Casmere Lazzeroni

Casmere Lazzeroni as he appeared in a list of foreign passengers arriving in New York in April 1909.

Born: 1854
Occupation: Fruit merchant
Killed: July 28th, 1919
Cause of death: Stabbing

Casmere Lazzeroni, a white man, was born in 1854 in Italy. He migrated to the United States in 1909, with his wife Carmela, landing in New York aboard the La Provence. Passenger records reveal Lazzeroni’s previous residence was Lucen, Italy, and that he intended to move to Chicago upon arrival. Interestingly, the “Race or People” column of the passenger record is marked simply “No, Italian.” After immigrating, Lazzeroni and Carmela moved to Chicago and lived at 2012 E. 83rd Street with their son, Albergium, who was born in 1886. Near the end of his life, Lazzeroni worked as a fruit merchant, driving a banana cart. At the time of his death, Lazzeroni was sixty-five.

At 4:30 on July 28 1919, Lazzeroni was killed at 3620 S. State Street.  Lazzeroni was driving his fruit wagon down State Street when he was jumped by a group of young Black men and stabbed to death. It is unclear why Lazzeroni, whose store was located on 83rd Street, was so far north with his wagon on that day. The Chicago Commission Report stated, “Lazzeroni was pursued by boys throwing stones who overtook him, jumped on his wagon, and stabbed him with pocket knives.” The suspects, Charles Johnson, Frank Coachman, John Green, and Walter Colvin, were arrested and taken into custody. While Green and Coachmen were freed, Colvin and Johnson were sentenced to life in prison. Colvin was 16 and Johnson 18 at the time of their imprisonment. 

Colvin and Johnson’s sentences later were commuted on the recommendation of the Illinois Pardon and Parole Board, and both were released from prison in 1933. After a new review of the evidence, the Board concluded there was “great doubt” as to the guilt of both Colvin and Johnson. Colvin allegedly had implicated both himself and Johnson in a confession after his arrest in 1919. During the trial, however, both boys pleaded not guilty, arguing that Colvin had been tortured by the police into confessing. The guilty verdict was based largely on the unreliable testimony of Dollie Hernan, a white woman who owned a laundry on State Street and claimed to have witnessed the killing of Lazzeroni. Hernan, however, made contradictory and inconsistent statements during the coroner’s jury inquest. The 1931 Parole Board report, which led to the commutation of both Colvin and Johnson’s sentences, concluded, “feeling against [Johnson’s] race was very bitter on account of the riot and it was not difficult to obtain a conviction.”

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