[Editor's note: The following article - one of a series of "Just One More Thing" columns - was first published in the November 2018 issue of Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement. The author admits to appropriating a Shakespeare quote and to misusing the word "wherefore" (to refer to location rather than to reason) merely for the sake of a catchy headline.]
His deeds forgotten and his remains misplaced, "Nine-Fingered Frank" Romeo is a mysterious figure in New Orleans underworld history. Recalled by history merely as one of eleven men murdered in an 1891 lynch mob assault on Orleans Parish Prison, Romeo, also known as Romero, actually served a key, longtime role in the evolution of organized crime in southern Louisiana, bringing together businessmen, labor, politicians and racketeers in the earliest days of the American Mafia.
Romeo was indicted with seventeen other men and a teenage boy in connection with the October 1890 assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy. Nine of the defendants, including Romeo, were named as accessories. The other ten were charged as principals in the shooting murder of the police chief. Romeo would never stand trial for his alleged role in the assassination.
Defendants were separated into two groups, with an initial group of nine brought into court in February 1891. A jury verdict was returned on March 13. None of the defendants in that group were convicted, but all were returned to the parish prison on a technicality. The following day, a political faction in the city, operating under the cover of a mob incited by the suggestion of jury bribery, broke into the prison and executed eleven of those charged with causing Hennessy's death.
That was how Romeo's life story concluded. It began decades earlier, shrouded in a bit of historical haze.
Romeo was born in Palermo, Sicily. The date of his birth is uncertain. Different sources point to birth years ranging from as early as 1843 to as late as 1850. The most likely year seems to be 1844. The strong Sicilian custom of naming first born male and female children after their paternal grandparents leads to the conclusion that Frank Romeo's parents were Domenico and Maria Romeo. Those were the names given to Romeo's first born children.
While still a minor, Romeo arrived in the United States. The year of his entry was officially placed at 1859, when he was a young teenager.
Sixth Ward is highlighted
He found work as a laborer on the levee and, in April of 1868, was naturalized an American citizen before Judge Paul E. Theard in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The 1870 United States Census showed a twenty-five-year-old Romeo residing in the densely populated sixth ward - a long, narrow district that sat between St. Philip Street and the Esplanade from the river all the way to the Bayou St. John and City Park.
While Romeo was described as a "man of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same" at the moment of his 1868 naturalization, in just seven years' time he managed to acquire a number of nicknames and a different sort of reputation.
These things came to light following the fatal shooting of Bernard Ditte in the early fall of 1875.
Ditte, born in France, was a few years older than Frank Romeo. He was a veteran of the Confederate Army, having served in the Louisiana Infantry. In 1875, he ran a cigar stand attached to Bartelemy Anthony's saloon in the General Quitman Exchange Building, Ursulines and North Peters Streets.
Sept. 24, 1875
Just before three o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday, September 23, Ditte was relaxing at the bar in Anthony's saloon, when Romeo, already intoxicated, walked into the establishment. There were just four people in the saloon at the time: Ditte, Romeo, the bartender named Moreau and an unknown patron.
Romeo was a regular at the saloon, well acquainted with both Moreau and Ditte, and, according to reports, he was in the habit of leaving a pistol in the care of the saloonkeeper. On this afternoon, he went directly to Moreau and asked for his firearm.
Seeing Romeo's condition, Ditte became involved. He told Moreau that Romeo was clearly drunk and should not be given the weapon as he "might do some damage." Romeo insisted and Moreau handed him a short barreled pistol.
As soon as it was placed in Romeo's hands, the pistol fired. A load of buckshot punched through Ditte's back. The cigar seller fell to the floor paralyzed. Romeo dropped his weapon and left the saloon. He walked through the nearby produce market and disappeared.
Ditte was moved to an apartment over the saloon. Dr. Eugene Berjot was summoned from his home, 271 Dauphine Street, and immediately set to work on Ditte's bullet wounds. The doctor removed some large slugs and said he believed there were more embedded in the spinal column. He patched up Ditte as best he could but said the wounds were likely to cause the man's death.
Press accounts of the shooting referred to Romeo as "Nine-Fingered Frank" (this sobriquet later became "Nine-Fingered Jack" and "Nine-Fingered Jake") and "Dago Frank." The newspapers did not note which of Romeo's digits was missing or how it happened to be lost.
The New Orleans Times did mention that Romeo had "no ostensible occupation." City directory listings from the period suggest that Romeo - or a relative of his - may have been running a cigar stand on St. Philip Street quite close to the Ditte business.
"I do not know whether it was intentional or not.
Police checked Romeo's known stamping grounds and raided a number of locations where Sicilian immigrants gathered, but they were unable to locate Nine-Fingered Frank. It was believed that he fled the city. A telegram was sent to area police stations describing Romeo and calling for his arrest.
