Black Hand at the Bridge: Murder of Francis “Frank” Oliverio 1917

Murder Victim

Francis “Frank” Oliverio
40-year-old Factory Worker
Schuermann Bros. Mills
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Black Hand Vendetta

Murder Scene and Date

SW Fifth Street Bridge, Raccoon River
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
August 6, 1917


By Nancy Bowers
Written January 2011

from The Des Moines News

On the morning of Monday, August 6, 1917, Francis “Frank” Oliverio of 711 SE Second Street in Des Moines, was walking to work with 15-year-old Augustina M. “Tina” Rand, who lived at 710 SE First Street with her Italian immigrant parents John and Mary Rand.

Tina thought Frank seemed reluctant to go to work that day at the Schuermann Bros. Mills where they were employed.

As Frank and Tina crossed over the SW 5th Street Bridge at the Raccoon River, two men — later described by Tina as “a tall slender fellow” and “a short man” — passed by them and tipped their hats.

Frank and Tina took a few more steps and were about to leave the bridge on the other side, when one of the men opened fire from behind.

SW 5th Street Bridge (courtesy

Tina described for the the Des Moines News what happened:

“We had walked about 10 paces when suddenly a shot was fired. Turning around, Frank said, ‘Guess those boys must have some torpedoes.’ Just then another shot was fired and I felt something hot pass by my side. I dropped my lunch basket and started to run. Then I saw Frank fall. Six or seven shots were fired all together, all from a gun held in the hand of the little short fellow.”

A crowd soon gathered at the scene, but the two men had already disappeared, running towards the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad tracks and then under the bridge and west out of sight.

photo by Katie Lou

photo by Katie Lou

Tina Rand’s wound to the wrist was superficial. However, Frank Oliverio — married and the father of a one-year-old child — was more severely injured and died later at Mercy Hospital of a stomach wound.

The Black Hand Involved?

Black Hand symbol

Chief of Detectives James McDonald stated told a press conference at noon that day that no motive was known for the shooting. However, he and reporters knew that no one with any information was talking about the murder — for fear of reprisal.

Detective James McDonald

Oliverio was the first of four Des Moines Little Italy residents whose murders police believed were connected to the Black Hand, a group that extorted money from fellow Italian-Americans by threats of arson and death:

  • ☛ On July 22, 1919, Dominic Sposeto, 40, was shot at SE 7th and Hartford streets while on the way to City Market with his garden produce. To read about Sposeto’s murder, click here.
  • ☛ Twenty-four-year-old Domenico Barretto was shot and killed outside his home in “Little Italy” on March 27, 1921. To read about his murder, click here.
  • ☛ Thirty-six-year-old Angelo Ferrari — the reputed “King of Little Italy” — was shot to death in the garage behind his home on February 26, 1922. To read about Ferrari’s murder, click here.

Thousands of Italian-Americans, including these murdered men and other Iowa victims, were terrorized by the extortion activities and death threats from the Black Hand. Almost none of the cases nationwide were solved because of fear by the families and witnesses.


Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.



  • ☛ “2 Italians Shot From Ambush; 1 Dead,” Waterloo Evening Courier, August 6, 1917.
  • ☛ “Blackhand [sic] Victim at State Capital,” Waterloo Evening Courier, July 22, 1919.
  • ☛ “Fear Vendetta Will Cause Another Death in Des Moines Case,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 29, 1921.
  • ☛ “Italian Gardner Slain: Shot To Death By Young Man,” Des Moines News, July 22, 1919.
  • ☛ “Italian Is Victim of Mysterious Murder,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 2, 1921.
  • ☛ “Italian Killed, Girl Is Injured By Assassins,” Des Moines News, August 6, 1917.
  • ☛ “Murder of ‘King Of Little Italy’ Still Mystery,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, March 1, 1922.
  • ☛ “Two Italians Shot,” Muscatine Journal, August 6, 1917.

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