The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia
The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia: Corn Sugar and Blood
Barricade Books, N.Y., N.Y. 1995
I never knew my grandfather. He was murdered when my father was six years old. As a child, I wondered how the father of my father came to be murdered. I didn't know much, only that it had something to do with gangsters or the mob. My father spoke little of it. He preferred to talk about music--for years our family's love and the source of our success. And again and again he reminded me, "Always be proud of your name."
A few years later, he showed me several books about organized crime and explained
why his father and his six uncles were in them. Then he showed me some of his old
photos. In one he was a young boy on his pony, a glittering diamond ring on one of his
fingers. Then there were the pictures of his father, decked out and dapper. Obviously no
ordinary Sicilian immigrant.
I viewed my grandfather's murder as a tragedy, of course, but I also knew that it was a
fascinating slice of history. It was a story that lived on in a steady stream of newspaper
and magazine features, each one prompting my father to tell me a little more. But he
wouldn't answer all of my questions, and several years went by before my curiosity
caught up with me.
Finally I went to the library armed with the date of my grandfather's death. When I
searched it out in the newspaper microfilm, I was in awe at the magnitude of coverage.
All the newspapers had front-page headlines like: GANG GUNS KILL TWO
PORRELLOS AND ALLY. Obviously our name drew instant recognition, and
PORRELLO in the banner sold newspapers.
I wanted to know the whole story.
I had left my coveted job playing drums for Sammy Davis Jr., to join the police force
of a small, suburban town in the Cleveland area. I'll always wonder if my roots, by some
mysterious--even divine--means, influenced that bizarre career transition. At any rate, a
more stable, less transient job situation allowed time for more newspaper research, which
revealed a series of dramatic and related stories that spanned decades. I learned that the
names of PORRELLO and LONARDO had been as familiar to Clevelanders as those of
Capone and O'Banion were to Chicagoans. "Always be proud of your name" was a more
complicated instruction than I had realized.
"Leave it alone," my father said when I told him I was going to write a book. Too
late. It was just too big a story to let alone, though I might have listened if I had known it
would take nine long years to complete. Fortunately I had developed a penchant for
researching, investigating and interviewing. I ferreted out newspaper and magazine
articles, books, police and coroner reports and court documents. I sought and
accomplished interviews with an unlikely and diverse assortments of sources.
Throughout the project my father's disapproval steadily waned. He enjoyed viewing
the photos I was digging up and even helped identify some. "That's Uncle John." "That's
where Uncle Rosario lived." With each finding I made, he recovered memories of an era
long obliterated by gunfire and anguish.
In the end my father gave me his blessing and helped fill in details. Some were
gripping, some were torturing. He remembers he was rushed home from a spot near his
father's murder by a family friend who carried the little six-year-old in his arms as he ran
down the street frantically yelling, "They got him! They got him!" And he can never
forget how, during the wake in the crowded living room, he stood on the kneeler to get a
better view inside the casket.
In my mind I shared his grief which was well hidden, perhaps alleviated by the
passage of time. I have had occasional misgivings about rehashing the painful memories,
but more than fifty years have gone by since the last shootings and bloodshed among
Porrellos and Lonardos. And I found keen interest and encouragement from an
impressive and growing number of people who, like me, wanted to know the whole story.
I have written as objectively as I could of an extraordinary time, hampered though by
the passage of time, mysteriously missing police reports, unending variations of
significant incidents and the peripheral effects of omerta. And I have not forgotten the
good guys. Unheralded police and city officials who fought it out on the streets and in
the courtrooms with few results. They were unaware then that their adversaries were a
powerful new breed of criminal that would change history in decades to come.
It is a colorful but dreadful history etched in blood--from omerta and the traditional
blood ties of Sicily to the internecine bloodshed of her transplanted sons during a "noble
experiment" that ent awry. It its murky aftermath moved Mafia chieftains, union
racketeers, drug kingpins--powerful, ruthless men in an era whose legacy still lives. Only
one among the original, young Sicilians survived as a shadowy public figure into the
latter days of the twentieth century. It occurs to me that in a most unforeseen,
extraordinary way, he changed the course of organized crime history.
Reprinted by permission
Email Rick Porrello at Rick@AmericanMafia.com
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