this day in crime history: march 20, 1933


On this date in 1933, would be presidential assassin Giuseppe Zangara was executed in the Florida electric chair. Forty-five days prior to his execution, Zangara had tried to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. He missed Roosevelt, but managed to shoot several other people, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak later died of his wounds.

The general consensus among historians is that Roosevelt was the intended target, and that Cermak was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there is another school of thought: Cermak was the real target. As the story goes, Cermak was behind the attempted assassination of Chicago Outfit boss Frank Nitti. The designated hitters for that job were officers of the Chicago PD, who claimed that they shot Nitti in self defense. Nitti survived the shooting and stood trial for his supposed assault on the officers. The jury didn’t buy it, and Nitti was acquitted. The officers, on the other hand, were eventually charged with assault. One flipped on the other, and they were both convicted and fined $100 each.

As payback for the attempt on Nitti’s life, the Outfit supposedly contracted Sicilian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara to kill Cermak. The hit went down as planned, and Zanagara took the fall as a “crazed gunman.” Of course, there’s not much proof to support this theory, which is fairly standard for conspiracy theories. But it makes for an interesting story. Maybe Oliver Stone will make a movie about it someday.

Further reading:

Awesome Stories: Frank Nitti – The Enforcer

Chicago TribuneThe Shooting of Anton Cermak

Executed Today – 1933: Giuseppe Zangara, who is not on Sons of Italy posters

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 12, 1909

LtJoeP

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: february 21, 1965

On this date in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. The three assassins were all members of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X had previously been a member of the NoI, but had left the organization a year earlier after a falling out with the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.

All three of the killers were arrested, tried, and convicted. Two of them were paroled in the 1980s. The third was paroled in 2010.

Further reading:

MalcolmX.com

Wikipedia-Malcolm X

this day in crime history: january 30, 1835

On this date in 1835, Richard Lawrence became the first person in history to attempt to assassinate a United States President. Lawrence, who fancied himself King George III of England, blamed President Andrew Jackson for a host of things, including the death of his father. Lawrence purchased two pistols, and then, in true “deranged gunman” fashion, he tracked Jackson’s movements for some time before making his move (he must have seen Taxi Driver).

On January 30th, he attempted an ambush as the President was leaving a funeral service. He aimed one of his pistols at Jackson’s back and pulled the trigger. Misfire. Then he aimed the second pistol and pulled the trigger. Same deal. And since he didn’t have the foresight to arrange for a backup shooter in the grassy knoll, Lawrence’s assassination attempt fell flat. And so did Lawrence, after the crowd, which included Congressman (and King of the Wild Frontier) Davy Crockett, tackled him. Rumor has it that even the President got in on the act, whacking the wannabe shooter with his cane for good measure.

Lawrence was tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent the remainder of his life in an insane asylum that would later house future wannabe assassin John Hinckley. For years there was speculation that Lawrence was put up to the assassination attempt by enemies of President Jackson, but there was never any evidence to support the charge. A conspiracy? No evidence to prove its existence? I’m thinking we have Oliver Stone’s next movie here.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Richard Lawrence

About.com – Presidential Assassinations and Assassination Attempts

this day in crime history: december 30, 1905

On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was killed by a bomb that was rigged to a gate at his home. While in office, Steunenberg took a tough stand against the Western Federation of Miners during a period of labor unrest. Former WFM member Albert Horsley (a/k/a Harry Orchard) was arrested for the crime. Legendary Pinkerton detective James McParland headed up the investigation. McParland pressured Horsley into implicating three high-ranking WFM officials as co-conspirators. Horsley was ultimately convicted of Steunenberg’s murder, but his testimony against the other men was discredited. Two of them were acquitted at trial, and charges were dropped against the third. Albert Horsley was sentenced to death by the court, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He died in prison in 1954 at the age of 87.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Frank Steunenberg

Wikipedia – Albert Horsley

Find a Grave – Frank Steunenberg

Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History