining gangsters proceeded to rob everyone in the establishment, including proprietor Raymond Perrette, of cash and jewelry. A diamond ring valued at $500 was taken from Mrs. Celentano. When that was finished, Santini stabbed Celentano repeatedly in the side and abdomen. Celentano fell to the floor, bleeding badly.

The gangsters fled. Screams from the restaurant alerted three nearby police officers, who gave chase. The gangsters took off in different directions, some were observed tossing away handguns. The police managed to catch up with three of them: Antonio Santini, twenty, of 348 East Thirteenth Street in Manhattan; Leo Belanca, twenty, of 504 East Thirteenth Street; and Tagliagambe, then a resident of 741 Park Avenue in Brooklyn. Tagliagambe was the only one of the three found to be in possession of a revolver.

Santini initially was charged with assault, as Celentano underwent treatment at St. Vincent's Hospital. Celentano was believed to be near death but miraculously recovered. (This may have been the same Antonio Celentano who was arrested in 1917 as leader of an extensive lottery racket.)

Records indicate that Santini and Belanca were convicted of second degree robbery in Manhattan General Sessions Court and sentenced to serve five and a half to seven and a half years in Sing Sing.  There is no such record for Tagliagambe, suggesting that he avoided serious penalty for his involvement in the Tivoli Restaurant incident.

It seems likely that the Jimmy Curley Gang was affiliated with a Mafia organization in New York City. Tagliagambe, as the only known member from outside the East Village, may have served as a link between the gang and Brooklyn Mafia bosses. Such a position would have provided him with help in avoiding prosecution/conviction.

Other members of the gang were not as fortunate. Police tracked down Joseph "Orlando" Lopanto and Joseph "Little Mike" Perillo, and they were charged with participating in the Tivoli holdup.

Jimmy Curley, himself, did not last long after the attack against Celentano. On March 3, 1914, following a visit to his ailing mother at 200 First Avenue, the twenty-two-year-old gang leader was fatally shot in the abdomen. The shooting occurred on Twelfth Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. Three men, residents of Thirteenth and Fourteenth Street, were close when the shooting occurred and helped Carioggi into a nearby store. The Rev. Francis Edwards of Grace Chapel heard the gunshots and called for police. Investigators rounded up known members of the Curley Gang and also questioned Antonio Celentano, still recovering at St. Vincent's. "I don't know anything about it," Celentano insisted.

Four months after the death of Jimmy Curley, Tagliagambe served as best man in the wedding of "conservative" Mafioso Paul Palmeri and Elena Curti in New York City. (Palmeri, approximately the same age as Tagliagambe, was originally from Castellammare del Golfo. He was the younger brother of Benedetto Angelo Palmeri, who became a key figure in the Mafia organization in Buffalo, New York. In the 1920s, Paul Palmeri joined his brother and former Brooklyn boss Stefano Magaddino in western New York and opened a successful funeral home business. He sided with Magaddino and Salvatore Maranzano during the Castellammarese War but later became disenchanted with the "conservative" Mafiosi. In the early 1940s, Palmeri followed Willie Moretti from Buffalo to New Jersey, and reportedly became close to New York racketeer Frank Costello. Palmeri's daughter Marie married Moretti's son Frank in 1947. Paul Palmeri died in Passaic, New Jersey, on May 7, 1955.)

Tagliagambe married Francesca Vecchione in Manhattan in December of 1916. When he registered for the World War I draft the following year, he and Francesca were still living at the Park Avenue, Brooklyn, address, and he reported that he was employed as a cigarette maker in Manhattan.

By the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, Tagliagambe, his wife and their son were living on Manhattan's Fourth Street in the East Village, about a half mile from the Ninth Street home of top D'Aquila enforcer Umberto Valente.

Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila became the boss of bosses of the American Mafia around 1912, following the incarcerations of Mafia leaders Giuseppe Morello, the previous boss of bosses, and Ignazio Lupo on counterfeiting convictions. D'Aquila was insecure on his underworld throne. He sought to dominate the Mafia organizations previously loyal to Morello and Lupo and had Umberto Valente murder East Harlem Mafia leader Fortunato "Charles" Lomonte in 1914 in an effort to control that region. Developments during 1920 worsened D'Aquila's insecurity. In March, Morello was granted an early release from prison. Lupo was surprisingly paroled a few months later. To prevent Morello from moving to regain his position, D'Aquila initiated a quarrel with Morello loyalists and passed death sentences against Morello, Lupo and ten other men. Inexplicably, D'Aquila included his own enforcer, Valente, in the sentence. The Morello group went into hiding, some returning for a time to Sicily. Over time, D'Aquila found himself facing opposition from a new source in lower Manhattan, a gang loyal to Giuseppe Masseria. D'Aquila patched things up with Valente and sent him to eliminate Masseria. A series of shootings resulted.

Early on May 8, 1922, Morello's half-brother Vincent Terranova was shot to death at 116th Street and Second Avenue. Later on that same day, gunshots were exchanged between Mafiosi near Grand and Mulberry Streets in lower Manhattan. Bystanders on the crowded sidewalks were wounded. Police captured Masseria as he was fleeing the scene.

That night, Tagliagambe was brought by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital. He had serious bullet wounds received sometime earlier in the day. Though Tagliagambe would not answer police questions, it was determined that he was part of the gunfight at Grand and Mulberry. Tagliagambe succumbed to his wounds the next day.

NY Tribune
Upon Tagliagambe's death, Masseria was charged with homicide. He was free on $15,000 bail three months later when Valente made an unsuccessful attempt on his life.

The war in lower Manhattan was effectively won by the Masseria faction just a few days later, when Valente was murdered at Twelfth Street and Second Avenue. Masseria's position as top Mafioso in Prohibition Era Manhattan dramatically increased his wealth and influence. D'Aquila retained his boss of bosses title until his murder in 1928.

Silvio Tagliagambe's widow Frances and their son moved in with her sister Agostina and brother-in-law Louis Manzella in Brooklyn.

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  • "Bandits hold up cafe; stab one," New York Tribune, Feb. 12, 1914, p. 1.
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