RK at one of the Wyandotte Cemeterys

Wyandotte, MI holds the Guinness World Record for having the most speakeasys/bars/taverns and churches thus bringing in many theatrical characters as the Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. The Wyandotte Theater is the venue where they came to perform back in the day.

Wyandotte Theater

Metal Sculpture of the Crucifix

There is a cemetery in Wyandotte that is known to have members of the Purple Gang and assorted victims of the prohibition era buried there. Took a little trip to see this cemetery today and we found it difficult to navigate with the map we had from the local Museum... So I shot photos of things that we found interesting..

The Marx family owned the big brewery in town and were innovative enough to conceive (curved) oval glass for bay windows as well as commercial buildings.

The Gianolla-Adamo War

Between 1912-13, the Gianolla brothers took over the Wyandotte area rackets gang starting a feud with Wyandotte Mafia boss Vito Adamo. The Gianolla brothers felt they had secured victory in Wyandotte after a series of attacks on the Adamo gang, which left several Adamo gang members dead. Adamo took refuge in Detroit and aligned himself with Mafia leader Pietro Mirabile, while the Gianolla's set their sites on the Little Italy rackets, mainly the illicit beer trade.

The Adamo's had deep pockets and were able to fend off the Gianolla's first attempts to take over the beer rackets by giving away free ice with their deliveries. Next the Adamo gang retaliated leaving two Gianolla gang members William Catalano and John Jervaso dead in April 1913.

These killings were followed by a string of killings and arrests of both sides. Even with the involvement of the authorities the feud continued as the main objective of the Gianolla brothers was the elimination of the Adamo brothers.

The beatings, stabbings and shootings stopped temporarily when Vito Adamo and two associates were put on trial for the August 1913 murder of Tony Gianolla's top aide Carlo Callego. Shortly thereafter an attempt was made on the life of Tony Gianolla himself.

More than likely the attempt on Tony Gianolla's life demonstrated the urgency the Gianolla's felt in regards to the elimination of the Adamo brothers. In the latter part of 1913 the Gianolla's struck indirectly at the Adamo's with the elimination of their associate and adviser Ferdinand Palma, a former Detroit detective turned bank owner and racketeer. The era of the Adamo brothers ended in November 1913 when both Vito, 34 and Sam Adamo, 32, were gunned down by shooters near their home.

The Gianolla gang would now reign supreme for roughly the next 4–5 years as the dominant Italian crime group in Detroit. The Gianolla gang controlled the most lucrative rackets within Detroit's Italian underworld and the gang would spawn the career of some of the most notable crime figures in Detroit history.

Top members of the gang who would go on to lead the Detroit Mafia and rule the local underworld included John Vitale, Salvatore Catalanotte, Angelo Meli, William Tocco, Joseph Zerilli, Leonardo "Black Leo" Cellura, Joseph Zerilli, Angelo Polizzi and a host of other well known area mafiosi. Tony Gianolla remained the top leader of the gang running his operations from his base in Wyandotte. Over the years his younger brother Sam had secured his reputation as a tough enforcer who led a group of killers, while Gaetano remained the adviser of the group.

An excerpt for The Purples Book:


“So how did it start,” they all want to know. Then, before you can answer: “Didn’t it all start at the Cream of Michigan? On that night when the ghost of Joe Bernstein walked into the diner?”

As a matter of fact, no. If you want the truth, it started four years earlier, during the Palmer Raids. Of course, people don’t want to hear about things they’d rather forget. What they want is a ghost yarn or a gangster tale, and if they can get both at the same time, even better.

So they always start with that night at the diner—the night I strolled, big as life, through the front door of “the Crime,” as it was known back then. It was quite a moment, I’ll admit: The place was filled with forty of the mouthiest guys you’d ever want to meet, yet they all went dead quiet soon as I entered. Art Goldman actually let out a tiny squeak, like a mouse. He told me later that the moment he saw me, he pictured being eaten alive and that caused the squeak.

The amazing thing was that nobody reached for anything. The only motion came from a guy named Meltzer, who had been constructing an igloo out of sugar cubes on one of the tabletops (yes, this is the kind of productive work that was done back then). When he saw me, Meltzer’s hands went limp and crashed down on his igloo, spilling cubes onto the floor.

Canadian inspectors wait at the Windsor liquor docks in 1928. The Eastside Mob operated a lucrative rum-running operation on the Detroit River during Prohibition.

Presiding over this shaky peace arrangement was a Giannola gunman named Salvatore "Sam" Catalonotte. Catalonotte was one of the few men who was both respected and well liked among the competing Mafia groups. His charismatic personality and diplomatic ability enabled Catalonotte to emerge from the Giannola/Vitale gang war as the supreme leader of the Detroit Mafia.

Catalonotte pushed for peaceful solutions to underworld disputes. As a result of his policies, the Mafia gangs prospered during the '20s, and for ten years there was relative peace in Detroit's Sicilian underworld.

The survivors of the Giannola/Vitale conflict evolved into two organizations after 1920. These gangs were known as the Eastside and Westside Mobs. The Eastsiders operated predominantly on the upper Detroit River east of the city. This group was led by Angelo Meli, William "Black Bill" Tocco, Leo "Black Leo" Cellura, and Joseph Zerilli. The Westside Mob, sometimes referred to as the Catalonotte Gang, was led by a treacherous mobster named Chester LaMare. LaMare was known as the Vice King of Hamtramck.


patricia izzo said...

Excellent story and expose on the colorful and darkly intriging history of our cemeteries.... thank you Kim!

Anonymous said...

Never knew wyndotte was so gangster! Lol I grew up in ecorse after 30 yrs I'm just now learning bout the history of downriver thank you

Unknown said...

My Dad passed away 4/2012 at age 98. He often told stories about the Purple Gang(PG). The one I remember best occurred when he was about age 6. He lived across the street from his Aunt and Uncle.The homes where in Wyandotte; on Second Street ,about 4 blocks from the river.A neighbor's house was blown up in the middle of the night,supposedly by the PG. So his parents and Aunt&Uncle moved, about 10 blocks away.My Dad at age 96,could still identify where the booze runners landed in Y&.

Retro Kimmer said...

Thank you for the story of your Dad...loved it! xK

John Cotten said...

Just an FYI as a side note for you. Gaetano Gianolla, the Consigliere for the Gianolla Brothers, is my second great Grandfather on my Grandmother's side. Some reports about him state that in 1930 he stabbed Gispar Milazzo to death and subsequently ruled the Detroit Partnership for a few years. This is simply not true. When Vitale took over the partnership in 1919, Catalanotte allowed Gaetano to retire. He subsequently moved to Louisiana and changed his name to Thomas Guy Genola. Gispar Milazzo actually died from shotgun blasts from two hit men hired by La Mare.

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