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Before the 1920s, the United States had little way to combat interstate crime. In some states law enforcement was purely local. Leave a city or county for the next one and you left the law behind. It was a perfect environment in which organized crime could grow — and organized crime existed before the 20th century, even in the United States.
Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought them to Justice, by William Oldfield and Victoria Bruce tells the tale of one of the federal government’s first attack on organized crime.
The Black Hand was a Sicilian crime syndicate that moved to the United States. It was unsophisticated; a protection racket. It blackmailed other Italian immigrants threatening victims with death if they failed to pay the demanded money, failed to do what the gang wanted (generally forwarding blackmail letters, but including joining), or if they reported the threats to the police.