The Detroit Partnership, also known as the Detroit crime family, Detroit Combination, Detroit Mafia, or Zerilli crime family (pronounced [dzeˈrilli]) is an American Mafia crime family based in Detroit, Michigan.
The first dominant Mafia leader to be recognized in the Detroit area was the older of two brothers originally from the Alcamo, Sicily area. Born in 1881, Vito Adamo and his brother Salvatore, two years his junior led a gang of Black Hand extortionists, thieves and beer runners and were the first Italian criminals in their area to control the smuggling of immigrants into the Michigan area. Vito Adamo resided in the Wyandotte area while the brothers ran a profitable criminal enterprise based in the Little Italy section of Detroit that extorted grocers and other merchants. Their biggest money maker was their control of illicit liquor, mainly beer within the Italian community. The Adamo brothers operated quietly as old world Sicilian mafiosi usually did and were not recognized by law enforcement outside of the Little Italy area until roughly 1912 when a rival group of Sicilian criminals who had also settled in the Wyandotte area just before the start of the 20th century began their rise within Detroit's Italian underworld.
The Gianolla brothers were originally from Terrasini, Sicily and had been content for roughly the first decade of the 20th century with being grocers and fruit peddlers. The second born of three brothers, Antonio "Tony" Gianolla was a charismatic natural leader, while his younger brother Salvatore "Sam" Gianolla served as the gang's enforcer. The eldest and wisest brother, Gaetano Gianolla served as the adviser or consigliere of the group.
The Gianolla brothers first came to the attention of authorities in late 1911 when their grocery store was raided and police confiscated $2,000 worth of stolen olive oil. Weeks later the mutilated corpse of a former Gianolla associate by the name of Sam Beundo was found charred and left in a field. Beundo had allegedly tipped off law enforcement to the stolen merchandise found in the basement of the Gianolla store. The gruesome murder of Beundo established the Gianolla brothers as a feared force within the Italian underworld.
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 Gianollas set their sights on the Little Italy rackets, mainly the illicit beer trade.
The Adamos had deep pockets and were able to fend off the Gianollas 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 Gianollas felt in regards to the elimination of the Adamo brothers. In the latter part of 1913 the Gianollas struck indirectly at the Adamos 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, 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.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Gianolla brothers had aligned themselves with Wyandotte area mobster John Vitale who had entered the liquor business with associates Sam Cipriano, Peter Bosco and Joseph Stefano. The Gianolla-Vitale alliance and their "liquor combine" were the main competitors of the Adamo brothers and was the key to the Adamo opposition as neither the Gianolla or Vitale group could take on the wealthy Adamo group on their own. While the Gianollas and their forces fought directly with the Adamos, Vitale and his associates continued to run the affairs of their liquor business in association with the Gianolla brothers.
With the elimination of the Adamo brothers the Gianolla gang ascended to the top of the Italian underworld, which gave their associate and business partner Vitale the opportunity and support he needed to expand his lucrative liquor business. The underworld power and business influence held by the Gianolla brothers continued to grow within the Italian community and John Vitale became one of the gang's most trusted and influential lieutenants, along with Sam Cipriano and Peter Bosco.
The underworld alliance and business relationship between the Gianolla and Vitale groups continued until Peter Bosco, a Gianolla business partner and close Vitale associate and ally was murdered on the orders of Tony Gianolla. Tony Gianolla and Bosco allegedly had a disagreement over proceeds from their bakery business, which eventually led to a rivalry between the two men and Bosco was eliminated. Animosities over the Bosco killing grew into harsh feelings and eventually conflict between the Gianolla brothers and Vitale, eventually ending their association.
In late 1918 John Vitale broke away from the Gianolla gang and established himself independently of the brothers, while aligning himself with the remnants of the Bosco group. Once again two of Detroit's most powerful Mafia factions would go to war, only this time what became known as the "Gianolla-Vitale War" emerged as one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the Detroit Mafia. The war raged and left many dead on both sides as Sicilian mobsters vied for absolute control over Detroit's Italian underworld.
