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  • Writer's picturePatty Vitale

The People vs. Domenico Caldarelli

This week Eli is in New York City on business, so I came up to visit the NYC Municipal Archives. Dad took a train in from Massachusetts and met me here. My great-great-grandfather, Domenico Caldarelli, immigrated from Naples, Italy to New York around 1890. I found him listed in the 1900 census as a prisoner in Sing Sing, so I set out to discover how he ended up there.

Earlier this year I went to the New York State Archives to review the Sing Sing records, and discovered he was sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter. Unfortunately the prison records had no details about the case or the circumstances. I learned that the court records could be found in the Municipal Archives, so I’ve been wanting to get there all year. Well, here I am!

I had to start with records on microfilm – always tedious – but I was able to find Domenico in an index of criminal defendants. This record had some great info that I needed, like the date the complaint was filed against him, the dates of his indictment and arraignment, and the original charge – first degree murder. Using the dates, I was able to find the minutes of two court proceedings which contained the name of the victim. It was handwritten and difficult to read so I’m still trying to decipher it, but it looks like Giuseppe Buoncuo. These records from 1897 are largely handwritten and didn’t translate very well to microfilm, so reading them can be a challenge. I was also disappointed to discover that none of these records contained an account of what happened and how Domenico came to kill this man.

Fortunately, one document also provided a case number, and I learned that I can order the actual paper file. Unfortunately, however, it takes a week for the record to arrive at the archives, and I’m heading home in two days. The woman who was helping me said she would call me when she receives the file. If it’s not too big, I can order copies and have them mailed to me. If it’s large, I’ll have to come back to review it in person. Well, you won’t have to twist my arm too hard to come back up to New York. I mean, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, right?

So I made great progress, but my search for the full story continues. Tomorrow we’re heading back over to Little Italy, where we spent some time yesterday. We found the address where the Caldarelli’s lived on Mulberry Street and I took a photo, but we were there after dark and it was very cold, so we want to go back and get a better look around and some better photos. We also want to visit the address where Domenico was arrested, which is just a block away from their home address. And there’s also an Italian American Museum in the neighborhood that’s only open on weekends, so we’ll have plenty to do on our return trip to Little Italy tomorrow.

Below are the minutes from one of the court proceedings. This was the easiest one to read. The victim’s last name looks like Buoncuo here, but it looks quite different on the other document and when I google the last name I get almost nothing, leading me to believe I’m reading it wrong.

Minutes of court proceeding

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