Thomas J. Tunney_
Nineteen and Nineteen_
The Uncovering of a Bomb Plot_
Evidently a toast to the brotherhood for which it was prepared. It was a pamphlet of some sixty pages, measuring about four by eight inches, and cleanly printed in Italian. It was nothing less than a text-book on how to go about making bombs—a sort of guide to anarchist etiquette. It would be unwise to reproduce its instructions here in detail, as they were too accurate for the general peace, but the index which follows will give a conception of the thoroughness with which the anonymous writers in far-off Italy covered their subject.
The Third of Chapters_
Playing with Fire_
The business of crime prevention and detection depends largely on the confidence one man has in another. That is one reason why a “stool-pigeon” is an uncomfortable ally on a case. You can not be sure that a man who associates with criminals and is giving them away is not giving the case away at the same time. His gang hates him for squealing, his evidence is the evidence of a traitor, and he is a good person not to depend on. I make that point here because I have always tried to avoid using stool-pigeons, and because the story to follow will illustrate what can be accomplished by a dependable man.
The story really starts about twenty years ago. In the spring of 1900, an Italian from Paterson, N. J., Brescia by name, attended a meeting of anarchists in a house in Elizabeth Street, New York. The group was composed of two parties, one which we may call the progressives, and one40the inactives. Brescia assailed the inactives, denounced them as cowards, and stirred up so much dissension that the meeting broke up for fear of a police raid, and several of the members retaliated at Brescia by accusing him of being a police spy. He sailed for Italy, and on July 29, in the little Lombardi town of Monza, murdered King Humbert the Good. When the news was cabled to America it was hailed with proper grief by the public and with great joy by the anarchists who had called Brescia a traitor. His execution, which followed swiftly, made him a martyr. So to do him honor, the group was named the Brescia Circle.
By 1914 the membership of the circle was nearly 600. A cosmopolitan lot: Italians, Russians, Russian Jews, Germans, Austrians, Spaniards and Americans, of both sexes. The leaders were agitators whose speaking ability had lifted them out of the ranks and who found an easier living by their wits than by their hands. The Bomb Squad knew something of their activities and habits, for the past history of anarchist cases linked up certain names in a pointed way. We knew their fondness for bombs, and the records of the police department contain many instances of anarchists inspired to violence by the41inflammatory speeches of such agitators, as their idol, Francisco Ferrer, had preached violence in Spain. The outbreak of war in Europe, from which so many of the group had migrated to America, and the promise of social confusion which it held for them had stirred the Brescia Circle more than a little. The active members met regularly in the basement of a building at 301 East 106th Street, a shabby house in a shabby district east of the New York Central tracks. These meetings, which occurred usually on a Sunday, as many of the members were working during the week, were addressed by such notorious anarchists as Emma Goldman, Becky Edelson, Frank Mandese, Carlo Tresca and Pietro Allegra—names probably unfamiliar to the general public, but names with which the Police Department had “auld acquaintance.” Occasionally an editor of an anarchist newspaper in Lynn, Massachusetts, Gagliani by name, came to speak in the cellar, and Plunkett, Harry Kelly, and Alexander Berkman were usually to be found in the group.
The winter of 1913–1914 was one of industrial depression. Many of the radical labor element rallied to the I. W. W. and the unemployed readily joined them. The methods of the anarchists and I. W. W.’s were similar, and the advocates42of unrest were enlisted under both standards. In the late winter demonstrations began and multiplied until in March a youth named Frank Tannenbaum, to whom Emma Goldman later took a fancy, led a mob of I. W. W.’s into St. Alphonsus’ Church demanding food. The police waited until they had passed inside, then locked the doors, and arrested the whole lot. This was but one instance of a number which promised more trouble. Whatever nice distinctions of creed separated the Industrial Workers from the anarchists were paper distinctions; the performances of both bodies made it fairly plain that if you scratched an anarchist you found an I. W. W. underneath.
