Monday, August 17, 2009

Auto Theft II -- J. Edgar Hoover on Notorious Ringleader Bla Bla Blackman, Gabriel Vigorio

What follows is an excerpt from a J. Edgar Hoover article on one of Pre-World War II America's most famous car thieves, Gabriel Vigorito. During the next few months I will be working on the topic of auto theft, and will focus on a number of the most important car theft ring-leaders as I construct the narrative. This should provide a taste of the story:

Excerpts from J.E. Hoover, “Bla Bla, Black Man,” American Magazine, 122 (September, 1936), 32-4+.

“Gabriel Vigorito, otherwise known as Bla-Bla the Black Man, specialized in the theft of automobiles upon an international basis. For twelve years every car owner in the Brooklyn section of New York City paid tribute, either to the Black Man or because of him. This was evidenced by the fact that shortly after his arrest and conviction huge signs made their appearance in Brooklyn:

“Automobile Insurance Reduced Fifteen Per Cent.”

The Black Man himself could not truly be called a car thief. Except in one minor instance. He was a Big Businessman of Crime, a directing head of lawbreaking who remained free while others went to prison. You’ll find such a person in nearly every city in America, directing the activities of lesser thugs, hiding behind technicalities, forcing underlings, often under the threat of death, to take punishment which he deserves. Thereby the Big Businessman of the underworld remains, to an extent, beyond the law. He is the real criminal menace which America must fear and hate and pursue relentlessly.

Bla-Bla the Black Man rolled up an illicit fortune estimated at more than $1,000,000. His gang stole thousands of expensive automobiles and resold them at an average price of from $800 to more than $1,000 apiece. The ‘hot car” depots of a dozen states dealt in his goods. In Persia, Russia, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and even China, the American car business included many automobiles stolen from the streets of Brooklyn. All these activities were controlled by the twisted brain of one man, whom law enforcement agencies pursued in vain for more than a decade. Only recently the Black Man, now [1936] incarcerated in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, gave up a fight for freedom which had run the gamut of the courts.

The Black Man had graduated into the perfect motion-picture type of gangster. Short, well-built, with black hair and raven eyes, he was a mobster of the fashion-plate kind. His derby hat was always cocked at a perfect angle, his Chesterfield overcoat, with its inevitable velvet collar, was augmented by a white silk muffler. His clothing was expensively tailored. His shirts were custom-made. So were his shoes.

His friends called him a great fellow, loaded with money and ready to spend it….

Jovial, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin when he smiled, Gabriel Vigorito was by no means a person of the shadows. …

In the later years of Bla-Bla’s activities he had among his supersalesmen a Yale graduate, a Newark attorney, and an officer of a New York printing company. How the Black Man had been able to turn them from honest pursuits into illegitimate ones still remains a secret.”

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