Showing posts with label New Jersey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Jersey. Show all posts

29 August 2018

Trial of king's killer takes just one day

On this date in 1900...

Bresci
Gaetano Bresci, accused assassin of Italy's King Umberto I, stood trial August 29, 1900, in Milan's Palace of Justice. The trial was concluded in a single day. A jury unanimously found him guilty. Bresci was sentenced to life in prison (the greatest punishment then allowed under Italian law), with the first seven years to be spent in solitary confinement and the rest to be spent in penal servitude.

King Umberto was shot to death in front of numerous witnesses at Monza on July 29. As the monarch concluded an appearance at an athletic awards presentation, three bullets were fired from point-blank range into his neck and chest.

Bresci, with a smoking revolver still in his hand, was attacked by the crowd. A force of carabinieri police rushed in to take custody of Bresci, likely saving him from a beating death at the hands of the angry mob.

The authorities identified their prisoner and learned that he was born in Prato, near Florence, on November 10, 1869. Though raised in a family with no known Leftist leanings, Bresci reportedly was influenced by the teachings of Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta and became a radical opponent of the political and religious establishments of his day. Records showed that he was imprisoned for about two weeks in 1892 after disregarding police instructions during an Italian labor strike.

Further radicalized in U.S.

La Questione Sociale HQ
He subsequently sailed for America, settling in the Paterson, New Jersey, area, then the center of the United States textile industry as well as of a growing anarchist-communist movement. Paterson was the home of the Gruppo Diritto all'Esistenza (Right to Existence Group) anarchist organization. The organization's newspaper, La Questione Sociale (The Social Issue), had an international readership.

Bresci worked in New Jersey silk mills, married mill worker Sophie Knieland and started a family during the few years he was in America. He spent much of his free time with the Gruppo Diritto all'Esistenza.

His political thinking in the period moved further Left, leaving behind the teachings of Malatesta. He aligned himself with the political philosophy of recently deceased Carlo Cafiero and La Questione Sociale editor Giuseppe Ciancabilla. That philosophy called for individual acts of violence against the establishment - referred to as "propaganda by the deed" - in an effort to trigger a worldwide worker revolution.

With little advance notice or explanation, Bresci said goodbye to his wife and young daughter in May 1900 and set sail back across the Atlantic to his native Italy. He was determined to energize the anarchist cause through a bloody deed of propaganda.

At trial in Milan

Umberto I
Bresci's defense counsel at his August 29 trial was the influential radical Francesco Saverio Merlino. As the trial began, Merlino stated that his defense strategy would be to show why Leftists like Bresci considered the assassination of the king to be essential to curing social, economic and political ills in Italy. The attorney planned to recount the crimes of Umberto against his people and to portray Bresci's action as justifiable retaliation.

The court refused to allow Merlino to make any such arguments.

Bresci went to the witness stand in the afternoon. His testimony only aided the prosecution. He admitted to returning to Italy for the purpose of murdering the king. In the time between his return and the assassination, he practiced his marksmanship and prepared special bullets by carving notches into their tips and filling them with dirt, which he believed would make their wounds more deadly.

He readily admitted firing three shots into King Umberto "to avenge the misery of the people and my own." Bresci insisted that he planned and carried out the assassination "without advice or accomplices."

When the jury returned its guilty verdict, Bresci stated, "Sentence me. I am indifferent. I await the next revolution."

After sentencing, Bresci was taken from Milan to an old Bourbon prison on the island of Santo Stefano in the Tyrrhenan Sea. He was to serve his sentence there.

Martyr to anarchism

Bresci's "life" prison term lasted less than nine months. On May 21, 1901, he was found dead in his prison cell. Officials attributed his death to suicide. It was reported that he used a towel to hang himself. Guards discovered the word, "Vengeance," scratched into his cell wall.

Sophie Bresci
Despite the official report, Leftists around the globe believed that the Italian authorities were responsible for Bresci's death.

Back in New Jersey, Sophie Knieland Bresci had recently given birth to a second child and, with the support of local radical organizations, had opened a boarding house in Cliffside Park. The young widow refused to accept the suicide account. She told the press that her husband had recently written to her and told her that prison guards were trying to talk him into killing himself. She said he was too strong to succumb.

(Shortly after Bresci's death, Sicilian Mafia leader Vito Cascio Ferro traveled to the United States. A political radical in his homeland, Cascio Ferro reportedly met with Sophie Knieland Bresci in New Jersey.)

