By Ed Runyan
Niles native Tom Maley had bought a copy of the new Allan R. May book “Crimetown USA: The History of the Mahoning Valley Mafia” and was looking forward to immersing himself again in the names and figures he first heard about as a kid.
He previously had read May’s other Mahoning Valley Mafia book: “Welcome to the Jungle Inn,” which describes an infamous Liberty Township gambling den and people connected with the mob.
“I had a house blow up in my neighborhood, and there was a mobster living in my neighborhood,” he said after a 90-minute talk by May at the Warren- Trumbull County Public Library on Tuesday.
Maley said he knew some of the names mentioned in the Jungle Inn from the news accounts and stories people told.
“Growing up, you got bits and pieces,” Maley said. “You heard the names.” The satisfaction in reading May’s work is in getting a more complete picture of those people, he said.
May, of Cleveland, told an audience of about 150 people that he gave his first Mahoning Valley talk on “Crimetown USA” in Warren because of the support Trumbull County residents gave his earlier books.
“Crimetown USA,” however, is a mostly Youngstown-focused book. It begins in 1933 and details the lottery houses that operated in the city from the mid-1930s into the 1940s, divided into the Croatian House, American House, South Side House and Big House.
It delves into police corruption involving protection to certain houses over other houses and judges being frustrated with the uneven treatment, May said.
The lottery houses were closed down in 1943 by a special grand jury.
May said the phrase “the bug” was exclusive to Mahoning County, but it referred to the numbers game that took over in the 1950s and led to bombings to scare off competition.
Those bombings were much smaller than what people think, May said. Such explosions would cause only around $50 in damage, he said
The 30-year period covered in the book includes the event that led to Youngstown getting the Crimetown moniker: the 1962 killing of “Cadillac Charlie” Cavallaro and his 11-year-old son.
That explosion, a devastating one, got national attention, causing Attorney General Robert Kennedy to bring the FBI to Youngstown and that “ended things for a while,” May said.
In most cases, May admits his research using newspapers and other materials at local libraries, plus help from former Youngstown police officer Nick Marciano, didn’t uncover the reasons for many of the most notorious killings.
During a question-and- answer period, a woman asked whether the Youngs-town area is more influenced by Cleveland or Pittsburgh mobsters.
“I hope it’s not under anyone’s control,” May said, crediting Craig Morford, a former federal prosecutor, with ending that phase of Youngstown’s history.
“I’d like to tell you the mob is passe forever. With what the FBI has done, why would anyone want to be in the mafia?” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense for them to get involved anymore. It just doesn’t pay anymore.”