The Barrel Murder

by Jon Black

1903. The discovery of a body stuffed in to a barrel brings the law down upon the Morello gang.

The Gruesome Discovery

At 5.30 am on Tuesday 14th April 1903, in front of the building at 743 East 11th Street at Avenue D, a barrel was discovered with a man’s body inside. The throat had been cut from ear to ear, and the head almost severed from the body with eighteen stab wounds in the neck. The body had been forcibly pushed into the barrel with the head resting between the knees.

Police believed the barrel, that had once been used for shipping sugar, was dumped from the back of wagon in the early hours. On the base of the barrel was stenciled ‘W.T’, and on the side “G 228”. Stab wounds to the neck were noted as being inflicted before the fatal cut to the jugular vein, this meant the man was either attacked in his sleep or restrained as he was tortured. The victim was thought to have been from a fairly prosperous background, due to his “clean person, good clothes and newly manicured nails”. In his pocket was a piece of paper, upon which was written ‘Come at Once!’ in Italian.

The following day, Secret Service agents, who had been tracking the Morello gang for over a year in connection with counterfeiting, claimed to have seen the victim with various members of the gang in a butcher’s shop in Stanton Street on the evening of Monday 13th.

The Arrests

So on Wednesday 15th, eight members of the Morello gang were arrested. The police had been watching the gangs usual hangouts: a Stanton Street butcher shop, a cafe at 226 Elizabeth Street and a saloon at 8 Prince Street. Each member of the gang was found to armed, with either a knife or a pistol. The details of the arrested men were:

Giuseppe Morello – 34, agent of 226 Elizabeth Street
Tommaso Petto – 34, clothing presser of 238 Elizabeth Street
Joseph Fanaro – 24, merchant of 25 Rivington Street
Antonio ‘Messina’ Genova – 38, importer of 514 East 15th Street
Lorenzo LoBido – 42, merchant of 308 Mott Street
Vito LoBido- 24, labourer of 308 Mott Street
Dominico Pecoraro – 53, farmer of 189 Chrystie Street
Pietro Inzerillo – 44, confectioner of 23 Prince Street

Not all of the Morello gang had been caught, Vito Laduca could not be found, he was known to the Secret Service after a recent arrest in Pittsburgh. Officers also went to the residence of Vito Cascioferro, but he had already fled the city.

The Secret Service stated that the Morello gang had been as large as thirty at one point, but recent convictions of counterfeiting had trimmed the numbers back. Some of the gang had been recently convicted of counterfeiting five dollar notes from The National Bank of Morristown New Jersey. Other members had been arrested and convicted in 1902 after a raid in Hackensack, New Jersey.

The police located the premises where they thought the murder had been committed. It was a pastry shop on 226 Elizabeth Street – Dolceria Pasticceria, run by Pietro Inzerillo, it was there they found an identical barrel to the one used in the murder, even bearing the same inscriptions. Sawdust, and some burlap, on the floor of the shop had also been found in the base of the murder barrel. The barrel was eventually traced to Wallace & Thompson bakery, where their record books showed an entry of a sugar order, by Pietro Inzerillo, back in February.

Further Arrests

On Thursday 16th April, four more Morello gang members were arrested in connection with the murder. Ignazio Lupo, an importer of wines at 9 Prince St, was arrested at 433 West 40th Street, his apartment was forcibly entered whilst he was asleep. Feigning illness, a physician was called from the Roosevelt Hospital to check him over, he was deemed fit and taken in to custody. Searching his flat they found a dagger and three revolvers. The same morning Vito Laduca was arrested, along with Nicola Testa, in a tenement opposite the Stanton Street butchers. Later at 9am, at Elizabeth and Prince St, Giuseppe Lalamia was arrested by Lt. Petrosino as a recognized member of the gang.

That afternoon three patrol wagons carried the prisoners to the Jefferson Market Court to be arraigned. A large crowd had gathered outside the police station, many thought to be Italian sympathizers. The police broke up the crowd after they feared the prisoners may be freed or passed weapons by the onlookers. The court held the men on a charge of ‘suspicion of homicide’ and remanded them to police custody for forty eight hours. It was discovered that Morello and Petto held gun permits, granted by Deputy Commissioner Piper, under the authorization of the local police captain.

