FAMOUS BRAINTREE MURDERS
STILL POSES MYSTERY
Who were the two men
The Patriot Ledger
Eighty-five years ago tomorrow, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested and charged with armed robbery and murder, and the judicial and political wheels began turning in one of the world's most famous legal cases.
Their eventual executions inspired dozens of books, poems, songs and plays, most of which are sympathetic to the two Italian anarchists who many feel were victims of prejudice and the political climate.
Little, however, is known about Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli, the two men repeatedly shot in broad daylight on April 15, 1920, and left to die on a dusty South Braintree street as they were on their way to hand out pay envelopes to shoe factory workers.
"Very little has been written about those two gentlemen," said John Dennehy, chairman of the Braintree Historical Society. "The fact they have local ties certainly warrants more attention. More people should know about them."
No known photographs of Parmenter or Berardelli exist in the volumes of records at Harvard University or the Boston Public Library. Neither of the historical societies of Braintree or Quincy, where Parmenter and Berardelli lived at the time of their murders, have any special collections on the men. And The Patriot Ledger's accounts from the time have scant information about the two victims.
Paul Powers, a Braintree native now living in Salem, studied the case about 10 years ago to satisfy his curiosity about what happened. He said all he could find on Parmenter and Berardelli were some brief mentions in old newspaper articles.
"It's sad that there is so little information on the two of them," he said. "They were two human lives regardless of who pulled the trigger."
Recent research by The Patriot Ledger turned up some information about Parmenter, a Hartford, Conn., native who moved to the South Shore in the early 1900s. Parmenter was a well-known figure in Avon, where he served as a selectman from 1917 to 1919, and as president and a member of the board of directors of Avon Baptist Church.
During that time, he was a payroll clerk at the former Slater-Morrill shoe company on Pearl Street in Braintree. He and his family moved to a house at 55 West St. in Braintree sometime in 1919.
At about 3 p.m. on April 15, 1920, after receiving the week's payroll from Boston, Parmenter, 45, set out on foot from the company's offices on Railroad Avenue, just outside South Braintree Square, for the short walk across the railroad tracks and Pearl Street to the main factory building.
He was accompanied by Alessandro Berardelli, an Italian immigrant who had been a watchman for the shoe company for about a year. Berardelli lived at 102 Phipps St. in Quincy with his wife, Sarah, and two children, a 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.
The two men each carried a metal box containing a total of $15,776.
As they crossed in front of the shoe factory, they were approached by two men who had been leaning against a fence. One grabbed Berardelli and shot him. Berardelli fell to the ground, dropping his case. The gunman then shot him three more times.
When Parmenter turned to see what was going on, he was shot twice.
Berardelli died in the street. According to a Patriot Ledger account from April 16, 1920, "(Berardelli's) wife was prostrated by the news of her husband's death, which was brought to her by a Patriot Ledger reporter about an hour after the shooting."
Berardelli's death certificate at Quincy City Hall listed his burial place as Waterbury, Conn.
Parmenter was rushed to Quincy City Hospital, where doctors operated on him. He died at 5 a.m. the next day after briefly being able to talk with police. According to the Braintree Observer, the town's weekly paper at the time, Parmenter was survived by his wife of 22 years, Hattie, and a son, Richard, 11, and a daughter, Jeanette, 6. He was buried in Melrose Cemetery in Brockton with Masonic rites.
The Observer published a letter from a friend of Parmenter's in May 1920 extolling the murdered clerk.
"He was a man of sterling qualities, generous to a fault, Christian in every way and ready at all times to help those who were unfortunate and needed aid whenever and wherever he could," the unattributed letter said.
Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted of the robberies and murders in 1921 and executed in 1927, despite massive protests that included a letter from Berardelli's widow that the men deserved a new trial. In 1977, then-Gov. Michael Dukakis formally cleared the anarchists, saying the "stigma or disgrace should forever be removed from the names" Sacco and Vanzetti. But no mention was made of Parmenter or Berardelli.
Eli C. Bortman, a Babson College professor who recently wrote a book on the case for the "New England Remembers" historical series, said he cannot remember coming across any detailed accounts of the two victims during his research.
"So many criminal trials today have a focus on the surviving relatives. There really was no focus like that at all here," he said. "The trail they really got off onto was about (Sacco's and Vanzetti's) anarchism and political beliefs."
While a bas relief sculpture of Sacco and Vanzetti hangs in the Boston Public Library, the spot where Parmenter and Berardelli were killed stands unacknowledged in front of the landscaped slopes of Pearl Plaza.
A spokeswoman for Francis X. Messina, who owns the land, said there are plans to erect some sort of memorial but that no timetable has been set.
Rick Collins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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