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If everything on this page is true — indeed, if it is 75 percent true — then I am amazed Leonard Scarnici's name escaped my attention until I was deep into my retirement years.

That he finally registered was largely due to a few articles I read while researching all the wacky and wild events from the year 1933, a project that grew from an earlier one in which I was simply looking for stories about my hometown, Solvay, New York.

Even then, the first few articles that eventually led me to Scarnici did not mention his name. Interestingly, the bank robbery that would prove his undoing was thought, by some, to be the work of a much more famous outlaw who reportedly had been spotted in the East, far from his usual stomping grounds.

New York Sun, May 29, 1933
RENSSELAER, New York (AP) — Surprised by the police while holding up the Rensselaer County Bank just before noon today, six robbers shot their way out of the institution, killed a detective and fled with $7,000 in an automobile.

The holdup occurred a few hours after the police were warned in a teletype message from Lee, Massachusetts, to be on the lookout for Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, 28 years old, notorious Oklahoma outlaw, wanted there for bank robbery, and in Ohio for murder. On that lead the police spread a net for Floyd.

Noonday crowds filled the main street of this upstate village when the six men walked into the bank, saved submachine guns, and crowded a dozen frightened customers, clerks and bank officials into a back room.

“Line up against the wall, and don’t move,” ordered one of the robbers. But Nicholas Walters, a bank employee, unknown to the robbers, touched a holdup alarm.

The clanging alarm brought two detectives James A. Stevens and Frederick Rabe, running up the street from Police Headquarters, a block or two away. As the robbers saw them, they opened fire. The detectives replied with pistol bullets, but they were dropped by a wave of firing. Stevens was fatally shot and died a few minutes later in an Albany hospital.

Still firing, the men leaped into a waiting automobile, just as another detail of police rushed up the street.

A witness told the police the car bore a New York City license number and that it turned across a bridge leading to Albany on the other side of the river.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 30, 1933
Special to the Eagle
ALBANY — Wanted for murder in three states, bank robbery in three others and for a spectacular prison break in Ohio where he shot his way to liberty, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd is being hunted by New York State troopers who believe the Western bad man yesterday led the gang which held up the Rensselaer County Bank, killed a detective and escaped with loot estimated at $2,000.

Massachusetts state troopers also are on the lookout for Floyd and his five cohorts in case they attempt to find safety in the Berkshire Hills, while the Canadian border is also being carefully guarded.

The linking of Floyd with the Rensselaer bank robbery came from a mysterious tip received from Lee, Massachusetts, where he also is wanted for a bank stickup.

This was the first inkling that Pretty Boy Floyd had changed the locale of his banditry from the Middle Wet to the East. In Oklahoma, his name is held in the same fearful esteem that the James boys and the Younger brothers were once held in Missouri and Kansas.

Notice the discrepancy in the amount stolen from the bank. Another report fixed the amount at $2,200.

Anyway, this bank robbery was not the work of "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and it's doubtful knowledgeable local police ever thought that it might be, though apprehending Floyd would have been a career highlight for any lawman.

It is highly unlikely, but possible the tip that led some to believe Floyd was in the area was provided by Scarnici or one of his Albany associates as a way of deflecting suspicion from the actual bank robbers.

Jump ahead about six weeks. There was no way the public could have made the connection at the time, but it was another crime, this one in Albany, that would lead police to Leonard Scarnici. That crime, the kidnapping of John J. O'Connell Jr., occurred on July 7, but was kept secret for four days by the family, who had been warned not to contact the police.

These were uncertain times for mobsters
Before moving ahead, I think some background is needed, because anyone who stays with me through a story that is much longer than I intended undoubtedly will wonder why so many experienced gangsters, most of them operating out of New York City, would have gotten involved in three crimes that read as though they were attempted by the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Prohibition's days were numbered. Bootleggers had to find new ways of making money. Some gangsters had taken to kidnapping other gangsters, which some saw as the 1930s version of victimless crime. However, the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. changed things. While some abduction victims —"Jake the Barber" Factor, for example, and even John J. O'Connell Jr. —had mob connections, they were investigated with the same vigor and determination as kidnaps involving obviously innocent victims, such as Mary McElroy and Peggy McMath.

The federal government, through its bureau of investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, declared war on kidnappers. So while bank robberies, particularly those during which policemen, customers and employees were injured or killed, were a very serious concern, there's no doubt kidnappings received more attention in 1933, which would be bad news for Leonard Scarnici, who was involved in the planning of the O'Connell kidnapping and had participated in a previous Albany kidnapping attempt.

