The assassination more than 105 years ago in Sicily of fabled NYPD detective Joseph Petrosino will reverberate Saturday in a special, poignant ceremony at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.
Italian police officials, Petrosino's relatives and members of a special society named in honor of the slain cop are scheduled to commemorate his life and untimely death following disclosure earlier this week that investigators in Italy believe they have come closer to identifying his Mafia assassin.
After a roundup of reputed Mafiosi, Italian police said that one of the suspects identified as Domenico Palazzotto was heard on a wiretap remarking that his relative, Paolo Palazzotto, was involved in killing Petrosino, 44, in Palermo on March 12, 1909. Petrosino was in Sicily on special assignment for the NYPD to uncover information about the Mafia and its activities in New York.
"We are doing this to help add closure to the family of Petrosino," said Robert Fonti, 53, of Cold Spring Harbor, an official with the nonprofit Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino Association in America Inc. "It gives us reason to know and appreciate that after 105 years, justice can be served, even if we can't be sure."
The association has about 100 members from Long Island, as well as others from the metropolitan area, Fonti said.
Mafia experts said that the new information, while tantalizing, is hardly firm proof that Paolo Palazzotto shot Petrosino. Palazzotto's name as a possible suspect appeared earlier in news reports from 1909 that indicated he worked for a time in Brooklyn under the name Giovanni Campanilo before he was deported because of Petrosino's investigative efforts.
Petrosino is credited with forming the original NYPD bomb squad and later was made head of the special "Italian Squad" that probed extortion plots by the Black Hand group, as well as crimes of early Mafia-like leader Giuseppe "Clutch Hand" Morello and others.
Police historian and author Thomas Reppetto said Petrosino reluctantly went to Sicily after then-police Commissioner Theodore Bingham gave him the assignment. A number of officials and even a priest warned Petrosino that he faced danger and possible death if he traveled to Sicily. He was gunned down while waiting for a trolley in downtown Palermo.
Reppetto noted that historical accounts mentioned how Mafia boss Vito Cascio Ferro ultimately took responsibility for killing Petrosino. Cascio Ferro and Mafia members Antonio Passanante, who reportedly owned a wine shop in Brooklyn, as well as Carlo Costantino were mentioned in news accounts as other suspects. However, no one was ever convicted of Petrosino's murder.
Petrosino's grave at Calvary is marked by a stone column topped by his bust. The crowd at the grave is expected to be small, a far cry from the 250,000 who were estimated to have watched Petrosino's funeral in 1909.