"Black Hand Gang"
Considered to be the first organized crime ring in America, the “Black Hand Gang” terrorized and extorted hundreds of citizens in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They ran their ring through Postal Inspectors territory — the U.S. Mail.
Extortion by Pen and Paper
Extortionists would send letters threatening arson, kidnapping, and murder, unless a ransom was paid. The targets were often wealthy business owners who could easily pay the ransom. The letters were signed with an anonymous ink-drawn revolver, or more commonly, a human hand, earning them the name "Black Hand Letters." If the target did not pay the ransom, their business was burned to the ground, blown up, or the victim was brutally beaten or murdered.
The terror of the "Black Hand Gang" reached from New York to San Francisco, with hubs in the Cincinnati and Chicago, for over twenty years.
Postal Inspectors vs the Black Hand Gangs
Postal Inspector Frank Oldfield led the investigation in Ohio and successfully took down the main faction branching from Ohio to California. "The Society of the Banana" posed as a group of fruit merchants, but evidence was stacked against them. In December of 1909, Oldfield and his team arrested sixteen of the members.
On January 8, 1910, Oldfield received his own "Black Hand Letter." It stated if Oldfield continued with the case he and four other federal officials were "under sentence of death." Oldfield was undeterred and the primary ring was dismantled. The following years, more instances of Black Hand Letters continued to be seen.
Taking after Oldfield's stance, victims stopped agreeing to victimization.
In one instance, Michael LoCascio was blackmailed for almost $6,000 in today's standard. LoCascio ambushed Black Hand boss Pietro "Silver King" Catalanetto, shooting and killing him.
In another, brothers Paul Mennite and Pietro mecca sent threatening letters to shoe shop owner, Anthony Petrone, demanding $300. Instead of fearing, Petrone contacted authorities. Postal Inspectors set up a sting and successfully captured the brothers.
Today, Black Hand Gangs may seem a thing of the past. But the act of writing threatening and extortionary letters is still a common practice that Postal Inspectors investigate aggressively.
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