Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE CROTON LAKE MURDER

Death Closes In

NY Times headline
NY Times headline

The Hall murder had attracted a great deal of attention in the press. Never before had so many defendants been sentenced to death for one murder in New York. Because the men spoke little English, there was concern about due process. But many people saw the sentence as just rewards for the killers despite the fact that not one person of Italian descent sat on any of the juries. There was a widespread resentment toward the Italian community, which did not help matters. Immigrants were imagined to be violent criminals and the public had little sympathy for their problems. To most people, it mattered little that four of the suspects did not even know a murder was committed during the robbery at the Griffin house. They had a trial, were found guilty and now had to suffer the penalty. Case closed.

While he sat on Death Row, Zanza wrote to the Italian Consulate, Antonio Vinci, in Yonkers, explaining the situation. In his letter of April 6, 1912, Zanza said the others did not deserve to die. He said "they cry night and day that they did not do anything...Now if I did this killing why these other unfortunate fellows got to suffer the same, without any reason. I can't understand why these other men were sentenced too." As a result, the Italian Mission asked a group of lawyers to intervene on their behalf. Amos R. E. Pinchot, a New York City attorney, took up the cause and asked the governor to commute the sentence of four of the men who took no part in the killing of Mary Hall. He wrote an eloquent appeal to District Attorney Winslow in which he said that those four "are not upon the same plane of moral guilt as the men who went up to the second floor and who are responsible for the most shocking part of the transaction. To put to death all these men irrespective of whether they are morally guilty or not, would be a real miscarriage of justice..." In a reply letter to Antonio Vinci, District Attorney Winslow cited the law and said that since the suspects were committing a burglary at the time of the murder, they were all as guilty as the man "who actually struck the blow."

Zanza Letter (Courtesy Westchester County District Attorney's office)
Zanza Letter
(Courtesy Westchester County District
Attorney's office)

On July 5, 1912, Santo Zanza, his own death appearing more imminent each day, had a change of mind. He asked to the see Sing Sing Warden John S. Kennedy. He told Kennedy that he wanted to tell the truth about the involvement of Cali, Cona, DeMarco and the others. He said that he tricked his friends to come with him to Mrs. Hall's house in order to get some work. He had planned to rob the woman all along because he had heard that she acquired $3,000 from an insurance policy when her husband died. "As soon as I perpetrated my crime I accused these three persons with the double aim of having them indicted for murder and saving my own life at the same time by denouncing them," he said.

Zanza also repeated the assertion that in Italy, it was a routine practice to give a lighter sentence to the suspect who cooperates the most. "This is a common belief of the Italians," he added. Zanza said that he alone committed the murder and all the others were innocent. "I have absolutely nothing to gain by making this statement except to ease my own conscience," he said and signed the statement "Santo Zanza #61706". Warden Kennedy secured the confession and then had it sent over to the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. The reaction of the D.A.s office was summed up in this newspaper account: "The authorities that arrested and convicted Zanza and the other men agree that the statement is a lie."

On July 12, 1912, Santo Zanza was removed from his cell on Death Row and taken to the execution chamber. Along the way, he said his final goodbyes to Cali, Cona and the others. He was killed in the electric chair along with two other men that same day, who were unrelated to the Croton Lake killing. A short time later, District Attorney Francis A. Winslow received a mailed invitation to view the five executions scheduled for Monday, August 12th at 5 p.m.

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