Sacco and Vanzetti

Sacco (Right) and Vanzetti (Left)
Sacco (Right) and Vanzetti (Left)

Nicola Sacco (April 22, 1891August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (June 11, 1888August 23, 1927) were two Italian anarchists, who were arrested, tried, and executed in Massachusetts in the 1920s on charges of murder of a shoe factory paymaster named Frederick Parmenter and a security guard named Alesandro Berardelli and of robbery of $15,766.51 from the factory's payroll, although there was much doubt regarding their guilt at the time of their trial. The murders and robbery occurred in April of 1920, with three robbers. Only Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of the crime. Judge Webster Thayer, who heard the case, allegedly described the two as "anarchist bastards". They were electrocuted in Massachusetts in 1927. Sacco was a shoe-maker, Vanzetti a fish seller.

It was the first period of intense fear of communism in American history, the Red Scare of 1919 to 1920. Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had any previous criminal record, nor were they communists, but they were known to the authorities as radical militants who had been widely involved in the anarchist movement, labor strikes, political agitation, and anti-war propaganda. Sacco and Vanzetti believed themselves to be victims of social and political prejudice, and as Vanzetti said in his last speech to Judge Webster Thayer:

I would not wish to a dog or a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth — I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian... (Vanzetti spoke on 19 April, 1927, in Dedham, Massachusetts, where their case was heard in the Norfolk County courthouse.[1])

Many famous intellectuals, including Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, campaigned for a retrial but were unsuccessful. On August 23, 1927, after a seven year trial, the two men were sent to the electric chair. The execution sparked riots in London, Paris and Germany.

One piece of evidence indicating the possibility of Sacco's guilt arose in 1941 when anarchist leader Carlo Tresca told Max Eastman, "Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was innocent." Eastman's published an article recounting his conversation with Tresca in National Review in 1961. Later, others would confirm being told the same information by Tresca.

In addition, in October 1961, ballistics tests were run using Sacco's Colt automatic. The results suggested that the bullet that killed Berardelli in 1920 came from Sacco's gun. The relevance of this evidence was cast in doubt in 1988, when Charlie Whipple, a former Globe editorial page editor, revealed a conversation he had with Sergeant Edward J. Seibolt when he worked as a reporter in 1937. According to Whipple, Siebolt admitted that the police ballistics experts had switched the murder weapon, but Siebolt indicated that he would deny this if Whipple ever printed it. The gun is also said to have gone in and out of police custody and been dismantled several times between 1927 and 1961.

Evidence against Sacco's involvement included testimony by Celestino Madeiros confessing to the crime and indicating that neither Sacco nor Vanzetti took part. Madeiros was also in possession of a large amount of money ($2800) immediately following the robbery, whereas no links to the stolen money were ever found with Sacco or Vanzetti. Judge Thayer rejected this testimony as a basis for a retrial, calling it "unreliable, untrustworthy, and untrue."

Further evidence on the Sacco and Vanzetti case came in November, 1982 in a letter from Ideale Gambera to Francis Russell. In it, Gambera revealed that his father, Giovanni Gambera, who had died in June 1982, was a member of the four-person team of anarchist leaders that met shortly after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to plan for their defense. In his letter to Russell, Gambera claimed, "everyone [in the anarchist inner circle] knew that Sacco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in killing." However, it is unlikely that Sacco would remain silent and allow Vanzetti to face execution.

On August 23, 1977, exactly fifty years after their execution, Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation stating that Sacco and Vanzetti had not been treated justly and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names". That same year, folksinger Charlie King wrote a protest song called Two Good Arms that was based on Vanzetti's final speech.

Their trial is a major part of the novel Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. Upton Sinclair's 1928 book, Boston (ISBN 0837604206), is a fictional interpretation of the affair. Herbert B. Ehrmann, junior counsel for the defense, wrote a book in 1969, The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Venzetti (ISBN 0316231002), describing his experiences working on the case.

A film about the case, "Sacco e Vanzetti", was made in 1971 by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo. The soundtrack was written by composer Ennio Morricone and sung by folk singer Joan Baez.

Missing image
Sacco & Vanzetti mosaic by Ben Shahn, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Missing image
Sacco & Vanzetti mosaic by Ben Shahn, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Missing image
Sacco & Vanzetti mosaic by Ben Shahn, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

External links


  • Brian MacArthur (editor), The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Speeches, second edition (1999), pp. 100-103.
  • Kadane, Joseph B. and Schum, David A. A Probabilistic Analysis of the Sacco and Vanzetti Evidence (Wiley Series in Probability & Mathematical Statistics: Applied Probability & Statistics)
  • Montgomery, Robert H. "Sacco-Vanzetti: The Murder and the Myth." New York: Devin-Adair, 1960.
  • Grossman, James. "The Sacco-Vanzetti Case Reconsidered." Commentary. January 1962.
  • Russell, Francis. "Sacco-Vanzetti: The Story of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case." New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962.
  • Felix, David. "Protest: Sacco-Vanzetti and the Intellectuals." Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965.
  • Russell, Francis. "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Case Resolved." New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Starrs, James E. "Once More Unto the Breech: The Firearms Evidence in the Sacco and Vanzetti Case Revisited." Journal of Forensic Sciences, April 1986, pp. 630-654; July 1986, pp. 1050-1078.
  • Avrich, Paul. "Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
  • Newby, Richard. "Kill Now, Talk Forever: Debating Sacco and Vanzetti." AuthorHouse, Revised und Vanzetti

fr:Bartolomeo Vanzetti it:Sacco e Vanzetti ja:サッコ・バンゼッティ事件


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