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A.K.A.: "Emperor Pic" - "The Bottle King"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Italian-Canadian bootlegger
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 12, 1922
Date of arrest: Two days after
Date of birth: 1875 or 1879
Victim profile: Steve Lawson (Alberta police constable)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Coleman, Alberta, Canada
Status: Executed by hanging at Fort Saskatchewan on May 22, 1923

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 previous year.

Early life

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 separated.

Murder of Steve Lawson

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 Act.

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 respectable.


Florence Lassadro


Emilio Picariello



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