Two strong anarchist groups in the region, Gruppo Diritto all-Esistenza and Gruppo L'Era Nuova (New Age Group) echoed Sophie's position. La Questione Sociale openly accused the Italian government of deliberate murder.

Bresci became a martyr to the anarchist cause. The philosophy of initiating revolution through individual violent action won many converts. A young anarchist group based in East Harlem, New York, expressed its high regard for him by naming itself the Gaetano Bresci Circle. A short time later, that group waged war on the United States government and on prominent capitalists through a wave of terror bombings.

Read more:



Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution" by Thomas Hunt

Visit:
Wrongly Executed? website.

30 July 2018

Murders his pal on "Good Killers" orders

On this date in 1921...

Asbury Park Press
Aug. 19, 1921
Two old friends from Sicily, recently reacquainted in New York City, went out hunting in the woods along New Jersey's Shark River on July 30, 1921. Only one of the men returned.

Bartolomeo Fontana, the survivor of the hunting trip, later confessed to New York City Police that he deliberately brought his pal Camillo Caiozzo into the woods and shotgunned him to death on orders of a Brooklyn-based criminal network known as "the Good Killers."

Investigation of the Good Killers revealed an interstate organization responsible for many murders around New York City and Detroit, in the United States, and in the Castellammare del Golfo region of Sicily. Gang commanders included Stefano Magaddino, who would soon rise to lead the Mafia in Buffalo, New York.

More about this murder and the Good Killers gang:"The Good Killers: 1921's glimpse of the Mafia," by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

18 July 2018

Mafia infiltrates Federal Bureau of Investigation

On this date in 1975...

Camden Courier-Post
Former FBI office clerk Irene Kuczynski on July 18, 1975, admitted in federal court to photocopying secret Bureau investigation files and providing the copies to New Jersey underworld figure John DiGilio.

Mrs. Kuczynski, twenty-two, and her husband George, twenty-four, testified as the first prosecution witnesses in the Newark, New Jersey, federal trial of DiGilio and three other men. (The case initially involved several other co-defendants.)

DiGilio
Mr. Kuczynski testified that he was approached in 1971 by defendant Peter Szwandrak of Bayonne, New Jersey, who worked with him at Western Electric in the Newark suburb of Kearny. Szwandrak knew that Mrs. Kuczynski, then eighteen, was a member of the stenographic pool at the FBI's Newark offices and asked if she could obtain copies of information the FBI had assembled on DiGilio's criminal activities. Szwandrak promised "there'd be money in it" for the young married couple if they assisted DiGilio.

Refusing at first to take part in the plot, Mrs. Kuczynski only agreed after suffering several beatings at the hands of her husband. She then made photocopies of parts of DiGilio's file several times between fall of 1971 and spring of 1972. She hid the copies and smuggled them out of the office.

"I would put them in my purse and sometimes I would put them in a knitting bad and other times I would put them in my girdle to take them out," she stated.

Asked her reason for participating in the scheme, Mrs. Kuczynski first responded, "Because I loved my husband very much and I didn't want to lose him in any way." She then recalled her initial hesitation and revealed, "George beat me up black and blue numerous times."

After receiving the copied pages, Mr. Kuczynski delivered them to DiGilio or to DiGilio's co-defendants. He stated that he met with DiGilio in a back room of the Italian American Civil Rights Club in Bayonne. DiGilio provided payments between $20 and $200 for the papers. "Some of them were good, and some of them he didn't like and he wanted better stuff," Mr. Kuczynski explained when questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Robertson.

Mr. Kuczynski found it profitable to turn the documents over a few pages at a time. He told the court that DiGilio provided him "an extra $200 as a Christmas bonus."

At the time the reports were stolen, the FBI was investigating DiGilio's role in loan sharking and extortion rackets in New Jersey and New York City. Federal authorities identified DiGilio as an important member of the Genovese Crime Family. Some of the stolen documents were transcriptions from FBI electronic surveillance. In addition, documents included the names of four underworld informants.

The Kuczynskis were charged for their part in the document theft in 1974, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against DiGilio. The government held them in protective custody.

DiGilio, a forty-two-year-old resident of Paramus, was brought to trial for aiding and abetting the document theft. His co-defendants were Bayonne residents Szwandrak, Harry Lupo and John Grillo.