Moreau told reporters that the shooting of Ditte was done entirely by accident. He recalled that he placed the pistol in Romeo's left hand and that Romeo then tried to use the left hand to insert the weapon into his right coat pocket. This awkward move caused the pistol to discharge, he claimed.
Moreau supported the story of an accidental shooting by indicating that Romeo was greatly alarmed by what he had done and cried out, "God, I have killed a man!" as he ran off.
Ditte was able to provide a statement or two about the shooting before he succumbed to the wounds. While resting after the visit of Dr. Berjot, Ditte told a reporter from the New Orleans Times that he was not certain the shooting was accidental:
Frank came in and asked for his pistol, and I told the barkeeper not to give it to him, as he was drunk. But the barkeeper did so, and shortly after Frank got it he pointed it at me and fired. I do not know whether it was intentional or not. I have never had any quarrel with him.
As Ditte's condition worsened, he was visited by local businessman J.P. Carrere. Carrere subsequently testified before Judge Eugene Staes in Municipal Police Court about his conversation with Ditte: "[Ditte] said that he knew it was accidental, as he and Frank have been the best of friends for some time."
This was a significant change from Ditte's statement to the press. Judge Staes wanted confirmation. On the evening of September 28, the judge, accompanied by police Sergeant Charles Bergeron and a reporter from the New Orleans Bulletin, went to see Ditte. Staes hoped to take down the victim's dying statement, but Ditte could no longer speak.
At least one city newspaper characterized Carrere's testimony as a "dying declaration" from Ditte and predicted that Romeo would be "released from all blame." Ditte passed away on Wednesday, September 29.
City Coroner Ernest DeBlanc was unconvinced by Carrere's delivery of the supposed dying declaration. He made out an affidavit charging Frank Romeo with the murder of Ditte. Romeo surrendered himself at the Third Precinct Police Station on December 28, saying he had just learned of DeBlanc's charge against him.
Romeo was brought before the grand jury. Aside from the coroner, the only witnesses in the case were those who claimed that Romeo's shooting of Ditte was entirely accidental and that Romeo and Ditte had been the best of friends. On January 10, 1876, the grand jury refused to indict Romeo, and he was released. Press reports revealed one more Romeo alias at that moment, referring to him (without the first syllable of his surname) as "Frank Mayo."
Years later, the city chief of police decided that the failure to indict Romeo was due to "the important witnesses having left the city and the testimony of others entirely in his favor."
In February 1876, Romeo was indicted on a charge of carrying concealed weapons. This charge grew out of the Ditte shooting. He pleaded not guilty before Judge H.R. Steele on February 14. Within a month, District Attorney John McPhelin entered a nolle prosequi, once again freeing Romeo.
As the local papers published news of the case, one revealed yet another Romeo nickname: "Pretty." There is no evidence that the word "Pretty" was ever again used in connection with Romeo.
Personal, professional, political
As the Ditte matter was resolved, Frank Romeo became romantically involved. The focus of his affection was Annette, a native New Orleanian with a Bavarian ethnic background. Annette appears to have been a widow and had at least two children through her previous relationship.
Frank and Annette's first child, son Dominick Anthony, was born in October of 1877. A daughter, Maria Elizabeth, was born in March of 1879, and the family continued to grow. The Romeo clan resided for a time on St. Philip Street, moved to Chartres Street by 1880, then to St. Ann Street and to Julia Street between Dryades and Baronne by 1890.
Romeo became an important organizer in the city's Sicilian colony, benefiting a corrupt local Democratic machine known as "the Ring," as well as a group of produce shippers and wholesalers.
In the summer of 1878, Romeo was selected as one of ten delegates from the Fifth Ward of New Orleans to the State Democratic Convention. That convention marked the conclusion of the Reconstruction Era in Louisiana and the return to "home rule."
That fall, newspaper announcements revealed that Romeo was a member of the executive committee of the Fruit Dealers Association. The committee included shipping company owner Joseph P. Macheca, who would be killed years later in the same violence that took Romeo's life, and the meeting was held in Macheca's offices at 8 Toulouse Street near Decatur Street.
The stated purpose of the meeting was to review the positions of local candidates and decide which candidates were most supportive of fruit importers.
Though he seemed to be blending in well with the local establishment, "Nine-Fingered Frank" was briefly sought by the law near the end of August 1879. Fourth Precinct police learned that a group of Italians, including Romeo (referred to as "Nine-Fingered Jake" at this time), left the French Market in a wagon to fight a duel. According to reports, the event was to take place either at the Louisa Street Cemetery or in the countryside along Gentilly Road.
Investigation eventually brought police to the Hopkins Plantation at Gentilly and Elysian Fields. By the time they reached the location, none of the duel participants were there.
Romeo's increasing political strength was evident in his participation in the Democratic State Convention of April 1880. The convention, held to select delegates to the party's June national convention in Cincinnati, appointed Romeo as an assistant sergeant-at-arms.
