In writing about the Sacco-Vanzetti case I have long been struck by the thought that there were those still living who knew the truth, who knew the identity of the two killers who shot down the paymaster and his guard on that long ago April 1920 afternoon in South Braintree, Massachusetts, knew who the other three men were who sped away with them and the payroll money in the getaway car. Elderly people now—as I wrote in the foreword to the 1971 edition of my Tragedy in Dedham, published on the fiftieth anniversary of the trial—they were “still tenaciously prepared to carry the weight of their secret to the grave.” Barring a sudden revelation by one of them, I did not see how any more clarity could be added to the case.
Then on a snowy afternoon in 1982 the revelation came. At our Cape Cod post office the woman behind the counter said there was a registered letter for me. I signed, and she handed me a brown envelope with a California return address and the name Ideale Gambera in the upper left-hand corner. Nobody I had ever heard of. Probably another crackpot letter, of which I had had my share. But when I got back to the house and read it I sat for some minutes stunned. Here was the ultimate answer that had so long eluded me:
My father, Giovanni Gambera died in June, 1982, at the age of ninety-three. He was one of those “elderly people now still tenaciously prepared to carry the weight of their secret to the grave.” Except that he left some of his secret to me. My mother, Signorina Monello, niece to Angelo Monello, still alive and alert, has always substantiated all my father recounted. But my father demanded the strictest secrecy and no one would ever dare challenge his authority.
This letter is based on my appraisal of your work Tragedy in Dedham which I consider the definite text about this case. Everyone [in the Boston anarchist circle] knew that Saccco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in the killing. But no one would ever break the code of silence even if it cost Vanzetti’s life. My father was with the case from its beginnings but is never mentioned because that is the way he wished it. He commanded great respect and loyalty amongst the anarchists combined with an aura of deadly intent. He was the head of a family of six and he was involved in so many activities of dubious nature that he made sure no disgrace or notoriety would touch us.
I think you would appreciate a bit of dramatic irony in this case. Before it all became public, there was a committee of four who represented Sacco and Vanzetti. These four were Aldino Felicani, Professor Guadagni, Lucia Mancini and my father. The prime purpose of this committee was to decide what should happen to Sacco and…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.