The Gardner and The Black Hand: Murder of Dominic Sposeto 1919

Murder Victim

Dominic Sposeto
40-year-old Truck Gardner
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Black Hand Vendetta

Murder Scene and Date

S.E. Seventh & Hartford
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
July 22, 1919


By Nancy Bowers
Written January 2011

location of Des Moines, Iowa

location of Des Moines, Iowa

At 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 22, 1919, 40-year-old Little Italy resident Dominic Sposeto was transporting a wagonload of vegetables from his truck garden into the Des Moines City Market.

At S.E. Seventh and Hartford streets, a young man stepped into the road and ordered Sposeto to put up his hands.

Although Sposeto complied, the assailant fired three times. Two bullets struck Sposeto between the eyes and another tore off the side of his face; he fell from the horse-drawn wagon onto the road.

Sposeto’s son and a friend were following in another wagon and chased the shooter. They, too, were fired at — although not hit — and continued pursuing until the man disappeared near a deserted coal mine.

Police formed a posse and searched the nearby neighborhoods, but at the edge of woods near the road, they lost the murderer’s tracks.

The murderer was described by the younger Sposeto as being about 21, of medium height and weight, and wearing a dark suit.

☛ Black Hand At Work? ☚

Sposeto's first name was spelled variously (Des Moines Daily News)

Sposeto’s first name was spelled variously (Des Moines Daily News)

The shooting may have been related to Dominic Sposeto’s arraignment two months before in Police Court for what newspapers termed “a social charge.” He was free on bond and his trial for that matter was quickly approaching.

Or it may have been more sinister than mere revenge.

Thousands of Italian-Americans like Dominic Sposeto were terrorized by the extortion activities and death threats of the Black Hand in American cities like Des Moines, which had large Italian populations. The Black Hand was responsible for many other Iowa murders, particularly in coal mining communities where many workers were natives of Italy.

The Black Hand symbol

Sposeto’s murder was one of four that authorities linked to Black Hand extortion schemes against Des Moines Little Italy residents:

  • ☛ Francis “Frank” Oliverio was shot and killed August 6, 1917.
  • ☛ Domenico Barretto was murdered March 27, 1921.
  • ☛ Angelo Ferrari — known as “The King of Little Italy” — was shot to death February 26, 1922.

Family and neighbors of the Black Hand victims feared reprisal if they spoke out or sought justice, so the cases were rarely solved.

Click here to read about Angelo Ferrari.
Click here to read about Domenico Barretto.
Click here to read about Francis “Frank” Oliverio.


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.
  • ☛ “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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