Title: Bank robber, suspected gunman
Birthdate: July 2, 1908
Death Date: September 28, 1937
Plot Location: Section 135, Lot 305

Screenshot (2991)

Michael’s parents had seven of their children born in Italy before they came to Philadelphia for a better life. He was the last of three who were born when they were living in the Passyunk Square neighborhood.

Did he have good role models, attend church, do well in school, and graduate? All that is known is the next event in his timeline was when he apparently fathered a child with Mary Elizabeth Devenney but they never married. Joseph Michael Montanaro was born on September 22, 1929 when his father was 21. The census taken six months later lists Michael as single and living with his parents at 1301 South 23rd Street.

The child who bore his name became a Navy veteran and had a 30-year career at the 30th Street Post Office. He was buried with this marker at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. Sadly, his father wrote a different chapter, choosing to acquire wealth illegally. 

On August 17, 1936 mob boss John “Big Nose” Avena and an associate fell victim to a drive-by shooting. Michael was suspected of being hired as the hit man by the Lanzetta brothers, leaders of a rival gang. He may have also taken down one of the Lanzettas on New Year’s Eve, perhaps for personal revenge. He was also under indictment in connection with the holdup of the First National Bank of Chester, and a $5400 robbery at the Newton-Elkin Shoe Company in Philly. 

The story now shifts to the detective assigned to the case who spent six months tracking Michael’s whereabouts. Richard “Pete” McClure of Clearfield, Pennsylvania, had been a tight end on the Notre Dame football team in 1925 and 1926 under coach Knute Rockne. He was a  five-year veteran on the force.

In September of 1937 the detective received a tip to watch the subway entrance at North Broad and Allegheny Avenue. As Michael emerged, McClure was waiting. Shoving aside the female with him, he pushed a gun in the suspect’s back and ordered him to “reach for the air.” As Michael reached instead for his hip pocket, the two struggled until two bullets went into his side. 

He was taken to Temple University Hospital where he lingered for ten days. One newspaper story implied that Michael apparently knew he was being tailed. He reportedly predicted “someone would die” if he and Detective McClure ever met face to face. This headline shows the prophecy came true.

Apparently he made one honest confession during his hospital stay, as this clipping shows. There never was an occupation listed on his last census in 1930. A relative who completed his death certificate tried to find an honorable term and wrote the word “Chauffeur.”

A Coroner’s jury exonerated McClure in the shooting. Police Captain James Ryan was quoted in describing Michael as “one of the biggest of the remaining Philadelphia gangsters.” He was the only one of his family buried at Mount Moriah.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

Support the Friends of Mount Moriah

Help us in our mission to restore and maintain the beautiful Mount Moriah Cemetery by donating to our cause or volunteering at one of our clean-up events.