The Violent Years: Prohibition and The Detroit Mobs
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The Violent Years, a companion volume to author Paul Kavieff’s best-selling book, The Purple Gang, is the story of Prohibition-era Detroit, a place of tremendous wealth and brutal violence. For those found with new prosperity after World War I ended, it became a status symbol to have one’s own personal bootlegger and to hobnob with known gangsters. Not only did they supply the booze, they carried with them an aura of excitement and danger. Numerous gangs scrambled to grab a piece of the profit to be made selling illegal liquor which resulted in gruesome gang warfare among the many European ethnic groups that were involved. Among these were the Italian Giannola and Vitale gangs, the Irish “Legs” Laman Gang and the Polish Jaworski gang. All the while, author Paul Kavieff manages to provide insight into how so many immigrants gravitated to crime and why the public tolerated it for as long as they did.
high-profile, strong-arm methods. No underworld operations went on in the Detroit area without kicking back protection money to the Purple Gang. This included gambling, drug peddling, prostitution, rum-running, and alley brewing. As many as 500 murders have been attributed to the Purples. By 1929, they were selling liquor to both the New York Mob and the Capone organization in Chicago. The Purple Gang is best known for two massacres. The first, known as the Milaflores Massacre, in March of 1927
faction were lured to an apartment on Collingwood Avenue in Detroit in September 1931 and shot to death by their fellow Purples. This was basically the beginning of the self-destruction of the Purple Gang. The Collingwood Manor Massacre resulted in the first significant convictions against three Purple Gang leaders. It is interesting to note that all of the 18 Purple Gangsters who met violent deaths between the years 1927 to 1935 were killed by other members of their own gang. This was due as
Paul Jaworski. An arresting officer had asked Paul his name, and he said “Smith.” Another officer noticed a magazine on the floor of the farmhouse and picked it up. The name Jaworski was written in pencil across the top of the cover of the publication. “You’re a liar,” the officer told him. ‘Tour name’s not Smith, it’s Jaworski!” “That name will do as well as any other,” replied the bandit. The name stuck. From that time on, the name Jaworski would be synonymous with terror, robbery, and murder
walked by. One of the men looked strangely familiar to him. Zavwroski stopped and stared in the window of the restaurant. Suddenly, he recognized the stranger as Paul Poluszynski aka Jaworski. As a boy, Paul had sung in the choir of a small Ukrainian church in Butler, Pennsylvania. Zavwroski had been the choir director. He had been following Jaworski’s crime career in the papers and was shocked to come face to face with the outlaw, whom he hadn’t seen since both of them had been boys. Zavwroski
forward and collapsed, a bullet in his brain and four more slugs in his back. Tony Alescio, Giannola’s bodyguard, had been adopted and raised by the Giannola family since childhood. No one ever suspected that he was a Vitale spy. At the time that Tony Giannola was murdered, he was waiting to stand trial in federal court. He had been indicted by the feds for violation of the Car Seal Act in the freight yard whiskey theft. If found guilty, Giannola could have received up to 10 years in prison.