While Scarnici and some of his pals robbed banks and other places of business, his main job, it seems, was as a gunman for Dutch Schultz, whose real name was Arthur Simon Flegenheimer. Scarnici had been killing people for more than two years before he got involved with some Albany gangsters who had a grudge against the O'Connell political machine, a Democratic organization run by two brothers, Edward J. and Daniel P. O'Connell. A third brother, John J. O'Connell Sr., nicknamed "Solly," was a former boxing manager who, by the 1930s, was mostly into sports promotion. Why his son was the heir apparent to both the family's Hedrick Brewery and the political machine, I don't know.

The Albany gangster who planned the O'Connell kidnapping was John Oley. He also wound up recruiting several other New York City-based gangsters, most of whom had been associated with a mobster named Waxey Gordon. There was a gangster war going on in New York City, and thanks to the federal government's new tactic — prosecuting mob bosses for income tax evasion — it would be a war that could not be won. Gordon — real name: Irving Wexler — would be found guilty and sent to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta before the end of the year. Schultz would beat the rap in 1935, but be murdered soon thereafter.

In the meantime, even professional killers have to eat, and that's why Scarnici and others were interested in what Oley was proposing. Oley apparently soured on Scarnici after the failure to grab another Albany sports promoter, Morris ‘Mush’ Trackiner, in February. Three months later Oley encouraged Scarnici to rob the bank in Rensselaer, and the Albany gangster got a cut of the action, though he didn't participate. At that point, Scarnici was squeezed out of the O'Connell job.

However, someone — perhaps Oley, perhaps one of his Albany associates — tipped off police that it was not "Baby Face" Nelson who robbed the Rensselaer bank, but a Dutch Schultz gunman named Leonard Scarnici. If that tip did come from Oley or anyone else involved in the O'Connell kidnapping — and that's a very big if — then that would have been a very bad mistake.

Beginning of the end for Scarnici
On September 19, New York City police, state police and agents of what soon would be known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, teamed up to arrest seven persons — five men and two wives. These arrests, it was announced, were made in connection with the O'Connell kidnapping.

Less than 24 hours later, authorities abruptly changed their minds. At least, so it appeared. I suspect those in charge of investigating both crimes — the bank robbery in Rensselaer and the kidnapping in nearby Albany — knew from the outset that only one of the seven persons arrested could have had anything to do with the latter. And that was Leonard Scarnici. I also suspect they soon believed almost everything Scarnici would tell them. He admitted involvement in the robbery, but denied having participated in the kidnapping, though he had been in on the planning.

The other six, including Scarnici's wife, were actually held in connection with the bank robbery. And only two of them — Anthony Reino and Charles Shore — would actually be charged with the crime. Mrs. Scarnici and Mrs. Reino would be charged with harboring fugitives and illegal possession of firearms, with the first charge soon dropped.

The other two men arrested were Fred Plentl and Phil Zeigler. Plentl would face a firearms charge, and Zeigler would be released, not because he hadn't done anything, but because police had no evidence to hold him, though he was a suspect in several crimes.

Finally the spotlight found Leonard Scarnici, around whom a legend would suddenly grow, though today he has settled back into obscurity outside of the northeast.

Once Scarnici was arrested, there was a flood of accusations, mostly about murders the man allegedly had committed long before a Rensselaer police detective was gunned down.

The assassination of "Mad Dog" Coll
Reading these stories today, I can't help but wonder what took police so long to stop Scarnici. After all, it is widely accepted today that he and another hitman, Anthony Fabrizzo, were responsible for one of New York City's most infamous murders — 1932's assassination of gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.

Some online sources list other men responsible for Coll's death, but this is my story, and I'm sticking to it. Anyway ...

It took two tries, but they finally succeeded, with Fabrizzo standing lookout on the street while Scarnici went into a drug store and put 17 machine gun bullets into Coll while he stood in a phone booth talking to Owney Madden, the Irish mob boss who had hired the two killers. It is said that Scarnici and Fabrizzo did this to collect $50,000 that Madden was offering. However, the two gunmen could have been doing it on orders from Dutch Schultz, who also hated Coll.

Their first attempt to kill Coll resulted in the deaths of three people in a Bronx apartment. Three others were wounded when Scarnici and Fabrizzo burst in and sprayed the apartment with machine gun fire. They expected to find Coll there, but their target didn't arrive until an hour or so after they had departed.

Again, I am uncertain this is a true story, though many people insist it is. Neither am I certain Anthony was the Fabrizzo who was Scarnici's partner on the job. Anthony's brother, Andrew, also was a mob killer, and he was rubbed out a few weeks after Coll was killed. A third Fabrizzo brother, also a hitman, was killed in 1929.

As for Anthony, he also was known by his full name, Francis Anthony Fabrizzo, and he was perhaps the first mobster who set out to write a book about his experiences. He was writing "How Gangland Works" in 1933, after Coll was killed. In November, the would-be author was gunned down. Was it because of his book, or because of the Coll murder?

