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Rochester Mafia, the Banana King, and the Infamous “Barrel Murder”

September 16th, 2013

A whiskey barrel lies among the shrubs and fallen leaves in a Webster gully. This close-up photograph, showing cloth in the top of the barrel, was taken before the dismembered body of Francesco Manzello had been removed from the barrel. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
What could be more fun than a barrel of monkeys? How about one filled with the body parts of a Rochester mobster? Yeah, I thought so. Ok, so here’s the story…

Detectives, men from the coroner's office, and bystanders gather around Francesco Manzello's dismembered body. It was found in a gully in Webster, packed into a whiskey barrel. The parts of the body had been folded up to fit into the barrel: his arms clasp his legs, which have been reversed, and his head rests on his arms and feet.  [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
All of those parts and pieces you see laying on the ground there belonged to a fellow named Francesco Manzello, age 33 of Brooklyn. Francesco was a member of a group called “The Black Hand” (or Mano Nera in Italian). The Black Hand was an extortion racket run by immigrant Sicilian and Italian gangsters in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Kansas City… and they were quite active in Rochester as well.

Their game was simple. They would send threatening notes to local merchants (and other well-to-do individuals) demanding money and threatening pain, death or destruction of property if the money was not turned over. These crude notes were printed with black hands, daggers, or other menacing symbols.

[See an example of a letter from The Black Hand...]

Detectives, men from the coroner's office, and bystanders gather around Francesco Manzello's dismembered body. It was found in a gully in Webster, packed into a whiskey barrel. The parts of the body had been folded up to fit into the barrel: his arms clasp his legs, which have been reversed, and his head rests on his arms and feet. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
On October 30, 1911, (about 9am Monday morning) a barrel containing Francesco’s body was discovered in a gully along old Webster State Road by 18 year old Frank C. Smith. The boy was out checking animal traps he had set in the area some time earlier. That’s the coroner in the photo above, ready with his basket to transport the remains.

Detectives, men from the coroner's office, and bystanders gather around Francesco Manzello's dismembered body. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
The coroner’s report states that Francesco had been knocked unconsious by a chair or some blunt object striking him on the forehead. The cause of death was a hemorrhage following decapitation.

This distance shot shows the group of men gathered in the bottom of the gully. Along the top of the image can be seen the guard rails along the Webster State Road, men standing behind the rails, and vehicles parked along the road. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Francesco was then chopped up, stuffed into the barrel, driven out to Penfield, and tossed into this gully near Irondequoit Bay; where he caused quite a stir…

A group of onlookers on Webster State Road at the scene of the gruesome discovery. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
One newspaper article external link was fairly detailed with regard to how Francesco was mutilated and stuffed into the barrel. Let’s give it a read:

The barrel was covered with a piece of burlap which came off as the barrel rolled down the hill. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]

The barrel was rolled to one side. The hands, lower part of the trunk and upper ends of the legs were visible first. The unfortunate victim had been decapitated and the head placed at the bottom of the barrel. A bruise on the forehead showed where the victim had been hit on the head, rendering him unconscious before the human butchering took place. The head had been severed from the body by one stroke of a heavy axe or cleaver. The right eye was slightly discolored, and that discoloration and a small bruise on the back of the right hand were the only marks of previous violence on the body.
The hands had been crossed and tied tightly together with the legs, which had been bent back at straight angles with the body. The legs had evidently been cut off with an axe after effort was made to saw them off. The theory is that the murderers thought the work of dismemberment progressed too slow, using the saw, and finished their gruesome butchering with an axe or cleaver, which they had used in decapitating their victim. The head rested at the bottom of the barrel on a new soft hat. The hat, which was of the Western style, was blood-soaked. The covering of the barrel, a large piece of burlap, had torn loose when the barrel rolled down into the gully, and was found several feet further up the bank.

The barrel was discovered somewhere in this vicinity – 200 yards east of where Bazil Restaurant is today.
Webster State Road must have changed names since 1911, and I’m unable to find it on old maps. But according to newspaper reports, the barrel landed on the north side of the road, about 200 yards from the Rochester and Sodus Bay trolly powerhouse on the edge of Irondequoit Bay… and the young boy reportedly ran to the home of A.D. Brown after making the gruesome discovery. So from that information I’m guessing we’re talking about this general area external link, just east of where Bazil Restaurant is today.

