Head injuries plagued Johnston man

Posted 12/27/23

Looking back at the life of Francesco "Frank" Torelli of Johnston, it seemed he was destined to eventually succumb to a fatal head injury.

Born in Italy in 1868, Frank was involved in what …

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Head injuries plagued Johnston man


Looking back at the life of Francesco "Frank" Torelli of Johnston, it seemed he was destined to eventually succumb to a fatal head injury.

Born in Italy in 1868, Frank was involved in what became known as the “Spruce Street Row” during the summer of 1893. He and a neighbor, Guiseppe DiNardo, had met up on Spruce Street and engaged in an argument. As Frank screamed out curses in Italian, he pulled a razor from his pocket and made a violent slash across Giuseppe’s face, cutting his chin so badly that his jawbone was exposed. As blood poured from Giuseppe’s face, Frank made an attempt to grab the watch off his wrist. Giuseppe responded by pulling out a knife and lunging at Frank. By this time a crowd had gathered. In an attempt to disarm Frank, one of the bystanders picked up a paving stone from the ground and heaved it at him. Luckily, he was knocked from the path of Giuseppe’s knife as he fell to the ground. But the stone struck his head so hard, he endured a serious scalp wound.

Three years later, just a couple of weeks into January, Frank was with his brother John at Rossi’s Saloon on Lily Street when the siblings began to argue. They decided to take the matter out into the street where they had the room to get physical. Almost immediately, John pulled out a razor and swiped it at his brother. Frank quickly escaped but did so with a very deep scalp laceration over his left ear. John was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

On May 29, 1910, at about 4:30 in the afternoon, Frank was walking his dog down Binghampton Avenue not far from his home. A neighbor, Antonio Francescone, was walking his dog at the same time. When the animals set their sights on each other, all hell broke loose. The two dogs began fighting as the two men began arguing about whose dog was at fault. An individual who was standing about 100 feet away at the time, Bassi Cambio, later testified that as Antonio attempted to stop the dogs from fighting, Frank stepped up to him, grabbed his hat off his head in a threatening manner and threw it on the ground. Another witness described how Frank was in the process of physically assaulting Antonio when a small boy passed by carrying a baseball bat. Antonio grabbed the bat and hit Frank in the head with it twice before Frank fell to the ground. Neighbors carried Frank into his house and Antonio left.

Antonio, a 40-year-old odd job laborer had a wife and six children living at home, the youngest of whom was six years old. Frank, who was also an odd job laborer, had a wife and five children living at home, the youngest being 13.

No one contacted police until the following morning when it was determined that Frank’s injuries were more serious than previously thought. A doctor came to examine him and noticed a deep depression in the top of the head and a scalp laceration. Although Frank was semi-conscious, the doctor believed he would recover. When several days passed and there was no progress, the doctor ordered him taken to Rhode Island Hospital where it was determined that he had a skull fracture at the base of the brain. An operation was performed to relieve pressure in the brain and Frank lingered between life and death for ten days before passing away due to his injuries and septic meningitis on June 19, 1910. He was buried at Saint Ann Cemetery in Cranston.

Police had been searching for Antonio, who had no criminal history, since the day after the attack. Johnston residents claimed not to have seen him since minutes after Frank was removed from the street. On July 25, he was located and charged with manslaughter which the grand jury wanted changed to a charge of murder.

The jury which heard the case took three hours and 37 minutes to return with a verdict of not guilty. Shortly after his release, the local newspapers reported on the big shindig which had been put on in Johnston to celebrate Antonio’s acquittal. “Banquet given for man acquitted of manslaughter” the reports read. “Friends of Antonio display friendship and esteem - entertainment held at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.”

Antonio’s lawyers were very quick to respond to these reports of celebratory dinner and dancing in the wake of a man’s death. 31-year-old Antonio Alfredo Capotosto, the first Italian attorney to pass the RI bar exam, and 46-year-old John Fox made a public statement assuring the community that the banquet was a private event and that Antonio was not even present. According to the attorneys, the event was hosted by 46-year-old local saloon owner Vincenzo Jacovone and 36-year-old hardware and variety store owner John Votolato to show gratitude to Capotosto and Fox for all the hard work they did in the community. 

A little over a year later, Frank’s 43-year-old wife Concetta (Spetrino) was run over by an electric car on Greenville Avenue one afternoon and died from the shock caused by multiple injuries. Antonio died during the winter of 1925 at RI Hospital from the effects of diabetes.

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


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