Scarnici, meanwhile, remained anonymous, at least to the press. Today you'll find webpages that describe him as an infamous mob killer, but I could find no mention of Scarnici in a newspaper until he was arrested in September, 1933, supposedly in connection with a kidnapping.

Within 48 hours of that arrest, however, the kidnapping was no longer part of the case that was being built against Leonard Scarnici.

The Troy Times, September 22, 1933
Quiz Scarnici on 12 Murders

While New York police today sought to place the guilt of 12 murders on Leonard Scarnici, “young bad man” who was captured in the roundup of O’Connell kidnapping case suspects Wednesday, District Attorney Clinton of Rensselaer County made plans for the return to this county of Scarnici and two companions, Anthony Reino and Charles Herzog [aka Charles Shore], also arrested Wednesday. They are to be charged with murder in the first degree for the killing of Detective James A. Stevens during a Rensselaer bank holdup last May.

District Attorney Clinton and Assistant District Attorney Kelly are in close touch with the situation in New York and are ready at a moment’s notice to bring the trio back to this county. It is thought, however, the men will be kept in New York for a few days, while Scarnici will be questioned with a view of having him divulge important information.

Called a killer-for-hire and described by a police inspector as “perhaps the toughest man in my experience,” Scarnici also is wanted in Woodbridge, Connecticut, for a filling station robbery in which two men were murdered.

Other slayings the police sought to connect him with are:

The machine-gunning of Vincent Coll, Bronx desperado.

The “ride killings” of Marcel Poffo, Max Parkin, Anthony Russo and Joseph Callegro*, whose bodies were found near Harrison, N.Y.

The killing of Joe Ruggiero, believed to have followed a quarrel over the loot from a New York bank robbery.

The “sack murders” of William Price and Edward Flanagan in Brooklyn.

The “sack murder” of Davie Reiner, who had been arrested with Scarnici for a robbery of the Post Office at Salisbury, Connecticut.

Scarnici and Reino are wanted in Albany for the O’Connell kidnapping, but it was decided the murder charge would take precedence.

District Attorney John Delaney of Albany had warrants also for the arrest of John Oley and two others, unnamed, who are accused of being implicated the in the kidnapping with Manny Strewl, go-between who is already under arrest.

In connection with the sack killings of Price and Flanagan, police said the two men were believed to have been connected in some way with the kidnapping of Alfred Lilienthal of Newark, who was freed for $35,000 ransom. Scarnici also was suspected of complicity in this kidnapping. In October, 1931, the bodies of Price and Flanagan, sewed in sacks, were found in an automobile parked on a Brooklyn street.

Scarnici appears to view retribution for wholesale murder with less fear than the charge of kidnapping. the gangster is reported to have told police questioners, “You’ve got me for plenty of murders, why pick me on the O’Connell case. Mister, Albany is one place I don’t want to go back to.”

As revealed by police accusations, amplified by his admissions since arrest, the cold-blooded murder methods of Scarnici lend an air of truth to reports he had to be restrained by his gang from killing young O’Connell in the midst of the ransom negotiations.

When the Albany youth’s uncles, Daniel P. and Edward J. O’Connell had succeeded in whittling down the gang’s ransom demands from the original quarter million dollars to around $50,000, then occurred Scarnici’s outburst of temper. He is reported to have said, “We’ll kill him, cut off his ears and send them to Dan O’Connell, free. Let’s see how they like that.”

However, he was persuaded to go ahead with the negotiations by his associates.

Herzog is regarded as the most desperate member of the mob, next to Scarnici and Reino. Yesterday he was pointed out as one of the gang who killed a colored elevator operator in the holdup of a Third Avenue furniture store in New York, two years ago.

* I settled on this spelling. The name appears in
various forms — Caliegro, for example.

The above story went on with "reports," as the writer put it, that Scarnici suggested killing O'Connell and sending his ears to his uncles. This was colorful stuff, but strictly a rumor. Eventually it would be revealed Scarnici, while in on the planning of the O'Connell kidnapping, did not actually participate. His asking price was too high.

Meanwhile, there were more murders attributed to Scarnici— the three committed while he and Fabrizzo were trying to kill "Mad Dog" Coll:

Syracuse Journal, September 23, 1933
Gang Leader Faces Three More Murders

NEW YORK (INS) — Three more murders, the ruthless machine-gunning of two men and a woman in an apartment in the Bronx, in February, 1932, were attributed today to Leonard Scarnici.

This new accusation against the alleged leader of the O’Connell kidnap gang was made anonymously by an inmate of Clinton prison at Dannemora in a letter smuggled secretly from behind the gray walls.