There may have been some intimation from abroad of the impending war, among the anarchists, for in July certain of them began to grow demonstrative. On Independence Day Mandese was arrested in Tarrytown, in uncomfortable proximity to the estate and person of John D. Rockefeller. Carron, Berg and Hansen, three members of the Brescia Circle, were engaged on that same day in perfecting a bomb in their rooms at Lexington Avenue and 104th Street, when the machine exploded prematurely and killed them. That bomb had been intended for the Rockefeller family. Naturally everyone with a shred of respect for order who read of these episodes recoiled from them, but it was necessary to judge them from the anarchist’s own standpoint to see that while one of the cases had resulted in death, and the Mandese incident in arrest, both had been successful in creating a disturbance. The anarchist likes disturbance as well as he dislikes order, for unrest is contagious, and means new recruits to the cause. It became our duty, therefore, to make a careful investigation of these disturbances at their source, and we insinuated a detective into the Brescia Circle itself.
He spoke only English—a good language for social intercourse, but not the key to the affairs of the group in the 106th Street basement. Whenever the more prominent agitators had a really important matter to discuss they used the Italian tongue, and it was impossible for our man to eavesdrop. Perhaps he was over-eager, for twice he was brought to trial by the Circle charged with spying. Twice he was acquitted. But when his enemies had him formally charged a third time with treachery, the anarchists decided that although they had no evidence against him beyond a powerful suspicion, he would be better outside. Outside he went.
On October 3, the anarchists gave a grand ball at the Harlem Casino in honor of Emma Goldman, and at that affair announcement was made that October 13 would be observed by those of the cause with a celebration at Forward Hall, in East Broadway, fitting to the anniversary of the “assassination” of Francisco Ferrer. The orator, Leonard Abbott, also reminded the gathering that “the Catholic Church had been responsible for Ferrer’s death.” At five o’clock in the afternoon of October 12 a vicious explosion occurred in the north aisle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was an anarchist’s bomb. The nave of the church held numerous worshippers, who were panic-stricken, but who fortunately escaped injury with the exception of a young man struck in the face by a flying splinter from one of the altars. Shortly after midnight of the next day a bomb placed in the front area of the priests’ house of St. Alphonsus’ exploded with violence enough to break every window in the house and every window in the house across the street. Ferrer’s “assassination” had evidently been appropriately observed.
The situation was disturbing. We had to put a stop to bombing before the anarchists grew bolder and began to kill someone beside themselves. Of course we wanted all the evidence we could lay hands on, and yet the evidence we had been able to obtain had not prevented two outrages. We felt that undoubtedly the best place to look for it was still the Brescia Circle, as it constituted the chief organization and headquarters for the element which we believed guilty. And we now return to the question of the stool-pigeon.
It would have been possible to employ one of the Circle, perhaps. It is certain that I should have been uneasy with only his evidence to depend upon, for a bomb does not wait to be investigated. Planting a man in the Brescia Circle had not been successful, but I felt that it could be made successful. So out of five or six candidates from the department I chose Amedeo Polignani for the work.
He was a young Italian detective who kept his own counsel, short, strong, mild-mannered and unobtrusive. And he knew Italian. “Your name from now on is Frank Baldo,” I said. “Forget you’re a detective. You can get a job over in Long Island City, so as to carry out the bluff. You are an anarchist. Join the Brescia Circle and any other affiliated group, and report to me every day. The older members may be suspicious of you, and they’ll probably follow you, so we had46better arrange when you are to telephone and I’ll let you know whenever and wherever I want to see you.” We discussed every possible angle of the work in order to anticipate and forestall whatever accident either of omission or commission might occur to make Polignani’s position suspicious. He was instructed to call me by telephone at certain hours, using a private number, telephoning from a public pay-station in a store in which there was not more than one booth, so that no one might follow him and hear his conversation through the flimsy walls of a booth adjoining. He was to deport himself in a retiring manner, and to throw himself earnestly into the part he was to act. I felt sure that his quiet, agreeable nature would disarm any suspicion of him as a newcomer, and that complete concentration upon the spirit of the masquerade would gradually draw out important information. First and foremost, he was to be on the watch for evidence of the man who had committed the two bomb outrages in October; secondly, he was to cover the activities and intentions of the anarchists in general; thirdly, he was to keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut, and to deal with any emergency which might arise.
