South Brooklyn Vendetta or Mafia? 1896 Part III

The Quarrel in Catanazaro's Wine Shop

About 4 o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday a week ago Serrio asked Cocchiara to stay with Mrs. Serrio and mind the shop while he took an airing. Cocchiara seems to believe that Serrio had been told to meet Prestijiacamo and his friend Pedro at the saloon of Catanazaro. However it may have been Serrio went to the Union street place and there met Prestijiacamo and Pedro. Seated with them at a table were Antonio Cincotta, a leader among the South Brooklyn Italians; Vincenzi Prossita, a young man who does not seem to have taken a very active part in the proceedings; Giuseppe Desarvira, and an old man by the name of Feroni, who was an outsider. Just how the conversation was brought around to the subject of Cocchiara is not known, but the three Italian prisoners at the inquest on Thursday night last stated the conversation was a warm one and subsequently became an out and out quarrel.

"You had best say little about this fellow," said Prestijiacamo, "he is a bad man. He sent DeLucca to prison for fifteen years. DeLucca was innocent and Cocchiara swore his life away. He is a traitor and informer."

"Cocchiara is my friend," retorted Serrio. "The man lies who says he is a bad man. He is a good man and I can prove it. You must take those words back."

Serrio finally left the saloon thoroughly enraged at the treatment his friend Cocchiara had received from Prestijiacamo. The witnesses to this quarrel say that Serrio did not say he would be back, yet it is quite evident from the actions of the man that he certainly intended to come back and to bring Cocchiara with him. He hurried home. His wife sat watching for his return at the window.

"Salvatore," she called, "where have you been? You are tired. "Why are you late?"

"It is nothing." Sorrio said, "send Cocchiara down and I will take the child with him to get some shoes."

Serrio gave this little fairy tale about his child to allay any fears his wife might have. Cocchiara joined him with the child and down the block they went together, each taking the little one by the hand.

"Cocchiara," said Serrio, "You are my friend. You have been my friend in Italy and I have been fond of you since we came here. But I have heard bad things about you today. I do not believe them. But I should know the truth before you stay with me and my family. Come with me and prove to these people that you are not a traitor, not an informer and a coward."

"It will mean death to me, Serrio If I go. These men are determined to kill me. They have followed me from Boston. My life has been cursed by them. If you have promised that I shall be with you to see them, I will go, but I would rather not."

"I promise you, Cocchiara, you will run no risk. Simply come with me and deny this story and I will protect you. You shall come to no harm. They have made me angry and I want them to say to your face what they said to me."

This is Cocchiara's tale that is being told and he is believed by the Brooklyn police and all who have heard him tell it. The incidents are true, according to other testimony given at the inquest.

The men then returned to Serrio's shop and armed themselves. Serrio took a small self-cocking revolver. Cocchiara borrowed an old fashioned blunderbluss, more like a gun than a pistol. It shoots a .44 caliber bullet and sends six balls out quicker than can be counted.

The Killing of Serrio and the Wounding of Cocchiara

Having reached the saloon, Serrio entered first. Several men were playing dice at the bar, but no attention was paid to them. Serrio went to the door leading to the rear room and entered. Cocchiara was some distance behind him and could not hear what was said by his friend, who was in a passion and half closed the door behind him before he spoke. Prestijiacamo and the rest of the group sat round a table.

"Here is Cocchiara," cried out Serrio, "say to his face, if you dare, what you have told to me. Tell him he is a bad man."

Prestijiacamo jumped to his feet and at that moment Cocchiara appeared in the doorway. He was on the threshold of the door when his old enemy, whom he recognized immediately, shouted out:

"It is he, Cocchiara, the informer."

Instantly, according to the story of the witnesses, Prestijiacamo and Pedro shot at him. One of the balls entered the right arm of Cocchiara, who was standing sideways to Prestijiacamo. Cocchiara drew his revolver and fired recklessly into the saloon, taking no aim, but simply banging away with the intention of keeping his enemies back while he made his escape. He would have fled immediately but he heard a faint cry from his friend Serrio.

"Giacchino, Giacchino," Serrio gasped out and fell to the floor mortally wounded, the innocent victim of the affray. Prossita, one of the men in the room, fled as he saw Serrio fall and ran to a barber shop across the way, where he gave up his pistol. Whether he used this weapon no one knows. He says not. But he afterward told Mrs. Serrio of the fight in the saloon.

"I know it would happen if they went there," she said. "Cocchiara will be killed this time.

The poor woman did not know her husband was the man who had met death. Catanazaro, and all who were in the saloon, save the wounded Serrio, ran away. Prestijiacamo and Pedro completely disappeared. How they left the place, if anyone knows, is not told. The police believe they were acquainted with an exit through a private room to stairs leading to the upper floor and escaped in this way. There was no chance of exit at the rear, for a wire netting covers the only windows there. Cocchiara staggered out upon the street, crazy with pain, and walked straight into the arms of Policeman Crowley.

The fifth attempt had been made to avenge the sentence passed upon De Lucca, seven years ago. "The next time," he says, "they will kill me." There is little doubt in the minds of the police that he will eventually be done to death by his determined enemies.

Prestijiacamo disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as he appeared. With him went his still unknown friend. The other men, whether they were conspirators or not, fled from the city and hid in Woodhaven, where they were finally run down and captured by the clever detectives of the Eleventh precinct. Catanazaro seems to know more than he will tell. The widow of Serrio weeps for her murdered husband. Cocchiara is in jail, thoroughly discouraged with life and in despair for the friend who died in trying to save him. There is no doubt that Serrio tried to save him, for all the witnesses agree on that point. And from Serrio's heart was taken a bullet that exactly fitted the cartridges in the pistol lent by him to the friend he led into the trap. The furniture is still packed in the boxes for the trip South with Cocchiara and his wife, but Serrio will never go with them and Cocchiara's wife will come to Brooklyn to find her husband in jail, charged with the murder of the only real friend he had, the hasty and unthinking, but kind hearted Serrio. And if he escapes the trial here he will be sent back to Boston to be tried for the killing of Armblesas. The band of enemies in that city will have another chance to finish their work. He will be confronted with a multitude of witnesses, he is sure, ready to swear his life away if they can.

Continue with Part IV


Website: The History
Article Name: South Brooklyn Vendetta or Mafia? Part III 1896
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 7, 1896
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