Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The St. Louis Family

The Green Ones

St Louis Missouri skyline (CORBIS)
St Louis Missouri skyline (CORBIS)

The trek by Italian criminals in New Orleans to St. Louis began shortly after the end of the Civil War. Black Hand extortion was reported in the city as early as 1876. However, Italians would not dominate organized crime in the city until after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

By the time Prohibition arrived, there were five gangs of importance in the St. Louis: The Sicilian Green Ones, the Pillow Gang, the Egan's Rats, the Hogan Gang, and the Cuckoos.

The Green Ones reportedly received their name from the farming communities in Sicily where they originated. The leadership of this group, brothers John and Vito Giannola and Alphonse Palizzola, came from the Stoppagleria faction of the Sicilian mafia. The trio financed their passage to United States with several robberies in 1915. Once they arrived in America the three went their separate ways John Giannola to Chicago, Vito Giannola to St. Louis, and Palizzola to Springfield, Illinois.

A few years later at Vito's urging they reunited in St. Louis where they imposed a tax on all goods sold in the city's Italian community. With little resistance, the trio went about establishing a foothold in the rackets. In 1923, Vito moved to take control of the wholesale meat industry. One recalcitrant distributor objected and was brutally murdered as an example to others. His body was found under the Kingshighway viaduct on September 16, 1923.

Finding bootlegging a more prosperous venture, the trio soon found that the non-Italian gangs dominated the liquor trade in St. Louis. Their first endeavor in this area resulted in the death of Sam Palizzola, a relative of Alphonse, in September 1924. The murder was believed to have been carried out by members of the Egan's Rats gang. When members of that gang were sent to prison in 1925, the Green Ones found a new adversary in the Cuckoos Gang.

The Green Ones struck the first blow in this battle. On September 14, 1925, John and Catherine Gray were murdered after complaining about having to purchase liquor for their Eagle Park resort from the Green Ones. The couple was shot dead in their automobile, which was then set on fire. The Cuckoos retaliated by shooting up a farmhouse hideout of the Green Ones where the gang had an alky-cooking operation. No one was injured.

On January 29, 1926, law officers Ohmer Hockett and John Balke attempted to shake down a still operation belonging to the Green Ones. After ignoring an opening offer of $200, the two men waited until "the boss" arrived. The two lawmen were greeted by four members of the gang, who then beat them unconscious. The following day they were taken into the woods and watched as their graves were dug. They were then shot and buried.

Pasquale Santino, a member of a rival gang, put the finger on Alphonse Palizzola, as he became the first of the Green Ones' leadership to be murdered. On September 9, 1927, four gunmen blasted away at Palizzola on Tenth Street. A 10-year-old boy was also killed by one of the ricocheting bullets.

Vito Giannola was the next to die. He was shot 37 times while hiding in the house of Augustina Cusumano on December 28, 1927. Giannola had chased away Cusumano's husband and was living with the woman. Two men claiming to be police officers came to the house and, after finding Giannola hiding in a secret compartment upstairs, murdered him. John Giannola went into hiding after the death of his brother and was never again a factor in St. Louis. He was said to have died peacefully in his sleep in 1955.

James Licavoli, (POLICE)
James Licavoli,

During the short Giannola and Palizzola leadership, police records show 30 people were murdered and 18 wounded. Among the wounded was James Licavoli, the future boss of the Cleveland mafia. Police shot Licavoli as they attempted to arrest Joseph Bommarito, an associate of the Green Ones. The police killed Bommarito when he resisted arrest.

Another associate of Licavoli at this time was Giovanni "John" Mirabella who was arrested at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio in December 1928 during the first known meeting of the national crime cartel. He and Licavoli would eventually work together in Detroit, Toledo and Youngstown. Mirabella was a suspect in the sensational murder of Detroit radio crusader Jerry Buckley in July 1930.


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