If someone asked you where organized crime got its start, would you know the answer? Would you say New York? California? How about Chicago or Las Vegas? Well, you would be wrong on all counts. Organized crime in the United States got its start in New Orleans, Louisiana. It started with two families from Sicily named the Provenzanos and the Matrangas. The Matrangas were two brothers, Carlo and Antonio. They settled in New Orleans in 1870 and opened a saloon and brothel. They soon began to use organized crime activities to include extortion and racketeering as they received payments from the Italian dockworkers and even the Provenzano family. The Provenzanos basically owned the docks but the Matrangas wanted a bigger piece of the action and began moving in on the Provenzanos dock business with threats of violence. The Provenzanos gave them a piece of the action and the Matrangas were not happy with just a piece.
Eventually both families went to war and brought in people from the Sicilian Mafioso. After a barrel murder was discovered (a barrel murder is when someone is killed, placed into a barrel and left somewhere like an alley or a street corner as a warning), David C. Hennessey, the New Orleans Police Chief began investigating the warring factions. Months after he began his investigation, Chief Hennessey was murdered. No one knows for sure who killed him whether it was an Italian American or a rival political leader but it is said that from his hospital bed, he said, “The dagos did it.” Other people said he did not identify his shooter at all.
The killing of David Hennessey was the first recorded nationally known Mafia murder and a lot of people died because of it. New Italian immigrants were arrested for the murder and when the ones accused of the murder were acquitted, people were mad. Lynch mobs stormed the jails and began to hang and mutilate any Italian immigrant they found in there. When it was all said and done, eleven of Matrangas people were killed and ten other Italian immigrants not associated with organized crime were also hung.
Charles Matranga managed to escape the lynchings and resume control over New Orleans and by the end of the decade, had forces the rest of the dwindling Provenzano crime family out of New Orleans altogether. Matranga remained the crime boss in New Orleans until shortly after prohibition when he gave control to his friend Sylvestro “Silver Dollar Sam” Corolla in the early 1920’s. After Sam, it became Carlo Marcello as the head of the Matranga crime family and it was Marcello who would allegedly be the master mind behind the J.F.K. assassination. More about them later.
Organized crime began in New Orleans but became famous in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. More about that later as well.