Shortly before the American Revolution, the Doan Gang began their reign of treachery in Philadelphia.  The Doan brothers, Israel and Moses, along with their followers, raised havoc in Philadelphia for a time.  Camped out on the outskirts of Philadelphia proper, the Doan Gang planned out their bank robberies and other crimes, such as horse thievery.  Scenes reminiscent of the old Wild West shootouts were commonplace when the Doan Gang came in to rob banks.  The gang found profit in horse thievery as the British Army supplied willing customers for their underhanded business.   The Doan Gang escaped any punishment for their escapades while aiding the British, due to the fact that the city was still under British rule.  To be sure, there were probably other gangs in Philadelphia before the Doans, but Philly Gangsters begins its story there.

The Killers (left) were among the first of a  group of gangsters strictly born of ethnicity. Scott and English Nativist gangs during the 17th century, organized themselves under the cover of Volunteer Firemen. Historians have identified 50 such violent Philadelphia street gangs during the era with such colorful names as the Blood Tubs, the Schuylkill Rangers, the Neckers and the Snappers. The gangs fought each other and often attacked innocent citizens on the streets.  The Tongs (right) another strictly ethnic gang were isolated to the Chinatown section of Philadelphia. Seventeenth century drug addicts, gamblers, and johns traveled from all over the area into the City of Brotherly love to indulge in Chinatown’s seamy side.

 The beginning of the 19th century in Philadelphia saw the biggest immigration to the area. From all over Europe they came, bringing their trades, their ingenuity and their dreams.  But some of the immigrants resorted to unsavory ways of making their way.  New arrivals found a level of unacceptance in their new world that forced them, in their way of thinking, to find drastic methods of making themselves recognized.  Italians, Jews, Irish,  Germans banded together within their own culture to get their fair share of the American dream.  They had faces, they had names and they had stories, and they eventually melted together to become the Philadelphia Gangster as we will see here.

The Black Hand

Philadelphia's first Black Hand Haunt (left). The cities Inquire news paper headlines read " Police say they have unearthed Mafia Haunt in - Little Italy. In the rear of 808 Catherine street in the city's south Philadelphia section. Police claim they have located a branch of the Italians secret Society. A resident claims he was threatened with violence, unless he paid money. The "x" indicates the exact location of the raid. This Black Hand extortion note (Center) translates "We want $2,500.00 under penalty of death to himself and family, BLACK HAND.

This Newspaper photo (right) was the seen of a Black Hand Bombing. Located at 907 ,909 S. 9th St. according to the proprietors Mr. Volpe and Marstae they received a demand note weeks before demanding money from the Black Hand. Although State and local cops couldn't prove a an organized society at the time. The Black Handers were common knowledge to Italians.

Philly's first Godfather Salvatore Sabella Born in Sicily 1891. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania faction of La Cosa Nostra has been one of the strongest families in the American Cosa Nostra since its start in 1911. Salvatore Sabella was sent to Philadelphia by the bosses of the Sicilian Mafia to organize the city's rackets. Sabella was the boss of the Philadelphia mob from 1911 until his death in 1927. He was succeeded by Joseph Bruno (no relation to Angelo Bruno). Bruno was in power essentially from 1927 until 1946. There was a period during his rule when his power was challenged by John Avena. This was sometime between 1934 and 1936. Bruno retained his power, but died in 1946. Joseph Ida was the family's next boss. He was in control of the family until a narcotics conviction forced him to flee to Sicily in 1959. His successor was Angelo Bruno. Bruno, son of Joseph Bruno, would be the man to put the Philadelphia Mafia on the map. Bruno was one of the men who got Atlantic City started up. Sabella became the founding mob boss of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania mob family. In 1920 Salvatore was a olive oil and cheese merchant, and the successful owner of a soft drink cafe. In 1925 he is the suspected shooter of rival mobsters Leo Lanzetti, Vincent Cocozza, Joseph Zanghi. He started leadership in 1911. He was responsible for teaching future mob bosses John Avena and Angelo Bruno the rackets. In 1931 at the age of forty Sabella retired and handed the reign of the crime family to his first protégé John Avena.

Savatore Sabella tries to snuff out the competition by attempting to rub out the Zanghi brothers, Musky and Joseph, along with Scabby Cocozza, but succeeds only in killing Joseph and Scabby.  Sabella along with his gang, John Avena, Antonio Pillina, with John Scopoletti behind the wheel, drove off, after the mob hit.  Musky Zanghi the actual target of the hit survived and became the mobs first rat.  The newspapers headlines banner “The Underworld’s First Squealer”.

Police photo at the right, shows the Sabella gang brought in for questioning. Drive by shooting stabbing. became common in the area of little Italy's 9th and Christian Streets. during the roaring twenties, the 800 Block of Christian Street was known as dope row. In the shadow of one of Little Italy's most beloved National Catholic Churched. Drugs, Murder, Racketeering and bootlegging, became a way of life of a lot of the churches parishioners.

