Solving the Century-Old Mafia Murder of a New York Cop

American Mafia

By Nate Hendley

Police in Italy claimed to have solved the decades-old murder of New York City police officer Joseph Petrosino in Sicily.

Petrosino was one of the bravest law officers ever to walk a beat. He’s also the man I dedicated my book, The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, to.

Here’s what I wrote about Petrosino:

“At the turn of the twentieth century, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino headed up an “Italian squad” that dealt with issues in that community. One of the biggest issues facing Sicilian and Italian American immigrants was the presence of “The Black Hand.” A forerunner of the Mafia, the latter was a loose band of Italian Americans who used the (largely fictitious) specter of an underworld gang called “The Black Hand” to extort money from their countrymen. The fearless Petrosino made hundreds of Black Hand arrests and wasn’t above beating up suspects in the street for added humiliation.

In March, 1909, Petrosino traveled to Palermo, Sicily, to investigate Black Hand links with the Sicilian Mafia. On March 12, 1909, he was murdered, almost certainly by Mafia assassins. He remains the only New York City police officer killed while on assignment in another country. When his body was returned to the United States, an estimated 250,000 people viewed his coffin as it passed by on the streets of New York, mourning a brave cop.”

And now, over a century later, Italian police claimed that the long-standing mystery of who killed Joseph Petrosino has been resolved at last.

For further reading, my book The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, is available through Barnes and Noble, Amazon or directly from the publisher, ABC-CLIO.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based freelance writer and true-crime author. His website is located at


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