THE AMERICAN MAFIA - Article

NYPD Italian Squad 1908

The Italian Squad in 1908. Joseph Petrosino is standing at left.

Badges in Little Italy

Joseph Petrosino and New York's Italian Squad

Copyright © 2007

[Author's note: "Badges in Little Italy" was first published in the On the Spot journal of crime and law enforcement history, summer 2007.]

After completing an evening meal of fish and pasta at the Caffé Oreto on March 12, 1909, Joseph Petrosino walked into the Piazza Marina, a wooded, public square just to the south of the busy docks of Palermo, Sicily.(1) Petrosino, a New York police lieutenant, leader and founder of the Italian Squad, was in Italy to gather evidence against Italian fugitives living in New York and to assemble a network of informants to report on abuses of the immigration laws.(2) For his safety, the mission was supposed to have been secret – criminals in Italy and Sicily had threatened to take his life. However, details of the trip had been leaked to the New York press and made their way into newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.(3)

Piazza Marina in Palermo. Map by Thomas Hunt.

Piazza Marina

Petrosino ended his walk at the ornate iron fence of the Garibaldi Garden in the center of the piazza. While the 48-year-old lieutenant’s first visit to Sicily was a matter of business, he could not have helped noticing that spring had reached Palermo. Petrosino’s mind, typically alert and focused, might have been momentarily distracted by the smell and feel of the ocean breezes, the sights and sounds of the gardens.

The lieutenant apparently had planned to meet an underworld informant at the garden that evening at nine.(4) Petrosino showed up about 15 minutes early. So did at least two gunmen.

From close range, four shots were fired at Petrosino, who was completely unarmed.(5) One shot missed the mark. But three slugs ripped into his body. He was disabled immediately by a wound to his back, which pierced both of his lungs. Another slug cut into his throat. An apparent coup de grâce shot was delivered to the side of his head.(6) Observed only by forgetful witnesses, the gunmen fled. One dropped a handgun on his way from the piazza.(7)

Petrosino’s assassination was by far the most significant event in the annals of New York’s Italian Squad. It became a historical fulcrum for the squad, serving as the dramatic climax of all that went before and casting a long, dark shadow on all that was to come.

Petrosino was born Giuseppe Michele Pasquale Petrosino on Aug. 30, 1860, to tailor Prospero and Maria Giuseppa Arato Petrosino in the hilly and charming southern Italian village of Padula, in the province of Salerno. He had two full siblings, sister Caterina and brother Vincenzo. Later, after his mother’s death and his father’s marriage to Maria Mugno, he gained three half-siblings, Antonio, Giuseppina and Michele.(8)

It is generally reported that the Petrosino family moved across the Atlantic in 1873.(9) However, immigration records show 55-year-old Prospero Petrosino and his son Giuseppe arriving in New York City on Nov. 8, 1872, aboard the Denmark from Le Havre, France.(10) Perhaps they scouted the city before the rest of the clan came over the following summer aboard a steamer-sailer from Naples.

In New York, Petrosino’s first name quickly became “Joe.” With his father’s naturalization early in 1878, Petrosino, still just barely a minor, also became a citizen.(11)

Joseph Petrosino

Joseph Petrosino

At age 18, Petrosino went to work for the City of New York as a street cleaner.(12) While the work could not have been fulfilling, he did make at least one important contact. That was Alexander “the Clubber” Williams.

Williams was one of the more colorful characters of the NYPD in the late 19th Century. Born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in 1839, he moved to New York as a boy and learned to be a ship carpenter in the employ of W.H. Webb & Company. He later went to sea, visiting ports as far off as Japan. Following the Civil War, he joined the New York Metropolitan Police, earning appointment by Police Commissioner John W. Bergen. Stationed in a then-brutal precinct centered around Broadway and Houston Street, Williams made it a point to pick a fight with the two toughest characters in the area. That fight ended, according to the New York Times, “when he picked up first one and then the other, and hurled them through a plate glass window.”(13) The Times noted, “It is said that it was a dull day that did not find him with at least one row on his hands.”(14)

He moved through several precincts over the next few years, all the while working his way toward his “Clubber” nickname, and was promoted to roundsman (supervisor of patrolmen) on July 10, 1871. A second promotion, to sergeant, followed on Sept. 23 of that year. By the start of the following June, Williams was captain in charge of Twenty-first Precinct on East 35th Street. Williams was bounced from precinct to precinct over the next few years, settling in 1876 at the West 30th Street Station.(15) He would jokingly give that precinct, packed with nightclubs, brothels and other rich sources of police graft, a name it would hold for many years, “the tenderloin.”

Clubber Williams

Clubber Williams

When a reporter asked him how he liked his new post, Williams happily responded, “I like it fine. I have had chuck for a long time, and now I am going to eat tenderloin.”(16)

Williams chewed on the tenderloin for a couple of years before being appointed to the leadership of the city’s street cleaning department. There he happened to meet young Petrosino. What specifically caught Williams’ eye is not known. (One source suggests it was Petrosino’s natural leadership ability.(17) ) It probably wasn’t Petrosino’s appearance. He was a short man, stocky and homely. However, his positive physical and mental attributes were evident enough to a wise observer. Luigi Barzini, author, member of the Italian Parliament and acquaintance of Petrosino, provided this description:

He was a stout, strong man. His clean-shaven face was coarse-featured, and marred by light pocking; at first sight he did not attract. But in that butcher’s face there was the impress of a stubborn will and of courage, something that made one think of a mastiff.(18)

When Williams returned to the “tenderloin” precinct on June 15, 1881, he began making use of Petrosino as an informant and interpreter in cases involving Italians.(19) The young street sweeper had the ability to make sense of Italian language and customs that were incomprehensible to the largely Irish police force of the period. Williams was apparently delighted by Petrosino’s service and urged his superiors to hire Petrosino as a patrolman. Some rule bending was required, as Petrosino fell four inches shy of the five-foot-seven-inch department height requirement.(20)

Early Career

On Oct. 19, 1883, Petrosino put on the uniform of a New York police officer for the first time. He quickly found himself with friends in high places.

“Clubber” Williams won appointment to inspector on Aug. 9, 1887. With that title came command over Manhattan’s East Side precincts from the Battery to 104th Street. That surely must have helped Petrosino overcome the police department’s anti-Italian prejudices (21) and secure a promotion to detective in 1890. Williams’ influence waned in the early 90s as the result of scandal, and his career with the police force ended with his 1895 retirement after the state legislature’s Lexow Committee found evidence of wrongdoing.

Petrosino

Patrolman Petrosino

However, native New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt (later governor of New York and the Twenty-sixth President of the United States) arrived on the scene just in time to become Petrosino’s new champion. Roosevelt, a Republican reformer and reportedly an admirer of Petrosino, served as president of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners from 1895 to 1897. He promoted Petrosino to detective sergeant on July 20, 1895. Until that time, no Italian-American had held a position that high in the department.

As a detective, Petrosino apparently attempted to gain a few inches of height through the use of thick-soled shoes and a tall derby hat. The hat became a sort of trademark, and newsmen labeled him “the detective in the derby.” (22)

Solving crimes involving Italians was a difficult job. Though preyed upon by extortionists, kidnappers and bomb-throwers – criminals referred to at the time as “the Black Hand” – the Italian immigrant community was extremely reluctant to cooperate with the police. Aiding Petrosino in his work was his ability to blend in with the merchants and beggars of Little Italy. He repeatedly went undercover in the city’s seedier sections to acquire information against wrongdoers. His other detecting asset was a toughness that periodically crossed the line into brutality. When information would not come any other way, Petrosino could beat it out of some local lowlife. Barzini observed, “There was more of the wrestler than of the policeman in Petrosino. One sensed that he was better at thrashing the evildoer than at finding him.” (23)

One of the Italian detective’s more celebrated early successes was the Carbone case.

On the evening of Sept. 12, 1897, Angelo Carbone of Manhattan’s Baxter Street was arrested for stabbing Natale Brogno, 30, of 83 Bayard Street.(24) Carbone was apprehended near the corner of Leonard and Center, just a stone’s throw from the Tombs Prison, with a bloody knife in his hand and the injured Brogno lying beneath him. When Brogno died from a gaping belly wound just 30 minutes after reaching the Hudson Street Hospital, one-half mile away,(25) Carbone was charged with first-degree murder.

In criminal court in mid-December, Carbone admitted to fighting with Brogno but insisted he was innocent of murder. The defense was based upon the coroner’s assertion that the knife found in the defendant’s possession was too small to have been the murder weapon and upon the testimony of Carbone’s 12-year-old nephew, who claimed he saw another man run from the scene as Brogno collapsed.(26)

Assistant District Attorney McIntyre argued that Carbone was guilty of taking Brogno’s life whether he acted alone or in concert with some unknown person. Carbone had fought with Brogno and had used a weapon during that fight with the intent to kill his adversary, McIntyre noted.(27)

It was an open-and-shut case. The entire trial, including jury deliberations, consumed just eight hours.(28) The jury unanimously found Carbone guilty. On Dec. 17, Justice Frederick Smyth of the Criminal Branch of the Supreme Court sentenced him to die in Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair in the week of Feb. 7, 1898. At sentencing, Smyth expressed hope that Carbone’s punishment would serve as a warning to other Italians in New York. In response to the judge’s comment, Carbone said through an interpreter, “Your honor, why should I, who am an innocent man, be put to death to deter others from committing crime? I am not a murderer. I did not kill Brogno, and I have been unjustly convicted.”(29)

Carbone’s friends and family appealed the verdict and enlisted the aide of an attorney named Palmiere.(30) Captain “Chesty George” McCloskey, head of New York City’s detective bureau, took an interest in the case and assigned Joe Petrosino to look into it.(31)

Putting together the coroner’s statement with the testimony of Carbone’s 12-year-old nephew, Petrosino concluded that there was both a missing murder weapon and a missing murderer. He was tipped off that the man seen fleeing the fight location was Allessandro Ciaramello, a 51-year-old cousin of Carbone last known to be in Dover, Delaware.(32)

Petrosino hit the road. He followed Ciaramello’s trial for nearly a month through Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, along the way learning that Ciaramello had bragged to friends and relatives in those states about doing away with his enemy Brogno. Petrosino caught up with the fugitive in Baltimore on Jan. 26. When confronted, Ciaramello admitted his guilt, provided Petrosino with the murder weapon and agreed to return to New York.(33)

Sing Sing Prison's electric chair

Electric Chair

Little more than a week before Carbone was scheduled to die in the electric chair, Ciaramello confessed to the murder of Brogno. He revealed that he Brogno had been enemies since he caught his wife with Brogno in Newark, NJ, in July 1897. The two men had a fight on Sept. 4, with Ciaramello coming out on the losing end against the younger, larger Brogno. Eight days later, when he spotted Carbone and Brogno battling on the street corner, he jumped into the fray.

