True Crime Scranton

Double Murder in Bulls Head!

Two men duel to their deaths in the Bulls Head section of Scranton. What prompted the deadly exchange?

The Bulls Head section of North Scranton certainly had its share of violent crime over the years. From the turn of the 20th century over three-plus decades, this Italian community of Scranton was the equivalent of the “Old West” with gun battles, slashing, fights and corruption. I’ve written about the Black Hand activities in the area in the past, but it seems there was an endless stream of murders over decades in this tiny section of town.

This post will focus on Dominick Curcio. He immigrated to the US from Nocera Terinese, Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy in 1921 with his brother Antonio. This area of Italy, down near “the toe” supplied many of the immigrants to US and to Pennsylvania in particular. In fact, my grandmother’s family was from a couple of hill towns over from Nocera Terinese.

Nocera Terinese

Dominick and his brother originally headed to Pittsburgh to settle in the new country.

Antonio stayed in Pittsburgh, but Dominick moved to Scranton in 1924, presumably for work. Coincidentally, there are also some other Curcios that lived in the area – although I can’t make the connection between the families. One notorious Curcio, Saverio, had already been hanged in the city for his involvement in the death of Nicholas Ferrias in a Christmas Eve duel in 1905. That incident was covered in my earlier mentioned Black Hand in Scranton post, It was actually reported that there was no relation between Saverio and Dominick.

Once in Scranton, Dominick moved to the Bulls Head section – known for its Italian immigrants – and the infamous Black Hand activities. It didn’t take long for him to be in the middle of trouble.

On June 22, 1924, Dominick got into a gun battle with “Big George” Mangano, another Italian with a long criminal history. Mangano, also immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1907, but moved to Scranton at some point where he was known to Scranton Police to be a “bad man”. He was involved in several incidents, also outlined in the Black Hand post, and served time in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and a facility in Atlanta, Georgia for his crimes that included a counterfeit ring.

Mangano allegedly had a day of drinking and rowdiness before showing up at a boarding house on Clearview Avenue, owned by Joe Damiano. He was angry and looking for Curcio. Witnesses testified that Mangano had indicated that he wanted to kill Curcio and no one was going to stop him. It was reported that earlier in the day, he had already slashed another countryman. After arriving at the boarding home, an argument ensued. Damiano testified that he told Mangano to leave the home three different times. Finally, it was said that “Big George” attempted to fire several shots at Curcio. Dominick pulled his own weapon and emptied his revolver into Mangano. Mangano was brought to the hospital with six bullet wounds riddled throughout his body.

It was later determined that Mangano fired two just shots, but an additional four bullets remained in the chamber of his weapon – each having the hammer mark, but for a miracle on Curcio’s part, did not discharge.

At just 37 years old, Mangano died two days later – leaving behind a wife and one child in Italy and two brothers-in-law in Scranton.

Curcio escaped the scene unharmed and was on the run for about a month before surrendering to the police with his attorney, claiming self-defense. It was believed that he went back to Pittsburgh, referred to at the time as “The Smoky City”, to be with his brother, but evaded capture even while the authorities chased him down there.

Upon his return, he was immediately placed in jail and set to face charges.

After months of delay, Dominick’s trial was set for April 1925. Charges were reduced from First Degree Murder to Second Degree. After two days of testimony, the jury acquitted Dominick – even though two ballots were cast for Manslaughter “to teach Curcio a lesson.”

Dominick escaped prison and was set free – but he wouldn’t be so lucky the next time.

In the early morning hours of April 2, 1929, just four years after his acquittal, Dominick gets into a feud with another North Scranton man, Nicholas Yanni. The two men, considered friends, had attended a christening earlier in the day on Blair Ave. They left the party together and walked towards their homes – Curcio on Diamond Ave and Yanni, just around the corner on Wood St. What prompted the deadly escalation is anyone’s guess, but we do know that alcohol was definitely involved.

Yanni pulled a .32 Colt revolver and shot Curcio several times. It was reported that with blood spewing from Curcio’s mouth, he lashed out at Yanni with a 4″ hunting knife and slashed the shooter several times. Curcio collapsed and died immediately in front of his home with five bullet wounds to the chest and abdomen. Meanwhile, Yanni struggled to get home. His blood trail went on for about 50 feet along the fence and down the street where he finally collapsed.

Curcio’s wife, Teresa, had heard the shots and ran to her husband’s aid, but it was too late. She had to be pulled away from the body by police officers who arrived quickly on the scene. Yanni’s wife learned of the incident shortly after, but her husband was already taken to the hospital for treatment. He passed away just moments after arrival – having suffered up to eleven stab wounds to the abdomen.

At first, it was believed that it was a duel between the two men with no witnesses. A tip led the investigation to a home a few houses down from the Curcio home. There, investigators found another man, Pasquale Tunis aka Pasquale Trunzo, bleeding profusely. Tunis was hidden away in the home of his friend, Tony Cociamiglia, with a slash from ear to ear. The police brought Tunis to the hospital and kept a close watch on him while he was undergoing treatment. When questioned, Tunis denied his involvement and said he did not know his assailant.

The investigation revealed that Curcio and his wife attended the christening at the Blair Ave home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Fata. Both Yanni and Tunis were also at the event. Curcio and his wife left the party shortly after midnight and Tunis and Yanni followed shortly after.

When the group arrived at Curcio’s home, Teresa went inside and saw the men shaking hands. Within moments, shots rang out and Teresa made her way outside to see the carnage – her husband dying in her arms. Just up the street, Frank Gallagher found Yanni lying in a pool of blood with stab wounds in his abdomen, groin, back, and side.

After a couple of days in the hospital, Pasquale Tunis finally started to open up about the incident. Tunis claimed that the two men started to argue – likely just from being intoxicated. He tried to break up the fight and that’s when Curcio pulled a knife and slashed him. Stunned, he didn’t remember much else except running away and hearing gunshots and groans from the two dying men.

Tunis hinted that the two men might have been trying to kill him – for what reason, he didn’t say. Was it the Black Hand? No one knows for sure. It was believed that Tunis was telling the truth and that the cause was simply an argument that escalated due to inebriation.

In the end, Nicholas Yanni left behind a wife and young son. Dominick Curcio left only his wife, and Pasqaule Tunis/Tunzo recovered from his wounds.

As with all of my posts, I remind people that their ancestor’s past has nothing to do with their future.

Do you have a story of a rogue ancestor? Let me know and I’ll track down what I can.

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