Essay About Sacco And Vanzetti Political Cartoons

Previous (Saccharin)

Next (Sacrament)

Ferdinando Nicola Sacco (April 22, 1891 – August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (June 11, 1888 – August 23, 1927) were two Italian-born American laborers and anarchists, who were tried, convicted and executed via electrocution on August 23, 1927 in Massachusetts for the 1920 armed robbery and murder of two payroll clerks.

Their controversial trial attracted enormous international attention, with critics accusing the prosecution and presiding judge of improper conduct, and of allowing anti-Italian, anti-immigrant, and anti-anarchist sentiment to prejudice the jury. Prominent Americans such as Felix Frankfurter and Upton Sinclair publicly sided with citizen-led Sacco and Vanzetti committees in an ultimately unsuccessful opposition to the verdict. Sacco's and Vanzetti's execution elicited mass-protests in New York, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo, worker walk-outs across South America, and riots in Paris, Geneva, Germany and Johannesburg.

On August 23, 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis signed a proclamation declaring, "any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti." Dukakis said, "We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti." Dukakis stated that he probably would have pardoned them; however, Massachusetts law did not permit the governor to grant pardons posthumously.[1] The case is still officially open.

Sacco's and Vanzetti's actual guilt remains a source of speculation and controversy. In addition to doubts about the fairness of their murder trial, significant post-trial evidence emerged suggesting both guilt and innocence. These include modern ballistics tests on the alleged murder weapon, revelations of mishandled evidence, and statements by individuals involved in the case.


An article in the
History of Dedham
  • 1635–1792
  • 1793–1999
  • 2000–Present
  • TV and film
  • Fisher Ames
  • Louis D. Brandeis
  • Samuel Dexter
  • Fairbanks House
  • Jonathan Fairbanks
  • Jason Fairbanks
  • Horace Mann
  • Mother Brook
  • Old Avery Oak Tree
  • Sacco and Vanzetti
  • Horse Thief Society

Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of the murders of a shoe factory paymaster and Alessandro Berardelli, a security guard, and of the theft of US$15,766.51 from the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company, on Pearl Street, in South Braintree, Massachusetts during the afternoon of April 15, 1920.

Sacco was a shoe-maker born in Torremaggiore, Foggia. Vanzetti was a fishmonger born in Villafalletto, Cuneo. The judge in the case, Webster Thayer, stated to the jury "This man, (Vanzetti) although he may not have actually committed the crime attributed to him, is nevertheless culpable, because he is the enemy of our existing institutions."[2]

What is certain is that the two men were followers of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist, who advocated revolutionary violence, including bombing and assassination. Galleani published Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle), a periodical that advocated violent revolution, as well as an explicit bomb-making manual (La Salute è in voi!) that was widely distributed among his followers. At the time, Italian anarchists ranked at the top of the government's list of dangerous enemies, and had been identified as suspects in several violent bombings and assassination attempts (even an attempted mass poisoning), going back to 1913. Cronaca Sovversiva was suppressed in July 1918, and Galleani and eight of his closest associates were deported on June 24, 1919. Most of the remaining Galleanists sought to avoid arrest by becoming inactive or going underground.

However, some 60 militants considered themselves engaged in a class war that required retaliation. For three years, they waged an intermittent campaign of terrorism directed at politicians, judges, and other federal and local officials, especially those who had supported deportation of alien radicals. Chief among the dozen or more terrorist acts the Galleanists committed or are suspected of committing was the bombing of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's home on June 2, 1919. In that incident, one Galleanist, Carlo Valdinoci (an associate of Sacco and Vanzetti), was killed when the bomb intended for Attorney General Palmer exploded in his hands as he was placing it.

Sacco and Vanzetti had been involved at some level in the Galleanist bombing campaign, although their precise roles have not been determined. This fact may explain their suspicious activities and behavior on the night of their arrest, May 5, 1920. Two days earlier they had learned that a fellow Galleanist named Andrea Salcedo had plunged to his death from the Bureau of Investigation offices on Park Row in New York. Salcedo worked in a Brooklyn print shop, where federal agents had traced a Galleanist leaflet found in Attorney General Palmer's bombed house. The Galleanists knew that Salcedo had been held for several weeks and reportedly beaten, and could infer that Salcedo and his comrade Roberto Elia had made important disclosures concerning the bomb plot of June 2, 1919, disclosures later confirmed by Attorney General Palmer. The Galleanist plotters realized that they would have to go underground and dispose of any incriminating evidence. Sacco and Vanzetti were found to be in receipt of correspondence with several Galleanists, and one letter to Sacco specifically warned him to destroy all mail after reading.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Police suspicions regarding the South Braintree robbery and a previous one in South Bridgewater centered on local Italian anarchists, though little in the way of hard evidence suggested a connection between the crimes and the anarchist movement. On May 5, 1920, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested. In an apparent attempt to avoid deportation as anarchists, they told lies to the police, lies which would come back to weigh heavily on their case.

First trial

Vanzetti was tried for the South Bridgewater robbery, though not Sacco, who was able to prove by a time-card that he had been at work all day. The presiding judge was Webster Thayer. Vanzetti's lawyer was James Vahey, a distinguished Boston trial lawyer and former two-time candidate for governor in Massachusetts. Although Vahey and Vanzetti produced 16 witnesses—Italians from Plymouth who claimed they had bought eels for the Christmas holiday from him—as a fishmonger he had no time-card. Jurors were swayed by several witnesses who identified Vanzetti as being at the scene of the attempted robbery and by shotgun shells found on Vanzetti when he was arrested five months after the Bridgewater crime. Jurors did not know that several prosecution witnesses had been interviewed by Pinkerton detectives shortly after the crime and later changed their initial descriptions of both the getaway car and the shotgun-toting bandit. Vanzetti was found guilty and Judge Thayer sentenced him to two 12-15 years' imprisonment.

Second trial

Later Sacco and Vanzetti both stood trial for murder in Dedham, Massachusetts for the South Braintree killings, with Thayer again presiding. Well aware of the Galleanists' reputation for constructing dynamite bombs of extraordinary power, Massachusetts authorities took great pains to defend against a possible bombing attack. Workers outfitted the Dedham courtroom where the trial was to be held with cast-iron bomb shutters (painted to match the wooden ones fitted elsewhere in the building) and heavy, sliding steel doors that could protect that section of the courthouse from blast effect in the event of a bomb attack.

Vanzetti again claimed that he had been selling fish at the time. Sacco for his part claimed that he was in Boston in order to gain a passport from the Italian consulate and have dinner with friends. The prosecution argued that the date of Sacco's visit to the consulate could not be established with certainty (though the consulate employee Sacco claims to have met with was deposed and testified that Sacco had indeed been at the consulate on April 15 at 2P.M.).[13] The consulate clerk in Boston, whom Sacco said he visited, could not remember him (although this is not surprising, since the clerk saw several hundred persons per day.)[14] The prosecution also pointed out that Sacco's dinner companions were fellow anarchists.

District attorney Frederick Katzmann raised the political views of the two accused, and the fact that Sacco had changed his name. Though both men as resident aliens were not eligible for the draft (though required to register), Katzmann nevertheless implied the men had fled to Mexico to avoid conscription during World War I. Under cross-examination, Sacco did admit having lied to Katzmann during interviews in Brockton prison and made a lengthy speech attacking the treatment of the working-class by the ruling class of America. But Katzmann also took advantage of Sacco's bad English, berating him for dodging the draft and for loving America only for the wages he could earn in its factories. The confrontation between Katzmann and Vanzetti was equally stormy with the DA shouting at the Italian immigrant while Vanzetti shook his finger and insisted he had never killed a man "no never in my life!"

Much of the trial focused on material evidence, notably bullets, guns, and a cap. Prosecution witnesses testified that the .32-caliber bullet that had killed Berardelli was of a brand so obsolete that the only bullets similar to it that anyone could locate to make comparisons were those in Sacco's pockets. Yet ballistics evidence, which was presented in exhaustive detail, was equivocal. Katzmann, after initially promising he would not try to link any fatal bullet with Sacco's gun, changed his mind after the defense arranged test firings of the gun. Sacco, claiming he had nothing to hide, had allowed his gun to be test-fired, with experts for both sides present, during the trial's second week. The prosecution then matched bullets fired through the gun to those taken from one of the slain guards. In court, two prosecution experts swore that one of the fatal bullets, quickly labeled Bullet III, matched one of those test-fired. Two defense experts said the bullets did not match.

Equal doubt surrounded Vanzetti's gun. The prosecution claimed it had originally belonged to the slain guard and that it had been stolen during the robbery. No one testified to seeing anyone take the gun, but the guard, while carrying $15,776.51 in cash through the street, had no gun on him when found dead. The prosecution traced the gun to a Boston repair shop where the guard had dropped it off a few weeks before the murder. The defense, however, was able to raise doubts, noting that the repair shop had no record of the gun ever being picked up and that the guard's widow had told a friend that he might not have been killed had he claimed his gun. Still, the jury believed this link as well.

The prosecution's final piece of material evidence was a flop-eared cap it claimed had been Sacco's. Sacco tried the cap on in court and, according to two newspaper sketch artists who ran cartoons the next day, it was too small, sitting high on his head. But Katzmann insisted the cap fitted Sacco and continued to refer to it as his.

Further controversy clouded the prosecution witnesses who identified Sacco at the scene of the crime. One, a bookkeeper named Mary Splaine, precisely described Sacco as the man she saw firing from the getaway car. Yet cross examination revealed that Splaine had refused to identify Sacco at the inquest and had seen the getaway car for only a second and from nearly a half-block away. While a few others singled out Sacco or Vanzetti as the men they had seen at the scene of the crime, far more witnesses, both prosecution and defense, refused to identify them.

When the jury began deliberating, many expected acquittal or at least an overnight deliberation. But after deliberating for only three hours, then breaking for dinner, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Supporters later insisted Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted for their anarchist views, yet every juror insisted anarchism had played no part in their decision. First degree murder in Massachusetts was a capital crime. Sacco and Vanzetti were therefore bound for the electric chair unless the defense could find new evidence.