Inspector McClusky was quoted on April 16th:

Credit for the quick solution of this mystery must be given to the splendid system of surveillance kept up by the Secret Service operatives. After the murder of Joseph Catania, in Brooklyn, last summer Chief Inspector Flynn, of the Eastern Section of the Secret Service, learned that Catania had been a member of the Mafia and was associated with a gang of counterfeiters whom the Bureau had long had under surveillance.

The Victims Identity

On Friday 17th April the prisoners were re-arraigned at Jefferson Market Court. The men were again remanded to jail for 48 hours until Sunday morning. Attempts were still being made to identify the murder victim. One dispatch that reached Inspector McCluskey stated that the man was Antonio D’Andrea from Chicago, but the police there soon confirmed he was in prison for possession of counterfeit money.

While held in the Jefferson Market Court, Lupo was confronted by the police. They questioned him about a murder case he had fled from in Sicily. The Secret Service stated that they planned to re-arrest him on counterfeiting charges if they could not secure a conviction for the barrel murder.

They also planned to pin another murder on Lupo based on evidence found during the raid on his flat. Lupo was the last man seen with Joseph Catania, a Brooklyn grocer who had been murdered in 1902. Joseph Catania was believed to have been involved in counterfeiting with the gang before they killed him.

On Sunday 19th April, the prisoners were arraigned for a third time. ADA Garvan was present for the people, whilst five lawyers represented the prisoners. The lawyers argued against the holding of their clients as no charges had been presented against them. One of the lawyers produced a writ of habeas corpus signed by Justice Blanchard of the Supreme Court. The Jefferson court magistrate adjourned the hearing until the Monday morning.

With the barrel victim still not identified, and the gang’s lawyers fighting for their release against the lack of evidence, the police caught a lucky break when an anonymous letter arrived. The letter claimed the dead man was related to Giuseppe De Primo, a member of the Morello gang who had recently been sent to prison for counterfeiting:

I know the man who was found in the barrel, he comes from Buffalo for the purpose of getting money that his companions were living from, he was condemned for false papers, four years and two months ago, he was made to remove the business, and if he survived the death of his father-in-law Di Priemo. The police have made the proper arrests, bring the condemned Di Priemo to see the assassins or his brother-in-law, promise his liberty and he will tell you many things, do as I write and you will discover all, the false papers are brought from Italy, try and see the the letters that come for Lupo, Lamia and the ‘Bull’ from Talevinu and Partinnuca, see if you can make him tell you about Giallambardo who was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing, try and see the letters that come to Giovannia Pecoraro, Christie St. and her companion that came from Italy eight days ago, and bought plenty of false money, where she is, this Giovannia knows. If you get next to Dominico Pecoraro and Fanario and show them the electric chair, you will know all. We salute. Your friends S.T

Finally, one week after the barrel murder, Lt. Petrosino visited Giuseppe De Primo in Sing Sing prison. De Primo, had been jailed three months earlier for his part in the Morello gangs counterfeiting case based around Morristown NJ currency. De Primo told the police the victims identity, it was his own brother-in-law: Benedetto Madonia, father of five, a stone mason from 47 Trenton Avenue, Buffalo. It was reported that De Primo gave the following statement to Sing Sing warden Johnson.

The man is Madonia Benedetto, my brother-in-law. I was sent here before there was a division of the money. All of us were not caught and I was entitled to my share. I sent for Madonia to come to see me. He came a week ago last Saturday and I instructed him to get my share. They must have quarrelled over the money.

On Monday 20th April, the police had run out of time to hold the prisoners any longer and they were again arraigned at Jefferson Market Court. Joseph Fanaro was dismissed due to lack of evidence, then called as a witness, he claimed to never have seen Madonia before. He was dismissed from court but then arrested again for perjury. Exactly the same process happened to Lorenzo LoBido. Ignazio Lupo was dismissed due to lack of evidence and immediately re-arrested on a counterfeiting charge and held on $2500 bail. The other men were held on the original charge and returned to Jefferson Market jail. Lupo was taken to Ludlow Street jail.

