An Unprovoked Murder: The Killing of John Schnetzer 1879

John Schnetzer, a German butcher, 40 years old and residing at No. 233 East One Hundred and Eleventh street, was stabbed through the heart, and instantly killed, last night, by an Italian, at the corner of One Hundred and Seventh street and Third avenue. The murder was an unprovoked one. On the east side of Third avenue, between One Hundred and Sixth and One Hundred and Seventh streets, is a row of old tottering frame shambles used as dwellings by a crowd of low Italians. The property belongs to the Six-Penny Savings Bank, which has resisted every attempt made by the Board of Health to have the old rookeries demolished. The Police have not only for a long time demanded the destruction of the buildings as a sanitary measure, but also to scatter a nest of dangerous and criminal people who dwell in the buildings in the most horrible filth, and seldom allow a week to pass by without committing some act of violence. An Italian woman named Luisa Jacassa, a great favorite with the male Italians living in the frame buildings, keeps a peanut stand at the south-east corner of One Hundred and Seventh street and Third avenue. Her English is very bad, and the boys of the neighborhood have made it a practice to torment her in order to "draw her out" and to have a laugh at her way of talking. Luisa, when very much provoked, calls on a crowd of burly Italians, who emerge from the rookeries and run to her assistance. They beat all who do not retreat before them, and then run and hide themselves in their filthy apartments. So seldom do any of them wash their person or change their clothes that their very uncleanliness is said to make them all look so much alike as to prevent any successful identification of any one of them for any crime.

Yesterday, Schnetzer went to Luisa's stand and ordered some peanuts. He had been drinking all day, and was very drunk. When the woman had the peanuts measured out, she demanded of Schnetzer her pay before she would pour them into his pocket. He considered this a reflection on his honesty, and answered her in angry tones. She said he couldn't fool her, as she had been fooled often enough. Schnetzer said if she did not give him the nuts he would break the stand to pieces and throw it into the gutter. In an instant, Luisa gave her signal of distress, and a great crowd of Italians ran toward the place from the shambles and surrounded the peanut stand. The woman, without making any explanation, pointed at Schnetzer. The crowd sprang at him, and one burly black fellow, who brandished a large pair of scissors, elbowed his way through the crowd to the butcher and struck him a tremendous blow on the left breast with an open blade of the scissors, lifting his hand high in the air in the effort. So heavy was the stroke, and so well aimed the blow, that the long blade was driven up to the handle deep in Schnetzer's heart. The assassin, in drawing away his weapon, broke the blade off at the handle, and left it sticking in the body. Schnetzer fell dead instantly, and the Italians all fled into their dens.

At the time of the murder two small boys, attracted by the excitement, stood at the corner. They were John Albert Aldrich, of No. 228 East One Hundred and Sixth street, and Charles H. Moshier, of No. 1919 Third avenue. Capt. Robbins, of the Twenty-third Precinct, in which the tragedy occurred, was at supper near by at the time, and hearing the cries in the street, ran to the spot. The boys told him that they saw Luigi Palmieri, one of the inhabitants of the shambles, nearest Schnetzer's person when he fell. Robbins at once arrested Palmieri. The boys identified him as the man they meant. He protested his innocence, and said he wouldn't murder a man for $1,000. His hands were examined, but no blood was found on them. On the third finger of his left hand, however, was noticed a plain blackmark caused by a ring. The mark was fresh, as if the ring had recently been removed. Palmieri could not account for the absence of the ring. The ground was then searched, and a ring was found which, when put on Palmieri's finger, fitted over the mark exactly. When this evidence was found against him, Palmieri said that Michael Dewassa, alias "Big Mike," had killed the butcher. Palmieri9 was then locked up, as were also Luisa Jacassa, and two other Italians, who had witnessed the murder. A general alarm was sent out after "Big Mike," describing him as 24 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches in height, very stout, wearing a long black overcoat and black hat, and having black eyes and black mustache. Up t o an early hour this morning no trace of him had been found.

Schnetzer was a single man, and worked wherever he could get a job. Palmieri is a laborer, and works for Mills & Ambrose, contractors. He is a Neapolitan. The Italians claim that Schnetzer insulted Louisa. Her husband keeps a stand in the Bowery at Canal street. Schnetzer was considered a harmless and inoffensive fellow.

In August last Michael Guaglioni was killed almost in the same place where Schnetzer was, being struck on the head with a heavy club by one Antoine Priori, also said to have been an inhabitant of the shambles. Priori has not since been found.

Website: The History
Article Name: An Unprovoked Murder: The Killing of John Schnetzer 1879
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


February 24, 1879 New York Times
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