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.
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.
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.