The association between Italian Americans and the Mafia is as strong as the association between Italian Americans and pizza. Thanks to a long history of films, books and TV shows focussed on mob families like the Corleones and the Sopranos, as well as a host of real stories covered in films like ‘The Untouchables’, ‘Goodfellas’ and, of course,
the ultimate classic gangster flick ‘Gotti’ starring John Travolta, when we think about American organised crime, we think Italian. But that simply is not the whole story. Here’s a list of hitmen, buttonmen and bagmen who are most certainly not Italian.
This WASP (white, anglo-saxon, protestant) who became the ‘Dean of the underworld’ in Tampa, Forida didn’t have the usual rough upbringing associated with American mobsters. Wall was from a wealthy family, his father was a respected physician and his mother was the daughter of the former mayor of Tampa.
He held sway over the city’s illegal gambling rackets for years, making millions and allowing him to gain political connections that solidified his position. He won a brutal turf war with mobster Ignacio Antinori who, in 1940, was gunned down whilst enjoying his morning coffee at a restaurant. Wall could not win his second mob war—in 1955, Wall was killed by getting beaten to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat and having his throat slit at his home. The hit was probably ordered by his greatest rival, famous Florida gangster Santo Trafficante Sr.
Johnny “Onionhead” Eng
Johnny Eng, AKA “Onionhead” or “Machinegun Johnny”, was the leader of the Flying Dragons street gang in the 1980s, controlling heroin in the Chinatown area of New York.
Eng’s brutal reign came to an end in 1993 when he was sentenced to 24 years in jail, having to pony up $3.5 million in fines and giving up his massive Pennsylvania estate as further punishment. Part of the estate was reputedly used as a firing range by members of the Flying Dragons, honing their accuracy with machine guns. A year after his release in 2010, Eng’s wife Lori was murdered by another Flying Dragon member, David Chea, who killed himself (probably in order to avoid Johnny Eng’s retribution).
José Miguel Battle
When Benicio Del Toro has been cast to play a real-life figure, you know that person is bound to be a badass. When you consider that the same guy also fought for the US-backed rebels in the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, got imprisoned for 2 years by the Cubans before fleeing back to the US to forge a criminal empire… I mean, why are we only getting a movie now?
During the 70s and 80s, he became the leader of ‘The Corporation’—a sprawling crime/business empire that consisted of ‘bolita’ games across the US eastern seaboard as well as holdings in Peruvian casinos and a host of investments in legitimate businesses. After many years on the run in Peru, Battle was indicted back in the US on racketeering charges, having amassed more than $1 billion from drug trafficking, illegal gambling and loan sharking. He died whilst awaiting a prison transfer in 2007 at the age of 77.
Shady doings, ambitious heists and international political skulduggery are elements covered by great journalists like Vojislav Stanimirovic. They are also the actions of a dirty, low-down career criminal… like Vojislav Stanimirovic. This Serbian mobster turned journo was an arch opportunist, driven in part by the love he held for his native Serbia, (along with his love of stealing shiny objects).
Famous for his part in the 1971 robbery at the Villa Vizacaya in Florida that saw an estimated $1.5 million worth of art and silver objects, including a priceless silver bowl once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, Stanimirovic paid his dues to society and went on to write for a living. His speciality? Crime, of course. His son, Pavle (pictured), followed in his fathers’ criminal and journalistic footsteps, spending 16 years in jail over two stints and now covering criminal stories for publications such as ‘The Washington Post’ and online work with ‘The Daily Beast’.
Chelsais Bouras piloted the Greek mob of Philadelphia through the turbulent 70s, forging a close tie with Raymond Martorano (pictured), a soldier for the city’s longstanding crime family the Scarfos, and overseeing loan sharking, gambling and methamphetamine operations. After refusing to acquiesce to Nicodemo Scarfo’s order to pay up a street tax to the family in order to keep operating, a move that would essentially absorb Philly’s Greek mob into the Scarfo crime empire, Bouras was gunned down at the city’s ‘Meletis Greek Restaurant’ in 1981, where he was dining with his acquaintance Jeanette Curro, Raymond Martorano and radio host Jerry Blavat. Along with Bouras, Curro was also killed whilst Martonaro and Blavat escaped with minor injuries. Since his death, and the slaying of other prominent Greek mobsters in the 80s, the Greek mob has struggled to regain any foothold in the American underworld.