Petrosino Travels to Buffalo

Detective Petrosino travelled to Buffalo to visit Madonia’s wife, Lucy Benedetto. He interviewed her along with Madonia’s step son, Salvatore Sagliabeni. Lucy Benedetto, was reported to give the following statement to Petrosino.

My husband went to New York about the first of April. I heard from him twice after he went. I wrote to him In care of Salvatore Macolozo. My husband went to New York because my brother was sent to Sing Sing prison for four years. My husband said he thought that he could have my brother sent to a prison near Buffalo. He said something about some men in New York city who would be able to help him. He belonged to some secret society there. Before I came over from Italy my husband told me about belonging to a secret society in New York. He told me about it in a letter. Some time ago my brother, Joseph De Primo, got into trouble in New York. Then my brother sent to us for money to pay his lawyer. My husband sent the money. My brother had to send the money to Salvatore Macolozo and it had been given to Morello. When my husband reached New York he wrote to me that he had seen Morello and that Morello would not do anything to have my brother sent to a prison near here. I think Morello belongs to the secret society to which my husband belonged.

They told Petrosino of a pocket watch that Madonia Benedetto had carried to New York. Petrosino telegraphed the description of the watch to Inspector McCluskey in New York, where his men traced a pawn ticket found on Tommaso Petto to a shop on the Bowery. Inside they found a watch matching Petrosino’s description. Petrosino returned to New York with the step-son, Salvatore Sagliabeni, as witness for the court.

The police learnt that Joseph Fanaro had been arrested on the night of the murder. He had been involved in an argument outside the saloon at 8 Prince Street, when the police intervened he produced a firearms license to explain the pistol he was carrying, but was arrested for disorderly conduct. About fifteen minutes after Fanaro was locked up he was bailed out, and fined $10 the following morning in the police court.

Secret service agents learnt from the documents taken during the earlier raids, that Madonia had worked as an agent for the Morello gang. One letter was found addressed to Madonia, written by Morello, it asked him to travel to Pittsburgh and to secure the release of two men who had been arrested, along with Vito Laduca, whilst trying to pass the gangs counterfeit money. A stern reply was was found penned by Benedetto Madonia. Sent on March 23rd from Pittsburgh, it accused Morello of sending him on an impossible mission and charged Morello with indifference towards his own gang members, Madonia claimed he had done all he could, threatening to return to his home in Buffalo.

On Wednesday 22nd April, the men were taken before Magistrate Barlow of the Tombs court. After being dismissed due to lack of evidence, the men were taken before Coroner Scholer, who held them on bail of varying amounts. Vito Laduca, Giuseppe Morello and Antonio Genova were held on $5000 bail. Pietro Inzerillo, Joseph Fanaro and Dominico Pecoraro were held on $2000. Lorenzo LoBido was held on $1000. Tommaso Petto, Giuseppe Monti and Nicola Testa on $500. Giuseppe Lalamia and Vito LoBido were held on $100. When Morello was questioned he listed his businesses as a barber shop on Tenth Avenue with a cobbler shop next door, a restaurant at 8 Prince Street, and claimed he had two tenement houses on leases. All of the men were held at the House of Detention, where that night detectives took Morello from his cell to see Madonia’s body, but he denied ever knowing the man.

Petto is Charged with Murder

On Saturday 25th April, Tommaso Petto, was formally charged with committing the murder. Petto, when arrested on the 15th, had been found in possession of pawn ticket number 27696 from P. Fry Collateral Loan Office 276-278 Bowery, dated April 14th 1903. The ticket had been traced to a watch that had belonged to the murder victim, and had been described to Petrosino by the victims step-son. Petto was removed from the House of Detention and taken to the Criminal Courts building and arraigned before Coroner Scholer where he was committed to the Tombs pending an inquest.

The police were trying to learn the true address of Petto’s home to search for new evidence against him. Pietro Inzerillo, who had since been admitted bail along with other members of the gang, was back in Elizabeth Street running his cafe.

