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Sicilian vendetta in Missouri and Texas:
Restivo vs. Campanella

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[Editor's note: An early version of this article appeared as part of "The Mafia of Dallas, 1910-1970," by Thomas Hunt, published in the July 2010 issue of Informer: The Journal of American Mafia History.]

 

The force of Sicilian vendetta was observed in the United States between 1918 and 1921, during a long and bloody family feud in Texas and Missouri. It is uncertain whether the immigrant families involved, the Restivos and the Campanellas, were at all connected with the Mafia criminal society. However, their determination to destroy each other rivaled anything seen in Mafia history.

Map

It was reported that the families were bitter enemies in Sicily and brought their feud with them when they relocated to the United States early in the 1900s. [1]

The first stage of the conflict in the U.S. started in 1910, when Kansas City coal merchant Vito Campanella resisted Black Hand extortion letters he believed were sent by brothers (some sources say they were cousins) Sam and Tony Restivo. Rather than pay the $5,000 demanded by the Black Handers, Campanella quietly sold his coal business on Harrison Street and moved his family to Dallas, Texas. Just a few days later, the coal business's new owner was shot to death as he made deliveries with the old Campanella wagon. Kansas City police believed the bullets were intended for Campanella. [2]

The Campanellas settled on Dallas's Oakland Avenue (later renamed Malcolm X Boulevard) to the southeast of the city's business district. Vito found work as a city laborer. [3]

Feud reaches Dallas

Vito Campanella Sr.

Vito Sr.

In 1918, the Restivos appeared in Dallas. They confronted Vito Campanella and his son, Vito Jr., on South Boulevard on January 15, 1919, and a running gunfight ensued. Sam Restivo fell dead near the corner of Park Row Avenue and Edgewood Street.

Restivo's death certificate, which listed cause of death simply as "Gunshot wound - homicide," indicated that the deceased lived in the community of Thurston in Oklahoma. Data for the certificate was provided by Tony Restivo, a resident of South Preston Street in Dallas.

Vito Jr. was arrested and charged with murder. He was soon released on bail. Though he admitted killing Restivo, Vito Jr. was never brought to trial. [4]

The Campanellas went back to Kansas City in August 1920 to do some maintenance on area property they still owned. While there, they again received a Restivo demand for money. A Black Hand note demanded $5,000. The Campanellas refused the demand and prepared for the inevitable Restivo response.

On August 26, 1920, they were attacked on Harrison Street. Father and son drew firearms and shot back at gunmen firing at them from a moving automobile. They managed to wound Tony Restivo and his cousin Frank LaForte. (There were reports that LaForte had recently escaped from a Texas penitentiary.)

The Campanellas, survivors of at least four attacks by the Restivos, willingly surrendered to police after the Harrison Street incident. They were quickly released. Charges were brought instead against Restivo and LaForte. [5]

Wichita Beacon

Wichita Beacon

Ruggero joins the fight

Back in Dallas on the morning of September 18, 1920, Vito and Vito Jr. visited the grocery and butcher shop of Joe Ruggero, East Ninth Street and Fleming Avenue in the city's southwestern Oak Cliff neighborhood. (Interstate 35E now cuts through the area and prevents East Ninth from intersecting with Fleming.) A former Kansas City resident and an in-law of the Restivos, Ruggero recently moved to Oak Cliff. [6]

A misdirected piece of mail was the cause of the Campanellas' visit. Vito Sr. entered the store carrying a letter addressed to Ruggero but delivered to the Campanella home. Though the Campanellas seem not to have suspected that the letter's arrival was anything more than a delivery error (a particularly odd one, considering the differences in the names and addresses involved), it easily could have been a means of luring the them into an ambush.

Vito Campanella Jr.

Vito Jr.

As Vito Sr. explained the apparent mix-up to Ruggero, he ordered two soda waters - for himself and his son. Ruggero's wife went to get the drinks. Ruggero momentarily retreated into a back room. Then he and another man emerged and opened fire with shotguns.

