04 December 2017

Chased from Boston to Chicago to Pittsburgh

Camorra killers catch up with
their target in the Steel City

1 - Location of the Scalise residence on Sixth Avenue in Pittsburgh.
2 - Frank Yacca is arrested by special officers near the city morgue.
3 - A railroad employee spots a suspicious man at the B&O Railroad yard.
(Map by Thomas Hunt.)

"Get up! We have come to kill you," a man called out.

Peter Scalise was shaken to consciousness. It was about nine o'clock in the evening of December 4, 1904, and Scalise already had been in bed at his sister Louise's Pittsburgh home, 546 Sixth Avenue, for about an hour. The twenty-year-old Sicilian stone carver opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by three Italian men, killers belonging to a criminal society that had followed him through several states.

Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904.
This "rude awakening" of Peter Scalise provided the public a rare glimpse of an interstate Neapolitan criminal network operating in the United States.

Scalise let out a scream for help as the intruders pulled out knives and began stabbing and slashing at him through his heavy winter blankets. His sister and a cousin, who were visiting with neighbors, heard the scream and rushed to his aid. They entered the bedroom and grappled with the knife-wielding attackers, suffering blade wounds to their hands and wrists but continuing a determined fight.

Scalise, wounded more than a dozen times (some accounts said eighteen times, while others claimed more than twenty) and losing blood through slashes on his chest, legs and forehead, rose from the bed to engage one of his assailants. Grabbing at the man's knife, Scalise suffered a hand wound that nearly cost him his left thumb.

The would-be killers, perhaps discouraged by their loss of numerical advantage or perhaps concerned that the police would soon appear, withdrew, fled the building and ran off into the chilly night (it was just below freezing). Peter Scalise, wearing only his underclothes, pursued the men toward the Monongahela River along Ross Street. That route caused the men to pass in front of several city buildings, including the jail and the morgue.

Near the corner of Ross and Diamond Streets, Scalise collapsed to the pavement and shouted for police. Two special officers of the police, John J. Dillon and John McDonough, responded by grabbing one of the fleeing men, Frank Yacca, sixteen years old. They immediately brought him to the fallen Scalise, who identified Yacca as one of the three men who tried to kill him. Yacca was dragged off to the police central station, while Scalise was taken for treatment to Homeopathic Hospital on Second Avenue near Smithfield Street. Scalise's wounds were ugly but, likely due to the protection afforded by the thick, dense blanket, they were not life-threatening.

A short time later, Dispatcher Hugh O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Railways Company, spotted a suspicious person around Try Street near the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yards. O'Donnell went after the man but lost him in the railyard.

At the hospital, Scalise gave a description of the two assailants still at large. He also provided police with an explanation of the attempt to murder him. Scalise said he committed some offense against an Italian criminal society known as "Camorra." While a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, a death sentence was passed against him.

New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904.


Learning of his situation, Scalise traveled west to Chicago. The Camorra discovered his presence in that city and plotted his murder there as well. Apparently benefiting from some inside sources, Scalise was alerted to the threat in time to depart Chicago for Pittsburgh. Fearing for his life, Scalise seldom left his sister's residence. But the Camorra killers eventually followed him to the western Pennsylvania city and all the way into his bedroom.

Believing that Scalise might provide some useful information on the increasingly troublesome Italian underworld societies in the Pittsburgh area, Police Superintendent Alexander Wallace took personal charge of the case.

Scalise's sister and cousin were taken into custody as material witnesses (one early local report suggested that they were arrested as suspects in the stabbing of Peter Scalise). They were locked up in a cell opposite the one occupied by suspect Frank Yacca. Special Officer Peter Angelo, an Italian American, was secretly positioned nearby. According to published accounts, the special officer overheard Yacca making threats against the witnesses. He told them that if they dared to testify against him, his friends in the Camorra would kill them.

Note: The local press provided little in the way of updates to this case - odd, considering the national interest the story generated when first reported. But a Sunday supplement article from a West Coast newspaper months later included the attempted murder of Scalise in a collection of reported "Black Hand" extortion crimes. The article stated that $5,000 had been demanded from Pietro and Luise [sic] Scalise of Pittsburgh.


Sources:
  • Brandenburg, Broughton, "The spread of the Black Hand," Los Angeles Herald, Sunday Supplement, June 25, 1905, p. 1.
  • "Aroused from sleep to be killed," Mount Carmel PA Item, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 3.
  • "Camorra pursued Sicilian," New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Italian was stabbed in fight," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Incurred enmity of the Camorrata," Elmira NY Gazette and Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 8.
  • "Secret agents stab Italian," Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Waked him and said: 'Get up we have come to kill you,'" Detroit Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.

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