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Saturday, October 09, 2010

1920 - STICK 'EM UP!

I would say that spring was most welcomed in New England in 1920. There had been a bitter cold spell at the end of January. On Saturday the 31st the day began at 8 degrees below zero, and the next morning, Sunday, February 1st, started barely warmer, at 7 below zero; those two record lows have stood for almost a century. April, when it finally came that year, must have been felt like hope reborn.
On Thursday, April 15, 1920, a sunny spring day, James Bostock, was trapped inside, repairing machinery at the two Slater and Morrill shoe factories in South Braintree, about 12 miles south of Boston.
The larger factory was on Railroad Avenue,  on the hill above the railroad station, with a smaller facility and the management offices on Washington Avenue, a quarter mile across the tracks and down hill from there. Intersecting Washington was Pearl Street, along which stood the shoe factory of Rich and Hutchins, where James also occasionally did repair work. Just after three o’clock, James left the main Slater and Morrill factory, intending to catch the 3:15 trolley for his home in Brockton. He passed two men, lounging against a fence, but paid them no attention.
Just after he crossed onto Pearl Street, James met an old friend, Frederick Parmenter (above), who was the payroll officer for Slater, and his guard, Alessandro Berardelli. They were coming up Washington Street, each man carrying a box resembling a safety deposit box, containing the cash filled payroll envelopes for the employees at the upper factory. Parmenter and Bostock spoke for a moment about a pulley that needed repair at the upper factory, and then, after exchanging pleasantries, James continued on his way. He had just passed Lewis Wade, who was refueling Mr. Slater’s car, parked outside the management offices, when he heard gun shots.
James Bostock walked quickly back up the street. He saw Beradelli, the guard, in the street, on his knees, with his right arm “draped” over his head, as if fending off blows. Five feet away, on the sidewalk, stood a man holding a pistol. James watched, stunned while he fired at the guard four or five times. Beradelli was hit in the chest and arm. In shock, Bostock realized that Parmenter was across the street, running toward the Rice and Hutchins factory. From somewhere James heard more shots, and Parmenter fell. At that point Bostock realized that the shooter had turned on him, and James began to run away, toward the cover of a water tank along the railroad tracks. As he did, he heard a car accelerating up the street.
Lewis Wade, a 16 year employee of Slater and Morrill, had seen the man who shot Parmenter, crouching not five feet from the retreating company paymaster. Wade also saw the car race up Pearl Street and screech to a halt. A pale faced man jumped from the running board. The two shooters grabbed the cash boxes, and jumped into the car. It sped away, with the pale-faced man back on the running board, firing a shotgun to discourage witnesses getting too close. Wade ran into the company offices to call the police.
The fleeing robbers passed James Bostock, so closely that he could have touched the spokes on the wheels. The entire robbery had taken less than a minute. Wade came back to see if he could help either victim. Berardelli was still breathing, but blood was bubbling from his mouth. He seemed to be clearly dieing. Wade and Bostock helped other witnesses to carry Parmenter into a house across the street. Then Wade returned to hold Berardelli in his arms while the guard bled to death.
Alessandro Berardelli died right there, leaving behind a wife, Sara, and two children. Frederick Parmenter died the next day, Friday April 16, 1920, at Quincy Hospital. He left behind his wife Hattie, and a son, age 11, and a daughter, age 6. The robbers had murdered two men for $15,773.51 in cash.
A few hours after Frederick Parmenter died, inspector O.L. Root, from J.Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Inspection, and Police officer Frank LeBaron entered a two story shack in a seedy section of Braintree. It was occupied by a number of Italian immigrants, and was known locally as the Puffer Place. The officers were looking for Ferruccio Coiacci, who had been scheduled to be deported on the 15th for labor organizing activities at the L.Q. White shoe company in Bridgewater. (Coiacci had recently been fired from Slater and Morrill for the same reasons.) Coiacci had called the immigration service on the morning of the 15th, to say he would be delayed in leaving the country because his wife was ill.
The two officers found Coiacci at the kitchen table, talking with his wife, who appeared to be in good health. The officers told Coiacci that his deportation could be delayed, but Coiacci now insisted on leaving with the officers, saying goodbye to his sobbing wife and children at the shack's front door.
On Saturday, April 17th , the stolen Buick used in the South Braintree robbery was found two miles from the shack where Coiacci had been detained the night before. The closeness of that car to the "Puffer Place"  caused the Braintree Police Chief to become curious, But he just missed being able to ask Coiacci, because he was deported back to Italy on April 18th.
On a hunch, on Tuesday, April 20th, the Chief and another officer in plain clothes returned to the shack, where they were met by Mario Boda. Boda said he rented a room in the shack for himself, and the shed out back for his car. He even showed the officers the empty interior of the shed, explaining that his car was in the Elm Street Garage for repair. But the officers noticed that there were two different tire tracks in the mud leading into the shed. One set would be Boda's car, but could the other track have been made by the Braintree getaway car?
Futher, it occurred to the police that there might be a connection between the Braintree robbery and a December 24th,  1919 botched robbery of the payroll at the L.Q. White company in Bridgewater. The thieves in that case had been armed with pistols and covered their retreat with a shotgun, just as at the Braintree robbery. Ciacci had worked at both places. But the next time the police checked the Puffer Place, it was empty. All of the immigrants had vanished, even Ciacci's wife and children. The police asked the owner of the Elm Street garage, Simon Johnson, to call if anyone attempted to pick up Boda’s car. It was the last thin lead they had. Following it would lead the entire nation down a very unhappy road.
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