Emilio Picariello (also known as Emileo
Picariello and Emil Picariello, 1875 or 1879 – 1923) was an
Italian-Canadian bootlegger and convicted murderer, who was hanged at
Fort Saskatchewan in 1923 for killing an Alberta police constable the
Picariello was born in Sicily and migrated to
Canada in 1899. Settling in Toronto, he worked as an electrician and
labourer until he had earned enough money to buy an Italian grocery.
In 1900 he married Maria Marucci, who he had met at a boarding house
at which she worked as a housekeeper; the couple went on to have seven
children, the eldest of whom was Stefano (Steve) Picariello. In 1911
he moved to Fernie, British Columbia, where he worked in G. Maraniro's
macaroni factory. When Maraniro moved to Lethbridge to open a factory
there, Picariello rented the Fernie factory and hired women to roll
cigars in it.
In 1916 he began to manufacture ice cream at a rate
of 400 imperial gallons (1,800 l) per day. He sold this from a wagon
during the summer of 1916 and shortly thereafter established ice cream
parlours in Trail and Blairmore. He sometimes accepted payment in the
form of bottles, which he then sold to bottlers; by 1916 he had
achieved a local monopoly. This gained him a reputation as the "Bottle
King", which he embraced with newspaper ads reading "E. Picariello,
the Bottle King, requests that all persons selling bottles hold them
until they see E. Picariello, who pays top prices."
In 1914, he became the local representative for the
Pillock Wine Company. Two years later, prohibition was enacted in
Alberta. It was initially still legal to import alcohol from outside
of the province, and Picarellio profited by transporting alcohol
through the Crowsnest Pass.
In 1917, British Columbia also introduced
prohibition, and Picariello decided to move to Alberta to be closer to
Montana, which allowed the sale of alcohol, while remaining close to
the British Columbia distilleries from which he purchased. He bought
Blairmore's Alberta Hotel as a base of operations.
In 1918 Alberta outlawed the importation of alcohol
and Picariello was forced to operate covertly. He excavated a room
under the hotel and dug a tunnel from it out to the road, so that
alcohol could be smuggled directly into this cellar. He had a player
piano in the hotel lounge, whose noise drowned out these activities.
The Alberta Provincial Police (APP) set up
checkpoints in the Crowsnest Pass, but Picariello adopted a number of
tactics to foil them. Sometimes he would load his cars—Ford Model Ts,
initially, replaced in 1918 by three McLaughlins, a number which grew
to six by 1922—with sacks of what appeared to be flour. The sacks on
the outside of the car, most susceptible to being searched, actually
contained flour, but buried beneath them would be sacks containing
bottles of alcohol. Another tactic was to send two cars at once, the
first empty and the second transporting alcohol; if a checkpoint
stopped the first car, the second would quietly retreat.
Picarellio became a wealthy and respected citizen.
He was elected alderman of Blairmore, and was praised for his
philanthropy (among other things, the sacks of decoy flour were
distributed to needy families). During World War I, he bought $5,000
worth of victory bonds. While coal miners in the area were on strike
in 1918, he contributed money to their families. This respect came
even though it was widely known that he was a bootlegger: in 1921 he
was fined $20 after the APP found four barrels of alcohol in his
warehouse. In January 1922, the APP recovered 70 barrels of beer from
a railway car with a bill of lading in Picariello's name; his claim
that the beer had been erroneously sent in response to his order for
carbonated water did not convince the judge, who fined him $500.
Relationship with Florence Lassandro
Carlo Sanfidele worked for Picariello, first as a
legitimate travelling salesman dealing in cigars and ice cream, and
later in less legal capacities. In October 1915, he married fourteen
year old Philomena Costanzo, who had taken the name Florence since her
arrival in Canada in 1909. Picariello supplied the venue for the
wedding and acted as best man at it; according to salacious local
gossip, this entitled him to have sex with Florence on her wedding
night. Shortly after the wedding, Sanfidele and his bride moved to
Pennsylvania, entering the United States illegally. When he decided to
return to Canada in 1916, he adopted the name Charles Lassandro to
cross the border more easily. Picariellio hired Charles as hotel
manager and Florence as a waitress.