Motions, appeals, and clemency investigation

Appeals, protests, and denials continued for the next six years. While the prosecution staunchly defended the verdict, the defense, led by radical attorney Fred Moore, dug up many reasons for doubt. Three key prosecution witnesses admitted they had been coerced into identifying Sacco at the scene of the crime. But when confronted by DA Katzmann, each changed their stories again, denying any coercion. In 1924, controversy continued when it was discovered that someone had switched the barrel of Sacco's gun. Three weeks of private hearings followed but the mystery was never solved. Other appeals focused on the jury foreman and a prosecution ballistics expert. In 1923, the defense filed an affidavit from a friend of the jury foreman who swore that prior to the trial, the man had said of Sacco and Vanzetti, "Damn them, they ought to hang them anyway!" That same year, a state police captain retracted his trial testimony linking Sacco's gun to the fatal bullet. Captain William Proctor claimed that he never meant to imply the connection and that he had repeatedly told DA Katzmann there was no such connection but that the prosecution had crafted its trial questioning to hide this opinion.

Adding to the growing conviction that Sacco and Vanzetti deserved a new trial was the conduct of trial judge Webster Thayer. During the trial, many had noted how Thayer seemed to loathe defense attorney Fred Moore. Thayer frequently denied Moore's motions, lecturing the California-based lawyer on how law was conducted in Massachusetts. On at least two occasions out of court, Thayer burst into tirade. Once he told astonished reporters that "No long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!" According to onlookers who later swore affidavits, Thayer also lectured members of his exclusive clubs, calling Sacco and Vanzetti Bolsheviki! and saying he would "get them good and proper." Following the verdict, Boston Globe reporter Frank Sibley, who had covered the trial, wrote a scathing protest to the Massachusetts attorney general condemning Thayer's blatant bias. Then in 1924, after denying all five motions for a new trial, Thayer confronted a Massachusetts lawyer at his alma mater, Dartmouth. “Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day?" the judge said. "I guess that will hold them for a while! Let them go to the Supreme Court now and see what they can get out of them!” The outburst remained a secret until 1927 when its release heightened the suspicion that Sacco and Vanzetti had not received a fair trial.

For their part, Sacco and Vanzetti seemed alternately defiant, despondent, and despairing. The June 1926 issue of Protesta Umana published by their Defense Committee, carried an article signed by Sacco and Vanzetti that appealed for retaliation by their colleagues. In an ominous reference to Luigi Galleani's bomb-making manual (covertly titled La Salute è in voi!), the article concluded Remember, La Salute è in voi!. Yet both Sacco and Vanzetti wrote dozens of letters sincerely expressing their innocence. Sacco, in his awkward prose, and Vanzetti in his eloquent but flawed English, insisted they had been framed because they were anarchists. Supporters, historians, and others who remain convinced of their innocence, point to these letters as proof. When the letters were published after the executions, journalist Walter Lippmann wrote, “If Sacco and Vanzetti were professional bandits, then historians and biographers who attempt to deduce character from personal documents might as well shut up shop. By every test that I know of for judging character, these are the letters of innocent men.”

Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had any previous criminal record, but they were known to the authorities as radical militants and adherents of Luigi Galleani who had been widely involved in the anarchist movement, labor strikes, political agitation, and anti-warpropaganda. Sacco and Vanzetti both claimed to be victims of social and political prejudice and both claimed to be unjustly convicted of the crime for which they were accused. However, they did not attempt to distance themselves from their fellow anarchists nor their belief in violence as a legitimate weapon against the government. As Vanzetti said in his last speech to Judge Webster Thayer:

"I would not wish to a dog or a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth—I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I am an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian… If you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already." (Vanzetti spoke on April 19, 1927, in Dedham, Massachusetts, where their case was heard in the Norfolk County courthouse.1)

Many famous socialist intellectuals, including Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, campaigned for a retrial, but were unsuccessful. Famed lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter also argued for a retrial for the two men, writing a scathing criticism of Thayer's ruling which, when published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1927, was widely read.

While in Dedham prison, Sacco met a Portuguese convict named Celestino Madeiros. Madeiros claimed to have committed the crime of which Sacco was accused. However, Sacco's motion for a new trial was again denied. However, Medeiros, whose vague confession contained many anomalies, steered defense lawyers to a gang many still think committed the Braintree murders. Prior to April 1920, gang leader Joe Morelli and his men had been robbing shoe factories in Massachusetts, including the two in Braintree where the murders occurred. Morelli, investigators discovered, bore a striking resemblance to Sacco, so striking that several witnesses for both prosecution and defense mistook his mug shot for Sacco's. When questioned in 1925, while in prison, Morelli denied any involvement but six years later he allegedly confessed to a New York lawyer. And in 1973, further evidence against the Morelli gang emerged when a mobster's memoirs quoted Joe's brother Frank as confessing to the Braintree murders.

On April 8, 1927, their appeals exhausted, Sacco and Vanzetti were finally sentenced to death in the electric chair. A worldwide outcry arose and Governor Alvin T. Fuller finally agreed to postpone the executions and set up a committee to reconsider the case. By this time, firearms examination had improved considerably, and it was now known that an automatic pistol could be traced by several different methods if both bullet and casing were recovered from the scene (as in Sacco’s case). Automatic pistols could now be traced by unique markings of the rifling on the bullet, by firing pin indentations on the fired primer, or by unique ejector and extractor marks on the casing. The committee appointed to review the case used the services of Calvin Goddard in 1927, who had worked with Charles Waite at the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York. Goddard was a genuine firearms expert trained in ballistics and forensic science. He had originally offered his services to the defense, who had rejected his assistance, continuing to rely on Hamilton's testimony which they felt best fitted their view of the case.

Goddard used Philip Gravelle's newly-invented comparison microscope and helixometer, a hollow, lighted magnifier probe used to inspect gun barrels, to make an examination of Sacco’s 0.32 Colt, the bullet that killed Berardelli, and the spent casings recovered from the scene of the crime. In the presence of one of the defense experts, he fired a bullet from Sacco's gun into a wad of cotton and then put the ejected casing on the comparison microscope next to casings found at the scene. Then he looked at them carefully. The first two casings from the robbery did not match Sacco’s gun, but the third one did. Even the defense expert agreed that the two cartridges had been fired from the same gun. The second original defense expert also concurred. Though many of its own actions were later called into question, the committee upheld the convictions.

Execution and aftermath

In spite of major protests and strikes all over the world, Celestino Madeiros, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair on August 23, 1927. The execution sparked riots in London and Germany. The American Embassy in Paris was besieged by protestors and the facade of the Moulin Rouge was wrecked. Both Sacco and Vanzetti famously refused a priest but both men went peacefully and proudly to their deaths. Sacco's final words were "Viva l'anarchia!" and "Farewell, mia madre." Vanzetti, in his final moments, gently shook hands with guards and thanked them for their kind treatment, read a statement proclaiming his innocence, and finally said, “I wish to forgive some people for what they are now doing to me.”

Fellow Galleanists did not take news of the executions with equanimity. One or more followers of Galleani, especially Mario Buda, were suspected as the perpetrators of the infamous and deadly Wall Street bombing of 1920 after the two men were initially indicted. At the funeral parlor in Hanover Street, a wreath announced Aspettando l'ora di vendetta (Awaiting the hour of vengeance). In 1921, a grenade mailed to the American ambassador in Paris exploded, wounding his valet. Other bombs sent to American embassies were defused. In 1926, Samuel Johnson, the brother of the man who had called police the night of Sacco and Vanzetti's arrest (Simon Johnson), had his house destroyed by a bomb.

Following the sentencing of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, a package bomb addressed to Governor Fuller was intercepted in the Boston post office. Three months later, bombs exploded in the New York subway, in a Philadelphia church, and at the home of the mayor of Baltimore. One of the jurors in the Dedham trial had his house bombed, throwing him and his family from their beds. Less than a year after the executions, a bomb destroyed the front porch of the home of executioner Robert Elliott. As late as 1932, Judge Thayer himself was the victim of an attempted assassination when his home was wrecked in a bomb blast. Afterwards, Thayer lived permanently at his club in Boston, guarded 24 hours a day until his death.

Historical viewpoints

Many historians, especially legal historians, have concluded the Sacco and Vanzetti prosecution, trial, and aftermath constituted a blatant disregard for political civil liberties, especially Thayer's decision to deny a retrial. Judge Webster Thayer, who heard the case, allegedly described the two as "anarchist bastards." An American lawyer who claimed to have known Thayer very well stated that he was "full of prejudice."

Both men had previously fled to Mexico, changing their names, a fact used against them by the prosecutor in their trial for murder. This implication of guilt by the commission of unrelated acts is one of the most persistent criticisms leveled against the trial. Sacco and Vanzetti's supporters would later argue that the men merely fled the country to avoid persecution and conscription, their critics, to escape detection and arrest for militant and seditious activities in the United States. But other anarchists who fled with them revealed the probable reason in a 1953 Book:

Several score Italian anarchists left the United States for Mexico. Some have suggested they did so because of cowardice. Nothing could be more false. The idea to go to Mexico arose in the minds of several comrades who were alarmed by the idea that, remaining in the United States, they would be forcibly restrained from leaving for Europe, where the revolution that had burst out in Russia that February promised to spread all over the continent.[15]

Some critics felt that the authorities and jurors were influenced by strong anti-Italian prejudice and prejudice against immigrants widely held at the time, especially in New England. Moore compared the chances of an Italian getting a fair trial in Boston to a black person getting one in the American South. Against charges of racism and racial prejudice, others pointed out that both men were known anarchist members of a militant organization, members of which had been conducting a violent campaign of bombing and attempted assassinations, acts condemned by the Italian-American community and Americans of all backgrounds. However, it is also true that their anarchist beliefs may have been held against them, in violation of their First Amendment rights. In fact there were no known ties at all between anarchists and robberies, something that experts the Federal Bureau of Investigation pointed out.

Others believe that the government was really prosecuting Sacco and Vanzetti for the robbery-murders as a convenient excuse to put a stop to their militant activities as Galleanists, whose bombing campaign at the time posed a lethal threat, both to the government and to many Americans. Faced with a secretive underground group whose members resisted interrogation and believed in their cause, Federal and local officials using conventional law enforcement tactics had been repeatedly stymied in their efforts to identify all members of the group or to collect enough evidence for a prosecution.

