Rocco Racco (died 1909) was a Calabrian born mafioso, who immigrated to the United States and settled in the Pennsylvania area in the 1890s. Racco was known as an early American Black Hand leader, extorting fellow Italian immigrants through the use of anonymous letters, which were covered in cryptic images such as black hand prints, skulls and daggers, and threatened the recipient, and in most cases his family with death if the extortion payment requested was denied. Racco and an associate were responsible for the 1906 murder of a Pennsylvania Game Warden.

On April 24, 1906, the body of Pennsylvania State Game Warden Seely Houk was found in the Mahoning River in the western part of the state. Examination showed that Houk, missing since March 6, had been killed by a shotgun blast to the head. Authorities suspected that local mafiosi poaching in the area killed the warden. An investigation by Detective Dimaio of the Pinkerton Detective Agency suggested that the murderer was most likely already in prison.

Investigators made little progress on the case until an inmate named Candido wrote to Dimaio claiming that the killers were local Calabrian Honored Society boss, Rocco Racco and his brother-in-law, Jim Murdocca. According to Candido, Houk had caught the two men hunting out of season. As a warning to them, Houk shot and killed Racco's favorite hunting dog. In retaliation, the two men killed Houk. By the time Dimaio had reached the prison to interview Candido, another mafiosi named Surace had threatened Candido. Surace refused to cooperate until Dimaio allegedly whispered a password of the Calabrian "Societa Honorata" or Calabrese mafia. Surace immediately confessed that Racco had murdered Houk, which was corroborated by a second witness.

After acquiring the murder weapon from Racco's wife, Dimaio traveled to see the imprisoned suspect. Racco identified the murder weapon as his own and was indicted for murder. Moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania, the trial gained national attention due to constant death threats against witnesses. Thanks to Surace's testimony, Racco was convicted of murder and hanged at the New Castle prison in late 1909.a

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Borsella, Cristogianni On Persecution, Identity & Activisim: Aspects of the Italian-American Experience from the Late 19th century to Today. Wellesley: Dante University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-937832-41-3
  • Horan, James David and Howard Swiggett. The Pinkerton Story. New York: Putnam, 1951.
  • Nicaso, Antonio and Lamothe, Lee. Global Mafia: The New World Order of Organized Crime. Toronto: Macmillan Canada, 1995. ISBN 0-7715-7311-1
  • Reppetto, Thomas A. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7798-7
  • Warren, Louis S. The Hunter's Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Yale University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-300-08086-7
  • Willis, Clint. (ed.) Wise Guys: Stories of Mobsters from Jersey to Vegas. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003. ISBN 1-56025-498-X

External links[edit | edit source]

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