Teaser:

“Examination of the body revealed the flesh surrounding the three bullet wounds was badly discolored, indicating, police believe, a poisonous infection had set in. The poison bullets, medical experts say, posed condition of the face and head which made it impossible to recognize even the features.”

“Investigators today were still without a clue as to the identity of the slayers, despite the fact that Pueblo and Denver-police are co-operating in an effort at solution.”

Intro:

Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of The Member’s Only Podcast. I am your host Jacob Stoops, and I’m a mob enthusiast and historian.

Up to this point, I’ve focused exclusively on covering the East Coast mob, but today we’re headed West though not in a direction that gets talked about often in organized crime circles. We’re going where the air is just a little thinner. That’s right, we’re covering the Colorado factions of the national crime syndicate.

I’ll be doing a two-part series on the organization that would later become known as the Smaldone Crime Family, which ran organized crime in Denver and much of Colorado during the 20th century. As I said in my last episode, my goal will be to cover lesser-known crime families across the country in upcoming episodes, beginning with this one.

For part one, we’re going to focus on the early days of organized crime in Colorado, how the area’s Mafia got its start, the bloody strife during the 1920’s and early 30’s, and how that strife ultimately led to what became known as the Smaldone organization.

If the violence in New York and on the East Coast at the time can be considered the epitome of viciousness, I can assure you that Colorado’s infighting was every bit as violent—it just doesn’t get the credit it deserves since it’s not quite as high profile.

This episode will be focused primarily on how the mob evolved within the state, and specifically in the main hubs of Denver and Pueblo, Colorado which were two separate but very much interrelated groups. To those from the area, I’d love it if you chime in and share your stories in the comments section for this video.

Before we dive into the episode, I’d just like to remind you to please smash that subscribe button and turn on the bell to get notifications when I release a new episode. If you’re listening to the audio-only version, head on over to Apple Podcasts and write us a review!

Alright, let’s get into the episode—The Colorado Mob!  

The Rise of the Carlino Brothers

What would later become known primarily as the Smaldone Crime Family (also called the “Mountain Mafia”) out of Denver, Colorado, like nearly all other American mob families, generally-speaking came about as a result of a combination of large-scale immigration to the area, followed by Prohibition, and ultimately the areas bootlegging wars during in the 1920’s and early 30’s.

The Colorado area had been a haven for organized crime dating as far back as the late 1800’s when crime bosses such as Lou “The Fixer” Blonger and Adolph “Kid Duffy” Duff were running criminal enterprises in Denver beginning around 1880. In addition, the Ku Klux Klan was a major issue in Colorado state-wide well into the 1920’s. 

However, as you got into the 1920’s, those groups would take a backseat to Italian organized crime, which had begun to become the dominant criminal force in the area, especially in Denver and Pueblo, Colorado.

Now when most people think of Italian immigration within the United States, it’s natural to focus on the big hubs of New York, Chicago, and the East Coast in general. You’d be right to say that Colorado doesn’t immediately come to mind when thinking of large Italian-American populations. 

However, my research indicated that by the time period we’re talking about, Italians had migrated to the Colorado area in great numbers. According to HistoryofColorado.org, Italian immigrants began traveling West well before the turn of the 20th century, arriving and settling in Colorado in the late 1850’s to pursue the opportunities being created by the Gold Rush. By 1922, roughly one in five people living in Colorado was Italian-American. This created a strong Italian American community consisting of small business owners, farmers, steel mill laborers, and miners.

And of course we know that many brought their old-world traditions, and some of course were of the criminal variety (forgive me for the massive oversimplification of the socioeconomic and discriminatory conditions Italians faced at the time in Colorado). As with other areas of the country, you had criminal groups that preyed on the public including some Black Hand type shakedown artists.

Now, the most prominent group that eventually clears the way for the more modern Smaldone family had its foundations laid by a trio of enterprising Italian brothers named Pete, Sam, and Carlo “Charlie” Carlino. The Carlino brothers immigrated to the United States in 1897 from the Agrigento region of Sicily, and their family moved to Colorado to become sugar beet farmers in Vineland, Pueblo County.

And similar to the rise of many other Mafia families, the early incarnation of the Colorado family got its boost from the controversial law that came to be known as The Volstead Act, aka Prohibition, which went into effect nationally in 1919, but was in place in Colorado since 1916.

Just as Prohibition was a boon to organized crime on the East Coast, it was just as important and pervasive as you ventured West. Many bootlegging operations ranging from individual citizens making hooch in their bathtubs to larger organizations running hooch at massive scale sprung up to serve the demand of a thirsty public.