It often happens in fiction that a man journeys to a far country and somewhere on the voyage sheds his identity like an old suit of clothes to proceed through years of adventure as another individual; in the movies it is no feat at all for a girl to disguise herself as a man and hoodwink the rest of the actors through several hundred feet of film; but it remained for a New York detective to discard his name and his associations for six months, and without once stirring outside his jurisdiction, without any disguise, and without miraculous power, to add to the records—and consequently to the efficiency—of his department a store of information of one of the most troublesome groups of anarchists in the United States.
He bade his little family in the Bronx good-by, got employment at manual labor in a Long Island City factory, and hired a cheap room at 1907 Third Avenue. Throughout November he attended meetings of the Brescia Circle, listening to bitter speeches full of wild plans to overthrow the government, and the organized church, and getting the lay of the land. To such members as chose to speak to him he was courteous and friendly, but they were not many. The more important members had a way of gathering in corners and whispering to each other, and the new48member was not invited to join the charmed inner circle. So he held his peace, and memorized names and faces, and presently his opportunity came.
Polignani had noticed on November 30 a young Italian cobbler, named Carbone, who seemed to have influence in the Circle, and he confirmed this judgment on the next two Sunday evenings as he saw Carbone in whispered conversation with Frank Mandese and one Campanielli. The next Sunday night the same trio was in star-chamber session when a good-natured wrestling match started in another part of the room, and Carbone turned to watch it. Polignani was tossing various members to the floor, and as he was smoothing his ruffled hair after a short bout, Carbone tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You’re a strong fellow—I’m glad to see you a member of the Brescia Circle!” The detective smiled, and the two fell into conversation, which continued as they left the society’s rooms and strolled up Third Avenue.
“The trouble with those fellows,” said Carbone, “is that they talk too much and don’t act enough. They don’t accomplish anything.”
“That’s right,” Polignani agreed.
“What they ought to do is throw a few bombs and show the police something,” Carbone continued. “Wake them up! Look—” he held up the stumps of five fingers of his right hand—“I got that making a bomb. Some day I’ll show you how to make ’em.”
That arrangement suited Polignani perfectly. He had a lead, after tedious “watchful waiting,” which had been punctuated by the explosion of a mysterious bomb at the door of the Bronx County Court House on November 11. He had listened to reams of oratory against the ruling classes, law, order and the churches, had heard his fellow members chided because the bombs at St. Patrick’s and St. Alphonsus’ had been too weak, and had heard speakers advise any members who contemplated the use of dynamite not to take too many people into their confidences. Carbone was deliberately confiding in “Baldo,” and the detective made up his mind to cultivate him.
This extract from his notebook will illustrate how the acquaintance ripened:
“I did not see Carbone again until Sunday the 27th. On this day he spoke to me of a friend named Frank and said that if all anarchists were like his friend they would be all right. He thinks nothing of making and throwing a bomb. On January 1st about 1.45 P. M. Carbone met me as per appointment. We went to where the50meeting of the unemployed was being held and both of us shook hands with Louise Berg, Mandese, and Bianco.... He introduced me to his friend Frank....”
Enter the third conspirator, Frank Abarno, 25 years old, and a native of San Velle, Italy. Almost on the heels of his introduction to the promising new member, the new member began to take a new interest in life, for on January 3 Carbone drew Polignani out of the meeting after the speeches and said quietly, “Come on up to the 125th Street Station. It’s warm up there, and we won’t be bothered. I’ll tell you something about making bombs.” And on the way up Lexington Avenue Carbone explained that he needed some caps about two inches long. All the dynamite he wanted he could get from his uncle, a contractor “out in the country.” “We’ll get some dynamite, and then you and Frank and me will blow up some churches, see?”
“Sure,” the detective answered. “What church?”
“St. Patrick’s is the best. This time it’ll be a good one too—not like before.”
“Did you hear what Mandese was saying the other night?” Polignani asked. “He was scrapping with another fellow and the fellow says, ‘If51they wouldn’t give me no work I’d throw bombs.’ And Mandese said to him, ‘The only kind of bombs you shoot are the kind you shoot with your mouth,’ and he says, ‘What kind of bombs do you shoot then?’ And Mandese says, ‘The kind that went off at Madison Square and the two churches, see!’”