Today, their case is seen as one of the earliest examples of using widespread protests and mass movements to try to win the release of convicted persons.[16] The Sacco-Vanzetti case also exposed the inadequacies of both the legal and law enforcement system in investigating and prosecuting members and alleged members of secret societies and terrorist groups, and contributed to calls for the organization of national data collection and counterintelligence services.

Later investigations

One piece of evidence supporting the possibility of Sacco's guilt arose in 1941 when anarchist leader Carlo Tresca, a member of the Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee, told Max Eastman, "Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was innocent." Eastman published an article recounting his conversation with Tresca in National Review in 1961. Later, others would confirm being told the same information by Tresca. Others pointed to an ongoing feud between Tresca and the Galleanisti, claiming the famous anarchist was just trying to get even.

In addition, in October 1961, ballistics tests were run with improved technology using Sacco's Colt automatic. The results confirmed that the bullet that killed Berardelli in 1920 came from the same 0.32 Colt Auto taken from the pistol in Sacco's possession. Subsequent investigations in 1983 also supported Goddard's findings, however, supporters of innocence have disputed both tests, noting that ballistics experts conducting the first test had claimed Sacco's guilt even before the tests, and that by the 1980s, the old bullets and guns were far too corroded to prove anything. There was also no evidence Sacco had fired the gun.

The relevance of this evidence was challenged in 1988, when Charlie Whipple, a former Globe editorial page editor, revealed a conversation he had with Sergeant Edward J. Seibolt when he worked as a reporter in 1937. According to Whipple, Seibolt admitted that the police ballistics experts had switched the murder weapon, but Seibolt indicated that he would deny this if Whipple ever printed it. At the time, Whipple was unfamiliar with the specific facts of the case, and is not known if Seibolt was actually recalling Hamilton's testimony and behavior on the stand when Hamilton attempted to switch gun barrels. However, recent study of the three-week gun barrel hearings held in 1924 has called into question the widely held notion that Hamilton switched the barrels. A full transcript of the hearings, on microfilm at Harvard Law School, shows that Judge Thayer was convinced in 1924 that Hamilton had made no such switch. The accusation that he had done so emerged only in 1935 in a pulp detective magazine article written by Charles Van Amburgh, the state's key ballistics expert, who, it was pointed out in the hearings, had benefited from his testimony by getting a job in the state's ballistics lab.

Sacco's 0.32 Colt pistol is also claimed to have passed in and out of police custody, and to have been dismantled several times, both in 1924 prior to the gun barrel switch, and again between 1927 and 1961. The central problem with these charges is that the match to Sacco's gun was based not only on the 0.32 Colt pistol but also on the same-caliber bullet that killed Berardelli as well as spent casings found at the scene. In addition to tampering with the pistol, the gun switcher/dismantler would have had also to access police evidence lockers and exchange the bullet from Berardelli's body and all spent casings retrieved by police, or else locate the actual murder weapon, then switch barrel, firing pin, ejector, and extractor, all before Goddard's examination in 1927 when the first match was made to Sacco's gun. However, doubters of Sacco's guilt have repeatedly pointed to a single anomaly—that several witnesses to the crime insisted the gunman, alleged to be Sacco, fired four bullets into Berardelli. "He shot at Berardelli probably four or five times," one witness said. "He stood guard over him.” If this was true, many ask, how could only one of the fatal bullets be linked to Sacco's gun? In 1927, the defense raised the suggestion that the fatal bullet had been planted, calling attention to the awkward scratches on the base of the bullet that differed from those on other bullets. The Lowell Commission dismissed this claim as desperate but in 1985, historians William Kaiser and David Young made a compelling case for a switch in their book "Post-Mortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti."

Evidence against Sacco's involvement included testimony by Celestino Madeiros, who confessed to the crime and indicated that neither Sacco nor Vanzetti took part. Madeiros was also in possession of a large amount of money ($2,800) immediately following the robbery, whereas no links to the stolen money were ever found with Sacco or Vanzetti. Judge Thayer rejected this testimony as a basis for a retrial, calling it "unreliable, untrustworthy, and untrue." Yet Medeiros' confession, while it has numerous holes, steered defense lawyers toward the gang many are convinced did the Braintree job. Joe Morelli, who greatly resembled Sacco, had been robbing shoe factories, including those in South Braintree. The "Morelli hypothesis," exhaustively detailed by defense lawyer Herbert Ehrmann in his book, "The Untried Case," presents a compelling alternative to the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti. In 1973, this hypothesis was strengthened when a former mobster published a confession by Frank "Butsy" Morelli, Joe's brother. “We whacked them out, we killed those guys in the robbery,' Butsy Morelli told Vincent Teresa. "These two greaseballs Sacco and Vanzetti took it on the chin.“

Yet there are others who revealed different opinions, further muddling the case. In November, 1982 in a letter from Ideale Gambera to Francis Russell. In it, Gambera revealed that his father, Giovanni Gambera, who had died in June 1982, was a member of the four-person team of anarchist leaders that met shortly after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to plan for their defense. In his letter to Russell, Gambera claimed, "everyone [in the anarchist inner circle] knew that Sacco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in killing."

On August 23, 1977, exactly 50 years after their execution, Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation stating that Sacco and Vanzetti had been treated unjustly and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names." Sacco was quoted as saying before his death, "It is true, indeed, that they can execute the body, but they cannot execute the idea which is bound to live."

The involvement of Upton Sinclair

In 2005, a 1929 letter from Upton Sinclair to his attorney John Beardsley, Esq., was publicized (having been found in an auction warehouse ten years earlier) in which Sinclair revealed that he was told at the time he wrote his book Boston, that both men were guilty. Some years after the trial Sinclair met with Sacco and Vanzetti's attorney Fred Moore.

Sinclair revealed that "Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth, …He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them. …I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point, I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case." Sinclair furthermore said that he was "completely naïve about the case, having accepted the defense propaganda completely."[17] A trove of additional papers in Sinclair's archives at Indiana University show the ethical quandary that confronted him.[18]

In January 2006, more of the text of the Beardsley letter became public casting some doubt on the conclusion that Sinclair believed Moore's statement: "I realized certain facts about Fred Moore. I had heard that he was using drugs. I knew that he had parted from the defense committee after the bitterest of quarrels. …Moore admitted to me that the men themselves, had never admitted their guilt to him; and I began to wonder whether his present attitude and conclusions might not be the result of his brooding on his wrongs.

If Sinclair did not give any credibility to Moore's statement, it would not have been "the most difficult ethical problem of [his] life." On the other hand, Sinclair's public position was consistent in asserting the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti. Both Moore's statement and Sinclair's skepticism of it were mentioned in a 1975 biography of Upton Sinclair, despite claims that the contents of the letter were a new or "original" development.


Sacco and Vanzetti were a cause celèbre among the radical intelligentsia in America. They inspired numerous popular treatments.

  • Anton Coppola, uncle of Francis Ford Coppola, premiered his opera Sacco and Vanzetti in 2001; Maestro Coppola recently conducted and directed his opera on February 17, 2007, at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center
  • Sacco and Vanzetti, a documentary film featuring interviews with Howard Zinn, Anton Coppola, and Studs Terkel, and the voices of Tony Shalhoub and John Turturro, was shown in theaters across the U.S. in 2007 and is now out on DVD.
  • Joan Baez's "Here's To You" is written for the two, referencing them as "Nicola" and "Bart."
  • In 1927, editorial cartoonist Fred Ellis published The case of Sacco and Vanzetti in cartoons from the Daily Worker which collected radical cartoonists' work relating to the case that had been published in the American Communist periodical Daily Worker
  • In Clifford Odets's 1935 play Awake and Sing!, stage directions indicate that Jacob (the grandfather) has a picture of Sacco and Vanzetti on his bedroom wall.
  • In 1960, Folkways Records released an LP titled The Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti. This record included eleven songs composed and sung by folksinger Woody Guthrie in 1946-1947, and one song sung by folksinger Pete Seeger (words by Nicola Sacco).
  • The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, by Ben Shahn, a famous painting depicting the funeral of the two men, is housed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. A similar three-panel marble and enamel mosaic is located on the east wall of Huntington Beard Crouse Hall, at Syracuse University.
  • In 1977, folksinger Charlie King wrote a protest song called Two Good Arms that was based on Vanzetti's final speech.
  • In 2000 the play "Voices on the Wind" opened in Los Angeles. The play, written by Eric Paul Erickson and directed by Michael Najjar, centered around the final hours of the lives of the two men. Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis recorded an audio clip of his pardon, made specifically for the production.
  • Upton Sinclair's 1928 book, Boston, is a fictional interpretation of the affair.
  • The 1969 book The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Venzetti, by Herbert B. Ehrmann, junior counsel for the defense, describes the author's experiences working on the case.
  • Sacco e Vanzetti, a 1971 film by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo covers the case. The soundtrack was written by composer Ennio Morricone and sung by folk singer Joan Baez. The notable song Here's to You was a hit for Joan Baez.
  • At the time of his murder in 1964, American composer Marc Blitzstein was working on an opera on Sacco and Vanzetti.
  • In his poem America,Allen Ginsberg includes the line, Sacco and Vanzetti must not die.
  • Carl Sandburg described the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in his poem Legal Midnight Hour.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poem after the executions entitled Justice Denied In Massachusetts.
  • William Carlos Williams wrote a poem entitled "Impromptu: The Suckers" in response to the Sacco and Vanzetti trial.
  • The fictional scenario of Maxwell Anderson's 1935 play Winterset bears some resemblance to the case, by which it was inspired.
  • Georges Moustaki, Francophone singer and songwriter translated Joan Baez's "Here's To You" in French. The result is a song entitled "Marche de Sacco et Vanzetti."
  • One of the characters in Marge Piercy's utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time is called Sacco-Vanzetti.
  • Irish folk Singer/Songwriter Christy Moore performs the song Sacco & Vanzetti on his "2006 Live at the Point" album.
  • The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti is the subject of the eponymous play by Argentinean playwright Mauricio Kartún.
  • Howard Fast wrote The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, A New England Legend.ISBN 0837155843
  • The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti is mentioned in an episode of 'The Practice' Mr Shore Goes to Town in which it is described as Dedham's great legal mistake.
  • Sacco and Vanzetti are mentioned in Philip Roth's novel The Human Stain.

In addition to America, Sacco and Vanzetti became a popular cause in the Soviet Union.