This law, though it was meant to be pure in its intent from a moralistic standpoint, enabled organized crime to thrive and more or less flip the script on the traditional power structures of society. As a capitalist society, power in our country is and was largely held by those with money, and those with money did their best to keep their status, thus holding the poor and middle class in its traditional place in the hierarchy.

But what Prohibition did was enable previously low to middle class citizens to make money. Those with enough foresight, force, balls, and brains couldn’t just make money, but they could become generationally wealthy. One could argue that such an opportunity hadn’t existed before or since to so substantially change ones standing in the power structure.

And many of the groups that sprang up to meet this need (the Italians, Irish, etc.) of course brought with them their traditions from the old country, and the level of cut-throat competition almost demanded that gangsterism comes into play to defend one’s territory.

And those that rose to the top were able to essentially gain an Ivy-league education in running a large organization and finding inventive ways to make money (which would come in handy later on as the mobs organized). They would go from being beholden to the traditional powers, the politicians, local community leaders, law enforcement, etc., to having those powers be essentially owned by them.

This trend would be true across almost the entire country at this time, which is part of the reason that the eventual national crime syndicate set up by Luciano would be so effective for so long.

And so after the state of Colorado enacted Prohibition in 1916, followed by the Volstead Act in 1919, the Carlino brothers converted their farm to produce alcohol. By the early to mid 1920’s, the Carlino brothers had fully established their reputation as Colorado’s most notorious bootleggers pushing their “Sugar Moon” moonshine whiskey on a thirsty public, setting up shop in Sugar City, Colorado (which is Southeast of Denver), and then establishing control first over territories south of Denver in Pueblo, Colorado. 

Since the beginning of Prohibition, the brothers had stepped in to fill the void left when legal alcohol manufacturers were forced to shut down, hiding their stills throughout the countryside and in caves. And as a result, their operation grew and flourished.

By the late 1920’s, the brothers had moved their operation from Pueblo into Denver. By this time, they believed their organization to be very powerful and set their eyes on controlling not just bootlegging in Denver and Pueblo, but all bootlegging activities across the entire state of Colorado.

This aggressive expansion throughout the 20’s, similar to other areas of the country, naturally brought them into regular conflict with rival bootleg gangs including the powerful Danna family out of Pueblo.

The Carlino-Danna War

The Carlinos and the Dannas would ultimately go to war throughout the 1920’s in part due to the competitive, cut-throat climate that was present everywhere during the bootlegging era, but more predominantly driven by an old hatred stemming from a family feud dating back to their time in Sicily.

On May 6, 1922, the feud officially reignited when Pueblo mob boss Pellegrino Scaglia, a prominent Carlino liquor distributor, was murdered, after which Sam and Pete stepped up to take over mob leadership in the area.

And then, on February 27, 1923, a 55-year-old man named John Mulay, who’d taken over as the Carlino’s primary distributor of moonshine, was shot and killed by a drive-by shotgun blast as he was walking along a Pueblo sidewalk.

Later that year, the feud would continue to escalate as on September 10, 1923, the youngest Carlino brother, Carlo “Charlie” Carlino, was also murdered by the Dannas along with his hired bodyguard Dominick Ingo in a massive shootout near the Sante Fe trail at the Baxter Road bridge over the Arkansas River just east of Pueblo.

Articles in the days after the shooting claimed that as many as 10 men fired 40 to 100 shots during the shootout which appears to have been in fact an execution. An article out of the Los Angeles Daily Times described the gunfight as follows:

*Quote*

“TWO SLAIN IN PUEBLO GUN FIGHT

Sheriff Arrests Three in Connection with Colorado Gangsters’ Battle

PUEBLO (Colo.) Sept. 10—Sheriff’s deputies tonight arrested three men in connection with a gun battle held this morning at Baxter, five miles east of Pueblo, in which Carlo Carlino, an Italian, and an unidentified man were left dead in a field.

Deputies said that they had obtained a partial confession from the men arrested that they participated in the fight.

Apparently a dozen men took part in the battle, which was staged in the bottom lands near the Arkansas river. The survivors left the scene in two automobiles.

Carlino was shot to death by a gang of ten men, who threw his body into the Arkansas River, east of Pueblo. The body was recovered by the Sheriff. Carlino is believed to have been a resident of Model, Colo.

The shooting occurred near the Santa Fe Trail on the Arkansas River east of Pueblo. The Sheriff was told that two automobiles filled with men had driven up to the Baxter Bridge, one going under the bridge, and the other into the river bottom near by. The men, according to the sheriff, after leaving their cars ran after a man who apparently had been in one of the cars.

