THE AMERICAN MAFIA - Crime Bosses of Detroit


("Partnership," "Combination") After a series of early gang wars, the Detroit Mafia established a ruling panel, which presided over the Partnership for decades. From time to time, a single member of the panel emerged as the most powerful boss.

Map approximates the territory controlled by the Detroit Partnership. The territory, based in southeastern Michigan, has traditionally included Toledo, Ohio, and a nearby portion of Ontario, Canada.

1908 - Vito Adamo (? to 1913). Adamo is regarded as the first Mafia leader in the Detroit community. However, there were a number of small Sicilian and Italian underworld organizations in the area at the time (the elements of the later "Partnership." Adamo was merely the most widely recognized leader.


1913 - Antonio Gianolla (? to 1919). Adamo's death in 1913 allowed Antonio Gianolla (left) to take the leadership of the local Sicilian underworld.

Angelo Meli

1919 - Angelo Meli (Feb. 10, 1897, to Dec. 1, 1969). Meli (right) succeeded to the family boss position upon Gianolla's death in 1919. A series of gang wars led to consolidation of the various Mafia clans.

1921 - Gaspare Milazzo (April 25, 1887, to May 31, 1930). Formerly a senior member of the Bonventre-Magaddino Castellammarese Mafia unit in Brooklyn, Milazzo fled west to escape prosecution for murder. He was welcomed into the leadership group of the Detroit crime family - the beginnings of the "Partnership." That group included Meli, Bill Tocco and Joe Zerilli.

Cesare Lemare

1930 - Cesare "Chester" Lemare (June 6, 1887, to Feb. 7, 1931). Possibly due to prompting by New York's Joe Masseria, who despised Milazzo and all Castellammarese, Lemare (the name was also spelled "Lamare") set up a hit against Milazzo. On May 31, 1930, Milazzo and his aide Sasa Parrino were killed in the "fish market murders." Masseria ignored the other members of the Detroit leadership and supported Lemare as the single Detroit family head. Lemare did not survive a year in his new job.

William Tocco

1931 - Guglielmo Tocco (Feb. 12, 1897, to May 28, 1972). "Black Bill" Tocco, native of Terrasini, Sicily, emerged as the main Detroit underworld authority at the conclusion of the Castellammarese War. Tocco had strong ties to Angelo Meli and became an inlaw to both Joe Zerilli and New York's Joe Profaci. Former boss Chester Lemare was shot to death at his home on Feb. 7, 1931, probably by someone he knew.

Joe Zerilli

1936 - Joseph Zerilli (1898 to Oct. 30, 1977). Zerilli (left) replaced Tocco in 1936 as the most visible member of the Partnership's local "Council of Dons" and reigned over the Detroit Mafia for three decades until his death late in 1977.

1963 - Senate investigators determined that a five-member Council of Dons, comprised of Joseph Zerilli, Angelo Meli, William Tocco, "Papa John" Priziola and Peter Licavoli, supervised the activities of the Detroit underworld. In this year, Tocco and Meli retired to Florida. Meli reportedly suffered a heart attack before opting for retirement.

1969 - Former Detroit Mafia leader Angelo Meli died Dec. 1 in Fort Lauderdale, FL, at the age of 72. His remains were transported to Detroit for burial in Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery.

1978 - Giovanni Priziola (Feb. 12, 1893, to April 14, 1979). Upon Zerilli's death, "Papa John" Priziola apparently attempted to seize control of the Detroit family. He survived just one year.

Jack Tocco

1979 - Jack Tocco (c. Oct. 29, 1926 to July 14, 2014). Jack (right), a Detroit native and a relative of former bosses Guglielmo Tocco (Jack's father) and Joseph Zerilli (Jack's uncle), became the recognized leader of the Partnership in the mid- to late-1970s. He was widely believed to have served a role in the disappearance of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa in July, 1975. Tocco served as boss for at least two decades. His reign was interrupted - if not ended - by a 1998 federal racketeering and conspiracy conviction. Though Tocco might have been sentenced to decades behind bars for his crimes, Judge John Corbett O'Meara sentenced him to one year and one day. Government appeals eventually lengthened the term to 34 months. Tocco was released near the end of 2003 at the age of 76. He died July 14, 2014, at the age of 87.

Copyright 2014, Thomas P. Hunt, Whiting VT
All Rights Reserved

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