Showing posts with label Palermo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Palermo. Show all posts

23 July 2017

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (2 of 4)

Victim identified as 'Joe the Grocer,'
Sicilian immigrant living under assumed name

(Return to Part 1)   (Jump to Part 3)

Police officers under the command of Captain Michael Devanney of Fort Hamilton Station and sleuths of the Brooklyn Detective Bureau led by Captain James G. Reynolds met at Columbia Street to follow the only clues to the victim’s identity.

167 Columbia Street
Detective Sergeant Antonio Vachris was one of the investigators dispatched to the scene by Captain Reynolds. Vachris, born in France to an Italian family making its way to the United States, was a longtime resident of Brooklyn and knew its Italian population well. He spoke Italian and some Sicilian dialects. One of the few non-Democrats to advance through the ranks of the Brooklyn police, Vachris secured promotion several months earlier from roundsman - street supervisor of patrolmen - to detective sergeant in an unusual way. He sued administrators of the New York Police Department, charging that he had been performing detective sergeant duties at Brooklyn headquarters for years while being denied the corresponding title and pay. The courts found in his favor and compelled Police Commissioner “Colonel” John N. Partridge to appropriately grade Vachris and others in his situation.

The building at 165 Columbia turned out to be a second-hand furniture store owned by Mary Noonan. The police awakened Noonan, who lived in an apartment above her business, and asked her about the eviction notice. She directed them to a grocery next door at 167 Columbia.

'Joe the Grocer' Catania
In the apartments above that store, police found grocer Giuseppe Catania’s wife and six children. Vachris learned that Catania, known in the neighborhood as “Joe the Grocer,” had been missing since Tuesday morning. The disappearance had been reported to police at the Fort Hamilton Station and at the Mulberry Street headquarters in Manhattan. Catania’s son Charlie and son-in-law Dominick Tutrone had been searching for him all over the city.

The murder victim reportedly had lived in Brooklyn for more than twenty years under the assumed name of Catania (Secret Service records later referred to him as Giuseppe DiTrapani), since emigrating from his native Palermo, Sicily. He initially worked as a longshoreman on the Brooklyn docks and lived for a time in a Sicilian neighborhood on Union Street.

Catania’s wife collapsed and wept loudly after hearing of her husband’s demise. The police learned very little from their initial attempts to question her. Her wailing woke a number of neighbors and drew them to the apartment. Police interviewed the small crowd and began piecing together a possible explanation for the murder.

Det. Sgt. Vachris
They learned that Catania fought with a man named Troia or Trica on Sunday, July 20. Catania showed up at Troia’s second-floor apartment on Hicks Street near the intersection with Summit and attempted to collect an old grocery debt of fourteen dollars. Troia refused to pay. The disagreement became physical, and Troia shoved Catania down a flight of stairs.

When police asked Mrs. Catania to confirm that her husband had fought with Troia, she became more talkative. She dismissed the fight as a possible cause for further violence. She told Vachris that her husband and Troia patched up their relationship on Monday. Troia, she said, pledged to pay his debt the following day.

According to Mrs. Catania, her husband left their home on Tuesday morning to meet Troia and collect his money. He then intended to head into Manhattan to pick up a case of imported tomato paste a friend had moved through the New York Customhouse. Catania had less than three dollars on him when he left the house, she said. She did not know if he ever made it to Manhattan.

She insisted that her husband was very well liked in the neighborhood. He spent his evenings at home, on the front steps, chatting with neighbors. He liked to drink, she said, but never drank too much.

(Return to Part 1)   (Jump to Part 3)

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (3 of 4)

Suspect Troia quarreled and fought
with Catania over $14 unpaid debt

(Return to Part 2)   (Jump to Part 4)

Detective Sergeant Vachris and two other officers headed down toward Red Hook, Brooklyn, to check in on Troia. Lighting their way with a candle, the officers climbed the stairs of 604 Hicks Street at close to three o’clock in the morning. Immediately, they found reason to doubt that Troia’s apartment could be the scene of the Catania murder. The stairs were so narrow that it would have been impossible to move Catania’s lifeless body down them without leaving blood stains on the walls. The investigators saw no blood on the walls or the doorframes. They noted, however, that a panel in the door at the top of the stairs had been cracked.

Vincenzo Troia
Vincenzo Troia slowly answered the police knocks on his door. He opened the door and took a moment to blink himself fully to consciousness before starting to answer a barrage of questions.

He said he knew of Catania and owed him some money. He reported that he saw the grocer on Monday. There had been some unpleasantness the day before, but on Monday he apologized. He promised at that time to pay the owed fourteen dollars, and the two men shook hands. He had not seen Catania since that time. The broken door panel was the result of an angry Catania kick on Sunday, he said. He told police that he was twenty-six and unmarried and came to Brooklyn from Palermo about a year earlier.