“I rushed at Brogno,” he confessed. “I cared not what I did. I drew a knife and stabbed him twice in the side. Then he cried out and ran away. And now if I have to die, I will die like a man.”(34)

As it turned out, Ciaramello didn’t have to die. In April 1898, he was sentenced to life in prison, (35) while Carbone, removed from Death Row due to Ciaramello’s confession, awaited a new trial. On Nov. 15, Assistant District Attorney John F. McIntyre requested that Carbone be released. State Supreme Court Justice Henry A. Gildersleeve agreed, and the one-time condemned man walked out of Sing Sing Prison.(36)

Petrosino was acclaimed in the press for his diligent detective work. Forgotten by history is the fact that Carbone was emotionally shattered by the time he was released from Sing Sing in mid-November 1898. (37)

Upon request from the United States Secret Service, the Italian detective was sent to infiltrate Italian anarchist groups to determine if they were plotting against President William McKinley. King Umberto of Italy had been assassinated by anarchist Gaetano Bresci in the summer of 1900, and the Secret Service was concerned about the President’s vulnerability.(38) Petrosino returned with a vague warning for the President to be careful. When McKinley was mortally wounded by a gunman at the opening of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, newspapers played up the detective’s earlier warning. They neglected to point out that assassin Leon Czolgosz could not be linked in any meaningful way with the organizations Petrosino investigated. Czolgosz was born to Russian-Polish immigrants and lived in the Midwest.(39)

Benefiting from the positive press, Petrosino moved around the city with what has been described as a “roving commission,” (40) lending a hand with any criminal matters relating to Italians. During this work, it appears he built upon some of “Clubber” Williams’ favorite law enforcement techniques:

The endless frustration of seeing the courts promptly release men whom he had arduously hunted down had made him hard and pitiless. The gangsters who had dealings with him bore marks of the “interrogation” for months; especially when he realized that the evidence in his hands would not be sufficient grounds for an indictment or a deportation, he never boggled at attacking them physically... He also did everything he could to make life difficult for them in New York; he arrested them whenever possible, he harassed their friends and customers, until the criminals finally found themselves completely cut off and so shifted their operations to more tolerant regions.(41)

Almost universally frowned upon today, Petrosino’s methods were more widely accepted around the turn of the Twentieth Century. In that era, a criminal’s confession – coerced or not – was often the only available evidence.(42) The methods had the added benefit of being an effective deterrent to crime. However, some outlaws simply could not be intimidated.

The Barrel Murder

On the rainy morning of Tuesday, April 14, 1903, cleaning woman Frances Conners was on her way to work. At about 5:30, she passed in front of a building at 743 East Eleventh Street near Avenue D. There she noticed what appeared to be a garment protruding from a sugar barrel placed on the sidewalk. When she approached, she discovered that a man’s lifeless body was within. Special Police Officer Joseph McCall, patrolling the opposite side of East Eleventh, heard Mrs. Conners scream and rushed across the street. He examined the barrel and summoned detectives.

When the corpse was removed from its container, it was found to have been doubled up, the knees meeting the shoulders. The throat had been sliced in two strokes from ear to ear, nearly severing the head from the torso. Some burlap had been placed over the neck wound. Eighteen other knife wounds were detected. There were no clues as to the victim’s identity save a small scrap of paper on which Italian words for “Come quickly” had been written.(43)

That was reason enough for Detective Bureau head George McCloskey to assign the “Barrel Murder” case to Petrosino.

William Flynn

William Flynn

Petrosino learned from William Flynn, chief agent of the New York office of the U.S. Secret Service, that a gang, led by Giuseppe Morello and his close associate Ignazio Lupo and suspected of engaging in counterfeiting and Black Hand crimes, had been under constant surveillance. Flynn’s men reported that Morello’s group was joined by an unknown man on the evening of April 13. At the morgue, the agents identified the barrel victim as the stranger they watched meeting with the gang.(44)

It took a couple of days for police to round up the suspected members of Morello’s Black Hand organization. Eight arrests occurred the first day, with four following the next morning. An additional arrest occurred some time later.

The suspects were: restaurateur Morello, 35, of 178 Chrystie Street; wine importer Lupo, 27, of 433 West 40th Street with a business address at 9 Prince Street; Tomasso “il Bove” Petto, also known as Luciano Perrino, and Giuseppe Lalamia, both of 47 Delancey Street; butcher Vito Laduca (also known as DeLuca) and Nicola Testa, both of 16 Stanton Street; Antonio “Messina” Genova of 538 East 15th Street; cafe owner Pietro Inzerillo, of 226 Elizabeth Street; Giuseppe Fanara of 25 Rivington Street; Domenico Pecoraro of 198 Chrystie Street; Lorenzo and Vito Lobaido of 308 Mott Street; Giuseppe Monti (or Moretti) of 418 East 11th Street; and butcher shop owner Giovanni Zarcone of 145 Hudson Avenue in Brooklyn.(45)

Petrosino also had some interest in Vito Cascio Ferro,(46) believed to be an underworld associate of Morello’s recently arrived from Sicily and living with a relative on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Some reports indicate that Cascio Ferro was arrested with the rest of the gang,(47) but his name does not appear in contemporary accounts.

Evidence against the group of suspects was sorely lacking. Of the murder investigation “trinity” – means, motive and opportunity – the statements of spying Secret Service agents hinted at means and opportunity, but still did not place any of the Morello mobsters with the victim at the time of the killing. Without the victim’s identity, Petrosino could only guess at motive.

Hoping that some semblance of a case would quickly present itself, Petrosino had the gang members booked on suspicion of homicide, extending to them 48 hours of the city hospitality in the police headquarters lockup. That gave the detective just a little bit of breathing room and an opportunity to try to cajole a confession or two out of the suspects.(48) By the weekend, when the suspects were re-arraigned at Jefferson Market Court and given another couple of days of free room and board, it was probably clear that third-degree techniques weren’t going to yield answers.

However, Petrosino had better luck in other phases of his investigation. While distinctive markings in the victim’s clothing and shoes could not be linked to any establishments within New York City, the details of the barrel were more helpful. The letters “W.T.” were stenciled on the barrel’s bottom. “G. 228” was stenciled on the side. The barrel also bore an address, 366 Third Avenue, written in lead pencil. Petrosino also studied the barrel’s contents - burlap, sawdust, cigar and cigarette butts and the peel of a red onion. Much of that appeared to be refuse gathered from the floor of a saloon or cafe.

Morello and Lupo

Morello and Lupo

The evidence allowed the detective to link the barrel to the Elizabeth Street cafe that served as the Morello gang’s hangout. He discovered exactly the same burlap and sawdust within the cafe. The markings on the barrel were traced to the Wallace & Thompson company, which confirmed that it supplied sugar to the same establishment.(49)

At Chief Agent Flynn’s urging, Petrosino then took a photograph of the dead man’s face to Sing Sing Prison,(50) where several recently convicted Sicilian counterfeiters believed to be affiliated with Morello’s mob were doing time. The third convict to see the photograph, Giuseppe DePrimo, immediately identified it.

“Yes I know that man, of course I do,” DePrimo said. “He’s my brother-in-law. What’s the matter with him? Sick?”

As Petrosino explained that the man was dead, DePrimo appeared to faint backward on a bench. Later, DePrimo reportedly told Petrosino that the victim was Benedetto Madonia, a stone mason married to DePrimo’s sister. The Madonias had a home at 47 Trenton Avenue in Buffalo. The prisoner said his brother-in-law had gone into New York City to raise funds for a legal effort to move DePrimo from Sing Sing to a prison closer to family in Erie County.(51)

A motive for murder emerged. Authorities decided that Madonia had approached Morello looking for DePrimo’s cut of counterfeiting proceeds. When the gang boss hesitated, Madonia threatened to take information to the police, so sealing his fate.

(Flynn knew – but seems not to have revealed until years later – that the actual story was more complicated. When he previously rounded up the Morello gang for counterfeiting, he attempted to have the members turn on each other by dealing harshly with several of them and then being overtly kind to DePrimo in the presence of the others. The gangsters logically concluded that DePrimo sold them out.(52) By the time Madonia arrived in town, the Black Handers had determined that the only cut DePrimo was entitled to was one across his throat. Unlucky Madonia served as proxy.)

By April 22, prosecutors still didn’t have anything resembling a sound homicide case. On that date, Madonia’s stepson Salvatore (53) appeared in yet another arraignment of the suspects. Salvatore closely examined the faces of all the accused and said he did not recognize any of them. Magistrate Peter Townsend Barlow ordered the prisoners released.

