Panepinto, Gaetano “Guy”: Discount Death – He was known as the “Discount Coffin Guy” and sold his product with the slogan “Do not make an emotional loss a financial loss.” At Casket Royale, his cut-rate coffin shop on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto, prices ran from $295 for decorated pressboard to a bronze luxury model for $4,900. Children’s coffins were given away free, including a denim-covered model with cowboy decorations.
There were rumours that he didn’t just sell coffins, but also helped put people in them, and that he was the Toronto representative of the top Sicilian gangsters of Montreal.
Panepinto was often sought by mobsters to carry out rough jobs. In 1994, he pleaded guilty in a Newmarket court to possessing explosives found in a vacant warehouse in York Region. The explosives were linked by police to a foiled 1989 murder conspiracy against former professional boxer Eddie Melo.
On October 3, 2000, Panepinto, then forty-one, was killed in what appeared to be a carefully planned ambush, just blocks from his home on Smithwood Drive in an upscale west Toronto neighbourhood. Officers found him slumped behind the wheel of his Cadillac with multiple gunshot wounds. His assailants apparently fired from a passing van. The murder remains unsolved.
Almost two years after the murder, in September 2002, the remnants of what police described as Panepinto’s former crew were arrested in a large police sweep. York Regional Police arrested thirty-two people from Ontario, New Brunswick, and New York State, accusing them of forming a major criminal organization involved in drugs, credit-card fraud, stolen goods, and violence. Unstable explosives, firearms, and cash were also uncovered in the sixteen-month investigation, which was named in Panepinto’s honour – Project RIP .
See also: Eddie Melo .
Papalia, Antonio “Tony”: Prohibition Bootlegger – He was born in 1900 in Plati, the same area of the southern Italian province of Calabria where Rocco Perri was born in 1887. When the two men each later settled in Hamilton, Ontario, Papalia became a lieutenant in Perri’s massive liquor-smuggling operations.
During the Second World War, he was taken from his home at 19 Railway Street, in the heart of Hamilton’s Little Italy, to be locked up as enemy aliens and an alleged threat to national security. Also rounded up were his bootlegging associates Rocco Perri and Charlie Bordonaro. When Perri disappeared a few years later, suspicious people looked in Papalia’s direction. In a few years, police would also be looking suspiciously at Papalia’s son, John, regarding other crimes.
See also: Bessie and Rocco Perri, John “Johnny Pops” Papalia .
Papalia, John Joseph “Johnny Pops”: The Enforcer – In 1924, the year Papalia was born, there was a string of slayings connected to bootlegging on tiny Railway Street in downtown Hamilton, where his family lived. Seventy-three years later, his life would end on that same street, when he, too, became a murder victim.
He was known in the media at the time of his death as The Enforcer, but on the streets of Hamilton’s north end, he was always Johnny Pops or Paps.
In his only full interview, he told Peter Moon of the Globe and Mail that he was a product of his time, and spoke with pride of the fact that his father, Antonio, was a bootlegger. “I grew up in the thirties and you’d see a guy who couldn’t read or write but who had a car and was putting food on the table. He was a bootlegger and you looked up to him.”
John “Johnny Pops” Papalia
Johnny Pops attended St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic school on Mulberry Street, but quit school in Grade Eight after a serious bout of tuberculosis placed him in the sanitorium for several months. His biggest disappointment, he later said, was that he never graduated from high school. With a better education, perhaps his life would have taken a different turn. “It’s been an interesting one. But maybe I’d have liked it to be different.”
When the Second World War began in 1939, he said, he had to defend himself because of his Italian origins. His father was one of the Italians locked up without a trial on claims of national security, and anti-Italian taunts were common.
In the 1940s, Johnny Pops did some breaking and entering, operating out of an old icehouse at the corner of Railway and Mulberry Streets, before Railway Street was made a dead end.
In 1949, at age twenty-five, he was caught in front of Union Station in Toronto with heroin capsules. Tears streamed down his face in court as Johnny Pops talked his way out of penitentiary, saying his ill health meant he couldn’t survive a prison term. The judge was sympathetic, and he got two years less a day in the Guelph Reformatory.
Upon his release in 1951, Johnny Pops began his big-time Mob apprenticeship, moving to Montreal to work for Luigi Greco and Carmine Galante. Soon, he was considered a full member of La Cosa Nostra (the American Mob).
Back in Hamilton, Johnny Pops ran a taxi company on James Street North, which attracted police attention when one of its drivers, Tony Coposodi, was killed in gangland fashion in 1954. There were justifiable suspicions that the cab company was a front for a gambling, drug selling, and an enforcement operation.
In 1955, at age thirty-one, Johnny Pops was known as a bachelor with expensive tastes in clothes and women, and a habit of always carrying $1,000 in walkaround money. He had ties to the underworlds of Buffalo, New York City, and Montreal, and was helping Galante tap in to Toronto extortion rackets.
Johnny Pops made regular trips to Montreal to collect protection money from restaurant and bar owners and stock racketeers and, in June 1955, he and boxer Norm Yakubowitz were shot at while collecting money in Montreal. Yakubowitz was hit in the leg, while Johnny Pops escaped unhurt.
In the late 1950s, Johnny Pops moved into the vending-machine business with mobster Alberto Agueci of Toronto. At the same time, he loansharked money to business people who couldn’t get credit at conventional banks, requiring them to repay $6 for every $5 borrowed, with interest compounded weekly. Business people who couldn’t handle their debts got vending machines to operate for Papalia, and those who didn’t accept the machines got threats or worse. He was also suspected of hijacking trucks carrying cigarettes, which he used to fill his cigarette machines.