During the Gianolla-Vitale war several of Detroit's future Mafia leaders would be recognized as top Gianolla gunmen during the violent episode, including Giuseppe Manzello, Angelo Meli, Bill Tocco, Joe Zerilli, Leo Cellura and Angelo Polizzi. Even with so many seasoned mafiosi and shooters on the side of the Gianolla gang, the Vitale gang fought fiercely and struck the first major blow to their rivals when Mafia boss Tony Gianolla was murdered in January 1919. With the elimination of Tony Gianolla his brother and war chief Sam took over as the new leader of the gang. The Vitale gang was relentless and made an attempt on the life of Sam Gianolla in February 1919, but the youngest Gianolla brother escaped unharmed, but his brother-in-law Pasquale D'Anna was killed.
Boss Sam Gianolla ordered a surprise attack on the Vitale forces only days after the attempt on his life. He ordered his gunmen to shower the Vitale headquarters with bullets precisely when D'Anna was being laid to rest during his funeral. No one was killed, but John Vitale was so unnerved by the barrage of bullets that he mistakenly shot and wounded one of the police officers who responded to the shooting and was arrested.
Approximately three weeks after the attempt on his own life, Sam Gianolla was arraigned on auto theft charges. One day after his arraignment Sam Gianolla led a team of shooters into the Wayne County jail house in response to the killings of his brother Tony and brother-in-law Pasqaule, opening fire on three Vitale gang members who were either being released themselves on charges or were possibly visiting an associate. In the brief, but vicious shooting, Joe Vitale, Vito Renda and Salvatore Evola were shot. Vitale and Evola were each shot once and survived. Vito Renda was hit 21 times and managed to live just long enough to break the Mafia code of Omertà and reveal to authorities that Sam Gianolla was one of the shooters. Gianolla was arrested and charged with Renda's murder. During the murder trial months later, it took the jury 50 minutes to find him not guilty.
With the loss of his brother, brother-in-law and then the loss of his two sons in a tragic house fire that occurred in July 1919, motivation to continue the fight seemed to elude Sam Gianolla. In the late summer of 1919 a sit-down was called for so that representatives of the two warring factions, including Sam Gianolla and John Vitale could meet and possibly determine a peaceful solution to the bloody war which had claimed many lives on both sides. Detroit underworld legend claims that an agreeable arrangement was achieved and that a "peace pact" had been drawn and written in blood by the two feuding Mafia chieftains.
Whether or not an agreement was reached by Gianolla and Vitale concerning equal control over the various local rackets is not known, but it is more than likely that some understanding was reached regarding the liquor rackets and the other lucrative criminal activities both groups carried influence over and controlled. From all accounts the war was over at this time, but with the passing of the Volstead Act in October 1919, new motivation for the most ambitious mobsters had presented itself.
With the advent of Prohibition the stakes within the Detroit underworld became greater than ever imagined as tens of millions of dollars in illicit profits were now at stake and control of the new liquor import and bootlegging trade within the Italian community and eventually all of Detroit would determine who reigned supreme. At the time the peace agreement had been reached, both Gianolla and Vitale may have already been alerted to the possibility of Prohibition had begun or were planning to re-organize their groups in anticipation of a new and highly lucrative racket, so even with a peace agreement the two Mafia leaders may have decided the other had to go.
In early October 1919, weeks before the passing of the Volstead Act in late October as Sam Gianolla casually walked out of his bank after cashing a cheque for $200 he was hit by a barrage of bullets originating from a car parked near the curb just in front of the bank. Gianolla was hit 28 times regardless of the fact that he raised his arms in order to fend off the barrage of bullets, meaning he must have seen his attackers and their raised weapons. Gianolla managed to stagger back into the bank where he collapsed and died.
He must have felt somewhat secure with the recent peace agreement he had reached with fellow Mafia boss John Vitale or he would have never allowed himself to be in such a vulnerable position or to travel without a bodyguard. What ever the case, John Vitale, the prime suspect in the murder of Gianolla was conveniently meeting with his attorney at the time of the incident discussing the strategy for his upcoming trial for wounding a police officer during the attack on his headquarters. With the death of Gianolla his gang split into two independent factions, both still opposed to John Vitale, but Vitale was now the most powerful and influential Mafia boss in Detroit.
At the start of 1920 John Vitale had emerged as the top Mafia boss in Detroit. His reign would be short lived. With the elimination of his biggest rivals, the Gianolla brothers, Vitale was now recognized as the most dominant Mafia boss in Detroit. For Vitale the elimination of bosses Tony and Sam Gianolla caused the fracture of the Gianolla gang, a desired effect, but an undesirable effect was also caused as two dominant figures within the Gianolla organization emerged to take control of splinter factions of young, capable mafiosi who would oppose Vitale's leadership.
