SOLVED? Do We Know Who Committed the 1909 Murder of NYPD Lieutenant Joe Petrosino?

NYPD Lieutenant Joe Petrosino 

His name was Paolo Palazzotto. He was tried a century ago and acquitted.

His crime? He was believed to have committed the notorious, brutal cold-blooded murder of legendary (not to mention courageous) New York Police Department Lieutenant Joe Petrosino in 1909.

Now there's reason to b believe he really was guilty.

One of the alleged assassin's ancestors, a Mafia hood nabbed in a recent major roundup in Sicily, was caught bragging that one of his forebears committed the hit.

The killing of Petrosino remains to this day a badge of honor among suspected mobsters in Sicily.
Domenico Palazzotto, who admitted on wiretap that his family
celebrated the murder of Petrosino.

"Domenico Palazzotto, a 28-year-old arrested today along with 90 others on charges ranging from extortion to vote buying, boasted that an ancestor of his killed Petrosino," police said in a statement.

Paolo Palazzotto, tried last century and eventually acquitted due to a lack of evidence, committed the murder, prosecutors cite Domenico Palazzotto as saying."

Petrosino had come to Sicily to investigate the Mafia as part of his fight against a group then known as the “Black Hand” in New York. He was shot dead near the port almost immediately after his arrival.. Some 250,000 attended his funeral in New York, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Domenico Palazzotto was born in Palermo, Sicily, where he still lives. Palazzotto, “as evidence of his own more than 100-year Mafia pedigree, guaranteed by his descent from Paolo Palazzotto, confirmed the murder as the work of his own relative,” police said in the statement.

Lt. Petrosino
In the details of an 872-page arrest warrant, Palazzotto said his family had celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the 1909 murder of New York policeman Lt. Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino.

“My father's uncle, whose name was Paolo Palazzotto ... was the first to kill a cop in Palermo ... Joe Petrosino, an American cop,” he said.

The arrests today  followed two years of investigations into two Mafia groups that have long operated in the western part of Palermo, Sicily's capital and largest city, court documents showed, reported the TribLive.

“There hasn't been a dragnet on this scale in many years,” finance police Col. Calogero Scibetta said. “These arrests have wiped out two entire mob families.”

In recent years, police and prosecutors have dealt severe blows to the Sicilian Mafia, historically Italy's most powerful criminal group, though the Calabrian Mafia has surpassed it in both power and treasure.

The Mafia: the Shame of Italians, Italian-Americans
Petrosino joined the NYPD on October 19, 1883. Standing at around 5'-3" tall, Petrosino weighed in at around 300 pounds, most of which was solid muscle.  He went on to befriend Theodore Roosevelt, police commissioner of New York City at the time. On July 20, 1895, Roosevelt promoted him to detective sergeant in charge of the department's Homicide Division, then in December 1908, he was promoted to lieutenant and placed 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, which Petrosino saw as a shame upon decent Italians and Italian Americans.

A man who never smiled, he set about to destroy utterly Italian-American criminal groups infesting the city. Hardworking and street smart, he was a master of disguises and spoke Italian and Sicilian, as well as many dialects of both languages.

Some of Petrosino's more notable cases involved the so-called Barrell Murders as well as the extortion of Italian tenor Enrico Caruso by Black Hand gangsters for $5,000. Caruso was going to pay, but Petrosino persuaded him not to, and ended up personally collaring the thief who appeared to receive the payment.

He presciently saw the potential of organized crime, then known as the Black Hand, writing in a report:
Unless the Federal Government comes to our aid New York will awaken some morning to one of the greatest catastrophes in history. You may think I am foolish making this statement, but these Black Hand blackmailers are growing bolder every day. 
In a little while they will turn their attentions to the American people and pursue the same tactics and methods they now employ in dealing with the Italians. Not even in Italy does so bad a condition of affairs exist as in New York at the present day. 
Only the national government can save this situation for us. As the law stands at present we are helpless to a great extent against these desperadoes. They know the penal code from end to end. I have information that there are not less than 30,000 members of the Camorra in this country, working under twelve leaders stationed in the principal cities.

In 1909, Petrosino planned a trip to Palermo, Sicily, carrying a list of names of criminals. His goal was to obtain evidence of crimes committed in Sicily by those on his list to have them booted out of the U.S. Unfortunately for Petrosino, a publicity hungry police commissioner disclosed the nature of his secret mission to the New York Herald, which published the story on February 20, 1909, days before Petrosino's departure.

Even though he was aware of the danger, Petrosino went abroad, falsely believing that the criminals he was investigating wouldn't harm a police officer. On March 12, 1909, after arriving in Palermo, Petrosino received a message from someone claiming to be an informant, asking the detective to meet him in the city's Piazza Marina. Petrosino arrived at the rendezvous and waited, probably believing he was safe considering it was still daylight and throngs of people were walking along the square.

He was shot twice in the back of the head and once in the face.

The Sicilian Cosa Nostra, by killing him so audaciously and brutally, was sending a message that it hoped would deter future American investigators from following in Petrosino's footsteps.

The day after Petrosino's shooting, the detective's Italian Branch received an anonymous letter stating that the New York Black Hand had arranged the murder. The letter named the Morello group as the culprits behind the hit.


  1. Just cause someone claims their relative did something 100+ years ago does not mean this case is solved, unfortunately it will never be truly solved.

  2. Point well taken. I would believe Italian law enforcement has more to go on than the recorded blurb considering the 900-something-paged indictment. Also Vito Cascio Ferro has been named as the originator of the order, which hasn't been sourced to wire recordings. I'd believe the police had further, corroborating information. I will keep an eye on this one going forward.

  3. Unlike Moe, though, Bugsy get a memorial...

  4. Bottom line pussy was the real cause of death might not of been what killed him in the end but sure as hell was the cause.

  5. Maybe Clemenza but in real life Moe Greene (Moe Dalitz) died of natural causes!

  6. Sure does look an awful lot like Benny.


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