Esther Pepitone Albano – one of my heros

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Esther and Michael Pepitone
Esther and Michael Pepitone

About a month after your new husband goes missing there is a knock on the door.  You and your 18-year-old niece go and answer the door.  It’s your missing husband’s former partner, he strong arms his way in the door and demands, “You do one of two things, either give me $500 and all of your jewelry, or I’ll kill you like your husband.” 

You grab a pistol and shoot him, he doesn’t seem dead, so you shoot him again, a total of 11 times.  Then you grab all seven of your children and go sit on the front porch waiting for the police.  That’s what Esther Pepitone Albano did.  She shot and killed the man that she knew as Joseph Manfre/Monfre.

So who are these people?

Serio's House
Serio’s House

Joseph Monfre, Manfre, Munfre (pick one)

Joseph Monfre/Manfre was a small-time criminal from Italy.  He was small time that is until he hit upon the Black Hand group.  Some believe that he was the leader of it, but at the very least he was high up the ladder.  In 1907, Joseph graduated from being a small-time crook to the big time!

December 10, 1907, Joseph Manfre was arrested for throwing a bomb at Carnello Graffagnini’s home.  They were fined $5,000 for writing threatening blackmail letters. The letters were written in Italian and translated the first one said,

“Dear Sir – It seems that you are undergoing great prosperity and, owing to our affairs, we need $1,000 at once.  Therefore, address yourself with the money to one of your mutual friends.  Otherwise, you will fare badly.  Do not think it over but act immediately.” 

A week later Graffagnini received a second letter,

” Dear Friend – It seems that you do not pay attention to our demands.  Better think about giving the money to a friend, who will call upon you and ask you if you have anything for him.  If you fail, your head will be blown off.  You will be given until the 15th of November to think it over.  Otherwise yourself and family will suffer.  The $1000 will save your life.” 

A few days later Monfre/Manfre entered Graffagnini’s store with another man and asked him if he had anything for him.  When Graffagnini told him no, Manfre asked if he was sure.  Graffagnini answered in the affirmative, Manfre left.  They returned the following Wednesday and just hung around the store for quite a while and left.  Graffagnini didn’t see Manfre on the day of the bombing.  The bomb did less damage than what was attended as it was thrown into some telephone lines where it hit the sidewalk instead of the house.

Joseph Monfre/Manfre arrested again, this time for bombing Joseph Serio’s grocery/barroom and home.  He was still out on bail awaiting the Graffagnini bombing.  When he was rearrested, his bond was increased to $2500 which he couldn’t pay so he was put in jail.

July 25, 1908 Monfre was found guilty of bombing Graffagnini’s store/home.  The jury was out for an hour and a half during which they ate lunch and had a smoke break. 

On the day that Joseph was to be sentenced, his attorney filed an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court for a new trial.  His sentencing was postponed for a week and the following week, Joseph was sentenced to 20 years at hard labor in the state penitentiary but pending his appeal the execution of the sentence was deferred.

Joseph’s case was denied by the State Supreme Court, so his attorney petitioned the Federal Supreme Court who denied hearing the case.  So off to prison for Joseph.

Joseph Mumfre
Joseph Mumfre

Joseph was in prison for 5 years of his 20-year sentence before he was up for parole, which was granted.  Just after receiving parole, Joseph is arrested again for the murder of Vincent Moreci.  He was let go for lack of proof.

He was arrested on May 18, 1918 for trying to extort $100 from Mrs. Cannatelle, threatening to kill her if she didn’t pay up.  Mrs. Cannatelle had him arrested.

There were many other people of Italian descent that received threatening letters.  Not trusting the police, they either took them to the Italian Vigilance Committee or did nothing about it.  The Italian Vigilance Committee did nothing, they didn’t take them to the police. 

Because of the letters and the follow-up bombings and murders, Joseph Manfre was the one of the prime suspects in the Axeman murders.  Mainly because of his various black hand attacks and when he was arrested once they found his address book with over 1,000 names of Italian immigrants living across the country.

Angelo Albano
Angelo Albano

Angelo Albano

Angelo Albano lived in New Orleans for a while and was married to Esther’s sister.  They had two children one who died. 

Angelo owned a grocery and barroom.  He was arrested many times for small crimes mostly having to do with his barroom.  Angelo was not licensed so he was arrested, he was licensed but only allowed to serve African Americans and sold to white people and was arrested.  He sold to women and was arrested.  He sold groceries and liquor on Sunday and was arrested. 

At one point he was arrested along with Joseph Manfre for some petty crime.  Finally, Angelo got fed up with it and moved to with his wife and child to Los Angeles where the laws about bars were supposed to be a little bit laxer. 

On October 27, 1921 Angelo left to go to the grocery store happy and humming, he kissed Esther on the hand and never returned.  Esther, although scared didn’t call the police until November 1 because she was afraid that the black hands would seek revenge against her, and they did.  

Mrs. Griffith the Albano’s neighbor knew Mumfre and asked him what he thought had happened to Angelo.  Mumfre answered, “Albano has a big house and plenty of money.  He is being held for some of that money.  His wife will be asked for it after things quiet down.”

Our Girl Esther Pepitone Albano

Esther Pepitone Albano and Family
Esther Pepitone Albano and Family

After Esther was arrested the police searched the house and the yard, based on an anonymous phone call they had received from a man with an Italian accent.  The man told them that Angelo was buried in his own back yard.  When the police tried to get his name, he refused because he said the Black Hands would kill him, too.  They found a hidden sub-basement in the barn in it were newspapers with the dates torn off and lime but there was no indication that a body was or had been there.

Esther was asleep in New Orleans, October 27, 1919.  She awoke when she heard her husband groaning.  Esther awoke and saw two men leaving.  Mike Pepitone had been killed with a circus tent spike.   At the time the murder was attributed to the Axeman, but most modern researchers feel that it was separate, no axe, and that it was Joseph “Doc” Mumfre that was responsible, whether because of a failed extortion attempt or a vendetta.

January 1921 Esther moved with her six children to Los Angeles where her sister lived and was ill.  Her sister was married to Angelo Albano and they had a five-year-old son.  Esther’s sister died and Angelo started pursuing Esther.  They were married in September 1921, and Angelo disappeared at the end of October.

After shooting the man she knew as Joseph Mumfre, the police found out that his real name was M.G. Leone.  Esther told the police that she knew that Joseph Mumfre was a member of the Black Hand group.  Leone/Mumfre’s family insist that there was a man in the Albano house that shot their father that Esther is protecting him.  Lena Manfre, these names, and aliases!  Anyway, Lena took Esther to court suing her for $50,000 for wrongful death.  Sounds like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

December 28, 1921 Esther had her first preliminary hearing in front of Judge Forbes.  The prosecutor was Deputy District Attorney Buron Fitts.  The prosecution hoped that the result of the hearing would be a trial for Esther.  Esther testified in her defense.  Her seven children were in the courtroom.  Because three of the shots were in Mumfre’s back, the judge held Esther over for trial.

Esther’s trial took place in April 1922.  Her niece testified, she testified, many of her neighbors testified.  When the case was given to the jury, they returned after forty minutes and acquitted her.

At some point Esther moved back to New Orleans.  She died in August 1940.  We need to remember Esther in her strength and determination to protect her children and her household from a man that she knew was a murderer and a criminal.  Bravo Esther!

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