  • There are lot of objects in the former USSR named after Sacco and Vanzetti: a factory producing pencils in Moscow; a kolkhoz in Donetsk region, Ukraine, and a street in Yekaterinburg; there are also numerous towns all over the country that have streets named after Sacco and Vanzetti.


  1. Massachusetts high court puts Sacco & Vanzetti trial on exhibit,Associated Press news, September 23, 2007
  2. ↑ Richard O. Boyer, and Herbert M. Morais. Labor's Untold Story. (San Francisco: United Front, 1955).
  3. ↑ Bruce Watson. "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind" (2007) Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  4. ↑ Neil Proto. The Enduring Meaning of Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco Within the Italian American Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  5. The Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti. Crime Library Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  6. The Murder of Sacco and Vanzetti, an essay written by the Workers' Solidarity Movement. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  7. ↑ Robert D'Attilio,Sacco-Vanzetti Case. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  8. Sacco and Vanzetti Documentary; The site for the first major documentary film by Peter Miller about the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  9. ↑ Douglas Linder,The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  10. ↑Sacco and Vanzetti Memorial Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  11. ↑Vanzetti's Letter to his son (in Romanian) Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  12. ↑Plain Words full text of the Galleanist 'Plain Words' Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  13. ↑ Felix Frankfurter. The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti. (Little, Brown & Co, 1927)
  14. ↑Summary of Evidence in the Sacco & Vanzetti Case Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  15. ↑ Un Trentennio di Attivita Anarchica (1914-1945) (Thirty Years of Anarchist Activities) Cesena, Italy, 1953
  16. ↑ Jonah Goldberg, The Clay Feet of Liberal Saints. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  17. ↑Upton Sinclair at Boston, CBC 2006-01-28. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
  18. ↑ Jean Pasco, Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Exposé: Note found by an O.C. man says The Jungle author got the lowdown on Sacco and Vanzetti. December 24, 2005, Los Angeles Times


  • Avrich, Paul. Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background. Princeton University Press, 1991 ISBN 0691026041
  • Bortman, Eli. Sacco & Vanzetti (New England Remembers). Commonwealth Editions, 2005 ISBN 1889833762
  • Boyer, Richard O., and Herbert M. Morais. Labor's Untold Story. San Francisco: United Front, 1955.
  • Felix, David. Protest: Sacco-Vanzetti and the Intellectuals. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965. OCLC 25432622
  • Feuerlicht, Roberta Strauss. Justice Crucified, The Story of Sacco and Vanzetti. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1977. ISBN 9780070206380
  • Frankfurter, Felix. The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1927.
  • Galleani, Luigi. La Salute è in voi! (Health is in You!) S.l.e.a. OCLC 86140656
  • Grossman, James, "The Sacco-Vanzetti Case Reconsidered." Commentary January 1962.
  • Jackson, Brian. The Black Flag: A Look Back at the Strange Case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. ISBN 9780710008978
  • Kadane, Joseph B. and David A. Schum. A Probabilistic Analysis of the Sacco and Vanzetti Evidence. (Wiley Series in Probability & Mathematical Statistics: Applied Probability & Statistics), 1996. ISBN 9780471141822
  • MacArthur, Brian. ed. The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Speeches, second ed. 1999., 100-103. ISBN 9780670831265
  • Massachusetts, Governor, Report to the Governor in the matter of Sacco and Vanzetti. Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1977. OCLC 6763538
  • Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling denying new trial at Case citation 255 Mass. 369, decided May 12, 1926.
  • Montgomery, Robert H. Sacco-Vanzetti; The Murder and the Myth. New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1960. OCLC 409295
  • Newby, Richard, Ed. Kill Now, Talk Forever: Debating Sacco and Vanzetti. [S.l.]: 1st Books, 2001. ISBN 9780759607927
  • Porter, Katherine Anne The Never-Ending Wrong. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977. ISBN 9780316713917
  • Rappaport, Doreen. The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial. New York: HarperTrophy, 1994. ISBN 9780064461139
  • Russell, Francis. Sacco & Vanzetti: The Case Resolved. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. ISBN 0060155248. Book based on the Ideale Gambera statement.
  • Russell, Francis. Tragedy in Dedham: The Story of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962. ISBN 9780070543423
  • Sacco, Nicola. The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti. New York: Octagon Books, 1971. ISBN 9780374970031
  • Sacco, Nicola. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969 OCLC 26205
  • The Sacco-Vanzetti Case, Transcript of the Record. 1920-1927 (Six Volumes), New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1928. OCLC 1629210
  • Sinclair, Upton. Boston: A Documentary Novel of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. Cambridge, MA: R. Bentley, 1978. ISBN 9780837604206
  • Starrs, James E., "Once More Unto the Breech: The Firearms Evidence in the Sacco and Vanzetti Case Revisited," in Journal of Forensic Sciences (April 1986): 630–54; (July 1986): 1050–1078. ISSN 0022-1198
  • Watson, Bruce. Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind. New York, Viking, 2007. ISBN 9780670063536 The most recent and up-to-date account, including new revelations about the gun barrel switch, Sacco's insanity hearings, and the prison lives of the men based on their letters in English and Italian.
  • Weeks, Robert P. Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958. OCLC 123313331
  • Young, William. Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985. ISBN 9780870234781

External links

All links retrieved July 23, 2015.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopediastandards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left) and Nicola Sacco in handcuffs.
This cartoon, published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and depicting a monstrous "European Anarchist" seeking to blow up the Statue of Liberty, reflects the public atmosphere in which Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and tried.
Protest for Sacco and Vanzetti in London, 1921
Sacco & Vanzetti mosaic by Ben Shahn at Syracuse University.
Close up of mosaic.

For other uses, see Sacco and Vanzetti (disambiguation).

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born American anarchists who were convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the April 15, 1920, armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts, United States. Seven years later, they were electrocuted in the electric chair at Charlestown State Prison. Both men adhered to an anarchist movement that advocated relentless warfare against a violent and oppressive government.[1]

After a few hours' deliberation on July 14, 1921, the jury convicted Sacco and Vanzetti of first-degree murder and they were sentenced to death by the trial judge. A series of appeals followed, funded largely by the private Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee. The appeals were based on recanted testimony, conflicting ballistics evidence, a prejudicial pre-trial statement by the jury foreman, and a confession by an alleged participant in the robbery. All appeals were denied by trial judge Webster Thayer and also later denied by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. By 1926, the case had drawn worldwide attention. As details of the trial and the men's suspected innocence became known, Sacco and Vanzetti became the center of one of the largest causes célèbres in modern history. In 1927, protests on their behalf were held in every major city in North America and Europe, as well as in Tokyo, Sydney, London, Toronto, New York city, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and Auckland.[2]

Celebrated writers, artists, and academics pleaded for their pardon or for a new trial. Harvard law professor and future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter argued for their innocence in a widely read Atlantic Monthly article that was later published in book form. Sacco and Vanzetti were scheduled to die in April 1927, accelerating the outcry. Responding to a massive influx of telegrams urging their pardon, Massachusetts governor Alvan T. Fuller appointed a three-man commission to investigate the case. After weeks of secret deliberation that included interviews with the judge, lawyers, and several witnesses, the commission upheld the verdict. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in the electric chair just after midnight on August 23, 1927.[3] Subsequent riots destroyed property in Paris, London, and other cities.

Investigations in the aftermath of the executions continued throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The publication of the men's letters, containing eloquent professions of innocence, intensified belief in their wrongful execution. Additional ballistics tests and incriminating statements by the men's acquaintances have clouded the case. On August 23, 1977—the 50th anniversary of the executions—Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation that Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names". Writer Bruce Watson, in his introduction to the 2007 re-printing of The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, noted "Sacco and Vanzetti are still on trial and probably always will be."


Sacco was a shoemaker and a night watchman,[4] born April 22, 1891 in Torremaggiore, Province of Foggia, Apulia region (in Italian: Puglia), Italy, who migrated to the United States at the age of seventeen.[5] Vanzetti was a fishmonger born June 11, 1888 in Villafalletto, Province of Cuneo, Piedmont region, who arrived in the United States at age twenty. Both men left Italy for the US in 1908,[6] although they did not meet until a 1917 strike.[7]

The men were believed to be followers of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist who advocated revolutionary violence, including bombing and assassination. Galleani published Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle), a periodical that advocated violent revolution, and a bomb-making manual called La Salute è in voi! (Health is in you!). At the time, Italian anarchists – in particular the Galleanist group – ranked at the top of the United States government's list of dangerous enemies.[8] Since 1914, the Galleanists had been identified as suspects in several violent bombings and assassination attempts, including an attempted mass poisoning.[9][10][11] Publication of Cronaca Sovversiva was suppressed in July 1918, and the government deported Galleani and eight of his closest associates on June 24, 1919.[12]

Remaining Galleanists remained active. For three years, perhaps 60 Galleanists waged an intermittent campaign of violence against US politicians, judges, and other federal and local officials, especially those who had supported deportation of alien radicals. Among the dozen or more violent acts was the bombing of Attorney GeneralA. Mitchell Palmer's home on June 2, 1919. In that incident, Carlo Valdonoci, a former editor of Cronaca Sovversiva and an associate of Sacco and Vanzetti, was killed when the bomb intended for Palmer exploded in Valdonoci's hands. Radical pamphlets entitled "Plain Words" signed "The Anarchist Fighters" were found at the scene of this and several other midnight bombings that night.[12]

Several Galleanist associates were suspected or interrogated about their roles in the bombing incidents. Two days before Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested, a Galleanist named Andrea Salsedo fell to his death from the US Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation (BOI) offices on 15 Park Row in New York City.[13] Salsedo had worked in the Canzani Printshop in Brooklyn, to where federal agents traced the "Plain Words" leaflet. [13]

Roberto Elia, a fellow New York printer and admitted anarchist,[14] was later deposed in the inquiry, and testified that Salsedo had committed suicide for fear of betraying the others. He portrayed himself as the 'strong' one who had resisted the police.[15] According to anarchist writer Carlo Tresca, Elia changed his story later, stating that Federal agents had thrown Salsedo out the window.[16] Salsedo's death was a disaster for the Bureau, which had lost a potential court witness and source of information.

