Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Philadelphia's Poison Ring

The Poison Ring

Philadelphia investigators ordered a urine specimen from Alfonsis doctors, which later revealed large quantities of arsenic. According to Stedman's Medical Dictionary, arsenic could cause heat and irritation in throat and stomach; vomiting, purging with rice-water stools; cramps in calf muscles, restlessness, even convulsions, prostration, fainting, somnolence, dizziness, delirium, extreme prostration, coma.  While some cases, if caught in a timely manner, can be treated, the majority of victims succumb to the poison and die.

It was now up to the assistant district attorney.  According to Michael Newton, author of Hunting Humans, McDevitt wasted little time in arresting Petrillo on charges of attempted murder, but when Alfonsi died a few weeks later, the charge was changed to homicide.  When McDevitt questioned Petrillo, he was skeptical that he would walk away with anything he could use.  After all, this was the same man that the Secret Service had worked for so many years to arrest.  However, to McDevitts amazement, Petrillo would not shut up.  He provided the D.A. with a mind-boggling list of victims and conspirators, claiming that his cousin, Paul Petrillo, along with Morris Bolber, were the masterminds behind the entire operation. 

McDevitt was really surprised as Petrillo named one victim after another: Luigi LaVecchio, late husband of Sophie LaVecchio; Charles Ingrao, late common-law husband of Maria Favato; Mollie Starace, a friend of Paul Petrillo; Antonio Romualdo, late husband of Josephine Romualdo; John Woloshyn, late husband of Marie Woloshyn; Dominic Carina, Prospero Lisi, and Peter Stea, all late husbands of Rose Carina; Joseph Arena, late husband of Anna Arena; Romaine Mandiuk, late husband of Agnes Mandiuk; Pietro Pirolli, late husband of Grace Pirolli; Salvatore Carilli, late husband of Rose Carilli; Jennifer Pino, late wife of Thomas Pino; Antonio Giacobbe, late husband of Millie Giacobbe; Guiseppi DiMartino, late husband of Susie DiMartino; Ralph Caruso, late tenant of Christine Cerrone; Philip Ingrao, late stepson of Maria Favato; Lena Winkleman, late mother-in-law of Joseph Swartz; Jennie Cassetti, late wife of Dominick Cassetti; and lastly, Ferdinando Alfonsi, late husband of Stella Alfonsi.  Petrillo said that all but three of the victims had been killed with arsenic.

Investigators now had the daunting task of proving Petrillos allegations.   The only way they could get solid proof would be to exhume every victim.  McDevitt already had Ferdinando Alfonsis urine test results and decided to proceed with that case.  He knew that he could always file charges regarding the other cases later and wanted to get started on the prosecution for Alfonsis murder.  On February 2, 1939, the grand jury indicted Herman and Paul Petrillo, Stella Alfonsi, and Maria Favato.  Marias husband was the first to be exhumed and her late husbands autopsy revealed large quantities of arsenic in his system.  The New York Times reported on February 17, 1939, that the grand jury reached its verdict in only seven and a half minutes.  The defendants would be going to trial.

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