As the men ran they fired at least forty shots at the fleeing man, according to the Sheriff. The victim fell mortally wounded. His body was thrown into the river and the men left the scene in the motor cars.”

*End Quote* 

Several Danna men would be arrested for the murders, but plead Not Guilty. Their trial resulted in a hung jury, after which the pair were released on bond, and the case was never opened again. So they’d gotten away with murder. But the Dannas would pay soon enough.

By this point, six members of the Carlino organization had been murdered by the Dannas, and they were ready to take their revenge.

It would begin with the murder of a Danna associate, and then someone on the Carlino side would anonymously tip off authorities to the exact locations of the Danna family’s moonshine facilities, which were raided on April 30, 1925. After a gunfight with authorities, both Sam and Tony Danna would be arrested, over 2,000 gallons of liquor seized, and two entire stills completely destroyed. This would seriously hamper the Danna operation, but they’d limp on.

For the next year, shots would go back and forth with several assassinations followed by retaliations on both sides. But then, the Carlino’s would strike a major blow to the Danna organization.

On May 14, 1926, Pete, Tony and Sam Danna were paying a visit to a prominent distribution facility for their moonshine in Pueblo. While standing outside on the sidewalk outside the Monte Carlo pool hall, gunmen in a Hudson Coach approached at rapid speed and mowed Pete and Tony Danna down in a hail of bullets (Sam Danna would survive).

The two wounded Danna brothers would die, but in an untraditional breach of the typical Mafia code of silence, provided deathbed testimonies fingering the Carlinos and three associates as the perpetrators of the shooting. 

An article 6 days after the shooting in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, provides a summary of the incident:

*Quote*

“Breaking all precedent in blackhand slayings, Sam Danna Tuesday afternoon appeared before the Coroner’s jury and publicly charged five men with the slaying of his two brothers, Pete and Tony, who were shot down from gunfire on sawed-off shotguns Friday in front of the Monte Carlo pool hall in the downtown business district.

Sam, thru interpretation of his wife, named the alleged killers to the jury as Pete (Vito) Larocco, John Mulay, Carlo Mulay, Sam Carlino and Pete Carlino. Sam related how he and his brothers had motored to Pueblo from their Vineland farms. The brothers had stepped from the automobile and were talking in front of the pool hall when the car drove up and occupants shot them down, Sam testified. He was sitting in the car and witnessed the entire proceeding.”

*End Quote*

In the aftermath, Pete Carlino and some of his compatriots would be hunted by authorities. They would turn themselves in to the Pueblo sheriff’s office, after which they’d be brought to trial but ultimately found Not Guilty due to “insufficient evidence” in the murders of Pete and Tony Danna.

It’s after this trial that the Carlino bootlegging operations began to boom and Pete Carlino earned the nickname, “the Al Capone of Southern Colorado.”

The Carlino-Danna feud would officially come to an end on May 6, 1930, when the final brother Sam Danna was found murdered in a Pueblo alley with a point-blank shotgun wound to the chest.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan was again on the scene to report on the gangland violence saying:

*Quote*

“LAST OF THE FOUR DANNAS SLAIN

Body of Sam Danna Found in Pueblo Riddled With Shot Gun Slugs

Pueblo, Colo.—(AP)—Sam Danna, gangland murder victim whose body was found riddled with buckshot here last night, died because of his misplaced faith in an unidentified man whom he believed to be a friend but who led him into a death trap, authorities determined today.

Danna was murdered in the Bessemer alley where his body was found and was not ‘taken for a ride’ and his body thrown in the alley as first supposed, authorities determined today. An outshed near where the body was found bore the marks of a charge of buckshot.

Shots Heard

Residents of the community are Italians. Officers are said to have secured an admission from an Italian that he heard five shots last night but made no inquiry because he ‘knew the Mafia gunmen were settling their affairs.’

Danna was shot four times above the waist, probably police said, as he stepped from a car at the scene of the crime.

After her hysteria had calmed today Danna’s widow told police he left his home last night about 9 o’clock but did not say where he was going. The widow said he left in an automobile driven by someone whom she did not see.”

*End Quote*

After the murder, the troubles from the Danna gang would subside and the Carlino operation would continue to expand. However, by this time the Carlino brothers had not made many friends in the Colorado underworld, and would continue to find themselves in competition and conflict with rivals as their organization grew.

The Carlino’s Fall & The Joe Roma Era 

Fast forwarding to January 25, 1931, in an effort to avoid all-out war between the various rival factions, a powerful Denver-based bootlegger named Giuseppe “Joe” Roma called for a meeting, often referred to as the ‘Bootlegger’s Convention,’ between the Carlino brothers, himself, as well as 30 or so of Colorado’s top bootleggers—to be held in the city’s Italian district.