Carbone apparently did not care for the results of the previous explosions, for he said:
“Well, they were no good. That bomb that killed Carron and Berg and Hansen wasn’t made right. It was wound too tight—that’s why it went off too soon. I can make a bomb from a brass ball off a bed-post that will start something.”
A fortnight passed, and Carbone turned up at the Brescia meeting-place in company with Abarno. They beckoned to Polignani and the three walked down Third Avenue, Abarno mouthing anarchy, and suddenly suggesting that he would like to go into St. Patrick’s, find Cardinal Farley alone, and choke him to death. The gentle soul then remarked: “Carbone, you make some bombs!”
“If I can get those caps I’ll make a bomb that will destroy the Cathedral clear down to the ground, but if I can’t get the caps then I’ll have to make the other kind.”
“Well, you make two bombs,” said Abarno. “We’ll set them off on the outside of the church about six o’clock some morning and then we can get away clean and get to work on time and nobody will know the difference.”
Carbone asked Abarno to get him some sulphur, and turned to Polignani a slip pencilled, “Collorate di Potase, 1 lb.” and “Andimonio.” “You get that at a drug store, Baldo,” he said.
“Baldo” complied, and a few weeks later the materials were assembled. Carbone instructed Polignani to call on Abarno for a booklet on bomb manufacture, and about six in the evening of February 4 Abarno gave the detective the pamphlet to read while he went out to get some spaghetti, as the two had an appointment with Carbone at 7.30. Polignani was hardly out of Abarno’s sight when he sprinted to a telephone and called me. I met him at once, at headquarters, and turned the booklet over to the photographer, who got to work immediately photographing the pages. Our time was short, and before we had the job done I had to restore the book to Polignani. On Lincoln’s Birthday Carbone gave the book to our man again, to study, and this gave us time to finish the photographic copying.
Raccomandiamo a coloro che si vogliono mettere a questi lavori, di procurarsi prima di tutto il denaro necessario; altrimenti arrischiano di doversi fermare a mezza strada, di tirar le cose in lungo ed esporsi inutilmente.
Raccomandiamo agli stessi di non trascurare nessuna delle precauzioni necessarie per non attirare l’attenzione della polizia, di non mettersi in vista colla propaganda pubblica, di non farsi vedere coi compagni conosciuti, e di non lavorare mai nelle case soggette ad essere perquisite.
Sopratutto raccomandiamo non mettersi a fabbricare esplosivi per il gusto di fabbricarli. Tutto ciò che si può avere bello e fatto, è inutile, è stupido il volerlo fare da sè, quando non si ha la pratica ed i mezzi che hanno quelli del mestiere. Nei posti in cui si può avere la dinamite—e oggi la si può avere quasi dappertutto—perchè mettersi a fabbricarla?
Bisogna poi che fra i diversi esplosivi, le diverse bombe, ecc., ognuno scelga le cose che per lui sono più facili e più pratiche ricordandosi sempre che: E’ meglio una cosa piccola fatta, che una grande restata in proposito.
stessa: si legano bene con fil di ferro intorno alla rotaia, si mette capsula e miccia, si copre con terra e la mina è pronta. Questa produce una rottura di mezzo metro. Per avere rotture più estese non v’è che preparare parecchie di queste mine, a debita distanza e munirle di miccie di eguali qualità e lunghezza; e raccogliere insieme i capi delle miccie, in modo che dando fuego alle miccie lo scoppio è contemporaneo in tutti i punti. Spesso è vantaggioso per far saltare gli scambii, cioè i punti dove s’incrociano diverse linee. Per mettere fuori d’uso una locomotiva o una macchina a vapore qualsiasi, basta far scoppiare 3 o 4 petardi in un tubo intemo della caldaia.
Sono recipienti di metallo pieni di materia esplosiva, che scoppiando si rompono in pezzi e feriscono i circostanti. Possono avere qualunque forma, ma la sferica è più efficace. Per farle scoppiare si può adoperare una capsula con miccia che brucia rapidissimamente tanto da aver giusto il tempo per accenderle e lanciarle. Si può anche applicarvi tutto a l’intorno dei luminelli con capsule o altri apparati, in modo che per l’urto della caduta il fulminato scoppi e faccia scoppiare la carica della bomba, come in quelle all’Orsini.