Giuseppe Manzello, a feared Gianolla gang gunman whose youth and ambition was attractive to the younger members of the gang, rose to some prominence at the age of 20. With the death of the Gianolla brothers Manzello began to assert himself against the older, more experienced mafiosi. This was met with opposition mainly by the Renda/Mirabile family, who were the last remaining resistance within the old Gianolla gang to the younger, more liberal members. The Renda/Mirabile family were more conservative than the newer generation of mafiosi, which meant they had more in common and could work with Vitale and his faction much more easily.
On August 10, 1920, Joe Manzello stood curbside talking to his close associates Angelo Meli, 23 and Angelo Polizzi, 21, two more young, up and coming mobsters. Suddenly a touring car sped by and showered the three men with bullets. Manzello was hit by eight bullets, Polizzi by seven, Meli escaped injury as Manzello and Polizzi were rushed to hospital. Only Polizzi eventually recovered; Manzello died days after the shooting as a result of his injuries which included a snapped spinal cord. Manzello's followers, which included Meli, Polizzi, Black Bill Tocco, Joe Zerilli and Black Leo Cellura, were highly incensed and demanded revenge on John Vitale who was aligned with the Renda/Mirabile family and they felt had ordered the shooting.
Salvatore Catalanotte, known to his friends as "Singing Sam" was a young and charismatic Gianolla gang lieutenant by the time he was 20. At the time of the Gianolla-Vitale war Catalanotte was the president of Detroit's Unione Siciliana. He became the leader of a splinter group within the Gianolla gang after the murder of his bosses. Catalanotte was highly respected throughout the Detroit underworld for his intelligence and diplomacy, something he learned as a protégé of Gaetano Gianolla, the gang's councilor. Catalanotte formed a strong alliance with Wyandotte area beer baron, Joseph Tocco and Hamtramck Mafia leader Chester La Mare. The new combine under Catalanotte has created an influential Mafia faction known as the Westside Mob.
The remaining Manzella group members are defiantly opposed to the Vitale leadership and on August 11, 1920, only one day after the shooting of Manzella and Polizzi the group retaliates and strikes back at Vitale by murdering Antonio Badalamenti, a leading Vitale gang member and the boss's nephew. The attack on Badalamenti in front of his grocery store was allegedly led by Joe Zerilli, the roommate and close associate of Manzella and Polizzi. Along with Zerilli, six other Manzella group members are arrested, including Zerilli's cousin Bill Tocco, Manzella's cousin Carlo Manzella, Leo Cellura, John Mangone, Vito Paraino, Joseph Delmonico and James Barraco. All the charges would be dropped against the eight mobsters two days after they were arrested.
The elimination of Joe Manzella leaves Sam Catalanotte as the most dominant member of the old Gianolla gang and as a sign of friendship he appoints Angelo Meli as the leader of the Manzella group, Bill Tocco and Joe Zerilli are named as Meli's right-hand men. Meli re-organizes the group under the "Eastside Mob" flag. Just seven days later on August 18, 1920 police believe that several of those freed from being charged in the Badalamenti murder participate in the murder of Joe Vitale, the 17-year-old son of boss John Vitale. It is possible the murder of Joe Vitale may have been accidental and the true target may have been the senior Vitale as gunmen directed a volley of bullets towards Vitale, his son and wife as they are leaving their home.
The reign of John Vitale would end when he was struck by 18 bullets fired from two moving cars at 3:00 am on the morning of October 2, 1920, no one was ever charged in his death. The death of Vitale marked the long end in a series of feuds that rocked the Detroit underworld in the early 1900s. Relative peace reigned following the death of Vitale and the ascension of Sam Catalanotte as the head of Detroit's Sicilian Mafia. With Catalanotte finding himself as the boss of the Detroit Mafia during the advent of Prohibition he quickly organized the remaining Mafia factions under a liquor combine that became known as the "Pascuzzi Combine".
The combine was a liquor smuggling and bootlegging syndicate that gave each group and its leaders their own specific territory to operate, while working hand in hand with one another for financial prosperity and the overall expansion of Detroit Mafia power and influence. The Pascuzzi Combine under Sam Catalanotte created a unified and cohesive criminal organization that controlled liquor smuggling, bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, narcotics and other rackets and was the forerunner of the Detroit Partnership under the future Zerilli-Tocco regime.