The Lanzetti's- Philly's first drug dealers


                                                       Willie                 Pius                        Teo                   Leo

The six Lanzetti brothers, Leo, Pius, Willie, Ignatius, Lucian, and Teo, were notorious gunman, numbers gamblers, narcotics dealers, and liquor bootleggers in South Philadelphia during the 1920s and 1930s. The Lanzettis organized an "Alky Cooking" supply network by providing a contingent of row house dwellers with home stills and paying them to produce saleable liquor. The Lanzettis then sold the liquor at marked up prices. Their most trusted associates included Louis "Fats" Delrossi and Michael Falcone. At various times, the Lanzettis feuded with several different groups of racketeers in South Philadelphia, as well as with Mickey Duffy and some of his partners. The Lanzettis' criminal careers were marked by frequent arrests and brutal violence. Between 1924 and 1939, at least one brother was involved as a suspect or a material witness in no less than fifteen murder cases, including Pius' detainment (and dismissal) during the early stages of the investigation into the murder of Mickey Duffy. Leo, the eldest, was killed on August 22, 1925, as he left a barber shop at 7th and Bainbridge Streets, in an apparent retribution for the murder of a rival dope peddler and bootlegger, Joseph Bruno. He had been killed by Leo and Ignatius, four days earlier at 8th and Catherine Streets. Enemy bullets claimed the lives of Pius, on New Year's Eve, 1936, and Willie, on July 2, 1939. The Lanzettis became something of a local media fixture during their heyday. Each brother was given a distinctive character trait in stories written about the family of gangsters: Leo, before his murder, was the family leader; Pius was the "Brain;" Ignatius was always impeccably dressed; Lucian had the most explosive temper; Willie was the quiet one; and Teo, the "Baby" of the family, made women swoon with his matinee idol good looks. By 1940, however, the Lanzetti name virtually disappeared from the Philadelphia crime scene. Leo, Pius, and Willie were dead. Teo was in Levenworth Prison on a drug trafficking conviction. Ignatius, released by the U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional the New Jersey "Gangster Law" under which he and Delrossi had been held in prison since 1936, was said to have joined Lucian and their mother in fleeing to Detroit after Willie's murder.


(Photo upper left) Police recover the body of gangster Willie Lanzetti from underbrush in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. 1939.

(Photo upper right) Children gather outside store on South 8th Street where Pius Lanzetti was murdered. 1936

The First Numbers Rackets

Jonathan Saint Claire AKA West Indian Johnny (pictured left). A gambler from the Caribbean immigrated to Philadelphia in the early 19th century. He introduced the numbers racket to the entire east coast, for a penny you would get $4.00, for a nickel you got $22.50, and for a dime you would get $44.00. The three numbers were based on the last three numbers sold on the Stock Exchange. Forrest White Woodard came to Philadelphia from Virginia 1898 (pictured right) by 1922 he was running the biggest numbers operation in the city. By 1930 he became the richest Black man in Philly. The Following year he and the Black Numbers racket was taken over by violent Italian and Jewish Gangsters, headed by the notorious Lanzetti Brothers, the numbers racket was absorbed by the Lanzetti's and Woodard Retired into Legitimate a business. Philadelphia Blacks were forced out of the City wide syndicates. They were reduced running there own neighborhood book and betting parlors. Black book makers and racketeers became the backers for black business and churches who couldn't loans from white banks.

Bathtub Booze - Outhouse Stills

Max "Boo Boo" Hoff, King of the Philadelphia Bootleggers 1928 . Born to immigrant Jewish parents in South Philadelphia, Hoff rose to become the "king of Philadelphia bootleggers." "Boo Boo" was the chief proprietor of businesses involved in the diversion of industrial alcohol, including the Quaker Industrial Alcohol Company, the Glenwood Industrial Alcohol Company, and the Consolidated Ethyl Solvents Company. His two closest bootlegging allies were Charles Schwartz and Samuel Lazar. Their diversion plants were protected by police and politicians with whom the Hoff group had arranged protection. Hoff also had interests in several upscale clubs, including the Ship, the Piccadilly, and the Turf Club. Hoff participated in Philadelphia and Atlantic City gambling ventures before, during, and after prohibition. Hoff avoided lending his own name to bootlegging fronts by working through the Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company and the Union Bank and Trust Company. The funds were then channeled into legal investments, primarily in real estate ventures. Hoff headquartered his operations from a suite on the second floor of the Sylvania Hotel in center city. Hoff was never prosecuted as a bootlegger, despite evidence collected by the 1928 Grand Jury probe that he was involved in liquor and weapons distribution. Hoff was perhaps better known, in his day, as a top boxing manager and promoter, rivaled locally only by Herman "Muggsy" Taylor and Phil Glassman. His Ship Club was a popular hangout for the sporting crowd. Much of his fortune was lost during the depths of the Great Depression. Repeal made his diversion plants obsolete, and his tax battles with federal authorities coupled with the excessive spending and betting habits typical of Hoff and his peers finally drained his coffers. In 1941, he died quietly in his bed. Hoff was 46.