By 1959, Johnny Pops visited New York City, helping set up what would become known as the French Connection heroin ring. Around this time, New York mobster Joe Valachi considered him a member of La Cosa Nostra, under control of Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino.
Johnny Pops also caught the attention of Toronto Star Weekly magazine writer Peter Sypnowich, who wrote an article on him entitled, “ HE WANTED TO BE CANADA ’ S AL CAPONE .” In it, Sypnowich called him a “compulsive womanizer,” writing, “His relationships with women provide the best clue to his character. Papalia has an inbred need to steal other men’s women. They serve as trophies. The women themselves were attracted by his money, but it was his muscle that won them (his last girlfriend was the wife of a major Toronto crook, who got beaten up when he tried to do something about it). And although Papalia had a succession of girlfriends, he was no lover. He used his women only as sounding boards, talking to them by the hour – about Johnny Papalia and his plans to become a big shot.”
Johnny Pops didn’t just talk about becoming more of a big shot. In 1961, he moved in on the Jewish gamblers of Toronto, demanding control of their operations. As he shoved his way into Toronto, people flocked to the Town Tavern in Toronto’s downtown, a block east of the current Eaton Centre, to watch what was billed in the underworld grapevine as “the semi-execution of Max Bluestein.”
Bluestein refused to buckle under to Papalia and, for this act of independence, he was almost beaten to death, which brought a stinging Toronto Star column by Pierre Berton. Police used it as an excuse to hit the Mob hard, and after a series of police raids, Johnny Pops turned himself in to take the heat off the rest of the underworld.
“Johnny Pops” Papalia, 1950s
He was sentenced in April 1961 to eighteen months in prison for the pipe beating of Bluestein, but soon had far bigger worries on his mind. In March 1962, he was whisked out of Millbrook Reformatory to be flown to the United States to stand trial for his part in the French Connection. The heroin-smuggling ring was later depicted in the Robin Moore book and film called – what else? – The French Connection .
As Johnny Pops was being led to the plane, he screamed in a distinctly un-Mafioso-like way: “I’m being kidnapped! … Help me! … They’re taking me somewhere I don’t want to go!”
No one stepped forward to help, and he and fifty-eight-year-old Benedetto Zizzo of Toronto were eventually indicted with New York–based Bonnano family members, including Carmine Galante, for importing seventy-six kilograms of heroin to New York City. The transaction had been partly financed by a Burlington developer he had met in the Guelph Correctional Centre years before.
Papalia was sentenced to ten years in prison, while his mentor, Carmine Galante, got twenty years. His associate Alberto Agueci had it even worse, as he was tortured for three days by underworld figures in upstate New York and then murdered for threatening to talk to authorities about Buffalo boss Stefano “The Undertaker” Magaddino.
The French Connection case was considered so big that U.S. attorney General Robert Kennedy reported it to be “the deepest penetration … ever made in the illegal international traffick of drugs.”
Johnny Pops served fewer than five years of his ten-year sentence, getting a release in January 1968 on humanitarian grounds, because he supposedly had tuberculosis. When he got out of prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he told reporters, “Look, fellows, I’m a sick man. I’m not even a spit in the ocean. I’m a nothing.”
However, the week he returned to Hamilton, dingy Railway Street was lined with Cadillacs and Lincolns, as an assortment of strong-arms, bookies, extortionists, and heroin peddlers dropped by to pay their respects.
Not everyone in his old milieu welcomed him back, however. In 1966, while Papalia was still in prison, Magaddino had instructed southern Ontario boss Giacomo Luppino to meet with Paul Volpe of Toronto, Papalia’s southern Ontario Mob rival. In Papalia’s absence, Volpe was promoted to become the Mob’s contact with members of the Toronto building industry.
In November 1968, Papalia met Luppino in his home, and talked about Montreal and whether the Cotroni-Violi organization was answerable to the Bonannos or the Magaddinos. Luppino indicated the commission should decide. “We are still under the commission,” Luppino said.
Police noted that murders often took place shortly before or after Papalia’s meetings with Luppino. On June 28, 1969, Filippo Vendemini visited Luppino in Hamilton, and Vendemini was murdered the next day. Later on the morning of June 29, Papalia met Luppino, leading police to wonder if he killed Vendemini on the direction of Luppino. In late June 1969, Papalia met with Luppino, and a few hours later, Montreal organized-crime member Vincenzo Sicari was murdered in Toronto.
Upon his release from prison, Papalia had assumed he would regain his influence with construction trade unions in Toronto. However, in August 1971, a meeting was set in Toronto that included Paul Volpe and Giacomo Luppino. In that meeting, police suspected, there was a shift in control of construction trade unions in Toronto. It had been felt that Papalia was not exerting enough control over them. Now, Volpe was given more power.
At that time, Papalia expanded his legitimate businesses to include an auto-body shop in Hamilton.
In 1976, Papalia was convicted and sentenced to six years for extorting $300,000 from a Toronto loan shark. The key witness in this trial was Stanley Bader, whose 1982 murder remains unsolved.
Papalia married a hostess at the Gold Key Club, in 1981, but they separated within two years later and had no children. Their marriage contract, one of the few documents Papalia ever signed, stipulated that he had no claim on her property in the event of a marriage breakdown.
In July 1982, Papalia declared bankruptcy but continued to be chauffeured about and flash a sizable “walkaround” (a roll of bills thick with “browns and reds” – $100 and $50 bills).
From the time of his release from prison, there were rumblings that he was looking to oust Volpe from the top spot in the southern Ontario Mob. In November 1983, Volpe was murdered, and some police experts considered Papalia to be the prime suspect. Whatever the case, Volpe’s murder meant Papalia’s position as the southern Ontario representative for the Buffalo Magaddino family was secured.