The letter was discovered by police in a raid on the apartment of Lottie Coll, widow of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, who met his death in a blast of machine gun fire in a West 23rd Street drug store.

Bullets taken from his body and from the bodies of the Bronx murder victims were to be compared today with slugs fired from the machine gun seized in Scarnici’s arsenal at Mt. Kisco when he was rounded up with four other men and two women for the O’Connell kidnapping.

Those mowed down in the Bronx killing were Pasquale DeGreco, 40; Florio Bastile, 43, and Emily Tonallo, 43.
The two men, according to police records, were associated with Coll in the Mad Dog’s war with the Dutch Schultz gang.

As Scarnici’s murder list grew, it was learned that he will face still another accuser today, Mrs. Margaret Wilson of Agawam, Massachusetts, whose son, Frank Wilson, was buried alive in a shallow grave near Agawam in 1927.

Mrs. Wilson will level an accusing finger at the 27-year-old slayer in the office of Captain Richard Oliver, in charge of the undercover squad who engineered the capture of the gang.

“He told me he killed my Frankie on the orders of a big Boston gangster,” Mrs. Wilson told Captain Oliver. She showed six-year-old newspaper clippings indicating Scarnici had orally confessed this particular torture murder and then being turned out after refusing to sign a written confession.

The suspects were to be arraigned early in the day on charges of robbing an uptown New York bank.

Police said they were confident of proving Scarnici, Anthony Reino and Charles Herzog were involved in a holdup and murder at Rensselaer, New York. Scarnici, according to police, admitted at least five other killings and can be connected with as many more. The other male prisoners, Philip Ziegler and Fred Plentl, will be tied in with a score of robberies and bank holdups, authorities said.

Scarnici’s wife and Mrs. Reino, seized at the Mount Kisco hideout of the gang, will be taken there during the day to face a charge of illegal possession of firearms in connection with seizure of a veritable arsenal at the place.

He began as a beer delivery man
Leonardo Gandolfo Guiseppe Scarnici was born in New York City, but was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, starting his life of crime as a delivery man for New England rum runners. Soon he was in charge of a fleet of seven cars, and while awaiting trial in 1933, admitted to a jailer in Troy that he had done "a pretty good business" in Providence, Rhode Island. Later he moved to New York City and became a gunman for Dutch Schultz.

After he was arrested in September, 1933, it was reported he and his gang had been responsible for bank robberies that netted them more than $250,000. Where this figure came from, who knows? When Scarnici and the six others were taken to Troy to be arraigned at Rensselaer County Court, the gang, between them, had $13.17. Mrs. Scarnici carried the most — a five-dollar bill.

Police then concentrated on Scarnici, Anthony Reino and Charles Shore (aka Herzog), who went on trial for Detective Stevens' murder in December. Reino and Shore were acquitted, and thus could not be retried. There was a hung jury on the Scarnici verdict, the vote being eight to four in favor of conviction.

James F. Brearton, the trial judge, delivered what the Associated Press called "one of the bitterest criticisms of a jury ever heard in a New York State courtroom."

Said Judge Brearton, "It is the failure of juries to do their duty in cases of this kind that is fast undermining the confidence of the public in the jury system. Your failure to do your duty in this case is disgraceful."

Scarnici was retried, this time in Schoharie, about 30 miles west of Rensselaer. The hitman was convicted and sentenced to die.

While Reino and Shore could not be retried to Detective Stevens' murder, they did not go free.

Albany Evening News, March 22, 1934
Reino, Shore Found Guilty

Though they escaped conviction of murder at Troy, Anthony Reino and Charles Shore today face possible prison sentences ranging from 15 to 40 years after conviction in New York yesterday of robbery, first degree.

Commenting on the case after the jury’s verdict, Judge Joseph E. Corrigan, in General Sessions, denounced the pair with their alleged accomplice Leonard Scarnici and to others, as members of one of the worst gangs of bank robbers in New York’s history. Scarnici is in the Sing Sing death house for the Stevens murder in Rensselaer.

The five men, including two never apprehended, were charged with using machine guns and tear gas in the holdup on December 15, 1932, of a branch of the Bank of Manhattan Trust Company at 169th Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue which netted the bandits $10,000.

Judge Corrigan deferred sentence on Shore and Reino until next Thursday. They were arrested last September with Scarnici and others in raids on Bronx and Mt. Kisco flats conducted by authorities hunting for the hideout of the kidnappers of John J. O’Connell Jr. It developed immediately afterward that Scarnici, at least, had participated in the Rensselaer holdup last May which ended in the murder of Detective Stevens.

