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James "Jimmy the Hat" Lanza, one of the most successful mob bosses you've never heard of, is brought to vivid life in Lanza's Mob: The Mafia and San Francisco, written by Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo, Esq., a criminal defense lawyer from the Bay Area originally from Queens, New York.
Lanza's Mob, the first detailed biography of Jimmy the Hat is a solid, well-researched addition to the Mafia library.
Written in a wry, witty highly absorbing voice, the book is rock-solid in terms of its scholarship, which traces the Lanza family's roots from Sicily to America, uncovering missing facts while highlighting and dismissing the many errors that have crept into the record. Among the many fallacies staked through the heart is a Time magazine quip from the 1960s that described Lanza as heading up a "tiny, ineffectual squad."
The author made extensive use of primary document research, and seems to be the first researcher to crack open the actual dusty case files of Alioto v. Cowles Communications (one of the libel lawsuits filed by former San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto over a Look magazine article that described him as being "enmeshed in a web of alliances with at least six leaders of La Cosa Nostra").
Research efforts involved working with the Central Archives of Italy and the Italian National Institute of Statistics, state and federal Archives and Special Collections Libraries, and a wide range of newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner among other source material. (The author references an intriguing article, The Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: the Market for Lemons, available here... You're welcome...).
Interestingly, San Francisco's various newspapers actively and aggressively covered the Mafia from the late 19th century, with the San Francisco Chronicle first referencing the Mafia in an article published on October 18, 1874. The Chronicle and its rival, the San Francisco Call, both had taken to frequently publishing articles about the crimes of the Mafia (sometimes misspelled as "Maffia"), focusing on the violence in New Orleans that included the 1890 murder of Chief of Police David C. Hennessy.
So little is known about James Lanza that, while it made DiEdoardo's work that much more difficult, she is absolutely correct in that this is also what "makes for a more interesting story."
Lanza's Mob really hits its groove when it comes to detailing the story of the widely misunderstood founder of the crime family that ran the San Francisco Mafia. Though he is known as James Lanza, both his first and last names were fabrications. Despite the commonality of the name Lanza in Sicily, it is not the family's actual surname; rather, Francesco Proetto, Jimmy the Hat's father, is responsible for changing the name on June 10, 1926, after the family had arrived in America.
The man remembered today as James Lanza inhaled his first lungful of air on October 23, 1902, wearing the name Mariano Vincenzo Proetto.
Lanza's Mob provides a definitive answer to exactly what happened to Joseph Bonanno in terms of his notorious "kidnapping" in the 1960s. "Lanza successfully helped hide (Bonanno) at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco when Bonanno was dodging both federal subpoenas and equally urgent summonses from the Mafia Commission...")
Lanza, unlike the many other mobsters arrested at Apalachin, was able to slip out of the upstate New York town. He "tried to stick to the shadows whenever possible and often succeeded."
In addition to the mountains of research sifted through, the use of FBI transcripts of secretly recorded conversations also help tell the Lanza story, including his thinking about events unfolding within New York's Five Families. Lanza and boss Joseph Bonanno were criminal cohorts. In 1964, Lanza was recorded in conversation with San Jose crime family capo Steve Zoccoli (who'd rise to consiglieri).
|Jimmy the Hat|
"There's no discipline," Lanza says in reference to Bonanno's move to assume control of the Mafia Commission, which was unsuccessful. "However, mistakes have to be paid for."
Lanza then describes the Mafia Commission -- which may be "right" or "wrong" -- as "human." Whatever else his thinking reveals, it confirmed for the Fed's that Lanza, all the way out on the West Coast, was indeed linked to the New York Mafia crime families, among a wealth of additional intelligence. Then in 1965, the richly flowing tap of information was closed when LBJ ordered federal agencies to stop all electronic bugging operations. (Vietnam, like the JFK assassination, certainly provided the Mafia with a years-long reprieve.)
As the author notes, "It is difficult to tell (from the conversation) what about this turn of events annoyed him the most--the fact that Bonanno was foolish enough to launch a war against the commission or that he was incompetent enough to lose it."
The Jimmy Lanza described in this book probably was annoyed at Bonanno for both efforts.