The Black Hand

Terror by Letter in Chicago
Author: Robert M. Lombardo
Unraveling the truth about the sinister extortion scheme that preyed on innocent Chicagoans
Cloth – $110
Paper – $27
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/04/2010
Cloth: 01/04/2010
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About the Book

This book examines the history of Black Hand crime in Chicago primarily from 1905 to 1920 and challenges the belief that the Black Hand was an extension of the Sicilian Mafia. A crude method of extorting money from primarily wealthy Italians, the Black Hand involved sending victims a letter stating that they would come to harm if the blackmailers' demands were not met; the threatening letter often included a drawing of a black hand or other frightening symbols.

While many criminologists and scholars believe that Black Hand crime originated in Italy, that only Southern Italians and Sicilians committed Black Hand crime, and that only Southern Italians and Sicilians were Black Hand victims, Robert M. Lombardo argues that Black Hand crime actually evolved as the result of social conditions within American society such as the isolation of the Italian community, political corruption, and an ineffective criminal justice system. He shows that this association of the Black Hand and the Sicilian Mafia is a media construction, resulting from a narrative created by the news media despite the fact that many non-Italians also committed Black Hand crimes. Looking at the Black Hand from a sociological perspective, the book discusses the "news-making criminology" that tied Black Hand crime to the Sicilian Mafia and Neapolitan Camorra and the evolution of traditional organized crime in Chicago and elsewhere.

About the Author

Robert M. Lombardo is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Loyola University of Chicago and a former deputy chief of police for Cook County, Illinois.

Also by this author

Organized Crime in Chicago cover


"Provides the definitive argument that this form of crime was not imported from Italy. . . . This is a book that needed to be written two generations ago, one that everyone needs to read today to make up for lost time in extricating Italian Americans from the shadow of the Mafia."--Journal of Illinois History

"Lombardo recounts in fine and fascinating detail the dynamics of extortion in Chicago's immigrant Italian community, covering especially the 'hottest' years, 1907-12."--Italian American Review


"Stimulating and informative. This book corrects the record of the criminological phenomenon of the Black Hand for the first time, and it presents the truth of its role in the immigrant Italian community in America."--Arthur J. Bilek, author of The First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosimo and the Ladies of the Levee

"A classic treatise on the social construction of crime, with dozens of colorful stories. Italian Americans in Chicago and nationwide will appreciate this book, as will readers interested in criminal justice and ethnic studies."--Dominic Candeloro, coauthor of Chicago Heights: At the Crossroads of the Nation