Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy


Since the death of Police Chief Hennessey, the Louisiana Mafia had grown and blossomed under at least two, possibly three leaders. Carlo Matranga had undoubtedly led the family into the twentieth century. He ruled until the early 1920's when he stepped down and retired. At this point, his place was taken either by Corrado Giacona or Sylvestro (Sam) Carolla. A study of Mafia history confirms a frustrating amount of misinformation in respect to people, places and dates. Police and federal agencies have consistently made mistakes in identifying mobsters and their pecking order within the ever-changing groups that made up the mob. At times, the real boss of a crime family would deliberately step back into the shadows and let someone else shoulder the publicity and notoriety. This could have been the case with the New Orleans mobsters. Giacona is an enigma. The organized crime intelligence and analysis unit of the FBI identified Giacona as the head of the family and they may well have substantial files on him, but most, if not all, of this has not been disclosed.

Carolla, born in 1896 in Sicily, came to America at the age of eight. If he were indeed leading the family by 1925 when Matranga is supposed to have retired, he would have been one of the youngest leaders ever, along with Joseph Bonnano of New York, to lead a [Mafia] unit. A swarthy, sleepy-eyed hood, he had spent a two year spell in jail for murdering a federal narcotics agent in1932. The sentence had been abruptly terminated with an early release from the ubiquitous Governor O.K. Allen, by appointment, pardoner to the mob. Sam made his fortune smuggling booze and drugs during the 1920's and 30's, and reached a position of such power, he was controlling the municipal government through bribery and corruption. Because he had never taken out citizenship, he became vulnerable to deportation proceedings. They dragged on for years, but eventually he was convicted and flown out of the country on May 30, 1947 to relocate in Sicily, his birthplace.

As Carolla was counting down his last days in America, Marcello was working the family members, promoting himself as the natural successor. He had emerged among the capis, or crew chiefs, who ran the organization, as the most probable candidate. His wealth was growing at a remarkable velocity. Money was pouring in from narcotics, gambling, the slot machines and his racing wire service. He opened a casino, calling it the New Southport Club on the East Bank at 1300 Monticello Road, off the Mississippi River Road near the New Orleans Jefferson Parish line. It soon became enormously popular and hugely profitable.

No one in the crime family could match his personal magnetism, energy or ambition. Most of all, in an organisation that fed on fear and greed, no one in the ranks could inspire as much terror as he could. Politicians and gangsters alike treated Carlos with the respect paid to a man that should not be crossed. Washington lobbyist, Irving Davidson, a friend and business associate of Marcello said: "Look, when you deal with him, remember that loyalty and trustworthiness are everything to him. If you violate that, you can expect the worst to happen to you." As he said this, he slowly drew a finger across his throat.

Late in the evening of May 5, 1947, a group of men gathered together in a room at the back of The Black Diamond, a nightclub in a seedy part of New Orleans that catered almost exclusively for black people. The mob used this for a rendezvous in the belief that it would reduce the chance of surveillance. On this particular night, they were wrong and agents of the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) were checking out the expensively dressed white men who disembarked from limousines at the rear of the club and disappeared inside. Among those noted here that night, were Frank Todaro, Tom Rizzuto, Nick Grifazzi, Frank Lombardino, Joe Capro and Anthony Carolla, son of Sam; also along were Joe Poretto, Nofio Pecora, and Carlos with brothers Vincent, Joseph, Peter and Anthony. Jake and Nick Marcello, Carlos' nephews were also in the party. Although supporters of Anthony Carolla put forward his name, they were outvoted by Carlos' men, and by the time the meeting was over, Carlos was the newly appointed head of the Louisiana Mafia. Anthony never forgot his displacement from what he obviously believed was his rightful ascension, and nineteen years later would bring his grievance up before a national Mafia commission meeting at a restaurant in New York.

The crime family Carlos inherited was a successful mixture of gangsters, policeman on the pad and corrupt politicians. For while the Mafiosi enforced his edicts, their success depended as much on the people who wanted their illegal services and the bureaucrats who allowed them to operate openly to achieve their objectives. The mob only gave people what they wanted. The fact that their wants were illegal was no concern of Marcello and his men.

By the late 1940's, Carlos had established his headquarters in a bar and restaurant that came to be known as Willswood Tavern. It sat on Highway 90, about fifteen miles west of New Orleans on the West Bank in Jefferson Parish. He would hold court here, meeting up with the men who ran his empire, dispensing justice to the unruly. He owned 6400 acres of swampland that spread away from the inn with lots of unique and handy bayous to hide bodies. After business, he would entertain his people on a lavish scale. A man with a gargantuan appetite, he imported a chef from Chicago, an ex-convict who had apparently been the personal cook of Al Capone. His name was Provino Mosca and his Italian cooking became legend in the area. Carlos built a small house near the tavern for the chef and his wife and son, and when it was time to move his head office elsewhere, Carlos left the tavern for his chef to continue operating under the management of his mother Louise, who by now had become widowed. Today Mosca's son John runs the business know as Mosca's, at 4137 Highway 90, Waggaman, producing food equally as delicious as his father did before him. Their two crab salads, garlic shrimp and chicken [a la grande] is food to die for, which not doubt may well have been the case fifty years ago for some of the visitors to this tavern on the green.

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