The Trial of the Century: The Sacco & Vanzetti Edition

The Sacco and Vanzetti Case was perhaps the very first in what would turn out to be a surprisingly robust number of Trials of the Century in the 1900’s.  The two defendants in this particular version of the trial of the century were Nicola Sacco, a cobbler of shoes, and fish peddler named Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Hardly the stuff of Trials of the Century today, which tend toward washed-up ex-athletes or washed up actors.  Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti appeared to be the type of men who would one day make headlines as the worst type of criminal threat Americans had to face, but it was a different time back then.  The America of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial was a time when the government and businesses and the media conspired to make the average Joe fear that danger from without lurked within, just around every corner, waiting to tear apart the very fabric of America by introducing a Godless ideology…hey, wait a minute. 

Sacco and Vanzetti weren’t Islamic fundamentalists bent on overthrowing America through terrorist activities.  Instead, the real threat inflated into an imaginary level at the time was anarchists who were supporters of Communism.  The Red Scare had begun as American business owners realized that the Russian Revolution held the potential of forcing them to answer the question of why people who did practically none of the work were entitled to the lion’s share of the profit.  To combat this very real threat to the carefully constructed reality that government and big business had worked hard to build, they created what has become known as the Red Scare; anything that even remotely smacked of supporting the rights of workers was framed as a threat to the foundations of American liberty and God.   

On April 15, 1920 two murders took place. The victims of the crime were Frederick Parmenter, a paymaster, and also Alessandro Berardelli, who worked as a guard in the process of transporting the money made by Slater and Morill shoe factory from its office to its factory.   Two laborers accosted Parmenter and Berardelli and fired gunshots at them from close proximity.  Afterwards, these two laborers ran away with the payroll box containing almost $16,000.   Actually, they didn’t so much run away and hop into a getaway car that suddenly appeared on the scene.  The two men stole the boxes containing the payroll, which amounted to $15,776.51. While the murder was being committed a car with several other men in it came to the scene.  

Sacco and Vanzetti were eventually arrested for committing this crime.  Not a single eyewitness ever identified either of the suspects with anything even approach certainty.  The two most important witnesses actually confessed to police that they could not make any identification.   At no time did the police ever place either Sacco or Vanzetti in a lineup.  In an almost eerie—though for probably entirely different reasons—mirror of the infamous decision by the numbskulled prosecutors in the OJ Simpson trial, the prosecutors had Sacco try on a cap that one of the witnesses had identified as being worn by the killer.   According to the Johnnie Cochrane school of justice, if the cap don’t fit, the jury must acquit.   

Sacco and Vanzetti weren’t as lucky as O.J. Simpson.