This article was last modified on January 31, 2019.

The McRaniele Clan of Hurley

December 18, 1918: Paul and Herman Santini were arrested or a shooting that had taken place two days earlier in the saloon of Mike Borgio. During the ruckus, a .22 bullet grazed Victor Nygard of Bessemer on his cheek, and he reported the matter to police. Paul Santini was said to be the shooter, while Herman was also pointing a gun at Nygard but did not fire.

June 17, 1920: Joseph McRaniele was found guilty of larceny from the person of Benedetto (of Benedicto) Stefani, who was greatly beaten in the process. Stefani ha been attacked near the Erspamer meat market, across the street from the Northwestern depot in Hurley. Two men took a gold watch from him and over $200. Stefani had been hit in the head by a blunt object, giving him a gash on his face.

The jury likely found the man guilty because the beaten was witnessed by motorcycle officer Sigmund Romanski. McRaniele’s sentencing was delayed by Norway-born Judge Gulick N. Risjord, who felt there may be some witnesses who would like to speak of McRaniele’s character. When sentencing came, McRaniele was given three years in Waupun prison. His accomplice was never found.

Less than a month after Joseph McRaniele was sent to prison, his brother Nick was arrested for operating a brothel out of his White Front saloon in Hurley and was released on $1,000 bail. A third brother, Charles, was wanted by authorities for also operating the brothel. Helen Blanchard was arrested for prostitution, and the court set trial for August 4.

July 31, 1920: 30-year old Antonio “Tony” Zini, a miner in the Montreal Mine, was approached by two bandits in Hurley. He was with a man named Peter Ossato at the time. Zini bravely stepped forward to get a better look at them, and took two shots in the lung for his trouble. He died of his injuries. The newspapers speculated that Zini was not the intended target, but was mistaken for a man who “had violated an unwritten law with a clan who do not hesitate to shoot.”

The theory was that the intended target was supposed to be Benedetto Stefani, the man who squealed and put Joseph McRaniele in prison for robbery.

Not long after the shooting, police picked up Gabriel DaPra for the murder. They had nothing to connect him, but he has a “suspicious nature” and was very evasive when questioned. By his own admission, he had been a draft dodger in California before serving as a private in the Army during World War I. He claimed that he rarely worked and had been living off the benevolence of a man in Chicago.

While DaPra was in jail, they brought victims of robbery — including Axel Asakine (no record, could be Eskonen?) — to see him and identify him as the robber. DaPra was not identified as any robber an remained in jail on a mere vagrancy charge. By August 12, the authorities were convinced that DaPra was not the shooter of Zini, or at least no such connection could be proved. By September 2, the officially ruling was that Zini was killed by persons unknown and the case was forgotten.

December 18, 1920: Nick McRaniele was arrested after it was revealed that he tried to bribe Benedetto Stefani into changing his story about when he was assaulted by Joseph McRaniele. Nick was held on $3,000 bond pending a hearing before Judge Griff Thomas. The trial began January 7, with Marion Folsom Reid prosecuting. Reid was the former district attorney, but was serving as prosecutor because the current DA (Warren Foster) was expected to be a witness. The following day, Reid found the evidence insufficient and dismissed the charge.

April 11, 1921: 36-year old Frank Demasi was shot six times and killed at the railroad bridge near the lumber mill on the Hurley side of the Montreal River. Demasi operated a candy store in Ironwood. He had a wife, Emma, and one son, Raymond, who had been born in Virgnia. Living with Frank was brother Ralph Demasi, his wife Barbara and their daughter Rose. Nick McRaniele was picked up at his brothel as a witness, with the two suspects named being Charles McRaniele and Charles LaRosa. Nick was held without bond and a hearing was set for April 22.

According to Emma Demasi, her husband was pressured by Charles McRaniele to purchase a case of whiskey and he declined. The dispute reached the point where a duel was suggested, but McRaniele ambushed the man. Demasi was said to be able to “handle a pistol to perfection” and would never have lost a fair fight. Nick McRaniele told the court that Frank Demasi fired four times on Charles McRaniele without provocation and the murderous shots were self-defense.