La bomba fa tanto più effetto quanto più il metallo è resistente, sempre che la carica abbia la forza di farla scoppiare. Quindi il miglior metallo è il ferro o l’acciaio, poi il rame, l’ottone, il bronzo, quindi la ghisa ed infine lo zinco solo o legato con stagno; il piombo non serve. Lo spessore delle pa-
Pages from the bomb-thrower’s textbook
I realized when I saw the translation how Carbone knew so much about making bombs.
“La Salute e’ in voi!” read the cover, or “Health is in you!” Evidently a toast to the brotherhood for which it was prepared. It was a pamphlet of some sixty pages, measuring about four by eight inches, and cleanly printed in Italian. It was nothing less than a text-book on how to go about making bombs—a sort of guide to anarchist etiquette. It would be unwise to reproduce its instructions here in detail, as they were too accurate for the general peace, but the index which follows will give a conception of the thoroughness with which the anonymous writers in far-off Italy covered their subject.
Yes, it was accurate—and very practical. To quote from its advice to struggling anarchists:
“We recommend most earnestly that if you wish to engage in this line of work, you procure, before all else, a sufficient amount of money, otherwise you risk being put out in the middle of the street, only to find your long work and trouble all in vain. We recommend at the same time that you do not omit any precaution necessary to avoid attracting the attention of the police, and avoid mixing with the public, nor be seen with known companions. And do not work at it in the house except when necessary....
“The work should be done in a well ventilated room provided with a good chimney place and furnished in such a way that you can hide things if anyone enters, and this room ought to be on the top floor of the house on account of the odors that are always being produced....
“Above all we recommend that you never make explosives for the mere pleasure of making them. All you do beyond enough is useless and stupid—especially so when you have neither the practice nor the proper means for making them. As to the place to keep the dynamite, why make it until it is needed? Take heed that among the various kinds of explosives, bombs, etc., always choose the one that will be most easily used and55most practical, remembering always that it is better to do a little thing well than to leave a big thing half done....”
The little booklet contained a list of the necessary tools with their estimated costs, and said of the chemicals to be used, “The materials to be employed should be sufficiently pure. They may be had of dealers in chemical and pharmaceutical products, and it is well not to buy all the stuff from the same merchant, in order that he may not know what you wish to make....” It explained the relative forces of explosives in this way: “The relative force which the various explosives have is as follows: Shot-gun powder has a force of 1; an equal amount of ‘Panclastite’ has the force of 6; of dynamite 7; of dry gun-cotton 9 (if with 50% of salts of nitre, 5); of nitroglycerine 9; of fulminate of mercury 10 or 3½; of nitromannite 11.... All the other explosives of which we speak, such as melenite, etc., have nitroglycerine for their bases, therefore have no greater force than that of nitroglycerine.”
After an exposition of the method of making nitroglycerine—the mere reading of which would make your hair bristle—the compilers conclude “... it is not very dangerous to use when cold, notwithstanding all that has been said. It would56be a great work if some American manufacturer would devise some means of congealing it so that it would be less sensitive to shock, so that it might safely be carried on the railways.” Of fulminating cotton they remark, “As it ignites with instantaneous rapidity it is best to use a fuse that burns the most quickly; for example, when for use in bombs made to throw at a person, it will be enough to twist the cord, etc., etc.” Minute directions are given for the home-laboratory manufacture of the explosives listed, and the experimenter who cared to attempt their manufacture was warned in the simplest and most emphatic terms of the caprices of the different materials. He was told how to make cord-fuses that would burn at the rate of 8 hours to the yard, and of 6 hours to the yard; paper fuses which would reach the explosive two hours after a spark had touched the corner of a sheet of prepared paper; thread fuses which would sparkle fifteen seconds to the metre, or three minutes to the metre; and, finally, an instantaneous fuse which “Because it will burn with all the speed of electricity ... may be made to serve many important purposes: to fire a mine under a passing train, under gatherings, or troops of cavalry.”