Shore, who was convicted in New York as Charles Herzog, and Reino were acquitted after trial for murder in Troy, while the jury brought down wraith upon its heads for failure to agree as to Scarnici’s guilt. This led to a change of venue for a second trial at which Scarnici was convicted at Schoharie and sentenced to die.

Original belief that the gang was involved in the O’Connell kidnapping appears to have been abandoned as a theory by authorities for at the recent trial of Manny Strewl in Albany for the kidnapping, the names of Scarnici, Shore and Reino did not enter the testimony at any point.

Meanwhile, Scarnici tried to wiggle out of his murder conviction, but without luck.

The Troy Times, November 27, 1934
Court of Appeals Rules Killer Must Die

Judgment of the conviction of first degree murder against Leonard Scarnici was affirmed today by the Court of Appeals at Albany. Judges were unanimous in the opinion of Scarnici’s guilt.

Now his only hope to escape the electric chair is an appeal to Governor Lehman for executive clemency. He has been in Sing Sing Prison since his conviction.

The shooting of Detective Stevens took place on the morning of May 29, 1933. Five men walked into the bank and taking up strategic positions covered employees and customers. One of the bandits had a sub-machine gun. The others were equipped with sawed off shotguns and revolvers.

Bank employees and patrons — numbering about 10 — were herded into a room, and while they were being kept covered — their faces to the wall — by one of the robbers, the others proceeded to rifle cash drawers in the tellers’ cages.

Testimony was that it was Scarnici who forced one of the employees to open the vault of the bank. Once inside the vault, the teller was forced to open various compartments containing the money — in all, about $5,000.

In the meantime, Herbert D. Burhans, paying teller at the bank, had stepped on a burglar alarm connected with police headquarters, located two blocks north of the bank. Detective Stevens and Patrolman Fred Rabe, of the Rensselaer Police Department, rushed to the scene in a police car. As Stevens walked up the three steps leading into the bank, one of the robbers yelled, “Here comes the cops.” Then the shooting began.

Detective Stevens dropped, mortally wounded, in the vestibule, just inside the front door. He was fired upon before he had an opportunity of raising his gun.

Patrolman Rabe back away from the door as the firing started. As the bandits came out, he received a bullet in the leg. Officer Rabe fired several shots at the bandits as they hastened to their automobile, which was parked directly across the street from the bank.

Burhans rushed out, picked up Stevens’ gun, which was alongside his prone body, and fired at the bandit car as it started away.

[NOTE: The estimated loot during the trial apparently was $5,000, the fourth different amount given for the bank robbery. Also, it would become significant — as a matter of trivia, if nothing else — that witnesses placed Scarnici near or inside the vault, while the other robbers were posted elsewhere in the bank.]

 

For Sing Sing, a double feature
Thus began the final chapter in the life of Leonard Scarnici, said to be better known among his gangland associates by his nickname, Naldi. Another nickname that popped up a couple of times was "Two-Gun" Charlie.

Scarnici's execution was delayed by a series of reprieves, though Scarnici apparently realized these were granted for the benefit of Albany County District Attorney John T. Delaney, who squeezed the convicted killer for every bit of information he had on the kidnapping of John J. O'Connell Jr., which remained an open case until 1937.

Finally, on June 27, 1935, Scarnici kept his date with the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. For 22 spectators, it was a double feature, as it were. What made this a special night was the opening act — the execution of Eva Coo.


By WILLIAM SPEAR
OSSINING (AP) — A grave beside that of the handyman she murdered for $12,000 insurance awaits Eva Coo today.

She paid for his life with hers in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison last night.

Whether she actually would be buried in the plot she had selected for herself and Harry Wright in Cooperstown, New York, was to be decided after word was received from relatives in Ontario.

Mrs. Coo went to her death with no last-minute denial of the crime — felling Wright with a mallet and then having an automobile shuttled across him by Mrs. Martha Clift, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“Good-bye, darlings,” was all she said, addressing two matrons who stood weeping before the chair, clinging to the arms of a white-haired guard.

They formed a screen between the woman in the flowered blue print dress and 22 witnesses. The chaplain intoned the 23rd Psalm —”The Lord in my Shepherd” — and the current crackled.

Gangster Leonard Scarnici was executed immediately after Mrs. Coo’s body had been wheeled from the room. He shot Detective James Stevens during a bank holdup in Rensselaer.

Scarnici came in grinning widely, chewing gum and puffing a cigarette held with a steady hand.

“Okay, warden?” he asked Lewis E. Lawes, waving the cigarette. The warden, who entered after Mrs. Coo had died, nodded and muttered something unintelligible.

Steel-nerved, the black-haired Scarnici put the leather strap at his waist in position while the guards were busy with bonds at his legs.