There was a forced collection across New York’s Italian communities to help pay the gang’s defence and bail costs. Many Italian households had armed themselves, after a collection in New Jersey having poor results caused the Mafia to threatened revenge. On Sunday 26th, Giovanni Bancale, of 892 East 187th Street, had five Italians arrested on charges of trying to extort money from him to ‘defray the expenses of the prisoners in the Barrel Murder case’, that evening he received so many death threats that the following day he applied to the Morrisana court for a pistol permit.

Coroner Scholer was having difficulties finding a jury for the inquest that was due to be held on Friday 1st May. Most of the people subpoenaed to be on the jury began to make excuses when they learnt of the nature of the trial.

On Wednesday 29th April, Giuseppe De Primo, the brother-in-law the murder victim, was taken from Sing Sing to the DA’s office in preparation for his appearance as a witness at the inquest. After being given assurances for his safety De Primo gave a long statement and the ADA stated that ‘he would be valuable witness to the prosecution’.

The forced collection fund for the gang continued, on the 29th, seven Italians in Boston called at police headquarters. They showed threatening letters they had received from New York dated April 25th.

On Thursday 30th April, DA Jerome made the confusing statement that the man currently held for the murder was in fact not named Petto, but was in fact Giovanni Peccararo. The confusion had begun when Peccararo was arrested he carried Tomasso Petto’s gun permit and had falsely given his name as Petto. The Secret Service discovered this fact when one of their undercover agents spoke to Petto and noted him as ‘cursing Peccararo for assuming his name’. Later the same day, Lupo was charged by a Grand Jury in relation to a 1902 counterfeiting case and held on $5000 bail.

Coroner’s Inquest

On Friday 1st May, the coroner’s inquest into the barrel murder began. There was still confusion surrounding the fact that the man on trial as Petto was in fact Dominico Pecoraro. Nicola Testa, 19, who worked at the butcher shop gave his testimony, he identified himself as a nephew of Giuseppe Catania who was found murdered in 1902. Other members of the gang who were questioned as witnesses at the inquest gave little away, it was feared that the jury would be unable to fix responsibility for the murder. Giuseppe De Primo was reluctant to give evidence against the gang, even though he had given the DA a private statement, he laughed when questioned and claimed Petto was a good friend of his. Morello took to the stand and denied knowing Madonia even when presented with the evidence found in his home. Even the relatives of Madonia began to weaken in their testimony.

The authorities learnt about the days leading up the murder. Madonia had left Buffalo for New York around 3rd April, 1903. On Thursday 7th April, he was taken by Giuseppe Fanaro to meet Peter P. Acritelli, who worked for Connell & O’Connor, the law firm that had represented his brother-in-law Giuseppe De Primo. On the Saturday, Madonia travelled to Sing Sing to see his brother-in-law De Primo. He was not seen again until Monday morning where he was seen in a barber shop on East Houston Street, he had been using the shop to send mail and telegrams to his wife in Buffalo. Later that afternoon he was recorded on the Secret Service files as being in the company of the Morello gang at 16 Stanton Street, and later that night he was murdered.

Peter Acritelli gave the statement:

In addition to being a lawyer I am associated with my father, who is the head of the banking house of F.C Acritelli & Son at 243 Elizabeth Street and I’m sometimes interpreter in the First District court. At various times I’ve seen some of the men under arrest. I met a number of them during the trial of De Primo and the others who were sent to Sing Sing last month. Fanaro, one of the men now under arrest, came to me at my father’s bank on April 9th accompanied by this man Madonia. They explained Madonia wanted to see De Primo in Sign Sing about some property and didn’t want to wait until the regular visitors day. They wanted a letter to the warden of the prison and I told him to call at Connel & O’Conners office the next day.

The following day the man Madonia called at 166 Nassau Street alone. I saw him there and so did Mr. O’Connor and Mr De Ville. He said that when De Primo was sent away he had a good deal of property. This property he turned over to his friends.

Madonia had come down to get this property and keep it for De Primo but had been unable to get any of his brother-in-law’s associates to give up anything. He then made up his mind, he said, to try and see De Primo, find out who was left in charge of his property, and begin some action against him.

Mr. O’Conner gave him the letter and he left the office. The following morning, April 11th, I met the man on the Street. He said he was then on his way to take a train to Sing Sing. That was the last I saw of him.

After Inzerillo gave his testimony he was excused then rearrested on a bench warrant from the US District Court. He was indicted along with Lupo on a counterfeiting charge. The charge dated back to 18th September 1902 when Lupo had mailed a letter to Salvatore Matise aka Andrea Polora in Canada. The letter was found to contain a single five dollar counterfeit note.

On Thursday 8th May, the coroners jury returned the verdict that the crime had been committed by some person or persons unknown to them, but they called for the detention of six men already in custody, Morello, ‘Petto’, Fanaro, Laduca, Inzerillo and Genova. Also, based on the evidence of Nicola Testa, Giovanni Zarcone, keeper of the Stanton Street butcher shop and owner of the wagon that was suspected of carrying the murder barrel, was arrested at his home in Brooklyn. The seven men were committed to the Tombs to await a Grand Jury. Dominico Peccararo, Lorenzo and Vito LoBido, Giuseppe Lalamia, Nicola Testa and Giuseppe Monti were all released without charge.

Giuseppe Fanaro was re-arrested for perjury. He had claimed in court to not know Madonia, but the Secret Service had records of him with Madonia on the days leading up to the killing. He was given bail at three thousand dollars.

On May 22nd, the police in Syacuse NY began an investigation. Four men had arrived in the city, and had threatened members of the Italian community into handing over money for the defence fund of the Morello gang.

Inzerillo and Lupo were finally bailed from the counterfeiting charge on June 25th, 1903. They would later forfeit this bail, but the charges were eventually dropped.

At the end of the trial the general consensus of the press was that Madonia was killed for making demands to the Morello gang, with regards to his brother-in-law Giuseppe De Primo. Either to demand money owed, or to seek the missing money that was raised to help De Primo’s legal case.

Madonia’s links to the gang are certain, the paperwork that was discovered in the defendants homes mentioned him in relation to the gangs previous crimes. His wife had also stated that he had spent time in a Sicilian jail, and that he had mentioned being a member of a secret society to her.

The Aftermath

Finally on January 29th, 1904, on the recommendation of assistant D.A. Ely, Tomasso Petto was discharged from custody on his own recognisance by Justice Giegerich. The evidence against Petto was not enough to warrant an expectation of a conviction.

Inspector McClusky was quoted after the release of Petto:

I shall always believe that Madonia was killed at 226 Elizabeth Street. We had enough evidence to hold him before the Coroner and get him indicted, and we can get the same evidence now.

I was in hopes that one of the suspects would squeal, but they all kept their mouths shut, although I am thoroughly convinced that every one of the men we had in custody knew all about the murder. The fate of Madonia, who had not even been a squealer, was enough to keep them silent.

Dr. Albert Weston, the coroners physician who performed the autopsy on Madonia said:

It was a most reprehensible thing to turn out this man, to turn him loose into the Streets … I told these people just the sort of knife this man was killed with, and the knife, as I am informed, was found later at Petto’s house. They found the pawn ticket for the dead man’s watch in Petto’s pocket.

Secret Service records note a conversation between Inzerillo and one of their undercover agents during the trials. In this conversation Inzerillo claimed that his release was due to the actions of Congressman Timothy Sullivan.

In 1906 a man named Salvatore Svelazo was murdered in his own saloon on Forsyth Street, Petrosino who was heading the investigation claimed the man had Black Hand connections and was also the cousin of Benedetto Madonia.

Most of the gang members involved with the murder were killed in later years. They were likely murdered through through unrelated gang activities, but the press would always recall the famous Barrel Murder of 1903 when writing up their stories.

Laduca was killed when he returned to Palermo. Petto moved from New York to Pennsylvania, where he was subsequently killed outside his home in Wilkesbarre, 1905. Zarcone was killed in July 1909 at his home in Danbury. Fanaro was walking home early one morning in New York, November 1913, when he was shot by four men. According to Secret Service informants, the one killing definitely linked to the legacy of the Barrel Murder was the 1912 shooting of Colagero Morello, Giuseppe Morello’s only son.