Giovanni "John The Prince" Volpe (born 1894- died July 29, 1932) known as "Johnny", was an influential early mafioso who operated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Pittsburgh crime family and one of the eight Volpe brothers.
John Volpe drove a 16 cyllinder Cadillac with bullet proof windows, the license plate of which read "J V8", eight for the eight brothers that formed the Volpe gang. He also wore a watch studded with 25 diamonds arranged to form his initials. Though not a big man — he stood 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds — Volpe cut a striking figure. In this era of corruption and vice (1920s and 30s), the Volpe brothers came to power and prominence. They controlled, protected and dominated one small community — a clustering of Italian families living in the shadow of George Westinghouse's massive air brake factory in the small town of Wilmerding, 14 miles from Pittsburgh. The Volpes by turns were shrewd, generous and often ruthless in how they used that control, and were able to leverage their influence into political strength that helped them defeat rivals and enemies. In a community of immigrants often resented and intimidated by those in power, the Volpes were viewed by many as protectors and providers.
Eventually, the Volpe brothers would be drawn to the illegal booze trade in Pittsburgh. By the late 1920s and early 30s, John and his brothers were identifying themselves as grocers — their wholesale business was housed in a three-story brick building at Middle and Bridge streets in Wilmerding. Over the years, John Volpe had been arrested and charged a number of times for assault (he had been accused of beating up police officers, newspaper editors and fellow racketeers and was also tried and acquitted of murder in 1919). But was never convicted of any charges.
In 1926, John and Guy Volpe were suspected in the slaying of Harry Davenport, chief of the Westinghouse Air Brake police. Davenport liked to conduct raids on speakeasies — a dangerous gig. He was hit with two shotgun blasts while standing in front of his Wilmerding house. Nothing ever came of the allegations against John and Guy Volpe.
Political Influence Edit
Shortly before primary elections in September 1931, John Volpe put on an ambitious and audacious display of political power. He called a meeting of nearly every candidate supported by his organization. The gathering in mid August was the largest of its kind in Wilmerding — 200 people were turned away for lack of seating at Philaretic Hall, newspapers reported.
Volpe chaired the meeting, calling up speakers who included a county commissioner, four judges, the district attorney, the assistant district attorney, the clerk of courts, the county controller and several others. After the gathering, a number of candidates made their way to the Volpe residence for a party.
By all accounts, the event was a smashing success. And when the ballots were counted on election day, the Volpe organization received an overwhelming majority in their home ward, the 4th. It was good news for the Volpe organization — too good, it turned out. The results seemed a bit fishy, partly because they weren't available until 48 hours after the polls closed. Officials impounded the 4th Ward ballot box.
Several candidates running as independents saw the results and cried foul. They had been trying for years to oust the Volpes from power. Wilmerding, they charged, was overrun by lawlessness thanks to John and James, who used beatings and intimidation to control the borough.
Pittsburgh crime family Edit
By the spring of 1932, the Volpes had decided it was time to flex some muscle. John Volpe called a meeting of city racketeers at a Downtown hotel — newspapers fail to specify which one or the date of the meeting. Invitations were sent to approximately 100 Pittsburgh liquor dealers. About half showed up. Others sensed trouble, and they were right in doing so. Newspapers reported that John Volpe demanded that the gathered bootleggers adopt a price schedule he had proposed. Rates were going up, he said. When North Side racketeers objected, John Volpe told them they should go along "or else." "Go to hell," replied the North Siders.
At least one racketeer, however, had decided to work with the Volpes. This was John Bazzano, the unassuming man who, after the deaths of Jack Palmer and Giuseppe Siragusa, had risen to the top of Pittsburgh’s racket scene. Newspapers identified Bazzano as "executive head" of the Volpe organization.
On July 29, 1932, gunmen pulled up to the Rome Coffee Shop on Wylie Avenue where the Volpe's which also served as the Volpe brothers' headquarters and opened fire. John was shot four times and died on the sidewalk. Inside the shop, a spray of bullets hit Arthur Volpe as he was eating a bowl of cornflakes. James Volpe died trying to hide behind the counter. The hit was ordered by Pittsburgh mob boss John Bazzano in an attempt to consolidate his power and take over his former allies, the Volpe brothers', territory. Bazzano himself would turn up murdered in August of the same year in New York for carrying out the unsanctioned hit on the three Volpe brothers.
The Volpe brothers were well-connected, politically influential and often-feared underworld bosses, and their midday assassinations on a busy city street, just a few blocks from the courthouse, shocked Pittsburgh and marked the beginning of the end of what was perhaps the most violent and corrupt era in the city's history.