“Johnny Pops” Papalia
Throughout the 1980s, Johnny Pops pushed to increase his loansharking activity in Toronto, and he often lent money to loan sharks for a percentage of their profits. In December 1985, police frustrated a major attempt by him to seize control of illegal Greek gaming clubs on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, in Hamilton, and in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Although Metro Toronto Police succeeded in arresting ten men – including two key figures in Papalia’s organization – and charging them with extortion, they were unable to get any evidence that implicated Papalia.
“Yeah, I know the people they charged. They’re friends of mine,” he told reporter Moon in 1986. “But that doesn’t mean I was involved. I wasn’t, because I wouldn’t have anything to do with Greeks. I don’t like them. I don’t like their restaurants. I don’t like their food.”
He went on to tell Moon how upset he was about the murder of Domenic Racco, thirty-two, the son of Michele “Mike” Racco, a long-time fixture at the top of the Calabrian underworld. “I gave my word to his father that, when Domenic got out of jail, I would look after him. [In 1972, Domenic was sentenced to ten years in jail for attempted murder; Mike Racco died of cancer in 1980 ],” Moon recalls him saying. “All they had to do was come to me and I’d have paid the money. What was it? Twenty, thirty thousand dollars? I would have stood good for Domenic. His father was dead, and I was honour-bound to look after him.”
By the time he spoke with Moon, Johnny Pops was sixty-two and enjoying the kind of life he could only have dreamt about as a boy. There were winter holidays in the sun, although he had given up on Acapulco (“too much crime”) and now preferred the Caribbean.
Despite his lung troubles, he chain-smoked cigarettes and told Moon he enjoyed the odd cigar, as well as J&B Scotch on the rocks (“but not as much as I used to”) and a good meal (“but I don’t eat as much as I used to”). There was also boxing, baseball, and football (“American, not Canadian”) on television. Old movies (“none of this porno stuff”) and jazz piano were other entertainments.
His family business leased out more than two thousand pinball and vending machines and were the largest lessor of beer and liquor dispensers in Ontario. These businesses included extensive real-estate holdings, including almost a complete city block on which the brothers tried unsuccessfully to win planning approval for a new hotel in 1984.
Asked exactly what he did for a living, Johnny Pops smiled at Moon and said, “I go into a bar and I tell them my name and I intimidate people into taking our equipment. That’s what the police tell you, isn’t it? Listen, I’m lucky to have a couple of good brothers who look after me.”
He scoffed at the suggestion that he was trying to take control of Toronto’s underworld, with the approval of top organized-crime figures in Buffalo and New York City. “What’s organized crime?” he asked Moon. “Listen, I’m sixty-two and I’m tired and I have to crawl out of bed every morning.”
At that time, Papalia lived alone in a rented penthouse on the fourteenth floor of an apartment building on Market Street, a few blocks from the Papalia family’s offices. He didn’t own a car, but had his pick of several expensive cars owned by family businesses.
Then he smiled at Moon and continued, “I did shylocking and bookmaking, but that was back in the fifties. For a guy who’s been doing so much in this country, [the police] haven’t been able to come up with anything on me. Something stinks. They’ve got nothing better to do than run around following me all the time at the taxpayers’ expense.”
He agreed that he had “a short fuse,” then added, “Hey, we all lose our temper sometime, don’t we?”
Asked why he was seen with so many mobsters, he shrugged and said, “You go to Italian weddings, you meet people. I go to a lot of Italian weddings.”
His joking aside, police said he had become a hermit in his penthouse, worried about young mobsters in the Italian gaming clubs of Toronto. By the 1990s, he had chronic gallstones and breathing troubles and spent much of his time sleeping on the black leather couch at Monarch Vending on Railway Street.
He was murdered in April 1997 by Ken Murdock, a thug acting for Pat Musitano, son of the old Hamilton don Domenic Musitano.
See also: Alberto Agueci, Stanley Bader, Carmen Barillaro, Max Bluestein, French Connection, Frank “Santos” and Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Carmine Galante, Gold Key Club, Louis Iannuzzelli, Giacomo Luppino, Ken Murdock, Pat and Angelo Musitano, Antonio “Tony” Papalia, Réal Simard, Paul Volpe .
Payette, François: Deadly Discovery – In February 1966, lawyer François Payette, thirty-six, was discovered dead in his Thunderbird by a motorcycle police officer on a quiet north-end Montreal street.
The father of two was a threat to the Quebec underworld at the time, since he had communicated details of an alleged new bankruptcy ring to the provincial Justice Department a short time before his death.
Payette was an honest man – a lawyer who specialized in civil cases, including bankruptcies and construction loans, and the collection of outstanding accounts. Payette was reportedly nervous as he readied himself to talk with police about the bogus bankruptcy scheme he discovered in the homebuilding industry. By the time police called him to arrange a meeting, he was already dead.
Perri, Bessie: Queen of Bootleggers – Born Besha Starkman in Poland, she seemed like countless other new arrivals to Canada in 1912 when she and her husband, a bakery driver, took a boarder into their home on Chestnut Street in Toronto’s downtown Ward area.
Their boarder was a good-looking Italian labourer, Rocco Perri, and soon he and Bessie were lovers.
Bessie would never be considered ordinary again.
She ditched her husband, Harry, and two daughters for a life of crime with Rocco in Hamilton.
She was no gangster’s moll who sat on the sidelines. It was believed that her word had bootlegging rivals killed. Many thought she was the brains behind Rocco’s bootlegging empire, and she certainly handled his money with a tight fist.
In a 1924 interview with the Toronto Daily Star , Bessie laughed dismissively when asked about two recent gangland murders.
“Bootleg war, that is funny!” Bessie laughed. “You tell them, Rocco,” she said, patting her husband on the back, “that there is no war. You are the king of the bootleggers. That is what they say. You should know.”
