John Volpe, a V-16 Cadillac and the Gangster’s Last Day

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  • John Volpe’s V-16 Cadillac coupe equipped with bulletproof glass being towed away after his death 

During the years of Prohibition in America, a fortune was to be made by those bold enough to take charge of bootlegging in a city. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania gangster John Volpe was just such a man, and by 1932, he and his brothers ruled the supply of alcohol in the Steel City and also ran a busy rackets operation.

At the time, the organized machine of ruthless bootleggers also included his brothers James and Arthur (Louis Volpe was serving a few months in Allegheny County Jail on a bootlegging conviction) and half-dozen of the gang’s henchmen. His younger brother Chester Volpe had died the previous New Year’s Eve in a car crash in the city.

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  • Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh near the Allegheny County Courthouse

The set of photos seen in this article are from an outstanding account in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, written by Steve Mellon. In his report of Friday, July 29, 1932, titled MidDay Massacre, he tells an engaging story about the gangster’s operation and the events of John Volpe’s last day; the story starts at noontime when he got a shave and a shoeshine in Frank Manna’s barbershop at 527 Fifth Avenue close to the scene of the above photo.

After leaving Manna’s, Volpe and former numbers racketeer Charles Modarelli, walked a few blocks through the city’s Lower Hill District to the Rome Coffee Shop seen below, at 704 Wylie Avenue. The shop served as a front for his numbers operations. There he and Modarelli parted company and Volpe went inside and met up with his brothers and associates.

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  • The Rome Coffee Shop, at far right, on Wylie Avenue and a 1927 Chevrolet

Shortly afterward Volpe went back outside and was gunned-down by a team of three hit men. Finished with killing the gangster, the trio then entered the shop and brutally shot and killed two of his brothers, James and Arthur. Their job accomplished the gunman emerged and fled the scene in a dark blue Ford sedan. The Volpe brother’s deaths brought the toll to one hundred unsolved gang murders between the years of 1927 and 1932 in Pittsburgh.

You can read a more detailed and very intriguing accounting of the situation then we have the time and space for here at, Pittsburgh: The Dark Years, by Steve Mellon. There you see many more photos and learn more about: Prohibition, both political and police corruption in the city, the aftermath of the killings, the funeral, the Volpe family and the details surrounding the location of dozens of bars, “bawdy houses” and gambling dens.

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5 Responses to John Volpe, a V-16 Cadillac and the Gangster’s Last Day

  1. joe totton says:

    The Steve Mellon story is awesome. Well worth the read. Thanks for the link.

  2. Rick Kellman says:

    Every line of this article had me riveted to a time that seems so near, yet
    so far away. That’s how well Mr. Mellon wrote this article. The car is a
    rare example of the mighty V-16 in the era that I wish we could bring
    back, exempt from the violence of course! Great read.

  3. Charlie OneOone says:

    Thanks David for the link, the story really had me riveted all the way to the end!

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