At about 10:30 on Saturday night, May 21, 1910, several men sat around Bennie Ricciardi’s (aka Bennie Richards) store at 925 Scranton Street, just down the street from where the new St. Lucy’s Church (opened in 1926) stands today. Back then, Scranton Street extended down the hill towards the river and 9th Avenue.
While there was no mention of alcohol being involved, Ricciardi was known to sell booze during prohibition in his later years. Ricciardi, described as a “rotund” man, called for his wife, Emilia, to get him a glass of water. As Emilia passed behind Benedetto Tripodo (aka Tripodi), she spilled some of the water down the back of his neck. This angered Tripodo to the point he grabbed the glass and threw the rest of the water in Emilia’s face while cussing her out. Ricciardi, grabbing a towel and handing it to his wife was quoted as saying to Tripodo, “Dat’s no nice trick.”
Two men, Mariano De Pasquale and Michael Zangardi quickly came to the defense of the woman and shouted back with De Pasquale saying “You got no good education.” Tripodo responded, “I got good education and I teach you some.”
Things escalated with De Pasquale and Zangardi grabbing Tripodo to escort him out of the store. As they did, De Pasquale struck Tripodo upside the head with a ginger ale bottle. Tripodo then pulled his pistol and fired several shots – mortally wounding De Pasquale and sending Zangardi to the hospital with life-threatening wounds.
Tripodo escaped before police arrived, but nearby was a reserve police officer, John Cartusciello. The officer tried to stop the suspect, but Tripodo fired a shot at the officer. Several cities in the area were alerted to the murder and were on the lookout for Tripodo for days. A week later Police Superintendent Lona Day, frustrated that the man was still on the loose, was quoted as saying “The earth seems to have swallowed him after he ran out of the store.“
Mariano De Pasquale, aka Mareno De Pasqualo, was listed as being about 36 years old at the time of his death. He was listed as married on this death certificate, and single in the newspaper articles. I can’t find any evidence of marriage or mention of his wife’s name in his obituary. His funeral was held on May 23, 1910 and it was estimated that over 600 people, mostly Italians, lined the procession. His pallbearers were listed as Antonio De Pasquale, Rao Salvatore, Justo Carmello, Angelo Conti, Mauror Antoni, and Pino Salvatore.
The 1910 census for that area was performed on April 26, 1910, just one month prior to the incident. I can’t find Mariano living nearby, but it shows there was an Antonio De Pasquale (age 25) and his wife Johanna that lived next door to Bennie Ricciardi at 923 Scranton St. Also, Bennie and Emilia had a boarder named Francesco De Pasquale. The relationship, if any, between Mariano, Antonio, Francesco, and the Ricciardis is unclear.
Michael Zangardi, was approximately 30 years old at the time of the shooting. He doesn’t appear in the census either. He was hospitalized and characterized as having grave injuries and would not likely survive his wounds. Later, it appears that he would recover and no charges were ever tied to his injuries.
This wasn’t the first time that Tripodo was connected to violence. It was noted that a year earlier, Bennie Ricciardi’s brother Antonio Ricciardi was a store owner who, like his brother, also had a shop on Scranton St. The unmarried man from San Fratello, Sicily was found dead in his two-room home/store and it was believed that Tripodo was the last person to see him alive – and Tripodo owed him money.
With the death, word spread quickly through the small Italian colony. While there were some suspects, no charges were ever filed in that case and it remains unsolved.
Fingerprinting in the US had recently become a new tool for police and even though there were several bloody fingerprints found on a window sill, police still weren’t able to identify the killer.
Two theories persisted. He was either a victim of the Black Hand or he was the target of a robbery. It would seem that the Black Hand was the more likely cause. It was uncovered later that his brother Bennie recently loaned him some money to cover his debts.
Tripodo remained free in that case in part because Bennie believed Tripodo was innocent. The two had become good friends after that incident.
The Escape & Capture
Tripodo, unmarried at the time, went to a friend’s home in West Side and told the man what had happened. The friend told Tripodo to get some rest, but Tripodo instructed him to wake him at 2:00am. At that time, the murderer awoke, disguised himself and left the home. He made his way to the railroad tracks where he bought a ticket for New York City.
Police had staked out his house – awaiting for him to return for his belongings. One evening, a man showed up and police brought him to the station to “sweat“, or interrogate, him. The man said he was there to visit Benedetto’s brother, Antonio Tripodo who lived at 918 Scranton St. Police believed him and set him free.
Then, Benedetto made a critical mistake. After he escaped to New York, he realized that he didn’t have enough money to remain on the run. He made his way to Ithaca before moving on to Binghamton then settled into a barn in Chenango Forks. Scranton Police were aware that he had money in the bank and expected him to try to get access to it.
While in Chenango Forks, he sent a letter to a friend back in Scranton. The friend, the same one that sheltered him, now well aware of the gravity of the situation, likely turned the letter over to police.
In the letter, Tripodo asked the friend to secure his money at the bank or perhaps get a loan against the money so he could remain on the run – and return to his native Messina, Sicily.
But the police were on to him. They escorted the friend to Chenango Forks to meet up with Tripodo and made the arrest.
After being captured, Benedetto alleged that he acted in self-defense – that it was the other two men that attacked him first, striking him over the head with the soda bottle. His defense added that the reserve officer that he fired at was in plain clothes and easily mistaken for one of the men that attacked him. He had a solid story and good defense.
Based on his initial defense strategy, prosecutors made a plea deal with him. He pled guilty to 2nd Degree Murder and he was sentenced to 5-20 years in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
After serving just four years and seven months, he was granted parole on December 23, 1914 – a nice Christmas present.
After his release from prison, Benedetto Tripodo, aka Benedict Tripodo, was living in Carneys Point in South Jersey between 1919 (when he filed his Declaration of Intent) and 1922 (when he filed his Petition for Naturalization). His papers listed his place of birth as Messina, Sicily and his last place of foreign residence as Tunis, France before immigrating to the US in 1906. I wonder what became of Benedetto.
Bennie Ricciardi moved around West Scranton while still maintaining his store. He was arrested a couple of times for illegal alcohol sales and died in 1928 at the relatively young age of 54 from cirrhosis of the liver, likely due to his drinking.
Emilia continued the store for years and died in 1948 at 77 years old. Her obituary listed a sister in France and another in the convent in Italy.
Michael Zangardi is nowhere to be found. The newspapers might have misspelled or mistaken his name as that was fairly common. He could have also had another assumed name like Salvatore Benedetto Ricciardi aka Bennie Richards. Another option is that like many others that were victims of crime in the US, he might have returned to his native Italy.
In a normal case, I can usually track down to living relatives – who may or may not be aware of their ancestors past. In this case, I can’t find any direct ties to these surnames that are still living in and around the Scranton area without making assumptions. If you know of someone that might be connected to this story, please let me (or them) know.
Do you have a story of a rogue ancestor? Let me know and I’ll track down what I can.