The Galleanists knew that Salsedo had been held by the Bureau and might have talked to authorities. Rumors swirled in the anarchist community that Salsedo had made important disclosures concerning the bomb plot of June 2. The Galleanist plotters realized that they would have to go underground and dispose of any incriminating evidence. After their arrest, Sacco and Vanzetti were found to have correspondence with several Galleanists; one letter warned Sacco to destroy all mail after reading.[citation needed]


The Slater-Morrill Shoe Company factory was located on Pearl Street in Braintree, Massachusetts. On April 15, 1920, two men were robbed and killed while transporting the company's payroll in two large steel boxes to the main factory. One of them, Alessandro Berardelli[17][18]—a security guard—was shot four times[19][20] as he reached for his hip-holstered .38-caliber, Harrington & Richardson revolver; his gun was not recovered from the scene. The other man, Frederick Parmenter[21]—a paymaster who was unarmed—was shot twice:[22] once in the chest and a second time, fatally, in the back as he attempted to flee.[23] The robbers seized the payroll boxes and escaped in a stolen dark blue Buick that sped up and was carrying several other men.[24] As the car was being driven away, the robbers fired wildly at company workers nearby.[23] A coroner's report and subsequent ballistic investigation revealed that six bullets removed from the murdered men's bodies were of .32 automatic (ACP) caliber. Five of these .32-caliber bullets were all fired from a single semi-automatic pistol, a .32-caliber Savage Model 1907, which used a particularly narrow-grooved barrel rifling with a right-hand twist.[23][25] Two of the bullets were recovered from Berardelli's body.[26][27] Four .32 automatic brass shell casings were found at the murder scene, manufactured by one of three firms: Peters, Winchester, or Remington. The Winchester cartridge case was of a relatively obsolete cartridge loading, which had been discontinued from production some years earlier.[23] Two days after the robbery, police located the robbers' Buick; several 12-gauge shotgun shells were found on the ground nearby.[23]

Arrests and indictment[edit]

An earlier attempted robbery of another shoe factory occurred on December 24, 1919 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts by people identified as Italian who used a car that was seen escaping to Cochesett in West Bridgewater. Police speculated that Italian anarchists perpetrated the robberies to finance their activities. Bridgewater police chief Michael E. Stewart suspected that known Italian anarchist Ferruccio Coacci was involved. Stewart discovered that Mario Buda (aka 'Mike' Boda) lived with Coacci.[28]

On April 16—one day after the Braintree robbery-murders—the Federal Immigration Service (FIS) called Chief Stewart to discuss Galleanist and anarchist Coacci, whom Stewart had arrested on their behalf two years earlier. Coacci was slated for deportation on April 15, 1920, the day of the Braintree holdup, but telephoned with the excuse that his wife was ill. The FIS asked Stewart to investigate Coacci's excuse for failing to report for deportation on April 15. On April 16, officers discovered Coacci at home and determined that he had given a false alibi for not showing up for deportation. They offered him another week, but Coacci declined and left for Italy on April 18, 1920.

When Chief Stewart later arrived at the Coacci home, Coacci was missing but they found Buda. When he was questioned, Buda said that Coacci owned a .32 Savage automatic pistol, which he kept in the kitchen.[29] A search of the kitchen did not locate the gun, but Stewart found a manufacturer's technical diagram for a Model 1907 .32 Savage automatic pistol – the exact pistol type and caliber used to shoot Parmenter and Berardelli – in a kitchen drawer.[29][30] Stewart asked Buda if he owned a gun, and the man produced a .32-caliber Spanish-made automatic pistol.[31] Buda told police that he owned a 1914 Overland automobile, which was being repaired.[29] The car was delivered for repairs four days after the Braintree crimes, but it was old and apparently had not been run for five months.[32] Tire tracks were seen near the abandoned Buick getaway car, and Chief Stewart surmised that two cars had been used in the getaway, and that Buda's car might have been the second car.[29] The garage proprietor who was repairing Buda's vehicle was instructed to call the police if anyone came to pick up the car.

When Stewart discovered that Coacci had worked for both shoe factories that had been robbed, he returned with the Bridgewater police. Coacci had since left for Italy with his family along with his possessions, and Buda had just escaped.[29]

On May 5, 1920, Mario Buda arrived at the garage with three other men, later identified as Sacco, Vanzetti, and Riccardo Orciani. The four men knew each other well; Buda would later call Sacco and Vanzetti "the best friends I had in America."[33] Police were alerted, but the men left. Buda escaped and did not resurface until 1928 in Italy.

Sacco and Vanzetti boarded a streetcar, but were tracked down and soon arrested. When searched by police, both denied owning any guns, but were found to be holding loaded pistols. Sacco was found to have an Italian passport, anarchist literature, a loaded .32 Colt Model 1903 automatic pistol, and twenty-three .32 Automatic cartridges in his possession; several of those bullet cases were of the same obsolescent type as the empty Winchester .32 casing found at the crime scene, and others were manufactured by the firms of Peters and Remington, much like other casings found at the scene.[23] Vanzetti had four 12-gauge shotgun shells[31] and a five-shot nickel-plated .38-caliber Harrington & Richardson revolver identical to that carried by Berardelli, the slain Braintree guard, whose weapon was not found at the scene of the crime.[23] When they were questioned, the pair denied any connection to anarchists.

Orciani was arrested May 6, but gave the alibi that he had been at work on the day of both crimes. Sacco had been at work on the day of the Bridgewater crimes but said that he had the day off on April 15—the day of the Braintree crimes— and was charged with those murders. The self-employed Vanzetti had no such alibis and was charged for the attempted robbery and attempted murder in Bridgewater and the robbery and murder in the Braintree crimes.[34] Sacco and Vanzetti were charged with the crime of murder on May 5, 1920 and indicted four months later on September 14.

Following Sacco and Vanzetti's indictment for murder for the Braintree robbery, Galleanists and anarchists in the United States and abroad began a campaign of violent retaliation. Two days later on September 16, 1920, Mario Buda allegedly orchestrated the Wall Street bombing, where a time-delay dynamite bomb packed with heavy iron sash-weights in a horse-drawn cart exploded, killing 38 people and wounding 134.[28][35] In 1921, a booby trap bomb mailed to the American ambassador in Paris exploded, wounding his valet.[36] For the next six years, bombs exploded at other American embassies all over the world.[37]


Bridgewater crimes trial[edit]

Rather than accept court appointed counsel, Vanzetti chose to be represented by John P. Vahey, an experienced defense attorney, and James Graham, who was recommended by supporters.[34][38]Frederick G. Katzmann, the Norfolk and Plymouth County District Attorney, prosecuted the case.[39] The presiding judge was Webster Thayer, who was already assigned to the court before this case was scheduled. A few weeks earlier he had given a speech to new American citizens decrying Bolshevism and anarchism's threat to American institutions. He supported the suppression of functionally violent radical speech, and incitement to commit violent acts.[34][40][41][42] He was known to dislike foreigners but was considered to be a fair judge.[43]

The trial began on June 22, 1920. The prosecution presented several witnesses who put Vanzetti at the scene of crime. Their descriptions varied, especially with respect to the shape and length of Vanzetti's mustache.[44] Physical evidence included a shotgun shell retrieved at the scene of the crime and several shells found on Vanzetti when he was arrested.[45]

The defense produced 16 witnesses, all Italians from Plymouth, who testified that at the time of the attempted robbery they had bought eels from Vanzetti for the Christmas holiday, in accordance with their Christmas traditions. Such details reinforced the difference between the Italians and the jurors. Some testified in imperfect English, others through an interpreter, whose failure to speak the same dialect of Italian as the witnesses hampered his effectiveness. On cross examination, the prosecution found it easy to make the witnesses appear confused about dates. A boy who testified admitted to rehearsing his testimony. "You learned it just like a piece at school?" the prosecutor asked. "Sure," he replied.[46] The defense tried to rebut the eyewitnesses with testimony that Vanzetti always wore his mustache in a distinctive long style, but the prosecution rebutted this.[47]

The defense case went badly and Vanzetti did not testify in his own defense.[48] During the trial, he said that his lawyers had opposed putting him on the stand.[34] That same year, defense attorney Vahey told the governor that Vanzetti had refused his advice to testify.[49] Decades later, a lawyer who assisted Vahey in the defense said that the defense attorneys left the choice to Vanzetti, but warned him that it would be difficult to prevent the prosecution from using cross examination to challenge the credibility of his character based on his political beliefs. He said that Vanzetti chose not to testify after consulting with Sacco.[34] Herbert Ehrmann, who later joined the defense team, wrote many years later that the dangers of putting Vanzetti on the stand were very real.[50] Another legal analysis of the case faulted the defense for not offering more to the jury by letting Vanzetti testify, concluding that by his remaining silent it "left the jury to decide between the eyewitnesses and the alibi witness without his aid. In these circumstances a verdict of not guilty would have been very unusual". That analysis also claimed that "no one could say that the case was closely tried or vigorously fought for the defendant".[51]

Vanzetti complained during his sentencing on April 9, 1927 for the Braintree crimes, that Vahey "sold me for thirty golden money like Judas sold Jesus Christ."[34] He accused Vahey of having conspired with the prosecutor "to agitate still more the passion of the juror, the prejudice of the juror" towards "people of our principles, against the foreigner, against slackers."[34][52] "Slacker" was the contemporary term for "draft dodger."

