Dodging the Law

Dodging the Law

It’s not often that you come across a photograph of a policeman looking amused while escorting a prisoner, so the expression on the face of the burly cop caught my eye. The prisoner — the guy in the center with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth — has a curiously cheery look on his face too. According to the pencil scrawl on the reverse of the photo, the prisoner’s name was John D. Dodge. The date was March 17, 1922, and Dodge was “leaving House of Correction for court.” The distinctive arched windows of the Detroit House of Correction are clearly visible in the background of the photo.

DeHoCo

The Detroit House of Correction, Library of Congress

John Duval Dodge, born in 1898, was the oldest son of John Francis Dodge. When young John was three years old, his mother, Ivy, died. His father went on to co-found the Dodge Brothers Motor Company with his uncle, Horace Dodge.

In 1903 the Dodge brothers became the exclusive supplier of engines for the Ford Motor Company. Described as irascible and inseparable, the brothers broke with Henry Ford in 1913 to start their own auto manufacturing company. The Dodge company was an enormous success.

John F. Dodge contracted the flu during the 1918 influenza pandemic and died of pneumonia in January 1920. Horace also caught the flu and followed his brother to the grave before the year was out. In addition to his son and John’s two sisters, John F. Dodge left a third wife, Matilda Rausch Dodge, and their three children.

Dodge acquitted on drunk charge; will be charged for having liqu

The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan

Back to the photo: Why was the son of a deceased Detroit industrialist leaving the DeHoCo under police escort? To understand the story requires some background on John Duval Dodge and his family.

In 1918, when he was 21 years old, John married an 18-year-old named Marie O’Connor. The marriage angered his father, who cut him off with an allowance of only $150 a month. (This is about $2500 in today’s dollars, which was a slap in the face of the son of a super-wealthy man). When he died a year later, John F. Dodge left an estate valued at between $50 and $80 million, but he made no provision in his will for his oldest son. John fought the will. The legal battle ended in March 1921, when John agreed drop the lawsuit for a single payment of $1,600,000 (worth about $23 million in current dollars).

Eventually the Dodge brothers’ two widows sold the Dodge Company to an investment bank for the enormous sum of $146 million.

Dodge acquitted on drunk charge; will be charged for having liqu

The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan

On the evening of Saturday, March 11, 1922, John and a pal, Rex Earl, were out for a drive in Kalamazoo, 140 miles directly west of Detroit. They saw three young women walking near the road. The ladies were college students from Western State Normal School (now Western Michigan University), who were headed back to their rooming house after attending a dance. Gentlemanly John stopped and offered the women a ride home. They accepted and hopped into the back seat.

Rather than drive straight to the rooming house, John turned off the main road onto a “cut-out,” or side road. John loved fast cars and he began to drive at a very high speed. Witnesses would later estimate that the car was traveling between 60 and 90 miles per hour when Emeline Kwakernaack became so alarmed that her reptile brain took over — she jumped from the car. A passing motorist found her crumpled by the side of the road and rushed her to the hospital. She was seriously injured, but she survived.

John and Earl were arrested. The police found alcohol in the vehicle. Prohibition, aka the Volstead Act, was the law of the land in 1922, so the manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol were illegal. Both men were charged with transporting and furnishing liquor (to the girls) and John was charged with speeding and driving while intoxicated.

He was found guilty of speeding. His driver’s license was revoked; he was fined $100 and sentenced to five days in the Detroit House of Correction.

John had just changed into stripes and was about to be assigned a prison job when his attorney showed up. He removed his jail togs and donned street clothes to head to court, where the attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus to get him released. Cigarettes were not allowed at the DeHoCo and he’d just gotten his cigs back when the photographer snapped the shot.

It’s unclear if John Duval Dodge ever served his five-day jail sentence.

After a several months of court hearings and legal wrangling, John was convicted of transporting and possessing liquor. The judge placed him on a year’s probation, ordered him to work at some “useful occupation” and fined him $1000.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933. That same year John and Marie divorced and she got a large chunk of his inheritance in the divorce settlement. A week after his divorce was final he married Dora MacDonald Cline.

On the night of August 13, 1942, John and Dora had a violent argument. Dora ran off and John went out looking for her. He headed to a friend’s house, thinking he’d find her there, but Dora had been and gone. A neighbor saw him on lurking on the back porch of the house and called the police. Two patrolmen rang the front doorbell and John, who by then had broken in to the house, opened the door. He tried to take a swing at one of the officers and missed. They took him into custody. He was so drunk that the officer in charge at the station was about to take the precaution of moving him from a chair to sitting on the floor, but too late. John fell off the chair and hit his head on the floor, fracturing his skull.

