Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE CROTON LAKE MURDER

Swift Justice

A roll call of Aqueduct Police. (Courtesy of NY Dept of Environmental Protection Police)
A roll call of Aqueduct Police.
(Courtesy of NY Dept of
Environmental Protection Police)

Eleven days later, on November 27, 1911, the first murder trial opened at White Plains County Court house amid heavy security. Westchester cops, who were still in Brooklyn searching for the elusive Penolo, had sent back word that the Italian gangs were planning to disrupt or kidnap the suspects. "Fear of Rescuers at Murder Trial," read the headline in the N.Y. Times on November 28. Sgt. Michael Bernabie of the Aqueduct Police was asked to supply a contingent of officers to protect the court from an invasion. "No Italian who could not prove that his presence in the courtroom was necessary should be admitted to the Court House," said the N.Y. Times. But that didn't stop a contingent of Italians from Brooklyn from showing up at the courthouse on the morning of the first trial. Sgt. Bernabie later reported, "I had a reception committee waiting for them and when we got through they were a sad looking lot. They left town on the first train."

First to take the stand in the trial was Gertrude Rae, who repeated the account of the robbery she had told to the grand jury. Anna Griffin and the Aqueduct Police officers that arrested Cono and DeMarco followed her to the stand. The case went to the jury the next morning and after a total deliberation time of ten minutes, Cono was found guilty of murder in the first degree. The next day, after a brief trial where the same witnesses testified, Filippo DeMarco and Lorenzo Cali were found guilty of murder.

Throughout the week, D.A. Winslow and Judge Tompkins received Black Hand notes delivered to their homes. Winslow told the N.Y. Times that he had "been getting them every day or two, but he pays no attention to them." But the guard in the courtroom was doubled and the hallways of the court building resembled an armed camp. While the trials progressed, a number of people at the aqueduct project were arrested for carrying concealed weapons, adding to the high level of tension in the courthouse.

After a long weekend break, Santo Zanza went on trial Monday, December 4. Against his attorney's advice, Zanza decided to take the stand. He denied that he took part in the murder and said he came to Croton Lake to get a job. Once he arrived at the Griffin house, he said, Filippo DeMarco told him to stand outside and act as a lookout. "A little while passed and I saw all of them running out of the house into the woods. I, being strange to the country, ran too," he said. Zanza said that he lied when he told the cops that Lorenzo Cali killed Mrs. Hall. "Sure, I lied! Now I tell the truth!" he screamed. At 4:35 p.m., the jury began deliberations. Barely seven minutes later, at 4:42 p.m., the jury returned a guilty verdict of first-degree murder.

The Aqueduct Police bicycle patrol in the Croton Lake area 1915 (Courtesy New York Department Environmental Protection  Police)
The Aqueduct Police bicycle patrol
in the Croton Lake area 1915
(Courtesy New York Department
Environmental Protection Police)

On Tuesday, the following day, after a trial that lasted two hours, Angelo Guista was convicted of murder. He was the last of the defendants in custody to be convicted. As soon as the Guista verdict was announced, Judge Tompkins had the other defendants brought into court for sentencing. All were sentenced to die in the electric chair during the week of January 15, 1912. Never before had so many defendants been sentenced to death for the same crime. The four trials of the suspects required 17 hours total time from jury selection to sentencing. As the doomed prisoners were led out of the court, sullen, dirty and unshaven for many days, Zanza screamed at the court. "I was innocent! I never even saw the woman who was killed!" he shouted. The men were immediately chained together and taken over to Death Row at Sing Sing Prison. The N.Y. Times said Westchester "had established a new record for the quick disposal of murder cases in this state."

It had been just 26 days since Mary Hall was murdered.

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