Lupo experienced a brief moment of freedom and was then rearrested by the Secret Service on a charge of counterfeiting.(54) Before the rest of the gang members could be discharged, Coroner Gustave Scholer ordered them held as witnesses for an inquest into the Madonia slaying. Scholer had some trouble assembling a jury for the inquest. He told the press that the gang’s violent reputation was the obstacle, and, while doing so, he used the frightening term “Mafia.”

“I think the men are afraid to serve on the jury owing to the Italian case,” the coroner said. “I think they fear the Mafia Society, and if they find that they have enough evidence to hold them for the grand jury they [the jurors] might sustain some injury from the gang.”(55)

A coroner’s jury on May 8 attributed Madonia’s homicide to a person or persons unknown but called for the detention of Morello, Laduca, Petto, Fanara, Inzerillo, Genova and Zarcone as accessories to the crime. Zarcone had not yet been arrested, and a warrant was issued for him. The prisoners were committed to the Tombs prison without bail.(56) The other suspects were released.

During a grand jury review, the Madonia homicide case became focused on Tomasso Petto alone. Madonia’s stepson identified a watch pawned by Petto on April 14 as having belonged to Madonia. That eventually led to Petto’s indictment on first-degree murder.(57) But, while the grand jury did its work, Petto was freed on bail. After the indictment, police went out to locate Petto and made an arrest. They nabbed the wrong man.

Vito Cascio Ferro

Vito Cascio Ferro

Petto and Vito Cascio Ferro had left the city. Cascio Ferro traveled to New Orleans and later boarded a ship back to Sicily. He was rumored to have taken with him a photograph of Petrosino, swearing to kill him someday.(58) It seems Petto moved out to the Pittston, Pennsylvania, area and took up a Black Hand extortion racket in the Italian mining community there.(59)

At what should have been Petto’s arraignment, it was revealed that the police had mistakenly arrested 29-year-old Giovanni Carlo Costantino (also known as Giovanni Pecoraro – it is not known if he was related to the Domenico Pecoraro arrested earlier), a man whose husky build was very similar to Petto’s. When Costantino proved his identity, he was released, and the barrel murder perpetrator was never brought to trial.(60)

Though the barrel murder case could in no way be considered a victory for law enforcement, it provided Petrosino with two important tools, tremendous publicity and an increased awareness of the interrelationships between various regional Sicilian criminal bands. Petrosino had been skeptical about alleged cooperation between Black Hand extortionists and the Sicilian Mafia.(61) But he was beginning to piece things together.

Building the Squad

In January 1905, following a rash of bombings in Italian neighborhoods, Police Commissioner William McAdoo put Petrosino in charge of a five-man squad of Italian-speaking detectives. The city’s first “Italian Squad” included non-Italian Maurice Bonoil, of French descent but fluent in the Sicilian tongue. Another member’s Irish-sounding name, Hugo Cassidy, was only slightly altered from his given name of Ugo Cassidi. Also on the squad were Peter Dondero, George Silva and John Lagomarsini.(62)

One of the squad’s earliest adventures found Petrosino on the wrong end of an arrest. The detective sergeant rented some rooms at 175 Waverley Place on Manhattan’s West Side in order to keep an eye on a group of suspected Italian criminals. Petrosino went under cover for the case and played the part of an Italian thug a little too well. His Waverley Place apartment was raided by police led by Captain John O’Brien, and Petrosino was hauled off to the station house before he could identify himself.(63)

In October, 1905, Petrosino began putting the city press to use. Without revealing the source of his statistics, he told the New York Times, “There are thousands of Black Hand robbers and assassins in New York and Brooklyn, and they are a rapidly growing menace to public safety. They are the descendants of generations of brigands from Reggio-Calabria and the Palermo province of Sicily... From one to two dozen Italians come into this office every day to show me letters from Black Hand thugs and ask for protection.”

Petrosino charged that Italian officials were granting passports to their nation’s criminals in order to export their problem to the United States. He called on the federal government to collect the undesirable aliens and send them back across the Atlantic.(64) The squad was dealing as best it could with the extortion, bombings, kidnappings and murders in the Italian communities but, Petrosino argued, the small group was overmatched.

Petrosino found an enthusiastic audience in General Theodore Bingham, who became police commissioner in January of 1906 (and who also had a tendency to inflate statistics when it suited him (65) ). When city alderman protested to the new commissioner regarding Petrosino’s brutal methods of interrogation, Bingham defended his leading Italian detective.(66) In November, Bingham expanded Petrosino’s squad into the “Italian Legion” of the NYPD. Under Petrosino’s direct command were 25 men in Manhattan. An associated office was created in Brooklyn, consisting of 10 men under Detective Sergeant Antonio Vachris.(67) It is generally believed that Petrosino was promoted to the position of lieutenant at this time, but it seems likely his apparent elevation occurred months later when Bingham eliminated the detective sergeant rank from the department.(68)

Membership in the new police organization generally was kept secret.(69) It was no secret that Commissioner Bingham was greatly satisfied at having a police branch loyal only to him and reporting only to him. He spent the next few years trying to establish a larger secret service within the NYPD and to find non-political funding for its operation.

With a small army at his disposal, Petrosino promptly moved against two of the leading members of the Italian underworld in America.

Enrico “Erricone” Alfano was generally recognized as the head of the Camorra criminal society in Naples when he and some underworld associates were accused in June 1906 of murdering Gennaro and Maria Cuocolo. The Cuocolos, rivals to Alfano, had been judged by a Camorra council to be traitors. After charges were lodged against Alfano, he fled to Rome, obtained a false passport and sailed for the United States. He disembarked in New York disguised as a member of the ship’s crew.(70)

Enrico Alfano

Enrico Alfano

Petrosino personally made the arrest of Alfano on April 17, 1907, bringing along a police colleague and a journalist from the New York Times. Alfano reportedly put up a bit of a struggle, but that just made for a better news story. After the arrest, Petrosino explained to the newsman that Alfano was chief of a band of brigands and was wanted for murder in Italy.(71)

Alfano was deported on May 9 and later stood trial in the Court of Assizes at Viterbo, Italy, along with 40 other suspected Camorra members. After a trial lasting 17 months, Alfano was convicted on July 8, 1912, of the Cuocolo murders and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Italian Squad commander was a little more subtle in his confrontation with Sicilian Mafia big shot Raffaele Palizzolo the following year.

Palizzolo, an influential member of the Chamber of Deputies from Palermo and a dominant figure in Sicily’s Mafia underworld, was charged in an Italian court late in 1899 with ordering the murder of a political opponent, Emanuele Notarbartolo. A former bank director who had worked to keep Palizzolo’s hands off his establishment, Notarbartolo was found dead of 23 stab wounds in the back of a railway carriage in February of 1893. Palizzolo was convicted in 1902 and sentenced to 30 years behind bars.(72) However, the Mafia chief succeeded in winning a new trial and was acquitted in summer of 1904.(73)

On June 8, 1908, 63-year-old Palizzolo and his companion Gaetano Ferlazzo arrived in New York City aboard the steamship Martha Washington and went to stay with their friend Orlando Domenico at 213 East 105th Street.(74) Palizzolo received a hero’s welcome wherever he went, and he addressed crowds and the press as if he was the spokesman of the Italian people. With reporters, he refused to discuss the Mafia but acknowledged he had a considerable political machine in Palermo.(75)

Petrosino and his men took interest in Palizzolo’s visit. The Italian Squad commander told the press he accepted Palizzolo’s word that he was not the leader of a criminal society. But Petrosino secretly had the newcomer watched. When Palizzolo made contact with local Mafiosi, Petrosino paid him a visit. No newspaper reporter was brought along to document the interaction, as Petrosino convinced Palizzolo that it was time for him to return home. Palizzolo sailed back to Italy on Aug. 2.(76)

Petrosino had neglected his personal life in order to focus attention on his crime-fighting career. That changed abruptly after the Italian Legion was established. The 46-year-old Petrosino married Adelina Vinti, 37, on April 7, 1907, in old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street. On Nov. 20 of the following year, the couple had a baby girl and named her Adelina Bianca Giuseppina.(77)

Into the Lion's Den

In February of 1909 the Times announced, “Police Commissioner Bingham has a secret service of his own at last.” The newspaper report explained that Bingham had acquired private funding for the police organization and speculated that wealthy Italian businessmen or prominent industrialists, like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, might be footing the bill. “I have money and plenty of it,” the commissioner boasted, “and it didn’t come from the city.”

Lieutenant Petrosino was placed in charge of the new service. The newspaper noted that Petrosino had been missing from police headquarters for some weeks:

...It was given out that his health had failed and that he was taking a vacation. But the lieutenant is not on a vacation. In fact he is doing some of the most important work which has ever been assigned him... Where he is just now is another secret... He may be on his way to Europe... The report that he was on his vacation was exploded a few days ago when he appeared at 300 Mulberry Street. He had a long conference with Deputy Commissioner Woods and his chief. Then he disappeared again.

When the Times reporter asked Bingham about Petrosino’s location, the commissioner answered, “Why, he may be on the ocean, bound for Europe, for all I know.”(78)

The story went on to describe the NYPD’s interest in a clandestine cooperative effort with Italian authorities to stop the flow of criminals across the Atlantic and to return fugitives from Italian justice. Similar stories appeared in other papers in New York and around the world.

The steamship Duce di Genova, on which Petrosino traveled under the assumed name of Simone Velletri, was at the moment nearing the Italian coast. It docked at Genoa on Feb. 21. By then, anyone who might have been interested was aware that Petrosino was on a “secret” mission to Italy.(79)

Petrosino met with government officials in mainland Italy and then moved on to Sicily on Feb. 28. There he reached out to members of the underworld, offering bits of Bingham’s nest egg in exchange for information.(80) While he signed in at Palermo’s Hotel de France under the assumed name of Guglielmo DeSimone,(81) he made no secret of his identity when speaking with local police leaders. Word of his presence in the Mafia’s capital city apparently leaked.

