His Final Walk

His Final Walk

FASCI TO DIE IN THE SAME WAY AS TWO PALS

 

BELLEFONTE, PA., Dec. 26.— Like John Torti and Tony Burchanti, two of his companions in the Laurel Line robbery and murder near Scranton on July 30, 1923, Paul Fasci will go to his death in the electric chair at Rockview prison Monday morning at 7 o’clock without benefit of clergy.

— The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania), December 27, 1926

Edward Murphy, a salesman for an oil company, was in the wrong place at the wrong time when five men held up the Laurel Line train during its morning run between Moosic and Avoca, Pennsylvania. P.J. Durkin, the motorman, Arch Henshall, the paymaster for the West End Coal Company and another passenger, Philip Scribner, were also shot. All three eventually recovered from their wounds, however Edward, who was reading the morning paper when he was hit with a stray bullet, died instantly.

The bandits grabbed the coal company’s $70,125 payroll cash and headed to their getaway car. Police had little to go in to solve the case, and for a time it seemed as if the men had pulled off the perfect train robbery.

Fasci news photo

1921 police photo (bottom) showing three of the five men (1,2 & 5) suspected of being the Laurel Line train robbers.

After interviewing witnesses, detectives believed that three of the five gang members were in a police photo photograph of a five Italian men taken in 1921. The men in the photo had been arrested in a high-powered car several days after an attempted bank robbery in New Castle, Pennsylvania. None of them could be linked with that holdup attempt, but the photo remained in police criminal identification files.

Paul Fasci_back

Back side of the 1921 photo. John Torti (#5) is identified even though he was cropped out of the photo.

The search was on for three of the men in the photo: Tony Burchanti, Paul Fasci and John Torti.

Tony and John had been employees of the West End Coal Company, the target of the Laurel Line robbery. They quit their jobs shortly before the robbery and never collected their pay.

The trail of the Laurel Line bandits went cold until March 26, 1924, when a gang attempted to rob the $400,000 payroll of the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh. The job had a similar M.O. to the Laurel Line heist and Tony was arrested for the attempted robbery.

Next police located John, along with “Big Jack” Stummy and Michael Bassi, in Tiltonsville, Ohio, where the men had gone to pick up their mail. A shootout ensued in which “Big Jack” was killed. John tried unsuccessfully to kill himself and was taken into custody. Michael escaped.

Michael was later arrested in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, for another robbery of a coal company payroll in which a messenger died. He was convicted of first-degree murder and executed at Rockview prison.

Tony and John were convicted of the murder of Edward Murphy and executed in the electric chair at Rockview on June 1, 1925.

Also pictured in the 1921 photo was Paul Fasci. Police believed Paul was the fifth and final suspect in the Laurel Line robbery. Detectives finally located him in a gambling dive in Chicago in February 1925. He was returned to Pennsylvania, where he was tried and convicted of Edward’s murder in early 1926.

Paul told prison officials he didn’t want a priest with him when he went to the death chamber two days after Christmas in 1926. He was resigned to his fate and said goodbye to his brother, Orlando, on Christmas Day. Orlando had fought hard to have Paul’s case reopened but he’d been unsuccessful.

Paul spent his last day on earth alone in his Rockview death house cell with a guard stationed nearby. His hair had already been closely shaved. A plain white shirt, trousers with a slit up one leg and a pair of carpet slippers were laid out, ready for his final walk.

He ate a hearty breakfast and died insisting he was an innocent man.

Featured photo: 1921 police photo of Tony Burchanti (#1), Paul Fasci (#2) and two men not involved in the Laurel Line heist. John Torti (#5) was cropped off the photo. Collection of the author.

Executed by Guillotine

Executed by Guillotine

Enrico (Henri) Pranzini was held to account for the gruesome 1887 murders of courtesan (high class prostitute) Marie Reginault and her servant, Annette Gremeret and Gremeret’s young daughter at Reginault’s Paris apartment in Rue Montaigne. Highly successful in her profession, Reginault lived a life of luxury. Some of her clients were said to be prominent men in the French government and army. The three victims’ throats had been slashed so badly they were nearly decapitated.

pranzini-and-the-victims

Enrico Pranzini and the three victims. Page from the “Album of Paris Crime” by Alphonse Bertillon. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A handsome, 30-year-old man with a muscular build, Pranzini was popular with the ladies and was described in the press as a “gigolo.” Born in Egypt, he was intelligent, worldly and spoke several languages. Prior to the murders he worked as an interpreter and translator and traveled widely throughout Europe and the Near East. The press described Pranzini as a “professional blackmailer” who used his good looks and charm to “make love to older woman, get them in his power and then compromise them if they refused to pay.”

Letters, cuff links and a belt found at the crime scene implicated another man, Gaston Geissler, as the murderer, however the police believed they had a better case against Pranzini, despite the fact that he had no history of violence. Salacious details about the murders were reported widely in the press and the public clamored for a scapegoat. Pranzini filled the bill.

pranzini-police-news

Reports of the murders in the press included illustrations, some of which were based on morgue photos and mug shots.

Pranzini maintained his innocence throughout his trial for the triple murder. The prosecution’s case was circumstantial—it was based on the fact that he left Paris on the night of the murders and that he gave jewelry similar to some that was missing from the murdered woman’s apartment to prostitutes in Marseilles in the days following the crime.

He was convicted and given the death penalty — execution by guillotine.

Pranzini marched from his cell to the scaffold with a firm step and defiant air. When the executioners seized him the murderer resisted and fought desperately, demanding they let him alone. The executioners overpowered him and threw him upon the machine and in an instant had him securely bound. Immediately the terrible knife was started. It descended with horrible slowness at first, but then its movement quickened and the head of the murderer rolled into the basket.

The Times, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 1, 1887

After his public execution, Pranzini’s body, minus the head, was removed to a Paris medical school, where parts of it disappeared. Subsequently it was discovered that some of his skin had been removed and used to make wallets. Other parts apparently went to well-connected curiosity seekers.

If you are visiting Paris, you might drop by the Police Museum of Paris, where you can see not only a wax model of Pranzini’s head but also a display of Parisian policemen taking a rogues’ gallery photo, like the one of Pranzini at the top of the page.

Featured image: Enrico (Henri) Pranzini mugshot by Alphonse Bertillon. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.