Georgio Quagenti and Giovanni Graziano

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Black Hand Society, a loosely organized group of Italian criminal groups who extorted (placed the black hand on) fellow immigrants, operated in Western Pennsylvania (notably Hillsville and Canonsburg) and Eastern Ohio, as well as elsewhere in the Northeast and Midwest. Some consider it the nation’s first organized crime group.

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Pittsburgh Press, January 31, 1904. This article represents the first reference to the Black Hand in Pittsburgh.

When Angelo Cappabianco, a successful Braddock fruit merchant, resisted extortion and went to the police for protection, Georgio Quagenti and Giovanni Graziano, two Italian-born hitmen, were brought in from New York City to kill him.

Posing as job seekers, they began by gaining employment with Cappabianco and earning his trust. They then lured him into a remote area near Blair Station, a no longer extant town on the Monongahela River well south of Braddock, on a ruse of buying property to expand his business. There they robbed and shot him on April 5, 1906.

Quagenti and Graziano were apprehended the same day. Money that Cappabianco had recently withdrawn from the bank was found in their possession.

image001Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 6, 1906

At trial, Cappabianco’s partner was able to identify the defendants. A woman who happened to be in the area of the shooting also testified for the prosecution. The New York Times and Washington Post covered the proceedings.

Quagenti and Graziano were convicted on July 18, 1906. It was the first significant legal blow against the “reign of terror” inflicted by the Black Hand.

Graziano subsequently confessed, claiming he and Graziano were paid $40 each for the killing by the jealous husband of a woman who had an affair with Cappabianco. He denied any connection to the Black Hand.

Their motion for a new trial was denied and the two men were sentenced to death on December 1, 1906.

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Pittsburgh Daily Post, December 2, 1906

No appeal effort was mounted. Their efforts to draw on powerful connections to support their pardon requests also failed after Governor Stuart rejected their petition.

In a sensational final chapter of an already sensational case, the Black Hand apparently sent men to Allegheny County to try to disrupt the execution by blowing up the jail, if necessary. Those men were arrested and jailed just as Quagenti and Graziano went to the gallows.

image001Pittsburgh Post, July 31, 1907

Georgio Quagenti and Giovanni Graziano were hanged on August 8, 1907, prompting the  Washington Post to write this eight-column banner headline.

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Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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