Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE CROTON LAKE MURDER

The Killing

Angelo Guista
Angelo Guista

On the night of November 8, 1911, Cali, Zanza and Vincenzo Cona met in Orlando's Saloon in Brooklyn, a favorite spot for both Italian laborers and Black Hand criminals. Soon, Salvatore DeMarco, Angelo Guista and Filippo DeMarco, who were also from the Caltinesetta district in Sicily, joined them. They drank all night. Cali told them of his plan to rob the widow at Croton Lake in the morning. Three thousand dollars was just too much money to be ignored. Just before midnight, the men took a trolley over to 155th Street station where they caught the late train to Croton. Paying a fare of seventy-five cents, each man boarded the train and then split up in two cars. After a trip that lasted two hours, the train pulled into the Croton Lake Depot at about 3 a.m.

 The men left the train and began the walk in the cold night toward the Griffin homestead. When they reached the edge of the woods where Cali could see the house, the men sat down in the forest to rest and wait for daylight. Still feeling the effects of wine from the night before, they fell asleep in the quiet darkness, unaware they would never sleep as well again.

As the morning sun appeared over the eastern hills, Cali and Zanza awoke first. They moved to another spot where they could more easily study the Griffin house. At about 7:30 a.m., they observed three men leave the building, board a horse and carriage and ride off. Cali knew from watching the house for months that the men would not return until late afternoon or early evening. It was their signal for the thieves to move in, now that there were only three adult women in the home: Anna Griffin, Gertrude Rae and Mary Hall.

"Adesso, Santo! Adesso!" said Cali.

Vincenzo Cona
Vincenzo Cona

Cali, Zanza, Guista and Salvatore DeMarco walked down the path to the front door. Inside, the second floor tenant, Mrs. Gertrude Rae, saw the men and thought they wanted milk. It was not unusual for Italian laborers to buy milk or eggs at the farm. "I recall that morning I saw four or five Italians going along the path, as I thought to get milk," she later said. But a few minutes later, she watched as the men broke into the house. "One of these Italians raced back to the front door and pulled open the screen door and raced in. I knew something was wrong because the Italians never use that door," she said to investigators.

Simultaneously, Cali confronted Anna Griffin at the other entrance to the house. She saw several men at the front door that asked in broken English for milk. One of the men, later identified as Cali, held out 50 cents for milk. When Anna went to take the money, he pulled out a gun. "Cali stepped forward with a revolver pointed at me and said 'Hands up!' she later told police.

Cali demanded money. The terrified woman gave him what she had on the kitchen table, a few dollars. Then Cali forced Anna into the living room where she opened the family safe. Sal DeMarco grabbed whatever money was in the safe and told Anna to lie down on the floor. As Cona rifled through the first floor rooms, Gertrude Rae scooped up her two babies and ran out of the house.

Meanwhile, upstairs on the second floor, Zanza and Guista found Mary Hall in the bedroom. They began to search the room for money. When Mary realized what was going on, she became very afraid.

"Take anything you want!" she said.

"Where's the money!" screamed Zanza as he held a knife to her face. Mary began to cry and yell for help. Guista forced her down into a chair as she continued to scream.

"Shut her up!" he said. Guista grabbed an apron off the bed and tied it around her neck but the terrified woman screamed even louder. Guista ignored her and started to ransack the dresser drawers. Zanza stood over Mary Hall, and without warning, plunged the stiletto into her chest. She writhed in agony.

"Come over here and hold her!" he said. Guista pushed the apron into her mouth but still she managed to scream. Zanza stabbed her repeatedly until she fell off the chair and onto the floor in a growing pool of fresh blood. As Mary Hall lay dead at their feet, Guista and Zanza found some jewelry in a dresser and shoved it into their pockets.

Filippo DeMarco
Filippo DeMarco

"Andiamo! Andiamo, Angelo!" Said Zanza, as they ran down the steps and out of the house. The others were not far behind. When they ran past the barn, they saw Filippo DeMarco standing guard over Gertrude Rae and her two babies. As they reached the top of the hill, Zanza and Cali pulled out their handguns and fired a number of shots into the air. Then, they disappeared into the woods. Four of the men still did not know that a killing had taken place on the second floor.

Anna Griffin watched from her window as the men ran off. She stumbled into her kitchen and immediately called the Aqueduct Police whose office was less than a mile away.

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