On July 1, 1920, the jury deliberated for five hours and returned guilty verdicts on both counts, armed robbery and first-degree murder.[34] Before sentencing, Judge Thayer learned that during deliberations, the jury had tampered with the shotgun shells found on Vanzetti at the time of his arrest to determine if the shot they contained was of sufficient size to kill a man.[34][53] Since that prejudiced the jury's verdict on the murder charge, Thayer declared that part a mistrial. On August 16, 1920, he sentenced Vanzetti on the charge of armed robbery to a term of 12 to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence allowed.[34][50][53] An assessment of Thayer's conduct of the trial said "his stupid rulings as to the admissibility of conversations are about equally divided" between the two sides and thus provided no evidence of partiality.[54]

In 1927, advocates for Sacco and Vanzetti charged that this case was brought first because a conviction for the Bridgewater crimes would help convict him for the Braintree crimes, where evidence against him was weak. The prosecution countered that the timing was driven by the schedules of different courts that handled the cases.[55]

The defense raised only minor objections in an appeal that was not accepted.[56] A few years later, Vahey joined Katzmann’s law firm.[57]

Braintree crimes trial[edit]

Sacco and Vanzetti went on trial for their lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, May 21, 1921, at Dedham, Norfolk County for the Braintree robbery and murders. Webster Thayer again presided; he had asked to be assigned to the trial. Katzmann again prosecuted for the State. Vanzetti was represented by brothers Jeremiah and Thomas McAnraney. Sacco was represented by Fred H. Moore and William J. Callahan. The choice of Moore, a former attorney for the Industrial Workers of the World, proved a key mistake for the defense. A notorious radical from California, Moore quickly enraged Judge Thayer with his courtroom demeanor, often doffing his jacket and once, his shoes. Reporters covering the case were amazed to hear Judge Thayer, during a lunch recess, proclaim, "I'll show them that no long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!" and later, "You wait till I give my charge to the jury. I'll show them."[58] Throughout the trial, Moore and Thayer clashed repeatedly over procedure and decorum.

Authorities anticipated a possible bomb attack and had the Dedham courtroom outfitted with heavy, sliding steel doors and cast-iron shutters that were painted to appear wooden.[59][60] Each day during the trial, the courthouse was placed under heavy police security, and Sacco and Vanzetti were escorted to and from the courtroom by armed guards.[59][60]

The Commonwealth relied on evidence that Sacco was absent from his work in a shoe factory on the day of the murders; that the defendants were in the neighborhood of the Braintree robbery-murder scene on the morning when it occurred, being identified as having been there seen separately and also together; that the Buick getaway car was also in the neighborhood and that Vanzetti was near and in it; that Sacco was seen near the scene of the murders before they occurred and also was seen to shoot Berardelli after Berardelli fell and that that shot caused his death; that used shell casings were left at the scene of the murders, some of which could have been found to have been discharged from a .32 pistol afterwards found on Sacco; that a cap was found at the scene of the murders, which witnesses identified as resembling one formerly worn by Sacco; and that both men were members of anarchist cells that espoused violence, including assassination.[61] Among the more important witnesses called by the prosecution was salesman Carlos E. Goodridge, who stated that as the getaway car raced within twenty-five feet of him, one of the car's occupants, whom he identified as being Sacco, pointed a gun in his direction.[62]

Both defendants offered alibis that were backed by several witnesses. Vanzetti testified that he had been selling fish at the time of the Braintree robbery. Sacco testified that he had been in Boston applying for a passport at the Italian consulate. He stated he had lunched in Boston's North End with several friends, each of whom testified on his behalf. Prior to the trial, Sacco's lawyer, Fred Moore, went to great lengths to contact the consulate employee whom Sacco said he had talked with on the afternoon of the crime. Once contacted in Italy, the clerk said he remembered Sacco because of the unusually large passport photo he presented. The clerk also remembered the date, April 15, 1920, but he refused to return to the United States to testify (a trip requiring two ship voyages), citing his ill health. Instead he executed a sworn deposition that was read aloud in court and quickly dismissed.

Much of the trial focused on material evidence, notably bullets, guns, and the cap. Prosecution witnesses testified that Bullet III, the .32-caliber bullet that had fatally wounded Berardelli, was from a discontinued Winchester .32 Auto cartridge loading so obsolete that the only bullets similar to it that anyone could locate to make comparisons were those found in the cartridges in Sacco's pockets.[63] Prosecutor Frederick Katzmann decided to participate in a forensic bullet examination using bullets test-fired from Sacco's .32 Colt Automatic after the defense arranged for such tests. Sacco, saying he had nothing to hide, had allowed his gun to be test-fired, with experts for both sides present, during the trial's second week. The prosecution matched bullets fired through the gun to those taken from one of the slain men.

In court, District Attorney Katzmann called two forensic gun expert witnesses, Capt. Charles Van Amburgh of Springfield Armory and Capt. William Proctor of the Massachusetts State Police, who testified that they believed that of the four bullets recovered from Berardelli's body, Bullet III – the fatal bullet – exhibited rifling marks consistent with those found on bullets fired from Sacco's .32 Colt Automatic pistol.[26] In rebuttal, two defense forensic gun experts would later testify that Bullet III did not match any of the test bullets from Sacco's Colt.[64] Capt. Proctor would later sign an affidavit stating that he could not positively identify Sacco's .32 Colt as the only pistol that could have fired Bullet III. This meant that Bullet III could have been fired from any of the 300,000 .32 Colt Automatic pistols then in circulation.[65][66] Noting all the witnesses to the shooting testified that they saw one gunman shoot Berardelli four times, the defense questioned how only one of four bullets found in the deceased guard was identified as being fired from Sacco's Colt.[26]

Vanzetti was being tried under Massachusetts' felony-murder rule, and the prosecution sought to implicate him in the Braintree robbery by the testimony of several witnesses: one testified that he was in the getaway car, and others who stated they saw Vanzetti in the vicinity of the Braintree factory around the time of the robbery.[23] No direct evidence tied Vanzetti's .38 nickel-plated Harrington & Richardson five-shot revolver to the crime scene, except for the fact that it was identical in type and appearance to one owned by the slain guard Berardelli, which was missing from the crime scene.[61] It was undisputed that all six of the bullets recovered from both the murder victims were of .32 Automatic caliber and had been fired from at least two different[citation needed]automatic pistols. But, Vanzetti carried a .38-caliber revolver.[23][67]

The prosecution claimed Vanzetti's .38 revolver had originally belonged to the slain Berardelli, and that it had been taken from his body during the robbery. No one testified to seeing anyone take the gun, but Berardelli had an empty holster and no gun on him when he was found.[23] Additionally, witnesses to the payroll shooting had described Berardelli as reaching for his gun on his hip when he was cut down by pistol fire from the robbers.[23]

District Attorney Katzmann pointed out that Vanzetti had lied at the time of his arrest, when making statements about the .38 revolver found in his possession. He claimed that the revolver was his own, and that he carried it for self-protection, yet he incorrectly described it to police as a six-shot revolver instead of a five-shot.[23] Vanzetti also told police that he had purchased only one box of cartridges for the gun, all of the same make, yet his revolver was loaded with five .38 cartridges of varying brands.[23] At the time of his arrest, Vanzetti also claimed that he had bought the gun at a store (but could not remember which one), and that it cost $18 or $19 (three times its actual market value).[68] He lied about where he had obtained the .38 cartridges found in the revolver.[23]

In an attempt to show that Vanzetti's revolver was taken from the slain Berardelli, the prosecution traced the history of Berardelli's .38 Harrington & Richardson (H&R) revolver. Berardelli's wife testified that she and her husband dropped off the gun for repair at the Iver Johnson Co. of Boston a few weeks before the murder.[61] According to the foreman of the Iver Johnson repair shop, Berardelli's revolver was given a repair tag with the number of 94765, and this number was recorded in the repair logbook with the statement "H. & R. revolver, .38-calibre, new hammer, repairing, half an hour".[61] However, the shop books did not record the gun's serial number, and the caliber was apparently incorrectly labeled as .32 instead of .38-caliber.[61][69] The shop foreman testified that a new spring and hammer were put into Berardelli's Harrington & Richardson revolver. The gun was claimed and the half-hour repair paid for, though the date and identity of the claimant were not recorded.[61] After examining Vanzetti's .38 revolver, the foreman testified that Vanzetti's gun had a new replacement hammer in keeping with the repair performed on Berardelli's revolver.[70] The foreman explained that the shop was always kept busy repairing 20 to 30 revolvers per day, which made it very hard to remember individual guns or keep reliable records of when they were picked up by their owners.[23] But, he said that unclaimed guns were sold by Iver Johnson at the end of each year, and the shop had no record of an unclaimed gun sale of Berardelli's revolver.[70] To reinforce the conclusion that Berardelli had reclaimed his revolver from the repair shop, the prosecution called a witness who testified that he had seen Berardelli in possession of a .38 nickel-plated revolver the Saturday night before the Braintree robbery.[61]

After hearing testimony from the repair shop employee that "the repair shop had no record of Berardelli picking up the gun, the gun was not in the shop nor had it been sold", the defense put Vanzetti on the stand where he testified that "he had actually bought the gun several months earlier from fellow anarchist Luigi Falzini for five dollars" – in contradiction to what he had told police upon his arrest.[61][68] This was corroborated by Luigi Falzini (Falsini), a friend of Vanzetti's and a fellow Galleanist, who stated that, after buying the .38 revolver from one Riccardo Orciani,[71] he sold it to Vanzetti.[61][68][72] The defense also called two expert witnesses, a Mr. Burns and a Mr. Fitzgerald, who each testified that no new spring and hammer had ever been installed in the revolver found in Vanzetti's possession.[61]

The District Attorney's final piece of material evidence was a flop-eared cap claimed to have been Sacco's. Sacco tried the cap on in court and, according to two newspaper sketch artists who ran cartoons the next day, it was too small, sitting high on his head. But Katzmann insisted the cap fitted Sacco and, noting a hole in the back where Sacco had hung the cap on a nail each day, continued to refer to it as his, and in denying later appeals, Judge Thayer often cited the cap as material evidence. During the 1927 Lowell Commission investigation, however, Braintree's Police Chief admitted that he had torn the cap open upon finding it at the crime scene a full day after the murders. Doubting the cap was Sacco's, the chief told the commission it could not have lain in the street "for thirty hours with the State Police, the local police, and two or three thousand people there."[73]

Controversy clouded the prosecution witnesses who identified Sacco as having been at the scene of the crime. One, a bookkeeper named Mary Splaine, precisely described Sacco as the man she saw firing from the getaway car. From Felix Frankfurter's account from the Atlantic Monthly article:

Viewing the scene from a distance of from sixty to eighty feet, she saw a man previously unknown to her in a car traveling at the rate of from fifteen to eighteen miles per hour, and she saw him only for a distance of about thirty feet—that is to say, for from one and a half to three seconds.[74]

Yet cross examination revealed that Splaine was unable to identify Sacco at the inquest but had recall of great details of Sacco's appearance over a year later. While a few others singled out Sacco or Vanzetti as the men they had seen at the scene of the crime, far more witnesses, both prosecution and defense, could not identify them.

