Blood on the Docks
From their earliest efforts Italian gangsters had a penchant for the waterfront. In 1890 the earliest Mafiosi in America quickly muscled in on the docks. New Orleans has been an active port city since its inception. Ships from all over the world docked on its waterfront.
In addition to having a climate similar to their homeland, one of the reasons Sicilians found New Orleans appealing was the fact that it had a Catholic culture. In the North and elsewhere, Catholics were in the minority and often subject to discrimination.
Two enterprising brothers, Tony and Charles Matranga (born Antonio and Carlo Matranga), formerly of Palermo, Sicily, were making a nice living shaking down and intimidating skippers and ship owners, who were obliged to pay extortion money or else end up shot, stabbed, or beaten to a pulp and tossed into one of the many canals. It was a reign of terror that the chief of police was determined to stop.
A rival group of brothers was vying for control of the New Orleans waterfronts. The underworld was well aware of such delineations and distinctions, while to the untrained eye they were all just thugs. Savage hits were commonplace. One gangster's head was stuck into a burning stove, many were shot, some hits were near misses that only succeeded in grisly mutilation and the amputation of various body parts. The escalating violence was played out against the reality of postwar Reconstruction, making life even tougher for the immigrant communities of the South.