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.

The Japanese Butler

The Japanese Butler

On April 25, 1900, Sanichi Kanda waited with about 50 other young Japanese men to board a British steamship, the Sikh, which sat in the port of Yokohama, Japan. The ship had arrived a day earlier from Kobe with about 150 people, mostly young men, on board. Its final destination, the United States of America, was halfway around the world. Born in Tokyo in 1880, Sanichi had $31 in his pocket and would turn 20 on May 10, three days before they landed in Tacoma, Washington. He knew he wouldn’t see his parents, Junnosuke and Somi, or his homeland again.

Yokahama port

The Port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, in an undated photo.

A lean, handsome man, Sanichi had only attended school for six years, but he was able to speak, read and write English. After he arrived in the United States he worked for a couple of years in Seattle as a tailor, but he was restless. He boarded a train heading east.

He arrived in Maryland and was hired to work for Mrs. Louise Brinkmann at “Oakwood,” her enormous Queen Anne-style home in Catonsville, just west of Baltimore. Mrs. Brinkmann, who was born in New Jersey, came from a German family that had made a fortune in the sugar business. She married August Helmuth Brinkmann, a successful German-born businessman, in 1879 and they had three sons. They separated in 1900, with Mr. Brinkmann returning to Germany. Before they parted company Mrs. Brinkmann obtained a tidy financial settlement from her husband.

Oakwood

“Oakwood,” Mrs. Brinkmann’s home in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1904.

Mrs. Brinkmann employed several servants at her estate, including a housekeeper and a coachman. She was a busy woman with an active social life who did a lot of charity work. She also made frequent trips out of town to visit family and friends. Unfortunately, paying the wages of her servants was not at the top of her to-do list.

Sanichi became impatient when his wages weren’t paid. He realized it was wrong to steal, but he also knew that if he complained, the authorities were unlikely to take the word of a Japanese immigrant over the word of a wealthy American lady. He took a valuable diamond ring from her home and headed to Washington, D.C., where he pawned the ring for $60. She reported the theft to the police.

Mrs. Brinkman

Mrs. Brinkmann behind the wheel of one of her automobiles.

Sanichi soon found job a working as a servant for Mrs. Howard Kingscote, an English woman staying temporarily in Staunton, Virginia. Like Mrs. Brinkmann, Mrs. Kingscote hailed from a good family and was separated from her husband. She was also an accomplished novelist, writing under the pen name “Lucas Cleeve,” in the bodice-ripper genre, a subject area with which she had extensive personal familiarity. Though no one in Staunton knew it at the time, she’d had to make a quick exit from her homeland after it was discovered that she’d seduced and bilked several men, causing their financial ruin. Her financial troubles continued in America, where eventually she’d be kicked out of several hotels for non-payment of her bills.

S. Kanda advertisement for employment - Newspapers.com

It didn’t take long for Sanichi to figure out that Mrs. Kingscote was even less likely to pay him on time than Mrs. Brinkmann, so he left the job. Undaunted by his previous bad luck with employers, he placed an ad in various newspapers seeking work as a butler and valet. He might not have been caught for the theft of the ring except that he used his real name in the ads. The Baltimore police traced him through the ad and sent two detectives to his rooming house.

At first he denied taking the ring, but after some conversation with the detectives he admitted the theft. He explained he’d only done it because he hadn’t been paid. Nonetheless they arrested him and took him to Baltimore to face charges. He pleaded guilty to a charge of petty larceny and was sentenced to six months in the Maryland House of Correction (aka “The Cut”) on October 25, 1905.

After he was released from prison Sanichi decided he’d had enough of working as a servant to white ladies. He returned to Washington State and found work as a laborer in an oyster camp in Vaughn, a village on the Key Peninsula. There he met Daisy Lillian Tuthill, a young woman from Connecticut. Daisy and her only sibling, her younger brother, Frank, had been orphaned as children. They moved to Vaughn to live with their grandparents. Frank died in 1908 when he was just 20 years old.

Sanichi asked Daisy to marry him and she accepted. They applied for a marriage license near the end of September 1910. There was only one problem — officials in Seattle refused to grant the license because he was Asian and she was white. Next they applied for the license in Tacoma because they heard that two other mixed-race couples had received marriage licenses there. The state auditor was not happy about it, but he admitted there was no law against granting them the license. “We can take our time investigating the applications and they may get tired of waiting,” the auditor commented. In fact Washington was the only state in the western U.S. and one of only eight in the nation where inter-racial marriage was legal at the time. The couple waited patiently and the license was eventually granted. A justice of the peace married Sanichi and Daisy on November 5, 1910 in Mason County, Washington.

By 1915 the Kandas had three children: Eugene, George and Lillian. Sanichi continued to work as an oysterman and oyster culler in South Bay, north of Olympia. Another son, Richard, joined the family in 1929.