“There is no bootleg war,” said Rocco obediently.
To give the event a touch of class, Bessie had a symphony playing on the radio. “It is New York,” she explained, gesturing toward a modern radio cabinet. “You would like something else, perhaps? But no, you are here to talk, and you must not be interrupted.”
When Prohibition ended, the underworld had to redefine itself, and many looked toward drug trafficking. It was a particularly dangerous business, as Bessie found out when she and Rocco returned to their posh Hamilton home on the night of August 13, 1930.
Rocco parked their two-seater Marmon roadster in the garage. Bessie got out to unlock the kitchen door, as Rocco closed the garage doors. There were several shotgun blasts and, when they ended, Bessie was lying on the garage floor, face up and dead.
“She died as she deserved to die,” said Harry Tobin, still legally her husband and never willing to forgive her.
Her funeral was the largest in Canadian underworld history, as a crowd estimated at ten thousand watched as her $3,000 bronze casket was driven to a small Jewish cemetery on the brow of Hamilton Mountain.
Motives for Bessie’s murder are legion, and some even claim that Rocco himself staged it. Among those questioned by police was Antonio Papalia, founder of the Papalia crime family of Hamilton. The likeliest explanation is that Bessie was killed because she refused to pay for a shipment of drugs.
See also: Antonio “Tony” Papalia, Rocco Perri .
Perri, Rocco: King of the Bootleggers – The Hamilton, Ontario–based Mob boss was known as “Canada’s Al Capone,” running a bootleg empire that linked Ontario to New York State, Chicago, and the Maritimes. He was quite possibly Canada’s first big-time Mafia leader, and his influence was felt by American and Canadian Customs officials, senior politicians, and police.
Perri was born in Plati, Calabria, in 1887, and arrived in Boston in 1903. He moved to Massena in upstate New York, and by 1908, he was working as a labourer in the Ward, Toronto’s downtown neighbourhood of poor immigrants. There, he boarded with a family named Starkman and fell in love with his landlady, Bessie, a mother of two. They ran off together and settled in Hamilton in 1916, just as the Ontario Temperance Act – Prohibition – went into effect. The couple operated a grocery store on Hess Street North, but their real money came from bootlegging.
Rocco also said he was a macaroni salesman – a convenient cover that allowed him to travel the province making deals as a bootlegger.
In Ontario, Prohibition meant that breweries and distilleries were working flat out to supply the illicit U.S. market – although ostensibly they could only ship “offshore” – and vast fortunes were made. Canadian bootleggers like the Perris would place orders, ostensibly legal orders for out of the country. However, when shipments had cleared customs for export, they would often mysteriously find their way back into Canada, and then be smuggled into the thirsty United States. Once, a ship, supposedly bound for Cuba with liquor, left the dock four times the same day.
Perri, who was soon ensconced with Bessie in a grand brick home at 166 Bay Street South in Hamilton, seemed always to be in the vicinity when there was a big liquor bust, but he was never caught red-handed.
In October 1923, for example, Toronto police discovered men unloading liquor from a boat at the foot of Leslie Street. When the boat sped off, the officers opened fire, killing one of the bootleggers. Among those arrested at the scene was Rocco. He told the court that he had been showing a friend the way to Woodbine racetrack when he had run across the people unloading the boat. “When I seen they were going to unload whisky, I wanted to go home,” he protested. The charges were dismissed.
In 1924, he granted an interview to the Toronto Daily Star to argue that he wasn’t behind a rash of underworld slayings. That’s when he gained the nickname King of the Bootleggers.
“While I admit I am king of the bootleggers, I can assure you I had nothing to do with these deaths,” he told the newspaper. “I only give my men fast cars and I sell only the best liquor, so I don’t see why anyone should complain, for no one wants prohibition.…
“I was disappointed when the last plebiscite went dry, for I thought I’d go back to Italy and retire. But when money is this easy and prohibition continues, why should I? Some days I handle 1,000 cases for my customers, and the very best families are among my customers.”
Bessie was an active – perhaps even controlling – partner in his operations, and in 1930, someone shot her outside their seventeen-room mansion. Rocco sobbed hysterically and collapsed during the funeral, but soon found a second love and partner-in-crime in Annie Newman. She was not as colourful as Bessie, but she was as sharp in business affairs.
Clearly, Perri was under siege in the late 1930s, as the Mob moved from bootlegging to other ventures, like drug trafficking. In March 1938, there was an attempt to dynamite the Perri home on Bay Street South, but Rocco was out with the maid, and the bomb went off in front of the building.
Eight months later, Rocco was playing cards at the home of a friend at 499 Hughson Street North in Hamilton’s north end. He went outside to talk with friends, and turned on the ignition to get the car lighter working, so he could light a cigar. The explosion that followed was so strong that it knocked out power lines, but Rocco wasn’t hurt, and even collected insurance for the new sedan.
In 1940, the Mounties made one final effort to put Rocco and Annie behind bars for their part in corrupting customs officials in Windsor, but charges fell apart after key witnesses mysteriously disappeared.
Mussolini had declared war on the Allies, and the RCMP used this to round up not just those Italians whom they considered sympathetic to Fascism but mobsters too. Rocco was interned under the War Measures Act at Petawawa until 1943.
By the time Rocco got out, the underworld had reinvented itself. The Buffalo Mob was in control of what had been his fiefdom. Rocco moved to Toronto, but was back in Hamilton on Sunday morning, April 20, 1944, visiting his cousin Joe Serge at 49 Murray Street West, near the old CN station.
Complaining of a headache, he swallowed two Aspirins, drank a cup of coffee, and walked out the door. Serge and his wife kept lunch waiting, but when he wasn’t back by midnight, they called police.