The Detroit Mafia as a sound, cohesive, loosely unified organization can be traced back to two early 20th century "Motor City" mafiosi that came together to begin what would be eventually known by the early 1930s as the Detroit crime family or Detroit Partnership. Gaspar Milazzo, a very influential Prohibition era mobster was born in 1887 and was originally from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. He decided to relocate to Detroit from Brooklyn in 1921 after he and a close associate, fellow Castellmmarese Clan leader Stefano Magaddino were implicated in a New Jersey area murder concerning a longtime feud or vendetta between two old world Mafia factions from Castelllammare.
Milazzo was a loyal ally of the Bonanno-Magaddino-Bonventre clan of Castellammare, which in the early 1900s was at war with the equally powerful Buccellato clan over rights to control their area of Castellammare in the province of Trapani. The war between the two Castellamerese Mafia clans followed the many Castellamarese immigrants and Mafia members who found their way across the Atlantic to the large American cities like New York City, Chicago and Detroit where they settled and continued to participate and organize Mafia activities.
Gaspar Milazzo, known as "The Peacemaker" because of his ability as a councilor and mediator, and Stefano Magaddino, known as "The Undertaker", were two of the earliest Castellammarese Clan leaders to settle in the Brooklyn area where they maintained a great deal of influence within the local Mafia and the various activities their group controlled such as gambling, the Italian lottery, loansharking, extortion and various legitimate business interests. The Mafia crew based in Brooklyn led by Milazzo and Magaddino soon found itself opposed by the members of the Buccellato clan who had also settled in Brooklyn and were involved within the Italian underworld.
Eventually the continued violence between the two groups caused Milazzo and Magaddino to flee New York City in 1921 after they were sought for questioning in connection with the murder of a Buccellato clan member after the man they allegedly contracted to do the hit began to co-operate with authorities. Magaddino fled to Buffalo, New York, while Milazzo managed to make his way to Detroit, where both mafiosi used their high level positions within the "Castellammarese Mafia" and their connections to other powerful and influential Mafia leaders in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania to assist them in organizing their own crime families. In fact, the relocation of Milazzo and Magaddino and their establishment of powerful East coast Mafia families would play a big role in the eventual unification of the American Mafia, known to its members as La Cosa Nostra or "This Thing of Ours".
Gaspar Milazzo quickly established himself as a powerful and influential mobster within the Detroit underworld and would be recognized as a capable underworld adviser and mediator of Mafia disputes. Detroit had a large Sicilian immigrant population and was one of the East Coast's bootlegging hubs. At the time of Milazzo's arrival the Jewish Purple Gang controlled much of the liquor trafficking in the area. Even so, Milazzo managed to quickly establish himself as an influential mobster within the Detroit area underworld and became recognized as a Mafia adviser and capable mediator of disputes as many of the areas mafiosi sought his council and leadership throughout the 1920s, while Milazzo maintained a high degree of involvement within the local Mafia and the Prohibition era rackets.
Milazzo aligned himself with Salvatore Catalanotte, known as "Singing Sam", the local head of the Unione Siciliana and one of the leading and most respected Sicilian Mafia bosses in Detroit who was only in his mid 20s at the time. Milazzo and Catalanotte led two of the more powerful and influential Mafia factions within the Detroit area and together they would align the city's Mafia factions into a loosely organized and cohesive unit that controlled bootlegging, gambling, narcotics, prostitution and other rackets within the city of Detroit and surrounding areas.
After the violent and bloody Detroit Mafia wars of the 1910s, rivalries and smaller conflicts continued between the various Mafia factions or gangs based in the city and surrounding areas until Sam Catalanotte was able to broker an uneasy peace and organize the local gangs into a loosely unified Mafia group under what was known as the "Pascuzzi Combine", established by Catalanotte with the co-operation of all the top local Mafia leaders and their factions around 1920. Catalanotte was born in 1894 and arrived in Detroit in 1905 from Salemi, Sicily, the same province as Milazzo. He was a former gunman under brothers and early Detroit Mafia leaders Sam and Tony Gianolla during the Gianolla/Vitale wars of the 1910s.
