By The Other Guy | April 28, 2020
Luigi (Lou) Volpe was born on July 27, 1901, in the Campania region of Italy. The family entered the U.S. in 1913 and first resided in Wilmerding. He gained derivative citizenship through his father Ignazio in 1906.
He resided for years at 1017 Taylor Street, East McKeesport, PA. He and his brother Joe also partnered in a residence down at 12850 Maple Road, in Keystone Point (North Miami), Florida, which they both often used as a winter retreat.
He was also known to frequent the thermal baths at Buckstaff Bathhouse, Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the company of other top Pittsburgh hoodlums.
Volpe is recorded as first marrying a Catherine Bosch. They had three children together (including a son his named after his deceased brother John) before she died very early into the marriage. He later married Leona – better known as “Lee” (nee Cioncoli) with whom he would live the rest of his life with.
Side Note: In fact, Lou Volpe was married three times. His first two wives died of health problems, cancer and MS.
Volpe usually drove a late model four-door Cadillac, always favoring the color blue.
Known hangouts of Lou Volpe included the Adrilee Motor Motel on Route 30, and the Holiday House in Monroeville.
Volpe came from a large family. Lou was one of eight brothers, five of whom were in the bootleg rackets, three of whom were killed in early underworld strife in Pittsburgh in 1933. John, Jimmy and Arthur Volpe were ambushed and slain in the Roma Restaurant and Cafe they operated on Wylie Street in the Hill District, a heavily populated Little Italy where the brothers were revered by the community.
John Volpe, nicknamed “Prince Johnny” had also been an area councilman able to control the Italian voting bloc which gave the Volpe Gang pivotal control in their bootlegging and Italian lottery rackets.
They were set up and betrayed after an agreed upon truce was negotiated by the newly formed national “Commission” between the Napolitani born Volpes and their previous adversary, Siciliano born Giovanni (John) Bazzano Sr., who was also a powerful and recognized mafia leader in their area.
Bazzano ended up breaking that truce agreement, sending a hit team after the Volpe brothers, who slaughtered the three…but John Bazzano would pay.
Invited to New York City for an important meeting of the national Commission shortly after the Volpe slayings, Bazzano was set upon by all the bosses in that meeting room. He was massacred – beaten, bludgeoned, stabbed over twenty times with ice picks, with his tongue cut out for having lied to his fellow mafiosi. His trussed-up corpse was found in a burlap sack discarded on a deserted street in New York’s Brooklyn section.
It is interesting to note that in later years Bazzano’s namesake son John Jr., would rise to also become a member and ultimately a “caporegime” in the Pittsburgh Family, working side by side with Lou and his brother Joe…I wonder how the surviving Volpe brothers felt about that?
Side Note: Aside from other top mafia bosses, NYC Luciano underboss Vito Genovese (a staunch Napolitani and supporter of his brethren) was probably instrumental in lobbying for the murder of Bazzano. Years later he helped install fellow Napolitano Francesco Amato to become Pittsburgh’s boss.
Lou Volpe was part of that notorious “Volpe Gang”. Formed by the brothers who for a time, until their assassination, dominated the alcohol and lottery rackets in the Little Italy section of Pittsburgh.
Because of the Volpe Family’s rich history in the city’s underworld, Lou and his brother Joe were quickly accepted and absorbed into what would eventually become known as the LaRocca Family of LCN. Starting as a soldier, his talent was quickly recognized and he soon rose to a “capo di decina” status in their borgata.
Volpe essentially ran his own mini mafia Family or “regime” in the designated section of Wilmerding-Turtle Creek Valley and its outer neighborhoods. His territory was said to encompass Pitcairn, East Pittsburgh, Eden Park, and Fair Oaks.
The Volpe crew was equal but separate from several other semi-independent mafia crews in the city all under the resident mafia borgata. All were subservient to the overall recognized “Capo” over all Pittsburgh – Sebastian John LaRocca.
As his second in command, Volpe picked his brother Joseph. And directly under the Volpes was a highly trusted veteran soldier and lifelong friend by the name of Joe Sica. These three would govern their faction. Joseph Rosa Sr. was also a listed soldier in the crew.
In fact, various informants and FBI surveillance records indicated that often times when high-level hierarchy meetings were set, Lou would often designate Joe Sica to act in his stead. It is suspected that Sica may have actually been “acting capo” of the regime and not Lou’s brother Joe Volpe as originally thought.
Side Note: I make this distinction because although at face value one could say that’s how all Cosa Nostra Families in the country are structured, it was very different in Pittsburgh. The difference lay in the mindset and actual logistics of those “regimes”.
Boss John LaRocca maintained only loose oversight of his regime capos. They were each trusted and allowed to operate as they wished, without LaRocca breathing down their necks requiring they each toe the line, so to speak. Each capo ran his regime like a mini fiefdom… the “czar” of their own clearly delineated territory. It was a very unique arrangement, to say the least.
The bottom line? It worked like a charm to everyone’s benefit for decades. They all made a ton of money.
Legitimate business interests included:
J. & L. Cigarette Service, 95 Bridge Street, Wilmerding, PA.
He was also the president of the Rainbow Gardens, a large amusement park located in East McKeesport.
