Although his personal history is shrouded in mystery, Vincenzo Ottumvo has the distinction of being considered the first recorded Mafia murder victim in the United States.
Born in Naples, Italy, Ottumvo was killed by Sicilian criminals in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 24, 1889, during a card game. The crime resulted not from a gambling dispute, but rather from the outbreak of a gang war that was to be waged in the city between Neapolitan and Sicilian gangsters.
Apparently Ottumvo was a member of a Neapolitan “Camorra” faction vying with the Sicilian Mafia for control of the lucrative New Orleans waterfront rackets – at least, that seems to have been the case. However, it is not inconceivable he was a Sicilian Mafioso.
At the time, New Orleans police had almost complete ignorance of the nature of organized crime among Italian immigrants. That lack of knowledge coupled with anti-immigrant hostility guaranteed that the Ottumvo murder, along with several others that followed in ensuing months, would remain unsolved.
There is little reason to believe that Ottumvo was truly the first victim of the American Mafia. The Sicilian underworld had existed in New Orleans since the time of the American Civil War, and the first Black Hand extortion murder may have occurred as early as 1855.
The Black Hand racket was a pay-or-die shakedown of the immigrant community in which murders often followed if a victim refused to pay. Not all Black Hand murders were the work of mafiosi, but some undoubtedly were.