Friday, January 8, 2016

Death of the Lemon King

Welcome to our first story.

This is the tale of Gaspare DiCola, a successful fruit importer in Boston, Massachusetts.  Gaspare was born in 1866 in the northern seaport town of Termini Imerese in Sicily.  His father, Giovanni, was a wealthy farmer that specialized in lemons and olives.  The family also started a spaghetti factory : the DiCola Pasta Company.

Gaspare DiCola, 1866-1916

Gaspare caught the eye of a young woman who happened to be married to Mariano Bova-Conti.  Antonina and Mariano also lived in Termini-Imerese, and the two families knew each other well.

Gaspare served in the Italian army, and then decided to travel to America in 1892.  He used his family expertise in the produce business and became known as The Lemon King. Antonia left Sicily with her young son, Antonio.  She followed Gaspare to Boston.  Her husband came to America to persuade her to return to Sicily with him, but she filed divorce papers in Massachusetts to free herself from his grasp.  Mariano was a poor peasant man with little to offer her and their son.  But Gaspare had plenty to offer as his business was growing rapidly.  He quickly became a very well respected businessman, and was appointed the president of the Italian Red Cross Society, as well as a leader in the local Dante Alighiere Society.

Gaspare and Antonina never married, but lived together in a nice apartment at 21 Fairbanks Street.  Her son lived with them until he was old enough to get out on his own. Antonio, her son, constantly tried to persuade his mother to marry Gaspare, as he felt she was living a life of sin.

21 Fairbanks Street, Brookline, Massachusetts

The Lemon King set up his business office amidst the best area to oversee his fruit import business. 
The 1916 Boston directory shows he is listed as:

All seemed to be going well for the couple, until September 21 in 1916.  Gaspare and Antonia were returning home after 10 p.m. from a meeting with the Dante Alighiere Society.  After leaving the streetcar at the Fairbanks Street station, they walked in the direction of their apartment.  Suddenly shots rang out, and Gaspare fell to the ground just outside the doorway to their apartment building.  Antonia screamed and rushed to his side.  A neighbor heard the blasts and ran into the street where he saw the couple and tried to assist them.  The other neighbors summoned the police, and Gaspare was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital.  He had taken 5 bullets in the back which all lodged in his abdomen.  Things looked grim.

Location of the Fairbanks Station and the vicinity of apartment where Gaspare was shot
Gaspare was not expected to live through the night.  He asked that his attorney be summoned so that he could compose his will.  Antonia was very distraught and hardly paid any attention to what the attorney was composing while her husband tried to hang onto life.  He  signed the document with an X, as his right hand was bandaged from his fall.  Gaspare passed peacefully and Antonia was escorted back to her apartment.

The newspapers were full of coverage from the murder in the Brookline area. No one was able to identify the gunmen, or even speculate who they might be.  Mrs. DiCola remained silent, as did many others in the Italian community. A group of businessmen decided to post a reward for the capture of the culprits, which totaled $5000. Stephen Malato served as the attorney to represent the family.

There were many theories as to why someone would want to kill Gaspare. Some include:

1. The fact that Gaspare awarded his "wife", Antonia, $100 per month in addition to the use of their apartement at 21 Fairbanks Street until her death

2.  The fact that Gaspare awarded his brother, Giuseppe DiCola, the total control of the fruit import business and all its premises and assets, totaling well over $250,000 (not too shabby for 1916)

3.  The fact that the son of Antonia, Antonio Bova-Conte, was not awarded any part of the assets.

4.  The fact that the sister of Gaspare, Miss Antoinette DiCola (who lived in Termini Imerese with her brother, Giuseppe) was not awarded any part of the assets. She later tried to contest the will.

5.  The fact that Gaspare had received 2 Black Hand letters in the months before his death.  The letters were written in their usual harsh way :  Give us $25,000 and deposit it in the agreed place, or you will have consequences sent your way.  Gaspare paid no attention to these letters, and he gave them to the local police captain for safekeeping.

6.  The fact that Gaspare had won the heart of Antonia, a married woman, who discarded her husband, forcing him to return to a  lonely peasant life in Sicily,  The husband could not be found by the police detectives when they were trying to follow up with suspects from the murder case.

Meanwhile, the funeral of Gaspare DiCola became one of the largest that the city of Boston had ever seen.  The service was held at the old Italian church, St. Leonard of Port Morris Catholic Parish.  This is the oldest Italian Catholic Church in New England, built in 1873.  He was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Middlesex County.  It was reported that over 5000 people attended the church service, and 2000 followed the funeral procession to the cemetery.

The death register simply states : Name, sex, age, address of home and where died, birthplace, job

Parents, their place of birth, cause of death, name of coroner, place of burial and undertaker name

So, who do you think was the slayer?  I have not found any documents that show an absolute conclusion to this case.  Let's hope that Gaspare can rest in peace, and the gunmen, too.

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