According to later reports, at this meeting the Carlino’s attempted to fix prices but were met with resistance and enmity. Now, why would this be an issue? Well, let me put my admittedly novice-level economic hat on for just a second. 

The design of price fixing is this—to set a standard price that will allow all businesses agreeing the price fixing to have higher margins. So, as with all things, it’s about money and greed.

Sounds good, right? So why would it piss off the Carlino’s competitors?

If the Carlino’s have the biggest market share (which they did), the best product (or even just an average to above-average product), and then fix the price, this quite simply means that nobody can undercut them on price which doesn’t leave a lot of room for competitors to grow. 

Now what if the Carlino’s decide to set the price low? First, if their operation can run more efficiently, then they’re driving competitors out of business by killing profits. Second, if someone comes to market with a superior product at the same low price, they can just squash them by force if necessary.

You see where I’m going. The proposal was good for the Carlino’s but nobody else. And in the mob, when you start to mess with people’s money, that’s when the guns and knives come out.

And unfortunately for the group, the conclave was actually interrupted before an agreement had been reached as the police were tipped off and the convention was subsequently raided. This would leave many policies in a status of relative limbo and little did they know, but the Carlino brothers would paint themselves into a corner. 

Over 20 individuals (including the Carlinos) were arrested and brought to trial on charges of vagrancy with Pete Carlino agreeing to leave the state, which was an issue as all but one of the individuals had prior arrests (further angering everyone involved). Conspicuously absent from the meeting, and thus not arrested, was the man who’d called the meeting in the first place, Giuseppe “Joe” Roma.

This raid reeks of a double-cross or of someone dropping a dime to police in an attempt to eliminate the competition. The easiest suspect to point the finger at  was Roma, who likely was the one who’d attempted the double-cross at least from the outsider’s perspective. It’s either that or he got a tip-off ahead of time and knew the meeting would be raided so stayed away.

In actuality, the real tip-off allegedly came from an undercover agent embedded in the Carlino family as an enforcer.

This move by law enforcement, while certainly not a death knell for bootlegging in Colorado, did threaten to slow down some operations and put at least a few of those individuals in jail. Given the uncertain underworld climate at the time, even a short-term disruption could tip the balance of power in one direction or the other. But in this case, the fix was in as District Attorney Ralph Carr declined to prosecute, a fact that led to significant public criticism including from Mayor Benjamin Stapleton. So a “lucky” break for those who’d been hemmed up.

But by this time, the simmering conflict in the Denver underworld was about to reach a boiling point between the Carlisi brothers, Roma’s organization, as well as their other rivals. Little did they know, but as a peace agreement had not been reached during the bootlegger’s convention before the police raid, the authorities had unwittingly kicked off a gang war between the Carlinos and their rival.

On February 18, 1931, less than a month after the failed meeting, Pete Carlino was nearly killed when three gunmen opened up on him firing four shots in a drive-by while he stood on a Denver sidewalk. All the shots missed. Carlino would refuse to talk to police but told police they knew the assailants. 

Then, a few days later, Carlino’s bodyguard, Ignacio Vaaro and friends of the gang, a Mr. and Mrs. John Cha, disappeared while driving from Pueblo to Denver. Weeks later the car would be discovered abandoned in Colorado Springs, with a woman’s handkerchief and an unfired gun on the seat. Informants would relay that the trio had been “put on the spot” and their bodies hidden.

A month after the assassination attempt on Pete, on March 17, 1931, his home on 3357 Federal Boulevard, which was reputed to be extravagant, exploded. Initially, law enforcement suspected that the blast had been perpetrated by rival bootleg gangs. But it wasn’t long before police began investigating this explosion as an “inside job,” and later reports would suggest that they’d been forewarned of the plot at least 5 days in advance.

However, an undercover Federal Agent named Lawrence (L.L.) Baldesareli, believed that Carlino himself had planned the arson in order to collect insurance money after the home had been destroyed. The theory the agent put forth was that the Carlino empire was beginning to fade and the brothers were running out of money quickly.

In the end, six men were charged including Pete and Sam Carlino, but only 3 men were convicted for setting the blast. They were Joe Petralia, Chris Merkuri, and a man named Dan Colletti who was in fact Carlino’s cousin. Pete Carlino could not be located.

So it appears the opening salvo of this brewing conflict may have been a false start, but there was nothing false about the events that would follow.

On May 8, 1931, Pete’s brother and top lieutenant Sam Carlino was killed in his home and his cousin James Coletti was wounded (but survived the attack). According to police, Carlino’s wife as well as Coletti (in a rare instance of cooperation with the police) identified the shooter as a man named Bruno Mauro who was subsequently arrested. 