If the bomber wished to blow up a wall, he57was told how to compute by simple mathematics the quantity of explosive required. A bridge “will require twice the charge needed for a wall”—and the vulnerable points of the bridge were indicated. Telephone and telegraph poles and wires, street gratings, street railways, locomotives, steam-boilers, all came in for their share of attention. “It is very easy to find suitable receptacles for bombs,” the writer went on. “For example, large inkwells, brass handles such as are used on letter-presses.... For certain purposes a bottle may be made to serve as a bomb—they are suitable for throwing from a window.... Fragile glass bottles when filled with this solution (an incendiary mixture) make handy incendiary bombs to hurl among troops, official gatherings, etc.; also to pour from windows upon troops, or to throw from a drinking glass or pail....” I have wondered whether Gavrio Prinzip of Sarajevo ever saw this book, and whether it may not have been translated into Italian from the original German.
Mere possession of this wicked treatise would suggest that the owner was up to no good, especially if the owner, as in this case, was known to be a volatile member of an anarchistic circle who had already declared his intentions of wrecking something. It was reasonable to assume that there must be such a book of instruction in existence, that the bombers had not been handling delicate explosives with no better knowledge than word-of-mouth, hearsay chemistry, but I am free to confess that my first sight of the pamphlet brought the plots of the men we were watching very close to grim reality. I never knew just when we would get an ambulance call and have to go and pick Polignani out of the wreck of a premature explosion, and I never heard him report in on the telephone that I didn’t experience a momentary apprehension of his latest news. The detective himself was calm enough, and enthusiastic over the fact that the trail was growing hotter all the time. The question of evidence of the previous explosions was in the background now, and the activities of the Brescia Circle as a political unit did not concern us nearly as much as the activities of three of its members with their “andimonio, collorate di potase” and their pamphlet, and their hatred of the Catholic Church.
Polignani had seen this hatred demonstrated many times by Carbone. They passed two Sisters of Charity one chilly evening near the Harlem station, and the anarchist spat, and cursed them.59So the detective was not surprised by Abarno’s proposal on the night of St. Valentine’s Day that the three conspirators plant their bombs in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “We’ll go over there some day soon and look for a good place to set them. And then we’ll plant the bomb on some good holiday—say on March 21, eh?”
“What’s that day?” Polignani inquired.
“The Commune!” Abarno answered.
Polignani bought the antimony and the chlorate of potash, and at a subsequent meeting watched uneasily while Carbone tried to pulverize the antimony with a hammer. It was too hard work, however, and “Baldo” was directed to buy a small quantity of the pulverized substance. This he did. The three had meanwhile been trying to pick out a good room in an English-speaking lodging house in 29th Street, but finally gave it up and hired a furnished room at 1341 Third Avenue. There they brought their materials, consisting of twelve yards of copper wire, a trunk full of odds and ends, tools, fuse cord, and various ingredients. To this supply they wanted to add some hollow iron balls, but the hollow iron ball market was sparse, and they finally substituted three tin hand-soap cans. On February 27 Polignani and Abarno made a tour of inspection60of St. Patrick’s, and as they were descending the steps Abarno remarked that when he had destroyed the Cathedral they would turn their attention first to the Carnegie residence at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue, and then to the Rockefeller home. “We won’t wait till March 21,” he observed impatiently. “Let’s get this job done soon. Say Tuesday morning.”
A postcard received by Commissioner Woods after the arrest of the Anarchists
The message reads:
My Dear Sir
Your police Espionage may go as far as you like for the promotion of your Bankrupt Law & Order of Society. The Anarchists of New York have but one Life to give for the Ideal of Humanity and absolute Freedom of mankind the world over. yours The Society for the Propagation of absolute Liberty and Human Freedom....”
