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Lt. Joe Petrosino, NYPD, Badge #285
|Born||August 30, 1860
Padula, Campania, Italy
|Died||March 12, 1909
Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Giuseppe "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 in the fight against crime.
In 1874, the balance of the Petrosino family emigrated to the United States from Padula (in the province of Salerno, Campania), a village in southern Italy. 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. On October 19, 1883 he joined the NYPD.
Petrosino married the widow Adelina Saulino (1869−1957), with whom he had a daughter also christened Adelina (1908-2004).
During his service he would become friends with Theodore Roosevelt, who was police commissioner of New York City at the time. On July 20, 1895, Roosevelt promoted him to detective sergeant in charge of the department's Homicide Division, making him the first Italian-American to lead this division.
The pinnacle of his career came in December 1908 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 to decent Italians.
The Black Hand and Enrico Caruso
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.
Assassination of William McKinley
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.
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.
Arrest of the Don
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.
In 1909, Petrosino made plans to travel to Palermo, Sicily, on a top secret mission. However, because of the incompetence of Theodore A. Bingham, New York's police commissioner, the New York Herald published the story of Petrosino's mission on February 20, 1909, just days before his departure. Even though he was aware of the danger, Petrosino headed to Palermo as planned. This decision would prove fatal. Petrosino wrongly believed that the Sicilian Mafia would not kill a policeman, as they did not in America.
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. On March 12, 1909 a small memorial (an engraved brass plate on a pole) was erected on Piazza Marina in Petrosino's remembrance.
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 and Ciro Terranova, Giuseppe Fontana, Ignazio Milone, and Pietro Inzerillo. Writes Mike Purcell of mobsters.8m.com: 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.
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.
Palermo's police commissioner, Baldassare Ceola, listed five Sicilian suspects:
- 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
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. New York City declared the day of his burial a holiday to allow its citizens to pay their respects. A pillar topped with an elaborate bust marks his gravesite in Queens, New York's Calvary Cemetery. Ironically, multiple organized crime notables are buried there, nearby, including members of the Morello crime family which he investigated, (e.g., Guiseppe "Peter" Morello (the Clutch Hand), Ignatius "Lupo the Wolf" Lupo (1877–1947), and the Terranova brothers (who rest in bare graves).
According to the New York Mafia research website GangRule.com, 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.
Petrosino's widow (b. 1869) died in 1957.
- In 1987, the name of a small triangular plaza in lower Manhattan was changed from Kenmare Square to Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino Square in his honor. It is bounded by Cleveland Place and Lafayette and Kenmare Streets, two blocks north of the old police headquarters at 240 Centre Street, at the juncture of the Little Italy, Nolita, and SoHo neighborhoods.
- On March 12, 2003 a small memorial (an engraved brass plate on a pole) was erected on Piazza Marina, Palermo in Petrosino's remembrance.
- The Joe Petrosino Prize for Investigative Reporting (in Italian: Certosa di Padula Joe Petrosino Prize) was also named in his honor.
- In 2010, the Italian Post released a postage stamp to commemorate his 150th birthday. The stamp features Petrosino's picture with the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Its .85 Euro denomination is perfect for postcards to the U.S.
In popular culture
- Three biographical films have been made of Petrosino's life, including: Sidney M. Goldin's The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino (1912); Pay or Die (1960), starring Ernest Borgnine; and The Black Hand (1973), starring Lionel Stander.
- The character of Lieutenant Louis Lorelli (J. Carrol Naish) in The Black Hand (1950), starring Gene Kelly, is loosely modeled on Petrosino.
- British novelist Frederick Nolan has written two novels based on Petrosino's career with the NYPD: No Place to Be a Cop (1974) and Kill Petrosino! (1975).
- Petrosino appears in Laurie Fabiano's immigrant novel,Elizabeth Steet (2010).
- The January/February 2010 issue of Playboy 7,000-word article "Petrosino vs. The Black Hand", written by novelist/screenwriter James Dalessandro (1906, Bohemian Heart), which is an excerpt from his book on the life of Petrosino.
- Petrosino's story is discussed in the two-hour History Channel program Godfathers, which features commentary concerning his life by Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, and Bernard Kerik, former police commissioner of New York City.
- He has been the subject of two Italian television series: in Joe Petrosino he was portrayed by Beppe Fiorello (2006); in the other[clarification needed] by Adolfo Celi.
- Jackson, Kenneth T. (1995) The Encyclopedia of New York City. New York and London: Yale University Press
- "Joe Petrosino Murder", GangRule, retrieved October 16, 2010
- Dash, Mike (2009). The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-84737-173-7.
- "Lt. Giuseppe "Joseph" Petrosino", American Organized Crime (Purcell, Mike), 2000, retrieved August 8, 2013
- Dash, p. 16
- Critchely, David (2008). Routledge Advances in American History, Volume 1. Routledge. ISBN 020388907X.
- "Joe Petrosino Murder", GangRule, retrieved 16 March 2013
- Dash, Epilogue p. 36
- Dash, Epilogue p. 27
- "Petrosino Square", Find A Park (City of New York Parks & Recreation), retrieved August 8, 2013
- Dash, p. 28
- Link to the prize description at JoePetrosino.org
- "Stamp in honor of Joe Petrosino". StampNews.com. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
- "The Godfather and the Mafia in Popular Culture". History.com.
- Lt. Petrosino Murder - Gangrule.com
- Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site - Article on Joe Petrosino
- Buhner.Com - A Martyr to Duty: Remembering Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino, the Original “Untouchable”
- The Joe Petrosino International Association
- Officer Down Memorial Page - Entry on Joe Petrosino
- American Film Institute - Movie Entry: The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino
- InfoHub Specialty Travel Guide - Tourist information on Petrosino's birthplace of Padula, Italy
- American Organized Crime: Joe Petrosino
- Joseph Petrosino at Find-A-Grave
- The American "Mafia" - Joe Petrosino
|NYPD's Italian Squad