Vito Jr. was hit repeatedly. One discharge of buckshot ripped a hole in his side. A second nearly tore off the arm on the opposite side of his body. Slugs also wounded the twenty-five-year-old's face and chest. When Ruggero reloaded his weapon, the second shooter rushed out a rear door of the store. Vito Sr., who suffered only superficial wounds, grabbed his son and dragged him out of the building and into the street.

An ambulance arrived to find father and son about a block away from the Ruggero business. Vito Jr. died at City Hospital the next day. He lived long enough to tell authorities, “I’m going to die. Be sure to hold the man in jail who shot me.” [7]

Vito Jr. was survived by both of his parents, his twenty-five-year-old wife Mary and three young children - daughters Lena, aged seven, and Rosa, three, and son Vito III, five. [8]

Ruggero pleaded self-defense, insisting that the Campanellas had drawn handguns in his store and were preparing to kill him. “I was afraid because they had threatened to kill me as they did my brother-in-law Sam Restivo several years ago.”

Ruggero’s story did not fit with the reported presence of the second gunman nor with the fact that he chose to reload his shotgun after the Campanellas were in a helpless position. He was arrested and charged with Vito Jr.’s murder. [9]

Murder by telephone call

Free pending trial, Ruggero was the next to lose his life to vendetta. A December 20 evening telephone call to his store brought Ruggero from the back room to the phone mounted near the glass door at the front of the building. A gunmen was waiting on the other side of that door.

A load from a sawed off shotgun smashed through the door and struck Ruggero in his shoulder and the side of his skull.

The thirty-three-year-old Ruggero lingered near death for two days at Parkland Hospital before succumbing to his wounds.

Ruggero Death Certificate

Ruggero death certificate

Vito Campanella Sr. was questioned by Dallas detectives. He was released after proving that he had not left his home at all on the night Ruggero was shot. [10]

'The way of all flesh'

The feud appeared to conclude back in Kansas City on Dec. 13, 1921. Tony Restivo, then forty-five, was sitting at a table in the rear of his store, talking with several other men. Another man entered the room, advanced behind Restivo. When he was within ten feet of his target, the man pulled a shotgun from beneath his winter coat and struck Restivo in the back with a load of buckshot. The gunmen fled. Restivo died fifteen minutes later.

Aside from the assumption that the killer was a member of the Campanella faction, the authorities had no clue to his identity. [11] Four years of shootings had been concluded, multiple lives had been lost, at least two admitted killers had been in police custody, but no one had been successfully prosecuted.

Vito Campanella Sr., survivor of the long-running feud that claimed the lives of his son and several of his enemies, died less than a half year after Tony Restivo. No vendetta was responsible for his end.

Austin American

Austin American

The victor of the Campanella-Restivo feud was taken out by a virus. The forty-eight-year-old Campanella succumbed to influenza on April 7, 1922. (Several years after the devastating flu pandemic of 1918.) His wife Lena survived him. [12]

Postscript

In September of 1922, police in Kansas City investigated a gruesome murder that seemed it might be related to the Campanella-Restivo feud. The half-burned body of twenty-six-year-old Rosie Cereka (also spelled "Serchia") was extracted from a brush pile in the woods near North Kansas City on September 21. The woman was identified by Frank Monteleone, proprietor of a local pool room. Cereka lived in rooms over the Monteleone business. An examination showed that Cereka had been killed by a gunshot wound to the head.

A note found in Cereka's room said, "Don't forget what you have done. Your death is near."

Investigators learned that Cereka and a husband had moved from Dallas to Kansas City five years earlier. Following a 1918 divorce, the husband, Campanella cousin Michael S. Rastani, returned to Dallas and eventually became manager of a grocery opened by the widows of Vito Jr. and Vito Sr. He was in Dallas marrying his second wife at about the time that Cereka was killed in Missouri.

Investigators eventually decided that the feud was not a factor in the young woman's murder. [13]

 

Notes

 

1 - "Feud started in Italy cause of shooting," Springfield MO News-Leader, Dec. 21, 1920, p. 1; "Sicilian feud imported to U.S.," Salt Lake City UT Telegram, Dec. 21, 1920, p. 15; "Dallas is stirred over another Italian tragedy," Bryan TX Eagle, Dec. 22, 1920, p. 5.

2 - "Old feud cause," Topeka KS State Journal, Dec. 21, 1920, p. 6; "Feud victim at Dallas succumbs," Galveston Daily News, Sept. 20, 1920, p. 1; Hoye's Kansas City, Mo., Street Directory, 1904, p. 206.

3 - United States Census of 1920, Texas, Dallas County, Dallas City, Voting Precinct 33, Enumeration District 156.

4 - "Old feud cause;" "Dallas has new chapter added to Italian vendetta," Bryan TX Eagle, Sept. 20, 1920, p. 4; Sam Restivo Certificate of Death, Texas State Board of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, Registered no. 136, Jan. 15, 1919. The precise location of Thurston, Oklahoma, is uncertain. It was likely a suburb of Oklahoma City, on the route between Kansas City and Dallas.

5 - "Italians give up after outbreak of bloody feud," Pine Bluff AR Daily Graphic, Aug. 29, 1920, p. 5; "Italians admit they slew enemy in feud," Oklahoma City OK Daily Oklahoman, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 4; "Italian grocers admit vendetta," Wichita KS Beacon, Aug. 27, 1920, p. 1.

6 - Despite the newspaper report of Ruggero making a home in Oak Cliff, Ruggero entries in the Dallas directory of 1920 indicate a home address on Bryan Street, which currently begins in the north of Dallas's business district and runs northeast from there. It does not enter the Oak Cliff neighborhood.

7 - Vito Campanella Certificate of Death, Texas State Board of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, Registered no. 1747, Certificate no. 28794, Sept. 19, 1920; "Dallas has new chapter added to Italian vendetta;" "Italian feudist fatally wounded in Dallas affray," Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 18, 1920, p. 1; "Feud victim at Dallas succumbs;" "Feudists meet; one is wounded," Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1920, p. 8; "Texas Italian dies in hospital as feud victim," Austin American, Sept. 20, 1920, p. 1; "Dallas has new chapter added to Italian vendetta."

8 - United States Census of 1920. Vito Campanella Jr. married Mary Anello in Missouri in September of 1912.

9 - "Dallas has new chapter added to Italian vendetta;" "Ruggero is indicted for alleged murder," Marshall TX Morning News, Oct. 2, 1920, p. 1; "Feud victim at Dallas succumbs;"

10 - Joe Ruggero Certificate of Death, Texas State Board of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, Registered no. 2245, Dec. 22, 1920; Texas Death Index, Certificate no. 37218, Dec. 22, 1920; "Dallas is stirred over another Italian tragedy;" "Dallas grocer shot down while answering phone," Dallas Morning News, Dec. 22, 1920, p. 22; "Another red chapter in Sicilian vendetta written in Dallas," Austin American-Statesman, Dec. 21, 1920, p. 1; "Killed in vendetta," El Paso Herald, Dec. 21, 1920, p. 1; "Dallas man shot as the result of feud, is belief," San Antonio Evening News, Dec. 21, 1920, p. 7; "Feud started in Italy cause of shooting;" "Old feud cause."

11 - "Death of Restiva revives old feud," Dallas Morning News, Dec. 15, 1921, p. 2.

12 - "Dallas feud surviver dies from influenza," Austin American, April 9, 1922, p. 7; "Central figure in Italian feud passed away today in Dallas from influenza," Corsicana TX Daily Sun, April 8, 1922, p. 1.

13 - "Arrest is made in inquiry into woman's murder," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 22, 1922, p. 10; "Police investigating death of Dallas girl, whose body was found near Kansas City," Corsicana TX Daily Sun, Sept. 22, 1922, p. 1.

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