Rocco Perri

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Rocco Perri
Born 30 December 1887 (1887-12-30)
Platì, Calabria, southern Italy
Disappeared April 23, 1944 (aged 56)
Hamilton, Ontario
Status Believed dead
Died c. April 1944
Residence 166 Bay Street South, Hamilton, Ontario
Other names Canada's King of the Bootleggers
Occupation Mobster
Known for bootlegging
Criminal status uncaught
Spouse(s) Besha Starkman (also known as Bessie Perri) (d. 15 August 1930)

Rocco Perri (born 30 December 1887, date of death unknown; last seen alive 23 April 1944) was an organized crime figure in Ontario, Canada in the early 20th century. He was one of the most prominent Calabrian mafiosi bosses in Canadian history, and the spouse of Besha Starkman (also known as Bessie Perri).

Early life and criminal career[edit]

Perri was born in Platì, Calabria, in southern Italy. Through the 1920s, he became the leading figure in organized crime in Southern Ontario. He was under constant surveillance by police. He specialized in exporting liquor from old Canadian distilleries, such as Seagram's and Gooderham's to the United States, and helped these companies obtain a large share of the American market — a share they kept after Prohibition ended. Perri diversified into gambling, extortion and prostitution. Starkman remained the business brains of the operation, and it is believed she specialized in laundering profits from their enterprises until her murder on 15 August 1930.

Perri and Starkman's Hamilton residence was located at 166 Bay Street South in Hamilton.[1]


When the Government of Canada cut funding to the Welland Canal project, Perri was unemployed. After working in a bakery, he became a salesman for the Superior Macaroni Company. Life in Hamilton during the First World War was difficult. Although the economy was strong from wartime demand for steel and textiles, conditions for labourers were abysmal.[citation needed] Non-British immigrants in particular faced hostility and racism. Perri and Starkman found a better life when the Ontario Temperance Act came into effect on 16 September 1916. It restricted sale and distribution of alcohol. The couple began bootlegging and, using Starkman's business acumen and Perri's connections, established a profitable business.

Three developments ensured Perri's bootleg operations would continue to be profitable. Prohibition was declared in Canada on 23 December 1917; in April 1918, it became illegal to transport alcohol in Canada; in 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited sale of alcohol in the United States. Perri expanded to the Niagara frontier and the Buffalo area. He was the first of the great bootleggers in Canada and was called "Canada's King of the Bootleggers".[2]


Perri was last seen alive in Hamilton on 23 April 1944. His body has never been found. Speculation has it he was murdered, possibly by being fitted with cement shoes and thrown into Hamilton harbour. Royal Canadian Mounted Police concluded in 1954, "We won't find his body until the Bay dries up."[3] Although the most significant mob figure in Canada, he has been overshadowed by his American counterparts. Al Capone said when asked if he knew Rocco Perri, "I don't even know which street Canada is on."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Manson, Bill (2003). Footsteps In Time: Exploring Hamilton's heritage neighbourhoods. North Shore Publishing Inc. ISBN 1-896899-22-6. 
  2. ^ Edwards, Peter (2012). The Encyclopedia of Canadian Organized Crime. Random House. ISBN 9781551996882. 
  3. ^ Colombo, John (1999). Mysteries of Ontario. Dundurn. ISBN 9780888822055. 
  4. ^ Bailey, Thomas Melville (1992). Dictionary of Hamilton Biography (Vol III, 1925–1939). W.L. Griffin Ltd. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "King of the Mob: Rocco Perri and the women who ran his rackets" by James Dubro and Robin Rowland (Toronto)-1987.
  • Rocco Perri Scrapbook (Hamilton Herald Newspaper articles) 12 April 1927, 14, 16, 18 August 1930
  • Hamilton Public Library clippings, Hamilton, Famous and Fascinating, Thomas Melville Bailey and Charles Ambrose Carter.
  • Allen, Everett S. The black ships: Rumrunners of Prohibition. Little, Brown. 1979. ISBN 0-316-03258-1.
  • Carse, Robert. Rum row.
  • Cohen, Daniel. Prohibition: America Makes Alcohol Illegal. Millbrook Press. 1995.
  • Frew, David. Prohibition and Rum Running on Lake Erie (The Lake Erie Quadrangle Shipwreck Series, Book 4) Erie County Historical Society; 1ST edition (2006) ISBN 1-883658-48-9.
  • Gervais, Marty. The Rumrunners: A Prohibition Scrapbook. Biblioasis. 1980, Revised & Expanded 2009. ISBN 978-1-897231-62-3.
  • Hunt, C. W. Whisky and Ice: The Saga of Ben Kerr, Canada's Most Daring Rumrunner. Dundurn Press. 1995. ISBN 1-55002-249-0.
  • Mason, Philip P. Rumrunning and the Roaring Twenties: Prohibition on the Michigan-Ontario Waterway. Wayne State University Press, 1995.
  • Miller, Don. I was a rum runner. Lescarbot Printing Ltd. 1979.
  • Montague, Art. Canada's Rumrunners: Incredible Adventures And Exploits During Canada's Illicit Liquor Trade. Altitude Publishing Canada. 2004. ISBN 1-55153-947-0.
  • Moray, Alastair. The diary of a rum-runner. P. Allan & Co. Ltd. 1929, Reprint in 2006. ISBN 0-9773725-6-1
  • Steinke, Gord. Mobsters & Rumrunners Of Canada: Crossing The Line. Folklore Publishing. 2003. ISBN 978-1-894864-11-4. ISBN 1-894864-11-5.
  • Willoughby, Malcolm F. Rum War at Sea. Fredonia Books. 2001. ISBN 1-58963-105-6.
  • Yandle, Bruce. Bootleggers and Baptists: The Education of a Regulatory Economist. Regulation 7, no. 3. 1983: 12.

External links[edit]