A few days after Weegee’s photo of oblivious New York squirrels hoarding acorns in Battery Park was published in PM and a few days after the record-breaking heat in the beginning of October 1941, Weegee went to Brooklyn and photographed a small crowd, with some people responding to, and others perhaps oblivious of, a crime scene. He also photographed a bloody body lying in the street, the same body half-covered in newspapers, and a pair of fellow photojournalists on and near a police van.
We know some information. Who the victim was: Peter Mancuso was shot in the head and heart. We know when it happened: 3:00-3:30, Wednesday afternoon, October 8, 1941. Where it happened: Roebling and N. 6th Street in Brooklyn. We know the weather: It was a seasonable 76 degrees. In an attempt to figure out exactly what happened on a Wednesday afternoon, 78 years ago, and why it happened, below are contemporaneous newspaper accounts:
PM, October 9, 1941, p.15 (2007.15.254)
Brooklyn School Children See Gambler Murdered in Street
Pupils were just leaving P.S. 143, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, at 3:15 yesterday when Peter Mancuso, 22, described by police as a small-time gambler, pulled up in a 1931 Ford at a traffic light a block from the school. Up to the car stepped a gunman, who fired twice and escaped through the throng of children. Mancuso, shot through the head and the heart, struggled to the running board and collapsed dead on the pavement. Above are some of the spectators. The older woman is Mancuso’s aunt, who lives in the neighborhood and the boy tugging at the hair of the girl in front of him is her son, hurrying her away. Below is what they saw as a priest, flanked by an ambulance doctor and a detective, said the last rites of the Church over the body.
PM, October 9, 1941, p.15
“Comforting News About Bombs” is a favorable book review of “Bombs and Bombing” (Modern Age Books, $1.25) by the prolific writer (speculative fiction database) Willy Lev. (Lev was also editing “PM‘s New Weapons Page.”) The slim, 121 pages, volume provides information about the war in Europe (“New Nazi Advance Threatens Moscow From South,” a headline from PM, October 9, 1941), bombs, and bomb-dropping that “every citizen should know” – essential, practical information, and useful in understanding the news. “And in these days who knows when such information may come in handy?”
The New York Times, October 9, 1941, p.13
Buffalo Evening News, October 10, 1941, and Hudson Register, October 10, 1941
School Children See Street Killing
Varying reactions are mirrored in the faces of these Brooklyn school children who saw Peter Mancuso, 23, shot to death in a busy street. The killer, darting into the group of children, escaped pursuing police. In the rear, weeping is Mrs. Angelina Derazio, aunt of the victim, attempting to push her way through the crowd.
Hudson Register, Hudson, NY, October 10, 1941, p.1
Eyewitness to Tragedy. Mrs. Angeline Derazio, center, attempts frantically to push through a group of school children who saw her nephew, Peter Mancuso, 23, shot down in a busy Brooklyn street Wednesday. The lone slayer darted into the crowd of children as they quit school and police were unable to shoot at him.
Buffalo Evening News, October, 1941
Auto Driver Slain On Brooklyn Street
New York – (AP) – A man identified by police as Peter Mancuso, 22, was shot and killed yesterday by two unidentified assailants who fired at least 10 pistol shots at him as he passed in his car and sent frightened women and children scurrying to cover in a crowded Brooklyn street.
Knickerbocker News, October 9, 1941, p.A9
Dice Racketeer’s Slayers Hunted In Gang Dives
Pair Escape in Throng Of School Children as Cop Withholds Fire
Police today searched gangster hangouts in Brooklyn for two men who yesterday afternoon shot and killed Peter Mancuso, 22, of 7505 15th Ave., on a Greenpoint street swarming with children on their way home from school.
Mancuso, in a car owned by Vito Pellicrio of 230 S. 4th St., drew up at Roebling and N. 6th Sts.at 3:20 p.m., when two men walked up, opened the car door and entered into a conversation – apparently a quarrel – with Mancuso.
Cop Hears Gunfire
Patrolman Theodore Hanson of the Bedford Ave. Precinct, on duty at Roebling and N. 5th Sts., a block away, was told by a passing sanitation truck driver that there was a quarrel down the block. He started toward the scene and before he reached it two shots were fired and Mancuso, with one bullet in his head and another in his heart, dropped out of the car to the street.
The patrolman saw two men hurry away and he started in pursuit, drawing his service revolver as he ran.
Both Make Their Escape
Schoolchildren were everywhere on the streets and Hanson did not dare shoot at a distance for fear of striking one of them. At N. 7th St. one of the fugitives disappeared and the other slipped into a building at N. 7th and Havermeyer Sts. Police surrounded the block, searching every apartment, hallway, cellar and roof, but the second fugitive escaped.
Deputy Chief Inspector William Reynolds, in charge of detectives, said Mancuso was a petty racketeer, who, with several partners, ran street dice games from which they took a profit of about $20 per game. The shooting may have developed in a quarrel over a split of the profits.
Brooklyn Eagle, October 9, 1941, p.3
Man Surrenders For Murder Quiz
Accompanied by his attorney, Anthony Darrigo, 24, of 147 North 7th St. surrendered last night at the office of District Attorney O’Dwyer in connection with the shooting of Peter Mancuso, petty gambler, on Wednesday afternoon. He was booked on a charge of homicide early today.
Mancuso, who was 22 and lived at 75-05 15th Ave., was shot to death in an automobile parked on Roebling St. near North 6th St., while waiting for friends to finish shopping.
Two men, police said, approached the car, opened the door on the driver’s side and fired several shots, two of which took effect. The assailants were pursued by a patrolman but disappeared in the neighborhood because the officer had to hold his fire due to the large number of children on the street.
Police reported that Darrigo had argued with Mancuso over their respective underworld heroes and that on Tuesday afternoon the pair had a fistfight which was won by Mancuso.
Police said that Mancuso and several buddies went to Darrigo’s home and dragged him to the street and slugged him. Darrigo later hid on the roof of his house and slept there until morning.
Brooklyn Eagle, October 10, 1941, p. 15
The photo now known as Their First Murder was distributed by the Associated Press and was widely published in newspapers throughout the country. It was published as a two-page spread in US Camera, October, 1943, pp.18-19, (“…it is a great picture, one that really deserves the overworked phrase, ‘great.'”). It (and three other Weegee photos) were included in the exhibition “Action Photography” at MoMA, August 18 – September 19, 1943. Last, but not least, the photo was published in the soon-to-be-republished Naked City, 1945.
A woman relative cried… but neighborhood dead-end kids enjoyed the show when a small-time racketeer was shot and killed…
Here he is… as he was left in the gutter. He’s got a D.O.A. tied to his arm… that means Dead On Arrival.
Naked City, 1945, pp. 86-87
Weegee’s Naked City