From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
In 1911, news broke of a murder that would rock the Sault Ste. Marie’s west end . . . and send shockwaves around the world.
Born in Italy in the 1880s, Angelina Napolitano married her husband Pietro as a teenager. In the early 1900s, the Napolitanos immigrated to North America, first living in New York City, then Thessalon, and finally moving to Sault Ste. Marie in 1909. In the Sault, they settled on James Street, the couple and their four children living in a four-room apartment.
While the Sault Daily Star reported that their marriage was happy in Italy, it soon deteriorated during their time in North America. At that point, “the man became morose” and “urged his wife to lead a life of shame.”
Jealous of other families’ money and more comfortable lifestyles, Pietro tried to push her into prostitution, telling her to “do bad business” for extra money. In 1910, Pietro left her, and she temporarily “took up with” another man, Nish, whom she took on as a boarder to help pay the rent. Pietro did not leave permanently, however, and Angelina was soon back with him; shortly after that, Pietro stabbed her, causing injuries so severe that she had to be hospitalized for weeks. Pietro was arrested but released shortly after, without charges.
According to Angelina, Pietro’s drinking – and their arguing – increased in the following months. In April of 1911, on Easter Sunday, things came to a head. Pietro demanded that Angelina earn money for him that day, under threat of killing her or separating her from her children. That afternoon, while Pietro napped after a shift at the steel plant, Angelina took an axe and killed him.
Immediately upon killing her husband, she told her neighbours what she had done, saying, “I just killed a pig.” She continued to be open about what she had done, and about her husband’s behaviour towards her.
In May of 1911, Angelina appeared on trial for the murder of Pietro Napolitano. While she initially had no lawyer, the court appointed Uriah McFadden to argue her case. While multiple witnesses testified to her guilt, only Angelina spoke in her own defense; her testimony took the form of what would now be considered the battered woman defense.
After a trial that lasted only three hours, Angelina Napolitano was found guilty of the murder of her husband. The Sault Daily Star reported that even though the jury recommended she be shown mercy, the judge sentenced her to hang.
Aug. 9, 1911 was to be the day of her execution. Napolitano was pregnant with her fifth child; according to the prison physicians’ estimation, her execution would be approximately two weeks after the child’s birth. She would have her baby, and then she would hang.
However, that was far from the end of her story so check back next week for the rest of her story.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.