Here is what was published on the rubout on May 8, 1931 in the Greeley Daily Tribune out of Greeley, Colorado:

*Quote*

“Sam Carlino Murdered by Denver Gang

Colletti Seriously Shot by Assassins Who Flee in Auto; Dead Man Had “Muscled In” on North Denver Booze Traffic

Denver, Colorado., May 8.—Sam Carlino, North Denver bootlegger and brother of Pete Carlino, southern Colorado liquor “boss,” was shot and killed today by several men who walked into his home at street and fired on him and Jim Coletti.

Coletti was seriously wounded, police said, and may die.

Carlino’s assassins escaped in automobiles.

The home of Pete Carlino was demolished several weeks ago by a blast but nobody was in the house at the time. Police later said they had learned it was an “inside job,” planned to collect insurance.

Sam Carlino and Coletti both were among several alleged Denver bootleggers arrested and charged with arson. Their trials were set for this month.

Pete Carlino, police said, had incurred the enmity of Denver bootleggers after he had “muscled in” on the liquor traffic in North Denver.

Pete Carlino attended a convention of bootleggers in Denver several months ago and police said he attempted at that time to fix prices, which move was resisted.

Police made a raid at the gathering of bootleggers and more than 20 were arrested. Pete Carlino was ordered to leave Colorado. He left but returned, only to leave again after attempts were made to assassinate some members of his gang.

Pete Carlino’s present whereabouts are unknown. Police said they understood he was in Detroit a few weeks ago.

Mrs. Josephine Carlino, wife of Sam Carlino, North Denver bootlegger, who was shot to death today in his home, told police her husband was killed by Bruno Mauro, 17, of Pueblo, Colorado.

Mrs. Carlino told the officers that Mauro entered the home, talked to her husband and Coletti for a short time, fired several bullets and fled down an alleyway.

Mrs. Carlino said her husband knew somebody was going to kill him but he couldn’t prevent it. He has been afraid somebody would kill ‘our five children’ she said.

Mauro was considered to be a friend of ‘our family.’

Police said the slayer had lookouts posted near the Carlino’s home. Mauro was named as Carlino’s slayer by Jim Coletti who was seriously wounded.

‘I had only been in the house a short time when the shooting occurred’ Coletti told a member of the district attorney’s office, in the hospital. ‘I started for the kitchen and Sam yelled to me to ‘look out.’ A bullet struck me and I ran out the back door to a neighbor’s to call the police. I never had any words with him and Carlino considered him a friend.’”

*End Quote*

So Pete Carlino’s top lieutenant and brother was 6 feet under, which left his hold on his empire extremely tenuous and it wouldn’t be long before he would follow his brother to the afterlife. There are some reports directly after the hit that indicate the contract came from his enemies out of Pueblo.

Unsurprising to anyone, as the trial for Sam Carlino’s murder approached with the state seeking the death penalty against Mauro, Mrs. Carlino refused to testify for fear of her family’s lives (and along with Pete’s wife would even be charged as an accessory), and James Coletti went off the grid, fleeing the area.

A jury would later acquit Mauro after deliberating for just 2 hours.

After Sam Carlino was murdered, his brother Pete went into hiding ranging as far as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but ultimately being captured by police hiding on a ranch in Pueblo, Colorado and charged with conspiracy to commit arson for the burning of his house that March, and would threaten to expel him back to Italy to which he replied: 

*Quote* “I don’t care.” *End Quote* 

The belief of the authorities was that he was in Pueblo to get revenge for the murder of his brother.

Ironically and perhaps bizarrely, on June 25, 1931 Pete’s $5,000 bond was paid by none other than Giuseppe “Joe” Roma. 

According to sources, the payment of the bond was allegedly an order directly from the national head of the American Mafia at the time Salvatore Maranzano who wanted Carlino removed as the head of the Mafia in Colorado and Roma to take his place.

While this story is certainly setting up as Roma and the Carlino’s being enemies, there are reports that indicate that they were not in fact enemies and had a working relationship spanning back to the early 1920’s. 

In September of 1931, just three months after having his bond paid by Roma, Pete Carlino, “the Al Capone of Southern Colorado,” was murdered while on his way to visit Joe Petralia, a Carlino crew member, in prison (who if you remember was convicted in the bombing of his house). Carlino’s body would be found on September 14 by a bridge on Siloam Road in Pueblo with two shots in the back and one in the head from close range. The coroner related that he’d been dead two or three days.