A month later, Democrats voted for delegates to nominate a senator. According to the New Orleans Daily Picayune, the election involved a threat of bullets along with the usual casting of ballots, not at all surprising for a time when organized politics was indistinguishable from organized crime:
The contest in the Fifth Ward resembled a battle more than a peaceful election. During the day some of the voters asserted their manhood by pulling their little guns out of their hip pockets, but somehow not a shot was fired. The police who were around appear to have failed to arrest any of the pistol exhibitors, although the guardians of the peace must be dimly conscious of the fact that such demonstrations are not the correct thing, even at election.
The election was a struggle between two factions in the Democratic Party. The Behan ticket, of which Romeo was a leading figure, was dominated by the conservative Democrats (the major political parties have somewhat swapped ideological leanings since then) in the "Ring." William James Behan, a Confederate veteran, had been a leader in the Reconstruction Era's Crescent City Democratic Club and the paramilitary white-supremacist White League. Behan commanded White League forces in the September 14, 1874, briefly successful insurrection against Republican state government that became known as the Battle of Liberty Place. (Joseph Macheca, at the head of a largely Sicilian unit known as the Innocenti, played a pivotal role in the White League victory.)
Behan's opposition was Randall Lee Gibson, a former Confederate officer and a one-time Ring Democrat who had become a political reformer. Gibson's faction was victorious in this contest, but Behan later won elections for mayor and state senator.
The reform movement in New Orleans gave rise to a series of vigilance committees, determined to cleanse corruption from local politics but not patient enough (or popular enough) to do it through the election process.
One of the committees made a target of Romeo in midsummer 1881. It announced that "'Nine-Fingered Frank' alias 'Dago Frank' said to be a notorious character" had twenty-four hours to leave the city. It appears that Romeo did not oblige. Remaining in New Orleans had no immediate negative consequences for him, but vigilantes seemed to remember him ten years later.
The "notorious character" continued to contribute to the Ring. In November of 1882, he was named a deputy sheriff for Election Day duty at Poll 1 of the Fifth Ward.
In the year 1883, Romeo received some positive press in connection with genuine acts of heroism. When a young local boy, August Ralph, slipped into the water of the Old Basin Canal near Villere Street on May 8, Romeo jumped in after him and saved the boy from drowning.
On December 19, he took an active role in gathering donations of food and other items for poor and starving Italian immigrants who arrived from a failed work colony in Vera Cruz, Mexico. The next day, Romeo was named to a small committee to solicit donations across the city for the new arrivals.
The positive press was interrupted on the last day of 1884, when Romeo was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and was fined one dollar. It returned briefly in the form of a July 1885 story about Romeo apprehending Edward Bruno, who stabbed another man with a piece of hoop iron during an argument, and turning Bruno over to the police.
However, in June 1886, a news story accused Romeo of being a "barroom loafer" and linked him with the assault of a local woman. Marie Claude was passing Abadie's saloon, 251 Decatur Street, on the evening of June 11, the story said, when she was grabbed and beaten about the face by a man she did not know. She said the man emerged from a group sitting in front of the saloon and had no cause for his violent actions. She later recognized Frank Romeo as one of those gathered at the saloon. Romeo denied knowing Marie Claude and recalled nothing of the incident.
The newspaper explained that the group of men gathered at the same location nightly "and are complained of as a general nuisance."
Romeo was fined another dollar following a disturbing the peace conviction in February of 1889.
An all too common means of suppressing liberal Republican voter turnout during this period was "bulldozing." That was the practice of using violence and threats to keep African American voters from going to the polls. Calling themselves "Regulators," the bulldozing terrorists were responsible for numerous outrages in Louisiana beginning in the mid-1870s.
The New Orleans Times-Democrat of September 1, 1889, contained an odd story relating to African American election rallies in the Third District. It reported that "Nine Fingered Frank" Romeo (referred to as "Romero" in this story) planned to "organize a strong force of Italians to go to the Third District and prevent the bulldozing of negroes." [39; emphasis added]
It is uncertain if Romeo took any such preventive action or ever intended to, but preventing bulldozing would have been a strange priority for a loyal Behan supporter. Perhaps he intended to participate in bulldozing activities while publicly claiming to do the opposite.
Politics in the late 19th Century was a violent job. In November 1889, there was evidence that Romeo was taking his work home with him. On November 11, he was charged with committing assault and battery against his wife. He was released in bail.
Though New Orleans had experienced well-publicized Mafia conflicts since the 1860s, Romeo was not publicly linked with the Sicilian underworld society. That changed in 1890, when a friend was accused of murder.
In July of 1890, Rocco Geraci, an enforcer for the Matranga Mafia organization (known as the Stuppagghieri or Stoppaglieri) in the city, was brought to trial for the December 12, 1886, fatal shooting of Vincent Raffo. Raffo, a local shoemaker, was a member of a rival Mafia clan (known as the Giardinieri) built around the Provenzano Family. The incident began as an exchange of insults between Geraci and Raffo on St. Philip Street between Decatur and Chartres. Members of both factions rushed to the scene as the disagreement became physical. Firearms were drawn and gunshots were exchanged before the Mafiosi dispersed. When police arrived, they found Raffo, wounded, sitting in a chair. He died about a week later at Charity Hospital.
