On the morning of January 3, 1947, groggy Brooklynites rolled out of bed, brewed their morning cup of coffee, and settled down at their kitchen tables to be greeted by the hard stares of nine men glaring out from above the masthead of the Brooklyn Eagle with this warning: "Keep your eyes peeled for these escaped felons. Call the police immediately if you spot them."
The nine fugitives had broken out from Brooklyn's decrepit Raymond Street Jail the day before, January 2nd, and by the time the Eagle's morning edition came out the next day, news of their escape had spread throughout the city. Alarm surely followed on its heels, as the escapees all had a long history of arrests and were considered very dangerous. Alfred Minutolo was reportedly the most dangerous of the bunch, having served time in the notorious Alcatraz prison for partipating in an armed robbery in 1932. His record also included assault and robbery with a gun, kidnapping, and two other escapes from prison authorities. Anthony Aiello murdered another man over a dice game, and despite the supposed benefits of a lucky horseshoe tattoo on his right arm, Salvatore "Patti" D'Aula was looking at a 25 to 50 year sentence for assault and robbery when he and his cohorts fled the jail.
The fortress-like -- in appearances, at least -- Raymond Street Jail, on the northeast corner of Dekalb Avenue and Ashland Place (the street name was changed in 1927).
The jail itself was, to the consternation of citizens and city officials alike, falling apart. By 1947 the Raymond Street Jail was 110 years old and considered woefully inadequate for its task as a detention center for prisoners awaiting sentencing. In 1900 a Kings County grand jury declared the jail "unsanitary and unhuman" and eleven years later State Prison Commissioner Henry Solomon himself said it was, "worse than a Siberian prison."
Although the escape of nine convicts in 1947 was certainly the largest break the jail had seen, it was not the first. Inmates had escaped by scaling prison walls, by climbing an elevator shaft cable, and by smuggling in hacksaws to cut prison bars throughout the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. In 1929 three inmates plotted to free the entire prison population of 500 convicts, although authorities managed to block the attempt. Despite the worrying permeability of Raymond Street's prison walls, campaigns to raze the jail and build a new one had gone unfulfilled.
Above, a 1888 print from the National Police Gazette shows the escape of Raymond St. Jail inmate Paul Honnich, aka John Krause, who descended from the third floor of the prison to the street on a rope made of towels and dirty laundry.
The escape plan for Minutolo, D'Aula, Aiello, et al was a laughably simple one. After sawing through a bar on one of the jail's windows, the men jumped into an alley that ran between the jail and a high wall. A helpful pile of garbage proved good climbing material, and the convicts were able to scramble up to the top of the wall and over a fence.
A policeman points out the broken window bar.
On January 15th, the Eagle reported the story of an eyewitness to the escape, a 13-year-old boy who said he'd seen the prisoners climb the wall into the park while on his way back to school after lunch. One of the men, who was identified as Anthony Abbandola, even stopped to chat with the boy before the group strolled on to Myrtle Avenue.
"It's cold, isn't it?" Abbandola said to the boy.
"Yes, and you have only a sweater," the boy replied. They went on to talk "in a friendly way" about the boy's school before Abbandola said, "So long," and joined his partners.
A condemning trail of tracks in the snow showed how nonchalantly the Raymond Street Nine of 1947 carried off their escape, in broad daylight, from the prison and into Fort Greene Park.
If breaking out of prison was a cakewalk, though, staying out of prison proved a much trickier task. Police made their first recapture on January 3rd, scoring two fugitives in one day. D'Aula, of the good-luck tattoo, surrendered himself to the Bath Beach police station after spending a day and a half riding subways and picking up cheap meals. Upon his capture, he told police he would rather, "be a live prisoner than a dead fugitive." Minutolo's brief taste of freedom was also brought to an end with a whimper, not a bang, when police found him hiding out in a church in Montvale, New Jersey. The tough guy from Alcatraz sounded a little disappointed when he realized only two policemen had tracked him to the church, saying, "I thought you had 15 or 20 men here. If I knew you were alone it wouldn't have been so easy."
Despite the first flush of success, and the interrogations of the two captured prisoners, it was nearly another three weeks before any more fugitives were recovered. On January 20th, two rookie cops dropped in at 2030 Dean Street after getting a tip from a neighbor woman. There they found the chatty Anthony Abbandola reading a newspaper. He was promptly arrested.
Above, a bedraggled Abbandola and his captors.
During his three fleeting weeks of freedom, Abbandola lived an adventure straight out of a film noir. In the Eagle's recounting of his exploits, he comes across as not just a plucky convict who planned and lead the breakout (it was Abbandola who wielded the hacksaw to break through the window bars), but also as an audacious, compelling, and almost romantic character driven as much by love as by desperation. A few days after his escape, Abbandola found himself wandering the streets of midtown Manhattan. Near Times Square, he made the acquaintance of a pretty redhead who called herself Mary Russo. Her real name was Rose De Carlo (she had a police record of her own) and when she was also apprehended by authorities on January 25th, she and Abbandola's tales of the past weeks combined to paint a pulp-novel picture of love, betrayal, and bus tickets.
De Carlo tells her side of the story to Assistant District Attorney John E. Cone, Jr., January 26, 1947.