An article in The Daily Sentinel out of Grand Junction, Colorado a day after Carlino’s body was found related the following about his murder:

*Quote*

“TRAILED AND MURDERED BY A RIVAL GANG

Poison Bullets Believed to Have Been Fired Into Body of Pete Carlino

Pueblo, Color., Sept. 15—The possibility that Pete Carlino, southern Colorado gangster, who was found slain near here Sunday was shot with poisonous bullets to insure certain death, was expressed by authorities today.

Examination of the body revealed the flesh surrounding the three bullet wounds was badly discolored, indicating, police believe, a poisonous infection had set in. The poison bullets, medical experts say, posed condition of the face and head which made it impossible to recognize even the features.

Carlino was shot three times. One bullet partly tore away the skull, the other two entered the back and came out through the chest.

Discovery of Carlino’s automobile concealed in a clump of trees near Penrose, Colo., had convinced investigators that Carlino’s slayers trailed him from the ranch home of his cousin, Charles Guardamondo, near here, to the Pueblo-Canon City highway, where they probably forced him to the side of the highway.

Carlino, detectives believe, was forced to secrete his automobile in a clump of bushes and enter the slayer’s car. It is thought his slayers then shot him and hauled his body to the point southwest of here, where it was discovered.

Investigators today were still without a clue as to the identity of the slayers, despite the fact that Pueblo and Denver-police are co-operating in an effort at solution.

Fearful that an attempt may be made on her life, Carlino’s widow refused to come here yesterday from Denver to claim the body of her husband. She has asked that it be sent to Denver.”

*End Quote*

This murder would end the Carlino’s reign as the dominant group during Colorado’s bootlegging era, and would set the stage for the rise of Joe Roma. 

However, Joe’s time at the top would be short-lived. During this era as we’ve seen many times, it’s dangerous to be the man at the top of the food chain.

Nicknamed “Little Caesar” due to his diminutive 5 foot, 1 inch height, Roma did business out of a grocery store which served as a front for his criminal operations. When the modern American Mafia was officially formed in 1931 by Charles “Lucky” Luciano after the events of the Castellammarese War, Roma was recognized as the man in charge of the underworld in Denver.

His reign would be short and his inability to completely quell battles with rival liquor gangs would lead to ongoing violence in the Denver area. According to reports at the time, the fighting would continue after Carlino brother’s deaths as Roma struggled to get a hold on the upheaval and fill the leadership vacuum.

For Roma, the year of 1932 would be extremely volatile, and he’d be a constant presence in local newspapers due to various arrests and incidents.

In February of 1932, he’d be arrested in front of his grocery store for the murder of Sam Carlino and brought in for questioning as they tried to crack the case. He would be released on $3,000 bond after questioning.

A month later, in March of 1932, Roma would again be brought in to answer questions for a Denver grand jury investigating Denver crime conditions after the murder of an anti-Roma gang leader, Vincent Mortellaro.

That same month, Roma would also be indicted for assault to murder to of the former undercover agent of the Carlino’s, L.L. Baldesareli, who had been wounded by a shotgun outside a hotel in Denver. Baldesareli survived the gunshot and identified Roma and another man in the attempt on his life.

In April of 1932, Roma and nine associates would be formally arrested on federal charges of conspiracy to violate prohibition laws. That same month he’d also be tried and acquitted of switching license plates, but would also be facing trials for charges of possessing firearms, and the assault on federal agent L.L. Baldesareli. If you haven’t noticed, he was a busy man and the authorities were pretty much all over him.

In May of 1932, Joe Roma would be secretly indicted on Prohibition charges and rival Denver gang leader, Joe Barry would go missing.

In June of 1932, a low-level liquor runner named Morris Cohen, who worked for Roma rival Max Wine, was shot and killed by one of his Roma’s henchmen in a hijacking gone wrong.

Also in June of 1932, Roma and 4 companions would be escorted by authorities out of the state of Wyoming after they were found driving with what police deemed a “miniature arsenal” in their car.

In October of 1932, Roma was charged with a $5,000 extortion of a local Denver business man, along with Vito Balestrari of Kansas City, and Joe Fiore of Chicago. In a bizarre turn of events, the trio would get into a pretty bad wreck which would kill Fiore and leave Balestrari with a fractured neck and several broken ribs.

In late December of 1932, 8 men were arrested after the shooting of one of Roma’s top lieutenants August Marino, who’d been shot 3 times but who claimed he’d actually shot himself.

Giuseppe “Joe” Roma would run Denver’s criminal underworld for just two years before being murdered by rivals. On the afternoon of February 18, 1933, Roma would be found slumped dead in a chair in his front parlor of his home on 3404 Vallejo Street in North Denver by his wife, Nettie. He was riddled with seven bullets total, with six shots to the head.

