In the early part of the 20th Century, Vito Adamo controlled much of the crime in Detroit. In The Detroit Electric Scheme, my protagonist, Will Anderson, runs afoul (as we say in historical mysteries) of Adamo, and pays a high cost for that. The sequel, Motor City Shakedown, puts Will into the middle of the first recorded mob war in Detroit history—a bloody campaign of shotgun murders on the streets of Little Italy, fought between the Adamo and Gianolla gangs.
People often think of this time period as a golden age, with family values and proper manners and all that good stuff, but the reality was pretty ugly—unless you were one of the few “Haves.”
Vito Adamo wanted to be one of them. He came over from Sicily in the early 1900’s and moved to Ford City, downriver of Detroit (now part of Wyandotte). He and his brother Salvatore opened a grocery in Ford City and branched out into Black Hand work—the protection racket—as well as importation of various items from untaxed liquor to illegal aliens. Adamo was known as the “White Hand.” Once the Black Hand had gone in to collect protection money from a business owner, the White Hand would visit and demand money to protect the business from the Black Hand.
In both cases, they were Adamo’s men. (He was a creative entrepreneur. Don’t we respect that in this country?)
The Gianolla brothers, Tony, Sam, and Gaetano, owned a grocery store across the street from the Adamo brothers’ store, but competed with them in more ways than groceries. They wanted what the Adamo brothers had. To gain the upper hand in the beer business, the Gianollas lowered their prices. The Adamos retaliated by matching the price and throwing in ice.
This was followed by the murder of two Gianolla associates, William Catalono and John Jervaso. Vito Adamo and another man were accused of the killings, and eventually they turned themselves in to face trial. It’s unclear why they did that, but I’d guess it was one of two things: either the Gianollas were getting too close and Adamo thought he’d be safer in jail, or he had arranged things so that he was certain of being acquitted. Since they were acquitted, I’m leaning toward the second idea.
When Adamo was released from custody, all hell broke loose. In 1913, over a period of about ten months, nine men were killed in a three block by five block section of Detroit’s Little Italy, and numerous others in the same area were shot or stabbed but lived. The weapon of choice was the shotgun.
The Detroit newspapers made this a front page story all year, and city residents were horrified enough that the police department put together a gang squad to make the city safe again. (How’d that work out?)
By the end of 1913 the gang war was over, and the victors went on to rule Detroit crime until nearly the end of the decade. I’d tell you who it was, but that would compromise Motor City Shakedown for you. You can find out in the book. If you don’t want to wait, it’s easy enough to find out on your own.