Date of Crime


New York County, NY Pezzulich & Sgelirrach Mar 22, 1919

Frank Pezzulich and Frank Sgelirrach were convicted of armed robbery charges.  On Mar. 22, 1919, seven pistol-wielding masked men robbed a rooming house at 36 Beach St. occupied by nine Croatians.  The victims were robbed of $1728, $85, $13, and $15.  One victim, Mike Zic, followed a group of robbers that went towards Varick St.  He caught one of the robbers, Frank Strolich, and held him for police.  Strolich denied his participation in the robbery and gave his address as 408 W. 24th St.  A detective went to the address, a rooming house, along with Frank Zic, the heaviest loser in the robbery.  There they met two Austrians, Frank Pezzulich and Frank Sgelirrach.  Zic identified both as robbers.  During the robbery two robbers’ masks had allegedly slipped, allowing them to be identified.  Both Austrians admitted knowing Strolich, but denied being robbers.

Strolich was tried first and convicted.  Then an assistant DA, Owen Bohan, questioned him with the idea of using him as a witness against Pezzulich and Sgelirrach.  For the first time, Strolich denied the two had been involved in the robbery, and to substantiate his statement, he gave Bohan the names of all the others who took part.  Police began a search for these men.  In the meantime Pezzulich and Sgelirrach were tried.  Three of the victims identified the defendants as robbers, though the other six victims were unable to do so.  The defendants had seven alibi witnesses, but were convicted.  Each was sentenced to 8 to 16 years in prison.

By December, Lino DePiero, a man named by Strolich as one of his accomplices, was arrested and tried.  However, the judge felt that the evidence was insufficient, and directed a verdict of acquittal.  In January 1920, three other men named by Strolich were arrested in Milwaukee.  The men initially confessed, naming their accomplices, but said nothing about Pezzulich and Sgelirrach.  One jumped bail, but the other two were tried and convicted despite repudiating their confessions.

Bohan, impressed by the Milwaukee confessions, became doubtful of Pezzulich and Sgelirrach’s guilt.  He tried to get the Milwaukee convicts to repeat their confessions.  With the help of Father Cashin, the Catholic Chaplin at Sing Sing prison, he got the convicts to admit their guilt.  Both denied emphatically that Pezzulich and Sgelirrach had participated in the crime.  With these admissions Bohan initiated proceedings that freed Pezzulich and Sgelirrach.  Both had served about 14 months of imprisonment.  (CTI)  [11/07]



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