No charges were brought against Geraci for several years, probably a side effect of a truce between the Matranga and Provenzano clans. When the gangland war erupted again with an ambush of Matranga men in May 1890 and a trial of Provenzano leaders for that ambush in July, Frank Demar, a Provenzano in-law and an employee of the Provenzano Brothers fruit business, swore out a murder complaint against Geraci.
Luke Heywood told the court that he saw two men running from the scene of the shooting. He knew them both. They were Rocco Geraci and Nine-Fingered Frank Romeo. Both men were armed.
A preliminary hearing on the charge was held before Recorder Guy Dreux on July 26, 1890. Assistant District Attorney Finney built his case against Geraci on the statement of Demar. When called to the stand, Demar said he had been walking down Decatur Street with acquaintances Robert Johnson and Nick Giulio (a Provenzano man charged in the ambush against the Matrangas) on the night Raffo was shot. He heard shots and then saw Geraci run around the corner from St. Philip Street with a pistol in his hand. As Geraci ran by he spotted Demar and the others and put a finger to his mouth to signal that they should not say anything about the incident.
A week later, according to Demar's testimony, Geraci visited Demar's home, Frenchmen Street between Greatman (now Dauphine) and Royal, and delivered a clear instruction that he should not speak with the authorities about what he saw.
Other witnesses told the court they were afraid to speak about the case because it involved "the secret society."
Luke Heywood, a private watchman, linked Frank Romeo to the Mafia organization and to the killing of Raffo, even as he contradicted Demar's testimony. Heywood told the court that he saw two men running from the scene of the shooting. He knew them both. They were Rocco Geraci and Nine-Fingered Frank Romeo. Both men were armed.
Witness Jacob Siether further muddied the waters. He testified that he also saw two men running. While one was Geraci, he said, the other was definitely not Romeo. Siether said he knew both Geraci and Romeo for several years.
As the recorder's court sent the case along to criminal court, Geraci was released in bail of $5,000. Bail was provided by Anthony Patorno, a former city alderman. Following the preliminary hearing, political connections were able to have the charge against Geraci dropped. Romeo was never charged in connection with the Raffo killing.
On other item of interest: Charles Patorno, brother of the Anthony Patorno who provided bail to Geraci, was known to be closely associated with the Matrangas and with Joseph Macheca. The lives of Rocco Geraci and Charles Patorno, like those of Romeo and Macheca, were later cut short by the raid at Orleans Parish Prison.
After the resumption of the shooting war between the Matranga and Provenzano Mafia factions, local police Chief David Hennessy personally launched an investigation into the Sicilian Mafia secret society and its branch offices in New Orleans. On September 1, 1890, he secured a promise of cooperation from Luigi Berti, chief of the Italian police agency in Rome. The two chiefs of police, separated by thousands of miles but united in their ambition to dismantle the transatlantic Mafia network, were both dead before winter.
Late at night on October 15, Hennessy was on his way home from a city meeting, when he was knocked off his feet by shotgun blasts of birdshot from across the dark street. Several assassins stepped into the street to fire higher caliber slugs into the police chief's body before running off into the night.
Hennessy managed to stand and stagger to the corner, firing his revolver in the direction of the fleeing assassins. Within sight of his home, he collapsed to the sidewalk. An old acquaintance, William J. O'Connor, was the first to reach the fallen police chief. "Oh, Billy, Billy," Hennessy said. "They have given it to me, and I gave them back the best I could." O'Connor asked, "Who gave it to you, Dave?"
Hennessy reportedly answered with an ethnic slur: "Dagoes."
Chief Hennessy was taken to Charity Hospital. He died there the next day.
Hennessy's answer to O'Connor, combined with eyewitness accounts and evidence, led authorities to conclude that the Stuppagghieri were responsible for killing the police chief. A large number of suspected Mafiosi were taken into custody and questioned at Central Police Station. A small group was separated from the rest, charged and taken to Orleans Parish Prison.
Warrants were issued for the arrest of men believed to be leaders of the Stuppagghieri: Charles Matranga, Rocco Geraci, Frank Romeo, Charles Patorno and Joseph P. Macheca. (It seems that the New Orleans-born Macheca was more of a patron or respected adviser than a leader of the organization.)
While the others had been observed celebrating together in public on the night Hennessy was shot, Romeo's inclusion in the group of wanted men seemed to be based entirely on a belief that he was top figure in the local Mafia.
