Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy

Moving Up

Carlos Marcello (AP)
Carlos Marcello
(AP)

Dropping out of school at the age of fourteen, Carlos Marcello began to spend more of his time with the people with whom he dealt at the fruit markets along Decatur Street. He found it easy to adapt to their ways and began his school of learning in criminality by studying the seasoned hoods and street punks who worked the fringes of the Mafia. When he reached the age of eighteen, Carlos was ready to fly on his own. He left the family nest in their rambling home in Algiers and moved into a $2 a week room in the French Quarter. In 1929, he and three of his street thug friends robbed a bank in Algiers not far from his father's West Bank farm. Joseph agreed to hide their stolen proceeds on the farm, but for some reason, younger brother Peter went to the local police and informed on Carlos. He and his father were arrested, however, their money returned in full, the bank did not press charges and they were never prosecuted.

In the months that followed, Carlos recruited two young thugs, one aged sixteen and one thirteen, and under his guidance, they robbed a grocery store owned by a Chinese trader. The money was to finance the purchase of firearms to use on another proposed raid on the same bank. Carlos perceived it to be an easy target, and had been encouraged in the face of the bank's failure to prosecute him the last time. However, before the planned robbery could be carried out, a clerk from the grocery store spotted the two young accomplices on a street in Algiers. Arrested by the police, they gave up Carlos and he was arrested. On May 28, 1930, he was sentenced to serve nine to twelve years in the dreaded state prison in Angola.

His father worked tirelessly to get him released, and after serving only four years of his sentence, Carlos was out of prison. The fix had gone in, first through a member of the state legislature, and then a mysterious power broker called Peter Hand, who wielded a lot of influence with Governor O. K. Allen. He eventually issued the pardon.

The manipulation of politicians and senior officers in the local government of Louisiana would be a trademark of Carlos Marcello in the years that lay ahead, as he built up and consolidated his power base in what was one of the most corrupt political arenas in America.

Out of prison at the age of twenty-four, Carlos found his brothers and sisters were all growing up and shaping their own lives. His father Joseph had expanded his interests outside of the farm into shrimping, a business dominated by those men affiliated to the [Mafia]. Shrimping had always been a staple of the Sicilian agricultural economy and the mobsters of Louisiana were quick to seize the opportunities present in such an important industry that generated its activities in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

As soon has he had built up enough capital, Carlos used some of it to make a down payment of $500 on a rundown bar in Gretna, the Jefferson Parish county seat. Frequented almost entirely by black workers, Carlos renamed the bar "The Brown Bomber" in honour of the Negro heavyweight champion, Joe Louis. Carlos brought in his brother Peter, now a handsome, well built young man of twenty-two, to mange it.

Gretna, was in those days, a seedy community on the west bank of the Mississippi, operating under a corrupt police force and an equally corrupt council, all of who were in the pocket of the Mafia. To visitors, it offered gambling halls and whorehouses, drug dens and bars that stayed open all hours and catered for anyone, of any age. The Brown Bomber soon established a reputation as a good place to score drugs, drink and gamble around the clock. If customers got unruly and obstreperous, Carlos personally threw them out on their ear. Although he never grew any taller than five feet four inches, he was built like an oak stump, and developed the reputation as a fiercesome brawler. He paid off the local Mafioso who controlled the block on which his bar was located and through him, kept the police at bay.

By the age of twenty-five, Carlos was a "made" member of the Mafia. He had linked up with Frank Todaro, a capo or crew chief, in the Matranga crime family and was sponsored by him into "the honoured society." Carlos' sister Mary, now aged nineteen, became the best friend of Todaro's daughter Jacqueline, who was a bridesmaid at her wedding. As a result, Carlos, the best man at the wedding, met Jacqueline and fell head over heels in love with her. After a brief courtship, they married on September 6, 1936.

Their first home was a small apartment above the liquor store that Carlos owned in Algiers. His new wife ran the business, while Carlos and brother Peter devoted all their time and energy to The Brown Bomber.

The Mafia in Louisiana was much more loosely structured than its counterpart families that had emerged in Chicago, New York and the other large industrial cities to the north. Those northern organizations were constructed along strict hierarchic lines of management control, with a pyramid of power that worked down from a family boss to the street soldiers. To avoid problems and mediate on territorial disputes, these Mafia clans answered to a ruling body called the commissione, a kind of arbitration court made up of the heads of the more powerful families. The Louisiana Mafia operated along different lines. It was more a spontaneous grouping of individual entrepreneurs, linked sometimes by family ties, but not always. In many ways it more resembled the Sicilian [Mafia] than its American counterparts. The only one operating in the area, it did not have to worry about territorial disputes, and so could concentrate energy and activities on its real purpose to make money. Many members of the Louisiana [Mafia] operated their own businesses and ran with a degree of autonomy that was unheard of in the other similar crime groups that had developed across America.

Early in 1937, Carlos and brother Vincent, now approaching eighteen, set up a business a pinball and jukebox-distributing outfit they called the Jefferson Music Company. Soon, they were strong-arming their way into bars and restaurants in Algiers. Running the bar, the liquor store and the gaming machine company was not enough to satisfy Carlos' need for cash. He saw the huge profits to be made in drug trafficking. Starting in a small way in 1935, by the end of 1937, he and four partners had built up what the Federal Narcotics Bureau described as: "one of the major marijuana rings in the New Orleans area."

In March 1938, an undercover drug agent posing as a dealer bought twenty-three pounds of marijuana from Carlos, and then arrested him on the spot. On Saturday October 29th, 1938, Carlos pleaded guilty before Judge Ruffs E. Foster and was sentenced to a year and one day in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary; he was also fined $76,830. He settled for this with a token payment of $400 on the plea that he was a pauper. Again, strings were pulled, and he was released after nine months; again, being pardoned by the generous governor, O.K. Allen.

Back in business, Carlos devoted most of his time to his jukebox business. Aided by Frank Todaro and his men of the family, the two brothers saw their business move into a boom mode. And then along came Frank.

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