Anyway, back to our poor friend Francesco… Who wanted this guy dead? Well, he had recently been released from Auburn state prison (about six months earlier) after doing two and a half years for attempted extortion. Upon his release Francesco went back home to Brooklyn, but he soon returned to Rochester and got a job working for Sam Ollis, also known as “The Banana King” of the Public Market.

Francesco didn’t last long working for the Banana King. After being let go for “failing to attend to business” he is said to have opened his own business—also at the Public Market—selling lettuce. But had Francesco really left behind his life of crime to sell lettuce? Police had their suspicions.

This is the banana wagon thought to be the vehicle used to 'deliver' the barrel containing Manzello's body to its resting place. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Somewhere along the line, police received tips from people who saw a banana wagon driving along the same road where Francesco’s body was found. The witnesses claimed to see an object standing upright in the back of the wagon – possibly the whiskey barrel inside which Francesco’s body was stuffed?

That tip led detectives back to the Banana King and his son-in-law, Joseph Galbo. Low and behold, there’s the banana wagon behind Joseph’s establishment at the Public Market. Also found were similar wine/whiskey barrels, and burlap chicken feed sacks. It is here that police believe Francesco was attacked and dismembered. The wagon is actually owned by Joseph’s brother, Dominico Galbo. Joseph and Dominico are both arrested.

The murder was believed to have taken place here at the corner of Railroad Street and the Public Market. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Now why would Dominico and Joseph Galbo want to kill Francesco in such a way? It turns out the Banana King’s nephew, Antonio Ollis, had been murdered earlier in the year. Police theorized that Francesco may have had something to do with that murder, and was killed in revenge.

Joseph and Dominico were eventually indicted, but only Dominico was prosecuted. The District Attorney’s case against Joseph was weaker than it was against Dominico. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life at Auburn state prison. But after serving 4 years, the State Court of Appeals granted him a new trial. The higher court did not believe that Dominico could have carried out the murder of a man the size of Francesco Manzello. Why not? Because Dominico had two wooden legs!

This article external link seems to indicate that the D.A. dropped the charges after that, and Dominico was never retried.

Unfortunately, my newspaper trail runs cold, so I’m not sure if anyone else was ever charged with the murder.

This is the front of the building where the murder took place. The buildings belonged to Joseph Galbo, son-in-law of Sam Ollis, the
This is the front of the building where the murder supposedly took place.

And this is the same corner external link today…

This is the same corner today. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013 at 7:48 am and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Rochester Mafia, the Banana King, and the Infamous “Barrel Murder””

  1. Christopher Brandt says:

    Terrific story and research Mike! I had always wondered about story behind that grisly photo.

  2. Peter says:

    That note looks like it was written by a 10 year-old! Interesting story though.

  3. @Christopher, thanks.

    The one thing I’m still not positive about is the location where the barrel was dropped. Some of the newspaper articles mention Webster State Road near Ridge Road. So I was initially thinking that would be near Webster’s four corners (250 and 404). But they also mention Irondequoit Bay, the trolley power house and A.D. Brown’s house. Does anyone know if Webster State Road is now Empire Blvd? This would make sense.

  4. Susan says:

    Great story! Thanks for this.

  5. Jason Haremza says:

    It does make sense that Empire Boulevard would have been the “Webster State Road.” It was the main road to Webster from the city before the Bay Bridge was built. The photos look like those sandy ravines heading down to the bay in that area. The location near the powerhouse seems to further corroborate. I’m wondering about “A.D. Brown” though. Would Adelbert R. Brown been “A.D. Brown” or “A.R. Brown”? Then again, maybe it was common to abbreviate “Adelbert” as “AD”?

    Regardless, fascinating story, love the in depth research and link to local geography! And the body discovered the day before Halloween! I bet this doesn’t make it onto the Landmark Society Ghost Walk with their genteel East Avenue ghosts!

