“You Puta Da $200.00 Dollars In A The Alley…”

Every time I visit a National Archives site around the country, I learn something new.  Passionate staff educates me about the nature of the records in our custody.   At each stop I have jaw-dropping moments.

In a recent visit with our Chicago staff, I learned about Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, U.S. District Court, Chicago.  Specifically, I got a chance to review Criminal Case 4632:  The United States vs. George Pavlick.  Pavlick, the defendant, in mid-December 1910, mailed a threatening letter to Max Maas of Chicago demanding $200 or Pavlick would kill Maas.  Pavlick was charged with violation of the postal laws—scheming to defraud using the U.S. Post Office.  Pavlick, a minor, pleaded guilty and was turned over to the juvenile court.

Extortion letter written by George Pavlick of “The Black Hand.” From Criminal Case 4632: The United States vs. George Pavlick. Pavlick, the defendant, in mid-December 1910, mailed a threatening letter to Max Maas of Chicago.

 

Robert M. Lombardo, former career Chicago policeman, now faculty member in Loyola University’s criminal justice program researched these records in preparing The Black Hand:  Terror By Letter in Chicago.

An early 1908 Chicago Daily Tribune article reported that one-third of Chicago’s Italian immigrants were being victimized by an organization of extortionists, blackmailers, and assassins known as The Black Hand.  Extortion letters, demanding money and threatening harm for non compliance, were signed with drawings of knives and skulls and black hands.

Thought at the time to be largely Italians against Italians, Lombardo used National Archives records to reveal the truth.  U.S. District Court Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis “…challenged the idea that Black Hand crime was peculiar to the Italian race, stating that most of …the cases that came before his court did not involve Italian criminals at all.  The Black Hand was nothing more than a method of crime like armed robbery or safecracking.  All that was needed to commit Black Hand extortion was a pen and paper.  One did not even need to speak Italian.”

As George Pavlick demonstrated in his bad parody of Italian immigrant writing!  Whaddaya think?

Extortion letter written by George Pavlick of “The Black Hand.” From Criminal Case 4632: The United States vs. George Pavlick.

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2 Responses to “You Puta Da $200.00 Dollars In A The Alley…”

  1. Ha,interesting post, indeed. I look forward to reading the letter; small image here as am using my smartphone in transit somewhere. In the interests of promoting transparency, a0small point to post here. Your eagle-eyed and appreciative reader thinks that should be $200.”or” rather than of”! Make many typos in my own stuff, LOL, they are unusual here!

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  2. Sorry about the typo in my own comment, ha. Typing on a Smartphone while on Metro not optimum conditions for posting although no excuse. Pavlick’s letter is a hoot, like something in a comedy skit but actually not so funny. I have immigrant parents. And I know many immigrants of their generation who came to the U.S.

    Literate immigrants–people who have learned to speak English as a second language–may mispronounce some words from time to time or put an accent on the wrong syllable. But if they know how to read and write English, they are not necessarily going to duplicate prononciation errors in their writing. Errors often come from things such as not have the “th” sound in their native tongue. Or not knowing whether to use a long or short version of a vowel Or so it seems to me!
    I’ve proofread drafts of letters some immigrants asked me to look at. If there are errors, they tend to be of another kind, such as choosing the wrong preposition at times! My immigrant and longtime U.S. citizen Mom actually catches errors in newspapers she reads, her English is that good! And my Dad was a radio script writer for VOA.
    Thanks again for a fascinating post. I love hearing about the treasures NARA holds and the fun staff have in digging them up!

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