1909 Murder of First NYC Anti-Mafia Policeman Joe Petrosino Solved

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 06:21
Joe Petrosino

More than 100 years after Italian-American New York City police officer Giuseppe 'Joe' Petrosino was murdered by the Mafia in Palermo, Italian police may have discovered who was the killer.

New details emerged following the arrest on Monday of 95 Mafia suspects in Palermo, as part of the police operation code-named Apocalypse. Among them is Domenico Palazzotto, caught in police recordings claiming that the uncle of his father, Paolo Palazzotto, “committed the murder of the first police officer killed in Palermo, Joe Petrosino, on behalf of Cascio Ferro”. Ferro was a Mafia boss in Sicily who also operated in the United States and is widely considered the mastermind behind the murder of Petrosino.

Petrosino was born in Campania in 1860 and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1874. He joined the NYPD in 1883. In 1895, he became the first Italian-American to lead the department’s homicide division. In 1908, he was put 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.

In 1909, Petrosino made plans to travel to Palermo on what was to be a secret mission to investigate criminal ties between Cosa Nostra and its American counterpart, the Black Hand. His investigations had led him to Ferro, who saw Petrosino as a threat to his criminal activities.The mission was however leaked to the press just a few days before his departure. Petrosino decided to travel to Palermo as planned, believing the Mafia would not dare to kill a law enforcement officer. He was wrong: on March 12, 1909, while waiting to meet someone who claimed to be an informant in Piazza Marina, Petrosino was ambushed and shot four times. A group of people waiting for the tram nearby witnessed the attack. Ferro was the main suspect for the murder, and was briefly arrested, but was released when an associate provided an alibi. He was never convicted for the killing, although he was later arrested for another murder and died in prison.

Petrosino is recognized as a pioneer in the fight against organized crime.