On the evening of March 11, Petrosino wrote into his notebook an entry with a familiar ring to it: “Vito Cascio Ferro, born in Sambuca Zabut, resident of Bisacquino, Province of Palermo, dreaded criminal.”(82) Since the note made no mention of their earlier acquaintance, it is not clear whether Petrosino recalled Cascio Ferro from the Barrel Murder case. Cascio Ferro seems to have remembered Petrosino.

On the following evening, the 48-year-old dean of New York’s Italian detectives was shot to death at the iron fence of the Garibaldi Garden in Palermo’s Piazza Marina. A heavy Belgian revolver with a single empty chamber was found by his body. Investigators determined that the weapon belonged to one of the assassins. Petrosino’s Smith & Wesson handgun was discovered back in his hotel room.(83) In the lieutenant’s coat pockets were found postcards addressed to his wife, a gold watch and chain, some banknotes and a checkbook, and a metal badge bearing the number “285.”(84)

Though there must have been eyewitnesses at a streetcar station nearby and in the various buildings overlooking the Piazza, police found no one who could identify the shooters. A waiter at the Caffé Oreto named Geraci recalled that two men approached Petrosino while he was eating, and he waved them away.(85)

The detective in the derby

The detective in the derby

Italian authorities were immediately suspicious of Cascio Ferro,(86) who had become one of the most revered and feared Mafiosi in Sicily, and two Sicilian hoodlums recently returned from American, Antonio Passananti and Carlo Costantino. (This was the same Costantino who was arrested in Tomasso Petto’s place in the Barrel Murder case.) Police learned that the three men had visited together just days before Petrosino’s assassination and that Costantino had exchanged cryptic telegrams with Giuseppe Morello, back in New York, during the same period. Costantino was arrested on March 13 at his home in Partinico, a village southwest of Palermo. Passananti and Cascio Ferro remained at large. A dozen other suspects were brought in for questioning.(87)

Cascio Ferro was caught on April 3.(88) Police concluded that Passananti had evaded them by traveling back to the United States under the alias of Lo Baido.(89)

By early April, Palermo Police Commissioner Baldassare Ceola was satisfied that Cascio Ferro, possibly with assistance from Black Handers in the U.S., devised the plan for Petrosino’s assassination and carried it out along with Costantino and Passananti. Ceola communicated his findings to Palermo’s Criminal Court.(90) Rather than resulting in the prosecution of the alleged Petrosino assassins, Ceola’s report appears to have triggered his own dismissal. In mid-July, the Italian government ordered him into retirement. Subsequently, all the suspects gained their freedom through bail or probation. The case against Cascio Ferro and Costantino fell apart over time, and charges were quietly dropped in 1911.(91)

The Petrosino assassination remains officially unsolved.

According to legend, Cascio Ferro later bragged about killing the police lieutenant. He claimed it was the only time he killed someone by his own hand. The Mafia leader was reportedly dining with a member of the Chamber of Deputies on the night of March 12. He excused himself from the meal, borrowed a carriage from his host, and arrived at the Piazza Marina in time to deliver the coup de grâce shot to the side of Petrosino’s head. He then returned to finish eating and to nail down his alibi.(92)

New York Mourns

“Petrosino was a great man, a good man,” former President Theodore Roosevelt told the press upon learning of the assassination. “I knew him for years, and he did not know the name of fear. He was a man worth while. I regret most sincerely the death of such a man as Joe Petrosino.”

With its flags all at half-mast, the Cunard Line steamship Slavonia entered New York harbor on Friday, April 9, carrying Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino’s remains. The coffin was lowered from the steamer to a police boat. It was placed on the forward deck and draped with the Stars and Stripes. At Pier A, a select squad of police officers loaded the coffin into a waiting hearse. Led by two companies of mounted police, it was then driven to the Republican League club rooms at 233 Lafayette Street. Petrosino’s widow Adelina, who resided in apartments over the club rooms, cried deeply as she met the hearse.

Petrosino gravesite

Petrosino gravesite

Petrosino’s body had to be moved to a new coffin. The old one of Italian walnut had been fractured in transit by the outward pressure of its own zinc lining. The coffin was then positioned under a large, silver candelabra in a spacious clubroom, which had been draped with purple velvet and filled with floral wreaths. A police honor guard stood at the head and foot of the coffin.

Only Petrosino family members and their close friends were permitted into the room on the first day. The public was admitted on Saturday and Sunday, and tens of thousands filed past the bier.

An estimated 200,000 New Yorkers lined the route of funeral cortege on Monday. A hearse draped in white and pulled by six horses carried the flag- and flower-covered coffin slowly through the city streets. Adelina and other relatives rode in three carriages. Two companies of mounted officers met the hearse at old St. Patrick’s Cathedral as the police band played “Nearer, My God, To Thee.”

After a Mass of Christian Burial, the mounted companies led the way uptown. They were followed by police and fire officials, a regiment of 1,000 foot police, five open carriages of flowers and the hearse. Next were Petrosino’s pall bearers, relatives and police administrators. Local Italian societies and marching bands brought up the rear. Much of the procession halted into saluting formations along Second Avenue, as the horsemen, the hearse and the mourners turned onto the 59th Street Bridge and passed into Queens.

At Calvary Cemetery, the mounted companies formed up at the graveside and presented arms while “Taps” was played. The only New York police officer to be killed in the exercise of his duty overseas was lowered into his grave, as his widow wailed in grief.(93)

Antonio Vachris

Antonio Vachris

Antonio Vachris

Petrosino’s heir-apparent among Italian detectives was Antonio F. Vachris, the supervisor of the Italian Legion’s Brooklyn division.

Vachris was born about 1867 in France to Italian parents. Before his third birthday, the family moved to the United States, settling in Brooklyn. He married at age 18. His wife was a slightly older woman named Raffela. The couple, living for years at 636 39th Street in Brooklyn, had a son, Charles, in 1886.(94) Vachris was naturalized an American citizen in 1888.(95)

The New York press first noticed Vachris when he was a 29-year-old detective (his official rank appears to have been “roundsman”) of the Brooklyn police trying to enforce a public decency law, Section 675 of the Penal Code.

In July, 1896, Vachris happened across a couple of “adult” entertainments on Coney Island. He arrested Adjie Costello of the Streets of Cairo show and Dora Denton of Bostock’s Algerian Theater on Surf Avenue. Both were charged with performing a vulgar display known as the “coochee-coochee” dance.(96)

The dance, also known as the danse du ventre (belly dance) and the hootchy-kootchy, became a sensation after it was performed for crowds at Middle Eastern-themed exhibits of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It made its first Coney Island appearance in the Streets of Cairo two years later.(97)

(It swept into Manhattan more quickly. In December 1893, “Clubber” Williams made headlines by halting performances of the dance in the Cairo Streets show of the Grand Central Palace, located near the railroad terminal at Lexington Avenue and 43rd Street. Having heard about the display, Williams took a front row seat to see for himself. He and a packed house looked on through three of four dancers. But when the final dancer, one named Ferida, began her routine, Williams stepped up onto the stage and ordered, “Stop that!” (98) )

Vachris could not have been prepared for the public spectacle that was to result from the arrest of the two dancers. Following his action, another officer went out to Coney Island and arrested dancers Fatima Slema, May Asher and Lou Mattin, who he found dancing suggestively at Tilyou’s Walk (West Sixteenth Street). The whole bunch appeared before Judge John Lott Nostrand in the Coney Island Police Court on the morning of July 21, 1896. The charge against Slema, Asher and Mattin was quickly dismissed, since the arresting officer’s statement to the court did not agree with the written complaint. However, attorney John U. Shorter, representing both Costello and Denton, demanded trials by jury “to give the jurors a chance to see the dance which is complained about.”(99)

Coochee coochee

Performance of the coochee coochee captured on film

After a number of postponements, Costello’s case came to trial on Aug. 7. Vachris was the first witness, and he was asked to describe Costello’s immoral movements in detail. After the detective tried in vain to put words to dance, Judge Nostrand asked, “Can you do it?”

“Oh yes,” Vachris replied.

“Well then, you had better show it to the jury,” the judge instructed.

Vachris stepped down from the witness chair, walked to the front of the jury box and delivered his rendition of the coochee-coochee.(100) The New York Times, which poked a great deal of fun at the detective the following day, described his performance:

...Daintily clutching the skirts of his uniform coat, he began the first lazy movements of the dance. Backward he bent and forward. Now he stood on one foot, and now a mighty policeman’s boot went toward the ceiling. Now he swayed to the right, now to the left, and in a trice he was almost on the floor, wriggling and twisting until he was red in the face.

When he finished, the courtroom erupted in applause. Though the jurors seemed to genuinely appreciate the detective’s show in the steamy, hot courtroom, they found Adjie Costello not guilty. The Times decided to spend some paper and ink speculating on the future Vachris might have as a professional coochee-coochee performer.(101)

While dealing with the same anti-Italian prejudice as Petrosino, Vachris faced a political hurdle as well. The police department in the last years of the 19th Century was largely under the control of Republican administrators, and Vachris was a Democrat. In 1900, he secured a promotion from roundsman to sergeant “with a jimmy and a dark lantern,” in the terminology of the day. He brought Police Commissioner “Colonel” John N. Partridge to court. Vachris argued that he had been doing detective sergeant work for years and deserved the appropriate title and pay. The court found in his favor.(102)

Brooklyn's 'Little Italy'

Like Petrosino, Vachris, who spoke and understood several dialects of Italian and Sicilian, was put to work on cases involving Italian immigrants.