Florence also became involved in Picariello's
bootlegging activities. Sometimes she would accompany Steve
Picariello, driving the decoy car, and the two would pose as a young
couple out for a picnic. Other times, she would drive, reaching speeds
as high as 50 miles per hour (80 km/h). He and Florence eventually
Murder of Steve
On September 21, 1922, an informant alerted the
Blairmore APP detachment that Picariello would be bringing a load of
liquor from Fernie. As Picariello's three car convoy—the first driven
by J. J. McAlpine, Picariello's mechanic, the second by Steve
Picariello, and the third by Emilio Picariello—crossed the border, APP
Constable Stephen Oldacres Lawson, stationed at the border town of
Coleman, radioed to Blairmore that Picariello was on his way.
When the bootleggers arrived at the Alberta Hotel,
two APP officers arrived and presented a search warrant. Picariello
leaned through the window of his vehicle and honked its horn to alert
his son of danger. Stefano "Steve" Picariello immediately began to
speed back to British Columbia. Emilio got back in his car and used it
to block the road and prevent the police from giving chase to Steve.
The APP contacted Steve Lawson in Coleman to alert him to Steve
Picariello's impending arrival. When the younger Picariello arrived in
Coleman, Lawson fired his gun, first in the air as a warning and then
directly at Picariello's car when that warning went unheeded. A bullet
hit Steve Picariello in the hand, but he escaped when the car that
Lawson had commandeered got a flat tire.
Emilio Picariello was also heading for the
Alberta-British Columbia border. In Coleman, he met Lawson, and the
two had a tense conversation in which he warned Picariello that if he
did not bring his son back from British Columbia, the APP would.
Returning to Blairmore, he met APP sergeant James Scott, the head of
the Blairmore detachment and one of the officers who had come to
search the hotel. Picariello taunted him about not finding his
shipment of alcohol, to which Scott replied that he would press
charges against Emilio and Steve Picariello for their dangerous
driving. Picariello responded that this did not bother him, as long as
his load was safe. He added that Lawson was lucky that he had not shot
Steve Picariello, because if he had Emilio would have killed him.
On his arrival in Blairmore, Picariello learned
that his son had been shot, although he did not know his condition.
Enraged, he vowed to go to Coleman to confront Lawson. Florence, on
her own initiative. As they travelled to Coleman, Picariello removed
two guns from his coat, giving one to Lassandro and keeping one for
himself. When they reached the Coleman APP barracks, Lawson came out
to meet them. While discussion was initially civil, it degenerated
into a physical confrontation between Lawson and Picariello. One
version of events holds that Picariello had come to Coleman to
convince Lawson to help him find his son, and that Picariello drew his
gun when Lawson refused. On seeing the gun, Lawson attacked
Picariello, and Lassandro shot him as he had his hands around
Picariello's neck. Another version holds that Picariello shot Lawson
as he was fleeing the vehicle. Whatever the sequence of events, Lawson
was fatally shot, and Picariello drove the vehicle quickly away.
Arrest and trial
After leaving the scene of the crime, Picariello
and Lassandro spent the night in an abandoned shack in Blairmore. The
next day, Picariello fled on his own into the surrounding hills. The
next day, he was arrested there by three APP officers, part of a
manhunt involving officers from across central and southern Alberta.
Picariello asked the arresting officers about the condition of his son
and Lawson; told that his son was only slightly injured but that
Lawson was dead, he said nothing.