In 1954, he became interested in the Valley Beer Distributors Co. (one third owner.)
In 1957, the Versailles Amusement Co., in White Oak Borough, Allegheny.
At one time the Volpes and Sica also operated the Vogue Terrace Supper Club. It burned down in a suspicious fire in 1963.
Volpe and Sica were also strongly suspected to have had ownership shares in a motel-supper club called the Holiday House on Route 22 in Monroeville, PA.
Side Note: it is important to note that all of the above listed businesses also had additional Pittsburgh mafiosi who held varying ownership interests in them. Volpe partnered with many noted underworld figures over the years.
Volpe was alleged to operate a numbers lottery in Wilmerding and vicinity with his brother. They also ran large crap games at the Valley Sportsmen’s Club, a casino at times, and one-armed bandits along their vending routes.
Early in their careers (1930s) the Volpe brothers were also suspected of dabbling in the narcotics traffic.
Side Note: Police investigation forced the Valley Sportsmen’s Club to close suddenly after the murder of racketeer Nick Miller, who was found shot dead, and stuffed in his car-trunk near the club in 1958.
It was noted that Volpe’s close criminal associates over the years included most significant members of the Pittsburgh crew:
• Sebastian (John) LaRocca
• Frank Amato Sr.
• Michael Genovese
• Samuel (Sam) Mannarino
• Gabriel (Kelly) Mannarino
• Joseph (Jojo) Pecora
• Vincenzo (Jimmy) Tripodi
• Joseph Volpe*
• Joseph Sica*
• Joseph Rosa Sr.*
• Joseph Rosa Jr.*
• Joseph (Little Joe Ragno) Regino
• Frank Valenti
• John Scardino
• Salvatore (Little Sally) Celembrino
• Ernest (Eddie Buff) Lanzieri
• James (Jimmy Doyle) Plumeri
• William (Sarge) Botti *
• Mike Tomko*
• Tommy Nelis *
• Morris (Red) Whitman *
• Harry (Sonny) Gest*
• Charles Stupak*
• Henry Katz *
• Giuseppe (Joe Peachy) Pici…later deported back to Italy in the 1940s.
Side Note: For over fifteen months in the aftermath of the 1957 state police raid on the ill-fated Apalachin Mafia Meeting in Upstate New York, Volpe hid his good buddy Kelly Mannarino out from federal investigators who searched in vain to apprehend him after a subpoena was issued for his testimony.
Side Note: The 11 names with an asterisk listed above were considered direct subordinates in Volpe’s group. It should also be noted that several of these longtime trusted minions had brothers and cousins who served in the local police department and political machine.
It was also suspected that the Volpe regime used these connections to subvert juries and sway investigations their way. Several of his crew members had actually been arrested and tried on bribery charges for attempting to reach a juror hearing a criminal case against some of their crew.
I had a difficult time accessing any significant police record for Louis Volpe. He had a bootlegging conviction for which he served a short 6-month jail sentence on a liquor law violation as a young man during the Prohibition era. He had several other arrests for simple assaults, and once for malicious mischief for busting the windows of storefronts and homes of independent political candidates and those opposing the Volpe’s sway over city politics.
Other than those few early minor arrests there wasn’t much else. It makes me believe that he had a limited record at best.
He seems to have learned a valuable lesson early in life about the streets…stay in the shadows, make money not headlines! It would be his mantra for the remainder of his career.
The one criminal case I did connect him to late in his career was a doozy though.
In 1969 he was indicted with other top members of his borgata: John LaRocca, Joe Sica, Frank Rosa, Frank Amato, and Gabriel Mannarino. Important key members of New York’s Genovese and Lucchese mobs were indicted as well: Salvatore Celembrino, Peter DeFeo, Ernest Lanzieri, Salvatore Granello, and James Plumeri.
Several men connected to the Central States Teamsters Pension Fund were also nabbed: Teamsters auditor David Wenger, lawyer Angelo Di Spirito, mortgage broker John Kelly, and several others. Additionally, a top member of Detroit’s mob was pulled into the case as well; Dominick Corrado and his associate Samuel Marroso.
They were accused in a series of five separate but connected federal conspiracy indictments involving the illegal granting (embezzlement) of various business investment “loans” from the Central States Pension Fund in Detroit totaling millions of dollars.
In a rare reversal of fortunes after a lengthy trial in New York all mob defendants were acquitted, with only the lawyer and Teamsters auditor getting convicted on all counts. Volpe and the others skated free by the skin of their teeth on this one. Great lawyering to say the least.
After that unwanted exposure, Volpe did his best to fade back into the shadows for the rest of his underworld career. He had seen it all – the good, the bad, and the very ugly.
He allowed his trusted aide Joe Sica to man the helm in most situations requiring a “sitdown” or public negotiations, preferring to stay comfortably in the background.
Luigi (Lou) Volpe died June 5th, in 1987 at the age of 85 years old from kidney failure…but try as he did, the notorious Volpe surname is not a name the people of Pittsburgh are soon to forget!
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