(upper left) Max "Boo Boo" Hoff (wearing bow tie) appears in Federal Court on counterfeit money charges. 1934

(upper right) Boxing promoter Max "Boo Boo" Hoff and four fighters that he managed. Ca.1930s

(upper middle) The headline say's it all.

Mickey Duffy (1888-1931) Born William Michael Cusick, his collection of Irish pseudonyms, including John Murphy, George McEwen, and most famously, Michael "Mickey" Duffy, masked the fact that his parents were Polish immigrants. Duffy was involved in petty crimes as a young adolescent, and gradually moved on to more serious offenses. He was involved in armed robbery and truck hijacking before rising to become the most famous of the beer bootleggers in the Delaware Valley. Duffy owned "high powered beer" breweries in Philadelphia, Camden, and South Jersey.
His most frequent partners included Max Hassell (a former rival based in Reading), Harry Green, James Richardson, Charles Bodine, and Nicholas Delmore. Duffy also became the owner of several upscale clubs, including the Perkin and the Cadix. On February 25 1927, an attempt was made on Duffy's life as he left the Cadix. The alleged perpetrators were Peter Ford and Francis Bailey, members of a rival beer bootlegging group headed by Bailey and his two brothers, James and Harry. In 1930, the murder of John Finiello, a federal prohibition agent conducting a raid on an Elizabethtown, New Jersey brewery owned by Duffy and several partners, caused efforts to clamp down on Duffy's activities to be intensified. A rift apparently developed between Duffy and some of his associates including his body guard and chauffeur, Joseph Beatty.  On August 31, 1931, while staying at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, Duffy was murdered. The case was never solved, although the alleged perpetrators were said to be comprised of disgruntled partners plotting to seize Duffy's share of the beer market. In December 1931, two of the accused conspirators, Samuel E. Grossman and Albert Skale, were murdered at a club on Watts Street and Girard Avenue in Philadelphia. Another wave of gang killings was underway, this time among three separate factions of bootleggers once tied in some way to Duffy.

Murdered body of Mickey Duffy removed from the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City. 1931

Reenactment of the attempted murder of Micky Duffy outside the Cadix Club. 1927

Mickey Duffy's prize possession, a $20,000 Dusenberg car. 1931

Crowds watch funeral procession for Micky Duffy in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. 1931

Police seize back yard still, in the rear of 1814 East York Street in Philly's Kensington/Fishtown section

Jack "Legs" Diamond - (1897-December 18, 1931) Yes, Legs Diamond was a Philly Boy. Born in his home in Port Richmond/Fishtown 2530 E. Albert Street although no longer there. Jack Diamond first gang was the Moyer street gang or the Boiler Gang according to the Philadelphia Inquire. At the age of Thirteen his family packed up and moved to Brooklyn. Also known as Gentleman Jack, was the alias of Jack Moran, an Irish-American gangster based out of New York City. A bootlegger and close associate of gambler Arnold Rothstein, he survived a number of attempts on his life between 1919 and 1931, causing him to be known as the "clay pigeon of the underworld." In 1930, Diamond's nemesis Dutch Schultz remarked to his own gang, "Ain't there nobody that can shoot this guy so he don't bounce back?" Diamond is known for having a rather flamboyant lifestyle. He was a very energetic individual, and was very loyal, but he could just as easily doublecross you and kill you if he saw fit. His nickname "Legs" derived from the speculation that he was a good dancer, and while this may be true, the nickname really derives from how fast he could get away from his enemies. His wife, Alice Diamond was never supportive of his lifestyle, but she never really said much to persuade him to get away from it. He cheated on her as well, with showgirl and dancer, Marion "Kiki" Roberts. He also cheated on her, with other women that he found around. The public loved him. He was Upstate New York's biggest celebrity at the time

Harry "Nig" Rosen was a Philadelphia mobster who was a major organized crime figure on the east coast with influence as far as Atlantic City, Baltimore and Washington, DC. Born Harry Stromberg, Rosen emerged as a prominent racketeer in southeast Philadelphia and, as head of the 69th Street Gang, became involved prostitution, extortion, labor racketeering and later in narcotics with Arnold Rothstein during the mid-1920s. Succeeding Max "Boo Hoo" Hoff as the cities chief bootlegger during Prohibition, he was a member of the "Big Seven" aligned with the Philadelphia faction along with Waxey Gordon and Irving Blitz, later attending the Atlantic City Conference. During the 1930s, he and Lansky worked on expanding drug trafficking operations in Mexico as an alternative to older routes such as Japan now closed with United States entry into the Second World War. By 1939, a lucrative heroin network had been established from drug traffickers based in Mexico City to major cities across the United States including New York, Philadelphia, Miami and Los Angeles as well as Havana, Cuba. He and his lieutenant, driver and bodyguard William "Willie" Weisberg, were named as dominant racketeers involved in the numbers racket under testimony from police superintendent George F. Richardson during the Kefauver Committee in 1951.

Samuel " Cappy Hoffman