By Lisa Mullen
“You can get much further with a kind word and a gun then you can with a kind word alone,” said Al Capone. However, even a gun couldn’t protect you if you wronged the mafia here in Western Pennsylvania.
The Italian Mafia got its start in Pittsburgh by bootlegging illegal liquor during the Prohibition era. This included the manufacturing, transportation and selling of moonshine and bathtub gin. The Pittsburgh Mafia family was one of the original 24 mafia families in the United States.
They became experts at using political influence and granting favors to get their way, all the while committing crimes and strong-arming the communities they were a part of. By paying off politicians, police and judges, the mafia were able to work with impunity and had both the power to keep peace and to take care of neighborhood problems in their own violent fashion.
The Pittsburgh Mafia was broken into two factions: the “Sicilian Mafia” controlled the North and South sides of Pittsburgh while the “Neapolitan Camorra” controlled the East end of the city. The two factions fought each other over the control of the Italian neighborhoods of Homewood, Larimer, the Hill District, and sometimes Pittsburgh itself. Included in the fight for territory were the suburbs outside of Pittsburgh including New Kensington, McKees Rocks, Wilmerding and Braddock. These territorial grabs were violent, with more than 200 murders occurring in Allegheny County from 1926 to 1933.
Pittsburgh’s earliest known Mafia boss was Stefano Monastero, who controlled the Pittsburgh crime family until he was murdered in front of St. John’s Hospital on the North Side.
His successor, Giuseppe Siragusa, manufactured and traded illegal alcohol in Allegheny County and became the largest supplier of yeast to illegal beermakers. Siragusa was murdered as he was shaving on Sept. 13, 1931 in his Squirrel Hill home.
His successor John Bazzano, formed an alliance with the eight Volpe brothers who controlled all the illegal rackets throughout the Turtle Creek Valley and Wilmerding.
When the Volpe brothers began expanding their business into Bazzano’s home territory of East Liberty and the North Side, Bazzano got angry and sent out a hit team on July 29, 1932.
The hit team managed to murder three of the Volpe brothers, which left the other Volpe brothers angry and out for blood. They pled their case in front of the “Commission” in New York. The Commission, or the governing body of the American Mafia created to oversee mafia disputes, decided to hold Bazzano responsible for his unsanctioned hit on the Volpe brothers.
They invited him for dinner and proceeded to murder him and leave his body on the street in Brooklyn as a message.
John LaRocca began his 30-year reign as the boss of the Pittsburgh crime family in 1956 and was one of the crime bosses in attendance at the historic meeting of the American Mafia at the home of mobster Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, N.Y. on Nov. 14, 1957.
They were there to discuss how to divide up the illegal operations of their recently murdered boss, Albert Anastasia. Local Apalachin police noticed the influx of expensive cars and got suspicious. They ended up raiding Barber’s home, arresting more than 60 of the 100 mafiosos at the meeting. The others, including LaRocca, escaped arrest by running through the woods.
LaRocca was called to appear before the Senate Rackets Committee two years later and asked by Robert F. Kennedy if he was one of the men who escaped from the Appalachian roundup in New York. LaRocca pled the Fifth Amendment so as not to incriminate himself.
McKees Rocks murders
Adolpho “Junior” Williams held mafia control of McKees Rocks from the mid-1980s to early 2000s. Williams’ territory spanned from the East End to the Hill District and McKees Rocks.
It was rumored Williams was involved in three McKees Rocks murders over a 10-year period, all related to illegal gambling. McKees Rocks Streets Commissioner Jimmy Goodnight was found dead inside the Streets & Sanitation Department Building. Goodnight died of cyanide poisoning after a night of plowing the streets to keep up with a snowstorm. His whiskey bottle contained enough cyanide to kill 30 people. Goodnight was rumored to owe a lot of gambling debt he was taking too long to pay off.
On July 31, 1987, retired McKees Rocks police officer Marty Fitzpatrick was brutally murdered in the McKees Rocks 900 Club, a known mob hangout run by Williams. Fitzpatrick was attacked, beaten, strangled and robbed of the $1,000 of numbers winnings he had just collected from the 900 Club. He was then tied to the bumper of a car and dragged to his death. A state police memo speculates Williams was given the contract to kill Fitzpatrick by Pittsburgh mafia underboss, Gabriel “Kelly” Mannarino, to settle a dispute that Mannarino had with Fitzpatrick.
The third death linked to Junior Williams was of bookmaker Bobby Mancini. Before Williams and his crew tried to move in, Mancini controlled most of the illegal gambling in McKees Rocks, and some of his business was run out of the 900 Club until Williams seized control of it. This was part of what started the fallout between the two men.
All of Mancini’s powerful connections couldn’t save him when it was discovered he was working with the Pennsylvania State Police in conjunction with their investigation into Junior Williams and his crew. Mancini was taking revenge on Williams for invading his territory in McKees Rocks, so he wore a wire to help police gather evidence of corruption.
Mancini was found murdered in his McKees Rocks apartment, shot in the back of the head as he sat at his dining room table counting the night’s betting slips and speaking on the phone. He was found with the phone receiver still in his hand.
Junior Williams died of a heart attack at the age of 82 on March 30, 2016. He was still the prime suspect in the murder of Bobby Mancini, but he was never charged.
There are very few members and associates left in Pittsburgh’s crime family, as many were arrested in the late 1990s and others have passed away.
The Commission has also barred Pittsburgh from inducting any new members since Pittsburgh associates were found to be colluding with the government. Pittsburgh’s lengthy relationship with the mafia is now a thing of the past.