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Black Hand (Chicago)

Black Hand extortion was a criminal tactic used by gangsters based in major cities in the United States. In Chicago, Black Hand extortion began around 1900 and had all but faded away by 1920, replaced by the "Mafia." The Mafia was initially organized by Johnny Torrio and further organized by Al Capone sometime later.[1] Black Handers in Chicago were mostly Italian men from Calabria and Sicilian men who would send anonymous extortion notes to their victims emblazoned with a feared old country symbol: the "Black Hand". The Black Hand was a precursor to organized crime (Mafia) although it is still a tactic practiced by the Mafia and used in organized crime to this day. Black Hand blackmail was also common in New York and New Orleans. Victims would pay up or be beaten, shot, or have their place of business bombed. Starting around 1909, The Black Hand was causing difficulties for mob boss Big Jim Colosimo a former Black hand gangster and owner of brothels throughout Chicago. In en effort to fix the problem Colosimo recruited Johnny Torrio, a member of New York's Five Points Gang who would eventually become the famous successor of Big Jim Colosimo and then later mentor Al Capone as the organized crime ruler of Chicago. But originally Torrio came to Chicago to fix the problem of the Black Hand which was threatening Colosimo's life with demands for cash to insure his physical safety.

Johnny Torrio/Fillipo Catalano

The notorious Johnny Torrio (January 20, 1882 – April 16, 1957), also known as "The Fox", was born Giovanni Torrio in Orsara di Puglia, a village in south central Italy, was alleged to have killed ten Black Hand gangsters in his first two months in Chicago. Of the ten men he was alleged to have killed, Filippo Catalano was one of them.[2]

Filippo Catalano was an alleged Black Hand gangster in Chicago in the early 1900s (decade). He was born in 1875, in Gioia Tauro, a coastal village in Southern Italy, in the region of Calabria,and he died on 5 June 1910, in Chicago, Illinois, from five gunshot wounds he received that evening. Catalano came to the United States and eventually he owned and operated a saloon in Chicago and was connected to the Chicago criminal night life. It was said of Catalano that he was "hated and feared by his countrymen" in the Italian Colony according to Capt. Cudmore of the Chicago police third precinct and the central detail as the investigator of his murder.[3] Filippo Catalano was shot five times and died one hour later in the People's Hospital, before he died observing the gangland principle of omertà (total silence) Catalano never mentioned the name of his assailant, this was common for Italian/Sicilian men not to identify their assailant to the police.[4] Filippo Catalano was allegedly killed by Johnny Torrio. Although a subsequent investigation turned up the name Eugeno Monaco who may have been the triggerman working for Torrio.

Black Hand Assassination

One of the stories of assassination was told in the murder of Filippo Catalano, Catalano was in the Vesuvius restaurant a restaurant frequented by Chicago's night life. On the night of June 5, 1910 as Catalano walked out from the restaurant at approx. 3 a.m. in the company of Edgar K Accetta a New York Lawyer, who was in town on business, and a third man who was later identified as the person who shot Catalano, allegedly Eugeno Monaco an Italian man, the three men were walking towards an approaching car when Monaco allegedly drew a revolver and shot Catalano five times. In an incident involving Catalano on March 27, Catalano was alleged to have shot John Jocko in front of 1821 South State Street witnesses identified Catalano as the shooter, the victim survived the shooting and would not prosecute, at that time Catalano was released. Catalano's killer escaped fleeing on foot and was traced to the Rock Island Pacific Railroad tracks where he disappeared.[5] Filippo Catalano fits in the time period where Johnny Torrio came to Chicago to assassinate Chicago Black Hand Gangsters who was extorting his Uncle from 1909 to 1911, by 1920 Black Hand activity had all but faded. Johnny Torrio then went on to run and organize The Chicago Outfit.


  • 1910 - Chicago police arrest over 200 known Italian gangsters and known Black Hand members in a raid in Little Italy. However, none are convicted as many of the notes of extortion threats cannot be traced to them.
  • March 15, 1910 - The Chicago Vice Commission, a civic organization to close the brothels and panel houses of the Levee district, is organized.
  • 1910 - Chicago racketeer Big Jim Colosimo brings his nephew Johnny Torrio, then with New York's Five Points Gang, to Chicago to eliminate the Black Hand due to their extortion demands. Within a month, ten Black Hand extortionists had been killed.
  • 1910 - Jim Cosmano, a major Chicago Black Hand leader, is severely wounded in an ambush by Johnny Torrio on a South Side bridge. Cosmano had previously demanded $10,000 threatening to destroy Colosimo's Cafe.
  • June 6, 1910 Filippo Catalano an alleged Black hand extortionist is gunned down after leaving the Vesuvius Restaurant.
  • January 1-March 26, 1911 - Thirty-eight Black Hand victims are killed by Black Hand assassins, many by the unidentified assassin known only as Shotgun Man, between Oak Street and Milton Street in Chicago's Little Italy.


  • Chicago Daily Tribune June 6, 1910
  • Chicago Daily Tribune June 11, 1910


  1. ^ Black Hand
  2. ^ Chicago Tribune June 1910
  3. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune) June 6th 1910
  4. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune June 6th 1910
  5. ^ The Chicago Daily Tribune, June 6th, 1910