Joseph Petrosino

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Joseph Petrosino
Joe petrosino.jpg
Lt. Joe Petrosino, NYPD, Badge #285
Born August 30, 1860
Padula, Campania, Italy
Died March 12, 1909(1909-03-12) (aged 48)
Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Joseph "Joe" Petrosino (August 30, 1860 – March 12, 1909) was a New York City police officer who was a pioneer in the fight against organized crime. The various crime fighting techniques that Petrosino pioneered during his law enforcement career are still practiced by various agencies.

Early years and family[edit]

Petrosino was born Giuseppe Petrosino in Padula, a village in southern Italy In 1874, the balance of the Petrosino family emigrated to the United States. Joseph had been sent over previously with a young cousin (Antonio Puppolo) to live with his grandfather in New York. An unfortunate streetcar accident took the life of the grandfather, and the two young cousins wound up in Orphans/Surrogates Court. Rather than send the children to the orphanage, the judge took them home to his own family and provided for the boys until relatives in Italy could be contacted and arrangements made to bring over family members. In consequence, Joseph Petrosino and his cousin Anthony Puppolo lived with a "politically connected" Irish household for some time, and this opened up educational and employment avenues not always available to more recent immigrants.[1]

Petrosino married the widow Adelina Saulino (1869−1957), with whom he had a daughter also christened Adelina (1908-2004). A grandnephew, Joseph A. Petrosino is a Brooklyn D.A. and a great grandnephew, Joseph M. Petrosino is an NYPD officer.[2]

Career[edit]

On October 19, 1883 he joined the NYPD.[1] He was the first Italian speaker in the NYPD's history. At 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m), he had to get a waiver of the department's minimum height requirement to get the job. During his service he would become friends with Theodore Roosevelt, who was a police commissioner for New York City at the time. (At the time the NYPD was governed by a council of police commissioners). Fluent in several Italian dialects, he was able to make cases that other officers couldn't. His ability to solve crimes in the Italian community was such that whenever a serious crime took place in that area, his superiors would call out, "Send for the Dago!"[3]

On July 20, 1895,[1] Roosevelt promoted him to detective sergeant in charge of the department's Homicide Division. The pinnacle of his career came in December 1908[1] when he was promoted to lieutenant and placed in charge of the Italian Squad, an elite corps of Italian-American detectives assembled specifically to deal with the criminal activities of organizations like the Mafia, which Petrosino saw as a shame upon decent Italians and Italian Americans.

Lt. Joe Petrosino, NYPD, Badge #285

The Black Hand and Enrico Caruso[edit]

One notable case in Petrosino's stint with the Italian Squad was when the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who was performing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, was being blackmailed by Black Hand gangsters who demanded money in exchange for his life.

It was Petrosino who convinced Caruso to help him catch those behind the blackmail.[4]

Assassination of William McKinley[edit]

A second notable case in Petrosino's stint with the Italian Squad was his infiltration of an Italian-based anarchist organization that assassinated King Umberto I of Italy. During his mission, he discovered evidence that the organization intended to assassinate President William McKinley during his trip to Buffalo.[citation needed]

Petrosino warned the Secret Service, but McKinley ignored the warning, even after Roosevelt, who had by this time become Vice-President of the United States, vouched for Petrosino's abilities. McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz during his visit to Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901.[citation needed]

Arrest of the Don[edit]

Petrosino's investigations into Mafia activities led him to Don Vito Cascio Ferro. In 1903, Petrosino arrested him on suspicion of murder, but Cascio Ferro was acquitted. He later returned to Sicily, where he became increasingly involved with the Sicilian Mafia.

Assassination[edit]

In 1909, Petrosino made plans to travel to Palermo, Sicily, on a top secret mission. A recently-passed federal law allowed the government to deport any alien who had lived in the country for less than three years if that alien had been convicted of a crime in another country. Petrosino was armed with a long list of known Italian criminals who had taken up residence in the United States, and intended to get enough evidence of their criminal pasts to throw them out of the country once and for all. However, Theodore A. Bingham, gave the story of Petrosino's mission to a New York newspaper while Petrosino was abroad.[5]

On March 12, 1909, after arriving in Palermo, Petrosino received a message from someone claiming to be an informant, asking the detective to meet him in the city's Piazza Marina to give him information about the Mafia. Petrosino arrived at the rendezvous, but it was a trap. While waiting for his "informant", Petrosino was shot to death by Mafia assassins.[6] Later a small memorial (an engraved brass plate on a pole) was erected on Piazza Marina in Petrosino's remembrance.[7]

The day after Petrosino's shooting, the detective's Italian Branch received an anonymous letter stating that the New York Black Hand had arranged the murder. The letter named members of the Morello crime family: Joe Morello, Vincenzo Terranova, Ciro Terranova, Giuseppe Fontana, Ignazio Milone, and Pietro Inzarillo. Cascio Ferro worked with these men during his three-year tenure in New York, so their involvement is possible, but: "We will probably never know for sure whether or not the letter was a hoax.[8]

