Gangster Kills Two of New York’s Finest


Murderer continues to kill after arrest

The neighborhood around Mulberry Street is known as Little Italy and is a tourist attraction for visitors around the world.  But for decades the area was a dangerous slum filled with dilapidated buildings and poor immigrants. First the Irish and then Italians were the primary groups settling in this area. 

By 1913, the area was populated almost entirely by Italian immigrants.  One of these families was the tight-knit Scillitano family with their troubled son Oresto.  By the time Oresto Scillitano (sometime seen as Scillitani) was 14 he had already quit his job working in a paper box factory and was regularly getting arrested for larceny.  At the age of 19 after yet another arrest he was sentenced to a term at Sing Sing prison.  The stint did not reform him from his penchant for theft and did not cure him of his short temper.

On May 3, 1913, Michael Scillitano, Oresto’s father, was in a pool hall at 235 Mulberry Street.  Michael got into a dispute with John Rizzo over money owed from an illegal gun sale.  Rizzo either insulted or struck the elder Scillitano, which was the last mistake he ever made.  Oresto was a few doors down and got wind of the squabble. 

Hustling to the scene he found Rizzo in front of 235 Mulberry.  Assessing the situation, he acted quickly and fatally.  Oresto produced a .38 caliber revolver and put a pill in John Rizzo’s head.  Rookie NYPD Patrolman William Heaney from the 12th Precinct (modern day 5th Precinct) was walking his beat and heard the shot.  He responded and seeing the body in the street and Scillitano standing over it, he attempted to make an arrest. 

Scillitano had no intention of going back to Sing Sing.  He opened fire on the rookie cop, striking him in the head and chest.  Heaney died instantly.  Patrolman Charles Teare also heard the shots and responded.  Teare heard the additional shots as he turned a corner onto the block.  He engaged in a shootout with Scillitano and was shot twice in the neck.  He would die the next day at St. Vincent’s hospital. 

Oresto Scillitano, still uninjured fled the scene.  A nation-wide manhunt was on until June 13 when he surrendered to the police.  He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to death.  But Oresto was not done dealing in death.  On June 21, 1916, eight days before his scheduled execution, someone smuggled a pistol into Sing Sing.  Corrections Officer Daniel McCarthy was opening the cop killer’s cell and was shot to death.  Oresto grabbed his keys and escaped the prison. 

His freedom was short lived.  He was captured after a swim in the Hudson and returned to his cell.  Oresto Scillitano shuffled off this mortal coil on June 30, 1916, when Sing Sing executioner John Hurlburt flipped the switch to the prison’s electric chair.

Christopher Flanagan


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