Shortly after winning his promotion to detective sergeant, Vachris was assigned to the Catania murder case – one that resembled the later Barrel Murder so closely that the two incidents merged in the minds of some journalists.(103) On July 23, 1902, some boys taking a late afternoon swim at a cove off Bay Ridge found a dead man within a potato sack on the rocky shore. His throat had been cut and his body folded in half and tied with twine before he was placed in the sack.(104)

Bay Ridge in 1914

Tree-lined streets of Bay Ridge

After some investigation, Vachris and several other Brooklyn detectives identified the victim as Joseph Catania, a 40-year-old immigrant grocer, of 167 Colombia Street. Catania had been missing since the 22nd. Vachris managed to trace Catania’s movements on that day to a business meeting with an importer in Manhattan named Ignazio Lupo. The investigation became sidetracked when it was learned that Catania had recently engaged in an altercation with a Brooklyn customer who owed him money (105) and that the grocer had betrayed two gangsters in Palermo, Sicily, before coming to America. The police eventually decided that Sicilian assassins had crossed the Atlantic for an act of vendetta and disappeared immediately after the deed was done.(106)

(William Flynn of the Secret Service followed the case closely. He was convinced that Catania was part of the Morello-Lupo counterfeiting operation and was murdered because he talked too much. When Lupo was arrested in the Barrel Murder case the following year, Flynn urged that he be charged with the Catania killing as well. (107) )

As plans for Petrosino’s Italian Squad were being worked up, Vachris earned notice for his untiring pursuit of Vito Laduca.

The butcher arrested in the Barrel Murder case was wanted in connection with the kidnapping of young Antonio Mannino. A ransom of $50,000 was demanded in exchange for the boy’s safe return. In mid-August 1904, police arrested several people believed to have taken part in the kidnapping, and evidence pointed to Laduca as the ringleader.(108) Antonio Mannino turned up unharmed a few blocks from his Brooklyn home on the morning of Aug. 19, leaving police to wonder whether the kidnappers had buckled under their pressure or Antonio’s parents had made a secret deal.(109) The pursuit for Laduca was momentarily suspended.

More than a year later, six-year-old Antonio Mareamiena was kidnapped. The Mareamiena and Mannino families were distantly related, and Vachris noted another common element in the two kidnappings. During the Mannino case, the detective several times followed a suspect named Salvatore Picona. The same Picona repeatedly visited the Mareamiena home after the kidnapping and offered to broker the safe return of the boy. Vachris had him arrested on Sept. 30, 1905.(110)

Certain that Laduca was behind the crimes, Vachris managed to track him to Baltimore, where he executed an arrest warrant charging the kidnappings of Mannino and Mareamiena.(111) Laduca was returned to New York just as young Mareamiena was quietly returned to his family. Vachris’ tenacity earned him nothing. The families of the kidnapped boys would provide no evidence against the alleged ringleader Laduca.(112)

Heir Apparent

Upon receiving the news of Petrosino’s assassination, Vachris seemed to have no doubt of who was responsible. He immediately summoned Detective Michael Fiaschetti and two other members of Petrosino’s command and rushed out to a Brooklyn saloon run by Erasmo Rubino. There they placed Rubino and his bartender Giuseppe Arturi under arrest for violating the Sunday excise law. The detectives then headed to 195 Johnson Avenue, finding four men were running from the house into its backyard. Vachris grabbed one of the men, Tassano Castranovi, 34, as he tried to scale a fence and pummeled the man into submission. The other three men – Armando Pietro, Vito Adragna and Vito Vela – perhaps sensing that the police would not be tolerant of any nonsense, quickly surrendered.

Vachris accused the four men of “having knowledge of the recent assassination of a detective of worldwide repute.”(113) On the books, they were charged with being undesirable aliens and suspicious characters.(114) Little of any consequence seems to have resulted from the arrests.

The day after it announced Petrosino’s murder, the New York Times speculated that Vachris would take Petrosino’s place at the head of the Italian Legion (115) but made no mention of the secret service organization Commissioner Bingham had been developing. In fact, Bingham’s plan had been scrapped, and the commissioner was in some pretty hot water.

As Petrosino’s heir apparent, Vachris was granted permission in April to venture to Italy, along with Detectives John R. Crowley and A.B. Simon, to investigate the assassination and to gather up Petrosino’s records.(116)

Theodore Bingham

Theodore Bingham

While Vachris was overseas, both Bingham and his grandiose plans were discarded. Bingham had offended the city’s Tammany Hall Democrat-controlled Board of Alderman through his attempts to create a privately funded law enforcement unit loyal only to him and through his backing of brutal police methods. The board brought him up on charges on July 17, accusing him specifically of releasing secret information that led to the assassination of Petrosino and of abusing his authority.(117) Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. attempted to mediate the dispute but found Bingham intractable and shoved him aside in favor of first Deputy Commissioner William F. Baker.(118)

Baker abbreviated Vachris’s mission and completely ignored the Petrosino-gathered criminal records and notes that Vachris brought back to New York with him.(119) Within those papers were 742 Italian certificates of criminal activity by deportable aliens in the United States. It took four years and two more commissioner changes for the certificates to resurface. By then, the three-year statutory limit on their use had expired.(120)

As the police department fell under the influence of pro-immigrant Tammany politicians, the Italian Legion deteriorated, its detectives gradually pulled away and assigned to various precincts with Italian and Sicilian populations.(121)

Vachris, sporting a new Vandyke beard he grew as a disguise while in Italy,(122) remained an active investigator and went back on the trail of kidnapping rings with help from William Flynn. Flynn had taken leave from the Secret Service in order to assume temporarily the position of second deputy police commissioner.(123) Despite some successes, Vachris never gained the prestige of the martyred Petrosino, and Flynn’s efforts to reform the detective bureau were largely ignored. In 1911, as Rhinelander Waldo took over as police commissioner, the remnants of the Italian Legion were scattered, and Vachris was assigned to a Bronx precinct far from his old haunts.(124)

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Vachris lost his first wife, Raffela, on Sept. 21, 1915.(125) He seems to have remarried twice, once about 1917 and the other time about 1921.(126) He retired from the city police force in 1919 and opened a private detective agency.(127) He was hired to serve as a presidential bodyguard for Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration in early January of that year.(128)

After a few years, he left his longtime Brooklyn residence and moved across the East, Hudson and Hackensack Rivers to make a new home in the small borough of River Edge, New Jersey. When he arrived, the community had no police force. Vachris immediately set to work building one. In April 1924, he took an unpaid position with the borough government as police commissioner. When River Edge formally established its police department on Oct. 6, 1930, Vachris served as the first police chief,(129) a position he held until his final retirement from law enforcement in 1933.(130)

Vachris died at Hackensack Hospital on Jan. 6, 1944, exactly 25 years after Roosevelt’s inauguration. He was 76 years old. His wife, four children, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren survived him.(131) The family name remained a prominent one in Brooklyn for years, as his son Charles established a large construction firm, which did work on municipal projects.

Michael Fiaschetti

Large and powerfully built, Michael Fiaschetti once described himself as “husky enough to make a reputation as a piano mover.” Writer Prosper Buranelli described him in a 1928 work:

A man, tall and of massive frame and muscular brawn. He had a dark, frowning face, with features large and bold, yet cut with an Italian correctness and grace of line; eyes of constantly narrowed attention and a dusky grey; a well-creased soft hat that seemed never removed from his head; and a cigar as big as a section of broom handle projecting from the corner of a defiant mouth; not at any sporty upward angle, but stuck straight out as if in violent aggression... (133)

Though his physique seemed designed for manual labor, his mind and his ego were built for other things. The son of an immigrant Italian band leader, Fiaschetti was raised in a musical home in North Adams, Massachusetts. As a child, he saw music as his destiny. But, as a 14-year-old in 1900, he was intrigued by a placard promising a $500 reward for information on an Italian fugitive. Asking around, Fiaschetti learned that the man was hiding in “Reesborough,”(134) Vermont. He provided his information to authorities, collected his reward and, from that moment forward, was on track for a career as a detective.(135)

Michael Fiaschetti

Michael Fiaschetti

At age 16, he moved to New York. Two years later, he began functioning as an informant for Joseph Petrosino and the Italian Squad, though he did not formally join the police force for some time. He and Petrosino eventually became close friends. In rapid succession, Fiaschetti became a husband, a father and a widower. After the loss of his young wife in 1907, he sank into depression. Petrosino convinced him to dedicate himself to police work as a means of recovering from his loss.(136)

With Petrosino his mentor, Fiaschetti encountered no ethnic barriers to advancement in the police department. Just six weeks after being assigned to patrol a beat in Williamsburg, Fiaschetti was promoted to detective on the Italian Legion.(137)

During his brief time under Petrosino’s tutelage, Fiaschetti learned well the time-tested but out-of-fashion techniques of Clubber Williams. He brought those together with his own tendency for mental game-playing, and produced an effective two-pronged approach to detective work.