By April 14, district attorney Warren Foster was of the opinion that Demasi’s death took place in a duel. He had spoken with multiple people who said the duel was supposed to take place the previous autumn but had been postponed. The problem apparently began when Demasi was asked to contribute $200 for a defense fund for an Italian man in Minneapolis and refused. Chris Johnson, a carpenter, told Foster he witnessed the murder and it appeared to be a duel. Both men crossed the bridge over the Montreal River before turning and firing. A Hungarian man named Steve John Dudra, who had been a ballplayer in Hurley, saw Charles McRaniele hiding behind timbers, firing his gun, and afterward washing his hands in a puddle near the Anton (or possibly Joseph) Accorsi home.

Nick McRaniele had his charges dropped on April 21 by DA Warren Foster. The prosecutor believed that Nick was acting as a “second” in the duel, but was on the Michigan side of the river at the time and was therefore not in the proper jurisdiction. At the hearing, Foster told the court, “It is concede that Frank Demasi was killed by Charlie McRaniele while they were engaged in a duel. It is assumed that Nick McRaniele and Charlie LaRosa acted as seconds in this duel and that arrangements for the duel were made in the state of Michigan.” It was decided that LaRosa was the second on the Wisconsin side of the river and could therefore be charged if caught. Not long after, prosecutor Harold J. Waples of Ironwood declared that Nick couldn’t be charged in Michigan, either, because he couldn’t be a “second” in Michigan to a murder that happened in Wisconsin. If the killer wasn’t prosecuted in Michigan, any accomplice would not be, either.

For two weeks following the duel, Police Chief Frank Dardas sought Charles McRaniele, tracking him as far as Ashland without success. Dardas told the press he would recognize McRaniele anywhere by his “peculiar walk”, and his body type — he was short and stocky but over 200 pounds. The newspaper said it would be helpful if there were bloodhounds in Iron and Gogebic Counties.

On August 11, 1921, Nick McRaniele appeared in federal court in Superior before Judge Luse. He avoided charges on the duel, but was now facing trial for bootlegging. With him in court was Hurley saloon keeper Steve Costello, and both were released on $1,500 bond (each) after pleading not guilty. McRaniele would not go to trial for over a year.

The McRaniele situation was ongoing when Galileo “Big Leo” Laguna was shot and killed by brother-in-law Gabriel Dapra on October 2, 1921. The murder, with Laguna taking eight shots in the chest and face, took place in the “Italian colony” of Gile, two miles west of Hurley (now part of Montreal). The two men lived together, Dapra in a smaller building on the Laguna property. After a quarrel, Dapra went to get his revolver and came back to find Laguna with a rifle. After the shooting, Dapra cooled down at the home of Swiss-born Frederick Edward Gygi before turning himself in. Strangely enough, Gogebic County purchased and trained a bloodhound since the newspaper criticized them, but could not use it this time because of the rain. Had he not turned himself in, Dapra may have gotten far.

The media immediately began to portray Dapra in a sympathetic light. Despite killing a man, he was released to his attorney (James Edward Flandrena) without bail. The court heard from Laguna’s wife (Dapra’s sister) and five children how cruel he was, and they thought of Dapra as a hero. According to the family, earlier that day Laguna chased his wife and kids with a gun and they hid. When it looked like the house was dark, Mrs. Laguna returned to grab blankets and Laguna shot at her. It was at this time Dapra arrived and shot to protect his sister. Rumors were already printed in the newspaper the next day, including a story of Laguna once knocking out his wife’s front teeth, and of his eldest daughter spitting in the face of his corpse.

On October 4, a preliminary hearing was held. Dapra was charged with manslaughter and was sent to jail when he could not furnish the $10,000 bail. While no one denied that Laguna was a monster, this did not mean Dapra was completely justified. The prosecutor found it especially interesting that two types of bullets were found in Laguna, meaning that Dapra used more than one gun to shoot his brother-in-law down.

