The Black Hand


Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
Oregon coastal mountains

From 1890 to 1900, 655,888 Italian immigrants arrived in the United States, of whom two-thirds were men. Most of them had little cash or education, but being peasant farmers in Italy, they had few skills and generally performed manual labor.

Italian neighborhoods typically grew in the older areas of the cities, largely composed of tenements and poor sanitary conditions.
Living together in such closed communities created little more than a smaller version of the society they had left in Europe. Some criminals exploited this fact, and began to extort the more prosperous Italian’s in their neighborhood. A crime wave that would eventually become known as the infamous ' Black Hand’.

Typically, a letter was delivered to the chosen victim, with a picture of a skull or perhaps a dagger and with a demand for money to protect the victim from murder. It would be signed 'The Black Hand'.
After several killings, paying up became the choice of the extorted immigrants.

The weapon choice often used by the Black Handers' was dynamite bombs. Many explosions rocked the Italian communities of Chicago and New York.






1908 showed the highest number of Black Hand cases recorded:
Black Hand cases reported: 424
Arrests: 215 / Convictions: 36 / Discharges: 156 / Pending: 23
Bomb outrages reported: 44
Arrests: 70 / Convictions: 9 / Discharges: 58 / Pending: 3

The truth of the Black Hand, was that it was no single group or gang, but a diverse assortment of immigrant gangsters and even some New York Mafioso that had used the wide publicity given to the Hand in the papers as a way to extend their own rackets.

A special task force was appointed in New York to combat the gangsters, headed by LT. Joseph Petrosino. He succeeded on deporting some 500 of them back to Sicily. The famous Tenor Enrico Caruso received a Black Hand note, and Lt. Petrosino personally tracked down the sender, broke his arm and threw him onto a boat headed for Sicily.

Petrosino himself received many threatening letters and was shot at in the street. Joe decided that he would go to Palermo himself and get the files of immigrant gangsters so he could arrest them here more quickly.
That proved to be too bold of a move, and the Mafia met him there with a hail of 100 bullets, and killed him.

Black Hand killings peaked in Chicago 1910-11, At one street intersection alone, Oak and Milton, 38 victims were shot to death. At least 15 of them by the infamous 'shotgun man', a gunman never caught. He was a freelance hitman who worked for any Black Hander who would pay him.

Though little was ever done to stop them, as the country moved into the bootlegger years, the Black hand died out, with many of the bombers finding themselves more useful in gangland wars and labor union gangsters, especially in Chicago.

In the end, the police had little to do with the end of the Black Hand, a terror for 25 years, but it was Prohibition that, like the Stock Market, attracted investors and the energies of the old killers of Little Italy.

-Bloodletters and Badmen, J.Nash