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Joe Petrosino Square

Location: Corner of Lafayette and Kenmare streets
Status: NYC Park

Crammed into a small triangular plot of land in SoHo, Lieutenant Joe Petrosino Square pays homage to one of the most intrepid cops in NYPD History. In the course of his career, Petrosino would go from street sweeper to NYPD Lieutenant only to be cut down by assassin’s bullets on the streets of Palermo. More recently, Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing Joseph Petrosino in his new movie, The Black Hand, based on a book by Stephan Talty.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Black Hand

Named for NYPD detective Lieutenant Joe Perosino, Petrosino square honors the famed detective cut down by mafia assassins on the streets of Palermo. He traveled to Sicily to investigate the Black Hand.

 

Crime Sweeper: The White Wings

Born Giuseppe Petrosino in 1860, the detective got his start with the New York Police Department in an unusual way, sweeping streets. In those days, street cleaners or whitewings, as they were known, fell under the command of the New York’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Petrosino scrubbed the bloody streets of the tenderloin district, a rowdy neighborhood populated by brothels and casinos. The raucous quarter was commanded by police inspector Alexander “Clubber” Williams, a famous brawler who earned his nickname as a beat cop in the Five Points. Clubber once bragged:

 

“There is more law in the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.”

 

Sensing Petrosino’s linguistic skills, Williams put the Italian street sweeper to work as a special assistant in tenderloin cases involving Italians. At age of 23, the 5’7” Petrosino became the shortest patrolman on the force, a favor that came courtesy of Williams, who forced the Police Board to wave the height regulations.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand

Alexander Clubber William brought the young Petrosino into the NYPD to help with Italian crimes.

 

On the Trail of The Back Hand

By 1890, Petrosino moved up to the investigation section, policing the crime wave sweeping little Italy. Dubbed the Black Hand or La Mana Nero by the papers because of the distinct extortion letters signed with a black handprint, Black Hand gangsters specialized in kidnapping, extortion and bombings.

The newspapers failed to realize that the Black Hand was actually a myth dreamed up by a New York Tribune reporter. The papers could not have imagined that the real culprit behind these crimes was a secret criminal society known as the Mafia, a term unknown at the time.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand

Know as the Black Hand for their distinctive extortion notes often featuring black hand prints, the criminal organization often served as a front for mafia activities.

 

Prince of the Black Hand:

Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello:

 

Ruled by a cutthroat mustachioed scoundrel with a deformed hand, Giuseppe “Peter” Morello ruled New York’s first crime family, an organization that would one day be absorbed by Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese. Morello made his bones in the old country as an assassin, counterfeiter and kidnapper before fleeing to America to avoid murder charges.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand, The Clutching Hand Morello,

Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello, leader of America’s first Mafia family.

 

Petrosino and Teddy Roosevelt

While Morello sailed across the Atlantic, Petrosino carved out a name for himself in the NYPD. By 1890, he moved up to the investigation section. A master of disguise, the young sleuth possessed an array of costumes.

Petrosino’s antics amused Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt and the pair became instant friends. A shrewd politician, Roosevelt realized that the influx of Italians would further his political base if he had his own inside man. For this reason, Teddy promoted Petrosino to Sergeant Detective, the first Italian-American to attain that rank.

 

Uncovering the Mafia: The Italian Squad

By 1903, there were more Italians in New York than there were in Rome. Collectively the Italian population was 1/4 of the entire city, however, only eleven police officers spoke Italian.

After a rash of tenement bombings, the NYPD formed the Italian Squad. The five-man band included Maurise Bonil, Peter Dondero, George Silva, John Lagomarsini, and Ugo Cassidi. The great grandfather of the NYPD Bomb Squad, the Italian Squad specialized in bomb disposal.

 

Giuseppe Morello, Joe Petrosino, Italian Squad, Mafia, NYPD, New York Police Department, Lupo the Wolf, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Vito Cascioferro, The Barrel Murder, The Clutch Hand, Peter Morello, Alexander Clubber Williams, Black Hand, The Clutching Hand Morello, Joseph Petrosino

Joseph Petrosino leader of the New York Police Department’s Italian Squad.

 

Meanwhile, it seemed that every Italian thug with a scrap of paper and a pen was turning to Black Hand extortion while true Mafioso, like Giuseppe Morello, worked to solidify their criminal empires. Upon arriving in America, Morello enlisted the help of a savage enforcer, Ignacio Lupo “the Wolf”, and Don Vito Cascioferro, an unusual Mafioso by all accounts. Ferro started life as an anarchist who took part in uprisings, protests, and political assassinations in Sicily and later served as president of the Fasci of Bisaquino.

 

The Death of Joe Petrosino

Petrosino quickly became the bane of the Morello Crime Family. After Cracking the Barrel Murder, Pertrosino issued an arrest warrant for Cascioferro, who fled to Sicily. In 1909, Lt. Petrosino traveled over 4,000 miles to Palermo to uncover the secrets of the Mafia. It would be the detective’s undoing. Cascioferro’s assassins caught up with Petrosino murdering him on the Piazza Marina.

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