Catalanotte was recognized as a highly intelligent and capable mafiosi early in his criminal career and by his late teens he was a standout within the Italian underworld. By his early 20s his diplomacy earned him the respect of allies and foes alike, later after becoming the undisputed Mafia boss of Detroit in his mid 20s his charitable donations within the Italian community earned him the love of the local immigrants. Soon after Gaspar Milazzo arrived on the Detroit underworld scene in 1921 he began to assist Catalanotte with the continued unification and leadership of the local Mafia. With Catalonotte's death of pneumonia in February 1930 at the age of 36, Milazzo maintained his position as a high-ranking member of the Detroit Mafia and continued to oversee the peace between the local Mafia factions.
Milazzo was now recognized as the senior Mafia leader in the area and the boss of the local Mafia. Milazzo was a close associate of the East Side Gang, led by Angelo Meli, William Tocco and Joseph Zerilli, three of Detroit's leading mafiosi and underworld bosses. Milazzo's Mafia group and the Eastside Gang maintained alliances with other mob factions, including the River Gang, led by brothers Thomas and Peter Licavoli who shared the local bootlegging rackets and various underworld activities with each other.
Other criminal groups active at the time included the Westside Mob, a combination of Wyandotte area mob boss Joseph Tocco, known as "The Down River Beer Baron" and the La Mare Gang based in Hamtramck, led by Chester "Big Chet" La Mare. Subtle rivalries continued throughout the 1920s between the various Detroit Mafia factions, but for the most part the top Mafia groups maintained a working alliance under Sam Catalanotte. It was not until Catalanotte died and more serious Mafia rivalries and conflicts originally based in New York between the nation's two most powerful Mafia bosses turned into an all out war and drew in various Mafia leaders and their groups from around the country, including those in Detroit.
Milazzo controlled the Detroit Mafia as the undisputed boss for a very short period of time, only two months. Milazzo took over as head of the Detroit Mafia upon Catalanotte's death, an event that threw the Detroit Mafia into chaos once again. Catalanotte and Milazzo were both respected Mafia advisers and had managed to maintain an uneasy peace between the various Mafia factions within the Detroit underworld for roughly a decade, but at the time of Catalanotte's death Milazzo found himself in a precarious position as various events within the American Mafia would directly play a role in Milazzo's downfall.
Milazzo had been recognized as one of the Detroit Mafia's top bosses since the early 1920s and relative stability had reigned within the local underworld throughout this time, but by 1930 continuing Mafia rivalries based in New York and Chicago concerning his Castellammarese allies directly involved Milazzo. At the heart of the volatile situation within New York City's Mafia lay Milazzo's fellow Castellamarese mafiosi who found themselves being opposed by powerful boss Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. The ongoing feud had reached a boiling point and supporters on both sides in New York, as well as Chicago were preparing for war.
Gaspar Milazzo and his longtime ally, Buffalo Mafia boss Stefano Magaddino had secretly, but willingly supported their allies in New York and Chicago as they opposed Joe Masseria and his supporters. By 1930 the situation had changed and both men now openly supported their allies, including Chicago Mafia boss Giuseppe Aiello, who was being opposed by a powerful Masseria ally in Chicago, Al Capone. Joe Masseria, the recognized "boss of bosses" was incensed by the disrespect Milazzo and Magaddino where showing him by supporting his enemies and soon Masseria decided Milazzo and Magaddino, both powerful and influential mafiosi must be eliminated.
Masseria accomplished this in Detroit by supporting a Milazzo adversary, Cesare "Chester" La Mare, the boss of the Hamtramck, Michigan area. La Mare was born in Chicago in 1884, but his parents were allegedly of Castellamarese descent, so he was believed to be a close associate of Milazzo, in fact some Mafia historians claim Milazzo was La Mare's mentor during the 1920s. While Milazzo was an ally of the Eastside gang, La Mare and his Westside gang had been become rivals of the Eastside gang as La Mare's ambition and lust for power grew, but it was kept in check while the influential Sam Catalanotte was alive, nobody dare break the peace and cause an all out war. With the support of Joe Masseria in New York, La Mare began to make plans to eliminate the leaders of the Eastside gang which included Angelo Meli, William Tocco and Joseph Zerilli. There had been an ongoing rivalry and a great deal of animosity between the two groups and now La Mare used this as an excuse to set up an assassination attempt disguised as a peace meeting.
