Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Philadelphia's Poison Ring

Undercover Agents

Agent Landvoight arranged for Stanly Phillips, a street-wise agent of the Secret Service, to work with Meyer.  On August 1, 1938, Meyer and Phillips met with Herman Petrillo at a local diner.  Petrillo was uncomfortable discussing the plans in public, so the three men went outside and sat in his Dodge sedan.  Meyer introduced Phillips as Johnny Phillips, a friend of his that was fresh out of prison after serving time for murder. 

Herman Petrillo
Herman Petrillo (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)
Herman Petrillo didnt seem to mind and the conversation soon turned to Alfonsi.  He suggested that they take him to the Jersey coast and drown him.  They could leave his clothing at the scene and it would look like an accident.  Phillips was not interested in the murder plot and wanted to get his hands on some of Petrillos counterfeit money.  In order to work this in, he suggested that Petrillo give them some money to buy a car.  They could use the car to transport the victim to a dark country road, where they could then run him over with the car and leave his body along side of the road.  Petrillo liked the idea, but suggested they steal a car, rather than purchase one for the job.  Phillips decided not to press the matter and the men decided to think the crime over.

According to Poison Widows, the cat-and-mouse games continued for the next several weeks and on August 22, 1938, the men convened at a local eatery on Thayer Street.  Petrillo still did not want to give the men money to buy a car but did, much to Phillips' delight, offer to sell them some fake bills.  Petrillo reached into his wallet and pulled out a counterfeit five-dollar bill.  Phillips was awestruck by the quality of the bill and quickly started making arrangements to buy $200 worth of the bogus bills.  Petrillo, initially reluctant to deal, finally agreed and said he would need two weeks to deliver.

Phillips was ecstatic about the possibility of finally arresting Herman Petrillo.  After years of undercover work and sting operations, he now had his man right where he wanted him.  Or so he thought.  When the two-week time period arrived, and then passed, he began to worry that Petrillo might have gotten wind of their plan and asked Meyer to try and find out what was going on.  Petrillo was nowhere to be found.  No one had seen him in over a week and he could not be found at any of his usual haunts. 

Meyer was getting increasingly nervous and decided to check on Ferdinando Alfonsi, the man Petrillo wanted dead.  He knew where the man lived and drove over to his house on Ann Street.  Posing as a construction worker, Meyer knocked on the door and waited anxiously.  Finally, just when he was about to turn and walk away, a middle-aged woman opened the door.  Meyer pretended to be interested in doing some work on the home and asked to speak with the man of the house.  However, to his immediate dismay, the woman informed him that her husband was very ill and could not get out of bed.  As quickly and politely as he could, Meyer apologized for having disturbed them and made his way back to his car.

Agent Phillips got a sick feeling in his stomach when Meyer explained the situation to him.  Perhaps they had spent too much time focusing on the bogus bills and not enough time protecting the intended victim.  Phillips called together several agents and the group, posing as insurance representatives, went to check on Alfonsis condition.  While they had no problem getting inside, they were shocked when they saw Alfonsi.  His pupils were bulging and he could neither move nor speak.  The agents then contacted the Philadelphia police. 

Meanwhile, Petrillo contacted Meyer and told him he had their money.  A meeting was arranged at a local bus stop and later that day Meyer and Phillips met him there.  Petrillo gave the man an envelope, which contained 40 counterfeit five-dollar bills.  Philips was happy to finally get the money, but was also concerned about Alfonsi and decided to see what he could find out.  Pretending the men still wanted the job, Phillips asked Petrillo if he still wanted Alfonsi taken out.  Petrillo grinned and said that they did not have to worry about it.  He is in the hospital, and he is not coming out, he said.

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