Alfano, known as "Erricone," was one of New York detective Joseph Petrosino's great success stories of 1907. Believed to be the head of the Neapolitan Camorra organization in New York City, Alfano was arrested April 17 of that year as police raided East Side night spots checking patrons for concealed weapons. Petrosino reportedly recognized Alfano by a prominent scar on his face.
Following Alfano's arrest, the New York Tribune noted, "The populace considered Alfano in the light of a demigod; he was thought to be invulnerable to bullets and able at all times to escape his pursuers." The newspaper recalled that back in Naples, Alfano had eliminated a rival named Gennaro Cuocolo by denouncing him as a spy for the authorities. "The Camorra then condemned both Cuocolo and his wife to death, and they were brutally murdered." The body of Gennaro Cuocolo, stabbed numerous times, was discovered at Torre del Greco, outside of Naples, on June 7, 1906. The body of his wife, Maria Cutinelli Cuocolo, was found "horribly mutilated" in their apartment. Alfano was an early suspect in the murders, but, assisted by his godfather and priest, Rev. Ciro Vitozzi, he won his freedom and fled his homeland for the United States early in 1907.
He was turned over to U.S. immigration authorities on April 22. Not formally charged with wrongdoing in the U.S., he was sent back to Europe as an unfit immigrant, due to his criminal past. He was turned over to French authorities in Havre and extradited to Italy. The Italian government took charge of Alfano at Cherbourg in June and kept him under close guard on the trip back to Naples.
Early in 1908, the New York Tribune reported that, in the absence of Erricone, a new New York Camorra chief had been chosen. He was Gaetano Esposito. Known by such nicknames as "the grand master" and "the snow seller," Esposito had recently been released after serving a term in the prison on Italy's Ventotene Island.
Some believe angry Alfano allies were responsible for assassinating Petrosino as he traveled in Sicily in 1909.
Back in Italy, Alfano and a number of codefendants stood trial at Viterbo for the Cuocolo murders. The trial lasted many months in 1911 and 1912 and included more than 700 witnesses. (One memorable moment in the trial occurred when defendant Corrado Sortino pulled his glass eye out of its socket and hurled it at the judge.) American authorities followed the trial closely, hoping it would cast some light on the unsolved Petrosino assassination.
Alfano denied involvement in the murders and membership in the Camorra. Of the Cammora, he stated, "I am neither its head nor its tail." Despite his denials, he and eight accomplices were convicted of murder on July 8, 1912. Seven other codefendants, acquitted of participation in the murders, were convicted of membership in a criminal association.
Alfano and codefendants Corrado Sortino, Antonio Cerrato, Giuseppe Salvi, Nicolo Morra, Mariano DiGennaro, Giovanni Rapi and DiMarinas were sentenced to thirty years in prison and ten years of police surveillance. The jury decided that Alfano, Rapi, DiMarinas instigated the murders, while Sortino was personally involved in both murders, Morra, Cerrato and DiGennaro were involved in the murder of Gennaro Cuocolo, and Salvi was involved in the murder of Maria Cuocolo. As the verdict was announced, DiMarinas slashed his own throat with a shard of glass. While the wounded defendant was removed from the court, Alfano shouted a protest against the injustice of the trial. during which his brother Ciro, once one of the defendants, died in prison. Erricone reportedly was locked away in a prison on the island of Sardinia.
The Italian government's most important witness in the trial, Gennaro Abbatemaggio, was a former Cammora member turned informant. Abbatemaggio later served his country with distinction during the Great War, receiving four medals. Early in 1921, as he faced arrest on a charge of fraud, Abbatemaggio shot himself through the chest, apparently attempting suicide. Enrico Alfano's sisters rushed to the hospital where surgeons tended to Abbatemaggio, hoping to secure from the wounded man an admission that his trial testimony had been false. They were prevented from seeing him.
(It should be noted that Lt. Petrosino was far more effective at penetrating and intimidating the Camorra than the Mafia. His activity unintentionally may have given a competitive edge to the city's Mafia organization.)
- "Alfano wanted in Italy," New York Tribune, April 20, 1907, p. 2; "All Italy awaits trial recalling Petrosino murder," New York Evening World, Feb. 25, 1911, p. 7; "Father Vitozzi testifies," New York Sun, April 7, 1911, p. 3.
- "Camorrist in the toils," New York Sun, May 25, 1907, p. 3.
- "Guard Camorra chief," New York Sun, June 27, 1907, p. 3.
- "A new chief of the Camorra," New York Tribune, Feb. 16, 1908, p. 4.
- "Arranging for trial of 300 Camorrists," Washington Times, Sept. 12, 1910, p. 2.
- "Camorrist jury makes full sweep, finds all guilty," New York Evening World, July 8, 1912, p. 1; "Camorra verdict; all found guilty," New York Tribune, July 9, 1912, p. 1; "Cammora verdicts may be reversed," New York Times, July 16, 1922, p. E5.
- Romano, Anne T., Italian Americans in Law Enforcement, Xlibris, 2010, p. 45.
- "Abbatemaggio, informer on Camorra, shoots self," New York Tribune, Jan. 31, 1921, p. 3.