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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 articles I read while doing a project on the many wacky and wild events from the year 1933. Even then, the first few articles that eventually led me to Scarnici did not mention his name. Interestingly, the bank robbery that was his undoing was initially thought to be the work of a nationally famous outlaw who reportedly had been spotted in the northeast, far from his usual stomping grounds.

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.

But neither the Rensselaer nor Lee robbery was 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.

Six weeks later, another crime, this one in Albany, would lead police to Leonard Scarnici. The kidnapping of John J. O'Connell Jr., occurred on July 7, but was kept secret for four days by the family, who'd been warned not to contact the police.

You may wonder why Scarnici, an experienced gangster operating out of New York City, would have put himself in position that he could have been involved in three crimes that read as though they were attempted by the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Well, times were tough for gangsters. 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 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 an increasing concern, kidnappings received more attention in 1933. That was bad news for Leonard Scarnici, who went to Albany and participated in a failed kidnapping attempt before returning for a meeting to discuss abducting the nephew of two men who owned a brewery and ran a corrupt political machine in New York's capital city.

Scarnici and his pals robbed banks and other businesses, but his main job was hitman for Dutch Schultz (real name: Arthur Simon Flegenheimer). Scarnici was killing people long before he became involved with Albany gangsters who had a grudge against the Democratic political machine 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, who recruited other New York City gangsters, most of them associated with Waxey Gordon. There was a gangster war being waged in New York City, but thanks to the federal government's new tactic — prosecuting mob bosses for income tax evasion — it was 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 his failure to grab another Albany sports promoter, Morris ‘Mush’ Trackiner. Rather than send Scarnici home empty handed, Oley encouraged him to rob the bank in Rensselaer, with the Albany gangster getting a cut of the action. Thus Scarnici was squeezed out of the O'Connell job.

After the robbery, someone — perhaps Oley, perhaps one of his Albany associates — tipped police that it was not "Baby Face" Nelson who held up the Rensselaer bank, but a Dutch Schultz gunman named Leonard 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 Scarnici, and six other persons, including Mrs. Scarnici and another woman.

Only three of them — Scarnici, Anthony Reino and Charles Shore (aka Herzog) — were charged with robbing the bank. Scarnici also was questioned about the O'Connell kidnapping.

Mrs. Scarnici and the other woman, Reino's wife, were charged with illegal possession of firearms. 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.

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

Once Scarnici was in custody, there was a flood of accusations, mostly about murders he allegedly had committed long before a Rensselaer police detective was gunned down.

It's a wonder it took police so long to stop Scarnici, since it was widely rumored he and another hitman, Anthony Fabrizzo, were responsible for 1932's assassination of gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.

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 who stood in a phone booth talking to Owney Madden, the Irish mob boss. 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.

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 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 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?

Today you'll find webpages that describe him as an infamous mob killer, but I found no mention of Leonard Scarnici in a newspaper until he was arrested in September, 1933, supposedly in connection with a kidnapping and a bank robbery. Within 48 hours of that arrest, kidnapping no longer was part of the case being built against 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.

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.

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.

Leonardo Gandolfo Guiseppe Scarnici was born in New York City, but 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. But 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.

Scarnici, Anthony Reino and Charles Shore (aka Herzog) 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 (Herzog) could not be retried for Detective Stevens' murder, they were not free for long. On March 21, 1934, in New York City, they were found guilty of the December 15, 1932, holdup of a branch of the Bank of Manhattan Trust Company at 169th Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue which netted the bandits $10,000. They faced prison sentences ranging from 15 to 40 years.

On November 27, 1934, the New York Court of Appeals upheld Scarnici's murder conviction in connection with the death of Detective Stevens during the Rensselaer bank robbery.

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. 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 is 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.

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.

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.”

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. Scarnici 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.

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.

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.

 

Finally ... after finding 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 from an unexpected source, the National Library of Australia. 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.

This old farm house would have been in Mount Kisco, where Scarnici and his friends were arrested, but I found no mention anywhere of a St. Dunstan's Abbey in Westchester County. But whey would anyone make up something like this?

Oh, yes, about "Pretty Boy" Floyd ... Turns out he did spend time in New York State, but 300 miles west of Albany, when he hid for about a year in a Buffalo apartment house, before 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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