“You’ve got to use psychology in this detective business,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Psychology will catch more crooks than a mile of rubber hose. Rubber hose, you know, has at times raised welts and unlocked jaws.”(138)

Italian Squad Reborn

Before Fiaschetti could make a name for himself on the Italian crime-fighting unit, Petrosino was gone and the legion was disbanded. In 1912, the 26-year-old detective was put in charge of a special force of six detectives dealing exclusively with Italian crime. When a rash of Black Hand bombings occurred in 1915, police administrators began to rethink their decision to do away with Petrosino’s old force.(139)

Enrico Caruso

Enrico Caruso

Three years later, the police department established a new Italian Squad, with Fiaschetti in command of a force of 150 men. While Fiaschetti was a detective sergeant in official rank (the detective sergeant designation in the department reappeared after Bingham), his responsibilities made him an acting captain. In his new post, he made effective use of a network of informants to trap criminals attempting to extort money from opera singer Enrico Caruso and to arrest the Biondo gang, wanted for the murder of a police officer in Akron, Ohio. For the Biondo case, he was awarded gold medals from both the State of Ohio and the City of Akron.(140)

In 1920, Fiaschetti traveled to Italy, a trip that had become a pilgrimage for leaders of Italian detectives in New York. His official purpose was to track a murder suspect, a Neapolitan immigrant named James Papaccio (141) who was believed responsible for the March 7 slaying of John Pepi. But Fiaschetti later admitted that he went in the hope of solving the Petrosino assassination.(142)

Following Vachris’s example, he grew some facial hair as a disguise. He sailed to France aboard the Rochambeau, and then went by train into Rome, the city of his birth. Posing as a successful thief looking to leave Italy to escape the law, Fiaschetti gradually ingratiated himself to a Camorra associate in Rome known as Don Gennaro.(143) Through Don Gennaro’s friendship, Fiaschetti managed to secure a welcome to the Naples headquarters of Don Franco and the home of Franco’s brother-in-law Don Antonio. Don Franco’s business was smuggling Italian criminals to the United States.(144)

Fiaschetti reportedly was able to use his Camorra contacts to locate Papaccio. Italian police put the accused murderer under arrest. In addition, he led the police to a number of other men wanted for crimes in the United States, including Raffaello Granito, Tony Aniello and Matteo Valente.(145)

The detective also managed to overhear rumors about the Petrosino assassination. One of the gunmen was said to be a Mafia-affiliated schiffizano – a seller of the blood of slaughtered animals. That man had traveled quickly to the United States after the deed was done.(146) Fiaschetti was unable to link that information to any known person.

Don Franco’s organization became aware that an American detective was in southern Italy attempting to infiltrate the Camorra. As the gang decided to acquire a physical description of that detective, Fiaschetti decided it was time to head back across the Atlantic.

“I had a good eye for the line where courage left off and foolhardiness began,” Fiaschetti explained in his autobiography, “and going near that gang after they had my description was entirely on the foolhardy side of the line. I always did regret that I had only one life to give for my country. If I had two, I would gladly give one.”(147)

The darker side of Fiaschetti emerged at the resolution of the Verotta kidnapping case. Black Handers abducted five-year-old Salvatore Verotta from his home in late May 1921, demanding $2,500 in ransom for his return. The Verotta family did not have anything close to such a sum and turned to the Italian Squad for assistance.(148)

Fiaschetti took a personal interest in tracking down the kidnappers. A policewoman, posing as a Verotta cousin, was placed inside the home to watch for suspicious characters.(149) After two weeks, police pounced on five men as they personally bargained for a lesser ransom from Salvatore’s father Giuseppe.(150)

“There wasn’t any trouble,” Fiaschetti recalled, “everything nice and peaceable, guns poked in ribs, and a whack or two on the head with batons, and we had our five prisoners...” Fiaschetti chose to let loose a sixth suspect – a clean-cut boy, who accompanied those demanding ransom.(151)

Giuseppe Verotta subsequently received an anonymous letter, warning him that his son would be found dead in a river if Giuseppe testified before the grand jury against any of the five suspects.

Eight days after the arrests, on June 11, the body of a dead boy was found on a Hudson River sand bar near the town of Piermont, NY. Authorities believed the boy had been strangled to death and dropped into the water at least two weeks earlier.(152) Fiaschetti felt enormous frustration. “He was dead,” the detective wrote. “Those dogs had killed him while they were still angling for the money.”(153)

The partly decomposed remains were placed in a temporary grave in Nyack’s Oak Hill Cemetery. As Fiaschetti learned of the discovery, he rushed to Nyack and returned with clothing taken from the body. Giuseppe Verotta identified the clothing as that worn by Salvatore on the day he disappeared. Arrangements were made for an exhumation of the remains so Giuseppe could positively identify his son.(154)

Fiaschetti learned from an informant that the clean-cut boy he let go was the one who, with his own hands, took Salvatore’s life. The detective’s rage took over.

"I could do little to comfort the family. I’m not very good at comforting, anyway. I went down to the Tombs and got myself a broken baseball bat and walked in on those dogs. Maybe it does sound like a brutal policeman, but I’m human just the same as you are. Yes, they told me everything they knew. I wasn’t taking any chances of their beating the case. And in addition, they squealed on two other members of the kidnapping gang who were not among those present at the round-up. We went out and got them. They all were convicted and sentenced to the chair, but later on the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment."(155)

End of the Italian Squad

Bartolomeo Fontana

Bartolomeo Fontana

Detective Sergeant Fiaschetti reached the high-water mark of his police career with the “Good Killers” case of July and August 1921. In that case, he solved the murder of Camillo Caiozzo while momentarily exposing a vast criminal network of immigrants from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily.(156) The Caiozzo killing was linked to a gang feud between the Bonventre-Magaddino clan, known as the Good Killers, and the Buccellato clan that claimed dozens of lives in New York, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan.

Fiaschetti secured a great deal of positive press as a result of the case (he overreached a bit when he announced that the case might resolve the Petrosino assassination (157) ), but his efforts produced just one conviction – that of Caiozzo’s confessed murderer, Bartolomeo Fontana.(158) That was not enough to keep Italian Squad’s opponents at bay.

The detective’s staggeringly rapid professional decline and the ultimate destruction of the Italian Squad can be attributed to a number of factors. The Italian Squad had fallen out of favor at City Hall. Tammany Democrat politicians, who had grown dominant in New York and who looked to immigrant populations – and often to immigrant underworld leaders who possessed ways of motivating those populations – for support at the polls, needed to curb police actions against their constituents. Many in law enforcement had also grown disenchanted with the practice of beating confessions out of suspects, a technique that Fiaschetti never hesitated to use. There also was an emerging sense that the Italian Squad concept was based on an ethnic prejudice against Italian immigrants. By its existence, it seemed to imply that ethnic Italians were more prone to crime than other groups. After all, the police department had no Chinese Squad or Jewish Squad.

Fiaschetti’s violent tendencies and arrogance provided the pretext for decisive action. During the questioning of a woman believed to be conspiring with a Black Hand extortionist against her husband, the detective got into a disagreement with the woman’s attorney, who also happened to be an influential city politician.

"His story is that I was getting nasty with the woman. My story is that he was trying to use his political power. Anyway, there was an argument, and I told him if he didn’t shut up I would kick him out of the door. “You kick me – you wouldn’t dare!” And he burst out laughing in a nasty way. So I kicked him out of the door."(159)

To be tough with criminals was one thing; to manhandle a local politician was quite another. Fiaschetti’s wisdom had succumbed to hubris. That lapse was all it took to bring down Italian Squad. The politician brought a formal complaint to the police commissioner’s office. Detective Sergeant Fiaschetti was busted down to patrolman in August 1922. The squad was eliminated, its remaining members added into the NYPD’s Bomb Squad.(160)

Fiorello LaGuardia

Fiorello LaGuardia

Rather than put on a uniform and walk a beat – something he had only done for a few months of his police career – Fiaschetti was able to finagle a position in the district attorney’s Homicide Bureau. He remained there less than two years before formally retiring from the police force.(161) Fiaschetti went on to marry his second wife Jean Melillo and to found Fiaschetti’s International Detective Bureau, with offices at 401 Broadway.(162) The private agency was moderately successful, but Fiaschetti did not hesitate when offered the post of Deputy Commissioner of Markets for New York City’s LaGuardia Administration in the 1930s.(163)

Fiaschetti already had become a bit of a dinosaur by that point. The federal Wickersham Commission had condemned law enforcement’s “third degree” techniques in a report to President Herbert Hoover in August, 1931. The 347-page report dealt at length with habitual abuses of suspects’ rights by the New York Police Department. The report specifically mentioned Fiaschetti and quoted the passage of his book regarding the broken baseball bat.(164)

Fiaschetti’s only child, Anna, died Nov. 15, 1936, after along illness. She was just 25 years old and had never married.(165) Fiaschetti was dismissed from his city job in 1938 and returned to his detective agency. He also went across the country, delivering lectures. He lived another 24 years, passing away on July 29, 1960, at the age of 74.(166)

Conclusion

Bloated statistics are often cited as evidence of the Italian Squad’s success against crime. Fiaschetti alone is credited with more than 1,000 arrests and 12 criminals (an average of nearly one per year during his police career) sent to the electric chair.(167) Petrosino’s arrest total was said to “run into the thousands.”(168) His squad is credited with having helped deport 500 criminals.(169)

However, those numbers tell only the negative side of the story. The significance of the squad to the immigrant population it served and to the history of the New York Police Department cannot be reduced to statistics.

Southern Italian immigrants, conditioned toward mistrust by centuries of governmental neglect and abuse in their mother country, were especially in need of New World law enforcement role models. The brilliant minds and practiced fists of Petrosino, Vachris, Fiaschetti and the many detectives who served under them illustrated that cunning and toughness had a place within American society and would be rewarded.

To many law-abiding immigrants, the Italian Squad was not an ethnic slur, as Tammany and others charged, but a cause for ethnic pride, and a reason to feel a greater sense of belonging in an adopted country. The traditional romantic lure of the outlaw existence surely paled in comparison with the adventures of those Italians who dedicated their lives to keeping others safe. There can be no statistics to show how many Italian-Americans were positively influenced by their heroism.


Notes

(1) Petacco, Arrigo, translated by Charles Lam Markmann. Joe Petrosino, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974, p. 147.

(2) Ibid, p. 110, 118.

(3) The New York Herald of Feb. 20, 1909, is generally believed to have released the news of Petrosino’s visit to Italy a day before his ship docked in Genoa. However several mentions of Petrosino sailing for Italy also occur in “New secret service to fight black hand,” New York Times, Feb. 20, 1909, p. 2.