Eastside gang leader Meli was uneasy about the meeting and felt the treacherous La Mare could be setting him and his associates up to die. Meli contacted Milazzo who was recognized as the new boss and a trusted mediator within the Italian underworld and asked him to represent the Eastside gang and mediate the dispute believing that La Mare would never attempt to murder such as highly respected and feared Detroit Mafia leader knowing it would instantly start a war. Around noon on May 31, 1930, Detroit Mafia leader Gaspar Milazzo and his driver and right-hand-man, Sam "Sassa" Parrino arrived at the Vernor Highway Fish Market, at the time a known meeting place of local mafiosi.
While they awaited in a private area for La Mare and his associates to arrive they began to eat lunch. Without comment two gunmen leaped out from a back room and unleashed a barrage of shotgun blasts at both men. Milazzo was hit in the head and died instantly, while Parrino was shot in the chest, abdomen and arm and soon died. Milazzo was 43 years of age and his murder would start a new round of killings within the Detroit Mafia, but this next round of killings would finally allow the alignment of the Detroit Mafia under a new regime and a national criminal organization under the leadership of The Commission.
After the death of Gaspar Milazzo a war ignited within the Detroit Mafia and at the same time the Castellammarese War in New York had officially begun. During this time in Detroit Chester La Mare, with the support of powerful New York boss Joe Masseria was recognized as the new Detroit Mafia boss. His reign was plagued by the fact that he was a marked man, not only by his fellow mafiosi, but by local law enforcement who continuously raided his business establishments such as his speakeasies and interfered with his other rackets.
La Mare went into hiding while more than a dozen Mafia members were killed in Detroit during the Eastside gang/Westside gang war that lasted roughly a year. in February 1931 La Mare was betrayed by two of his own men and shot in the back as he met with them in his home. The death of La Mare in early 1931 and later various other Mafia leaders such as Joe Tocco allowed the remaining Detroit Mafia leaders to unite under one group and leadership, that of the reigning Eastside gang leaders, Angelo Meli, "Black" Bill Tocco and Joe Uno Zerilli.
Alongside Meli, Tocco and Zerilli would be their allies John Priziola and Peter Licavoli who become part of the Detroit Partnership's "Ruling Council", the crime family's top leadership committee. This was basically the formation of the Detroit crime family or Detroit Partnership as it became known within the American underworld. At the same time Detroit's Mafia factions were in opposition of each other once more throughout 1931, the Castellammarese War raged on within New York's Italian underworld pitting the city's two most powerful, old world Sicilian bosses and their supporters against each other.
The assassination of New York Mafia "boss of bosses", Joe Masseria on April 15, 1931 effectively ended the large scale Mafia war based in New York. The next round of events in New York's Italian underworld would influence not only Detroit's underworld future, but basically that of the American underworld. Soon after the death of Joe Masseria his main rival and successor, Salvatore Maranzano was murdered on September 10, 1931 by a rising faction of young Mafia leaders within the New York Mafia. These young, modern Mafia leaders had helped Maranzano eliminate Masseria, but all the while they were biding their time and planning their eventual take over of the New York underworld and consolidation of the Italian underworld nationwide.
The death of New York's two old world-style Mafia leaders, Masseria and Maranzano signaled and solidified the rise of a young, modern Mafia leader, Charles "Lucky" Luciano and his supporters known as the "young turks". Under the leadership of Luciano and the allied leaders within New York's Five Families came the establishment of The Commission, the ruling committee of the American Mafia. Under the New York Mafia's new regime, which included bosses Charlie Lucky Luciano, Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Vince Mangano, Thomas Gagliano and Joseph Profaci, the Detroit Partnership was officially recognized within the Italian-American underworld's new organizational structure. The powerful mid-west crime family became one of the 24 original Mafia crime families that comprised La Cosa Nostra in America and began its dominance within the Michigan underworld.
The first official or "sitting boss" of the Detroit Partnership was William Tocco, born Guglielmo Vito Tocco in Terrasina, Sicily in 1897 and known as "Black Bill" Tocco. Tocco had been one of the top leaders of the Eastside gang, along with Joseph Zerilli and Angelo Meli who became underboss and consigliere to Tocco. Tocco's reign as the supreme ruler of the Detroit Mafia lasted roughly five years as he was indicted on tax evasion charges in March 1936. Even though the financial portion of the case was settled in 1937 Tocco stepped down as boss soon after his indictment due to the publicity, something that early, traditional American Mafia bosses shunned.
