After she divorced her first husband, Ruth Wieland sought new companionship, and found it in an Illinois-born Italian-American named Samuel Rizzio, then just 17 years old. Ruth was 24.
Sam came from a large family. His father, Angelo, an Italian immigrant who had been naturalized in 1901, was the proprietor of a small grocery store on the corner of 7th and South Central. Sam’s mother, Frances, was born in Illinois, and spent her days caring for Sam and his younger siblings, Frank, Frances, Josephine, Sebastian, Angelo, Clementina, and Virginia.
The Rizzio family had a troubled history. While they were living in Illinois, Angelo had become entangled in a Chicago chapter of the “Black Hand,” an Italian crime syndicate. In the 1920s, there were many Black Hand groups in the United States, operating primarily in large cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Made up almost exclusively of Italian immigrants, these syndicates would send threatening letters to other Italians, rich and poor alike, demanding money. The consequences for not paying ranged from a severe beating to death, and the extortion letters were often crudely decorated with drawings of weapons, like guns, knives, and, yes, black hands, just to impress the reader that the writer was not joking around.
It is unclear whether Angelo was a member of the Black Hand or a target, but by 1912, he was wanted by Illinois authorities for a triple homicide. Hastily packing up his family and belongings, he fled to California. Because his father was a wanted man, Sammy, his eldest son and Ruth’s new beau, preferred to use his mother’s maiden name, Scarletta, when dealing with strangers. Sammy had a criminal history, also. Though only seventeen years old, he had served nine months in the California State reformatory at Preston for “check irregularities.” Ruth and other cult members would later allege Sam had a bad temper and a propensity for violence.
In fact, the cult claimed that Sammy once struck Ruth. Soon afterwards, Sammy disappeared. The culprits? Supposedly an angel, a vial of poison, and ten dead priests.