A police bulletin stated: “The missing man is 55 years of age, five feet, four inches in height, 170 pounds, dark complexion, and an Italian. He was last seen wearing a blue striped suit, black oxfords, light brown spring overcoat, light brown fedora.” Shortly afterwards, Toronto police said they had underworld information that Perri “is in a barrel of cement at the bottom of Hamilton Bay.”
However, there were also reports that Rocco spent his final years sunning himself in Mexico. Italian-born crime journalist Antonio Nicaso of Toronto reported in 2003 that Rocco may have headed to upstate New York. Nicaso said he had found a letter apparently written by Perri years after he vanished.
The letter was dated June 10, 1949, and Nicaso said it was in the possession of a Perri relative in Italy. Perri’s Italian relatives said he died in 1953 in Massena, New York, the same city where he had originally settled after moving to North America in 1903.
The letter suggested that he may have orchestrated his own disappearance.
“Dear cousin,” it said, “With this letter, I will tell you I am in good health. Let them know I’m fine if you’ve heard the news.”
It was signed “Rocco Perri.”
See also: Antonio “Tony” Papalia, Bessie Perri .
Petrossov, Vatchagan: Banned at Border – When the Denver restaurant owner tried to cross into Canada from the United States on August 12, 1996, Canadian authorities stopped him and held him for questioning. He was released the next day, with the warning that he was permanently barred from Canada.
Police later said several factors entered into that decision, among them Petrossov’s relationships with notorious Russian mobsters, the number of Russians in Canada who claimed Petrossov was an organized-crime leader, and Petrossov’s own reluctance to give details about his planned visit.
Petrossov, who was a black-market trader in Moscow and did hard time in a Russian prison, originally entered the United States via Toronto in 1992. He won when American authorities tried to deport him in 1994 for failing to mention then that he had a criminal record in the former Soviet Union.
Canadian authorities also noted that Petrossov spoke regularly with the man who would be deported in 1997 as the alleged leader of the Russian Mob in Canada: Vyacheslav Sliva, Ivankov’s brother-in-law.
See also: Vyacheslav Ivankov, Vyacheslav Sliva .
Petrula, Frank – See Carmine Galante, Luigi Greco .
Phillips, John: Short, Nasty Career – His pirate career lasted about a year, and ended abruptly when someone swung an axe into his head.
He began life in an English family of shipwrights, and moved to Newfoundland in 1720, because of what seemed to be the promise of plenty of work in his trade, as the English had taken island shipyards from the French at Placentia under the Treaty of 1713.
Things immediately started to go badly. The ship he was sailing upon to Newfoundland was captured by pirates on the Grand Banks, and he was pressed into service as a ship’s carpenter. The pirate who captured him, whose name was Anstis, was considered truly horrific, even by pirate standards. Anstis’s raids generally meant the murder of men and the gang rape of women.
Like many pirates of the time, Anstis secured a pardon from Great Britain and Phillips got to work on a trading ship bound for England. Finally, in the spring of 1723, Phillips landed in Placentia, Newfoundland, three years after he set out on his original voyage.
He wasn’t able to find work as a shipwright there, however, and travelled to the island of Sainte-Pierre (then called St. Peter’s Harbour), but had no luck there either. He settled for work on a Newfoundland fishing crew, which he didn’t enjoy. It meant eighteen-hour workdays, for little more than room, board, and rum. The pirate life he had recently escaped looked good in comparison, so with some fellow fishermen, Phillips went back to Sainte-Pierre, where they signed a set of pirate articles and took an oath on the blade of an axe.
Their code decreed that deserters would be marooned on an uninhabited island, and that anyone who stole from their communal loot would be shot or marooned. Anyone who endangered the ship or picked a fight with the crew would be flogged. Pirates who lost limbs in battle would be compensated. Carrying an uncovered candle or smoking an uncovered ship would bring “Moses’s law on the bare back” – thirty-nine lashes on the back.
Their ship had a good pirate name, Revenge , and it captured at least thirty-three ships over the next few months. One of Phillips’s crew was John Rose Archer, who had been a pirate with the notorious Blackbeard, who had been killed five years earlier. Another crew member was John Fillmore, whose great-grandson, Millard Fillmore, would one day become the thirteenth president of the United States.
One of the original crew who signed the pirate articles, Thomas Fern, tried to leave, and they tied him to a tree and executed him, as their laws decreed. A carpenter they had captured plotted a new mutiny, and when it broke out on April 17, 1724, on the Grand Banks, Phillips was struck dead with an axe to the back of the head. His body was thrown overboard and his severed head was left hanging from a yardarm.
Pirates John Rose Archer and William White were publicly hanged for piracy in Massachusetts Bay, Boston, with the black flag of the Revenge , with its white skeleton, fluttering in the wind behind him. Reverend Cotton Mather, the hanging parson of Boston, officiated, as he often did at the executions of witches and pirates. Phillips’s head was taken from the Revenge and displayed on the Boston waterfront as a warning to potential pirates.
See also: Charles Bellamy, Eric Cobham, Cupids, Peter Easton, High Island, Captain Kidd, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, Gilbert Pike, Pirates, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, John Williams .
Picariello, Emilio: Emperor Pic – He was nicknamed Emperor Pic, and his castle was the Alberta Hotel in Blairmore, Alberta. There was supposedly a maze of underground tunnels leading out from the basement of the hotel, as well as a specially built room adjoining the hotel’s basement for storing bootleg liquor. This allowed vehicles to drive inside for loading and unloading.
At appropriate times, a player piano upstairs in the barroom would pound the keys at full volume to drown out any noise from the clandestine business activities below.
