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A Study of The Impact of America's Organized Crimes in The 1920s

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Organized Crime

1920’s was a time period of drastic and massive change in American culture, politics, and economy. It is commonly characterized by jazz, revolution in fashion, new inventions, dance, prohibition, gambling and gangs. However, organized crime was a massive part of the “Roaring Twenties.” The loudest crimes of the time period were due to corruption in government, lack of law enforcement, and constant social and economic instability. The famous cases were Sacco and Vanzetti of Massachusetts and Wall Street Bombing of New York.

Nicola Sacco was a shoemaker who was born in Italy and emigrated to the United States in 1908 at the age of seventeen. Bartolomeo Vanzetti was a fishmonger (someone who sells raw fish and seafood) who was also born in Italy and emigrated to the United State in 1908 at the age of twenty. The two men were known Anarchists and radicals. They were believed to be followers of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist who advocated revolutionary violence, including bombing and assassination.

On April 15, 1920 Pormenter ( a paymaster) and Berardelli (his guard) were shot by two men with pistols at Slater and Morrill shoe factory. Following the murder, the criminals stole 2 boxes containing $15,776 worth of payroll, quickly left the crime scene, and escaped away in an automobile containing a few other men, which was found abandoned two days later. On May 5th, Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of the murder and robbery at the factory and sentenced to a trial, which ended up being one of the most controversial and conflicting trials in history up to this day.

1920s was a an era of Red Scare, a time period where Americans were paranoid and scared of Communism, since Russian Government just went through a second revolution, turning Democracy into Communism. People were all suspecting each other, starting from shoemakers, going to movie stars, and ending with politicians. Any sort of uncommon political views were looked upon very critically. Since Sacco and Vanzetti were Anarchists, they were automatically placed under suspicion by the police, the jury, the judge, and the commoners. The policemen assumed that the Italians stole the money in order to finance violent anarchist activities, and the judge easily agreed with that, since only a few weeks before the trial he gave a speech about Bolshevism and anarchism’s threat to American institutions. He supported the suppression of functionally violent radical speech, and incitement to commit violent acts. Therefore, coming into court Sacco and Vanzetti already had a great disadvantage strictly because of their political views.

There were fifty-nine witnesses that testified for the Commonwealth and ninety-nine that testified for the defendants during the trial. All the testimonies differed from one another, as some claimed to have seen the two men at the crime scene, others saw them in Boston that same morning, while the third party witnessed them somewhere else at the time of the crime. Most of the evidence was disproven in court, considering that the only hard indication of guilt was Sacco’s possession of a Colt pistol found at the time of his arrest, and the two men’s reclaim of the car associated with the crime. However, disregarding the lack of accurate data, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty and sentenced to death by Judge Webster Thayer, whose decision was later backed up by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. Precisely at that point, the case took a different turn and went viral, drawing attention worldwide by 1925.

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed via an electric chair on August 23, 1927. However, long before the execution and shortly after the arrest of the two anarchists, series of outrageous revolts, protests, and complaints took place all over the United States in order to fight for social justice. Unfortunately, some uproars ended with massive deaths, such as the Bombing of Wall Street on September 16, 1920 in New York.

The specific details of this case are still unknown today, and all the accusations are only based on assumptions. However, what remains clear is that on the day of the bombing an old horse drawn wagon containing 100 lb of dynamite was placed at the busiest corner of the financial district, next to J. P. Morgan Bank. The wagon exploded, killing 38 people instantly and severely wounding 200, most of which were young people who worked as messengers, stenographers, clerks and brokers. 10 more victims died at the hospital, and the Morgan Building was essentially destroyed. The bomb caused around $2,000,000 property damage, equaling $23,000,000 with inflation. The driver of the wagon was not in it at the time of the bomb explosion.

Although the driver of the wagon was never found, Mario Buda is thought to be the executioner. He was an active Italian anarchist and Galleanist, just like Sacco and Vanzetti. In addition, he was the owner of the car involved in the two men’s case. Certainly, Buda was experienced with explosives, and it was believed that he supplied most of the bombs for all the anarchist uprisings. The Galleanist was in New York City during the time of the explosion. Taking advantage of not being arrested or questioned, Buda left and was in Italy by November of 1920, never to return again. Although the police investigated this crime for over three years, no new steps forward were made. The most likely reasons for the bombing were revenge for fellow anarchists’ arrest and the deportation of Luigi Galleani.

Due to an unstable government and economy, social change took great lead in the Roaring Twenties. Organized crime, which is a general term used to describe any sort of group or ring of people who strategically work together to commit fraud, extortion, or other illegal activity, became a big part of the society. All sorts of illegal activities were committed on daily basis, but due to lack of law enforcement and government corruption, it was nearly impossible for prosecution to take place. Gangsters and individual criminals had deep connections throughout America, allowing them to “get off the hook” with their crimes. Prohibition and the Red Scare influenced behaviors of people as well, leading to all sorts of different crimes that still reflect on our society to this day.

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