Joseph Macheca

Joseph Macheca (born 1843-March 14, 1891) Macheca is known for being a victim of one of the largest mob-lynchings in American history over the murder of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessey.


Macheca was born and raised in the Italian-American community of New Orleans and started his own gang there in the 1860s. The Macheca Mob was not a Mafia group when it began. In fact, it thwarted early efforts by the Sicilian Mafia to gain a foothold in the New Orleans area.

In 1868-1869, Macheca's group battled with and eventually defeated a Mafia organization led by Raffaele Agnello. Macheca reportedly learned a great deal from his encounters with the Agnello gang and adopted its Sicilian Mafia-style hierarchy and old-country connections after the conflict was ended. Macheca fell under the influence of the newly formed Mafia splinter group, the Stuppagghieri, based in Monreale, Sicily.

When Sicilian gang leader Giuseppi Esposito and a few followers entered New Orleans in 1879 (fleeing from Sicilian justice and unhappy with their brief experiences in the Irish- and Jewish-dominated underworld of New York), Macheca welcomed Esposito and allowed him to share leadership of the New Orleans underworld.

The New Orleans police became aware of the existence of the local Mafia branch the following year, as Esposito lieutenant Joe Provenzano began dominating rackets on the docks. The police, in particular David Hennessey and his cousin Mike, were able to move against Esposito in 1881. The Sicilian fugitive was sent to New York City in July of that year and deported to Italy on Sept. 21.

After Esposito's departure from New Orleans, the mob he left behind split into two factions, one led by Tony and Charles Matranga with Macheca their trusted adviser and the other comprised of the Provenzano family and its supporters.

Through the course of the next six years, the two sides imported numerous Sicilian criminals to enhance their strength, the Provenzano group drawing from Palermo's Mafiosi and the Macheca group drawing from the Stuppagghieri. Hostilities between the two groups increased until war broke out in 1888.

Murder of Police Chief David Hennessey

In the meantime, a wave of reform swept through the city government and David Hennessey was appointed police chief. Hennessey attempted to mediate the dispute between the warring Mafiosi but wound up siding with the Provenzano gang.

In April of 1890, Provenzano forces opened fire on some Macheca-Matranga men, seriously wounding two. The Macheca gang apparently disregarded the sacred tradition of omerta and helped the police locate and arrest a number of Provenzano gang members. Those gangsters were convicted of attempted murder charges in July (in the first of three scheduled trials), but perjury was suspected of the state witnesses, and the judge threw out the verdict.

Police Chief Hennessey intended to testify on the Provenzano crew's behalf. The chief corresponded with his counterpart in Rome, Italy, in an effort to get the goods on a number of Stuppagghieri in New Orleans. During his investigations, Hennessy appears to have turned up some damaging information on Joseph Macheca. The formerly cordial relationship between the two men turned hostile.

On Oct. 15, 1890, members of the Matranga mob waited for Hennessey to return home after a late night at work. They ambushed him at the corner of Girod and Basin Streets and mortally wounded the police chief. Hennessey lived long enough to report that his assassination was performed by "the dagoes." The Stuppagghieri leadership, including Macheca, was arrested and charged with the assassination of Hennessey.

Macheca and eight other defendants stood trial. On March 13, the jury announced that it had been unable to reach a verdict on some defendants and it had reached a not-guilty verdict on the rest. The New Orleans public was enraged.

With all of the defendants still held by authorities pending the dismissal of lesser charges relating to the chief's assassination, a mob stormed the prison on March 14. Eleven suspects in the Hennessy assassination - including Macheca - were seized and murdered. The incident, the largest of its kind in American history, has become known as the Crescent City Lynchings.

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