Picariello and his wife, Marianino Maria, had seven children: Stephano “Steve,” Angelina Rose “Julie,” Carmine, Luigi “Louie,” Charles “Chuck,” Albert, and Florence Eleanor “Helen” (later Matson). The Picariellos had moved from Italy to Fernie, British Columbia, in 1911, and subsequently to Blairmore.
Emilio “Emperor Pic” Picariello and family, 1915 (Glenbow Archives, NA-1136-1)
Const. Steve Lawson, Alberta Provincial Police
Picariello saw unbounded opportunities when Prohibition became law in Alberta in 1916. The hotel keeper became a bootlegger, running illegal alcohol from Sweetgrass, Montana, across the foothills, through the Crowsnest Pass, across the B.C. border, and into Alberta.
He sped about in a fleet of powerful McLaughlin “Whisky Special” cars that made many trips to British Columbia and Montana to carry the illegal liquor back to Alberta.
On September 21, 1922, a stool pigeon tipped off the Alberta Provincial Police that a large amount of booze would be coming into Picariello’s hotel, and two officers were waiting when the hotelier and his son Steve wheeled up in their McLaughlin Buicks. Picariello spotted the officers and hit his horn, signalling for his son to flee back to safety on the other side of the Alberta-B.C. border, but the police phoned ahead, and Const. Steve Lawson was ready to intercept them on the narrow road west toward Coleman.
Lawson fired a volley at the fleeing McLaughlin on Coleman’s main street, which was also the highway, and young Steve Picariello took a bullet to the hand but kept on driving until he reached the provincial boundary.
The elder Picariello assumed the worst when he heard that his son had been shot. He went to the Coleman police detachment, accompanied by his friend/housekeeper/mistress Florence Lassandro. There was a scuffle between Picariello and Lawson and, when it was over, the constable was dying from a gunshot to his back.
The following day, Picariello, Lassandro, and the murder weapon were recovered near Blairmore. The two were hanged on May 2, 1923, at the Fort Saskatchewan jail, and the intense public sympathy for them and disgust at the executions were reasons why Prohibition ended shortly afterwards in Alberta.
See also: Florence Lassandro .
Picciotteria: Mafia Forerunner – The first recorded case of a member of this criminal society in Canada was Giuseppe “Joe” Musolino, who fled to New York State and then to Toronto’s downtown Ward district after massive raids in May 1901 in Santo Stefano d’Aspromonte, Italy, against his family’s crime group.
The Picciotteria were considered the forerunner of modern Calabrian organized gang, the ’Ndrangheta. Italian archival records studied by journalist Antonio Nicaso noted this description of members: “He swears to be faithful to everyone connected to the Society of the Picciotteria, to help them unto his last drop of blood, to assist the other members in robberies, to present exactly all stolen goods to be divided equally with all other members cent for cent; to slash or to murder, when it is necessary, or because the boss tells him to, spies and all people who try to get in the way of the society, including the police.”
Like the early Birbevis criminal society of Spain, the Picciotteria had a pyramidal structure, with two distinct levels: camorrista and picciotti . Both levels were dominated by a saggio capo or capo bastone , who co-ordinated robberies or extortions.
Nicaso notes the camorrista was at a higher level than the picciotti . To enter the society, a potential picciotto had to be introduced by a member of the camorrista , then pay a tax.
Their mannerisms were described by a judge of the town of Palmi in Reggio Calabria province court, when he passed sentence on June 11, 1892, in the first maxi-trial against the Picciotteria: “These people had used signs and slang to communicate, and upon entering in a cantina to eat, drink without paying the bill of the owner of the cantina. Most of them were tattooed.”
In another trial in Italy, Vincenzo Mangione, chief of police in Santo Stefano d’Aspromonte, wrote in a report to the judge that all of the aims of this group were illegal. “But the principle of this association is to receive respect, in the sense the Picciotteria gives to this expression, imposing oneself … like a man of honour with intimidation, with arrogance and with threats.”
Even in its early stages, there was a clear distinction between the Picciotteria and common bandits, the documents found by Nicaso state. Police in the small village of Gioia Tauro Plan could do little to stop daily and public showcases of violence, such as the tirata , the trademark duel of the camorrista , in which they would face each other, holding in one hand a knife and in the other a mirror, which they would use to shine sunlight in their enemy’s eyes. Duels were fought at midday, when the sun was highest. Losers were slashed in the face and left with a sfregio , or cut face. In the early years of the twentieth century, slashed faces were still seen on some Mafiosi on the streets of Canada, a permanent reminder of a past defeat.
Members of the Picciotteria wore long, wide sideburns, and strutted about with rolling gaits, proud of doing little, because others tended to their needs. They sported cammuffi , or brightly coloured scarves with ornate fringes. The front of their hair was styled in a bouffant, described in archives as “like a butterfly” – like the hairstyle sported by Joe Musolino.
See also: Black Hand, Giuseppe “Joe” Musolino .
Pike, Gilbert: “The Pirate and the Princess” – Pike’s pirate tale was truly romantic.
He sailed under Peter “The Pirate Admiral” Easton and settled near what is now Carbonear, Newfoundland, shortly after 1600, with the Irish Princess Sheila Na Geira, whose last name comes from the old Gaelic word that means “the beautiful.”
Pike had rescued her from a Dutch privateer, and Newfoundland legend has it that the couple had the first white baby born on the island, although the Vikings may have beaten them to that distinction. The area where they lived is now a national park, where re-enactments of “the landing of the Pirate and the Princess” became a mainstay for folk festivals.
See also: Charles Bellamy, Eric Cobham, Cupids, Peter Easton, High Island, Captain Kidd, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, John Phillips, Pirates, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, John Williams .