  6. Kevin says:

    This is simply the most awesome website; please keep these great articles coming!

  7. Judith A Cartisano says:

    According to my father’s stories, the Black Hand also tried extorting money from Enrico Caruso. They didn’t succeed.

  8. @Jason, I had considered waiting until October 30th to post this story… but it was too exciting to keep in my pocket.

    You’re point about Adelbert R. Brown is a good one. I made a pretty big assumption that this had to be the “Brown” residence in question because it was the only one I could find on the plat maps from this time period (I searched all the way east to route 250. I should point out, this particular map is from 1902; so maybe by 1911 the head of the household was another family member, A.D. Brown?

  9. Mike says:

    “There’s always money in the banana Stand!!!”
    Great article. keep it up.

  10. Rob says:

    This is absolutely fascinating.

  11. Darren says:

    Just remember, there’s always bodies in the banana wagon.

  12. No touching! No touching. No touching!

  13. kmannkoopa says:

    Empire Boulevard at the south end of the Bay (Bazil’s restrauant) is known as “State Highway 99 Rochester-Webster Part 2″. From a survey map, I can tell you that NYS created that at least by 1931.

    The modern day NYS Routes were more or less in place by the mid-1920s, with everything since just modifications. It is more likely that is off of Culver Road as it heads to the Bay-Outlet bridge (Seabreeze). That was signed at NYS 18 for a good while – in fact if you drive Lake Road in Webster, you can still see a couple of the little green DOT signs calling out Route 18. Route 18′s wikipedia page describing the truncation to West of Kodak Park.

    Also, from the County Website (http://www.monroecounty.gov/dot-bridgeibob) They mention a bridge from 1929 to 1985. This would have carried Route 18.

  14. kmannkoopa says:

    However, after re-reading the article, perhaps Route 18 was on Empire Boulevard before 104, then it was moved north to Culver Road.

  15. Philip says:

    Wonderful! And thanks for the new anecdote to impress people with.

  16. @kmannkoopa, I still think it was somewhere at the southeastern tip of Irondequoit Bay… due the mention of the Rochester & Sodus Bay Railway power house, and the fact the boy who discovered the barrel was from west Penfield.

    There is a road on the Webster/Penfield border called “State Road”…
    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=state+road,+rochester+ny&ll=43.184276,-77.474728&spn=0.083112,0.137844&client=safari&oe=UTF-8&hnear=State+Rd,+Webster,+New+York+14580&gl=us&t=m&z=13

    Maybe Empire Blvd was just a continuation of this road back in 1911?

  17. kmannkoopa says:

    Ha! This whole time I read the article as “Webster State Road 18″ and not “Webster State Road by 18″. Correcting my mistake, I am sure the Rochester-Webster State Highway 99 (Empire Boulevard) is the one described today.

    In Rochester it almost certainly would have been known as the Webster State Highway, to separate it from other state roads leaving Rochester.

    New York’s first State Roads were all created in 1908, and this is likely one of them.

    Someone with a lot of time on their hands could research the original 1908 legislative record to confirm.

  18. Sandy says:

    Funny how I loathed history in school but now love to read/learn about history, particularly local – I actually live near State Road :)

  19. Next up: the Black Hand bombings. As the intrepid Albert Stone has shown us, these extortion guys, in addition to slicing and dicing, liked blowing things up. Unfortunately for them, they sometimes went kablooey too, when their fuses got too short.

    Nice work, Mr. G!!

  20. JANET SCHMIDT says:

    I’m impressed in more ways than one. I love making the connections of ‘old to new.’ however, this really hits ‘home,’ as my grandparents owned a hotel on the edge of the bay, called the Bayview Hotel, and my mother was born in that hotel the year after this crime. had a little more of the map been visible, I may have been able to see, once again, where the hotel stood. although those grandparents had passed away before I was born, my mother told many stories about the bay area, which seemed creepy when I was little, but now after reading this…maybe not so creepy at all! The hotel stood at the edge of the bay until at least the 70′s, when it was torn down to make way for condos. I personally, would have opted to keep much of the bay area in tact for future generations, rather than for the luxury of just a few of the wealthy. thanks.

