Back in the Day

A love story turned tragic in Johnston

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Filomina “Fannie” DiLullo was just 19 years old when she exchanged wedding vows in Johnston with 21-year-old Serefino Manzello on Sept. 3, 1925. The daughter of Italian immigrants, she had grown up on Hartford Avenue, where her father Luigi engaged in farming.

After their marriage took place, Filomina and Serefino moved to Joy Street and set up housekeeping. Marital bliss didn’t last long, however. Just eight months later, Filomina left her husband and went back to her parents’ home. Not content to release the woman he was betrothed to, Serefino sought to have her sent back to him and went as far as to assault her father, Luigi, with a weapon when he did not agree to turn his daughter over.

On Sept. 3, 1926, the couple’ s first wedding anniversary, Serefino ventured out to the DiLullo farm. It was about half-past seven that morning and Filomina, her mother and her brother, who was crippled, had just gone out to a one-room shack on the property, most likely to do some sort of chores. No sooner had they all gone inside and shut the door when they heard a knock. Filomina opened the door and saw Serefino standing there. He asked her for a specific document she had that he said he needed.

“You’re looking for trouble,” she told him. “Go away!”

Before she could shut the door, Serefino pulled out a revolver. Filomina ran further into the shack but five shots rang out; four bullets hit her in the left side of her chest and the other struck her in the abdomen.

Her mother, Concetta, ran forward and pulled the door shut, aware that it was too much of a risk to try and run from the shack. Behind the closed door, she dropped her knees and began to pray. An hour passed before she had the courage to open the door again.

Once the State Police were notified of the fatal shooting, they sent out information to other local police departments, instructing them to surround the immediate area so that if Serefino was hiding somewhere, he could not escape capture.

Police officers and concerned citizens kept up their search for almost twelve hours, covering grounds that reached at least three miles from the site of the shooting.

Bloodhounds managed to track Serefino for about half a mile into a dense woodland area on Plainfield Pike where he was indeed hiding. Just before 7 o’clock that evening, an officer positioned to guard the roadway not far from the Fenner farm, spotted Serefino sneaking out of the woods about a mile from the DiLullo property. His intention had been to go to the Fenner house where he hoped that Mr. Fenner, who was his friend, would assist him in some way.

Serefino was arrested, pleaded guilty to the charge of murder, and was held without bail. After being sentenced to the State Prison, he spent his days, weeks and years toiling there in the institution’s shirt factory, where he ran a sewing machine.

Filomina was laid to rest in Saint Ann Cemetery; a 20-year-old victim of the man she’d pledged her heart to.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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