Shortly after the assassination police would detain and question many suspects including two brothers who once worked for Roma (and whose names you might recognize). Though they were questioned, they were ultimately not charged in the assassination of Roma. Their names were: Clyde “Flip Flop” Smaldone and Eugene “Checkers’ Smaldone.

In a bizarre turn of events, authorities would investigate an apparent connection between the Roma murder and the kidnapping a week earlier of wealthy Denver citizen, Charles Boettcher II.

In an article dated February 19, 1933, reporter George V. McIntyre of the Fort Collins Coloradoan would describe the circumstances of the assassination:

*Quote*

“FRANK MORTELLARO IS JAILED IN PROBE ROMA KILLING, AND KIDNAPPING

Former Fort Collins Man Among Several Arrested After Joe Roma, Reputed Denver’s Gang Overlord, Is Shot To Death in His Home; Body Riddled by so Many Bullets that Coroner Says Can’t Count Them

Say Mortellaro Suspect Boettcher Kidnaping

Roma Is Believed to Have Admitted Men He Supposed His Friends to His Home and They Shot Him While He Sat Unarmed

Denver—(AP)—Two crimes, the murder of the city’s most notorious gangster and the kidnaping of one of its most reputable citizens, Saturday night faceted police as possible ramifications of the same plot and challenged officials to the most sweeping criminal investigations conducted here in years.

Joe Roma, the ‘little North Denver grocer,’ was the victim at the lower end of the social scale. They found him picking his mandolin and watching a pot of spaghetti at his home Saturday and filled his slight form with bullets.

Charles Boettcher II, scion of a wealthy pioneer family was at the other end. Boettcher was kidnaped from his home last Sunday night and has not been heard from since.

In each case it was the young and beautiful wife of the victim who first carried news of the crime to authorities. Mrs. Boettcher, aristocratic, blonde and pretty, took the $60,000 ransom note thrust into her hands by the kidnapers to authorities. Mrs. Nettie Roma, flashing Italian beauty, came upon the body of her husband as she returned from the home of her monther. She attempted to lift him and he fell to the floor. Sobbing hysterically, she called police.

Five Men Held

Saturday night police held eight men in connection with the Roma and Boettcher cases. They were:

Frank Mortellaro, former Pueblo and Fort Collins, Colorado man, and brother of Vincent Mortellaro, who was assassinated here March 16, 1932. Roma was once accused of conspiracy to commit the slaying.

J.F. Rotitto, termed by police Chief Clark a California gangster who recently moved in on Roma’s whiskey business. Both Mortellaro and Rotitto are suspects in the Boettcher kidnaping, Clark said.

Eugene Smaldone, whose police record fills several cards, according to Clark.

Ralph Smaldone, father of Eugene, also a police character.

James Spinelli, minor police character.

Two Men Arrested

Louis Brindisi, friend of Roma and minor police character.

Clark also announced arrests of two Greeley, Colo., men in connection with the Boettcher case. They are R.M. Eskew, 41, and Charles McFetridge, 50. Clark declined to reveal their specific connection but said they were suspected of some part in the abduction of Boettcher.

Near Scene of Shooting

Mortellaro and Rotitto were arrested at the home of the latter, just around the corner from the Roma home. Both were armed, Clark said, and they were charged with carrying concealed weapons. At first held as suspects in the Roma case, the two were said later by Clark to be held on a definition connection in the Boettcher case. The arrest was made on a tip from neighbors that Mortellaro had gone to the Rotitto home Saturday morning and had been around there all day.

The Smaldones, Spinelli and Brindisi told Clark they visited Roma from 10 a.m. until afternoon Saturday in an effort to borrow money. They left shortly after noon and went to a motion picture house, they said, differing, however, on the house they attended, Clark said. They returned to the Roma home after word got around that Mrs. Roma had found her husband’s body at 1:45 p.m. and then voluntarily went to police headquarters. Police Chief Clark said they showed ticket stubs indicating they entered the theater at 1:55 p.m.

Wife Admitted Four Men

Mrs. Roma, who at first denied her husband had visitors Saturday, later admitted to Clark that the four men came into the house shortly before she left to visit her mother, Mrs. Mary Greco.

Roma, the underworld grapevine revealed Saturday night, was known to have indirectly offered to assist in the Boettcher investigation. He was known to have denied he kidnaped Boettcher but to have declared that he could return the captive millionaire and would assist officers if they wanted his help.

Clark said that Roma was killed by, ‘friends.’