The defendants' radical politics may have played a role in the verdict. Judge Thayer, though a sworn enemy of anarchists, warned the defense against bringing anarchism into the trial. Yet defense attorney Fred Moore felt he had to call both Sacco and Vanzetti as witnesses to let them explain why they were fully armed when arrested. Both men testified that they had been rounding up radical literature when apprehended, and that they had feared another government deportation raid. Yet both hurt their case with rambling discourses on radical politics that the prosecution mocked. The prosecution also brought out that both men had fled the draft by going to Mexico in 1917.

On July 21, 1921, the jury deliberated for three hours, broke for dinner, and then returned the guilty verdicts. Supporters later insisted that Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted for their anarchist views, yet every juror insisted that anarchism had played no part in their decision to convict the two men. At that time, a first-degree murder conviction in Massachusetts was punishable by death. Sacco and Vanzetti were bound for the electric chair unless the defense could find new evidence.

The verdicts and the likelihood of death sentences immediately roused international opinion. Demonstrations were held in 60 Italian cities and a flood of mail was sent to the American embassy in Paris. Demonstrations followed in a number of Latin American cities.[75]Anatole France, veteran of the campaign for Alfred Dreyfus and recipient of the 1921 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote an "Appeal to the American People": "The death of Sacco and Vanzetti will make martyrs of them and cover you with shame. You are a great people. You ought to be a just people."[76]

Defense committee[edit]

In 1921 most of the nation had not yet heard of Sacco and Vanzetti. Brief mention of the conviction appeared on page three of the New York Times. Defense attorney Moore radicalized and politicized the process by discussing Sacco and Vanzetti's anarchist beliefs, attempting to suggest that they were prosecuted primarily for their political beliefs and the trial was part of a government plan to stop the anarchist movement in the United States. His efforts helped stir up support but was so costly that he was eventually dismissed from the defense team.[77]

The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee was formed on May 9, 1920, immediately following the arrests, by a group of fellow anarchists, headed by Vanzetti's 23-year-old friend Aldino Felicani. Over the next seven years, it raised $300,000.[78] Defense attorney Fred Moore drew on its funds for his investigations.[79] Differences arose when Moore tried to determine who had committed the Braintree crimes over objections from anarchists that he was doing the government's work. After the Committee hired William G. Thompson to manage the legal defense, he objected to its propaganda efforts.[80]

A Defense Committee publicist wrote an article about the first trial that was published in The New Republic. In the winter of 1920–1921, the Defense Committee sent stories to labor union publications every week. It produced pamphlets with titles like Fangs at Labor's Throat, sometimes printing thousands of copies. It sent speakers to Italian communities in factory towns and mining camps.[81] The Committee eventually added staff from outside the anarchist movement, notably Mary Donovan, who had experience as a labor leader and Sinn Féin organizer.[82] In 1927, she and Felicani together recruited Gardner Jackson, a Boston Globe reporter from a wealthy family, to manage publicity and serve as a mediator between the Committee's anarchists and the growing number of supporters with more liberal political views, who included socialites, lawyers, and intellectuals.[83]

Jackson bridged the gap between the radicals and the social elite so well that Sacco thanked him a few weeks before his execution:

We are one heart, but unfortunately we represent two different class....But, whenever the heart of one of the upper class join with the exploited workers for the struggle of the right in the human feeling is the feel of an spontaneous attraction and brotherly love to one another.[84]

The noted American author John Dos Passos joined the committee and wrote its 127-page official review of the case: Facing the Chair: Story of Americanization of Two Foreignborn Workmen.[85] Dos Passos concluded it "barely possible" that Sacco might have committed murder as part of a class war, but that the soft-hearted Vanzetti was clearly innocent. "Nobody in his right mind who was planning such a crime would take a man like that along," Dos Passos wrote of Vanzetti.[86] After the executions, the Committee continued its work, helping to gather material that eventually appeared as The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti.[87]

Motions for a new trial[edit]

Judge Thayer held hearings on five separate motions for a new trial for Sacco and Vanzetti in October and November 1923. Defense attorney Fred Moore presented affidavits and testimony by three prosecution witnesses, to the effect that they had been coerced into identifying Sacco at the scene of the crime. However, when confronted by District Attorney Katzmann, the three witnesses denied being subjected to any prosecution coercion. Lola Andrews told authorities that she was forced to sign an affidavit stating she had wrongfully identified Sacco and Vanzetti, but signed a counter-affidavit the following day. Another, Lewis Pelser, described how he had submitted to alleged prosecutorial coercion while drunk and signed a counter-affidavit shortly thereafter.[citation needed]

One motion, the so-called Hamilton-Proctor motion, involved the forensic ballistic evidence presented by the expert witnesses for the prosecution and defense. The prosecution's firearms expert, Charles Van Amburgh, had re-examined the evidence in preparation for the motion. By 1923, bullet comparison technology had improved somewhat, and Van Amburgh submitted photos of the bullets fired from Sacco's .32 Colt in support of the argument that they matched the bullet that killed Berardelli. In response, the controversial[88][89] self-proclaimed "firearms expert" for the defense, Albert H. Hamilton,[88] conducted an in-court demonstration involving two brand new Colt .32-caliber automatic pistols belonging to Hamilton, along with Sacco's .32 Colt of the same make and caliber. In front of Judge Thayer and the lawyers for both sides, Hamilton disassembled all three pistols and placed the major component parts – barrel, barrel bushing, recoil spring, frame, slide, and magazine – into three piles on the table before him.[90][91][92] He explained the functions of each part and began to demonstrate how each was interchangeable, in the process intermingling the parts of all three pistols.[91] Judge Thayer stopped Hamilton and demanded that he reassemble Sacco's pistol with its proper parts.[91]

Other motions focused on the jury foreman and a prosecution ballistics expert. In 1923, the defense filed an affidavit from a friend of the jury foreman, who swore that prior to the trial, the jury foreman had allegedly said of Sacco and Vanzetti, "Damn them, they ought to hang them anyway!" That same year, the defense read to the court an affidavit by Captain William Proctor (who had died shortly after conclusion of the trial) in which Proctor stated that he could not say that Bullet III was fired by Sacco's .32 Colt pistol.[66] At the conclusion of the appeal hearings, Thayer denied all motions for a new trial on October 1, 1924.[93]

Several months later, in February 1924, Judge Thayer asked one of the firearms experts for the prosecution, Capt. Charles Van Amburgh, to reinspect Sacco's Colt and determine its condition. With District Attorney Katzmann present, Van Amburgh took the gun from the clerk and started to take it apart.[91] Van Amburgh quickly noticed that the barrel to Sacco's gun was brand new, being still covered in the manufacturer's protective rust preventative.[91] Judge Thayer began private hearings to determine who had tampered with the evidence by switching the barrel on Sacco's gun. During three weeks of hearings, Albert Hamilton and Captain Van Amburgh squared off, challenging each other's authority. Testimony suggested that Sacco's gun had been treated with little care, and frequently disassembled for inspection. New defense attorney William Thompson insisted that no one on his side could have switched the barrels "unless they wanted to run their necks into a noose." [94] Albert Hamilton swore he had only taken the gun apart while being watched by Judge Thayer. Judge Thayer made no finding as to who had switched the .32 Colt barrels, but ordered the rusty barrel returned to Sacco's Colt.[91] After the hearing concluded, unannounced to Judge Thayer, Captain Van Amburgh took both Sacco's and Vanzetti's guns, along with the bullets and shells involved in the crime to his home where he kept them until a Boston Globe expose revealed the misappropriation in 1960. Meanwhile, Van Amburgh bolstered his own credentials by writing an article on the case for True Detective Mysteries. The 1935 article charged that prior to the discovery of the gun barrel switch, Albert Hamilton had tried to walk out of the courtroom with Sacco's gun but was stopped by Judge Thayer. Although several historians of the case, including Francis Russell, have reported this story as factual, nowhere in transcripts of the private hearing on the gun barrel switch was this incident ever mentioned. The same year the True Detective article was published, a study of ballistics in the case concluded, "what might have been almost indubitable evidence was in fact rendered more than useless by the bungling of the experts."[95]

Appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court[edit]

The defense appealed Thayer's denial of their motions to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), the highest level of the state's judicial system. Both sides presented arguments to its five judges on January 11–13, 1926.[93] The SJC returned a unanimous ruling on May 12, 1926 upholding Judge Thayer's decisions.[93][96] The Court did not have the authority to review the trial record as a whole or to judge the fairness of the case. Instead, the judges considered only whether Thayer had abused his discretion in the course of the trial. Thayer later claimed that the SJC had "approved" the verdicts, which advocates for the defendants protested as a misinterpretation of the Court's ruling, which only found "no error" in his individual rulings.[97]

Madeiros confession[edit]

In November 1925, Celestino Medeiros, an ex-convict awaiting trial for murder, confessed to committing the Braintree crimes. He absolved Sacco and Vanzetti of participation.[98] In May, once the SJC had denied their appeal and Madeiros was convicted, the defense investigated the details of Madeiros' story. Police interviews led them to the Morelli gang based in Providence, Rhode Island. They developed an alternative theory of the crime based on the gang’s history of shoe-factory robberies, connections to a car like that used in Braintree, and other details. Gang leader Joe Morelli bore a striking resemblance to Sacco.[99][100][101]

The defense filed a motion for a new trial based on the Madeiros confession on May 26, 1926.[93] In support of their motion they included 64 affidavits. The prosecution countered with 26 affidavits.[102] When Thayer heard arguments from September 13 to 17, 1926,[93] the defense, along with their Madeiros-Morelli theory of the crime, charged that the U.S. Justice Department was aiding the prosecution by withholding information obtained in its own investigation of the case. Attorney William Thompson made an explicitly political attack: "A government which has come to value its own secrets more than it does the lives of its citizens has become a tyranny, whether you call it a republic, a monarchy, or anything else!"[103] Judge Thayer denied this motion for a new trial on October 23, 1926. After arguing against the credibility of Madeiros, he addressed the defense claims against the federal government, saying the defense was suffering from "a new type of disease,...a belief in the existence of something which in fact and truth has no such existence."[93][104]

Three days later, the Boston Herald responded to Thayer's decision by reversing its longstanding position and calling for a new trial. Its editorial, "We Submit", earned its author a Pulitzer Prize.[105][106] No other newspapers followed suit.[107]

