Giuseppe Cuccia



 The youthful assassin spied his prey travelling along Main street in a horse drawn carriage. Slowly he positioned himself for a clear shot as his target unknowingly inched his way toward eternity. Cautiously the young man innocuously peddled his bycycle within a few feet of the wagon's rear simultaneously drawing his pistol. In an instant the noon day calm was broken "Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang," four shots rang out in rapid succession. The deafening explosions spooked the team of horses sending them into a panicked sprint, racing toward the main street bridge with a cargo of 47 year old Giuseppe Cuccia on board.

  Intent on completing his mission the cyclist peddled faster in a futile attempt to keep up with the sprinting team. Two blocks later the gunman abandoned his pursuit turning down an alley heading in the direction of the Italian colony. Most of the rapidly expanding crowd stood frozen, unable or willing to comprehend what they were witnessing only one man took action. For a time Mr. A Drake of 485 East Twenty-eigth street trailed the fleeing felon down an alley and back onto Bauchet street where his efforts were rebuffed at gun point. In a statement given to the police Mr. A Drake said he abandoned his pursuit after the young killer discovered he was being trailed.

Training his still smoking pistol on his pursuer one press account reported the gunman as stating "let no one try to follow me," before hurriedly continuing his escape. Suddenly reminded of his own mortality Drake wisely held his ground as the gunman drug his cycle into the yard of Frank Pappe of 406 Bauchet. Before the youthful gunman disappeared around the side of the house Drake committed his description to memory for later use. Using Mr. Drake recollection the police issued a bulletin for the arrest of a young caucasian male of Italian descent approximately 5'7 weighing 140 to 145 lbs., with a light stubby mustache. In short order he was identified as Tony Schino an alias of Tony Matranga.

  Of the four shots only one found its mark in Cuccia's back. The bullet passed cleanly through Cuccia's body narrowly missing his heart yet it was a wound he could have possibly survived. His fate was sealed however when he was thrown to the pavement as his carriage reached the Main street bridge. Suffering severe head trauma Cuccia was loaded back into his wagon and rushed to Receiving hospital where he died in route. Word spread quickly through the Italian section as Cuccia reigned as one of its most respected figures. A successful horsetrading business had allowed him to move his family from the Italian section to the then upscale section of East Los Angeles 15 years earlier yet he maintained a constant prescence in the colony often surving as mediator of disputes.

 Well spoken and resonably educated Cuccia often appeared in court with members of the dreaded black hand surving as an interpreter in legal matters. This role provided him access to all walks of life and increased his value in the eyes of his fellow countrymen. For all of his success and reputation as a fair and impartial arbiter, one case would seal his fate and usher in a new underworld power in the colony. The events which led to the death of the man known far and wide as uncle Joe began with a business dispute between fruit peddlers George Maisano and Joe Ardizzone.

 Both parties were well known as members of the local blackhand element. Ardizzone headed a faction consisting of an extended family which included uncle Joe whereas Maisano counted among his cohorts the ruthless and expansive Matranga clan. Relations between the two groups were by and large amicable until Maisano swindled Ardizzone's sister in a real estate transaction. Such an affront was considered an insult to one's family heritage and a challenge of Ardizzone's standing in the local underworld. With tensions set to explode uncle Joe arranged several unsuccessful meetings between the two groups in an effort to avoid the inevitable blood shed.

 One family meeting was arranged and it was agreed before hand to abide by whatever ruling uncle Joe handed down. After listening intently to both sides uncle Joe ruled in favor of his nephew and niece ordering Maisano to make amends for his past deed. Stung by the decision Maisano announced uncle Joe had favored the Ardizzone's in his decision due to their blood ties. This in itself was grounds for bloodletting but Cuccia announced "at least publicly," that he would let Maisano's comments pass. As the months went by threats were bandied about and several small incidents took place without serious consequence. All that changed June 2, 1906 when Ardizzone reportedly shot Maisano in the back on Avenue 19 near North Main street.

 Mortally wounded Maisano held on for nearly two months before succumbing to his wounds. Ardizzone was immediately identified as the assassin yet escaped a police dragnet and disappeared. Seizing the emotional tide created by Maisano's death the Matranga clan took up arms promising revenge for the loss of their loved one. Uncle Joe carried on as usual but without the protection of his most feared gunman he must have realized his vulnerability. If he didn't the Matranga's obviously did hence the brazen shooting carried out by Tony Matranga that fall day in September 1906.

  Inspite of twenty eye witnesses Matranga would escape prosecution thanks in large part to his reputation as a notorious killer and willingness to provide information to police regarding rival gangs in the Italian section..

Gatecity Publishing 2004