|Born||30 December 1887
Platì, Calabria, southern Italy
|Disappeared||April 23, 1944 (aged 56)
|Died||c. April 1944|
|Residence||166 Bay Street South, Hamilton, Ontario|
|Other names||Canada's King of the Bootleggers|
|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
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.
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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. 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".
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." 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."
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- Yandle, Bruce. Bootleggers and Baptists: The Education of a Regulatory Economist. Regulation 7, no. 3. 1983: 12.