With Laguna dead, his widow felt comfortable coming forward about one of his big secrets: “Big Leo” was responsible for an arson in June 1911 that caused $75,000 in damage to fourteen buildings in Gile. Almost $20,000 worth of the damage was assumed by Joseph Raineri, who had been threatened by Laguna. The fire had, in fact, started in the rear of Raineri’s store and firemen from Hurley could do little more than throw buckets of water on the blaze. Very little of the destruction was covered by insurance. The confession came about from Raineri asking her point blank; he always had his suspicions, and she was able to confirm them. She said that her husband had repeatedly threatened to kill hr if she “opened her mouth” but those threat were no longer holding her back. Laguna’s motivation was an outstanding $150 grocery bill at Raineri’s store, as well as Raineri holding the mortgage on Laguna’s house. In 1911, the mines were closed and money had been drying up in the area.

Dapra had a hearing on the morning of October 19 before Judge Griff Thomas. Josephine Laguna, 14, was questioned about her uncle and any connection he might have to a still found on the family property. She claimed not to know much about the still (she said that was her dad’s business) and said her uncle was not around very often. Peter Laguna, 10, testified that he was asleep and woke up to the sound of shooting. The evidence seemed to show that Laguna was attempting to kill his wife but by some miracle never hit her. His bags were packed, suggesting a premeditated murder and escape plan. After a day of questioning, the defense counsel moved to dismiss charges of manslaughter. Judge Thomas denied this motion and set a date for trial with a $2,000 bond on Dapra (reduced from $10,000).

The Dapra case finally went to trial on January 11, 1922 and was to be a very short ordeal. The primary witnesses were the Laguna family, who were eagerly defending Dapra. Esther Laguna related a story about her husband once trying to poison the whole family. Oddly, Dapra changed his defense counsel from ??? to George Foster, who happened to be the father of the prosecutor, Warren Foster. Dapra ended up taking the stand in his own defense, explaining that he shot his brother-in-law down when he caught the man pulling his sister by the hair. When asked about the still found in the house, Dapra claimed he was not aware that it was there.

Nick McRaniele was finally in Superior or trial on September 15, 1922, more than a year after his arrest. In under an hour, the jury found him not guilty of Prohibition violations. Stanley L. Sarncress, a dry agent, testified about purchasing drinks from McRaniele. Nick, defended by Peter Benedict Cadigan, took the stand in his own defense and denied ever selling the drinks. According to the Iron County Miner newspaper, this was the first time the jury found a man not guilty during a Prohibition case.

January 10, 1924: Anton Santini arrived in Hurley from New York. At the time his brother Paul was on the lam, wanted for the murder of Ironwood blacksmith Oscar Nordby on December 26, 1923. Paul had hit Nordby with a blunt object, resulting in his death after two days.

March 28, 1924: Nick McRaniele and Charles DiUlio left for New York on their way for an extended trip to Italy.

In July 1925, following his acquittal, Paul Santini sued the Milwaukee Journal for $20,000, alleging they committed criminal slander against him during his trial.

On September 17, 1930, Paul Santini was again in trouble, this time for knifing state assemblyman Lawrence A. Lamoreux. The two got into an argument at the Francis Hotel in Hurley, prompted at least in part by Lamoreux being the son of C. A. Lamoreux, who was an assistant district attorney during Santini’s murder trial five years earlier. The cuts were on the assemblyman’s right leg and back. In Santini’s defense, he did not pull a knife until after the argument became quite heated and Lamoreux slapped him. Remigio Lerza signed Santini’s $2,000 bail bond.

December 1937: Green Bay Packer offensive lineman Champ Seibold sued Paul Santini for an eye injury Seibold received in Santini’s tavern in approximately 1934 during a bar brawl. Also present at the time were guard Hank Bruder and quarterback Arnie Herber.

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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