Tragedy In Dedham: A Final Note

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In their final report Colonel Jury and Mr. Weller concluded that Bullet III and Shell W had been fired in Sacco’s Colt and could have been fired in no other weapon. Both pistol and bullet, they found, were the same as originally introduced in evidence. Lest this latter statement be challenged, the pistol tested bore the same serial number as the Colt offered in evidence at the trial; the bullets and shells corresponded exactly to the description and photos of the bullets and shells offered in evidence.

Even if sufficient rust had accumulated in Sacco’s pistol to make impossible any comparison of bullets fired in 1961 with Bullet III, there was still the ample evidence of the 1921 test bullets. Similarly, rust on the barrel would not have affected the imprint of the breechblock on the 1961 shell cases.

Judge Musmanno even suggests that the Colt of 1961 is not the Colt of 1921. Obviously if it were a different weapon, the 1961 test bullets would not have matched the 1921 test bullets or Bullet III. And if the 1961 test bullets had not matched Bullet III I should have been the first to make this public and Judge Musmanno—forgetting the rust—would have been the first to announce that the tests had proved Sacco innocent. In mentioning Dr. Hamilton, Judge Musmanno neglects to state that the selfstyled doctor was a defense expert and was caught trying to tamper with the evidence. In a post-trial ballistics hearing Hamilton appeared in court with two new Colts of a similar type which he said he wished to compare with Sacco’s. After disassembling all three pistols, he assembled them again and in so doing managed to replace the barrel of Sacco’s pistol with one from his own without anyone’s notice. As Hamilton was leaving the courtroom Judge Thayer called him back and impounded the two pistols that Hamilton was carrying away with him. Only later was it discovered that one of these pistols contained the barrel of Sacco’s Colt. If Hamilton’s scheme of switching barrels had succeeded and he had later demanded that Sacco’s Colt be test-fired, the markings on such test bullets would have been completely different from Bullet III. On these grounds Hamilton would have demanded a new trial. Nevertheless the test shells would have continued to match Shell W!

After Bullet III and the other bullets were removed from the dead guard’s body, they were placed, along with the shells picked up at the scene of crime, in the custody of Captain Proctor. He, and he alone, was in the position to replace the exhibits, Bullet III and Shell W, by a shell and bullet test-fired from Sacco’s pistol. Yet to the end of his life Captain Proctor held to his belief, based on crude caliper measurements, that Bullet III had not come from Sacco’s Colt. As I have pointed out before, if he had made such a substitution he would have known that Bullet III came from Sacco’s Colt, however guilty he might have felt about his deception. The markings on the base of all four bullets—photographed by me for the first time—can be seen to be roughly similar. …

No rhetoric, not even Judge Musmanno’s, can explain away such facts.

Francis Russell