Clintonville author David Meyers’ new book Ohio’s Black Hand Syndicate: The Birth of Organized Crime in America – coauthored with his daughter Elise Meyers Walker – is set to release on April 9.
“It’s a story that was going to be in Wicked Columbus, Ohio,” said Meyers, referring to a previous book published in 2015. “But, we had to cut out two chapters because it was getting too long.”
Meyers had uncovered information about a little known organized crime syndicate from Marion, Ohio, called The Society of the Banana and Faithful Friends. “It was a group of Italian fruit vendors that worked this extortion racket,” he said.
“That’s the Black Hand aspect of it,” said Meyers. A Black Hand crime was essentially extortion, usually by mailing a letter to the intended target.
“They sent out hundreds of these letters, mostly preying on other Italians who were successful.” Most were signed by a shadowy group known as the Black Hand Syndicate, he said.
When people think of organized crime, they conjure up mental images of mobster shootouts and Al Pacino. While Michael Corleone may not be a central figure in this story, a Salvatore “Sam” Lima plays a key role in this criminal organization, Meyers explained.
“It was the first group ever prosecuted for organized crime in the United States,” said Meyers. The Society of the Banana and Faithful Friends was so big they had operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and South Dakota.
Lima’s organization eventually targeted the Amicon brothers, big produce vendors in Columbus, and tried to squeeze them for money, Meyers said.
“Giovanni ‘John’ Amicon said they tackled the wrong fish and that they’d never pay up,’ said Meyers.
In a time before there were too many resources for bringing large criminal outfits to justice, Amicon turned to one of the few organizations with the ability to do so. “He stood up to them and got the postal authorities involved,” said Meyers. Because their tactic for extortion was through mail, they were violating postal laws.
Ironically, the criminals who had charges brought against them were never charged for any of the numerous murders they were suspected to have committed. “That’s not a postal crime,” said Meyers. “So, they weren’t prosecuted.”
Ohio’s Black Hand Syndicate is the most recent of Meyers’ numerous books that are focused on Ohio history. Meyers’ interest in local history and true crime started when he was young. “You have to have an ongoing curiosity,” said Meyers. “I think my mother encouraged that.”
Meyers recognized the popularity of true crime among readers, and his experience working in corrections helps inform the way he approaches collecting these stories and putting them to the page.
“The non-fiction stuff hasn’t been that difficult,” to publish, said Meyers, “which is why you see a lot of people doing it. Most regional publishers are really receptive to anyone looking to do it.”
But, it has not always been easy to tell these stories. “We’ve walked this tightrope because we’re very sensitive about not wanting to exploit other people’s tragedies.”
Meyers’ books can be purchased on Amazon.com, and more information about his publication history is available at explodingstove.com.
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