SACCO and VANZETTI

THE TRUTH ABOUT THEIR GUILT OR INNOCENCE (AS BEST WE KNOW IT)

No historian has more closely examined the evidence in the Sacco-Vanzetti case than Francis Russell.  Like most intellectuals of the time, Russell entered into his research assuming that both Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent.  Decades of studying the transcript, examining physical evidence, and interviewing those close to the case convinced Russell that his initial assumption was half-wrong: Vanzetti was innocent, but Sacco was guilty.

Fred Moore knew that the prosecution had a much stronger case against Sacco than Vanzetti.  Moore recounted in a letter to Upton Sinclair how he was tempted, in his summation, to stress the weakness of the evidence against Vanzetti:

There was so little evidence against Vanzetti--almost none in fact--I believed that there was a good chance of acquittal if I should push home the fact.  But I felt sure, in that case, Sacco would be found guilty.  I thought there was a fighting chance the jury would disagree as to the two but if they acquitted one I knew enough of juries to feel sure they would soak the other.  So I put it to Vanzetti: "What shall I do?" and he answered, "Save Nick, he has the woman and child."
Many people interpreted the Lowell report, while leaving no doubt as to where the Commission stood on Sacco, as hinting at some uncertainty as to Vanzetti's guilt.  A. Lawrence Lowell rejected that suggestion in a letter to a friend in England.  Though he admitted the case against Vanzetti was "wholly circumstantial," the "final impression" of the Commission "was that Vanzetti was the plotter and Sacco an executioner."

In 1941, two years before his death, anarchist leader Carlo Tresca, provided the first inside confirmation of Sacco's guilt when he told Max Eastman, "Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was innocent."  Eastman's article recounting his conversation with Tresca appeared in National Review in 1961.  Others would later confirm being told the same information by Tresca.

In October 1961, ballistics tests were run using Sacco's Colt automatic.  The results left little room for doubt that the bullet (Bullet 3) that killed Berardelli in 1920 came from Sacco's gun.  Some scholars continue to dispute the conclusiveness of the tests, arguing that Bullet 3 might have been planted by prosecutors.  The planted bullet theory, however, is implausible for a number of reasons.  (Among the reasons: Bullet 3 matched perfectly with the autopsy report on Berardelli, the prosecution witnesses were much more tentative about identifying Bullet 3 as coming from Sacco's gun than they would have been if part of a conspiracy to frame Sacco, and the risks to Katzmann of falsifying evidence were greatly disproportionate to anything he might have gained.)

Further word on the Sacco and Vanzetti case came in November, 1982 letter from Ideale Gambera to Francis Russell.  In his letter, Gambera revealed that his father, Giovanni Gambera, who died at age ninety-three in June 1982, was a member of the four-person team of anarchist leaders that met shortly after the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti to plan for their defense.  In his letter to Russell, Gambera said "Everyone [in the anarchist inner circle] knew that Sacco was guilty and that Vanzetti was innocent as far as the actual participation in killing." Vanzetti undoubtedly knew who the Braintree bandits were; he may have had some limited role in planning the crime, or perhaps had advance knowledge of the crime--but it seems likely that Bartolomeo Vanzetti was, as he told the jury, selling fish in Plymouth on April 15, 1920.

2005 brought another stunning revelation when a letter written in September 1929 by Upton Sinclair, author of the muckraking classic The Jungle, was discovered.  In a letter to his private attorney John Beardsley, Sinclair described a meeting he had with Sacco and Vanzetti defense attorney Fred Moore in a Denver hotel room.  Sinclair arranged the meeting with Moore when he uncovered troubling information while researching a novel that condemned the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.  "Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the whole truth," Sinclair wrote.  What Moore revealed "sent me into a full panic....He told me the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them."  Sinclair asked Beardsley to "stick [his letter] away in a safe, and some time in the far distant future the world may know the real truth in the matter." Sinclair worried that revealing the truth about the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti might "make things harder for the victims" of some future "frame-up" by government officials.

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