Giuseppe "Joe" Petrosino (August 30, 1860 - March 12, 1909) was an NYPD officer who was a pioneer in the fight against organized crime. The various crime fighting techniques that Petrosino pioneered during his law enforcement career are still practiced by various agencies in the fight against crime.
In 1874, Petrosino and his family emigrated to the United States from Padula (in the province of Salerno, Campania), a village in southern Italy. On 1883-10-19, he joined the NYCPD. During his service, he would become friends with Theodore Roosevelt, who was police commissioner of New York City at the time. On 1895-07-20, Roosevelt promoted him to Detective Sergeant in charge of the department's Homicide Division, making him the first Italian-American to lead this division. The pinnacle of his career came in December 1908 when he was promoted to Lieutenant and placed in charge of the Italian Squad, an elite corps of Italian-American detectives specifically assembled to deal with the criminal activities of organizations like the Mafia, which Petrosino saw as a shame to decent Italians and his native country. The Black Hand & Enrico Caruso
One notable case in Petrosino's stint with the Italian Squad was when the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who was performing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, was being blackmailed by gangsters who demanded money in exchange for his life. It was Petrosino who convinced Caruso to help him catch those behind the blackmail.
A second notable case in Petrosino's stint with the Italian Squad was his infiltration of an Italian-based anarchist organization that assassinated King Umberto I of Italy. During his mission, he discovered evidence that the organization intended to assassinate President William McKinley during his trip to Buffalo. Petrosino warned the Secret Service, but McKinley ignored the warning, even after Roosevelt, who had by this time become Vice-President of the United States, vouched for Petrosino's abilities. As a result, McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz during his visit to Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition on September 6, 1901.
Petrosino's investigations into Mafia activities led him to Don Vito Cascio Ferro, the godfather of the Mafia in New York. In 1903, Petrosino arrested him on suspicion of murder, but Cascio Ferro was acquitted. He later returned to Sicily, where he became increasingly involved with the Sicilian Mafia. In 1909, Petrosino made plans to travel to Palermo, Sicily, on a top secret mission. However, because of the incompetence of Thomas Bingham, New York's police commissioner, the New York Herald published the story of Petrosino's mission on February 20, 1909, just days before his departure. Even though he was aware of the danger, Petrosino headed to Palermo as planned. However, this decision would prove fatal. Petrosino wrongly believed that the Sicilian Mafia would not kill a policeman, as they did not in America.
On March 12, 1909, after arriving in Palermo, Petrosino received a message from someone claiming to be an informant, asking the detective to meet him in the city's Piazza Marina to give him information about the Mafia. Petrosino arrived at the rendezvous, but it was a trap. While waiting for his 'informant,' Petrosino was shot to death by Mafia assassins. Vito Cascio Ferro was arrested for Petrosino's murder but was released after an associate provided an alibi. However, he later claimed to other crime figures that he had killed Petrosino, which helped propel him into the position of capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses). Ironically Ferro died in prision in 1943 after being arrested in 1927 on a murder charge he probably did not commit. On April 12, 1909, Petrosino's funeral, which was attended by 250,000 people, was held in Manhattan. New York City declared the day of his burial a holiday to allow its citizens to pay their respects. A small plaza just north of the old NYPD Headquarters at 240 Center Street in Manhattan was renamed in his memory.