A priest held out a cross and he kissed it. Then:

“All I want to say,” Scarnici declared clearly, “is I want to send a message to the people in Albany, people who double-crossed me up there. I still say I’m a better man than they are. I thank you, warden.”

Blue-shirted guards lifted the black hood to his head — not actually a hood, but a wide band about the eyes and another over the mouth, leaving the nose exposed.

“Okay, pard,” he told them.

The current was applied.

Scarnici had been taken to New York during the day on a writ of habeas corpus, an almost unprecedented procedure, to be present while his attorney argued a technical point of law before a federal judge.

Before his last hour, spent with his wife, he issued a statement purporting to clear a holdup suspect held in Connecticut state prison. It read:

“I, Leonard Scarnici, being of sound mind and not looking for anything, testify that Arthur Plentl, now in Wethersfield prison, is innocent of the *Lesnow Shirt Factory holdup. I took part in the crime and I know Plentl was not there. I do not want to see an innocent man suffer.”

Authorities are investigating.

Otherwise, Plentl was lucky
Arthur Plentl was the brother of Fred Plentl, who was arrested with Scarnici two years earlier, supposedly in connection with the O'Connell case. I've found nothing about how this matter was resolved. However ...

Arthur Plentl was not an innocent. He had served short sentences in New York penitentiaries in the 1920s for various crimes, and in 1933 was held for questioning in connection with a murder that took place in August, 1932. Picked up with him were Joseph Callegro, Anthony Russo, Marcello Poffo and Morris "Max" Parkin. They were released, while Plentl was held because he was under indictment for the shirt factory holdup.

But here's the kicker: While Plentl remained in New York City's infamous Tombs for several weeks, Callegro, Russo, Poffo and Parkin were all murdered. Chief suspect? Leonard Scarnici.

Which begs the question, was Scarnici actually trying to help Arthur Plentl, or was he sending a message to one of his mob pals, reminding him that, hey, Plentl is still out there?

[NOTE: *Anna Lesnow, office manager of the Lesnow Brothers shirt factory, was the person confronted by robbers on June 30, 1932, handing over $2,500 that she was carrying. Nine years later, on July 7, 1941, she and her nephew, plant manager Harry Lesnow, and stenographer Theresa Gans were killed in a plane crash. Harry Lesnow had commuted to work by plane for several years until his luck ran out. The women were his passengers.]

 

Who double-crossed Scarnici?
There also was the matter of Scarnici's message to the people in Albany who double-crossed him. Was he talking to the district attorney's office or to the Albany members of the O'Connell kidnapping gang?

This is what District Attorney John T. Delaney had to say, according to an article in the Albany Times-Union the day after Scarnici was electrocuted:

Albany Times-Union, June 28, 1935
District Attorney John T. Delaney, who conferred with Scarnici several times after his admission to the death house, revealed the significance of the statement.

“It referred to the O’Connell kidnapping, the attempted kidnapping of Morris ‘Mush’ Trackiner, and to John and Francis Oley, Percy Geary and Manny Strewl,” said Delaney

“After Scarnici’s conviction for the Stevens slaying, we believed he knew considerable about the O’Connell kidnapping and the attempt to kidnap Trackiner, besides the Rensselaer bank job. I talked to him at length on several occasions and learned the following facts:

“The gang which perpetrated the kidnapping of Lieutenant John J. O’Connell also engineered the Rensselaer robbery and the attempted Trackiner kidnapping.

“Scarnici “squealed” on his former pals because they failed to furnish him with funds for his defense in the trials on the murder charge.

That “the Albany gang” doubled-crossed him by not paying him his share of the O’Connell kidnap ransom.

The attempt to kidnap Trackiner was a fiasco. According to Scarnici, he and John Oley trailed Trackiner, but failed to snatch him. Scarnici said he fired a shot at Trackiner as he ran into the house “to scare him.” The plan was to obtain $100,000 ransom for Trackiner and then kill him.

Scarnici was introduced to the Oleys and Geary by a contact men who knew both the Albany mob and Scarnici’s gang. They discussed the O’Connell and Trackiner kidnappings and the Rensselaer bank robbery. Plans were discussed in Albany and in New York City.

The Oleys and Geary received $1,200 as their part of the bank robbery.

Scarnici gave up the name of a New Yorker involved in the Rensselaer holdup, but the DA would not reveal this man’s name.

District Attorney Delaney revealed that Scarnici was in the O’Connell kidnap up until the moment he demanded 50 percent of the ransom money, instead of the 40 percent offered him by the Oleys. Nevertheless, Scarnici was told he would receive a share, but never obtained it, although he said he came to Albany several times in search of the money. All that he obtained of the O’Connell kidnap ransom, he told the district attorney, was $80.