Lassandro was captured shortly after Picariello,
and they were charged with murder. At their October 2 preliminary
hearing in the Coleman opera house (selected because it was the only
building in the town able to accommodate the 500 spectators), a joint
trial was set for Macleod. The defense later requested a change of
venue because of strong feelings in the Crowsnest area; the presiding
judge granted a change to Calgary. Provincial Attorney-General John
Edward Brownlee authorized a special sitting of the Supreme Court of
Alberta to try the pair beginning November 27.
Brownlee himself attended the entire trial, but
took no active part in it; the prosecution was headed by A. A.
McGillivray. J. McKinley Cameron was chief defense counsel.
Days of the Rumrunners
Author: John Kinnear
There was a time in Western Canada when vanilla
extract could only be obtained from a specially licensed druggist.
This was because the spirit content of flavour extracts averaged 77%
which was well over the 2.5% allowed by the infamous Prohibition Act
passed in Alberta on July 1, 1916. The Act effectively shut down all
beer parlours and liquor houses in Alberta and led to an exploitation
of loopholes, and an illicit booze trade known affectionately as “Rum
Running.” It was an era of illegal clandestine operations, high speed
chases and riots by outraged soldiers and thirsty miners.
On the BC side of the Crowsnest Pass, a
Sicilian-born man by the name of Emilio Picariello began exporting and
bootlegging, and he soon became the most renowned figure to emerge on
the prohibition scene. “Emperor Pic,” as he became known, recognized
the business possibilities of running liquor across the border, and
the residents of Southern Alberta were most supportive. His first
contraband shipments were made with Model T Fords with front bumpers
of piping filled with concrete for running Barriers.
On July 1st, 1919, prohibition came to the United
States, and Montana and Utah found themselves quite dry. This was a
blessing for rum runners as it effectively doubled their market. The
wonderful sources of supply that Pic and his two counterparts, Mr. Big
and Mr. R, had built up now proved to be useful as outlets. He
expanded his business and purchased two Mclaughlin Six Specials,
Buicks that could outrun just about anything else on the road. These
cars were commonly referred to as “Whisky Sixes” and anyone who owned
one was eyed with suspicion.
By the end of 1919, the ban on importation had been
lifted, the export houses re-opened and the breweries began to run
full tilt again. Pressure immediately mounted from such groups as the
Social Service League of Alberta to hold another plebiscite on
importation and although the Pass again voted wet, the bible belt gave
prohibitionists another decided majority.
On February 1st, 1921, importation again officially
ceased. With this ban came a serious increase in illicit traffic.
Stills sprang up everywhere, vendors were broken into and freight
trains were looted in transit. Bootleggers and stills were operating
in every city, town and village in Alberta. With increased abuse came
increased demands to tighten police control and enforce the Liquor
Pic, meanwhile, carried on despite the new
competition and continual Alberta Provincial Police harassment. His
McLaughlin Sixes were replaced with even faster Sevens. Finally, in
the fall of 1922, events unfolded that ended Pic’s illustrious career
and eventually his life. On one of their runs from BC, Pic and his son
Steve were confronted by the A.P.P. who wanted to catch them with the
goods. Steve made a run for the BC border and when he passed through
Coleman at high speed, he was wounded in the hand by a constable named
Steve Lawson who made an unsuccessful attempt to stop him. Lawson was
Fernie’s Chief of Police from 1920 to 1922.
On learning that his son was wounded, arrested and
being held in Michel, Pic drove to Coleman. Later that same evening,
accompanied by Florence Losandro (Constanzo), he confronted Constable
Lawson at his home. In the argument that ensued shots were fired and
Lawson died in the street in front of his wife and daughter.
Picariello and Florence sped away and were caught
the next day. They were charged with murder. What followed was a long
series of trials and appeals that ended with their convictions being
upheld. On May 3, 1923, in a Fort Saskatchewan jail, the saga of
Emilio Picariello ended in what many consider a harsh and unforgiving
manner; he was hung.
On May 10, 1924, prohibition came to an end in
Alberta by government proclamation and the era of rum running and
bootlegging dwindled away to a scant few, now regarded as not so