Gaspar Milazzo (April 25, 1887-May 31, 1930) was a major organized-crime figure in Detroit, Michigan, during the Prohibition era. He is also credited with helping establish one of the early Brooklyn-based crime families in New York City, the Castellammarese Clan, better known today as the Bonanno crime family.
Born to Vincenzo Milazzo and Camilla Pizzo in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Milazzo immigrated to the U.S. in 1911 and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Upon his arrival Milazzo quickly established himself within Brooklyn's Sicilian community and the Italian underworld.
With his desire to succeed in America the young Sicilian gangster surrounded himself with a group of friends and fellow Castellammarese mafiosi who were highly motivated and ambitious like himself. One of these men was a close associate by the name of Stefano Magaddino, another Castellammarese born Sicilian, who was a member of an influential and well-known Mafia family hailing from their hometown. Milazzo's ambition, drive and criminal talents allowed him to make his way up the ranks of the Brooklyn based Castellammarese Clan and by the late 1910s he was seen as a top member of the crime group. Gaspar Milazzo was involved in the traditional Mafia rackets of gambling, extortion, loansharking and bootlegging. Milazzo would not be arrested frequently over his criminal career like so many mafiosi and gangsters are, but his small criminal record would contain the alias Gaspar Sciblia and Gaspar Lombardo, Sciblia being his wife's maiden name.
Milazzo, like most successful mafiosi, knew the value of connections within the criminal underworld and with corrupt law enforcement agents and politicians. Because Milazzo and his band of Castellammarese mafiosi made sure they secured enough of those he never faced or experienced any serious charges or convictions that could net him serious jail time. Milazzo's leadership qualities, toughness and his ability to mediate disputes amongst his fellow gangsters made Milazzo a well-respected and feared member of the New York Mafia. By the advent of Prohibition Milazzo was considered a senior member of Brooklyn's Castellammarese Clan, as was his associate Stefano Magaddino, who was also the cousin of fellow Castellammarese and future leader of the Brooklyn clan Joseph Bonanno, the patriarch of New York's Bonanno crime family.
In his 1983 autobiography, "A Man of Honor", Bonanno wrote that "Gaspar Milazzo and his cousin Stefano Magaddino were important men in the Brooklyn based Castellammarese Clan." Along with other leaders like Vito Bonventre and Nicola "Cola" Schiro the Brooklyn based group ran and controlled a number of the criminal activities that included gambling rackets such as craps games, the Italian lottery and numbers, money lending, better known as loansharking, the extortion of business owners in the Italian community and a fair share of the bootlegging in Brooklyn and other parts of New York,.
Yet the Castellammarese Clan had competitors in the four other crime families that had formed within the city and that now comprised the powerful New York Mafia. But Milazzo and his associate Magaddino also had rivals in Brooklyn that were potentially far more dangerous than their fellow Sicilian gangsters around New York.
Before Milazzo and Magaddino had emigrated to America from Sicily they already had been close associates in Castellammare and members of the local Bonanno-Magaddino-Bonventre clan, a strong and well-known Mafia family, which had been involved in a blood feud with another Castellammarese Mafia family, the Buccellato clan. Both clans saw a number of their members emigrate to various parts of America, with Brooklyn being one destination, which meant the blood feud would carry on outside of Sicily.
Milazzo and Magaddino were under the impression that Buccellato Clan members had been responsible for the murder of Stefano's brother Pietro back in Sicily in 1916. Camillo Caiozzo, the member of the Buccellato clan and apparent offender who had murdered Pietro, had eventually emigrated to America himself. Word was sent from Sicily to Milazzo and Magaddino to alert them of Caiozzo's arroval, who sure enough was spotted by a member of the Milazzo-Magaddino inner circle, which by then was known as the "Good Killers" for their efficiency in killing their enemies and then disposing the corpses.
In the summer of 1921 Milazzo and Magaddino were allegedly able to convince, in all actuality threaten, a friend of Caiozzo's into setting him up and murdering him. The murder took place in Avon, New Jersey, where the killer or hitman, Bartolo Fontano, a low level criminal, had taken Caiozzo to see about investing money in a brothel. The two men later went hunting where Fontana shot and killed Caiozzo. Fontano who eventually broke down and confessed to the murder said he did so out of fear for his own life. New York Police were able to use Fontano's confession and his assistance to set up and arrest Magaddino. While Milazzo was implicated in the murder he was never arrested and was able to flee to Detroit and there set up a new base of operations with other Castellammarese associates. In later years he again worked closely with his friend Magaddino who was eventually removed from the pending Caiozzo case because there was no direct evidence linking Maggadino to the murder.
