this day in crime history: march 19, 1943

On this date in 1943, Chicago mob boss Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti committed suicide. Nitti, who rose to prominence as Al Capone’s right hand man, was facing a prison sentence for shaking down several Hollywood movie studios. Severe claustrophobia, which had surfaced during a previous eighteen month stint in prison, made the mobster terrified at the thought of being locked up again. On the morning of March 19th, after his wife left for church, Nitti began drinking heavily. Once he had enough liquid courage, Nitti got his gun and went for a walk. He wound up at a rail yard several blocks from his house. He sat down on the ground, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Frank Nitti

Find A Grave – Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti

Wikipedia – Frank Nitti


this day in crime history: march 18, 1990

On this date in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA was robbed. It was just after midnight when two men dressed as police officers appeared at the museum’s door, claiming they had received a report about a disturbance at the museum. One of the two guards on duty that night let them in. Minutes later the guards were overpowered, bound with duct tape, and stashed in separate parts of the museum’s basement. The two bogus cops went to work stealing various items, including works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet. The estimated value of their haul: over $300 million. It was the largest art heist in US history. To date, the case remains unsolved, and none of the stolen works of art have been recovered.

Further reading:

FBI – Art Theft program – Secrets behind the largest art theft in history

this day in crime history: march 16, 1934

On this date in 1934, Herbert Youngblood, an accused murderer who escaped from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, IN with John Dillinger, was killed in a shootout with police in Port Huron, MI. Undersheriff Charles Cavanaugh was also killed in the shootout, which left two lawmen and a civilian injured.

Further reading:

Time“Bad Man at Large”

Dillinger: The Untold Story, by G. Russell Girardin, William J. Helmer, and Rick Mattix



this day in crime history: march 15, 44 b.c.

Beware the Ides of March. At least if you’re Julius Caesar. Cornered by a bunch of (literally) back-stabbing politicians, Caeser’s political career was ended the old-fashioned way: assassination. You can get William Shakespeare’s take on it here. Better yet, check out William Shatner’s take on Shakespeare’s play from Free Enterprise:


this day in crime history: march 13, 1964


On this date in 1964, 28 year old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was murdered outside her apartment building in Queens, NY. Her killer, 29 year old Winston Moseley, stabbed her twice, but fled the scene when he thought he had been seen by one of Genovese’s neighbors. He returned a short while later to find Genovese on the ground at the back of her building. He then raped her, stabbed her several more times, and robbed her of $49.

Two weeks later, an article in the New York Times told the story of how as many as thirty-eight of Genovese’s neighbors had heard her scream, but had made no effort to assist her or call the police. The story ignited a national controversy about the apparent callousness of people living in large cities. The details of the Times report are still disputed to this day. Many of the people living in the neighborhood at the time stated that they could not hear the attack, and those that did hear something weren’t certain what was actually happening.

Winston Moseley was arrested six days after the murder. He was tried and convicted of the crime. He was originally sentenced to death, but the NY Court of Appeals overturned the sentence and reduced it to 20 years to life. Moseley died while incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. He was 81 years old.

Further reading:

“Thirty-Eight Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police” (Original New York Times Article)

Wikipedia – Murder of Kitty Genovese

New York Times – “Reviving Kitty Genovese Case, and Its Passions”


this day in crime history: march 12, 1909


On this date in 1909, New York Police Lieutenant Joe Petrosino was assassinated in Palermo, Sicily.

Born in Padua, Italy in 1860, Giuseppe Petrosino came to the United States as a young boy. In 1883, he joined the New York Police Department. In 1895, then-police Commissioner  Theodore Roosevelt promoted Petrosino to Detective Sergeant in charge of the NYPD’s Homicide Division. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1908 and placed in command of the department’s Italian Squad, a special unit manned by Italian-American officers tasked with investigating Italian organized crime.

While head of the Italian Squad, Petrosino arrested members of the Black Hand organization who were attempting to extort money from opera star Enrico Caruso. While working a case involving an anarchist group, he received a tip that there was a plot to assassinate President McKinley while he was at the World’s Fair in Buffalo, NY. He passed the information on to the Secret Service, but McKinley chose to ignore the warning. This, as it turns out, was a fatal mistake. President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.

In early 1909, Petrosino planned a trip to Sicily to investigate connections between the Sicilian Mafia and Italian organized crime in the United States. The trip was supposed to be a secret, but NYPD Commissioner Theodore Bingham inadvertently revealed it to the New York Herald, which reported on the impending trip. Petrosino, believing the Italian Mafia would observe the same prohibition on killing police officers as their American counterparts, decided to go anyway.

Lieutenant Petrosino was in Palermo on March 12, 1909, when he went to what he believed would be a meeting with an informant. The meeting was a setup. Petrosino was killed by Mafia assassins. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

Further reading:

New York Times Blog – “A Park Is Renewed, the Better to Honor the Hero in Its Name”

Officer Down Memorial Page – Lieutenant Giuseppe “Joseph” Petrosino

Find a Grave – Joseph Petrosino

Wikipedia – Joseph Petrosino


this day in crime history: march 11, 2005

On this date in 2005, Brian Nichols, the defendant in a rape case in Atlanta, overpowered the deputy assigned to guard him and took her gun. Nichols then went on a shooting spree that left four people dead. He was arrested after police received a tip from Ashley Smith, a woman Nichols had held hostage for seven hours after escaping from the court house.

After multiple delays, Nichols was tried on 54 criminal counts in October 2008. The jury found him guilty on all counts. He received multiple life sentences, with no possibility for parole.

Further reading: – Brian Nichols: Atlanta Courthouse Killer

Wikipedia – Brian Nichols