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Slaying of Det. Brian Moore brings up memories of cop killed in 1909

Joseph Petrosino Square in lower Manhattan is seen

Joseph Petrosino Square in lower Manhattan is seen in this undated photo. Credit: Anthony M. Destefano

When NYPD chaplain Msgr. John J. Romano mentioned the 1909 assassination of Officer Joseph Petrosino during Friday's funeral Mass for Det. Brian Moore, many among the thousands at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Seaford knew the story of what happened when the detective died at the hands of organized crime.

But in Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino Square in lower Manhattan, some 28 miles west of the church, people eating lunch and basking in the sunlight didn't know who the park was named after, much less what had happened.

"We didn't know, too bad," said Sari Inkinen, a tourist from Finland vacationing with her husband Raimo in Manhattan.

"It should be something [remembered]," said Raimo Inkinen.

On what was supposed to be a secret assignment in Sicily to investigate the Mafia, Petrosino, 44, was gunned down in a public square in Palermo on March 12, 1909. His killers, whom investigators believed were a cabal of American and Italian Mafiosi, were never brought to justice. Back in New York, Petrosino's funeral was reportedly watched by a crowd of 250,000.

Matthew, who did not give his last name, is a resident of the SoHo neighborhood where the park is located. Eating a sandwich, he said that he knew of the place because a Citi Bike stand is at the northern end of the tiny green space. But he wasn't familiar with the story of Petrosino's death, although, like many New Yorkers, he knew of the killing of Moore.

The small park, at the intersection of Lafayette Street and Cleveland Place verging on Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho, was renamed in honor of Petrosino in 1987.

For many in the city and on Long Island, the story of Petrosino still resonates strongly, particularly in the face of Moore's death.

"What Petrosino did is in the spotlight from 100 years ago, the only thing that hasn't stopped is officers being assassinated," said Robert Fonti, 54, of Cold Spring Harbor, vice president of the nonprofit Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino Association in America. "It is a sad history that repeats itself."

Following Moore's death, Fonti said the association is considering honoring the entire NYPD -- not just one person -- on Oct. 1 during its annual dinner in Queens.

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