Excerpt # 3 – Murder and Mayhem in the Big Apple – From the Black Hand to Murder Inc.


The man who was the biggest torn in the side of the Black Hand was Police Lieut. Joseph Petrosino.

Petrosino was born in 1860 in Padula, Campania, in the southern tip of Italy near Naples. When he was a child, Petrosino’s parents sent him to live with his grandfather in America. Soon after Petrosino arrived in America, his grandfather was killed in an automobile accident. As a result, Petrosino was briefly sent to an orphanage. However, the presiding judge in Petrosino’s custody case, feeling sorry for the young boy, took Petrosino into his own home until Petrosino’s parents arrived from Italy.

While waiting for his parents to travel across the Atlantic (they arrived in America in 1874), Petrosino lived with the politically-active Irish judge and his family. As a result, Petrosino received a fine education, which increased his chances of obtaining a decent job in America; unlike the other poor Italian immigrants who were arriving from Italy in droves.

Because of the Irish judge’s connections in the political arena, on Oct. 19, 1883, Petrosino became a New York City police officer.

When he started “on the job,” Petrosino’s mentor was Police Inspector Alexander “Clubber” Williams, who was called “Clubber” because of his fondness for battering unruly arrestees with his police baton (club) to keep them in line. Williams took a liking to Petrosino (it was reported Petrosino wielded a mean police baton, too), and as a result, Petrosino rose quickly up the ranks in the New York City police department.

Petrosino’s speedy promotions were mostly the result of hard work and dedication, but also because Petrosino had been born in Italy and could speak the Italian language fluently. This made it possible for Petrosino to infiltrate the Italian crime circles, which were operating openly in New York City.

In 1895, Petrosino was promoted to detective and assigned to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was populated by a large contingent of Italian immigrants, including Joe Morello, Ciro and Nick Terranova, and Ignazio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta. The short, stocky, bull-necked, and barrel-chested Petrosino was a familiar sight on the streets of Little Italy. He was recognizable by his large pumpkin head and a pockmarked face, which had an extreme reluctance to smile.

Petrosino first achieved prominence when he investigated the infamous “Barrel Murder” of 1903.

Although several men were brought to justice for killing a man named Benedetto Madonia (then stuffing him into a barrel and leaving the barrel on the street), Petrosino knew the man who ordered the murder was Joe Morello. However,  knowing and being able to prove it were two different things. Morello skated on the Barrel Murder charges, but Morello was now directly in Petrosino’s crosshairs. In the following years, Petrosino did everything he could to make Morello’s and the other Black Hander’s lives miserable.

One such instance occurred in the case of famous Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso. Caruso, who was then singing at the Metropolitan Opera House, received  a Black Hand letter demanding that he pay $2,000, or else. To avoid a big headache, Caruso decided to pay the amount requested. Yet before he could do so, he received a second Black Hand letter which raised the demand to $15,000.

Caruso immediately contacted Lieut. Petrosino, the leader of the “Italian Squad,” which was created in 1905 by Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham. After reading the second letter sent to Caruso, Petrosino directed Caruso to comply with the letter’s demands and to drop off the money at a pre-arranged place directed by the Black Hand letter. When the two Italian Black Handers arrived to pick up the cash, Petrosino slapped the cuffs on them, and to punctuate the arrest, he gave them a few slaps with his police baton.

In 1906, acting on information given to him by an informant, Petrosino got a warrant to investigate a horse stable (later called the Murder Stables) at 304 108th Street in Italian Harlem.

Upon his arrival at the stable, Petrosino ordered his men to dig up the grounds, and as a result, they found the remains of more than 60 human bodies.

The owner of the stable was none other than “Lupe the Wolf” Saietta. When approached by Petrosino, Saietta feigned innocence, saying, “I am only the owner of the property. I am not responsible for the actions of my tenants.”

Saietta provided Petrosino with a list of names of his supposed “tenants.”  Although all the names provided by Saietta had Italian surnames, Petrosino could not determine if these men actually existed, or were just a figment of Saietta’s imagination.

Not being able to cuff Saietta legally, Petrosino paid a little visit to Saietta in Saietta’s Little Italy grocery store.

The New York Times reported, “Petrosino walked up to Lupo and said something in a low voice. Then the detective’s fist shot out and Lupo fell to the floor. Petrosino, according to several eyewitnesses, gave Lupo a “severe beating.”

Soon after his trouncing at the hands of Petrosino, Saietta met with Joe Morello and the Terranova brothers.

Raising a glass of wine in a toast, Saietta told his fellow Black Handers, “He has ruined many. Here’s a drink to our success here and the hope of debt to him. It is a pity that it must be done stealthily – that he cannot first be made to suffer, as he has made so many others suffer. But he guards his hide so well that it will have to be done quickly.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: