The wave of immigrants from Europe in the early years of the 20th century brought millions of people to America seeking work and better lives. With them came criminals who would prey on their countrymen, extorting their earnings, bombing their shops and causing them to live in fear. The Black Hand arrived in Southwestern Pennsylvania in 1906, beginning a reign of terror lasting nearly two decades. “Pay or Die: A Black Hand Story,” a seven-part serial beginning today, chronicles the rise and fall in Washington County of what may be called the precursor to the Mafia. The serial is based on old newspaper articles and public documents, such as court records, immigration and naturalization forms, death certificates and military papers. James Barber, who has been studying the Black Hand in the Ohio Valley for the past 15 years, generously shared his research with the author. Canonsburg historian Jim Herron also assisted, as did the descendants of some of the characters portrayed in the story. The serial, to be published on consecutive Sundays, is written by A. Parker Burroughs, retired editor of the Observer-Reporter. Readers may recall his serial “Mercy Has A Human Heart,” which was published in this newspaper last winter. Burroughs is the author of “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor” (Pediment, 2009) and “Washington County Murder and Mayhem” (The History Press, 2014).

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