After running the gauntlet to get married, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Sanichi and Daisy’s story were one of happy-ever-after? Sadly that’s not the case. On November 25, 1934, their beautiful daughter, Lillian, was shot and killed on a lonely road in Thurston County, Washington, by Merritt Hunter, Jr., a jealous high school sweetheart, after she tried to break off her relationship with him. Hunter’s father told a news reporter that his son had been behaving irrationally for about a year before the murder. He said that he and his wife were unhappy about the relationship because Lillian was partly of Japanese ancestry.

Hunter in jail - Newspapers.com

News photo of Merritt Hunter in jail after he was arrested for the murder of Lillian Kanda.

Hunter was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He was paroled in 1951. Four years after he was released he shot and killed his wife, Elayne, with a .22 caliber rifle. Then he turned the gun on himself, committing suicide.

Sanichi, Daisy and their three sons were sent to Tule Lake War Relocation Center, an internment camp in northern California, on June 4, 1942, after the outbreak of World War II. The camp was constructed for incarceration of Japanese people living in America and Americans of Japanese ancestry, due to irrational fears that they might collaborate with the Japanese. Daisy was not in either category but she was sent to Tule Lake anyway. The Kanda’s sons left the camp shortly after they arrived. Sanichi and Daisy remained at the camp until October 4, 1943.

tule-16

Cabins at the Tule Lake Camp, circa 1944.

After the war ended Sanichi got a job with the railroad. He outlived Daisy, who died in 1962, by one year. They are buried with three of their children and their tiny granddaughter, Karen, in Tumwater, Washington.

Featured photo: Sanichi Kanda, 1905 carte-de-visite mugshot (front and back). Collection of the author.

Thanks to antiques dealer, Nathan Roberts, for selling me a large collection of CDV mugshot cards from Baltimore, including the card of Sanichi Kanda.

 

 

 

Moll Buzzing

Moll Buzzing

A lady slipped on the pavement in a street in Philadelphia and was aided to arise by a very polite gentleman. She thanked him kindly and was struck by his handsome eyes, which haunted her until she missed her pocket-book and discovered through the police that a noted pickpocket known as “Baltimore Pat” was their owner, and that his attentions were part of his daily duty of “buzzing.”

The Wilmington Daily Herald (Wilmington, North Carolina), January 31, 1860

Imagine her embarrassment, not to mention discomfort, when she lost her footing and fell to the ground on a busy city street. Like every well-off woman in 1860, she wore a tight corset and an unwieldy hoop skirt. How did she get up without entirely losing her dignity?

Godey-april-1861

1861 day dresses, Godey’s Lady’s Book

Her tears were on the verge of overflowing when a young man came to her rescue. He leaned down and offered her his arm. She gratefully accepted and he easily pulled her to her feet. He smiled at her and asked if she was all right. With a blush she answered that she was fine. He nodded his hat, wished her a good day and vanished into the crowded street. She brushed off her skirts, reinstated her dignity and continued to her destination.

She arrived at the shop and selected an item to purchase but she couldn’t find her purse anywhere. Embarrassed, she left and went to the police station where she reported that her purse had been stolen. The police told her that she’d been “moll-buzzed” and showed her some photos in their rogues’ gallery. Suddenly it dawned on her why the striking-looking man had been so helpful. She pointed to a photo labeled “John William, alias Baltimore Pat.”

Pickpockets who specialized in preying on women were called “moll-buzzers.” Baltimore Pat’s good looks no doubt helped him professionally. Numerous articles describing his thievery and arrests appeared in newspapers between 1857 and 1862.

John Williams aka Baltimore Pat arrested as pickpocket - Newspap

— The Daily Exchange, Baltimore, Maryland, April 4, 1860

If a female victim was not available he was willing to prey on men. One Saturday night in 1862 he picked the pocket of a Baltimore merchant, B. J. Sutton, to the tune of $1,240 ($30,956 in 2018).

The arrests didn’t slow him down. He worked on trains and streetcars — a pickpocket’s paradise — where people were crowded together affording plentiful opportunity for stealthy theft. Allan Pinkerton warned about moll-buzzers in his 1884 book Thirty Years a Detective.

The scene is an ordinary street car, and the seats are all occupied. The thief enters and at once takes up his position immediately in front of the lady, with one hand he grasps the strap hanging from the roof, and the other hand is seemingly thrust into his coat pocket. I say seemingly, for really the hand of the thief is thrust through his coat, the end of which is resting carelessly on the pocket of the lady. With the hand which is pushed through his coat, the thief quietly pulls up the edge of the overskirt worn by the lady, little by little, so he can reach the pocket…and then catching hold of the pocket-book, he draws it up and into his own pocket and then steps away.

His photograph ended up in a police rogues’ gallery, likely in Baltimore or Philadelphia. Whether it helped end his career as a pickpocket is a matter of conjecture.

Featured photo: “John William, al Baltimore Pat, Pick pocket” from Rogues, A Study of Characters by Samuel G. Szabó. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.