Pirates: Salty Stories – Newfoundland’s pirate past lives on in place names, family names, and folklore. The Heart’s Desire ravaged both sides of the Atlantic for years until 1620, when the ship was finally captured by a Newfoundland skipper and brought back to the island as a prize, and now the name survives as the moniker of a community. Happy Adventure, Heart’s Content, Heart’s Desire, and Black Joke Cove are other Newfoundland spots named after pirate ships. Turk’s Gut was a favoured Newfoundland harbour for pirate ships, which got its name because settlers called pirates “Turks.”
In the seventeenth century, it was common for seamen to take on the surnames of their captains, which helps explain why there are so many Pikes and Eastons in Newfoundland. Between wars, the seas teamed with pirates who might overwise had been employed in the British navy.
There’s a widely circulated story that, during the eighteenth century, privateer Captain Kidd frequently visited the region of Oak Island off the shore of Nova Scotia to rest, relax, and to repair his ships. According to the folklore, Kidd’s treasure pit there was almost two hundred feet deep and exceedingly tough to get at. It has been the subject of numerous excavations since 1795, costing millions of dollars, and has caused the death of at least ten treasure hunters. Fortune-seekers have included corporations and individuals, such as former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn, and westerns star John Wayne.
There are plenty of families on Canada’s East Coast with personal pirate stories, like the Moore family of Prince Edward Island. In 1808, Dr. David Moore, with his wife and family – excepting their daughter, Mary – emigrated from Devonshire, England, to Massachusetts. They were loyal Britishers and, soon after their arrival in North America, decided they would be more comfortable in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
After getting the family settled in Charlottetown, Moore went back to England and returned with his daughter, Mary, and a young man named Molyneaux. While crossing the ocean, they were attacked by pirates. Having some guns and ammunition on board, they tried to defend themselves. Mary’s task was to hand the men gunpowder. However, they were finally captured and, but for the fact that Moore was a Freemason high up in the order, they would have, to use the piratical term, been obliged “to walk the plank.” Instead the pirates placed them in an open boat, with a defective compass and Mary’s feather bed. They took from them all their other possessions but some sterling silver teaspoons that Mary concealed in the front of her bodice. These are still owned by some of their descendants. After drifting for some time they landed at Newfoundland and later on succeeded in making their way back to Charlottetown, greatly to the relief of all the family. They afterwards moved out to Milton some seven miles from the town and there several of their descendants still reside.
See also: Charles Bellamy, Henry Cobham, Cupids, Peter Easton, High Island, Bill Johnston, Edward Jordan, Captain Kidd, Mogul Mackenzie, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, Oak Island, John Phillips, Gilbert Pike, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, John Williams .
Plante, Pacifique “Pax” – See Harry Davis .
Popeyes: Hells Angels’ Forerunners – This outlaw biker gang first appeared in Quebec in the early 1950s, around the same time the Satan’s Choice popped up in Ontario.
Both clubs were loosely structured groups and attracted police attention by their manufacture of drugs like methamphetamine. Although the Satan’s Choice were based in Oshawa, Ontario, they had a Montreal chapter, while the Montreal-based Popeyes had chapters in major Quebec urban centres.
The Popeyes packed a punch on the streets, collecting debts for the Dubois brothers and the Mafia. In December 1977, the American-based Hells Angels roared into Canada by absorbing the Popeyes, months after their rivals, the Outlaws, absorbed half of Ontario’s Satan’s Choice members.
See also: Yves “Le Boss” Buteau, Dubois Brothers, Hells Angels, Outlaws, Satan’s Choice .
Porter, Paul “Sasquatch”: Biker Heavyweight – He has stature both figuratively and literally in the biker underworld, standing at least six-foot-four and weighing something upwards of four hundred pounds.
A founding member of the Rock Machine gang in Montreal, he survived a couple of murder attempts in the six-year war with the Hells Angels that began in 1994. Once, his life was saved only because he was wearing a tent-sized bulletproof vest.
Despite his massive size, he had a reputation for being able to keep a low profile, and also as an intelligent and even-tempered negotiator. His verbal skills were put to the test in 2000, which began with him working to establish the upstart Rock Machine as a national gang. He sponsored its Kingston, Ontario, chapter and became its inaugural president.
Paul “Sasquatch” Porter and Maurice “Mom” Boucher
By October 2000, he was a key negotiator for the Rock Machine as they announced a truce with the Hells Angels. Porter and other members of the Rock Machine sat across a Montreal restaurant table from Hells Angels, making champagne toasts over seafood and pasta.
By December 2000, the U.S. Bandidos gang – with some five thousand members in more than ten countries – absorbed the Rock Machine. The dream of expansion seemed to be coming true, although under a different name, as Porter was the Rock Machine representative at Luxembourg for talks with Bandidos from around the world.
However, later that month, Porter shocked police and the outlaw biker world as well when he defected to the rival Hells Angels and was installed as president of the Ontario Nomads. He was perhaps the most surprising – and significant – of the 168 bikers who patched over to the Hells Angels in December 2000. Up until that point, Ontario had no Hells Angels chapters.
Before leaving for his new gang, Porter wrote an Internet note to his old Rock Machine comrades: “Hello to all the RMMC [Rock Machine Motorcycle Club]. I wish you all the best with your new colours. ‘Bye my brothers.”
Porter pleaded guilty in April 2012 to possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, after he told the court cocaine found in his girlfriend’s purse belonged to him.
See also: Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Hells Angels, Dany Kane, Nomads, Rock Machine, Thanksgiving Summit .
Pozza, Michel: Mob Money-man – There are plenty of people willing to do violence for the Mob, but Pozza brought something much more rare and valuable – brains.
More specifically, Pozza was extremely bright with money.
