Gangster Gats: James “Mad Bomber” Belcastro, Vampire Hunter?

I recently came upon an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune entitled “Seize 12 in Bomb Factory” (01-AUG-1929). The article recounted the “breaking up” on 31-JUL-1929 of the so-called “Belcastro Gang” in Chicago, Illinois. Its capo James “Mad Bomber” Belcastro was a member of the Gas Fillers and Owners’ Association, one of the many union rackets then in operation. In reality, he was not the boss of an independent criminal gang but a member of Al “Scarface” Capone’s Outfit. He and his men produced and sold homemade bombs. Explosives were used with alarming regularity in the 1920s in Chicago for black mail, disrupting the political process including in the “Pineapple Primary” of 1927, and outright attacks on competitors. Belcastro emerged unscathed of the raids in 1929, was shot and wounded in 1931, but lived on until 1945. He had been arrested more than 150 times but had never been convicted …

Belcastro used a standardised bomb consisting of five dynamite sticks fitted with a blasting cap and a 270-cm waterproof fuse (GURPS High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, pp. 32-33; Investigator Weapons 1: The 1920s and 1930s, pp. 108-109). The latter would burn for about 4.5 minutes, but could be shortened in an instant.

Raiding several houses and flats of gang members on 31-JUL-1929, the police seized not only several of the bombs, but also a variety of firearms, including Colt Government-type semiautomatic pistols (GURPS High-Tech, p. 98; High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, pp. 17-18; Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 37-38), Luger semiautomatic pistols (High-Tech, p. 98; High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 16; Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 45-46), and shotguns. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition were found; and now comes the really interesting part:

Many of the handgun cartridges had hollow-point bullets (High-Tech, pp. 166-167; Investigator Weapons 1, p. 102), called “dumdum” by the press. Some of these were filled with garlic. This was reportedly a common practice among gangsters of Italian extraction at the time (High-Tech, p. 167; High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 29; GURPS Loadouts: Monster Hunters, pp. 11-12; Investigator Weapons 1, p. 88), since it was believed that this would “cause blood poisoning if they didn’t kill.” There is no kernel of truth in this belief ‒ if anything, garlic is an antibiotic, even in your blood. So fine, a typical gun myth. Superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Except … the detectives also found that “several of the bullets had wooden pellets in them.” Presumably the hack who wrote that meant “cartridges” instead of “bullets,” meaning that some of the cartridges, probably shotgun shells, had their lead pellets replaced by wooden pellets (High-Tech, p. 168; High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 23; GURPS High-Tech: Pulp Guns 2, p. 12; Loadouts: Monster Hunters, pp. 11-12). “For what reason the detectives couldn’t say.” Yeah, but we can, right?

Obviously the “Belcastro Gang” was not a gang at all, but a group of investigators arming up to deal with a coven of vampires …



  1. Umbriel · February 8, 2017

    The garlic myth was apparently not uniquely Italian, if perhaps particularly prevalent in that community. Many years ago I toured Fort William Henry in New York state (setting for Last of the Mohicans). We saw a demonstration of musket ball making, where the guide mentioned that occasionally a molding defect would leave a hollow in a ball, which the soldiers would sometimes fill with garlic — specifically believed to cause the lead to break down and poison the target. If this wasn’t a completely manufactured embellishment by a guide with Italian grandparents, apparently that myth had some traction in the 18th century colonies, and perhaps England.


  2. Pingback: GURPS Day Summary Feb 3 – Feb 9, 2017 – Gaming Ballistic

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