The Italian Squad
The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia
(2023, NYU Press)
by Paul Moses
The author in conversation with
Maria Laurino, author and journalist, NYU
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The unknown inside story of the NYPD’s Italian-born detectives who fought both powerful gangsters and the deeply ingrained prejudice against their own beloved immigrant community. The story begins in Sicily, on Friday, March 12, 1909, at 8:45 p.m. Three gunshots thundered in the night, and then a fourth. Two men fled, and investigators soon discovered who they had killed: Giuseppe Petrosino, the legendary American detective whose exploits in New York were celebrated even in Italy.
The Italian Squad, by veteran New York City journalist and historian Paul Moses, explores the lives of the nationally celebrated detectives who followed in the slain Petrosino’s footsteps as leaders of the New York City investigative squad: Anthony Vachris, Charles Corrao, and Michael Fiaschetti. Drawing on new primary sources such as private diaries and city, state, and federal documents, this dramatic narrative history follows the Italian Squad across the first two decades of the twentieth century as its detectives battled increasingly powerful gangsters, political obstacles and deeply ingrained prejudice against their own beloved Italian immigrant community.
Vachris, Corrao, and Fiaschetti became, like Petrosino, famous for meting out tough justice to criminals who comprised the “Black Hand.” Beyond trying to prevent horrific crimes—nighttime bombings in crowded tenements, kidnappings that targeted children at play, gangland shootings that killed innocent bystanders—the Italian Squad commanders hoped to persuade society of what they knew for themselves: that their fellow immigrant Italians, so often maligned, would make good American citizens.
In this explosive story, Moses carefully strips away the mythology that has always enveloped the Italian Squad and offers instead a nuanced portrait of brave but flawed men who fought the good fight for their people and their city.
Paul Moses is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at CUNY-Brooklyn College and a former reporter and editor at Newsday. He is the author of An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians and The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace.