At the turn of the century, the Black Hand, the Camorra, and the Mafia plagued New York. Murder, extortion, and kidnapping haunted the city’s large Italian population. In response the New York Police Department formed an Italian Squad to combat such crimes. The squad’s leader, Joe Petrosino died as a martyr and a hero to New York’s Italian-Americans. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|1904||Although Italians constitute roughly 10% of the population of New York City, there are only 17 Italian police officers in a force of over 8,100. Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino is the only Italian detective on the force.|
|October 1905||Petrosino appeals to Police Commissioner to increase the number of Italian detectives from five to thirty. He also estimates that there are at least 30,000 members of the Camorra crime syndicate in the US.|
|December 1906||New York Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham names Joe Petrosino as the head of a secret Italian detective squad, the composition of which would only be known to Bingham and Petrosino.|
|April 16, 1907||A crackdown on Italians carrying concealed weapons results in over 100 arrests including 75 by Petrosino’s Italian Squad.|
|February 20, 1909||The Sun publishes a story discussing Petrosino’s plan to go to Sicily. The article exposes Petrosino’s secret investigation and endangers his life. Other papers soon publish similar stories.|
|March 12, 1909||Petrosino is killed by Black Hand assassins while investigating in Palermo, Sicily. Following Petrosino’s assassination the Italian Squad is disbanded for nearly a decade until it is reconstituted under Michael Fiaschetti.|
|March 1909||Petrosino’s assassination sparks a nationwide crackdown—dubbed by some as a “war of extermination’—on the Black Hand and the Camorra.|
|April 12, 1909||Petrosino’s funeral is one of the largest in the history of New York. Over 7,000 people took part in the procession while an estimated 250,000 New Yorkers lined the route.|
|June 23, 1920||The Italian Squad confiscates $250,000 worth of cocaine in a pair of raids in Brooklyn.|
|June 2, 1921||The Italian Squad arrests five kidnappers in relation to the high profile kidnapping of five year old Giuseppe Varrota. Unfortunately the boy would later be found drowned, but all five kidnappers and two others would be convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.|
|August 26, 1922||Police Commissioner Enright demotes Fiaschetti to the rank of patrolmen. Other members of the Italian Squad are also demoted and the squad is disbanded.|