In Starr Sign, my latest novel in the Candace Starr Crime Series, Candace infiltrates her estranged Detroit mafia relatives, the Scarpellos, in search of her mother, Angela.
In honour of the fictitious Scarpello clan (and Candace), I bring you some real-life women who made their mark in the male dominated world of organized crime.
Described by Time magazine as the “queen of the gangsters’ molls,” Virginia Hill was trustfully employed and regularly knocking boots with a stunning array of hardened American mobsters during the 1930’s and 1940’s. She worked as a money launderer, cash courier and Mexican heroin trafficker, but is perhaps best known as the main squeeze of Flamingo Casino owner, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who was assassinated in her home in 1947. Testifying as part of the U.S. Senate’s investigation into organized crime in 1951, she claimed to have been in her room at the Flamingo Hotel whenever Siegal conducted his underworld business. “I didn’t ever go out. … I had hay fever. I was allergic to the cactus.”
In 1954, Virginia Hill fled to Europe to avoid the IRS and possible further contact with cacti. She died of an apparent drug overdose in Austria in 1965.
Stephanie St. Clair
The head of an organized crime syndicate in Harlem during the prohibition era, Stephanie St. Clair primarily ran a numbers racket that looked pretty much like the modern-day racket we call the lottery. In 1930, she was worth $300,000, an amount that could purchase over four million dollars of scratch tickets today. As an African American woman at this time in history, it is remarkable that she remained autonomous throughout her reign. Bronx based mob boss, Dutch Schultz went to war with her, but she never relented. When Schultz was murdered in 1935, St. Clair infamously sent a telegram to his bedside that read “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
Stephanie St. Clair eventually sowed legitimate businesses rather than criminal ones. She reaped fairly well, dying quietly as a wealthy woman shortly before her 73rd birthday in 1969.
Depicted by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the biographical crime drama, Cocaine Godmother, Miami-based Griselda Blanco was responsible for the importation of over a billion dollars worth of narcotics and at least two thousand murders during the 1980s through to the early 2000s.. The first ever female organized crime billionaire, she counted among her possessions an emerald and gold MAC-10 machine pistol, Eva Perón's pearls, and a tea set once used by the Queen of England.
Blanco was finally charged with three murders, but the case against her fell apart due to a telephone sex scandal involving the state’s star witness and certain employees of the District Attorney’s office. It was the 1990’s and they hadn’t figured out sexting properly yet.
In 2012, Griselda Blanco was gunned down in a Columbian butcher shop, which given her violent past has a certain degree of poetic irony to it.
C.S. O'Cinneide is the author of Petra’s Ghost and the Candace Starr series. Her short stories have appeared in both anthologies and magazines. She lives in Guelph, Ontario. Learn more here.