Vito Cascioferro was arrested for Petrosino's murder but was released after an associate provided an alibi. However, he later claimed to other crime figures that he had killed Petrosino, and this helped propel him into the position of capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses). Ironically, Ferro died in prison in 1943 after being arrested in 1927 and charged with a murder he probably did not commit.[citation needed]

Palermo's police commissioner, Baldassare Ceola, listed five Sicilian suspects:[8]

  • Pasquale Enea, links with the Black Hand in New York
  • Giuseppe Fontana, previously involved with a murder in Sicily and Black Hand activities in New York
  • Gioacchino Lima, previously charged with a murder, brother-in-law to Giuseppe Morello
  • Ignazio Milone, worked with Fontana in New York
  • Giovanni Pecoraro, links to Sicilian and New York crime, and Vito Cascioferro

Author and historian Mike Dash identified the most likely assassins as Carlo Costantino and Antonio Passananti. Costantino and Passananti died in the late 1930s and in March 1969, respectively.[9][10]

In 2014, after a series of investigations by Italian police, a century after the assassination, it was discovered the killer was Paolo Palazzotto, of the Palazzotto family of Palermo.[11]

Funeral[edit]

Funeral rites for Petrosino were performed in Palermo, after which his body was sent to New York aboard the English S/S Slavonia, arriving April 9. On April 12, 1909, funeral rites were again conducted in Old St. Patrick's (Manhattan) or St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, with over 200,000 people taking part in the funeral procession.[12] New York City declared the day of his burial a holiday to allow its citizens to pay their respects.[citation needed] A pillar topped with an elaborate bust marks his gravesite in Queens, New York's Calvary Cemetery.[13] Ironically, multiple organized crime notables are buried there, nearby, including members of the Morello crime family which he investigated, (e.g., Giuseppe "Peter" Morello (the Clutch Hand), Ignatius "Lupo the Wolf" Lupo (1877–1947), and the Terranova brothers (who rest in bare graves).[14]

Aftermath[edit]

On July 17, 1909, Baldassare Ceola was relieved of his position as the police commissioner of Palermo, and on the same day Theodore Bingham stepped down as police commissioner of New York.[12]

Petrosino's widow (b. 1869) died in 1957.[citation needed]

Remembrances[edit]

In memorials[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

In film[edit]

In literature[edit]

  • British novelist Frederick Nolan has written two novels based on Petrosino's career with the NYPD: No Place to Be a Cop (1974)[citation needed] and Kill Petrosino! (1975).[citation needed]
  • Petrosino appears in Laurie Fabiano's immigrant novel, Elizabeth Street (2010).[citation needed]
  • The January/February 2010 issue of Playboy 7,000-word article "Petrosino vs. The Black Hand", written by novelist/screenwriter James Dalessandro. The article has since been purchased by the FX Channel/Fox 21 Studios for a 10-hour limited series, with Dalessandro and Bobby Moresco (Oscar winner for Crash) as writers and executive producers, along with producer Larry Jacobson.
  • In Joseph Mitchell's collection of his feature articles from the Thirties, My Ears Are Bent, Petrosino appears as "Louis Sittenberg, the famous New York detective who was killed on a trip to Italy to bring back a Black Hand agent." Whether Mitchell's informant was confused or Mitchell changed Petrosino's name for some reason is not known.

In television[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Jackson, Kenneth T. (1995) The Encyclopedia of New York City. New York and London: Yale University Press
  2. ^ Davies, Pete (Oct 14, 2009). "Grand Reopenings: Italians Re-Take Petrosino Square". 
  3. ^ Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. London: Robson Books, 2006. ISBN 1-86105-952-3. p. 19
  4. ^ Raab, p. 19-20.
  5. ^ Raab, p. 20.
  6. ^ "Joe Petrosino Murder", GangRule, retrieved October 16, 2010 
  7. ^ Dash, Mike (2009). The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-84737-173-7. 
  8. ^ a b "Lt. Giuseppe "Joseph" Petrosino", American Organized Crime (Purcell, Mike), 2000, retrieved August 8, 2013 
  9. ^ Dash, p. 16
  10. ^ Critchely, David (2008). Routledge Advances in American History, Volume 1. Routledge. ISBN 020388907X. 
  11. ^ http://www.ansa.it/sito/notizie/cronaca/2014/06/23/boss-svela-chi-uccise-joe-petrosino_b19c8f89-636e-47a1-bfac-1ccb5c93afd5.html
  12. ^ a b "Joe Petrosino Murder", GangRule, retrieved 16 March 2013 
  13. ^ Dash, Epilogue p. 36
  14. ^ Dash, Epilogue p. 27
  15. ^ "Petrosino Square", Find A Park (City of New York Parks & Recreation), retrieved August 8, 2013 
  16. ^ Dash, p. 28
  17. ^ Link to the prize description at JoePetrosino.org
  18. ^ "Stamp in honor of Joe Petrosino". StampNews.com. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  19. ^ "The Godfather and the Mafia in Popular Culture". History.com. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
N/A
NYPD's Italian Squad
c. 1905-1909
Succeeded by
Michael Fiaschetti