Before the trial began, the defense team argued that DiGilio was not mentally competent to stand trial due to brain damage suffered during a twelve-year boxing career. After hearing competing testimony from expert witnesses, federal Judge H. Curtis Meanor pronounced DiGilio competent in June. Just as trial was scheduled to open, DiGilio won a short postponement because of injuries he claimed he suffered in an automobile accident. The only witnesses to the accident were three DiGilio associates who had only hazy recollections of it. (DiGilio had a history of conveniently timed but unverifiable health problems. Once he collapsed during a trial and claimed to be suffering from a heart ailment. Doctors found his heart to be healthy. For an earlier trial, DiGilio appeared at the defense table in a wheelchair.)

A few days after the Kuczynskis testified, DiGilio defense counsel called witnesses who stated that George Kuczynski came up with the document theft plan on his own as a money-making scheme and offered documents to a number of Bayonne-area individuals investigated by the FBI.

During the trial, a large number of "burly supporters of DiGilio" took seats in the courtroom gallery. During recesses, these spectators lined up in the hallway to give DiGilio a friendly slap on the back and wish him luck. One of the well-wishers, according to New Jersey press reports, was former Middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano. (Graziano and other boxers attended a DiGilio trial in 1987 as well.)

Asbury Park Press
A number of DiGilio's boxing pals came out to show 

support during a 1987 trial. They included Rocco 
Graziano, Joe Frazier and Jake LaMotta.


The trial jury deliberated for nine hours on July 30 before finding DiGilio, Lupo and Szwandrak guilty. Defendant Grillo was acquitted.

In September, Judge Meanor sentenced DiGilio to nine years in prison (one year less than the maximum sentence) and a $10,000 fine. Szwandrak and Lupo were sentenced to six months behind bars.

For their part in the document theft, the Kuczynskis were given five-year suspended sentences in mid-February of 1976. They were assigned new identities and relocated through the witness protection program.

DiGilio remained free pending his appeal. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia the following summer trimmed about eight years from his sentence.

DiGilio's troubles with the law continued for about another decade. Through that time, he became a liability to Mafia higher-ups. In late May of 1988, his lifeless body was found floating in the Hackensack River near Carlstadt, New Jersey.

The final years of John DiGilio's life are discussed in "Death of 'Benny Eggs' severs link to Genovese Family's foundation," on The American Mafia history website.

Sources:
  • "DiGilio is ruled sane after secret hearing," New York Daily News, June 20, 1975, p. 82.
  • "DiGilio too hurt to stand trial?" Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 15, 1975, p. 24.
  • "Ex-FBI typist sold data to an alleged mobster," Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 19, 1975, p. 30.
  • "Typist admits copying FBI data on DiGilio," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 19, 1975, p. 3.
  • Wechsler, Philip, "Ex-FBI clerk tells of smuggling out reports for Mob," New York Daily News, July 19, 1975, p. 5.
  • "DiGilio lawyers vilify accuser," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 25, 1975, p. 2.
  • Wechsler, Philip, "Witness is called 'liar all his life' in FBI file trial," New York Daily News, New Jersey Edition, July 25, 1975, p. 7
  • "Rival lawyers assail DiGilio defendants, witnesses," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 30, 1975, p. 13.
  • "DiGilio, 2 men guilty," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 31, 1975, p. 3.
  • "Mobster convicted in FBI case," Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 31, 1975, p. 31.
  • "DiGilio out on bail during his appeal," Camden NJ Courier-Post, Sept. 13, 1975, p. 3.
  • "Secrecy protects thieves," Asbury Park NJ Press, Feb. 24, 1976, p. 24.
  • "Sentence sliced," Elmira NY Star-Gazette, June 12, 1976, p. 7.
  • "Body of a reputed mobster is found in a bag in river," New York Times, May 27, 1988, p. 19.

09 December 2016

Death of former Boardwalk boss

On this date in 1968, eighty-five-year-old Enoch "Nucky" Johnson died of natural causes at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in New Jersey. Johnson had been the Prohibition Era political boss of Atlantic City. 

During his reign, the city was a friendly location for organized criminals. Johnson's relationships with the underworld were brought to light during a feud with the New York Evening Journal newspaper in the early 1930s. His control over Atlantic City ended with his successful 1941 prosecution on federal tax evasion charges. Johnson lived a quiet life after his release from prison in 1945.

Asbury Park NJ Press, Dec. 10, 1968. Camden NJ Courier Post, Dec. 10, 1968.