The press later described Romeo as the Mafia "master-at-arms" and indicated that he was responsible for meeting new Sicilian arrivals in New Orleans and picking out those who appeared to have promise as Mafia killers: "Romero was a hanger-on in the courts, kept track of the 'green' dagoes, begged for peddling permits for them, and was the man selected to pick out assassins when there was murder to be done."
The men arranged through Ring contacts to surrender themselves at the Central Police Station in the afternoon of October 17. They were processed at the station and then transported to Parish Prison.
Mob surrounds Orleans Parish Prison
Prosecutors found a good deal of evidence against the alleged shooters but sought to make a meaningful connection to the Stuppagghieri leaders. That was a problem. A solution emerged through Hennessy's long friendship with William Pinkerton, head of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The Pinkerton agency assigned agent Francis Dimaio to enter Parish Prison undercover as an arrested Italian counterfeiter and gain the confidence of Mafiosi.
Dimaio entered the prison on January 5, 1891. His first chore was to seem as little like a curious undercover agent as possible. When Frank Romeo approached him with questions about his identity, Dimaio delivered a devastating uppercut. He then instructed the flattened Romeo to leave him alone.
After a cooling down period, Dimaio made amends by offering to share with Romeo a bottle of wine that a friend had sent into the prison. (Prisoners with means could have food and beverages - even alcoholic ones - brought to them at the prison.)
The agent spent about six weeks within the prison walls. He overheard many of the Mafiosi's conversations, including plans to bribe or bully the witnesses against them, and he gained the confidence of one of the alleged shooters, Manuel Pollizzi, by gradually convincing him that his codefendants were trying to poison him.
Over time, he gained an understanding of the structure of the underworld organization. The Stuppagghieri included two levels: established Mafia members and "greenhorn" associates (those recruited by Romeo). He learned that assassins, when needed for a underworld assignment, were selected randomly from the greenhorns. He also heard the bragging of Romeo, who "was very proud of his reputation as a tough [and] began boasting how he and the other Italian prisoners controlled the city."
Much of what Dimaio discovered was not put to use by prosecutors, who failed (or perhaps refused) to make any case at all against Mafia boss Charles Matranga. Dimaio information may have figured in the prosecution's decision to separate defendants into two groups for trial.
The failure of the first trial to produce any guilty verdicts, evidence of jury tampering and a series of rabble-rousing speeches at a mass meeting in the morning of March 14, 1891, led the mob of angry New Orleanians to swarm Parish Prison. An execution squad carefully selected by a reform Democrat vigilante group (calling itself "Regulators") and armed with rifles and shotguns, entered the prison under instructions to kill eleven prisoners.
'Execution squad' opens fire in prison yard
Frank Romeo, Rocco Geraci, Pietro Monastero, Antonio Bagnetto, James Caruso, Loreto Comitis and Charles Traina fled the attackers by slipping into the women's side of the prison. The squad of gunmen cornered the men in the women's prison yard.
Some of the defenseless prisoners dropped to their knees and begged for mercy. Romeo did no such thing.
According to the New Orleans Times-Democrat, Romeo was the first of that group to be shot. He was standing beside a brick pillar when one member of the execution squad shot him in the head at very close range, "shattering his skull and making the brain shoot out from his forehead. He leaped into the air and fell face downward on the ground, his blood streaming from the wound and his mouth and nostrils giving forth jets of blood."
The squad then fired a volley into the other men in the yard. All fell in a heap on the ground. Monastero's arm rose momentarily from the human pile, prompting a second volley from the gunmen. When the execution squad surveyed its work, it found Bagnetto still alive. The wounded prisoner was taken outside the prison and hanged from a tree.
Several other prisoners - Macheca, Antonio Scaffidi and Antonio Marchesi - were shot to death after fleeing to the prison's death row cells. Manuel Pollizzi was dragged outside, hanged from a lamp post and shot.
Coroner Yves Rene LeMonnier performed post-mortem examinations of the executed prisoners and conducted inquests at the prison. He found that Frank Romeo had died of a "gunshot wound on head above the forehead; face power-burnt. All shot lodged in the head and skull inside is completely shattered."
Coroner's inquest (Weekly Times Democrat, March 20, 1891)
A crowd turned out to the Romeo residence on Julia Street on the morning of March 15 to pay respects to Frank Romeo. The home's front room was shrouded in white. Candles burned beneath a small crucifix near the casket. A simple funeral service was performed by Father Fallon of St. Patrick's Church. Just after ten o'clock, Romeo's remains were driven off in a hearse with two or three other carriages comprising the cortège.
Some press reports indicated that Romeo's intended final resting place was within "Howard Cemetery." That appears to have been an alternate name for the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. The Times-Democrat noted that Romeo was interred in the Tiro al Bersaglio tomb.
Tiro al Bersaglio (shooting at targets), an Italian fraternal order in New Orleans, had been formed a couple of decades earlier. In the 1870s, it conducted parades, picnics, banquets and marksmanship exhibitions to mark significant moments in Italian history. Columbus Day was a favorite for uniformed parades through the city. Joseph Macheca served as the group's assistant marshal in 1870 and became first marshal for its Columbus Day march in 1873.
