On Thursday, April 15, 1920, a
murder-robbery occurred in the town of South Braintree, Massachusetts, ten miles outside
of Boston. At about 3:00 PM, a paymaster and a guard employed by the Slater and Morrill
shoe factory were gunned down by a gang of robbers who stole more than $15,000 of the
company payroll and escaped in a stolen car. The crime was viscous; witnesses saw a robber
mercilessly pump bullets into the already-fallen guard.
America in the 20s wanted nothing to do with Europe or its people, particularly
the immigrants who, in their minds, took jobs and brought controversial ideas with them.
Many of these ideas challenged the principles of democracy on which President Wilson urged
America to fight World War I. In addition, the government was actively arresting (the
Palmer Raids) and deporting "known" anarchists back to Europe.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolemeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants and
self-proclaimed anarchists, were arrested three weeks after the crime. Sacco worked at a
shoe factory in Soughton, Mass., and Vanzetti was a fish peddler in Plymouth, Mass.
Judge Webster Thayer served as judge at the trial and eventually ordered Sacco
and Vanzetti to die. He reportedly told an acquaintance, "We must protect ourselves
against them, there are so many reds in the country."
The Jury Foreman was said to have remarked, "Damn them, they ought to
hang them anyway."
The Witnesses (Prosecution)
Lewis Pelser worked at a factory overlooking the crime scene. He claims he saw
Sacco shoot the payroll guard, shoot the paymaster and shoot the window through which
Pelser was watching the crime.
Frances L. Delvin, a bookeeper, said she saw Sacco shoot into a crowd of
onlookers as the car drove away from the crime.
Lola Andrews, a passerby, said she spoke to Sacco who was working under a car
on Pearl St. In South Braintree, where the robbery occurred later that day.
Harry Dolbeare repaired pianos and said he saw Sacco in a car with other
Italians in South Braintree in the morning before the crime.
Michael Levangie tended to a railroad gate in South Braintree and claims that
Vanzetti was driving the getaway car as it drove past his shack.
The Witnesses (Defense)
Dominik Ricci worked as a carpenter and said he saw Sacco at the train station
in the morning waiting fr the train.
Angelo Monello, a contractor, said he saw Sacco in Bostons North End at
the time of the crime.
Carlos Affe, a Boston grocery store owner, said he conducted business with
LeFarve Brini was friends with Vanzetti and said she was given fish by him
Melvin Corl was a fisherman and said he spoke to Vanzetti for an
hour-and-a-half while Corl painted his boat.
Angel Guidobone also said she purchased fish from him that morning.
Sacco owned the same type of pistol (.32 caliber Colt automatic) that was used in the
There were four bullets found in the corpses. One bullet most likely came from
Saccos gun - the other three definitely did not.
Vanzettis pistol (.38 caliber revolver) was said to be the same type of gun the
guard owned and was taken from the scene of the crime. No one knew for sure what type of
gun the guard had or even if he wore one that day.
You Be The Judge
What really happened that day? How would you determine the guilt or innocence of Sacco
and Vanzetti? What pieces of evidence convinced you?
Things to Think About
Sacco and Vanzetti both were suspects in a series of bombings that led to the 1919
Palmer Raids. The District Atty. Could never get enough evidence to bring them to
Sacco and Vanzetti both were involved in illegally selling anarchist literature.Three
of Lewis Pelsers co-workers said he hid underneath a bench during the entire