- Historic Sites
Vendetta In New Orleans
The city panicked with fear of the Mafia when the police chief was murdered
June 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 4
Corte, a tough and determined agent of his government, then asked where he might find Governor Francis Nicholls. Told to try a certain lawyer’s office, Corte hurried back to the carriage and tracked Nicholls down. The Italian diplomat pleaded with the Louisiana governor to send troops or a force of police to head off possible violence at the prison. Nicholls replied that he could do nothing until he received a request from the mayor; that he had already telephoned Mayor Shakspeare at the Pickwick Club and asked him to come over at once. Nicholls suggested that Corte sit down and wait with him. Twenty-five agonizing minutes passed; then the telephone finally rang, and someone reported that the mob had reached the prison. Corte sprang to his carriage and headed at full speed to reach the scene of the trouble.
The mob arrived at the Parish Prison and demanded the keys from Captain Davis. He refused. The ironbarred main gate looked formidable, but the barricaded wooden door on Treme Street offered the vigilantes a more vulnerable target. A pile of wood on the street provided handy battering-rams. Neighbors volunteered their axes for the task. A black man brought a heavy stone crashing down on the door. It burst open, and a roar went up from the crowd.
John Wickliffe stood guard at the shattered entrance and allowed sixty armed men to enter. The merely curious were excluded. Sentries were posted at every exit to shoot down any prisoner trying to escape.
Parkerson helped to lead a group of vigilantes, rifles slung over their shoulders, across the prison yard. The guards quickly backed out of harm’s way. As the vigilantes entered the prison building they saw in one cell a face frozen in terror. It was Scaffidi, somebody said. Shots rang out and the man dropped, though they had missed him. He was not one of the nineteen Italians. The leaders asked for someone to come forward who could identify the right prisoners. Somebody shouted, “Go to the female department.” The door to the women’s section was thrown open, and an old black woman told the vigilantes they would find the men they wanted upstairs.
The avengers first discovered young Caspare Marchesi but spared the boy because of his youth. His father, Antonio, had fled with Scaffidi and Macheca to the gallery for condemned prisoners on the third floor. A grated gate slammed and locked behind them. The gate at the other end of the corridor was locked too, trapping the three men like caged beasts. They tried to protect themselves by lining up behind a pillar in the gallery. The mob reached the third floor, but the locked gate kept them from getting directly at the prisoners. Scaffidi peered out briefly, and he was shot through the head. Marchesi stumbled over Scaffidi’s fallen body and, while struggling to his feet, was riddled with buckshot. Someone unlocked the gate for the vigilantes. They moved in and made short work of Joseph Macheca. He slumped to the floor, and the avengers passed over him.
Six other prisoners had fled down a back stairway and hidden in a cell until discovered by half a dozen gunmen. They then burst into the courtyard, where they were finally trapped against a wall. The six huddled piteously on their knees, their hands over their heads, pleading for mercy. The executioners poured a deadly rain of fire into the crouching figures, who fell in a blood-soaked heap. Monasterio, still alive, raised a hand. “Give him another load,” someone shouted. A revolver shot dispatched the shoemaker for good.
To satisfy the crowd, which had missed the action within the prison, Antonio Bagnetto was dragged outside and hanged from a tree, although the man was probably dead already from gunshot wounds.
The crazed Polizzi was found crouched under a staircase, babbling to himself. He too was dragged before the mob. A rope was thrown around his neck, and he was hoisted to a lamppost. Polizzi managed to grab the rope and pull himself up, hand over hand, until he reached the crossbar and hung there gasping. A young man climbed the post and beat him in the face until the prisoner lost his grip and fell to the ground. Finally, on the fourth attempt, with his hands tied behind him, Polizzi was hanged. The crowd gave out a deafening cheer.
One of those who arrived too late to witness the spectacle, or to help avert it, was Pasquale Corte. On reaching the jail the Italian consul realized the massacre was over and headed back to his office, where he would soon be occupied in the grim business of helping the families of the victims.
Twenty minutes after the Treme Street door had burst open, it was over. Eleven men lay dead. The other eight Italian prisoners were spared, either because they had not been found or someone had vouched for their innocence. For those who still had not seen enough, arrangements were made for small groups of ten to fifteen spectators each to pass through the prison to witness the vigilantes’ handiwork.
Mr. Parkerson addressed the crowd once more: “I called you together for a duty. You have performed that duty. Now, go home and God bless you.”