After meeting on the street, Abbandola and De Carlo went for a stroll together, passing by the Roxy Theater, which at that very moment was being searched by police on a tip that one of the escapees was there. Although De Carlo told Abbandola she recognized him as one of the city's most wanted men, the two quickly developed a romance. According to De Carlo, Abbandola was hiding out at 2042 Dean Street, home of a Mrs. Harriet Shepherd, who also had romantic designs on the criminal Casanova. The jealousy between the two women "strained relations" at the hideout, so Abbandola and De Carlo jumped ship on January 17th and bought bus tickets to Elkton, Maryland, for a quickie marriage. Once they arrived there, Abbandola asked his love to wait for him while he went to get a marriage license (under the assumed name Larry Costa). Abbandola returned to find that his blushing bride-to-be had "flown the coop."
Undaunted, Abbandola rushed back to Brooklyn -- back to a city swarming with police set on finding and imprisoning him -- to retrieve his girl, whom he was certain had gotten cold feet and returned to Flatbush. He was wrong, and police shortly picked up him at his hideout, with De Carlo's unused bus ticket still in his pocket. It was Mrs. Shephard who called in the tip that Abbandola was now hiding out a few houses down the street. De Carlo had in reality fled to Philadelphia, but she didn't abandon her lover entirely -- she sent letters to Abbandola at the 2030 Dean Street address, which were intercepted by police. "It was not because I didn't love him," De Carlo said, in explaining her dash from the altar, "but because of a personal reason."
Meanwhile, while the melodrama unfolded, another fugitive had been pulled in. Christopher "Spud" Elsis was caught on January 22nd at a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey, sipping a highball. Four down, five to go.
Elsis, right, on his way back to Brooklyn in handcuffs.
Carmine Emmino surrendered in the wee hours of the morning of January 27th, fearing that other recent crimes, including the theft of $20,000 of the Brooklyn Eagle's own payroll, would be pinned on him. After resisting interrogators for some time, Emmino admitted it was he who had procured the hacksaw by smuggling it in from an outside contact during visiting hours.
Police picked up the sixth fugitive, George Gurinowitch, on February 1st, at a Manhattan bar. He had been busy during his time away from prison as well; with the help of a friend, Philip De Caro, Gurinowitch held up two bars in Greenpoint and three bookmakers throughout Brooklyn. The seventh and eighth jailbreakers were reeled in later that same day. Edmund Godfrey and William Duffy were holed up in a "run-down, shabby, old-law apartment house" at 33 Allen Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Police found the pair drowsing on a dirty mattress, but Godfrey and Duffy promptly woke and reached under their pillows for guns. The Eagle described their capture in colorful terms: "These were the toughest babies of the escaped nine -- but they didn't get a chance to show their abilities. Inspector Reynolds jumped on Duffy, shouting, 'You blankety-blank, we'll kill you!'"
Two bed-headed blankety-blanks, Godfrey and Duffy, at police headquarters.
That left only one man on the loose -- Anthony Aiello, the worst of the lot, the confessed killer. Police were confident that with all eight of his accomplices in prison, Aiello would surely be nabbed soon. But he was a wilier creature than his cohorts, and the rest of February passed without an arrest. The recaptured members of the Raymond Street Nine, meanwhile, were given sentences ranging from three-and-a-half to seven years for their participation in the jailbreak. This was on top of the sentences for the crimes that had landed them in the Raymond Street Jail in the first place. Gurinowitch was handed an additional 20 to 30 years for the spree of heists he conducted during his time away from prison, and loverboy Abbandola was slapped with an additional 15 to 30 years for a bookie holdup he managed to fit into his busy schedule.
The search for Aiello continued, its scope widening into a nationwide manhunt as March wore on without any leads. To the frustration of policemen all over New York, Aiello made none of the mistakes that had trapped his predecessors. He didn't join up with an old gang of ne'er-do-wells and start knocking over dimestores and bars. He didn't crack under the pressure of life on the run and give himself up. And he didn't show his face anywhere in the tri-state area . . . or maybe it had been so long since the jailbreak that people forgot what he looked like?
On April 4th, ambulance driver Charles Ryan -- who had a reputation for "never forgetting a face" -- was driving his rig down Atlantic Avenue, near the intersection with Clinton Avenue, when a certain character ambling slowly down the street caught his eagle eye. "I knew him at once by the shape of his face," Ryan later said. It was Aiello, walking along one of Brooklyn's busiest thoroughfares at three in the afternoon, less than a mile away from the prison from which he'd escaped three months before. As it turned out, Ryan had known Aiello years before, when they both lived in the Red Hook neighborhood. Ryan spotted a beat cop nearby, the impressively named Thaddeus Kuglent, and alerted him to Aiello's conspicuous presence. Aiello was cuffed and brought in to the Butler Street police station. And with that, the last of the Raymond Street Nine was captured.
Aiello, left, handcuffed to his captor Kuglent, who was promoted to detective for collaring Brooklyn's most wanted criminal.
Aiello gave a statement to newspapers before his arraignment in court the next day. Those hoping for the kind of scintillating crime stories that were unearthed by Abbandola's interrogation were disappointed by Aiello's meek confession, "I wish I had stayed in [jail]. It was another one of those mistakes I am always making." During his time on the lam, Aiello hadn't strayed any further than New Jersey, where he picked up work as a farm hand for a couple of weeks before returning to the city. His final statement was one of sad defeat: "If I had my life to live over again I certainly would do some other things. I'd be a church member."