On the 110th anniversary of the fatal shooting of fabled NYPD Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino, a group of Long Islanders, NYPD officers and Italian dignitaries dedicated a plaque in his honor Tuesday near the spot in Palermo, Sicily, where he was gunned down.
A trailblazing investigator who helped create the harbinger of the NYPD bomb squad, intelligence squad and canine units, Petrosino was killed while on a supposedly secret mission to Sicily to investigate gangsters with ties to New York City. His death while on foreign assignment is still the only time an NYPD officer has died while on duty overseas, officials have said.
“Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino remains an iconic figure both in America and in Italy, and it is the honor of our lives to be able to visit Palermo this month on the 110th anniversary of his death,” said Robert Fonti, of Cold Spring Harbor, president and founder of the Lt. Det Joseph Petrosino Association in America, in a statement.
The NYPD plans to hold an additional commemorative ceremony March 18 at police headquarters in Manhattan.
Since his death, Petrosino has become a police legend. He formed a special “Italian squad” to go after members of the murderous Black Hand, an amorphous group thst plagued the Italian immigrant community through extortion, murders and bombings.
To keep the memory of Petrosino’s accomplishments alive, Fonti, along with 14 members of the association from Long Island, as well as American police officials and descendants of Petrosino, made this year’s pilgrimage to Italy. In the Palermo square where Petrosino died, a plaque designed by artist Pippo Made was dedicated.
Earlier in the trip, Fonti and the group made stops at Padula, Petrosino’s birthplace, and met with Italian government officials in Rome and Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Petrosino made the fateful trip to Sicily in March 1909, shortly after he was promoted to the rank of detective. The secrecy surrounding his trip was blown when then-Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham revealed that the detective was on special assignment in Italy. Petrosino was supposed to meet an informant with information about Italian mobsters in Palermo’s Piazza Marina when he was shot multiple times. Investigators believed the killer was linked to New York gangster Giuseppe Morello. No one ever went to prison for the killing.
It took almost a month to bring Petrosino’s body back to New York, where his funeral drew a reported 200,000-plus onlookers. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens.
Fonti said Petrosino inspired young Americans and Italians to join law enforcement. Relatives of Petrosino, retired Brooklyn assistant district attorney Joseph Petrosino and his son Joseph, an NYPD detective, accompanied the group to Italy.
The story of Petrosino has inspired books and Paramount Pictures is reportedly developing a film project starring Leonardo DiCaprio.