The story of America is a story of waves of immigration. During the late 1800s and the early 1900s that wave consisted principally of immigrants from central and southern Europe. These immigrants, in their search for a better life in America, brought with them aspects of their previous lives in Europe. Religion, language, culture all made the voyage with them. The murder of Antonio D’Alassandro highlighted something else that came with them.
The morning of December 1, 1911, following an evening of socializing, the Italian immigrants who worked for the railroad went to wake their friend who was sleeping in a bunkhouse boxcar a few cars down from them. They knocked on the door and called out his name, but there was no answer from inside the boxcar. Figuring that their friend was still sleeping off the night’s festivities, they went in to rouse him from his slumber. When they entered the boxcar, they were greeted with a terrible sight.
Antonio D’Alassandro (1868-1911) immigrated to the United States in 1905, leaving his wife and family behind in Italy. Like many immigrants, he came alone to establish himself so that, in the future, he would be able to bring his family to the United States as well. Antonio found work as a laborer on the railroad systems that crisscrossed Pennsylvania and Ohio, and found himself often on the move to wherever the railroads needed him. Like many other immigrants Antonio adopted a more Americanized nickname, Tony Allison, and he would go by both names in the historic record. Antonio was living in Newcomerstown in 1910, renting a room in home on Clow Avenue with a large number of other Italian immigrants.
The scene inside of the boxcar was horrific. Antonio lay half in his bunk and half out, blood splattered the walls, the table, even the face of his pocket watch. On the floor was a bloody sledgehammer, the murder weapon, that had been used to crush Antonio’s skull. The fellow workers immediately called for a doctor and law enforcement to come to the scene. After arriving, Marshal Ira Stoffer (1878-1955) investigated the scene and interviewed Antonio’s acquaintances. The county coroner was notified and he arrived in the afternoon to conduct his own investigation of the murder scene.
After interviewing Antonio’s friends, Marshal Stoffer learned that Antonio had saved almost $700 in a bank account in Pittsburgh and that he regularly sent money to his family in Italy. The night of his murder he allegedly had $100 in his possession that he was intending to deposit in the bank the next time work took him to Pittsburgh. The witnesses also reported that Antonio had gone into town earlier in the evening and returned with a stranger, another Italian immigrant, that the others did not recognize. This stranger, when the time came to go to bed, went with Antonio to his boxcar. All of the witnesses were able to give a good description of this stranger to Marshal Stoffer.
The newspapers, and law enforcement, immediately believed that Antonio’s murder was merely a robbery gone badly. However, the Italian community in Newcomerstown were convinced that the murder was the work of the Black Hand. The Black Hand were extortionists within the Italian immigrant community, having made its way to the United States along with its countrymen, and they were active wherever Italian immigrants resided. Typically a letter would be sent by the Black Hand to the party being extorted, threatening harm or death to the individual if they refused to pay. Antonio’s acquaintances were convinced that the stranger who murdered Antonio was a Black Hand extortionist who knew of the money Antonio possessed and saved.
The railroad’s own police force had a different theory to explain Antonio’s murder. They reported that, several months earlier, Antonio had denied a request from a young man in Italy to marry his daughter. The railroad’s investigator believed that the young man, seeking to convince Antonio to change his mind, travelled to America. He felt that this young man was the stranger they sought. Antonio was murdered, the investigator claimed, because he again refused the young man’s request for his daughter’s hand.
Antonio D’Alassandro’s body and belongings were turned over to a Newcomerstown undertaker to be held until the authorities determined what to do with his remains. Antonio was eventually buried, along with his earthly possessions, two weeks later in a pauper’s grave despite the fact that he had $700 dollars in the bank. No information about what happened to Antonio’s savings was ever given and Antonio’s killer was never brought to justice.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.