By Allan May  

Prohibition and a Murky Beginning

Rhode Island map
Rhode Island map (AP)

�If ever there was a state that gleefully thumbed its nose at Prohibition, it was Rhode Island,� a reporter wrote. �Throughout the Roaring Twenties, Rhode Island was probably the most anti-Prohibition state in the union.�

Rhode Island and Connecticut were the only two states not to ratify the 18th Amendment to the Constitution � commonly referred to as Prohibition. The unpopular law, outlawed alcohol for 14 years and helped give birth to organized crime in America, also fueled the wild times that became known as the �Roaring �20s.�

Politicians, the government and law enforcement agencies knew as early as 1922 that Prohibition was a failure and that the Volsted Act was impossible to enforce. While many states battled bootleggers who produced beer and bathtub gin, Rhode Island, with its 400 miles of open coastline, was a haven for rumrunners bringing in the �real stuff� from Canada and the Bahamas using speed boats and other vessels. Those who couldn�t afford the imported hooch made their own with a variety of home recipes, of which the ingredients could be easily purchased at local stores.

The law�s unpopularity could be seen in the aftermath of the death of three rumrunners who were cut down by members of the Coast Guard on December 29, 1929. A Newport reverend told his congregation, �The deaths of these men must bring to us a little more clearly the horrible price we are paying in attempting to enforce laws which are fundamentally un-American and un-Christian.�

In February 1930 state legislators scheduled a referendum, which was held the following November. The vote for repeal of Prohibition was 172,545 for, 48,540 against. In Providence, as in the rest of the state, the large Catholic population saw the law as a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) order to impose their values on them. The city never accepted it. The referendum vote showed that, �On Providence�s Federal Hill, a bastion of Italian immigrants, the tally against Prohibition in one voting district was 2,005 to 3.�

In Providence, during the �Dry Era,� federal agents joined the regular thirsty crowds at one of the city�s popular restaurants. Described in a 1999 article, a reporter revealed:

�A haunt called Marconi�s Roman Garden � where Camille�s is now � on Bradford Street on Federal Hill was patronized by Prohibition agents. Wine cost $1 a bottle or 30 cents by the glass. Scotch, rye, and gin were delivered gratis by Prohibition agents who, in return, ate all the Marconi food and drank all the Marconi wine they wanted, always in the cellar with other favored guests.�

One of the state�s more colorful bootleggers was Daniel L. �Danny� Walsh. By the mid-1920s Walsh had put together a fleet of planes, boats and cars and earned the reputation of being one of �the most daring rum-runners on the East Coast.� Walsh considered himself a �gentleman farmer� and spent his money on prize horses for his Charleston farm, and two plush apartments he kept in Providence. In 1928 the government went after him for back taxes. Charging that he owed the Internal Revenue Service $350,000 in back taxes and penalties, the government agreed to settle for �something far less.�

On February 2, 1933, Walsh waved goodbye to several associates after dining at a Pawtuxet Village caf�. He was never seen again. Several days after his disappearance a ransom note arrived for Walsh�s brother Joseph demanding $40,000. Joseph traveled to Boston, paid the demand, but Danny was never returned. It was reported that four of Walsh�s former associates were seen digging a hole near an abandoned building on Danny�s horse farm, and poring an unknown powder, rumored to be lime, into it. Nothing ever came of the investigation into this incident.

An inquiry was held after his disappearance in federal court. One associate said that Walsh made payoffs and held conferences in New York with an Atlantic Coast rum-running syndicate known as the �Big Seven.� The one rumor, which was prevalent, was that Walsh �was stuffed into a barrel of cement and taken out on a rum boat and his remains dumped into the sea off Block Island.�

As the years passed it was reported that �any time a suspicious corpse was found � in the Massachusetts or Rhode Island woods � or a skull turned up in a fishing net off Block Island, police checked it against Danny Walsh�s dental records.� In the decades that have passed Walsh�s body has never been recovered.

New England Crime Family

Providence skyline
Providence skyline (AP)

Providence, became part of the New England crime family. The New York City crime families first oversaw the city of Providence, before the leadership came from Boston. While leadership of the family has come from various cities over the years, the seat of power over what was once called the Boston Mafia settled in the city of Providence during the reign of Raymond L. S. Patriarca, who took control during the mid-1950s. In the years following his emergence as a power in the Northeast the city became an important underworld power base and the family became known as the New England crime family. It was  not until the 1990s that leadership of the family would return to Boston.

Raymond-L-S-Patriaca, mugshot
Raymond L.S. Patriarca Snr.

Not much has been written about the early years of the Mafia in New England. The city of Boston with its Irish heritage and criminals may have been the reason for the lack of Italian underworld activity there. The few books that are available tend to contradict each other on the leadership of the mob during the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. In Vincent Teresa�s My Life in the Mafia, he discussed Frank �Butsey� Morelli, one of five brothers who moved to New England from Brooklyn during World War I. Running his criminal operations from Rhode Island he controlled parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Morelli maintained control of this area from 1917 until 1947 when he was dying of cancer. Teresa reveals that Morelli began to drink heavily and lose control of both his rackets and his men. One of the things that got Morelli into trouble was his testimony before a grand jury in June 1947. Morelli was questioned about his role in harboring Doris Coppola, the wife of New York City mobster �Trigger Mike� Coppola, and her father. The two were on the run to avoid questioning about Coppola�s participation in the November 1946 beating death of Joseph Scottoriggio, a Republican district captain. Joseph Lombardo, who Teresa claims was running the Boston family, placed Philip Buccola in charge and allowed Morelli to die peacefully.

Michael & Doris Coppola
Michael & Doris Coppola

Prior to Morelli�s death in the early 1950s, Teresa said he confessed to him that his gang was responsible for the 1920 murders for which Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed. The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, for the double murder of two shoe company employees in South Braintree, Massachusetts, drew national attention because the pair were self-described anarchists who claimed they were being persecuted by the government. According to Teresa, Morelli said, �These two suckers took it on the chin for us. That shows you how much justice there really is.�

The leadership of the Boston / New England crime family from the 1930s to the early 1950s is as murky as the Charles River. As mentioned, Vincent Teresa claimed that Joseph Lombardo �replaced� Morelli with Buccola, which obviously indicates that Lombardo outranked Buccola. In their book The Underboss, authors Gerard O�Neil and Dick Lehr state that Lombardo ran gambling and loan sharking as second-in-command to Buccola. The same authors state that when Gennaro Angiulo, the focus of their book, wanted to take over Boston�s bookmaking operations in 1951, he went to Lombardo to get permission. The writers can�t seem to agree on the spelling of Buccola�s last name. It is listed many places as Bruccola. What everyone does agree upon is that Buccola fled to Sicily in 1954 leaving control of the family in the hands of Patriarca.

1. Prohibition and a Murky Beginning

2. Raymond L. S. Patriarca

3. Barboza

4. Succession of Power

5. Rule Returns to Boston

6. Sans Leadership

7. Bibliography

8. The Author

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The Bonanno Crime Family
The Colombos
The Gambino Crime Family
The Genovese Family
The Kray Twins
The Lucchese Family
Carlos Marcello
The St. Louis Crime Family

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