Petto, Tomasso (1879-1905)

Born Province of Palermo, Sicily, c1879.
Killed Browntown, Pittston, PA, Oct. 21, 1905.

Tomasso Petto, also known as Luciano Perrino (also written about as Luciano Parrino and Tom Carrillo), was a brutal enforcer for the early Morello Mafia in New York City. He participated in counterfeiting operations and "Black Hand" extortion schemes. After establishing himself as a Black Hand leader in northeastern Pennsylvania in 1905, he was murdered in an apparent gangland "hit."

Petto acquired the nickname "Il Bove," meaning "The Ox," because of his physique. He stood about five-feet-eight-inches tall and weighed approximately 220 pounds, nearly all of it muscle. His shoulders, arms, legs and neck were massive. Once, when he was being placed under arrest, he put his arms around the body of a detective - said to be the most powerfully built man on the New York police force - and nearly squeezed the life out of the man.

Petto became the prime suspect in the Barrel Murder case of April 1903, when police found him in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch owned by the victim, Benedetto Madonia. The murder was closely linked with the counterfeiting operations of Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello - a disciplinary action against Madonia's imprisoned brother-in-law Giuseppe DiPrimo, who was believed (wrongly) to have cooperated with the authorities. Though Petto was indicted for the murder, he never stood trial. State witnesses hesitated to testify against him, evidence linking him to the murder was lacking and there was official confusion over his identity - some mixed him up with Morello mobster Giovanni Pecoraro. After months locked in the Tombs prison awaiting trial, Petto was discharged on Jan. 29, 1904.

He returned to his old haunts on Mulberry Street and Mott Street and celebrated his release with friends. U.S. Secret Service operatives kept an eye on him, as he remained a counterfeiting suspect. During the evening of Jan. 29, he reportedly received a telephone call at a Mott Street restaurant. After the call, he apologized to his friends and quickly left the city. Secret Service agents tracked him to Port Chester, New York. He did not remain in Port Chester for long.

In the spring of 1905, Petto reportedly ran into some trouble with the Secret Service, as he had been involved in the sale of unlicensed cigars in West Virginia. He and his young family had just settled into a new residence in Old Forge, Pennsylvania (between Scranton and Pittston), when he was arrested for the offense and made to pay a heavy fine.

Petto, his wife and two young children relocated to Browntown, just south of Pittston, in the summer of 1905. There, under the name of Luciano Perrino, he quickly established himself as leader of a band of Black Hand terrorists. As fronts for his underworld activities, he opened a grocery and a butcher shop along South Main Street in the downtown area, a short distance from the Susquehanna River.

At about the time of his arrival, a Browntown resident named Frank Culloro was murdered. Culloro's body was found along Cork Lane near an old mine shaft. His head was found later at the bottom of the shaft. Some in the area believed the newcomer was responsible.

On the evening of Saturday, Oct. 21, 1905, Petto remained at his butcher business until quite late and then began the long walk across town to his home on Lincoln Street. At about 10:30, just a few paces from his front door, he was alerted to some danger and pulled out the .38-caliber revolver he carried with him. He would not have the opportunity to use the weapon. At that moment, he was struck in the right side by a blast of small-caliber shot fired at close range. The pellets embedded into his right arm, right side and right hip. At almost the same moment, additional shots were fired, and larger caliber slugs pierced Petto's body.

A large chunk of lead tore into the right side of his chest and proceeded downward, severing the spinal column and leaving the body below the spleen, leaving a gaping exit wound. Another projectile, more than a half inch in diameter and with jagged edges, struck Petto between his eighth and ninth ribs and lodged in his liver. A third slug smashed Petto's handgun and ripped apart his hand. A fourth cracked into his right elbow and smashed the bones almost to dust.

Neighbors initially thought little of the autumn evening explosions, as hunting was common in the area. But the blasts brought Petto's wife out of the house. She found her husband dead on the ground. She saw little if anything of the gunmen who took his life. At a coroner's inquest the next week, she testified that she recalled seeing one man dressed in white in the area.

Following the inquest, the coroner's jury decided that Petto was killed by person or persons unknown. No clues were ever found to the identities of Petto's killers, but many were sure they knew who was responsible. Newspapers and law enforcement officers speculated that Giuseppe DiPrimo, recently released from Sing Sing Prison, had avenged himself on the murderer of his brother-in-law Madonia. It was a good story, but Petto reportedly had many enemies other than DiPrimo. William Flynn of the U.S. Secret Service stated that DiPrimo could have had nothing to do with the Petto killing, as he was not yet out of prison at the time it occurred. (The timing of DiPrimo's release is uncertain as of this writing. He was sentenced to four years and could have been paroled in plenty of time to track down and kill Petto. If not paroled, his sentence with good time allowance would have expired too late.)

Petto was buried in the Market Street Cemetery, also known as St. John the Evangelist Cemetery, in Pittston. After the household contents were sold off, his wife took the children to New York City and moved in with her parents there.

Sources:

  •  "Came from Buffalo,” Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel, Apr. 21, 1903, p. 7.
  •  "Mafia murder gang are all in police net," New York Evening World, April 25, 1903, p. 1.
  •  "No pistols for Mafia," New York Evening World, April 29, 1903, p. 2.
  •  "Have complete chain of evidence," New York Tribune, April 30, 1903, p. 6.
  •  "Six held in Mafia case," New York Evening World, May 8, 1903, p. 1.
  •  "'The Ox' goes free in barrel murder," New York Evening World, Jan. 29, 1904, p. 2.
  •  "'The Ox' may yet be put on trial," New York Evening World, Feb. 3, 1904, p. 5.
  •  "Black Hand leader killed," Scranton PA Republican, Oct. 23, 1905, p. 4.
  •  "Mysterious murder in village of Browntown," Pittston PA Gazette, Oct. 23, 1905, p. 1.
  •  "No clue discovered," Wilkes-Barre PA Record, Oct. 24, 1905, p. 5.
  •  "Perino murder still unsolved," Scranton PA Truth, Oct. 24, 1905, p. 1.
  •  "No clue whatever yet," Pittston PA Gazette, Oct. 24, 1905, p. 1.
  •  "Petto, the Ox, murder victim," New York Sun, Oct. 24, 1905, p. 5.
  •  "May have good clue," Pittston PA Gazette, Oct. 25, 1905, p. 1.
  •  "Revenge on Black Hand," Washington Post, Oct. 26, 1905, p. 1.
  •  "The murder mystery," Pittston PA Gazette, Oct. 27, 1905, p. 1.
  •  "Parrino inquest," Wilkes-Barre PA Record, Oct. 28, 1905, p. 5.
  •  "Reign of crime near Pittston," Wilkes-Barre PA Times Leader, Dec. 20, 1905, p. 26.
  •  Carey, Arthur A., with Howard McLellan, Memoirs of a Murder Man, Garden City NY: Doubelday, Doran and Company, 1930, p. 121.
  •  Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 20, 29, 30 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  •  Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, New York: James A. McCann Company, 1919, p. 13-14, 16-17, 22.
  •  Petacco, Arrigo, translated by Charles Lam Markham, Joe Petrosino, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974, p. 9, 14.