August 1932: Mourning the bloody end of a racketeer husband
All Rose Bazzano knew was that her husband John was on a business trip to New York. It wasn’t John’s habit to tell his wife about his business. So it naturally came as a shock to Rose when her husband’s body, wrapped in a burlap bag, was found near a refuse pile called Tin Can Mountain in the infamous Red Hook section of Brooklyn. John Bazzano had been stabbed 20 times with an ice pick. A rope used to strangle him was still tightly twisted around his neck. His tongue had been cut out and his lips sealed with tape.
John Bazzano dead? Rose couldn’t believe it.
“John, come home,” she pleaded while sitting in the darkened drawing room of the luxurious Bazzano home at 1287 Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon. She wept so fiercely, newspapers reported, that no physician’s prescription would calm her.
John Bazzano was listed in the 1930 census as a retail merchant and confectioner. Newspapers identified him as a member of an underworld outfit run by the eight Volpe brothers. The Volpes were racketeers from the Turtle Creek Valley. They were swaggering, arrogant men who lived in cheap apartments and flashed wads of money in nightclubs.
At the time, racketeers were doing a booming business in the Pittsburgh area. They’d stepped in to supply alcohol after Prohibition became the law of the land. By the early 1930s, mobs had become thoroughly entrenched in many parts of Allegheny County. Bazzano was considered by the newspapers to be an underworld “czar” who controlled the county’s yeast racket, which took in an estimated one million dollars each year.
The Volpe brothers were in the process of expanding their affairs into East Liberty and the North Side. This didn’t set well with Bazzano. He wanted the Volpes out of the picture.
The hit took place at a dingy coffee shop that Bazzano owned on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District. On the morning of July 29, 1932, gunmen opened fire while the Volpes were inside. Three of the brothers died, one while eating a bowl of corn flakes.
Unfortunately for Bazzano, the hit was unsanctioned by New York’s mob bosses. Within days, the bosses summoned Bazzano to a meeting. Bazzano had to know this wasn’t good news. Refusing the invitation, however, wasn’t an option.
Bazzano checked into New York’s Pennsylvanian Hotel and, on Aug. 6, attended a gathering of underworld big shots at an empty building in the city’s Red Hook district. For Bazzano, the meeting didn’t go so well.
His mutilated body was returned to his palatial Mt. Lebanon home and placed in a $5,000 casket. After a quiet service at the home, Bazzano’s body was blessed by a priest. A procession of 75 cars followed the hearse to a cemetery in Arnold. Seven autos were loaded with flowers.
A few days later, police in New York arrested 14 mob members, but couldn’t find enough evidence to charge them with killing Bazzano. Instead, they were charged with loitering.