“Scarnici told me,” said the district attorney, “that he always regretted the slaying of Detective Stevens whom he described as ‘a game old guy.’ Scarnici said another member of the mob fired the shot that felled Stevens.”

[NOTE: John Oley and his brother, Francis, and Percy "Angel Face" Geary were Albany gangsters. It's incredible to believe Scarnici gave these three $1,200 — that's $400 apiece — for a bank robbery that netted only $2,200. Scarnici also kept $400, which left $600 to be split among the other five men who actually participated. Farnici apparently solved some of the problem by killing two of them, Marcello Poffo and Max Parkin. Also, I don't know how the other robbers returned to their homes, but Scarnici said he hopped a freight train headed for New York City.]

 

Love is strange
And then there's the matter of Scarnici's interesting personal life. Between Scarnici's two murder trials came this fascinating tidbit:

Albany Evening News, December 18, 1933
District Attorney Frank H. Coyne of Westchester was quoted today as saying the girl known as Mrs. Eleanor Scarnici is the widow of Anthony Russo, alleged to have been one of many victims of Scarnici’s quick trigger finger.

Russo’s body was found with that of Joseph Callegro in the bushes near Harrison before the Rensselaer bank robbery. They are said by police to have been known bank robbers and co-operators with Scarnici and his pals.

Mrs. Russo, now called “Mrs Scarnici,” is said to have told a bitter tale to police when arrested in the Bronx and Mount Kisco raids. This story is reported to have included the charge that Scarnici killed her husband in order to make it possible to possess her, and she had been compelled to live with the gunman for six months against her will.

After the Rensselaer bank robbery, two other members of Scarnici’s mob were found shot to death along a Westchester County road. They are Marcello Poffo and Morris Parkin, both reported identified later by Rensselaer bank employees as members of the bandit gang on May 29, the date of the hold up and murder of Detective James A. Stevens in that city.

Anthony Reino and Charles Shore [aka Herzog), freed of the Rensselaer bank murder charge, were back in the New York city police lineup this morning, accused of a part in the Bensonhurst bank holdup of September, 1932, in Brooklyn.

Despite what Eleanor Scarnici told police, she willingly remained with the man accused of killing her first husband. At some point — she didn't say when —she and Scarnici were married in a civil ceremony, then later by a priest. If that part about the priest is true, their second wedding could have occurred while Scarnici was on death row.

The priest's blessing was necessary, she said, because she and Scarnici were Catholic; apparently the kinds of Catholics who are selective about the commandments they choose to obey.

There she is, Miss Gun Moll
Various reporters passed judgment on Eleanor Scarnici in other categories. As far as the press is concerned — even more then than now — any female under the age of 40 who's in the news automatically is entered in a beauty contest.

For example, Dorothy Kilgallen of International News Service was not impressed with Eleanor Scarnici.

"Her mouth is small and stubborn ... She has too much hair."

Emma Reino, the other woman arrested as part of Scarnici's gang "is not as pretty" (as Eleanor Scarnici). "And she is darker, plumper."

Both were poorly dressed, commented another reporter.

However, an anonymous Associated Press reporter, writing about the raids that rounded up the Scarnici mob, said one of the women was "a spectacular blonde." Unless she was not booked, this "spectacular blonde" would have to be Eleanor Scarnici. Process of elimination. Her hair was a shade lighter than the brunette Emma Reino.

Scarnici was very taken with the woman he married, which lends support to the theory he killed her first husband so he could have her to himself.

Scarnici's last words to his wife before his execution were overheard and reported the next day in the Albany Times-Union.

“Whatever you do, keep straight and don’t get mixed up with any wrong guys," he said. "Maybe I’m a fine one to be telling you this, but I mean it.”

What about Scarnici's pals?
When Scarnici was executed, the two men who were acquitted of the Rensselaer murder remained behind bars. Charles Shore (aka Herzog), was sent to Clinton Prison in Dannemora for participating in the robbery of a Brooklyn bank in 1932. Released in 1952, he was immediately taken into custody for a Brooklyn robbery, to which he had previously confessed. What happened to him after that, I do not know.

According to John Thomas Ciappetta, an author whose pen name is John Thomas, his uncle, Anthony Reino was paroled from prison in 1954, but violated parole three years later, and wasn't released from prison until about 1960.

"He did re-marry after his 20-year stint to a very attractive woman who had a daughter. Uncle Tony and Aunt Kathy had two children of their own."

Ciappetta posted a message online in response to a book, "Bad Seeds in the Big Apple: Bandits, Killers and Chaos in New York City, 1920-1940," by Patrick Downey. Antony Reino and other associates of Leonard Scarnici are mentioned in the book. Ciappetta pointed out that a photo used in the book misidentified his uncle.