The little grocer who had ruled Denver’s bootlegging industry since the wiping out of the Carlino gang of southern Colorado more than two years ago, was seated in a corner of the front room of his home. From windows he could see the streets which intersected before his home. Behind his home a vicious police dog paced the yard.

Two Caliber Bullets

Someone came in. The door was locked so Roma must have let them in, Police Capt. David Barry said. Roma, practicing his mandolin with a stand of music before him and an eye on a steaming pot of spaghetti in the nearby kitchen, must have returned to his chair to talk.

There was friendly conversation and the music was carefully laid aside onto a window sill. Apparent – the callers then arose, pressed close to Roma and, in the language of his craft ‘let him have it.’

Deputy Coroner George Bostwick said the body was so riddled with bullet holes that he couldn’t count them. Both .38 and .45 caliber bullets were found, he said, indicating at least two men were firing.

Roma, in his shirt sleeves and house slippers, was unarmed. His two pistols were found in a drawer.

Conferred on Kidnaping

Roma, they said Saturday night, where such things are known, didn’t approve of kidnaping. Friday he conferred with Chief Clark, presumably about the Boettcher case and the word was out that Roma had volunteered to help secure return of the kidnaped heir to his family. Whether the dapper little man came to his death because of this or for another reason was not quite clear to officers.

Roma had many enemies. He had been twice accused of crime involving assault; one of them being the murderous assault on Mortellaro and his brother. Frank Mortellaro escaped with slight wounds when a car drew alongside that of his brother and pumped a withering fire into it. Vincent Mortellaro died within a few minutes and Joe Barry, reputed gang enemy of Roma, and Roxie Stone, police character were wounded.

Solution of the killing of Roma, Clark said, must depend on a process of elimination because his life was forfeit to so many. Altho he was not convicted of the Mortellaro death conspiracy, the impression among police and acquaintances was that he was guilty. There had been ill-feeling between him and Rotitto as well as between him and other men, Clark pointed out. If it were true that he had volunteered to turn informer in the Boettcher case, which Clark did not verify, then his ‘number was up’ in many places for a gangster code says that a man who will talk once will talk twice and it is possible that a partner in some other enterprise, hearing of the Boettcher report, killed him in imagined self-defense.

The elaborate preparations Roma had made to avoid the fate which finally overtook him served him naught.

His armored car sat parked behind his house when police arrived. His police dog, a vicious creature, without which he never left his home, was in its den at the rear of the house.

*End Quote*

Roma would be buried in a $3,000 solid copper casket with over 2,000 people attending his funeral, making it a relatively extravagant affair.

Roma’s killers were never brought to justice, and the Smaldones always denied involvement, but his death meant one thing—that the Smaldones were about to step into the leadership vacuum of the Italian mob in Denver while others like Vincenzo “Black Jim” James Colletti, Charles Blanda, Tom “Whiskers” Incerto, and Joseph “Scotty” Spinuzzi based themselves down in Pueblo (who had allied with none other than Joe Bonnano out of New York City).

Now nobody really knows for sure except those involved who killed Roma, but you have to admit that it looks awfully suspicious to be seen at the victim’s house less than two hours before he’s shot and killed. 

Does that mean the Smaldones did it? No, but it certainly doesn’t look good. However, I’d like to offer an alternate theory if in fact they didn’t kill Roma. They were there to borrow money, so I’m going to venture a guess that they knew what time it was so to speak, and knew that if they borrowed money that a dead man can’t pay it back. That being said, it’s pure speculation on my part.

But the death of Roma certainly led to a changing of the guard in Colorado.

Final Thoughts & Closing

Okay, that’s it for this episode! It certainly was a bit of a different episode, but a really compelling story nonetheless that I really want to share with my channel.

Coming up next, we’re going to be digging into Part 2 where we’ll be digging into the Smaldone era of the Colorado mob all the way up to the present day.

After that, we’ll be focusing on the Cerrito family out of California.

My goal will be to tell the entire history of those families so that people get a glimpse of what the Mafia was like outside the primary hubs of New York and Chicago. Hopefully that will be of interest to viewers since other families aren’t talked about nearly as often.

After that, we’ll likely get back to some biographies, but my goal is to continue to mix things up.

Before you go, please don’t forget to Subscribe so that you can continue to enjoy my content as it’s released and if you have any thoughts please leave them in the comments on YouTube or write us a review on Apple. Lastly, feel free to check out our website at www.membersonlypodcast.com, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Until next time, gratzie!

Online Sources:

Books & Other Sources:

  • Carlino, Sam. Colorado’s Carlino Brothers: A Bootlegging Empire. The History Press. 2019.

Kreck, Dick. Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family. Chicago Review Press – Fulcrum. 2010.