Santo "Sam" Perrone (December 24, 1895 - December 25, 1973) also known as "The shark" or "The enforcer", was a powerful mobster and leader of a dissident faction of the Detroit Partnership.
Perrone was born to Melchiarre and Marie Perrone in Alcamo, Trapani, Sicily. Perrone emigrated to the U.S. in 1912 (at the age of 17) finding work at Detroit Stove Works as a core maker. Sam was joined at Michigan Stove Works by his brother Gaspar a couple of years later. In addition to his job at Stove Works, Perrone entered the rackets, an opportunity provided by the presence of Salvatore Catalanotte, a highly placed member of the Gianolla gang who hailed from Alcamo as well. Perrone's relation to Catalanotte (Catalanotte married a member of the Perrone family) undoubtedly helped Perrone establish himself during the early years of prohibition with the leaders of the Giannola gang. It was this association which earned Santo his first arrest on a charge of murder on January 12, 1920 when police found the body of Angelo Russo shot and stabbed near Southern Ave., and Miller Rd. Witnesses reported seeing Russo abducted from a location in the eastern portion of the city a few hours before his body was found. This arrest was the first of many outbursts of violence which led to Perrone's acquisition of nicknames like "The shark" and "The enforcer". Perrone spent less than twenty-four hours in the custody of the Detroit police and Wayne County sheriffs before being let go. It would be another 10 years before Perrone would be arrested again.
Perrone Adds To His Rap Sheet
On November 28, 1930 Perrone was arrested for violation of the Prohibition Act. This arrest came at a time when the Detroit mafia was in the midst of a change in leadership as the beloved and respected Sam Catalanotte had unexpectedly died eight months earlier of pneumonia. His death stripped Sam of his political protection and forced him to choose sides in the lucrative smuggling operations which thrived in Detroit's Sicilian quarter.
Perrone busied himself helping Frank Coppola, Onofrio Minaudo and Joe Catalanotte carryout crimes in the areas of extortion, gambling, liquor and alien smuggling. Perrone's participation in these events led to arrests for investigation of larceny (May 2, 1931), investigation (January 29, 1932) and investigation of arson (July 9, 1933). Perrone's headquarters was located at Jefferson and Canton directly across the street from Detroit Stove Works.
With every government agency and entity watching his every move from the department of immigration to the IRS because of his gang and labor racketeering activities, as well as his alleged involvement in various shootings, Perrone's headquarters "the Canton Bar" was closed and his days as a power figure within the Detroit underworld seemed numbered.
While Perrone had been listed as a suspect in a string of shootings, bombings and murders over the course of his long and bloody career. Perrone's inability to follow protocol was well known in Detroit's underworld. His reputation as an uncontrollable loose cannon was a part of his lore. Sam Perrone had for years been allowed to make his own rules as long as he enjoyed success in his criminal endeavors but his off beat tactics finally caught up with him on October 18, 1963 when he was arrested along with 3 members of his crew and charged with conspiracy to place an explosive device. The Criminal Intelligence Bureau launched an investigation into the activities of Perrone after receiving a tip from an informant that Perrone was attempting to revive the protection racket with a new twist. Perrone was said to be shaking down local business leaders after bombing their establishments. Investigators were aware of at least five bombings which they sought to attribute to Perrone's efforts to reestablish the extortion racket as one of his criminal undertakings.
End of An Era
While Santo awaited trial for charges of conspiring to bomb a company, the Detroit Partnership was undergoing a bit of a transformation. William Tocco, Angelo Meli and Joseph Bommarito were in the process of retiring for health reasons and Joe Zerilli decided it was time to turn the reigns of the outfit to his only son Anthony Zerilli who was anxious to make his mark in the world of his father. Tony was supported by many up and comers which included his cousin Jack Tocco as well as Anthony Giacalone and Vito Giacalone. Tony decided their was no place in his organization for a live wire like Sam Perrone and a plot was hatched to eliminate the hellion.
On the January 19, 1963 Perrone turned the ignition on his Pontiac which was parked outside of a Detroit car-wash he owned and was nearly killed by the blast which claimed his right leg. Santo, as well as the FBI and local police, knew who was responsible for the attempt as they had caught Tony Giacalone planning the attack on illegal wiretaps set up by the FBI. Giacalone was later caught planning a second attack which included a plan to raid Perrone's Grosse Pointe Woods home with gunmen in an effort to finish the job they had started before the still dangerous shark could plot a retaliatory strike. The plot was nixed after Perrone took ill soon after the bombing and was forced to retire from the rackets all together. Perrone had been abandoned by his longtime supporter and superior John Priziola, who finally grew tired of Perrone's solo act and allowed the young turks of the Detroit syndicate to make their move against the aging gangster.
Santo Perrone died at his home in Grosse Pointe Woods.