The Murder of a Bootlegger

It’s easy to see the effects prohibition had on large cities, such as Chicago, making millionaires out of individuals like Al Capone, who had an estimated net worth of $100 million in 1927.  While it was more easily enforced in rural communities where the citizens supported the temperance movement which lead to prohibition, newspapers during the 1920s are littered with individuals getting caught for bootlegging, operating stills and drunkenness.  Mansfield was no exception to this behavior and other criminal activity associated with it.  This was particularly true when the mutilated body of Peter Aiello was found frozen in the Rocky Fork creek under the Bowman Street Road bridge on the afternoon of February 28, 1928.

aiello

From The Mansfield News 28 FEB 1928 p. 1

According to Coroner B. E. Shreffler, Aiello was stabbed and beaten to death early Tuesday morning of the 28th and his body was thrown into the creek from the bridge on Bowman Street.  Aiello was a known bootlegger, being once convicted, and when police searched his home on Grace Street after his death, they discovered a still.  “After the officers had investigated the various rooms and were about to leave the residence, Chief McClure noted a small rubber tube in the bathroom wall.  Further investigation showed that the hose lead to the attic.  There the officers found a large still going full force.”  Also in the attic was found “more than 300 gallons of mash, 15 gallons of finished booze and plenty of rye grain.” According to the article in the February 29, 1928 edition of The Mansfield New, police were informed Aiello was a former restaurant proprietor and had recently sold his business at 303 North Main Street, though city directories indicate no restaurant at this location.

A woman by the name of Pauline Hawk, or Houk, last saw Aiello at 7 p.m. the night before his body was discovered.  He had left the house to go buy cigarettes and told her he would return by 8 o’clock.  Aiello was last seen at Tony Daly’s store, located at East Sixth and North Diamond, between the hours of 7 and 8.  It was believed that Aiello was stabbed first then taken to the bridge where he was struck several times with a gas pipe found lying there.  According to the coroner, the stab wounds would have caused death, but not immediately.  Aiello was still alive, though unconscious, when he was thrown off the bridge.  There were three stab wounds in a “convex form,” it was thought by police that this was some sort of “special marking.”

The body of Aiello was found about 1 o’clock on the afternoon of February 28, 1928.  Charles Lex was driving east on Bowman and saw a man standing at the bridge acting strangely.  When Lex got out and asked the man what was wrong he pointed to the body partially embedded in ice.  Lex notified Sheriff R. A. Schad and the city police.  The coroner believed the body had been there since about 3 o’clock in the morning.

aiellobridge

From The Mansfield News Journal 17 JAN 1951 p. 11

It was believed by police that Aiello had been “taken for a ride” because of money he owed to bootleggers and that he was connected to a “rum ring” in Cleveland, where he had purchased his liquor supplies on credit.  Among his clothing was a bill of sale for his automobile which was traced to Marion and papers which connected him to a man in Cleveland.  Neither of these leads led anywhere and Aiello’s case was added to the list of unsolved murders in Richland County.  Pietro Aiello had been in the United States for 12 years, he was buried in Mansfield Catholic Cemetery after a service at St. Peters Catholic Church.

Sources:

The Mansfield News, 29 FEB 1928, p. 1.
The Mansfield News, 01 MAR 1928, p. 13.
The Mansfield News, 02 MAR 1928, p. 9.
The Mansfield News Journal, 17 JAN 1951, p. 11.
The Mansfield News Journal, 18 JAN 1951, p. 11.

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