Second appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court[edit]

The defense promptly appealed again to the Supreme Judicial Court and presented their arguments on January 27 and 28, 1927.[93] While the appeal was under consideration, Harvard law professor and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter published an article in the Atlantic Monthly arguing for a retrial. He noted that the SJC had already taken a very narrow view of its authority when considering the first appeal, and called upon the court to review the entire record of the case. He called their attention to Thayer's lengthy statement that accompanied his denial of the Madeiros appeal, describing it as "a farrago of misquotations, misrepresentations, suppressions, and mutilations," "honeycombed with demonstrable errors."[108]

At the same time, Major Calvin Goddard was a ballistics expert who had helped pioneer the use of the comparison microscope in forensic ballistic research. He offered to conduct an independent examination of the gun and bullet forensic evidence by using techniques that he had developed for use with the comparison microscope.[109] Goddard first offered to conduct a new forensic examination for the defense, which rejected it, and then to the prosecution, which accepted his offer.[109] Using the comparison microscope, Goddard compared Bullet III and a .32 Auto shell casing found at the Braintree shooting with that of several .32 Auto test cartridges fired from Sacco's .32 Colt automatic pistol.[65][109] Goddard concluded that not only did Bullet III match the rifling marks found on the barrel of Sacco's .32 Colt pistol, but that scratches made by the firing pin of Sacco's .32 Colt on the primers of spent shell casings test-fired from Sacco's Colt matched those found on the primer of a spent shell casing recovered at the Braintree murder scene.[65][109] More sophisticated comparative examinations in 1935, 1961, and 1983 each reconfirmed the opinion that the bullet the prosecution said killed Berardelli, and one of the cartridge cases introduced into evidence, were fired in Sacco's .32 Colt automatic.[65] (Defenders of Sacco and Vanzetti have long claimed that "Bullet III" and the associated cartridge case were planted by the police, in order to frame the two defendants. William Young and David Kaiser, in their book "Postmortem: New Evidence in the Sacco-Vanzetti Case," note that the scratches at the base of Bullet III are made in a handwriting[clarification needed] that is dramatically different than those at the base of the other bullets.)

The Supreme Judicial Court denied the Madeiros appeal on April 5, 1927.[93] Summarizing the decision, The New York Times said that the SJC had determined that "the judge had a right to rule as he did" but that the SJC "did not deny the validity of the new evidence."[110] The SJC also said: "It is not imperative that a new trial be granted even though evidence is newly discovered and, if presented to a jury, would justify a different verdict."[111]

Protests and advocacy[edit]

Many socialists and intellectuals campaigned for a retrial without success. John Dos Passos came to Boston to cover the case as a journalist, stayed to author a pamphlet called Facing the Chair,[112] and was arrested in a demonstration on August 10, 1927, along with Dorothy Parker.[113] After being arrested while picketing the State House, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay pleaded her case to the governor in person and then wrote an appeal: "I cry to you with a million voices: answer our doubt...There is need in Massachusetts of a great man tonight."[114]

Others who wrote to Fuller or signed petitions included Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells.[115] The president of the American Federation of Labor cited "the long period of time intervening between the commission of the crime and the final decision of the Court" as well as "the mental and physical anguish which Sacco and Vanzetti must have undergone during the past seven years" in a telegram to the governor.[116]

Benito Mussolini, the target of two anarchist assassination attempts, quietly made inquiries through diplomatic channels and was prepared to ask Governor Fuller to commute the sentences if it appeared his request would be granted.[117][118]

In 1926, a bomb presumed to be the work of anarchists destroyed the house of Samuel Johnson, the brother of Simon Johnson and owner of the garage that called police the night of Sacco and Vanzetti's arrest.[119]

In August 1927, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) called for a three-day nationwide walkout to protest the pending executions.[120] The most notable response came in the Walsenburg coal district of Colorado, where 1,132 out of 1,167 miners participated in the walkout. It led to the Colorado coal strike of 1927.[121]

Defendants in prison[edit]

For their part, Sacco and Vanzetti seemed to alternate between moods of defiance, vengeance, resignation, and despair. The June 1926 issue of Protesta Umana, published by their Defense Committee, carried an article signed by Sacco and Vanzetti that appealed for retaliation by their colleagues. In the article, Vanzetti wrote, "I will try to see Thayer death [sic] before his pronunciation of our sentence," and asked fellow anarchists for "revenge, revenge in our names and the names of our living and dead."[122] The article concluded by urging readers to recall La Salute è in voi!, Galleani's bomb-making manual.

Both wrote dozens of letters asserting their innocence, insisting they had been framed because they were anarchists. Their conduct in prison consistently impressed guards and wardens. In 1927, the Dedham jail chaplain wrote to the head of an investigatory commission that he had seen no evidence of guilt or remorse on Sacco's part. Vanzetti impressed fellow prisoners at Charlestown State Prison as a bookish intellectual, incapable of committing any violent crime. Novelist John Dos Passos, who visited both men in jail, observed of Vanzetti, "nobody in his right mind who was planning such a crime would take a man like that along."[123] Vanzetti developed his command of English to such a degree that journalist Murray Kempton later described him as "the greatest writer of English in our century to learn his craft, do his work, and die all in the space of seven years."[124]


On April 9, 1927, Judge Thayer heard final statements from Sacco and Vanzetti. In a lengthy speech Vanzetti said:[125][126]

I would not wish to a dog or to a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth, I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I am an Italian and indeed I am an Italian...if you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already.[127]

Thayer declared that the responsibility for the conviction rested solely with the jury's determination of guilt. "The Court has absolutely nothing to do with that question." He sentenced each of them to "suffer the punishment of death by the passage of a current of electricity through your body" during the week beginning July 10.[125] He twice postponed the execution date while the governor considered requests for clemency.[128]

On May 10, a package bomb addressed to Governor Fuller was intercepted in the Boston post office.[129]

Clemency appeal and the Governor's Advisory Committee[edit]

In response to public protests that greeted the sentencing, Massachusetts Governor Alvan T. Fuller faced last-minute appeals to grant clemency to Sacco and Vanzetti. On June 1, 1927, he appointed an Advisory Committee of three: President Abbott Lawrence Lowell of Harvard, President Samuel Wesley Stratton of MIT, and Probate Judge Robert Grant. They were presented with the task of reviewing the trial to determine whether it had been fair. Lowell's appointment was generally well received, for though he had controversy in his past, he had also at times demonstrated an independent streak. The defense attorneys considered resigning when they determined that the Committee was biased against the defendants, but some of the defendants' most prominent supporters, including Harvard Law Professor Felix Frankfurter and Judge Julian W. Mack of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, persuaded them to stay because Lowell "was not entirely hopeless."[130]

One of the defense attorneys, though ultimately very critical of the Committee's work, thought the Committee members were not really capable of the task the Governor set for them:

No member of the Committee had the essential sophistication that comes with experience in the trial of criminal cases....The high positions in the community held by the members of the Committee obscured the fact that they were not really qualified to perform the difficult task assigned to them.[131]

He also thought that the Committee, particularly Lowell, imagined it could use its fresh and more powerful analytical abilities to outperform the efforts of those who had worked on the case for years, even finding evidence of guilt that professional prosecutors had discarded.[131]

Grant was another establishment figure, a probate court judge from 1893 to 1923 and an Overseer of Harvard University from 1896 to 1921, and the author of a dozen popular novels.[132] Some criticized Grant's appointment to the Committee, with one defense lawyer saying he "had a black-tie class concept of life around him," but Harold Laski in a conversation at the time found him "moderate." Others cited evidence of xenophobia in some of his novels, references to "riff-raff" and a variety of racial slurs. His biographer allows that he was "not a good choice," not a legal scholar, and handicapped by age. Stratton, the one member who was not a "Boston Brahmin," maintained the lowest public profile of the three and hardly spoke during its hearings.[133]

In their earlier appeals, the defense was limited to the trial record. The Governor's Committee, however, was not a judicial proceeding, so Judge Thayer's comments outside the courtroom could be used to demonstrate his bias. Once Thayer told reporters that "No long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!"[134] According to the affidavits of eyewitnesses, Thayer also lectured members of his clubs, calling Sacco and Vanzetti "Bolsheviki!" and saying he would "get them good and proper". During the Dedham trial's first week, Thayer said to reporters: "Did you ever see a case in which so many leaflets and circulars have been spread...saying people couldn't get a fair trial in Massachusetts? You wait till I give my charge to the jury, I'll show them!"[135] In 1924, Thayer confronted a Massachusetts lawyer at Dartmouth, his alma mater, and said: "Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day. I guess that will hold them for a while.... Let them go to the Supreme Court now and see what they can get out of them."[136] The Committee knew that, following the verdict, Boston Globe reporter Frank Sibley, who had covered the trial, wrote a protest to the Massachusetts attorney general condemning Thayer's blatant bias. Thayer's behavior both inside the courtroom and outside of it had become a public issue, with the New York World attacking Thayer as "an agitated little man looking for publicity and utterly impervious to the ethical standards one has the right to expect of a man presiding in a capital case."[137]

On July 12–13, 1927, following testimony by the defense firearms expert Albert H. Hamilton before the Committee, the Assistant District Attorney for Massachusetts, Dudley P. Ranney, took the opportunity to cross-examine Hamilton. He submitted affidavits questioning Hamilton's credentials as well as his performance during the New York trial of Charles Stielow, in which Hamilton's testimony linking rifling marks to a bullet used to kill the victim nearly sent an innocent man to the electric chair.[88][138] The Committee also heard from Braintree's police chief who told them he had found the cap on Pearl Street, allegedly dropped by Sacco during the crime, a full 24-hours after the getaway car had fled the scene. The chief doubted the cap belonged to Sacco and called the whole trial a contest "to see who could tell the biggest lies."[139]

After two weeks of hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence, the Committee determined that the trial had been fair and a new trial was not warranted. They assessed the charges against Thayer as well. Their criticism, using words provided by Judge Grant,[140]

Controversial anarchist trial defendants Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left) and Nicola Sacco.

Sacco and Vanzetti

Harrington & Richardson top break revolver similar to pistol carried by Berardelli
Savage Model 1907 automatic pistol
Protest for Sacco and Vanzetti in London, 1921

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *