Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 14, 2017

Today’s Politically Charged Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the afternoon of April 15, 1920, outside a shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, security guards Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli were engaged in transferring the company’s $15,777 payroll when two men approached. Without warning, one of the strangers opened fire, mortally wounding both guards. His partner, who wore a dark handlebar mustache, pumped yet more rounds into the helpless victims. Heaving the payroll boxes into a waiting car that contained three other men, the killers made their escape. Eyewitnesses described the gang as “Italian looking,” but of more use to investigators were the empty shells recovered from the sidewalk. All were manufactured by three firms: Peters, Winchester, and Remington.

Two days later, a stolen Buick thought to be the getaway vehicle was found abandoned in some woods. Evidence linked it to an abortive payroll robbery at another shoe factory in nearby Bridgewater the previous Christmas Eve. It was believed to have been masterminded by an Italian named Mike Boda, but when police raided Boda’s suspected hideout, he had already fled.

However, two other men were arrested: Nicola Sacco, twenty-nine, and his mustachioed companion, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, thirty-two. Both denied owning any guns, yet each was in the possession of a loaded pistol, and Sacco’s was a .32, the same caliber as the murder weapon. Also, Sacco was carrying twenty-three bullets, all made by Peters, Winchester, and Remington. Vanzetti was a fish peddler; Sacco – significantly – worked in a shoe factory. Both were members of anarchist cells that openly espoused violence, a fact that inflamed public opinion against them. 

Sacco and-a Vanzetti.  No, wait – Vanzetti and-a Sacco.

Eleven months later, on May 31, 1921, their trial opened in Dedham, Massachusetts, amid the hysteria of America’s first “Red Scare,” a time when anyone whose politics even hinted of radicalism was considered to be dangerously subversive.  The court heard dozens of identification witnesses, fifty-nine for the prosecution and ninety-nine for the defense, a welter of testimony that produced only confusion. Similar ambiguity surrounded the question of whether Sacco’s .32 had actually fired the bullet that killed Berardelli. Whereas one prosecution expert declared that it was indeed the murder weapon, another would only concede the possibility. Two defense experts harbored no such doubts, being adamant that Sacco’s gun could not have fired the fatal bullet.

Any ambiguity raised by the gun paled in the face of one incontrovertible and damning fact: the bullet that killed Berardelli was so outdated that the prosecution’s expert witnesses could locate none like it to test Sacco’s gun – except the equally obsolete bullets from Sacco’s pockets. On July 14, 1921, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Judge Thayer sentenced the defendants to death.

The outcome touched off a firestorm of protest. Around the globe, left-wing parties lionized Sacco and Vanzetti, portraying them as innocent victims of capitalist justice.

In June 1927, a committee appointed to review the case contacted the man who would become America’s leading firearms expert, Calvin Goddard, at the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York. Armed with two recent inventions, the comparison microscope and the helixometer, Goddard traveled to Dedham. The helixometer, invented by physicist John H. Fisher, was a hollow probe fitted with a light and a magnifying glass for examining the insides of gun barrels. With defense expert Augustus Gill acting as witness, Goddard fired a bullet from Sacco’s revolver into cotton wool, then placed it beside the murder bullet on the comparison microscope. The outcome was unequivocal – the murder bullet had been fired from Sacco’s revolver. Gill, peering through the microscope, had to agree. He exclaimed, “Well, what do you know about that?” When his fellow defense expert, James Burns, also changed his opinion, Sacco and Vanzetti’s last hopes were dashed. On August 23, 1927, over worldwide protests, they died in the electric chair.

Death masks of Sacco and Vanzetti.  As my mother’s Italian friend used to say, “Nana babies!”

Culled from: The Casebook of Forensic Detection


Aztec Death Whistle*

Leave it to those clever Aztec kids to come up with a whistle that can recreate the sound of your favorite horror movie scene at will!  And to make it so damned pretty too!  We all want one, right?  (Thanks to Marco for the link.)

The Horrifying Sound of an Aztec Death Whistle

* Death Metal Band Name???

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