The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia
© 2009 Mike Dash
Although Prohibition is generally blamed for the rapid growth of the Mafia, First Family demonstrates that America’s mob problem began well before the days of rumrunning. It follows the rise of an organization known as the Black Hand, which defies any attempt at romanticization. Run by a cruel miser named Gisueppe Morello, the group specialized in extortion and counterfeiting, with additional rackets controlling the movement and sale of various vegetable goods. The amount of Italian immigration into the United States, much of it remaining in New York, made that city one of the largest Italian cities in the world, second only to Naples – and many paisanos remained under the thumb of the bullies they thought they left behind. Not only were they subject to protection rackets, but the After a visceral opening – the discovered of a body stuffed into a barrel — Dash tracks the history of the group and the various investigations into them. The first, lead by Italian squad leader Joe Petrosino, ended in the latter’s murder in Italy when he visited to obtain the criminal histories of various malfactors. First Family is most effective criminal history, dropping readers in to the chaos of early 20th century New York, and communicating well the problems the local police force had comprehending what they were up against – chiefly, the insular nature of immigrants, coupled with dialects that would baffle mainland Italians, and leveraged by a figure who knew how to distance himself from his crimes. Morello’s criminal cleverness was the kind that RICO laws were created to counter.