Mafia Wiki
Mafia Wiki

Vito Adamo

Vito Adamo was a Blackhand Gang Leader from 1908-1913 and early crime boss of Detroit, Michigan.


The eldest of two immigrants from Alcamo, in the region of Sicily, Vito Adamo reigned as the first prominent Italian gang leader in the motor city. While the Adamo dynasty began halfway through the first decade of the 20th century, his gang controlled the flow of illicit liquor in and out of the growing Italian colony until the emergence of the Gianolla gang in 1912. Vito "born in 1881," was assisted in his criminal endeavors by his brother Salvatore two years his junior. Together the Adamo's oversaw a gang of extortionists, theives and killers which under the guise of protection, extorted large sums of money from newly arriving Italian immigrants in the Detroit area.

The Adamo's Canadian Contacts and Black Hand Activity

The Adamo brothers were the first Italian criminals to organize the smuggling of immigrants into the Detroit area by way of Canada a feat they carried out in conjunction with early Canadian crime figures such as Antonio Cordasco, Joseph Taglerino, Frank's Tino and Murro in addition to several other small time operators who would go on to bigger and better things long after the elimination of the Adamo brothers. The Adamo brothers operated their end of the Canadian connection by offering jobs, housing and safe passage into the country inexchange for a fee or a portion of the wages that they would make in prearranged jobs. Many immigrants with specialized skills would be setup in businesses as bakers, shoemakers ,or grocers. The most successful of these businesses often became the target of blackhand extortionists under the employ of the Adamo brothers. This arrangement often allowed the Adamo's to draw two or three seperate payments from a single business owner. Many times the extorted business owner would run back to the Adamo brothers with a request for protection from the dreaded blackhander in exchange for yet another bribe or show of appreciation for the their service and protection. The Adamo brothers lived very well as a result of their extortionate activities, rarely drawing the attention of the police who had no interest in the actions of the citizens of Detroit's Little Italy section.

The Adamo/Gianolla Feud

While the Adamo brothers brought in a good deal of money by way of extortion, the center or their empire was their control of the flow of illicit liquor in the Little Italy section. Vito listed his legitimate occupation as driver of a beer wagon for Pietro Mirabile a member of their gang who operated a salon at Rivard and Mullett streets. For years many outside of the Italian community failed to recognize Vito Adamo as the king of the Italian criminals until the outbreak of the fued between the Adamo's and the Gianolla brothers over control of the flow of illegal beer. The Gianolla brothers got their start operating a grocery store in Wyandotte, Michigan. The brothers hailed from Terrasini Sicily, a region near the birth place of the Adamo boys. The trouble between the two families began when the Gianolla brothers organized a gang of merchants and gangsters and began operating their own liquor ring which competed for many of the same customers the Adamo's sold to. The Adamo's initially fought off the Gianolla efforts by offering free ice with their deliveries of beer. The Gianolla brothers were undeterred by the temporary set back and countered this move by robbing several Adamo storage facilities and highjacking their supply of liquor. The Adamo brothers struck back shooting William Catalano and John Jervaso in the doorway of their homes on April 15, 1913. The two neighbors were reportedly members of the Gianolla gang and thus marked for death by the Adamo faction. This killing was quickly followed by a rash of killings and arrests resulting in little or no information being forwarded to the police. Several men brought in for questioning were later found murdered usually with their throats cut and several stab wounds near their hearts. The Adamo brothers elimination became the number one goal of the Gianolla brothers and their allies. The shooting was temporarily put on hold while Vito Adamo stood trial along with Fillipo and Vito Busolato for the August 6, 1913 murder of Carlo Callego another of the Gianolla supporters. Apparently unconcerned with the threat of death or the possibility of going off to jail Vito Adamo completed the purchase of a two story home on Champlain Street. The deal was completed by Ferdinand Palma a former Detroit city detective who had left the force and opened up a bank. Palma acted as the official interpreter on behalf of Fillipo Busalato and Vito Adamo during their trial for killing Calò Callego. Both men were eventually acquitted and returned to their usual haunts but Adamo and Palma were running short on time. Palma was the first to die as he was cornered in the rear office of his bank and filled full of holes. The era of the Gianolla reign was ushered in on November 25, 1913 when both Vito and Salvatore Adamo were gunned down as they walked near Vito's new Champlain street home by two gunmen who stepped from the shadows and opened fire with sawed off shotguns.

A Grand Funeral

The Adamo brothers were buried in the grand style which would come to be a underworld tradition. The procession began with the escort of the brothers remains to the Church of The Holy Family on Hastings and Fort Streets by a brass band from the funeral home of M.C. Healey. The bodies had been placed on display at this establishment where a study steam of curious onlookers and mourners paid their respects to the departed. The ceremony which included a line of mourners two blocks long ended with the bodies being entombed at Mt. Carmel cemetery in Detroit. Vito Adamo was 32 years of age at the time of his death.