That photo appeared in newspapers across the country after Scarnici and friends were arrested in 1932. Newspapers served by International News Service misidentified everyone in the photo except Scarnici, who was standing in the middle between Fred Plentl and Philip Zeigler on his right, and Charles Shore (Herzog) and Anthony Reino on his left. The INS photo caption said the names ran from left to right, but they actually ran them in reverse order. Likewise, the caption mixed up the identification of the two women, Mrs. Scarnici and Mrs. Reino. Apparently Downey repeated the mistake in his book.

Standing left to right: Fred Plentl, Philip Zeigler, Leonard Scarnici, Charles Shore, Anthony Reino.
Seated: Emma Reino, left; Eleanor Scarnici.

If I've got this right — and I offer no guarantee — then perhaps even Dorothy Kilgallen got the women mixed up, considering that Mrs. Reino is the one who seems to have too much hair.

Finally, an award of sorts to the unknown reporter who took this approach in writing about the verdict in the second murder trial of Leonard Scarnici.

Long Island Daily Press February 28, 1934
Scarnici is Cry-Baby
“Killer” Scarnici, underworld butcher and “brains” of “Murder, Inc.,” lived up to the “best” traditions of gangdom yesterday.

Finally snared by the law after a half-dozen murders and sentenced yesterday to die in the electric chair by an upstate jury of stolid farmers, who remained unimpressed by his piercing eyes or his covert sneer, he turned crybaby when the verdict was announced.

And thus joined that long list of boastful and murderous gang chieftains, of which Roger Tuohy of Chicago was the latest shining example, who “can’t take it,” unless at their elbow are a half a dozen pasty-faced followers armed with sawed-off shotguns and sub-machine rifles.
Tuohy broke down and cried when he got 99 years for kidnapping “Jake the Barber” Factor. Scarnici went him one better. He not only wept, but he whined in addition:

“I’m innocent. I didn’t kill that detective.”

Here's the thing. Two things, actually.

It would be proven that Tuohy was innocent, and that he had been framed by associates of the so-called victim of the Factor kidnapping. Tuohy was a bad guy, yes, but in this particular case, justice, such as it was, favored a bunch of guys who were just as bad, or worse. Tuohy finally was released from prison, after many years, but was murdered soon thereafter.

And while Leonard Scarnici undoubtedly killed some people — perhaps several — he was executed for a murder he didn't commit. He was coming out of the bank vault when other bank robbers fired at the two local policemen who showed up to investigate.

Sixteen months after that guilty verdict, Scarnici put up a brave front when it was time to die. Here's how one newspaper writer described it:

Albany Times-Union, June 28, 1935
As Eva Coo was being led down the corridor leading to the death chamber, she caught a glimpse of Scarnici in his cell with Father McCaffrey. She called goodbye to him.

“Goodbye and keep your chin up,” he responded.

Turning to Father McCaffrey, he observed:

“Any man who wouldn’t have ‘moxie’ (courage) after seeing a woman like that would be pretty cheap.”

And in a few minutes, Scarnici showed to 22 witnesses that he had his “moxie.” Maybe it was the same “moxie” that prompted him in his criminal depredations, but he at least established that he was not a coward in death.

 

Well, some monks remembered him
After I discovered Scarnici's full name — Leonardo Gandolfo Guiseppe Scarnici — on familysearch.org, I made one last sweep through the great unknown via Google, looking for articles about Leonardo Scarnici instead of Leonard.

Naturally, I found one, and it was from an unexpected source, the National Library of Australia. This means the two-paragraph item below appeared in an Australian newspaper. The date given was January 11, 1937, but the name of the newspaper did not appear. This is probably from a syndicated daily or weekly column of shorts lifted from a bunch of small publications.

Monks pray daily for the soul of Leonardo Scarnici, America’s most fiendish gangster, and all his victims, in the house where he plotted many of his fourteen murders.

Scarnici — gangster, bootlegger, killer — was electrocuted at Sing Sing last year. His headquarters, an old farm house in Westchester County, New York, was purchased by Benedictine monks of the Old Catholic sect, and is now St. Dunstan’s Abbey.

It's possible, I suppose. After all, why make up something like this? But on a website packed with old New York State newspapers — fultonhistory.com —I could not find any articles that verified the presence of the Benedictine monks in Westchester County in 1937, though a group led by William Henry Francis may have been there before moving to Woodstock, New York in 1938.

As for "Pretty Boy" Floyd, he did spend time in New York State, hiding for about a year in a Buffalo apartment house. Finally, he headed to Ohio, where police caught up with him in October, 1934, near East Liverpool. He made a run for it and was gunned down by J. Edgar Hoover's agents.

 
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