“My God, daddy, why did you do it?”
Philip Musica was born in 1877, six years before his family emigrated to America from Italy. His life of crime began in earnest in 1909 when he bribed customs officials to misrepresent the weight of his imports. Some of those he had bribed were racked with remorse and confessed. Musica was sent to Elmira jail in New York in 1909 but President William Taft pardoned him after a few months.
His next venture — the United States Hair Company — began in October 1909 shortly after his release from jail and involved importing human hair from Italy to be made into wigs and hairpieces for ladies. Using false invoices, Musica was able to borrow $600,000 from banks before his calumny was discovered on 17 March 1913.
To avoid arrest the whole family rushed to New Orleans where they boarded a ship bound for Honduras. However, before it left port, the police boarded the vessel on 20 March and arrested Philip, his brothers Arthur and George, and their 72-year-old father, Antonio.
Philip took the blame for the whole family and he was the only one jailed. In April he was sent to the Tombs Prison in New York where he became a warders’ nark and was released in 1918. He joined the New York District Attorney’s Office under the alias William Johnson. He charged William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, with favouring Germany over the Allies in the First World War and later persuaded two Sing Sing convicts to give false testimony against Joseph Cohen when he was tried for the murder of Barnet Baff.
In 1920, before sentence was passed, the deceit was discovered and Musica indicted but before he could be arrested, he fled. His next scam was portraying himself as Frank Costa, the co-owner of the Adelphi Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company, a maker of hair tonic. Despite Prohibition, the company was able to purchase 19,000 litres (5,000 gallons) of alcohol every month to put into their hair tonics.
Musica distilled this into cheap booze that he sold to speakeasies. The Musica family bought a successful drug company and Frank Costa became Frank Donald Coster and began to milk it for every dollar, issuing fake invoices and paying the money received into the family coffers.
New York City, USA
The end came when Julian F. Thompson was hired in 1937 and he discovered that the company was built on nothing. The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading in the company in early December 1938. As an investigation began, Musica shot himself in the head in his Connecticut bathroom on 16 December 1938. He fell into the bathtub to avoid getting blood on a new carpet. His widow wailed, “My God, daddy, why did you do it?” for hours after his death.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
As “Frank Donald Coster”, Musica had an entry in Who’s Who In America listing many phony qualifications including a Ph.D. and M.D. from the University of Heidelberg.