He was rushed to the hospital but never recovered consciousness. He died that same night of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Featured photo: News photo of John Duval Dodge, taken March 17, 1922. Collection of the author.

 

Black Hand in Baltimore

Black Hand in Baltimore

Antonio Lanasa received a threatening letter in August 1906. A black cross with the inscription “Everlasting Death” was crudely drawn in ink at the top of the page. Below the cross was written:

“We of the Black Hand advise you once more and no more, because we have waited too long and don’t intend to wait any longer. If you don’t wish any disaster in your family we want $5,000. You must give it to the man you saw last week. This is the last time. Don’t do like many others do or you will regret it. We want it at 12 o’clock August 14. We know you. We sign ourselves, “The Head of the Black Hand and Company.”

Antonio was the owner of a fruit importing business in Baltimore, Maryland. He and his elderly parents, Michael and Giuseppa, had received a similar letter a few weeks earlier. They turned the letter over to the Baltimore police.

Antonio Lanasa

Antonio Lanasa

After the arrival of the second threatening letter, the Lanasa family became very alarmed. Giuseppa Lanasa sent a message back that she would pay as much as she could. A few days later a man showed up at the Lanasa’s home. He confronted Mrs. Lanasa and demanded the money. When she told him she didn’t have it, he thrust another letter into her hands and quickly left. She immediately located a policeman, who caught up with the man and arrested him.

The man, Ignazio Castellano, claimed to be a recent immigrant to America from Italy. After he was arrested he was searched and officers found more threatening letters on him. He couldn’t speak English, though several officers said they heard him speaking English shortly after he was arrested. Another man, Romeo Rosario, who was barely out of his teens, was also arrested and charged with delivering extortion letters to the Lanasa family.

Through an interpreter Castellano told the police that he’d been working in a factory in New York when four Italian men suggested that he could make a lot more money in Baltimore. After he arrived the men began giving him letters to deliver to the Lanasa family. He claimed he didn’t know what the letters contained or the whereabouts of the men. But he was convinced that they were watching him all the time. He said that if he didn’t follow their orders, they would kill him.

Castalano and Rosario photos - Newspapers.com

The Baltimore Sun, August 21, 1906

Castellano and Rosario were tried for extortion. Rosario was found not guilty but Castellano was found guilty of sending threatening letters and conspiring to kill Antonio Lanasa. The conviction earned him a six-year sentence in the federal penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois.

According to Wikipedia, the Black Hand (Mano Nera) was a method of extortion rather than a criminal organization like the Mafia. Italians, who began immigrating to America in the late 1800s, brought the practice to the US. It occurred mostly in communities with large Italian populations, and both the perpetrator and the victim were usually Italian. The situation with the Lanasa family was typical of how the scheme played out: Letters were sent that threatened death if money wasn’t paid to the extortionist. The letters often had ominous symbols drawn on them, such as a noose, a smoking gun or a knife dripping with blood. Frequently they were signed with a hand drawn in black ink, which was meant as a symbol of warning; hence the name the “Black Hand.”

The tables turned the following year when another Baltimore fruit dealer, Joseph DiGiorgio, was sent threatening letters. He didn’t pay up and his home was bombed in December 1907. Fortunately no one was injured in the blast. Antonio Lanasa, who was DiGiorgio’s business rival, was arrested and charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to extort money. He was convicted of the crime, but he appealed and the charges were dropped.

DiGiorgio

Joseph DiGiorgio

As it happens, Joseph DiGiorgio was Castellano’s interpreter at the police station after he was arrested. It may have been a coincidence, but it raises the question of whether Castellano was already acquainted with DiGiorgio. Could it be that DiGiorgio wrote the threatening letters to Antonio Lanasa and his family? Was Castellano telling the truth about only being a messenger? Could Lanasa have uncovered the plot and decided to pay DiGiorgio back in kind? The Italian word vendetta springs to mind, but who knows? Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Peaky Blinders!

The story does have a happy ending. After he was released from prison, Ignazio Castellano moved to Rochester, New York, where he opened a grocery store, got married, raised a family and became a pillar of his community. He died in Rochester in 1957.

Featured photo: front and back of Ignazio Castellano’s CDV mugshot. Collection of the author.