Showing posts with label Terrorism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terrorism. Show all posts

04 July 2017

Anarchist bomb destroys NYC building

On this date in 1914 - An Independence Day explosion demolished the upper stories of an apartment building in East Harlem, killing leftist radical Arthur Caron and several colleagues. Caron had been among those who protested the involvement of the Rockefeller family in April's "Ludlow Massacre." It appeared that Caron and his associates were building the bomb when it exploded.


The Ludlow Massacre occurred April 20, 1914, when Colorado state troops and a private force hired by a Rockefeller-owned coal mining company attacked and destroyed a tent camp of striking miners and their families. The attackers fired machine guns and repeating rifles into the camp and then poured oil on occupied tents and set them on fire.

The camp had been home to about nine hundred people, including two hundred and seventy-one children, ejected from company-owned housing in October 1913 due to the strike. Strikers, most of them Greek and Italian immigrants, spent the winter in their tent community with limited supplies.

An official report stated that at least twenty-five people - including fourteen children and two women - perished in the massacre. Earlier reporting put the death toll at a minimum of forty-five people, with women and children accounting for thirty of those deaths. Because bodies were completely destroyed in an oil-fueled blaze and government agencies restricted access to the campsite, the precise number of the dead continues to be debated.

In New York City, unionists and anarchist-communist radicals demonstrated against Rockefeller. Author Upton Sinclair joined the protests by organizing a "mourning picket" on Broadway. Arthur Caron and a number of anarchists decided to bring their protests to the Tarrytown, New York, region, where the Rockefeller estate was located. (John D. Rockefeller, Jr., insisted that his company-hired forces acted in a disciplined manner. He attributed the violence to the poorly led Colorado militia.)

A Caron-led group was arrested at the end of May after assembling in a Tarrytown public park and denouncing John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as a murderer. Caron, ten other men and one woman (Rebecca Edelson, who stated that the only thing Rockefeller ever gave away for free was the oil used to burn women and children in their Ludlow tents) were charged with blocking traffic and holding a street meeting without a permit. They were scheduled for trial in July.

On Friday, July 3, political radicals (including anarchist editor Alexander Berkman) met at the anarchist Ferrer Center in New York City to plan demonstrations in support of Caron. A plot to bomb the Rockefeller estate may have been set in motion at the meeting.

At about 9:15 the next morning, July 4, the three upper stories of the seven-story building at 1626 Lexington Avenue, between 102nd and 103rd Streets, were turned to rubble in an explosion that witnesses compared to a "broadside from a battleship."

Windows along both sides of the street were shattered. Building debris and bits of human remains rained down on the neighborhood. Body parts were discovered on the roof of the Evangelical Lutheran Church at 103rd Street and Lexington.

Authorities, likely benefiting from some inside information, quickly identified Caron as one of those who died in the explosion. Also killed were Charles Berg (he was listed as a fatality even before his remains were discovered), Carl Hanson and Mrs. Marie Chavez. Reports indicated that seven people were seriously injured.

Editors Alexander Berkman and Carlo Tresca, Elizabeth Flynn of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Rebecca Edelson spoke to a crowd of 5,000 people assembled at Union Square on July 11 for a memorial to the bomb victims. Berkman did not deny that Caron and his associates were building a bomb to attack the Rockefeller estate, but he suggested that Rockefeller's "many murders" justified their action. "I say that death in such a cause, which is a cause directed against oppression and tyranny, makes of those who so die martyrs," Berkman said.

The Independence Day explosion on Lexington Avenue led to a series of violent exchanges between anarchist groups and law enforcement agencies that comprised America's first "War on Terror."

Sources:

  • "45 dead, 20 hurt, score missing, in strike war," New York Times, April 22, 1914, p. 7.
  • "The Ludlow camp horror," New York Times, April 23, 1914, p. 12.
  • "Saw militia fire tents," New York Times, April 20, 1914, p. 5.
  • "Swear militia fired tents," New York Times, May 2, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Sinclair mourners split by discord," New York Times, May 3, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Hear Colorado women," New York Times, May 24, 1914, p. 25.
  • "I.W.W. invades Tarrytown," New York Times, May 31, 1914, p. 12.
  • "I.W.W. bomb meant for Rockefeller kills four of its makers, wrecks tenement and injures many tenants," New York Times, July 5, 1914, p. 1.
  • "Find Berg's body in bomb wreckage," New York Times, July 6, 1914, p. 1.
  • "Plan big meeting for dead bomb men," New York Times, July 10, 1914, p. 18.
  • "5,000 at memorial to anarchist dead," New York Times, July 12, 1914, p. 3.
  • "Berkman interview arouses the police," New York Times, Feb. 17, 1915, p. 20.

Read more about America's first "War on Terror" in:

26 November 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the electric-chair-execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell also called attention to the flawed case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew that District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office had sent an innocent man to the chair and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Dust jacket for 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover

I first became aware of Charles Sberna's story during research into U.S. capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a tale worthy of retelling. Sberna and Gati both were convicted and executed for the 1937 murder of Patrolman John H.A. Wilson. Gati admitted his role but insisted that Sberna was not present for the crime. Names of other possible Gati accomplices were revealed, but prosecutors made little effort to check into them.

Email conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led me to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue.

That first article noted the relation by marriage of Charles Sberna and the Morello-Lupo-Terranova clan, which had been a major influence in early New York organized crime. Sberna took as his bride Carmela Morello, daughter of former Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and niece of New York City rackets leaders Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo and Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova.

Sberna's own family background remained a mystery until later research into Amedeo Polignani of the NYPD shed light on the involvement by Charles Sberna's father Giuseppe in the anarchist-terrorist bombings of the 1910s. Giuseppe Sberna was a vocal leader in the East Harlem-based Bresci Circle, the nation's largest anarchist organization. Local, state and federal authorities hunted Giuseppe Sberna, but he escaped to his native Italy, leaving his wife and children behind in New York. Learning this, I began to wonder whether Charles Sberna, so closely connected to so many fearsome public enemies, possibly could have received a fair trial. My decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

Accused cop-killers Charles Sberna (left)
and Salvatore Gati (right) in court.

I examined court documents, the careers of prosecutors and elected officials, the history of law enforcement efforts against the early Mafia and the American anarchist movement, the questionable philosophies and courtroom tactics of D.A. Thomas Dewey and his assistants, and the known and suspected crimes of the men who might have committed the murder attributed to Sberna. Much of what I found was deeply troubling.

A fair trial may have been denied to Charles Sberna. Given the mood of the time, the background of the defendant and the circumstances of the case, a truly fair trial may have been impossible.

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution is now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. For more information and purchase options, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

(I wish to express my appreciation to Christian Cipollini, C. Joseph Greaves, Ellen Poulsen and Robert Sberna for their support and assistance on this project.)