Arrival in Detroit
After leaving Brooklyn in 1921 and moving to Detroit Milazzo quickly used his connections to his associates back in New York and to others in areas like Chicago his maintain his involvement in the Prohibition era rackets. Detroit contained a large Sicilian immigrant population, not as big as New York, but large enough and the area was one of the east coast's bootlegging hubs with many crime groups involved in the rackets.
One of the more famous being the Jewish Purple Gang, which at the time of Milazzo's arrival into the "Motor City" controlled much of the liquor smuggling within the Detroit area. Milazzo quickly established himself as a leading mafioso with very important and influential connections within the American Mafia considering Milazzo had previously operated in New York, the American Mafia's base of power where the most powerful and influential of the Sicilian Mafia Bosses and their crime families were located. Milazzo once established himself as one of the leading Castellammarse Clan members and aligned himself with Salvatore "Singing Sam" Catalonotte, local president of the Unione Siciliana and the leading Sicilian Mafia boss in Detroit's Italian underworld. Milazzo soon won considerable respect and influence in Detroit's dangerous underworld as what else, an adviser to various Mafia leaders and a mediator of business disputes and other conflicts that seem to be part of the underworld.
Gaspar Milazzo began working with Sam Catalonotte and created a close working relationship and alliance with the powerful Mafia leader in the early-to-mid-1920s, there are conflicting reports as to exactly when Milazzo arrived in Detroit, possibly making stops in other cites with Castellammarese Clan influence such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and even California where he could look over his criminal and business opportunities in these areas of the country, but by no later than 1923 Milazzo was established in Detroit. Catalanotte who had taken over the remnants of the old Gianolla Gang and was recognized as the Detroit Mafia's "Godfather" who was able to aligned the various Mafia factions within the Detroit underworld into a cohesive criminal unit or group that controlled bootlegging operations, gambling, narcotics, prostitution and other rackets, Catalanotte's "peace treaty" was known as the "Pascuzzi Combine", which operated without the many conflicts and bloody battles that had occurred within Detroit's Italian underworld over the previous decade. Eventually with the help of Milazzo's mediating skills the two influential mafiosi kept the peace within Detroit's Italian underworld and were able mentor and advise Detroit's future Mafia Bosses so they could lead the organization into the next era.
After the death of Catalonotte in February 1930, Milazzo continued to be a high-ranking member of the Detroit crime family, although the actual extent of his power is under debate. Some organized crime writers and authors claim that Milazzo was the successor to Sam Catalanotte, but if that was even true he had a very, very short reign. It is known that Milazzo was a close associate of the East Side Gang led by Angelo Meli, William Tocco and Joseph Zerilli who took over and led the East Side Mob, the remnants of the former Gianolla Gang, Vitale-Bosco Gang and eventually became the first three leaders of the modern Detroit Parnership, otherwise known as the Detroit Combination or the Zerilli crime family. Milazzo also had a close working relationship with the other leading Detroit Mafia factions including the Down River Gang led by brothers Thomas "Yonnie" and Peter Licavoli and their cousins, the brothers Joseph "Joe Misery" and Leo "Lips" Moceri, one of the more formidable Mafia factions within Detroit whose members would become the members of the Detroit Partnership's highest levels. There was the West Side Mob which was the remnants of Sam Catalanotte's faction, Wyandotte-area Boss, Joseph "Joe the Beer Baron" Tocco, and the La Mare Gang led by Chester "Big Chet" La Mare of the Hamtramck area. Being that the West Side Mob was the remnants of Catalanotte's faction, Milazzo would have had obvious ties or a working relationship with these leaders in the rackets, as they were once under Catalanotte.
Whatever Milazzo's position within the Detroit Mafia, whether he was only the Boss of the Castellammarese Clan or faction within Detroit's Italian underworld, it is very clear that Milazzo held a level of respect and influence that allowed him to associate and work with or among the various Mafia factions that made up the Detroit Mafia during the 1920s. It is a widely held belief that Milazzo's skills as a mediator and adviser is one of the contributing factors or reason that Milazzo held his considerable underworld power and influence among the other Mafia Bosses. Another factor was the fact that Milazzo had been a leading mafiosi in New York and was still well connected to high-ranking New York Mafia members, along with other high-ranking Mafia members from Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo and the Pittston-Scranton area, no matter what his official tile was during his reign as a leading Detroit mafiosi, if he even held a title. The Consigliere title, which best suits Gaspar Milazzo's character and possible position within the Detroit and American Mafia, was not used until late 1931, but it is safe to assume that Milazzo was considered a universal councilor of sorts among the Detroit mafiosi, and the events that surround his murder actually strengthen that belief.
