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Monday, October 19, 2015
Two years ago I came across this book call Poison widows by George Cooper. Since most of my family is from Philadelphia I just had to read about this fascinating case from the 1930's. back then it was pretty easy to commit murder and get away with it and it seems a lot of unhappy wives took the opportunity when they could. Only these women figured out how to profit from it.  It  has baeen awhile since i read the book so I found the case online and wanted to post it here. this book should really be a movie.  

The Philadelphia poison ring was a murder for hire gang led by the Petrillo cousins, Herman and Paul Petrillo, in 1938. The leaders were ultimately convicted of 114 poison-murders and were executed by electric chair in 1941. Paul's cousin, Morris Bolber, was among the 14 others in the gang, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Herman and Paul Petrillo were cousins and both were experienced in the world of elaborate crimes. Herman was an expert counterfeiter and Paul was running an insurance scam business. In Philadelphia, they joined forces with Morris Bolber to establish a "matrimonial agency." [1] The three men were ostensibly helping recently widowed women to remarry, move on with their lives, and establish life insurance policies for their new husbands; however, the agency functioned as a conduit to collect money from the life insurance policies.

Vincent P. McDevitt was an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia. In early 1939, the District Attorney, Charles F. Kelley, assigned him to the homicide case of Ferdinando Alfonsi, who had died on 27 October 1938. McDevitt immediately had information from two undercover detectives, agents Landvoight and Phillips. From them, McDevitt had an informant, one George Meyer, who ran a local upholstery cleaning business. Meyer encountered Herman Petrillo when he was trying to obtain money for his business. Petrillo had offered to provide him with a large sum of money, legal tender and counterfeit, if Meyer would perform the hit on Alfonsi. Landvoight and Meyer had played along with the murder plot, with Meyer hoping for an advance pay-out and Landvoight hoping to finally bust Petrillo's counterfeiting crimesWorking undercover, Landvoight helped Meyer "play along," as the Petrillos plotted the murder that they wanted Meyer to carry out.
The plan was to steal or buy a car, take Alfonsi out to a dark country road and hit him with the car, thus making the murder looking accidental. Herman Petrillo preferred the idea to steal the car rather than buy one, but Landvoight and Phillips were hoping to convince Petrillo to give them money to buy a car for the murder, as it would give them the opportunity that had so long prayed for, to arrest him on counterfeit charges. In the end, Petrillo sold them some fake tender, ostensibly for buying a means of transportation to the planned crime scene. The "play along" plan continued until Meyer, on a whim of curiosity and concern, decided to visit the intended murder victim. At the front door of the house where Alfonsi lived, Meyer learned from an old woman who had opened the door that Alfonsi was gravely ill. After notifying Phillips, he returned with Phillips and Landvoight to the Alfonsi house. They found Alfonsi to be bizarrely ill, suffering symptoms of bulging eyes, immobility, and being unable to speak. At their next meeting with Herman Petrillo, after Petrillo handed Phillips an envelope full of counterfeit bills, Phillips asked about the plan to murder Alfonsi. Petrillo replied that there was no reason to worry about it anymore; it was being handled, apparently.
Ferdinando Alfonsi expired after being admitted to the National Stomach Hospital. The cause of death was heavy metal poisoning. The autopsy revealed tremendous arsenic levels. The detectives assigned to the case were Michael Schwartz, Anthony Franchetti, and Samuel Riccardi. They instantly thought of the rumors, already well-developed, about a highly organized arsenic killing spree surging through the city. Indeed, there were distinct patterns. The victims tended to be Italian immigrants, as Alfonsi was, and to have high levels of arsenic in their bloodstreams.

Herman Petrillo and Mrs. Alfonsi were both arrested. Mrs. Alfonsi had purchased a sizable life insurance policy for her husband, an immigrant who could not read English and had been unaware of the policy.

The Widows  



 Moreover, the Alfonsi case fit with a rapidly emerging common Modus operandi in a lot of other homicide investigations. Most importantly, each case involved a fresh life insurance policy with a double indemnity clause and a nearly direct lead to one of the Petrillo cousins, and each cause of death was listed as some sort of violent accident.



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