Tocco was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison and was replaced by his trusted underboss and brother-in-law, Joseph Zerilli who would now head the Ruling Panel' of the Detroit Partnership. Some Detroit underworld historians and mob watchers believe that Black Bill Tocco served as the number two man or underboss for his brother-in-law Joe Zerilli from the time of his imprisonment until his semi-retirement in the mid-1960s.
Upon his release from prison in the mid-1940s Tocco moved to Florida, but without question maintained a great deal of power within the Detroit underworld and his influential status within the Detroit Partnership. While living in semi-retirement in Miami, Florida, Bill Tocco remained a senior adviser to boss Joe Zerilli and his fellow mafiosi in Detroit and was considered a respected Mafia leader by his peers across the country until his death of natural causes on May 28, 1972 at the age of 75. Joe Zerilli, known as "Joe Uno" or "Joe Z." to his fellow mafiosi and friends would lead the Detroit partnership for the next four decades and become one of the most influential and respected Mafia bosses in America.
In the early 1960s Zerilli would be given a seat on the American Mafia's leader committee known as The Commission. As a commission member Zerilli acted as a senior L.C.N. leader alongside the five New York City bosses and other top Mafia bosses from around the country at the time that included Stefano Magaddino of Buffalo, Sam Giancana of Chicago, Angelo Bruno of Philadelphia, Santo Trafficante Jr. of Tampa, Carlos Marcello of New Orleans and Raymond Patriarca Sr. of New England. Joe Zerilli remained the top boss of the Detroit Mafia until his death of natural causes on October 30, 1977 at the age of 80.
Joseph "Joe Z." Zerilli was one of the most respected American Mafia bosses of his era, quietly ruling his crime family and underworld domain as a traditional Mafia boss who would allegedly take with him to the grave one of the American underworld's most famous secrets, who killed Teamster Union president Jimmy Hoffa and why in 1975 Zerilli's son and most likely successor Anthony "Tony Z." Zerilli took over as acting boss of the Detroit Partnership around 1970 when the elder Zerilli went into semi-retirement, but it was short lived as "the old man", as he was known to his peers in his later years would be called out of retirement until his death to lead the crime family he helped built over the better part of five decades due to the untimely imprisonment of his son and successor in 1974.
With the imprisonment of the younger Zerilli and one of his closest associates Michael Santo Polizzi, known as "Big Mike" because they had concealed their ownership of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas the old man was basically forced out of retirement to lead the crime family at the highest levels once more until a suitable successor could be chosen.
Upon his death in 1977, Joe Zerilli was succeeded as boss by the most senior member of the Ruling Council, John Priziola, known affectionately to his peers as "Papa John". Born Giovanni Priziola, the longtime Detroit Mafia leader was one of only two charter ruling council members left alive and active at the time of Zerilli's death. The other senior ruling council member was former Down River Gang leader and Prohibition era czar, Peter Licavoli, who by this time was himself semi-retired and living in Tucson, Arizona not far from his friend, retired Mafia boss Joe Bonanno.
Licavoli was a powerful Detroit Partnership member who had been the crime family's Toledo, Ohio operations overseer and held a great deal of influence over Detroit area gambling operations, along with many other personal business interests. Rumor has it that when Bill Tocco's retired in the early 1960s Pete Licavoli was named underboss of the Detroit crime family until around 1970 when a new, younger acting leadership came to power within the Detroit Partnership.
Pete Licavoli ran his business affairs from his Arizona ranch which he then sold to Estes Homes for development in 1980. He died of natural causes on January 11, 1984 at the age of 81, the last of the original ruling council members. With the death of boss Joe Zerilli, John Priziola as the Detroit Partnership's most senior leader effectively became the top boss of the crime family. Only Peter Licavoli held the same status and a similar level of authority as a charter ruling council member. Priziola had been a longtime Detroit Mafia leader who was greatly respected throughout the Detroit Mafia, but much of his power came from being the leader of a powerful and wealthy faction within the Detroit Partnership.