Chicago's power struggle and Milazzo
As a member of Detroit's Castellammarese Clan and because he was a senior member of the clan nationwide, Milazzo found himself thrust into a growing Mafia dispute in Chicago that would spill over into every American city the Castellammarese Clan's had a presence in. By the mid-to-late 1920s the various Castellammarese Clan's that had maintained a presence within some of the biggest and well-known American cities with large Sicilian communities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Buffalo had become powerful crime families that now led or at the very least rivaled any Italian crime group within the city they operated in, this included Detroit.
Milazzo had become a sort of "national councilor" within his Mafia group and because of he was frequently called upon to mediate Mafia disputes within other cities Milazzo found himself indirectly involved in a dangerous dispute within Chicago's Italian underworld that involved a fellow Castellammarese gangster and the city's leading Italian gangster who was not even a Sicilian. Giuseppe "Joe" Aiello, Chicago's Castellammarese Clan leader was struggling with Al Capone and his Capone Gang (later known as the Chicago Outfit) for control over various Prohibition era rackets such as bootlegging within South Side Chicago's Little Italy. This area of Chicago which had once been ruled by the Genna Brothers Gang, had since been taken over by Joe Aiello when 3 of the 6 Genna brothers were gunned down in 1925. Al Capone's organization coveted this territory which dominated Chicago's "home distillery" rackets because the community's Italian residents and their wine making expertise was used to operate home made liquor distilleries that were set up in apartment complexes all over the area. Another area of conflict within the Chicago Mafia was that previously Joe Aiello and Al Capone had both carried influence within the local chapter of the Unione Siciliana, but in the spring of 1929 Joe Aiello had become the Unione's leader after the murder of Giuseppe "Joseph Hop Toad" Giunta, the Unione's previous leader who Al Capone personally battered to death for betraying him. Since Al Capone was of Neapolitan descent, the Sicilian born Aiello had the upper hand and was able to thwart Capone's continuous attempts to take over the Sicilian-run organization by supporting Sicilian born gangsters to head the organization. As a Sicilian and fellow Castellammarese, Gaspar Milazzo supported Joe Aiello in his bid to eliminate the Neapolitan Al Capone being that Joe Aiello was the recognized Sicilian Boss in the city of Chicago, but even with Aiello aligning with the forces of George "Bugs" Moran and his Irish North Side Gang, Capone still held the upper hand overall.
Even with a fair size criminal organization with around 100-150 men and many associates Joe Aiello was no match for Al Capone who led a criminal organization of 300-400 made men, hundreds of associates and controlled virtually all the law enforcement and political connections within the city. New York Mafia Boss, Giuseppe Masseria, the most powerful Mafia boss in America and a Capone ally asked Milazzo to stop supporting Aiello and proposed and alliance between themselves if Milazzo would set up Aiello for assassination. Milazzo flatly refused Masseria's offer and was greatly offended by his request, and within the Italian Mafia a perceived insult of that nature did nothing except strengthen Milazzo's resolve to support his friend Aiello who also had support from Castellammarese Clan leaders in New York, Philadelphia and Buffalo. Joe Masseria, New York's so called "Boss of Bosses" felt humiliated by Milazzo's refusal and quickly came to the realization that Milazzo was not only supporting Aiello in Chicago, but was also supporting Masseria's biggest rival in New York, Salvatore Maranzano. Maranzano was another of Milazzo's fellow Castellammarese and Masseria's greatest threat to his position of power within the New York Mafia. The Milazzo-Maranzano alliance greatly increased Masseria's determination to eliminate as many Castellammerese mafiosi as possible, including Milazzo, Maranzano, Aiello and Milazzo's old friend Stefano Magaddino in Buffalo. Masseria began plotting against Milazzo and his close associate Magaddino, the leader of a powerful Western New York crime family who Masseria believed was plotting with Milazzo to assassinated him. Masseria's first move against Gaspar Milazzo was to support Milazzo's main rival in Detroit, Cesare "Chester" LaMare, a Mafia power within the Hamtramck, Detroit area, a former Salvatore Catalanotte underling and a Milazzo associate.