High noon of the following day saw the three plotters cheerfully at work in the furnished room. Abarno and Carbone measured carefully the proportions of sulphur, sugar, chlorate of potash and antimony; Carbone filled the tins with the mixture, and led the fuses into the heart of the mass, glancing up from time to time to the detective with real pride, as if to say: “See, Baldo? That’s how an expert works!” “Baldo” had contributed his share of the materials—a few lengths of iron rod. Carbone bound these to the outside of the cans with cord, and added a few bolts which he found in a bureau drawer, and a coat-hanger, twisted out of shape. Round and round this shapeless tangle of metal he wove copper wire, and so produced two heavy, compact bombs. Polignani had grown almost gray when, after boring the fuse holes in the can-tops, Carbone casually picked up a hammer and began to61tattoo the cans. The detective promptly took refuge behind the bed, near the floor.
“No use to hide there, Baldo!” This with a laugh from Carbone. “If she goes off she’ll blow the whole house down. How’s that, Frank?” he added, showing the finished product to Abarno.
“I’ll throw that one and you can throw the other, Carbone,” Abarno said. “Now listen. We will meet here Tuesday morning at six o’clock to the minute. We will get to the Cathedral just at 6.20. Then we’ll light the bombs, and the fuses will burn slow for twenty minutes, so as we can get over to the Madison Avenue car and then we can all get to work on time, and we will have a good alibi all right. Then we’ll get together Tuesday night and go some place and have a good time to celebrate throwing a scare into Fifth Avenue, boys! Tuesday morning, six o’clock sharp?”
Carbone and Polignani assented, and Abarno left.
Polignani kept in close touch with me from that moment forward. Ever since the day when Carbone had sent him to the drug store for black antimony, with instructions to bribe the drug clerk if he could not easily obtain it, we had had a double check on the conspirators, for I had assigned62two men to shadow them constantly. The case was building towards a climax. Polignani had shrewdly kept the slip on which Carbone wrote the prescription for the explosives, and when Carbone asked where it was he said, “I tore it up. I didn’t want it to be found on me. It would get me into trouble.” The anarchist praised the detective for his forethought. The two men from the Bomb Squad never let Abarno and Carbone out of their sight, so that for a month we had not only the direct evidence of Polignani of what the conspirators said and did in his presence, but evidence from the two shadows which accounted for their time more fully, probably, than they could have recalled themselves. And so when Polignani—who did not know he was being observed—told me of the final plans, I passed the information on to the two shadows, and we formulated a counter-campaign for Tuesday morning.
Shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, Polignani tumbled out of bed and into his clothes. He ate a hasty and nervous breakfast at a cheap lunch-room around the corner, and hurried to the sidewalk before 1341 Third Avenue, arriving a few minutes after six. Abarno joined him at 6.30.
“Where’s Carbone—isn’t he here?” he said by way of greeting.
“No,” replied “Baldo.”
“Well, we can’t wait for him. We can’t lose any time. I got to be at work at 7.30. Come up and get the bombs with me. We’ll probably meet him on the way down the street. Or maybe he’s at the shoe-shop.”
The two men went upstairs and into the third-floor-back. “Give me the key,” Abarno muttered. Polignani did so. Abarno opened the trunk and took out the two bombs. “You take one and I’ll take the other,” he whispered. “Come on. Put it under your coat.”
When they started down Third Avenue the two shadows—who had also risen early—disengaged themselves from the doorways where they were idling and proceeded at an even pace down the Avenue behind the men. A few hundred yards or so in the rear of the procession was a limousine, and I was in the limousine. I could spot the men distinctly, and I had to chuckle when I saw them catch sight of a uniformed officer a block or so ahead and hastily cross the street. The same thing occurred twice again in the course of the march. Our parade continued. No one but ourselves paid any attention to the two laborers64who were carrying lumpy bundles under their coats.
At Fifty-third Street my chauffeur turned west and slipped into high speed. We were at the Cathedral in a minute more, and I jumped out and hurried into the vestibule. No one there but three or four scrub-women, puttering around in the half-light with their mops and pails. Several hundred worshippers were already gathered in the front of the nave, where Bishop Hayes was conducting early mass. As I passed into the body of the church there was no one near except an elderly usher, with white hair and beard. I stepped into a dark corner and waited.