(4) Pitkin, Thomas Monroe and Francesco Cordasco, The Black Hand: A Chapter in Ethnic Crime. Totowa NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1977, p. 112.

(5) Early news reports, including “Spies follow the detective,” Cumberland (MD) Evening News, Sat. March 13, 1909, p. 1., indicated that Petrosino exchanged shots with his assailants. That story seemed to be based upon the discovery of a revolver near Petrosino’s body. Later investigation, as shown in “Find revolver of detective,” Marion (OH) Daily Star, March 17, 1909, p. 2, revealed that the revolver found with one chamber empty was not his. His revolver was unloaded in his hotel room.

(6) Peterson, Virgil W., The Mob: 200 Years of Organized Crime in New York, Ottawa, IL: Green Hill Publishers, 1983, p. 461, says Petrosino was struck in the right side of his back and in his left temple. Petacco, op. cit., p. 146-147 says hits were to his right shoulder, throat and right cheek.

(7) Peterson, op. cit., p. 461.

(8) Petacco, op. cit., p. 34.

(9) Petacco, p. 34, and Barzini, Luigi, The Italians, New York: Atheneum, 1964, p. 265, use the 1873 date for the immigration of the Petrosino family. Nelli, Humbert S. The Business of Crime: Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. 95, indicates that Petrosino was just nine years old when he came to the U.S.

(10) New York Passenger Lists, Ancestry.com.

(11) Petacco, op. cit., p. 36.

(12) Ibid.

(13) “Williams, ex-czar of tenderloin dies,” New York Times, March 26, 1917, p. 11.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Details of Williams’ career were pieced together from his obituary (Ibid.) and from “Williams at the wall,” New York Times, Dec. 28, 1894, p. 1; and “Farewell to Williams,” New York Times, May 25, 1895, p. 1.

(16) “Williams, ex-czar,” op. cit.

(17) Lardner, James and Thomas Repetto, NYPD: A City and Its Police, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000, p. 128.

(18) Petacco, op. cit., p. 41.

(19) Lardner, op. cit.

(20) Ibid. and Petacco, op. cit., p. 38.

(21) Nelli, op. cit, p. 95, says Petrosino’s advancement in the department was held up “in part because of prejudice against Italians.” The same theme occurs in Parkhurst, A.R. Jr., “The Perils of Petrosino,” Washington Post, June 28, 1914, p. 6. The Parkhurst article states that resentment among Irish police administrators caused his promotion to roundsman to occur after a decade as a patrolmen.

(22) Gaudioso, Ercole Joseph, “The Detective in the Derby,” Order Sons of Italy in America, Washington D.C., http://www.osia.org/public/pdf....

(23) Petacco, op. cit., p. 41.

(24) New York City death certificate of Natale Brogno. Petacco, op. cit, p. 42-45, relates the details of the Carbone case, but a number of his details turn out to be incorrect. Petacco says that Brogno was killed in July 1898 when he was 42 (the date was Sept. 12, 1897, and he was 30) and that Carbone was released from prison one week before he was to die in the electric chair (his electrocution was called off a little more than a week before it was scheduled, but Carbone was not released until months later). In addition, Petacco gives Allessandro Ciaramello the name of Salvatore Ceramello and the age of 62 (he was 51 at the time).

(25) “Caraboni held,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 13, 1897, p. 14. Hudson Street Hospital had been opened just three years earlier near the corner of Hudson and Jay Streets on the West Side. “The new house of relief,” New York Times, Nov. 8, 1894, p. 9.

(26) “The Brogno murder case,” New York Times, Dec. 29, 1897, p. 4.

(27) Ibid..

(28) “Condemned man innocent,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 26, 1898, p. 3.

(29) “The Brogno murder case,” New York Times, Dec. 29, 1897, p. 4. “Five Men Sentenced,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 17, 1897, p. 16.

(30) “Angelo Carbone insane,” New York Times, Nov. 18, 1898, p. 5.

(31) “Real murderer captured,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 26, 1898, p. 3.

(32) “The Brogno murder case,” New York Times, Dec. 29, 1897, p. 4.

(33) “Carbone may be saved,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 1898, p. 2.

(34) “Ciaramello’s own story,” New York Times, Jan. 28, 1898, p. 13.

(35) “Ciaramello gets life sentence,” New York Times, April 22, 1898, p. 12.

(36) “Set free after death sentence,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 1898, p. 12.

(37) Carbone, diagnosed as insane, reportedly spent his days sitting in his mother’s apartment, staring blankly and muttering to himself. “Angelo Carbone Insane,” New York Times, Nov. 18, 1898, p. 5.

(38) “Umberto I of Italy,” Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... ).

(39) Petacco, op. cit., p. 50-54.

(40) Lardner, op. cit., p. 129.

(41) Petacco, op. cit., p. 30-31.

(42) Modern forensic techniques were not available to link suspects to crimes. Fingerprinting only gained use in criminal matters after 1903: Aggrawal, Anil, et al., “History of Forensic Sciences,” Crimeline (http://www.crimezzz.net/forens....

(43) “Murdered man’s body found in a barrel,” New York Times, April 15, 1909, p. 2. Some accounts insist that Madonia’s genitals had been cut from his dead body and stuffed into his mouth. This was said to be a Sicilian Mafia response to a colleague who talked too much. See: Petacco, op. cit., p. 2, 5.

(44) “Eight Sicilians held for barrel murder,” New York Times, April 16, 1903, p. 1.

(45) List of suspects was compiled through “Eight Sicilians,” op. cit.; “Desperate gang held in murder mystery,” New York Times, April 17, 1903, p. 3; “Barrel murder plot and victim known,” New York Times, April 21, 1903, p. 1; “Murdered man agent for counterfeiters,” New York Times, April 23, 1903, p. 16; “Another arrest in barrel murder case,” New York Times, May 9, 1903; and Flynn, William J. The Barrel Mystery, New York: James A. McCann Company, 1919, p. 10-11.

(46) Petacco, op. cit., p. 8; Bryk, William, “The Murder of Joe Petrosino,” New York Press, Nov. 13-19, 2002, p. 14; and Ellis Island records.

(47) Petacco, op. cit., and Bryk, op. cit.

(48) During the April 17 re-arraignment, Morello and several other gang members appeared to be “on the verge of collapse,” according to “Mafia prisoners weaken,” New York Times, April 18, 1903, p. 16.

(49) “Eight Sicilians held...,” op. cit.; and “Plots laid bare,” Fort Wayne (IN) News, April 16, 1903, p. 1.

(50) Flynn, op. cit., p. 13.

(51) “ ‘Barrel’ murder plot and victim known,” New York Times, April 21, 1903, p. 1. The newspaper article contains extended quotes attributed to DePrimo, portions of which do not now ring true. At the time, the quotes matched law enforcement’s understanding of the case and were probably invented to tell that story.

(52) “Black Hand secrets revealed...,” Fort Wayne (IN) Sentinel, May 2, 1914.

(53) Newspapers wrestled a bit with Salvatore’s surname. It was recorded as “Sagliebe” in “Murdered man agent...,” op. cit.; and as “Saglimbne” in “Thirteen men discharged,” Atlanta Constitution, April 23, 1903, p. 3. The name might have been something closer to “Sagliabene.”

(54) “ ‘Barrel’ murder plot,” op. cit.

(55) “Jurors feared the Mafia,” Frederick (MD) News, April 28, 1903, p. 1. “Barrel murder inquest,” New York Times, May 2, 1903, p. 16.

(56) “Another arrest in barrel murder...,” op. cit.

(57) “Barrel murder inquest,” op. cit. “Fear,” Newark (NJ) Daily Advocate, May 4, 1903, p. 4.

(58) Petacco, op. cit., p. 90.

(59) Pitkin, op. cit., p. 49.

(60) Petacco, op. cit., p. 12-13; Pitkin, op. cit., p. 49.

(61) Petacco, op. cit., p. 32.

(62) Ibid., p. 59, and Lardner, op. cit., p. 131. Lardner and Repetto named Joe DeGilio along with “Maurice Bonsoil” (sic) and Hugh Cassidy as the original squad members. They did not name the remaining two detectives. Commissioner McAdoo set up the squad late in 1904, according to Pitkin, op. cit., p. 56.

(63) “Raid on Petrosino,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 1905, p. 9.

(64) “New York is full of brigands,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 1905, p. 28.

(65) Pitkin, op. cit., p. 102-104.

(66) Petacco, op. cit., p. 69.

(67) Ibid., p. 67-70; Lardner, op. cit., p. 142; Pitkin, op. cit., p. 63-66.

(68) One source places Petrosino’s promotion in November of 1906: Gaudioso, Ercole Joseph, “The detective in the derby,” Order Sons of Italy in America, undated (http://www.osia.org/public/pdf...), p. 12. However, Petrosino was referred to as a detective sergeant in “Italians put blame on the Sicilians,” New York Times, April 18, 1907, p. 8. The temporary police restructuring that included elimination of detective sergeant and inspector ranks is described in “Says mayor halted crusade on vice,” New York Times, Feb. 8, 1907, p. 6; “Police shakeup coming soon,” New York Times, April 10, 1907, p. 5; and “Police upheaval; more yet to come,” New York Times, April 20, 1907, p. 1.

(69) “A secret service squad to hunt the black hand,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 1906, p. 16.

(70) “Camorra chief’s flight,” New York Times, April 22, 1907, p. 4.

(71) “Italians put blame...,” op. cit. According to Petacco, op. cit, p. 72-73, there was no struggle between Petrosino and Alfano. In that telling, the Camorra leader was quietly cooperative.

(72) “Big blow to the Mafia,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 1902, p. 1.

(73) Petacco, op. cit., p. 87-89; “Italians here greet Palizzolo,” New York Times, June 14, 1908, p. 16.