  21. Joel Helfrich says:

    obviously much later Rochester mafia history…

  22. Jason Haremza says:

    My impression is that the term “state road” was thrown around pretty loosely in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was likely applied to any road that the state may have authorized spending money to improve, or maybe even just any main rural roadway, whether the state actually spent money on it or not. I have an 1818 map of the Johnson Seymour tract (i.e. the southeast part of downtown) that labels what would become Monroe Avenue as the ‘State Road to Canandaigua.’

    These terms probably persisted in local parlance and even in 1911, the ‘Webster State Road’ may or may not have been an actual State roadway, or just the main road between Rochester and Webster.

  23. Sandra Blood says:

    This is pretty gruesome. I was living in this area from age 7 until 17 and used to play in those woods and gullies. I never heard this story before!

  24. I was recently contacted by Thomas Barrett (age 66) who says his grandfather, John W. Barrett was the DA who prosecuted this case! Here is our email conversation:

    Thomas Barrett:
    I couldn’t believe my eyes a couple weeks ago when I came across the “Barrel Murder” piece on your blog. I’ve been mining this material since last spring for a fictional memoir I’ve been posting to Arcadia Magazine’s “Online Sundries” blog. My grandfather, who died in 1927, twenty years before I was born, was Monroe County D.A. at the time of the murder. I’d heard vague whisperings about it as a kid – a family myth – but hadn’t given it a thought in years, until I started researching my grandfather some, looking at the appeals courts’ decisions, what newspaper articles I could find, and best of all those Albert R. Stone pix, which are just fantastic. I like how you’ve brought it together here – and it gives me an easy reference point to share with people who are curious about the factual underpinnings of my story.

    If you’re interested, you can find the latest installment of my story here: http://www.arcadiamagazine.org/4/post/2013/10/borrowed-time-the-black-hand-part-v-a-dogs-breakfast.html

    RocSubway:
    Thanks for contacting me. That story was amazing indeed! I stumbled upon the photos in the Library’s collection and began to piece the story together using old newspaper articles. So was your grandfather the prosecutor in the case?

    I was never able to figure out if anyone was arrested after Dominico Galbo was released from prison. It seems that the case was never concluded. Maybe someone was paid off?!

    Thomas Barrett:
    Yes, my grandfather prosecuted the case and argued the appeals. At the time of his release, Domenico had already served approximately the length of what would have been a sentence for accessory after the fact, an alternative that famed jurist Benjamin Cardozo said the jury should have been presented with. The problem was there was just no evidence beyond the circumstantial proof of Domenico’s having disposed of the body. The D.A. applied an analogy from a line of larceny cases (if the defendant was caught with the goods, a jury could infer that he stole them), which the Appellate Division bought, but the Court of Appeals did not. The Galbo case became a landmark case on the subject, and juries have been routinely read “The Galbo Charge” ever since, which instructs that they can infer the lesser crime if there is nothing more to go on for the greater. So no payoff – just a small, but significant step forward in the history of American jurisprudence.

    Best,
    Tom

  25. Gabriel says:

    In the 1872 Beers atlas the name of current-day Empire Blvd-Gravel Road is called “Webster Plank Road” (not to be confused with today’s Plank Rd.) I agree that everything was called “state road” back in those days, and that the confusion between Webster and Penfield still exists today, due to zip codes and School District lines. In looking at the 1924 plat map of the area, the portion of David Fichter’s land (as seen in your 1902 map) north of Dayton road is now owned by Frank Smith. According to the Nov 2, 1911 Monroe County mail, Mr. Smith first told his neighbor A. Brown, who owned land across the street from him (Brown’s house is at your right red arrow). The barrel was found on the north side of the street, 200 yards east (less than 1/8) mile of the power station. This would place the gully just about at the line separating lots 1 and 2 of Township 13 (the line cutting through the words “Power House.”). And yes, Bazil’s is exactly on the spot the Power House was located. So the gully is just about where entrance for the new construction on Empire Blvd. is located. Of course that’s been changed over the years as this project has taken shape, so it’s not really a gully anymore.


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