Late on November 22nd 1911 a trio of black hand extortionists Pasquale Damico along with Stephano and Francisco Denello approached Rock Island Lines railroad viaduct on Chicago's near south side. They thought they were going to make a routine pick up. What really was going to happen was Big Jim Colosimo Chicago's leading criminals was finally getting a stone out of his shoe. He might have been a crime boss but he was a wealthy Italian and that made him a target of the same gangs of extortionists that were preying on Italian communities all across the country.
The Black Hand was a loose knit group of Italian Mafia whose roots go back to 1750. They weren't an organized gang with a leadership structure but a loose association of independent gangsters preying on the same community. For the first couple of decades of the twentieth century they reigned terror on the immigrant community. Even a man like Enrico Caruso gave into the extortion demands of these hoodlums.
Chicago was no exception on the near north side in an area known as “little hell” there was a gang of Black Hand that operated at the corner of Oak & Cleveland. It was known as death corner where some fifty bodies were dumped including thirty eight between January of 1910 and March of 1911. Their chief enforcer was known as “the shotgun man” who is said to have contributed fifteen of those bodies. Later this area was torn down and became home to the Cabrini Green housing project that became notorious in it's own right for gang violence.
On the west side just a couple of miles away was the Taylor street area. Another Italian enclave that at the time was a hot bed of political and ethnic violence. It was also home to it's own gangs of Black Hand. A little further to the east from Taylor St. was the infamous Levee where Colosimo was king. He made a tempting target to those who were looking to fatten their wallet. And they had had their hooks in him since 1909.
Now Big Jim might have been a crime boss but he was basically a vice lord with political protection. He didn't really have an army of gunmen like the gangs that would come to power after prohibition. So when he decided that he had enough he reached out to New York city for some muscle. His wife’s cousin was Johnny Torrio who was a rising star in that cities underworld. He was a vice president of the legendary five points gang and an ambitious young man who like many in those days decided to go west to seek his fortune.
So on that night instead of making another extortion payment Johnny “the fox” was waiting to make a little payback. And instead of a bag of cash Damico and the two Denello's were gunned down. Stephano was wounded and discovered crawling away from the scene. He was rushed to the hospital but made no statement and his only request was that Big Jim be brought to his bedside. But had nothing to say to him when he arrived.
A couple of weeks later the Tribune spun a story abut a love triangle involving two of the three men and how they all shot each other that night. Right, sound like another Chicago story to me.
And if you find this sort of history interesting we suggest you visit our playlist “Chicago Crime Now & Then”. Where you will find clips about the “death corner”, Taylor St. area and other windy city hot spots.