Sunday, August 5, 2018

367. Who Killed Carlo Tresca?

IT'S  BARGAIN  TIME: The e-book version of Fascinating New Yorkers is now available from Amazon with Kindle for .99 cents. 

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The print version of Fascinating New Yorkers was released on July 26 and is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Excellent reviews so far; see below.

For my other books, see BROWDERBOOKS following the post below.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg

Short biographical sketches of colorful people who lived or died in New York.  A cardinal who led a double life, a serial killer, a baroness with a tomato-can bra, and a film star whose funeral caused an all-day riot.  Plus Andy Warhol, Boss Tweed, J. P. Morgan and his purple nose, Al Sharpton, Ayn Rand, and Polly Adler, Queen of Tarts.


"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there."  Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

"Unputdownable."  Five-star review by Dipali Sen, retired librarian.

"I felt like I was gossiping with a friend when reading this, as the author wrote about New Yorkers who are unique in one way or another. I am hoping for another book featuring more New Yorkers, as I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting!" Five-star NetGalley review by Cristie Underwood.  

Who Killed Carlo Tresca?

         It was January 11, 1943.  The United States was at war with Germany, Italy, and Japan, and Stalinist Russia was our noble ally and bearing the brunt of the fighting in Europe, forcing Hitler’s troops back from the gates of Moscow in a hard-fought winter campaign.  Longtime anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist activist Carlo Tresca, an Italian immigrant with little command of English but editor of the anarchist newspaper Il Martello (The Hammer), had lunch with the novelist John Dos Passos.  Tresca, age 68, was neatly mustached and bearded, with the look of a distinguished elder statesman.  That evening he went to the office of his newspaper at 2 West 15th Street, near Fifth Avenue, for a meeting with members of the Mazzini Society to confer about exposing the few remaining pockets of Italian Fascists still present in wartime New York.  But only one member showed up, his friend Giuseppe Calabi, so they went out for a glass of wine. 

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Carlo Tresca, 1910.

         It was 9:30 p.m. when Tresca and Calabi left the building by the West 15th Street entrance and crossed to the north or uptown side of that street.  Suddenly a short, squat man in a brown coat jumped out of a black Ford that was waiting across Fifth Avenue with its motor running.  He ran toward them, pulled out a handgun, and shot Tresca twice, one bullet lodging in his liver, and the other in the back of his head, killing him instantly.  The murderer then ran back to the waiting car and jumped in, and the car sped off heading west on 15th Street.  In the wartime blackout Calabi did not get a good look at the killer.  Tresca was lying on his back in the street with blood pouring out of him, when the police and passersby came running, and then a St. Vincent’s Hospital ambulance.  Tresca was a familiar figure in radical and progressive circles, and his murder got a lot of attention.  His funeral a few days later was attended by some 3,500 mourners; he was cremated at Fresh Pond Cemetery in Queens.

         A small army of detectives were immediately assigned to the case. An autopsy revealed that Tresca had been killed by bullets from a .32 caliber automatic, but the gun was never recovered.  Detectives found a loaded .38 caliber revolver behind an ashcan near the Fifth Avenue entrance to Tresca’s office building, suggesting that a second gunman had been posted there, in case Tresca left the building by the Fifth Avenue entrance.  The gun bore no fingerprints, could not be traced.  The murder, the police now concluded, was the well-planned work of professional criminals.  The Ford was found abandoned on West 18th Street near Seventh Avenue, and the police were able to trace it to a hoodlum named Carmine Galante.  They suspected Galante of being the hired killer, though he never confessed.  And if this was the work of a hired killer, who had hired him?  The suspects were many, for Tresca in his long career had stepped on a lot of toes.

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Mug shot of Carmine Galante, 1943.

         Born in Italy in 1879, the son of an impoverished landowner, Carlo Tresca attended public schools and then studied at a seminary, but left it as an anticlerical atheist.  From 1898 to 1902 he was secretary of the Italian Federation of Railroad Workers and editor of a socialist weekly.  To avoid being jailed for his radical views, in 1904 he came to the U.S. and worked here as an Italian socialist, then embraced more radical views,  In 1912  he joined the Industrial Workers of the World and became involved in strikes throughout the country, for which he was arrested several times.  Always he championed labor against capital, and trade unions against the state.  In the wake of the 1920 Wall Street bombing, he was interrogated often by the police.  “They are nice boys,” he told reporters.  “Whenever there is a bomb, they come to me.  They ask me what I know, but I never know anything.  So we have wine.”  But in 1925 he went to prison for a year for having printed an ad for a birth control pamphlet in his new publication, Il Martello.

         Tresca's attention next turned to the newly enthroned Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whose attempts to organize Italian Americans into Fascist organizations he bitterly denounced and opposed, activity that earned him an attempted assassination by a bomb at a rally in 1926.  Indeed, he often boasted of having been put on a death list by Mussolini himself.

         As if this wasn’t enough to keep him busy, in the 1930s he declared war on Soviet communism and Stalin, and the Mafia as well.  Roosevelt’s New Deal was now legislating for American workers, but this was hardly enough for a scrappy anarchist like Tresca, who was often at war with fellow Leftists as well.  He was under surveillance by the U.S. government, for J. Edgar Hoover considered him suspect, though he took no action.  Yet when Tresca celebrated his sixtieth birthday in 1939, he received telegraphed congratulations from John Dewey, John Dos Passos, Norman Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Leon Trotsky, and others – an impressive roster of the progressive Far Left of the time, barring Communists.  When Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term in 1940, Tresca approved, for the president was staunchly anti-Fascist.  And when America entered the war in 1941, he heartily supported the war effort.

         So what finally happened in the investigation of Tresca’s murder.  In effect, nothing.  Carmine Galante was presumably the hit man, but for whom was he working?  For want of evidence, Galante was never prosecuted, but he was sent back to prison for a parole violation.  Later he rose higher in the ranks of the Mafia, and in 1979 – 36 years after the murder of Tresca – he was gunned down in a Mafia hit in a restaurant in Brooklyn.  The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to allow a funeral mass, so he was buried in a cemetery in Queens.

         Books have been written about the murder, with various conclusions.  The Mafia and former Italian American Fascists are the most likely suspects, rather than Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, but speculation still rages, and we will never know for certain.  It seems like almost everyone wanted him dead, but solid proof is nonexistent.  The scrappy little man led a fiery life and died a fiery death.

         A footnote: Carlo Tresca's son, who Americanized his name as Peter D. Martin, chose a very different path.  In 1953, while teaching sociology at San Francisco State College, he teamed up with poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti to found the City Lights Bookstore.  The store's affiliated press published Allen Ginsberg's Howl in 1956, which a friend gave me a copy of soon afterward.  In 1955 Martin sold his interest in the bookstore to Ferlinghetti and returned to his native New York, where he founded the New Yorker Bookshop at 250 West 89th Street.

Coming soon:  A series of posts on how we cope with the amazing, improbable, and slightly absurd phenomenon known as life.  Sounds pretentious, doesn't it?  But these are just my personal thoughts on seven ways we get through the day, starting with the Way of Faith, to be followed by the Way of Power.  Sounds too philosophical?  I'll throw in the Hallelujah Chorus, the petrified heart of a bishop, and a juicy scandal or two to liven things up.


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

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The back cover summary:

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?


"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

©   2018   Clifford Browder   

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