The "Partinico faction" was a group of Detroit Mafia leaders that included Raffaele Quasarano and deported Sicilian-American mafiosi, Francesco "Frankie Fingers" Coppola. These men, along with associates in San Diego, California and Windsor, Ontario ran the crime family's heroin importation operations. Through their influential underworld connections nationwide they amassed a great deal of wealth and power over the years with the help of their narcotics contacts in Sicily.
Priziola was a traditional, old world mafioso who ran his affairs and those of the crime family from the shadows, so to run the day-to-day operations he officially named Joe Zerilli's nephew and Bill Tocco's son, Giacomo "Jack" Tocco as the acting boss of the crime family. Papa John acted as the crime family's official consigliere, but due to his senior position and the great deal of power and influence Priziola carried throughout the Detroit Partnership his word was final. The long criminal career of Papa John Priziola within Detroit's underworld was influential, but his time as the top boss in Detroit was short lived as he died of natural causes at the age of 84 on April 14, 1979 less than two years after his predecessor, Joe Zerilli.
Joe Zerilli had demoted his son and chosen successor Tony as acting boss after he was convicted in the early 1970s and allegedly before his death Zerilli gave his blessing and encouraged his supporters to name his nephew and protégé, Jack Tocco as his eventual successor to the throne of the Detroit crime family. Jack Tocco's intelligence and abilities as a leader were known within the Detroit underworld during the time the young Tocco made his way through the ranks of the Detroit Partnership in the 1950s and 60s. The fact that Tocco basically held a "mafia pedigree" and was considered "mafia royalty" as the son of Black Bill Tocco worked greatly to his advantage and he was eventually named the new sitting boss of the Detroit crime family soon after the death of Papa John Priziola.
According to law enforcement sources Jack Tocco allegedly became the official boss of the Detroit Partnership on June 11, 1979 in a ceremony held at the Timberland Game Ranch in Dexter Township. Apparently as a sign of appreciation for the support his father gave him and to show that they were united as a family Jack Tocco named his cousin Tony Zerilli his official underboss immediately after he was released from prison in 1979 after serving over four years of his prison sentence.
Rumor has it that influential Detroit Mafia lieutenant Jimmy Q. Quasarano was named consigliere. He was jailed in 1981. Quasarano was forced to relinquish the powerful position and Jack Tocco's brother, Anthony Tocco was named official consigliere. According to law enforcement, Mafia historians and true crime authors the Tocco-Zerilli regime still maintains its leadership within the Detroit Mafia, known in local underworld and law enforcement circles to this day as the "Partnership" and the "Combination".
The Partnership was hit by indictments in March 1996 against 17 members and associates. Among those indicted were boss Jack Tocco and underboss Anthony Joseph Zerilli. Four alleged capos were also indicted. One was Anthony Joseph Corrado, who was identified in 1974 by the Nevada Gaming Commission as one of a few individuals from Detroit who received "lavish" treatment while vacationing at the Las Vegas casinos.
Anthony Joseph Tocco was another reputed capo. He was among 30 Detroit men placed on the record of the Senate Labor-Management Rackets Committee by Robert F. Kennedy who claimed that Tocco either was a delegate to a crime convention in Apalachin, New York, or among "their contacts and associates." Vito William Giacalone is a reputed capo along with his brother Anthony. Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone is one of the men suspected to be responsible for the death of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
The Detroit Partnership has been able to remain stable entering the 21st century, but the organization has been diminished greatly in numbers. It was believed to have around 50-70 made men as of 2010, but at the same time the organization has proven itself to be a very stable and resilient crime family considering what most other Cosa Nostra families deal with in the way of internal strife and law enforcement scrutiny. The Detroit Partnership has remained stable and is still considered a top criminal organization within the state of Michigan. Most of their members are related by blood or marriage making it hard for outsiders, including law enforcement, to gain information on them. This has led to few people becoming informants against the Partnership and has made building a criminal investigation against them difficult.
A large number of associates overseeing gambling, loansharking, extortion, narcotics and labor racketeering operations, along with many legitimate businesses. Jack Tocco, having been semi-retired for years, died of natural causes in 2014. Jackie Giacalone, who had been groomed to take over for years, became boss before Tocco's death. In 2008, Anthony Zerilli was demoted from underboss and forced into retirement by Tocco. Joseph Mirabile took over, but peacefully seceded the position to Anthony La Piana upon Giacalone's ascension to boss. Currently it is believed that membership stands at around 50 made members.