(74) Ellis Island records.

(75) “Italians here greet...,” op. cit.

(76) Petacco, op. cit., p. 105-106.

(77) Ibid, p. 71, 110.

(78) “New secret service to fight black hand,” New York Times, Feb. 20, 1909, p. 2.

(79) Lardner, op. cit., p. 142; Petacco, op. cit., p. 119, 122.

(80) Lardner, op. cit., p. 143.

(81) Peterson, op. cit., p. 461; “Petrosino left clue to slayers,” New York Times, March 15, 1909, p. 1.

(82) Petacco, op. cit., p. 145.

(83) “Rome, May 16” (no headline), New York Times, March 17, 1909, p. 2; Peterson, op. cit., p. 461.

(84) “Petrosino slain, assassins gone,” New York Times, March 14, 1909, p. 1; Petacco, op. cit., p. 147.

(85) Petacco, op. cit.

(86) Ibid., p. 175.

(87) Ibid, p. 152-153.

(88) Ibid., p. 175.

(89) Ibid., p. 173.

(90) Ibid., p. 170-174; “Petrosino’s slayer may be in custody,” New York Times, April 7, 1909, p. 4.

(91) Petacco, op. cit., p. 179-181.

(92) Peterson, op. cit., p. 461.

(93) “Petrosino buried with high honors,” New York Times, April 13, 1909, p. 1.

(94) United States Census, 1910.

(95) United States Census, 1910, 1920, 1930.

(96) “Adjie to dance for the jury,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 10, 1896, p. 16.

(97) Kasson, John F. Amusing the Million, New York: Hill and Wang, 1978, p. 53.

(98) “Too Oriental for Williams,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 1893, p. 2.

(99) “Got a jury for the dancers,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 21, 1896, p. 2.

(100) “Vachris danced in court,” Brooklyn Eagle, Aug. 7, 1896, p. 12.

(101) “Vachris danced in court,” New York Times, Aug. 8, 1896, p. 9.

(102) “Vachris case argued,” Brooklyn Eagle, Feb. 24, 1902, p. 9; “Cannot promote policemen,” Brooklyn Eagle, Feb. 27, 1902, p. 6; “Brooklyn detectives slated for reduction,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 30, 1902, p. 18.

(103) Twice, within just a few years of the incidents, the New York Times referred to the Barrel Murder victim by the blended name of “Benedetto Catania.” See: “Rich Italian gone,” New York Times, Dec. 5, 1908, p. 1; and “Black hand suspect was bled himself,” New York Times, Nov. 13, 1909, p. 1.

(104) “Boys find a man’s body sewn in a sack,” New York Times, July 24, 1902, p. 1; “Band of assassins murdered Catania,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 24, 1902, p. 1.

(105) “No clew to the slayers of the man in the sack,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 25, 1902, p. 2.

(106) “Old vendetta in Sicily behind Catania killing,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 26, 1902, p. 18.

(107) “Eight Sicilians held...,” op. cit.; and “Barrel murder mystery deepens,” New York Times, April 20, 1903, p. 3.

(108) “On chief kidnapper’s trail, detectives say,” New York Times, Aug. 16, 1904, p. 12.

(109) “Kidnapped boy returned,” Washington Post, Aug. 19, 1904, p. 1; “Black hand suspects,” Washington Post, Oct. 2, 1905, p. 1.

(110) “Black hand suspects,” op. cit.

(111) “A Black Hand arrest,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 1905, p. 1.

(112) “Silent from terror,” Washington Post, Oct. 7, 1905, p. 5.

(113) “Four taken in Brooklyn,” Boston Globe, March 15, 1909, p. 3.

(114) “Many suspects are arrested,” Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal-Gazette, March 15, 1909, p. 1.

(115) “Italians to help Petrosino’s widow,” New York Times, March 15, 1909, p. 2.

(116) “Vachris Coming Back,” New York Times, July 21, 1909, p. 1.

(117) Petacco, op. cit., p. 180.

(118) Pitkin, op. cit., p. 126-127.

(119) Ibid, p. 127-129.

(120) “Petrosino’s list found too late,” New York Times, Sept. 12, 1913, p. 9; Campino, Gualtiero, “Black hand dossier,” (letter) New York Times, Aug. 19, 1913, p. 8.

(121) Pitkin, op. cit., p. 161.

(122) “Clew to assassins of Lieut. Petrosino,” New York Times, Aug. 20, 1909, p. 4.

(123) Pitkin, op. cit., p. 147,-149, 154-161. “Lieut. Vachris gets Black hand threats,” New York Times, Sept. 15, 1910, p. 20.

(124) “The Italian Police Squad,” (editorial) New York Times, July 16, 1911, p. 8.

(125) “Died – Vachris,” New York Times, Sept. 22, 1915, p. 11.

(126) The marriages are suggested by United States Census records for 1920 and 1930. Vachris’s wife in 1920 was listed as Laura, age 29. His wife in 1930 was listed as Angela, age 54. Angela’s age at the time of her first marriage (likely the marriage to Vachris) was given as 45. At the time of Vachris’s death, his obituary noted that he was survived by a wife (possibly ex-wife) named Lydia: “Anthony Vachris,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 1944, p. 18.

(127) United States Census, 1920.

(128) “Anthony Vachris,” op. cit.

(129) Howitt, George and Naomi Musket, Anchor and Plow: The Story of River Edge, 1677-1976, New York: Arno Press, 1976, p. 105.

(130) Ibid., p. 106-107

(131) “Anthony Vachris,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 1944, p. 18; “Obituaries: Vachris,” New York Times, Jan. 8, 1944; “Theodore Roosevelt’s bodyguard succumbs,” Lincoln NE State Journal, Jan. 7, 1944, p. 8.

(132) Fiaschetti, Michael (as told to Prosper Buranelli). The Man They Couldn't Escape: The Adventures of Detective Fiaschetti of the Italian Squad,, London: Selwyn & Blount, 1928, p. 30. The same book was later published in the United States under the title, You Gotta Be Rough: The Adventures of Detective Fiaschetti of the Italian Squad.

(133) Ibid., p. 11.

(134) While Fiaschetti remembered the location as Reesborough, there appears to be no place by that name in the State of Vermont. The state does have a town named Readsboro, which has been spelled in a variety of ways through history: “About Readsboro, Vermont,” Virtual Vermont Internet Magazine ( http://www.virtualvermont.com/... ).

(135) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 24, 26.

(136) Ibid., p. 27-29.

(137) Lardner, op. cit., p. 144.

(138) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 79.

(139) Ibid., p. 102-103. Actually, Police Commissioner Arthur D. Woods spoke about resurrecting the Italian Squad shortly after taking office in 1914. He initially thought of calling it the Bomb Throwers Squad: “New detective branches,” New York Times, July 30, 1914.

(140) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 135-149.

(141) While Fiaschetti recalled the name as “Papaccio,” it was later recorded as “Pataccio”: “Fiaschetti robbed abroad,” New York Times, Feb. 2, 1921, p. 11.

(142) Ibid., p. 254.

(143) Ibid. p. 255-264.

(144) Ibid., p. 265-271.

(145) Ibid., p. 282. In the later winter of 1921, Fiaschetti went back to Italy to testify in connection with the Papaccio case. While eating at a cafe near Naples, he was robbed of a wallet containing 30,000 lire. A girl was arrested for picking his pocket, and the money was returned. See “Fiaschetti robbed abroad,” op. cit.

(146) Ibid., p. 278-279.

(147) Ibid., p. 281-282.

(148) Pitkin, op. cit., p. 217.

(149) Ibid., p. 218; Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 235.

(150) “Find body in river garbed in clothes Verotta boy wore,” New York Times, June 12, 1921, p. 1.

(151) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 237.

(152) “Find body in river...,” op. cit.

(153) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 238.

(154) “Find body in river...,” op. cit.

(155) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 239. At least one source indicates that two of the kidnappers were sent to the chair: Pitkin, op. cit., p. 218.

(156) The network would grow into Mafia families in Buffalo and Detroit, as well as the Bonanno Crime Family in New York City.

(157) “Killer gives clue to Petrosino death,” New York Times, Aug. 21, 1921, p. 17; and “Confessions here give new clue to Petrosino slayer,” New York World, Aug. 21, 1921, p. 1.

(158) See: Hunt, Thomas and Michael A. Tona, “The Good Killers,” On the Spot Journal, spring 2007.

(159) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 286-287.

(160) Lardner, op. cit., p. 145; and “‘Nemesis of Blackhand’ is demoted in police shakeup,” Bridgeport (CT) Telegram, Aug. 26, 1922, p. 4. The Telegram story indicates that Fiaschetti’s pay dropped from $3,300 a year to $2,280, a reduction of 30 percent.

(161) Fiaschetti, op. cit., p. 287.

(162) Details from Fiaschetti’s World War II draft registration.

(163) “Market clean-up starts,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 1934, p. 1; and “Michael Fiaschetti dies at 74; ex-detective led Italian Squad,” New York Times, July 31, 1960.

(164) “Wickersham board hits ‘third degree’ and brutal police,” New York Times, Aug. 11, 1931, p. 1.

(165) “Miss Anna Fiaschetti,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 1936.

(166) “Michael Fiaschetti dies...,” op. cit.

(167) Fiaschetti. op. cit., p. 14-15.

(168) “Petrosino was a martyr to duty,” Fort Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette, March 14, 1909, p. 5.

(169) “Italian American Crime Fighters,” Order Sons of Italy in America, March 2004 (http://www.osia.org/public/pdf..., p. 4-5.


The writer wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Reference Librarian Margaret M. Churley of the River Edge NJ Public Library.



Copyright © 2011, Thomas P. Hunt, P.O. Box 1350, New Milford, CT 06776-1350
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