It is uncertain when Romeo joined Tiro al Bersaglio, but the Times-Democrat stated that he was a member at the time of his death.
In May of 1891, a reporter crossed the Atlantic to interview the families of some of the executed prisoners. The reporter found the family of Frank Romeo living near the family of Antonio Bagnetto in Palermo. Romeo's brother and sister were interviewed:
The brother is a sailor. As he sat in his little room his grim Saracenic countenance gleamed in the flickering candlelight. His sister wore a Sicilian bandana around her head. On the walls were pictures of saints and martyrs. The rough sailor drew his hand across his eyes as he showed me a photograph of four children. "They are his orphans," he said. "He left a widow and seven children in New Orleans. Ah, God! how could they do it without pity and without justice! Our poor father was ninety-one years old when he heard the news. He could not bear it. He fell on the floor just where you are, signor, and now he is in his grave. He loved Francesco and wanted to see him, but he would not leave me. It was fate."
The sister said news from America "took my heart away. My poor brother was called a Mafioso."
"It was cowardly to kill a defenseless prisoner," the brother added. "They were locked in. My brother did not deserve such a death. He was good fellow. Mafia! It is nonsense that they speak... We were expecting a cable message that he was free, when we read that the public authorities had allowed him to be murdered in cold blood..."
Tiro al Bersaglio tomb
In 1906, Italian-Americans in New Orleans were moved to place a large statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, whose military skill led to Italian unification, atop the Tiro al Bersaglio tomb in Metairie Cemetery. The fraternal order that built the tomb had since changed its name to the Tiro al Bersaglio Generale Garibaldi.
The statue was unveiled in an elaborate ceremony on September 23, 1906, before an estimated crowd of 1,500.
The tomb was not to be Romeo's place of eternal rest, however.
In the 1960s, the Tiro al Bersaglio tomb was heavily damaged in a vicious storm. The structure was dismantled, and the numerous remains within were interred in other gravesites.
The spot where the tomb once stood, reported to be Section 88 along Metairie's Avenue B, is now occupied by two tombs, one for jazz artist Louis Prima and the other for New Orleans restaurateur James "Diamond Jim Moran" Brocato, who counted influential politicians, mobsters and entertainers among his close friends.
The current whereabouts of Frank Romeo's remains are uncertain. Evidence of Romeo's (hopefully) final, final resting place may be yet be found in the vast collection of cemetery records.
Given the reporting standards of the period, it is difficult to verify that all the news stories about Frank Romeo are referring to the same individual. Several Frank Romeos are known to have lived in New Orleans. It is the author's best guess that the sources used here all refer to the same Frank Romeo.
Thanks to Adam J. Romero and to Ronald Rawson for renewing my interest in this subject and providing some pieces of the puzzle.
1 -State of Louisiana vs. Peter Natali et al., Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans, indictment for murder, no. 14220, Nov. 20, 1890, indictment for shooting while lying in wait with intent to murder, no. 14221, Nov. 20, 1890, and no. 14231 Nov. 22, 1890; Hunt, Thomas, and Martha Macheca Sheldon, Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, Second Edition, CreateSpace, 2010, p. 276.
2 -Hunt and Sheldon; "Avenged," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 15, 1891, p. 2; "Eleven Italians lynched," New York Tribune, March 15, 1891, p. 1.
3 -"Burial of the dead," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 16, 1891, p. 2; "Nine fingered Frank," New Orleans Times, Sept. 24, 1875, p. 8; United States Census of 1870, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, New Orleans, Ward 6, p. 127; Memo from Geo. W. Flynn, supervisor of registration for the Parish of Orleans, to Governor Francis T. Nicholls, April 3, 1891, Correspondence in Relation to the Killing of Prisoners in New Orleans on March 14, 1891, U.S. State Department, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891, p. 40. The Times-Democrat pointed to the earliest birth year by indicating that Romeo was 47 at the time of his death early in 1891. The Times story suggested the latest year by stating that Romeo was "about 25" in September of 1875. The 1870 Census showed his age at 25 when information was gathered at the end of June 1870. The Flynn memo stated a birth year of 1846.
4 -United States Census of 1880, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Ward 5, Enumeration District 33, p. 6; United States Census of 1900, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Ward 2, Precinct 4, Enumeration District 12, p. 3; New Orleans Louisiana Birth Records Index, Ancestry.com. These sources indicate that Frank Romeo's oldest son, born Oct. 18, 1877, was named Dominick Anthony and his oldest daughter, born March 5, 1879, was named Maria Elizabeth.
5 -Statement of E.A. Luminais, clerk of Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Correspondence in Relation..., p. 74.
6 -Statement of E.A. Luminais.