The Italian underworld within Detroit had experienced its own bloody power struggles in the mid-to-late 1910s and with the death of top Detroit Mafia Boss, Sam Catalanotte in early 1930, the Detroit Mafia was once again experiencing unrest, rivalry and conflict. The truce and alliance that Catalanotte had created and Milazzo had assisted with for the last few years was now coming unhinged and one of the most volatile conflicts that had already seen some violence was between the East Side and West Side Mobs. West Side Mob leader Chet La mare had sent word to East Side Mob leader Angelo Meli that he wanted a sitdown to discuss Mafia affairs and possibly end the feud, but Meli was no fool and he knew that it was not safe to meet with the treacherous La Mare. Meli figured that because Gaspar Milazzo was such a highly respected figure within the Detroit Mafia and known for his mediation skills he could send Milazzo in his place and La mare would not take it as an insult as he would understand how Milazzo would be seen as the only man who could mediate this dispute so Meli asked Milazzo to go to the meeting in his place and Milazo accepted.
What was not known to Milazzo and Meli was that powerful New York Mafia Boss Giuseppe Masseria had begun to support Chet La Mare in his bid to take over the Detroit Mafia, which was something that would not please Milazzo who was a close associate of Angelo Meli and his two right hand men, Joseph Zerilli and William Tocco. It's not known for certain whether or not Milazzo knew about Massria's support of La Mare, but it is highly unlikely that Milazzo knew that Masseria had been alerted by someone, quite possibly within the Detroit Mafia that Milazzo and Magaddino were out to assassinate him or Masseria could have just been using that as an excuse to strike at the two Castellammarse Mafia Bosses. Either way, Milazzo accepted Meli's proposal to have him attend the "sit-down" meeting with La Mare as Meli believed that La Mare wouldn't dare kill a Mafia Boss with Milazzo's respect and support knowing it was instantly start a war.
The meeting was set for the Vernor Highway Fish Market in Detroit and on May 31, 1930, Gaspar "The Peacemaker" Milazzo and his right hand man and driver, Sam "Sasa" Parrino, attended the meeting in place of Angelo Meli and his associates. Milazzo and Parrino were seated and while awaiting La mare or his representatives they began their lunch. Without comment two gunmen leaped out and unleashed a barrage of shotguns blasts that hit Milazzo in the head and killed him instantly, Parrino was hit in the chest, abdomen and arm and soon died. Gaspar Milazzo was a low key and reserved Mafia leader who was highly respected by his fellow mafiosi, he died at the age of 43 with only 3 entries for investigations into robbery and grand larceny, no convictions, he left behind his wife Rosaria who ran an Italian grocery store and 4 children
The reactions to the murder of Gaspar Milazzo was one of shock and outrage, the men who were closely aligned with Milazzo such as Meli, Tocco and Zerilli called for vengeance and were determined to eliminate La Mare and his associates for such a disgraceful attack on a man who had been an a friend to all who knew him, even La Mare whose safety in other Mafia territories outside of Detroit was assured by Gaspar Milazzo with one phone call on many occasions. Some organized crime historians and writers believe that Milazzo had become the most senior Detroit mafiosi upon Catalanotte's death, but with Milazzo being murdered only 3 months after, there was no time for Milazzo to assume power as he was allegedly supposed to do, or if he could have. Some speculate that Chet La Mare became the top Boss in Detroit, but upon Milazzo's death his closest associates and supporters unleashed a wave of violence upon the La Mare faction and decimated it within a year with over 14 murders.
La Mare himself would be betrayed and murdered by his own men less than a year later. While some organized crime historians and crime scholars speculate that Milazzo's murder started the bloody Castellammarese War in New York City between Giuseppe Masseria and Milazzo's associate, Salvatore Maranzano. Others dispute this based on the fact that close Maranzano associate and ally Gaetano Reina was murdered in New York on Masseria's orders three months prior to Milazzo's killing, but it is widely believed or considered to be the first volley within the nationwide Mafia war that lasted from 1930 to 1931 being that Milazzo and Parrino were the first Castellammarese casualties of the war and that it was this huge insult against the Castellammarese that cemented their resolve and motivated them to go to war against Joe the Boss.
In 1999, Milazzo was portrayed by Ralph Santostephano in the television movie Bonanno: A Godfather's Story.