A matter of two or three minutes passed, though it seemed much longer. Then I saw Abarno and Polignani enter the vestibule, cross it and enter the church itself, taking their cigars out of their mouths as they turned towards the north aisle. Abarno led the way. At the tenth pew he motioned to Polignani to sit there, and Polignani obeyed, dropping to his knees in prayer. Abarno continued to the sixth pew ahead. Two of the scrub-women had deserted their mops, and were dusting the pews along the north aisle near the newcomers. Abarno rested for a moment in his pew, with his head and body bent as if in prayer,65then rose and rejoined Polignani. Again he rose, and this time moved toward the north end of the altar, where he crouched for several seconds, placing his bomb against a great pillar. With his other hand he flicked the ashes from the coal of his cigar and touched the glowing end to the fuse. He had taken perhaps three steps down the aisle again when the scrub-woman stopped plying her dust-cloth. She fastened an iron grip on Abarno’s arms and hustled him down the aisle so swiftly that no one remarked the affair. The scrub-woman was Detective Walsh, disguised. The elderly usher passed the two and hurried to the spot where Abarno had crouched by the pillar. He saw the lighted fuse and pinched it out with his fingers. The elderly usher, underneath his makeup, was Lieutenant Barnitz. Polignani was promptly placed under arrest and led to the vestibule with Abarno—for the evidence was not yet all in.
Abarno immediately suspected Carbone of treachery. He protested violently that the missing conspirator had instigated the whole affair, that it was his idea, that he had made the bombs, and that he could be found living with a Hungarian-Jewish family on the fourth floor of a house at 216 East 67th Street. He was fluent66in the accusations he made against Carbone, and he grew more fluent as he recovered from the fright of his arrest. So while we escorted the two bombs and the two prisoners to headquarters, other members of the Bomb Squad visited Carbone and placed him under arrest.
From them at headquarters we verified the story as we already knew it. Each man accused the other. Both men exonerated Polignani of any part in suggesting the plot or in making the bombs for several days after their arrest. But Polignani’s true identity could not be unknown to them indefinitely, of course, and when they found out that they had been confiding in a full-fledged detective—ah, then the storm broke! Prompted, I suspect, by pseudo-legal advice, they cried “Frame-up!” until they grew hoarse, but it was too late, for in the possession of Assistant District Attorney Arthur Train was already a sworn statement which fixed their guilt by their own confession.
The anarchists rushed to their rescue, but their efforts were chiefly verbal. At the Brescia Circle, and at I. W. W. headquarters at 64 East 4th Street, it was common gossip that counsel for the defendants were going to supply 45 or 50 witnesses to swear that Polignani had invited them to67make bombs. This I had enjoined him strictly not to do, as a newcomer who talks bombs is a suspicious character in anarchist circles. I know he obeyed. There was organized a “Carbone ed Abarno Defence Committee” with headquarters at 2205 Third Avenue, which solicited other neighboring Italian clubs with anarchistic tendencies for support of the two. Polignani’s photograph appeared presently in a New York Italian newspaper with this caption:
“The filthy carrion who by order of the Police of New York devised the bomb plot which led up to the arrest of Abarno and Carbone, now before the Courts. All of us comrades will keep this in mind.”
He received several threatening anonymous letters, some bearing the familiar “black hand,” others sketching on newspaper photographs of him the point in his anatomy at which he might expect to feel the dagger of revenge; others mere bombastic defiance. (The anonymous letter-writer is very often a courageous soul who spells out his messages with letters and words clipped from newspapers, so that his handwriting will not betray him.)
What was the reward of those five months invested in patience? The two prisoners convicted68and sentenced to terms of from six to twelve years, was one result. But a far greater one was a sharp decrease in bomb-throwing in New York, and perhaps the most gratifying was the discord which grew in the Brescia Circle. The group was frightened, and the members began to suspect each other of espionage. One former anarchist was quoted as saying that he wouldn’t even trust himself—he had been dreaming the night before that he was a spy. The Brescia Circle became disorganized, and several other similar groups in the city suffered the same fate. Their leaders drifted away—and got into more trouble, as we shall see later.
We never found the original of the treatise on bombs. Carbone said he had destroyed it. But there are probably other copies from the same press in the hands of accredited bomb-throwers. If not, they may apply to the New York police department.