Mobster Left His Life in San Francisco

Why did the Lanza family execute DeJohn?

The American Mafia lost a few members in 1947, some well known, some not so well known.

Among that year's deceased were Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, a New York-based labor racketeer who worked with Louis "Lepke" Buchalter (executed in 1944); Al Capone and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. (On the other side of the legal fence, Fiorello La Guardia, the Mayor of New York who very publicly targeted New York's Mafia, died in 1947.)

Nicholas DeJohn died that year. Ever hear of him? He was a mobster who came up in the Outfit then hauled ass for San Francisco, where he found a role in the local organized crime landscape. He died brutally in 1947; he was strangled to death, in fact. His body fermented in a trunk of a car for two days before it was discovered. The murder was never solved -- but a piece of evidence showed up in a certain pawn shop that puts an interesting twist on DeJohn's story....A hint -- Gurrah, Lepke and Bugsy had all been a part of it.

Just another mobster killed for making the wrong enemy. Or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take your pick. We do know at one point he was on the wrong side, which is why he departed the Outfit for San Francisco.

In Chicago in the late 1930s, DeJohn was a rising star in the Outfit under Frank Nitti's control. “In Chicago he was reputed to be a bookie" and was alleged "to have 10 or 12 bookies under his jurisdiction," noted an excerpt from Lanza’s Mob: The Mafia and San Francisco authored by Christina A. DiEdoardo (PDF link. The book is available for pre-order now and will be released in July 2016.)

Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, was among Capone's top henchmen. At the helm of the Outfit's "muscle," Nittit succeeded Capone as Chicago Outfit boss.

DeJohn's trajectory fell apart once he backed the losing side in an effort to take control of a gambling wire service, the Continental, according to the Examiner, which added that by 1946, after five partners joined the ranks of the nonliving, the mobster decided a change in scenery was necessary.

De John lived in Alameda County before buying a house in Santa Rosa.

Whatever this big-city mobster tried to do in the Bay area city, he pissed off the wrong guy.

Frank Lanza, LCN Family Founder
Francesco "Frank" Lanza's family controlled loansharking, gambling, prostitution, narcotics and bootlegging. The Lanza family was the smallest of all America's Mafia families, with 20 to 25 members.Lanza operated the San Francisco Fisherman's wharf with his business partner, Giuseppe Alioto, who also founded the International Fish Company.

In 1937 Lanza died of natural causes at the age of 54. His son, James Lanza, would later take over as boss of the family. During the 1940s and 1950s, Lanza was Michael Abati's underboss. In 1957, he attended the infamous Apalachin Summit with other West Coast mobsters, including Frank DeSimone, Simone Scozzari and Joseph Cerrito.

Jimmy “The Hat” Lanza, ran the family from 1961 to 1989, and died in 2006, at the ripe old age of 103.

His body was arranged in a tableau that cannot be described in a family newspaper — the mob was sending a strong message of disapproval. ... but for what?

Who Is DeJohn?
DeJohn (who also was known as Nick Rossi) invested in the Sunland Oil Company, becoming partners with the founder's successor, Lima, his underboss Michael Abati, and others.

No one was ever convicted for his murder. And "after the DeJohn killing, the Mafia in the City by the Bay continued its operations more or less unmolested by law enforcement for years," according to an excerpt from an as-yet unpublished book.

Interestingly the powerful Cosa Nostra families in New York and Chicago had eyed the West Coast and managed to infiltrate Los Angeles -- first sending Bugsy Siegel out there. The city by the bay was quickly overlooked -- for the simple reason that San Francisco police were the “toughest gang in town,” according to Kevin Mullen, former deputy police chief and a local crime historian.

As early as 1931, Police Chief William J. Quinn formed a squad focused on gangsters.

They employed a special system for any Mafiosi who wandered into the city. They'd arrest them on a vagrancy charge, then stick them on a boat and let them shove off for the mainland.

DeJohn's Last Night
On May 7, 1947, DeJohn had dinner with some associates at the legendary Poodle Dog Restaurant before heading to La Roccas Corner Tavern on Columbus Avenue in North Beach.

DeJohn left the bar at 1 a.m. with four men and said he was going to a card game. That was the last time he was seen alive.

Two days later, DeJohn was found in the trunk of his car on Laguna Street. He'd been robbed as his watch, diamond ring, $1,400 in cash were missing.

His body was arranged in a tableau that cannot be described in a family newspaper — the mob was sending a strong message of disapproval.

Leonard Calamia, a Chicago narcotics dealer who had been with DeJohn on May 7, was arrested for murder but released soon after. Police continued their investigation.

In late 1948, the case broke open when DeJohn’s watch and ring were located in a Brooklyn pawn shop. (Sounds like Murder Inc. hit this guy....Murder, Inc. (or Murder Incorporated), basically the "enforcement arm" of the American Mafia. Sometimes called The Combination (as were a lot of groups involving Jews and Italians) it was composed of gangsters from Brooklyn's Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill sections. The only problem is Murder Inc. supposedly wasn't operating in 1947....)

Originally headed by Buchalter, then Albert "The Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Murder, Inc. was believed to be responsible for between 400 and 1,000 contract killings, until the group was exposed in the early 1940s by Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, who died after falling out of a window. 

The Examiner added:

Police arrested Sebastiano Nani, who held the pawn ticket, Michael Abiti and two others for the murder. 
Homicide inspector (and future police chief) Frank Ahern was confident that police had enough evidence for a conviction, and the trial began in early 1949 with district attorney (and future governor) Pat Brown leading the prosecution. 
On Feb. 7, 1949, Brown’s star witness, Anita Venza, testified she overheard the defendants planning to kill DeJohn because he wanted to muscle in on the black market olive oil racket. A strong cross-examination from the defense damaged her credibility. The case went to the jury on March 8. The next day, in a surprising development, Brown asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying that Venza’s testimony was untrustworthy. The police were furious, but the judge agreed. 
The case ended, and the defendants were released....
DUE JULY 2016: