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 café 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 Morello34, agent of 226 Elizabeth Street
Tommaso Petto34, cloth­ing press­er of 238 Elizabeth Street
Joseph Fanaro24, 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 Inzerillo44, 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 276278 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 café.

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.