Pozza was born in the non-Mob city of Trento, north Italy, on August 22, 1925, and attended university. His specialty was finances, and he was considered like a son to old Montreal Sicilian boss Luigi Greco back in the 1950s when Montreal’s Sicilian and Calabrian mobsters were able to work together.
He moved freely about the Montreal Mob’s inner circle, and attended the marriage of Paolo Violi and Grazia Luppino in Hamilton on July 10, 1965, when Montreal bosses Vic Cotroni and Greco both played a part in the ceremonies. After Greco’s death, Pozza’s advice was sought after and respected by the Calabrian-born Cotroni. The Quebec organized-crime probe of 1974 said that Pozza was one of Cotroni’s three financial men, along with Willie Obront and Irving Ellis. By 1976, Pozza had risen to be the family’s financial consigliere , or trusted adviser.
Pozza’s skills were by now recognized internationally. Salvatore Catalano of the Bonanno family introduced him to Vito Ciancimino, the former mayor of Palermo, Sicily, in 1979. They met in Mondello, near Palermo, where the two allegedly discussed drug trafficking.
On November 16, 1980, Pozza was photographed at the posh Hotel Pierre in New York City, in the middle of high-ranking Mafiosi guests at the wedding of Giuseppe “Pino” Bono. Other guests included high-ranking members of the Ciaculli Mafia family of Palermo, who had strong connections to organized-crime groups in Italy, including the Cammorra of Naples.
When the Cotroni family split into Sicilian and Calabrian factions in the early 1980s, no one felt the heat more than Pozza. He was from neither group, and chose to go with the Sicilians. It was the smart, percentage move, as befitted a money-man, since the Sicilians were moving most of the money, and they seemed best set for the future.
Naturally, this angered the Calabrians around Cotroni, who tried to pull Pozza over to their side. Pozza sensed something was wrong in the fall of 1982. He would drive his grey Audi past his house on rue Desjardins in Mt. Rolland, a town fifty kilometres north of Montreal, then pull a U-turn and circle back. It was as if he was looking for someone hiding in the shrubs or bushes outside his home, ready to jump out and attack him.
He seemed to spend a lot of time then with union people, especially in the garment industry. In the late summer of 1982, intense police surveillance of Pozza was halted because of tight manpower. Perhaps Pozza was nervous that fall because he realized he would have to be protected by his wits, not by police officers.
The Cotronis kept pushing him to deal with them exclusively, but Pozza didn’t seem to be budging. As he left one meeting, Cotroni’s younger brother Frank muttered to his hit man, Réal Simard, that, “Something has to be done about him.” Simard, who was eager to score points with his boss, interpreted this to mean “kill him.”
Pozza hadn’t realized things had gone so wrong when, on the night of September 27, 1982, he shared a meal with Frank Cotroni and Simard. His wife, France, was in Florida, and he was free for the evening. When the dining was done, Simard drove immediately to Pozza’s home and hid in the bushes. When Pozza wheeled home around 2.30 a.m., Simard fired a .22 into his head, killing him at age fifty-seven.
Police naturally searched Pozza’s files in the credit-union office on Papineau Avenue in Montreal, where he was secretary-treasurer. There, they turned up documents linking Pozza to Palermo’s corrupt former mayor, Vito Ciancimino. In Pozza’s house, police found bank reports showing Ciancimino’s sons had transferred millions of dollars in illicit funds from Italy to Canada. The Ciancimino boys, Giovanni and Sergio, had flown to Canada to handle his father’s affairs, since their father was afraid to fly. Vito Ciancimino had invested $2.6 million into Montreal real estate, including a south-suburban shopping centre and a Maisonneuve Street apartment building.
Also in Pozza’s papers was a copy of a secret Quebec government study on the possibility of legalized gambling casinos in Quebec.
See also: Frank “Santos” Cotroni, Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Willie Obront, Réal Simard .
Project Gyakuzuki: No Cold Comfort – Gyakuzuki means knockout punch in Japanese, which is the optimistic name police gave one of their projects in the late 1990s. Police in Nunavut in the late 1990s found the Hells Angels’ Sherbrooke chapter had penetrated the Far North marijuana market. In the end, it was the authorities who took it on the chin, as the case fell apart due to lack of evidence.
See also: Hells Angels .
Purple Gang: Worst of the Worst – Their control over the Detroit underworld began in 1918 when the State Prohibition Referendum banned alcohol in Michigan. With that law, Detroit held the dubious honour of being the first major American city to test the dry waters, and the Purple Gang were poised to tap its potential.
Brothers Abe, Ray, Joe, and Izzy Bernstein grew up in a poor section on Detroit’s east side, and formed a street gang who terrorized local merchants. Legend has it that one of these shopkeepers complained, “These boys are not like other children of their age. They’re tainted, off-colour.”
“Yes,” a second shopkeeper supposedly agreed. “They’re rotten, purple like the colour of bad meat. They’re a purple gang.”
They graduated to hijacking, extortion, armed robbery, and rum-running, after Michigan passed its dry law in 1918. Driving cars with false floorboards and second gas tanks, they headed south of the Michigan border to Toledo, Ohio, where booze was not only plentiful but legal.
When Prohibition spread across the United States in 1920, Windsor, Ontario, found itself an underworld funnel, as it was separated from Detroit only by the slow-moving Detroit River. By some estimates, three-quarters of all liquor smuggled throughout the United States during Prohibition first passed through Windsor.
The Purple Gang was so known for violence that even Chicago boss Al Capone gave them a wide berth, reasoning it was better business to buy Canadian whisky from the Purple Gang than risk their rage.
Their careers were finally ended when the brothers were given life sentences without parole for murder, to be served in Marquette prison in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
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