7 -United States Census of 1870, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, New Orleans, Ward 6, p. 127. The sixth ward, on the downtown side of the French Quarter, was just four city squares wide, similar to the fourth ward, sitting between Canal Street and St. Louis Street on the uptown edge of the Quarter.
8 -Statement of E.A. Luminais.
9 -Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, Ancestry.com; Louisiana Confederate Soldiers Index, Vol. 1, p. 636, Ancestry.com.
10 -This was the location of the produce section of the city's sprawling French Market.
11 -"In articulo mortis," New Orleans Bulletin, Sept. 29, 1875, p. 8.
12 -"Fatal load of buckshot," New Orleans Bulletin, Sept. 24, 1875, p. 1; "Accidental shooting," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 24, 1875, p. 1; "Nine fingered Frank," New Orleans Times, Sept. 24, 1875, p. 8.
13 -"Nine fingered Frank;" "Accidental shooting;" Soards' New Orleans City Directory for 1877, New Orleans: L. Soards & Co., 1877, p. 134.
14 -"Nine fingered Frank;" Soards' New Orleans City Directory for 1877, New Orleans: L. Soards & Co., 1877, p. 554; Soards' New Orleans City Directory for 1878, New Orleans: L. Soards & Co., 1878, p. 587.
15 -"In articulo mortis."
16 -"Accidental shooting;" "Nine fingered Frank."
17 -"Nine fingered Frank."
18 -This may have been John P. Carrere, who ran a feed store on the same block.
19 -"In articulo mortis."
20 -"A dying declaration," New Orleans Republican, Sept. 29, 1875, p. 3; New Orleans, Louisiana, Death Records, Sept. 29, 1875, Ancestry.com; Louisiana Statewide Death Index, Sept. 29, 1875, Ancestry.com.
21 -"Charged with murder," New Orleans Bulletin, Dec. 29, 1875, p. 8; "Local intelligence," New Orleans Republican, Dec. 29, 1875, p. 3; "The Detie homicide," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 29, 1875, p. 1.
22 -"The examination of...," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 31, 1875, p. 1; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Bulletin, Jan. 11, 1876, p. 6; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Republican, Jan. 11, 1876, p. 5; "Court notes," New Orleans Times, Jan. 11, 1876, p. 8; "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 11, 1876, p. 2.
23 -Gaster, D.F., "List of assassinations, murders, and affrays...," April 13, 1891, Correspondence in Relation..., p. 79.
24 -"Superior criminal court," New Orleans Republican, Feb. 9, 1876, p. 5; "Indictments," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Feb. 9, 1876, p. 2; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Democrat, Feb. 15, 1876, p. 1; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Bulletin, Feb. 15, 1876, p. 6; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Republican, March 11, 1876, p. 1; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Bulletin, March 11, 1876, p. 6; "Superior criminal court," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 11, 1876, p. 2.
25 -"Superior criminal court," New Orleans Bulletin, March 11, 1876, p. 6.
26 -New Orleans Louisiana Birth Records Index, Ancestry.com; United States Census of 1880, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Ward 5, Enumeration District 33, p. 6; United States Census of 1900, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Ward 2, Precinct 4, Enumeration District 12, p. 3; United States Census of 1910, Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Ward 3, Precinct 13, Enumeration District 51, p. 8; Louisiana Statewide Death Index, Ancestry.com; New Orleans LA Death Records Index, Ancestry.com; Soards' 1878, p. 587; Soards' New Orleans City Directory for 1886, New Orleans: L. Soards, 1878, p. 686; "O'Malley is in danger," Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1891, p. 1.
27 -"Election yesterday," New Orleans Daily Democrat, Aug. 2, 1878, p. 1; "Reconstruction I: A state divided," Louisiana State Museum Online Exhibits, crt.state.la.us, 2017, accessed Sept. 1, 2018.
28 -"Political notices," New Orleans Daily Democrat, Nov. 4, 1878, p. 5; "The fruit dealers," New Orleans Daily Democrat, Nov. 5, 1878, p. 8.
29 -"Going out to fight," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 29, 1879, p. 2.
30 -"The Democratic convention," Alexandria Louisiana Democrat, April 21, 1880, p. 3.
31 -"Congressional delegates," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 30, 1880.
32 -Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, Vol. 1, Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1892, p. 279-280; Hunt and Sheldon, p. 73-74, 76, 101, 104; Dinwiddie, Jennifer, Biographical note, Behan Family Papers, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, specialcollections.tulane.edu, 2017, accessed Sept. 1, 2018; Administrations of the mayors of New Orleans: William J. Behan (1840-1928), Louisiana Division of New Orleans Public Library, Nutrias.org, Nov. 19, 2002, accessed Sept. 1, 2018.
33 -"A vigilance committee in New Orleans," Memphis TN Public Ledger, July 22, 1881, p. 1.
34 -"Political," New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 6, 1882, p. 3.
