Were Sacco and Vanzetti Guilty of Payroll Murders? - Research Paper

Published: 2023-02-25
Were Sacco and Vanzetti Guilty of Payroll Murders? - Research Paper
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Penal system Death penalty Criminal justice
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1047 words
9 min read


Italians Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were electrocuted on August 23, 1927, in Braintree, Massachusetts, after being convicted of robbery and the first-degree murder of Alessandro Berardelli and Frederick Parmenter (Alba 32). Berardelli and Parmenter were transporting payroll of the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company on April 15, 1920, when two men robbed and killed them. After the incidence, the robbers escaped with a dark blue Buick accompanied by other men. Webster Thayer and other prosecutors involved in the case obtained some evidence that somehow linked Sacco and Vanzetti to the crime scene. Firstly, investigators found Sacco in possession of the Colt Model 1903 automatic pistol that had automatic cartridges with bullets similar to the ones found at the crime scene. Vanzetti possessed 38-caliber Harrington & Richardson revolver that resembled the one carried by Berardelli.

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Additionally, prosecutors depended on the evidence offered by witnesses who claimed to have seen the two men around the scene. However, all these pieces of evidence were offered controversially, and seemingly, the defense team presented a more valid case than prosecutors. Prosecutors for the case manipulated evidence, including attaching parts of the weapons found at the scene to those of Sacco and Vanzetti. At the time, anarchism had spread across the United States and globally, and some scholars have explained the desire to suppress anarchism must have influenced the controversial verdict (Alba 32). This research paper discusses why Sacco and Vanzetti were not guilty of payroll murders.

A Possible Manipulation of Witnesses and Evidence

Individuals who witnessed against Sacco and Vanzetti based their claims on the possible resemblance of physical features of the suspects with those of the individuals they had seen in the crime scene (Alba 32). The other evidence was weapons that investigators found in the home of Sacco (Tejada 200). Witnesses had been under immense pressure to testify in favor of complainants. Witnesses of Vanzetti confirmed that they were with him selling fishes on streets during the day the robbery and murders happened. Some of the witnesses testified in an imperfect English, which also hampered the effectiveness of their evidence. Even worse is that, prosecutors allowed cross-examination that made witnesses appear confused in some critical facts (Tejada 200). In the same vein, Vanzetti's counsel, attorney Vahey, might have been pressurized to misguide his client. Vahey advised Vanzetti not to testify in his defense, and in so doing, he made prosecutors more likely to offer the verdict of guilty. Concerning weapons, attorneys could not convincingly link guns possessed by Sacco and Vanzetti to the features of firearms found at the crime scene. In 1924, firearm experts inspected Sacco's weapon and found that its barrel and other parts had been exchanged with the parts of the firearm obtained from the crime, suggesting that someone might have planted evidence on the two suspects.

Medeiros Confession

In 1925, Celestino Medeiros, who was awaiting trial for anarchist acts, confessed to having perpetrated payroll robbery and murders (Grippo 169). Given that Medeiros was a known murderer, the new evidence should have convinced prosecutors to examine the case from a different perspective (Grippo 169). However, Judge Thayer denied appeals for a new trial arguing that Medeiros's confession lacked credibility. Such confirmed prosecutors' biases against Sacco and Vanzetti. In 1927, the Massachusetts governor appointed an advisory committee to determine if prosecutors for this case had been following fair procedures. However, he discovered that most committee members were also biased against the defendants.

The Influence of Anarchism

In the 1900s, anarchism had spread around the globe and threatened a stable functioning of most governments. Anarchists like Luigi Galleani advocated widely for revolutionary violence that included bombing and assassination (Peter David Documentaries 6:21). In the United States, anarchists perpetrated various violent acts, including the bombing of the home of General Mitchell Palmer, the former attorney. As a consequence, the U.S. government identified Galleanist groups as its most dangerous enemies, and this meant that any suspected anarchist would face severe consequences (Peter David Documentaries 6:21). Before the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti, Andrea Salsedo, a Galleanist, died while in the Justice Department. Reports from the department indicated that Salsedo committed suicide, but later findings revealed that the anarchist must have been thrown out of the window. Indeed, before the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti, Thayer, who was the presiding judge, gave a speech decrying the threats that anarchists posed to the U.S. In the trials, judges depended on invalid or manipulated evidence, which made many sympathizers wonder why they confirmed the two men as guilty. Therefore, given the prevailing political circumstances of the time, the verdict was not founded on any facts; instead, it only intended to suppress anarchism (Thomas Para. 28). Analogically, if a terror attack occurs across America, Muslim Americans will be the primary suspects, mainly due to the legacies of the 9/11 attacks. The same goes for African Americans and racial profiling that makes the police always to hold blacks responsible for criminal acts. These comparisons support the fact that judges might have manipulated evidence due to biases against anarchism. On the other hand, the trials reflected the Ku Klux Klan ideologies that had unjustly eliminated African Americans and other immigrants in the previous century due to the growth of nationalism (Alba 31). The difference, however, is that Ku Klux Klan members adopted violence, but prosecutors in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti eliminated anarchists using legal mechanisms.


The trials of Sacco and Vanzetti were arguably the most controversial in the history of America. Despite the lack of reliable evidence, judges made the verdict of guilt. Also, several manipulations that occurred, including pressurizing witnesses, requiring a cross-examination to confuse defense's witnesses, planting of evidence, and the other unfair procedures, confirm that Sacco and Vanzetti were probably innocent.

Works Cited

Alba, Richard. "Sacco and Vanzetti and the Immigrant Threat."Contexts 10.2 (2011): 30-35.

Grippo, Theodore W. With Malice Aforethought: The Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2011. Print.

Peter David Documentaries. In search of history- The true story of Sacco and Vanzetti (History Channel Documentary), YouTube, 9 May 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh_6hq1h5jU.

Tejada, Susan M. In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti: Double Lives, Troubled Times, and the Massachusetts Murder Case That Shook the World. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012.

Thomas, Myles. "Terror in New York - Sacco and Vanzetti."ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 5 May 2017, https://1927-the-diary-of-myles-thomas.espn.com/terror-in-new-york-sacco-and-vanzetti-b0dbf9583bea.

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