Mafia's roots in Hamilton explored
By Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso
Macmillan Canada, $24.95
By Paul Legal / Hamilton Spectator
The Canadian mafia was officially born in Hamilton, Ont., in 1981.
The momentous event occurred during the trial of some local
gangsters charged with extortion. After hearing an RCMP expert, the
judge concluded that the mobsters belonged to a highly-structured
organization with roots in Italy called the Ndrina or the
Hdrangheta. More colloquially, it is known as the Calabrian Mafia or
It was the first time that a judge had recognized mob membership as
a factor in determining the appropriate sentence for the gangsters.
Until then, the mafia was often written off as a media myth or
And it seems only fitting that the mob should get official
recognition here in the city of steel. Ever since the emergence of a
group of extortionists called the Black Hand Society almost 100
years ago, the city has been rocked by a series of bloody events
that have helped give the Canadian mob its unique character and
mythology. And local gangsters like Rocco and Bessie Perri, Johnny
Papalia, and Giacomo Luppino are now the stuff of Mafia lore.
Journalists Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso have chronicled many
of the bloodiest events of the Canadian mob in Deadly Silence:
Canadian Mafia Murders.
Although many of the deadly deeds occurred in other cities such as
Montreal or Toronto, there was usually a strong Hamilton connection.
For example, the authors have fingered two Hamilton brothers --
identified only as members of an organized crime family -- as the
killers of Toronto mobster Paul Volpe in 1983. At the time, Volpe
was one of the most powerful mob figures in Canada. According to the
authors, he had started moving his operation into Atlantic City
without paying proper respect or financial remuneration to the
Philadelphia mob which controlled the rackets there.
Edwards and Nicaso believe the boys from Philly hired the Hamilton
gangsters because they were the only ones who could get close enough
to the cautious Volpe to kill him. He was apparently shot from the
back at close range and his body was found in the trunk of his car
at Pearson International Airport. The case has never been solved.
The authors also put their own spin on the historic confrontation
between Hamilton mobster Johnny Papalia and bookmaker Maxie
Bluestein at the Town Tavern in Toronto in 1961. Papalia and his
henchmen wanted to muscle in on Bluestein's gambling turf. When the
Toronto bookie resisted, they set upon him with fists, boots and
blackjacks and beat him senseless. Although hundreds of patrons
witnessed the assault, nobody could remember anything when the
police arrived. Toronto Star Columnist Pierre Berton called it the
greatest case of collective amnesia in medical history.
The Town Tavern incident helped establish Papalia as a force to be
reckoned with in the Canadian mob. He quickly became known as ``the
enforcer.'' His reputation as tough guy still persists 30 years
later, although he is now offically a senior citizen.
Edwards and Nicaso have written a highly readable book that
combines mob history and lore with some of the most recent
development in Canadian organized crime. The authors make it clear
that the mob doesn't rest on its laurels but is continually
re-affirming its hegemony in the criminal world through blood and
Feb. 12, 1994