Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sacco and Vanzetti

Ferdinando Nicola Sacco (April 22, 1891 – August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (June 11, 1888 – August 23, 1927) were anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during a 1920 armed robbery in South Braintree, Massachusetts, United States. After a controversial trial and a series of appeals, the two Italian immigrants were executed on August 23, 1927.

There is a highly politicized dispute over their guilt or innocence, as well as whether or not the trials were fair. The dispute focuses on contradictory evidence. As a result, historians have not reached a consensus.

Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted of the murders of Frederick Parmenter, a paymaster, and Alessandro Berardelli, a security guard, at the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company factory, on Pearl Street in Braintree, Massachusetts, during the afternoon of April 15, 1920. Robbers had approached the two men as they were transporting the company payroll into two large steel boxes to the main factory. Berardelli, who was armed with a .38-caliber, five-shot, nickel-plated Harrington & Richardson revolver, was cut down as he reached for his gun on his hip; Parmenter, who was unarmed, was shot twice: once in the chest and a second time - fatally - in the back as he attempted to flee. The robbers seized the payroll boxes and escaped by climbing into a waiting getaway car, a stolen dark blue Buick, which raced off with the robbers firing wildly at company workers nearby.

A coroner's report and subsequent ballistic investigation revealed that six bullets removed from the murdered men's bodies were of .32 automatic (ACP) caliber. Five of these .32-caliber bullets were all fired from a single automatic pistol, a .32-caliber Savage Model 1907, which used a particularly narrow-grooved barrel rifling with a right-hand twist. Two of the bullets had struck and mortally wounded Parmenter (the second shot being the fatal one), while the other four .32 bullets had struck Berardelli. One bullet removed from Berardelli's body, which was determined by the coroner to be the fatal bullet that had killed the guard, was also of .32 automatic caliber, but this .32 bullet exhibited rifling marks with wide rifling grooves and a left-hand rifling twist consistent with having been fired from a .32 Colt Model 1903 automatic pistol. Four .32 automatic brass shell casings were found at the murder scene, each manufactured by one of three firms: Peters, Winchester, and Remington. The Winchester cartridge case was of a relatively obsolescent cartridge loading that had been discontinued from production some years earlier. Two days after the robbery, police located the robbers' getaway car, a stolen dark blue Buick; several 12-gauge shotgun shells were found on the ground nearby.

Police suspicions regarding the Braintree robbery-murder and an earlier attempted robbery of another shoe factory on December 24, 1919 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, centered on local Italian anarchists. While neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record, the authorities knew them as radical militants and adherents of Luigi Galleani. Police connected the crimes and the recent activities of the Galleanist anarchist movement, speculating that the robbers were motivated by the need to finance more bombings.

On May 5, 1920, Sacco and Vanzetti along with two other men appeared at a garage in Brockton, Massachusetts to pick up a car that police believed might have been used in the robberies. The garage had been staked out earlier by the police, and both Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested a short time after fleeing the scene by jumping aboard a streetcar. In addition to the two murders, Vanzetti was further charged with the theft of $15,776.73 from the company.

Vanzetti was first tried for the armed robbery in Bridgewater and convicted. Both men were then tried for the Braintree crimes and convicted. After several failed appeals over six years, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair on August 23, 1927. Celestino Madeiros (also spelled Medeiros), who had confessed to the Braintree murders, was executed the same day for a different murder.

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