35 -"Misdeeds and mishaps," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 9, 1883, p. 3; "Strangers within our gates," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 20, 1883, p. 8; "The Italian colonists," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 21, 1883, p. 2.
36 -"Criminal District Court," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Jan. 1, 1884, p. 3.
37 -"A barroom loafer strikes a passing female," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 12, 1886, p. 8; "Misdeeds and mishaps," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 27, 1885, p. 8.
38 -"Second recorder's court," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Feb. 9, 1889, p. 7.
39 -"Mr. Price's escort from Napoleonville to Thibodaux," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sept. 1, 1889, p. 3; "White regulators," New York Times, July 5, 1876, p. 8.
40 -"Second recorder's court," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Nov. 9 1889, p. 6.
41 -Hunt and Sheldon, p. 197.
42 -"Rocco Geraci," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 27, 1890, p. 6; "Trial of Garaci," New Orleans Times-Democrat, July 27, 1890, p. 10.
43 -"Trial of Garaci."
44 -"Rocco Geraci;" Hunt and Sheldon, p. 236.
45 -"La morte improvvisa del comm. Berti," Gazzetta Piemontese, Oct. 30, 1890; "Luigi Berti," Giornale di Roma, Nov. 6, 1890, p. 2; "Cable flashes," Los Angeles Herald, Oct. 30, 1890, p. 1; "Obituary note," New York Times, Oct. 30, 1890, p. 2; "The Hennessy case," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 22, 1891, p. 8; New Orleans Item, March 17, 1891. Hennessy wrote to Luigi Berti, director general of public security, on Aug. 12, 1890. Berti's reply was dated Sept. 1. Hennessy was mortally wounded in a shooting attack near his home on Oct. 15, dying at Charity Hospital the next morning. Berti was stricken ill suddenly while at a cafe on Oct. 29. He died later at his Rome apartment. Reports indicated that Berti died of "apoplexy," perhaps the result of a stroke. There was some speculation, revealed in the New Orleans Item, that Berti had been poisoned.
46 -"Assassinated," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Oct. 16, 1890, p. 1; "The slain chieftain," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Oct. 17, 1890, p. 1. There are reasons to doubt O'Connor's account. These are spelled out in Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon. Prosecutors of the Hennessy assassins may have been aware that O'Connor was not reliable. Though he should have been an important witness in the murder trial, he was never called to the stand.
47 -"Work of the Mafia," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 18, 1891, p. 1.
48 -Hunt and Sheldon, p. 247-248, 251-252.
49 -Horan, James D., The Pinkertons: The Detective Dynasty that Made History, New York: Bonanza Books, 1967, p. 428, 431.
50 -Hunt and Sheldon, p. 283-286, 289-290.
51 -After the executions, William Stirling Parkerson, who organized the attack on the prison, insisted that everything had gone according to plan. But some sources suggest that Parkerson had planned to have just six prisoners executed - those who had a case made against them in court but were not convicted by the jury. Frank Romeo was not in that group.
52 -"Avenged," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 15, 1891, p. 2; "The outcome," Alexandria LA Democrat, March 18, 1891, p. 2; Hunt and Sheldon, p. 349-352.
53 -"Bodies views by the coroner," Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1891, p. 1.
54 -"Burial of the dead," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 16, 1891, p. 2; "Burying the bodies," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 16, 1891, p. 1; "O'Malley is in danger," Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1891, p. 1.
55 -"We have received...," New Orleans Republican, June 3, 1870, p. 4; "The Tiro al Bersaglio...," New Orleans Republican, June 25, 1870, p. 4; "The memory of Christopher Columbus," New Orleans Republican, Sept. 22, 1870, p. 5; "The twelfth of October," New Orleans Republican, Oct. 8, 1870, p. 1; "The discovery of America," New Orleans Republican, Oct. 13, 1870, p. 1; "The Italian Society...," New Orleans Republican, May 31, 1871, p. 4; "Tiro al Bersaglio," New Orleans Republican, June 13, 1871, p. 5; "Celebration," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Oct. 13, 1873, p. 1.
56 -"Across the sea," New Orleans Times-Democrat, May 6, 1891, p. 1.
57 -"Garibaldi statue," New Orleans Item, Sept. 24, 1906, p. 1.
58 -Rawson, Ronald, emailed communications, May 27, 2018; "Remembering Hurricane Betsy - 50 years ago," USA Today, Sept. 9, 2015. The author's best guess is that the storm was Hurricane Betsy of September 1965. That storm struck New Orleans as a Category 3 and caused massive flooding and wind damage and resulted in at least 75 deaths.
59 -Rawson, emails; Gurtner, George, "All that glitters," New Orleans Magazine, October 2006, myneworleans.com, accessed Sept. 5, 2018; Lopez, Kenny, "'Millionaire's row': Who is buried in Metairie Cemetery?" WGNO, wgno.com, Oct. 31, 2013, accessed June 8, 2018.