The police placed Troia under arrest and searched his apartment and his clothing for traces of blood. There was none. The suspect went quietly along with the police, while detectives questioned residents of the neighborhood. Speaking with investigators, a Hicks Street barber confirmed the Sunday fight between Troia and Catania. After Catania tumbled down Troia’s stairs onto the sidewalk, the barber said, Troia charged at him. The two wrestled a bit before the barber separated them. According to the witness, neither man threw a punch or drew a weapon during that scuffle.

NY Tribune, July 25, 1902
When the Coney Island Police Court opened later that morning, Troia was brought before Magistrate Albert Van Brunt Voorhees Jr. and processed on suspicion of homicide. Troia identified himself to the court, said he was twenty-four years old, a native of Palermo, single and employed as a fruit packer for Brooklyn businessman Luigi Nosdeo. He insisted he was innocent of Catania’s killing. Voorhees committed him to Raymond Street Jail.

While the Sunday argument and Catania’s alleged appointment with Troia on the day he disappeared were evidence enough to hold Troia on suspicion for a few days, they were insufficient to convict him of murder. Brooklyn police spent much of the day Thursday trying to build a credible case against the prisoner.

They discovered that Luigi Nosdeo’s business ventures included a livery stable at 629 Hicks Street that was filled with horses and wagons. Investigators speculated that Troia could have used one of the wagons to haul Catania’s body out to Bay Ridge, but they could find no blood evidence in any of the wagons or any indication that Troia had borrowed one of the vehicles. Detectives moved on to examine every wagon they could find in the South Brooklyn Italian community. None showed any signs of having been used to transport Catania.

The murder weapon and the scene of the crime were just as elusive. Without those essential elements, there could be no hope of conclusively identifying the murderer.

Police turned their attention to four unidentified Sicilian men who lived in a room behind Catania’s store and were known to be friendly with Troia. They learned that two of those men had escorted Troia to Catania’s apartment on Monday as brokers of peace. Police interpreted Troia’s apology and his promise of payment as a deception designed to lower Catania’s guard. They therefore viewed the men who accompanied Troia during the apology as possible accomplices.

Fort Hamilton Police Station
Catania’s son Charlie revealed that the four men were the only ones in the neighborhood apparently uninterested in the grocer’s disappearance on Tuesday. Ordinarily, he told the investigators, the men would ask about his father when he was not around. On Tuesday, when Catania was conspicuously absent, they greeted Charlie without mentioning his father.

Two of the men Charlie found suspicious were interrogated by police late on Thursday, as Catania’s body was brought to the front parlor of his Columbia Street home for a wake. The men claimed to know nothing about the murder, other than what they had read in the newspapers. No weapons and no signs of a violent struggle were observed in their apartment.

During the day on Friday, a large crowd of mourners filed through the black draped front parlor of the Catania home to pay respects to the grocer and offer condolences to his family. The room was kept dark, the only light emanating from a tall candelabrum. Due to the darkness and to the high collar the undertaker placed on the body, Catania’s enormous neck wound was unseen. A well attended funeral was held at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on Saturday afternoon. (The Brooklyn Eagle reported that religious services were canceled, "the pomp and ceremony of an Italian funeral being considered sufficient.") The grocer’s body was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery. Police officers and detectives were on hand through every stage of the funeral, examining the faces of attendees and listening to their hushed conversations.

(Return to Part 2)   (Jump to Part 4)

12 March 2017

108 years ago: Petrosino is slain

On this date in 1909, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino is assassinated while on assignment for the New York Police Department in Palermo, Sicily. He is the only NYPD officer to be killed in the line of duty while on foreign soil.



Though he was traveling under an assumed identity, New York newspapers and the Sicilian-Italian underworld learned of his trip across the Atlantic before he reached Europe. For years, Petrosino had hounded organized criminals in New York's Little Italy neighborhoods. Many were imprisoned or deported due to his efforts. A network of Mafiosi, apparently linked with the Morello Crime Family of New York, is believed to have arranged the shooting death of Petrosino at Palermo's Piazza Marina on the evening of March 12. Police officials in Italy were certain of the identities of the plotters and participants in the assassination, but none were successfully prosecuted.

Officially, Petrosino's mission was to gather Italian criminal records of outlaws who had made their way to New York. The records would allow recently arrived outlaws to be deported from the U.S. Petrosino's actions suggested that he also intended to establish NYPD informants within the criminal societies of southern Italy and Sicily. The first leader of the NYPD Italian Squad (which also spawned the NYPD Bomb Squad), Petrosino had recently been named to command a privately financed, undercover service within the police department. The transatlantic trip, which took him from his wife and young daughter, was his first major task in that new role.

Known for employing tenacity and toughness in numerous successful battles with lawbreakers and underworld organizations, Petrosino became a hero, as well as an important role model, for the quickly growing Italian-American community.