Monday, November 18, 2013

Discovery of Murdered Italian Man Reveals No Killer


When Orleans County is struck with news of the death of a local resident under suspicious circumstances, it is shocking and absolutely disturbing news. One hundred years ago, it was a far more common occurrence to read newspaper accounts of brutal murders within the county limits. From the jealous lover, to the disgruntled farm hand, violent outbursts resulting in the killing of fellow residents was far more common then we'd see today. The headlines of local papers were graced with well known criminal cases; the murder of wealthy farmer Charles Phelps allegedly by his German farm hand, Charlie Stielow, or the case of George Wilson who was later hanged for the brutal slaying of his wife.

With the arrival of new immigrants from Central Europe, Albion saw a new degree of violence erupt, not by the savage nature of untamed men, but by the old world customs of dealing with disagreements. A look into the year 1919 shows us a brutal and heinous crime committed out of revenge or pure hatred against a travelling, out-of-work, Italian gentleman who went weeks without being identified, and a killer who seemingly got off scot-free.

In April of 1919, the body of an unidentified male was found on the farm of J. H. Rodwell in Eagle Harbor, north of the Buffalo, Lockport & Rochester Railroad. The body was discovered by Joseph Long of Albion who lived at 143 E. State Street in the village of Albion. The body was discovered laying face down and upon examination by the coroner, it appeared that the man had been shot once through the heart from the back, once through the body on the left side through the chest, one bullet through the center of the forehead, and his throat had been cut from ear to ear, so deep that it nearly severed the head from the neck. Such a gruesome discovery in Albion would be a frightening case today, but at a time where scientific methods for tracking killers were still in their infancy, the fear of a killer who committed such a crime never being arrested was horrific.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, on May 3, 1919, printed a verbal description of the man, as a male, approximately 35 years old, five feet 1 inch tall, clean shaven except a one week old moustache, weighing approximately 145 pounds, with long curly hair. Found next to the body was a loaded, but badly rusted, .38 caliber pistol. According to the coroner, the murder had occurred nearly 3-4 days prior to the discovery of the body. The only potential piece of identification was the gold ring found on the man's finger with the initials D.B.

As with many ethnic communities, people shied away from speaking to police on criminal matters which could potentially incriminate their fellow brethren. Local police would find the Italian and Polish communities to be rather tight-lip about activities amongst their own population. When questioning local residents, local police found no Italian residents who could identify the body and no one would had heard gunshots in the vicinity. One interesting fact, they noted, was that the man wore clothing that was considerably better than the average Italian of the working class.

The following week, the Rochester D&C ran an update on the investigation into the murder of the unknown Italian whose body was discovered face down near the tracks of the B. L. & R. Railroad in Eagle Harbor. Although the body had been buried the previous Friday (printed Wednesday, May 7, 1919), a private detective out of Rochester by the name of John Doyle was brought in to examine fingerprints from the crime scene. In speaking with police in Rochester, an area hotel proprietor noted that the gold ring worn by the deceased man was similar to one which was stolen from him nearly two years prior. From information gathered, Albion police believed that the man was murdered by someone he met while in Albion; he was robbed of a watch but the motive for the killing was believed to be much deeper.

Again, the newspaper posted the man's description with a few alterations; a man, believed to be 28 years old, five feet one inch tall, weighing 145 pounds, stocky build, with blue eyes and curly hair. The police again drew attention to the clothing which the man wore, a grey ribbed union suit of underwear, a blue silk shirt, a white soft collar, and a black & white checkered cap.

By May 14th, the newspapers began to report more on who the deceased man actually was. In speaking with a local Albion sewer contractor, Charles Piazza, the police learned that the man was visiting Albion in hopes of finding a job. On Tuesday or Wednesday during the week of the murder, Mr. Piazza said that he spoke with the young gentleman about potential employment on Main Street. The unidentified man told Mr. Piazza that he was from Niagara Falls and that he went to Rochester in hopes of finding a job. He was in Albion to look for work on his way back to Buffalo to visit friends.

During the same week of May the 14th, a man who lived within the vicinity of the murder came forward, claiming that he had heard gun shots coming from the area of the murder around 5 o'clock that Wednesday morning, but he believed that railroad workers were blasting rocks. Another area farmer told police that he recognized the man as one who rode with him between Rochester and Niagara Falls in the weeks prior to the murder.

Police received little additional information on the name of the murdered man and had absolutely no clues as to who committed the murder, until the Orleans County Sheriff received an unmarked letter in October of 1919. Western New York newspapers reported the contents of the letters during the week of October 22, 1919. The letter contained the following; "I let you know that man you fount dead in April, his name was Domenico Zarafa, he was live in No. 153 Dante Place, Buffalo, NY." This letter was postmarked October 19, at 12pm in Buffalo, New York, but contained no information as to who wrote the letter nor who mailed it.

Although local police identified the man (who was likely interred in Mt. Albion's paupers field), the papers never reported any news of who killed Domenico Zarafa.

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