Fred Moore

Fred Moore

Fred Moore, lead defense attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti, began to politicize their case months before the trial started. He ended up antagonizing almost everyone—the trial judge, the treasurer of the defense committee, even his own clients. And his personal life was as controversial as his professional conduct.

Would the outcome of the case have been different if someone else had been in charge at the outset? I explore this question in “Fred Moore: Renegade Defense Attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti,” in the current issue of The Digest, law journal of the National Italian American Bar Association.


Digest coverLearn more about Moore—his radical background and complicated character—in In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti.

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“Agent of Death” for Sacco and Vanzetti

Robert Elliott, beloved husband, father, Sunday school superintendent—and executioner.

Robert Elliott, beloved husband, father, Sunday school superintendent—and executioner.

Last year the Innocence Project recorded a milestone. A Louisiana man who had been on death row for fifteen years became the three-hundredth wrongfully convicted person to be exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.

But science is not infallible. The Washington Post recently reported that the FBI is investigating at least twenty-seven death penalty convictions in which its own forensic analysis of hair samples “may have mistakenly linked defendants to crimes with exaggerated scientific testimony.” FBI officials will “disclose problems in capital cases even after a defendant has been executed.”

More than eighty years ago, long before modern advances in forensics, Yale Law professor Edwin Borchard wrote Convicting the Innocent, Errors of Criminal Justice, documentating sixty-five cases of wrongful convictions. Borchard’s study refuted the district attorney of Worcester County, Massachusetts, who, around the time of the deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti, reportedly said, “Innocent men are never convicted. Don’t worry about it, it never happens. It is a physical impossibility.”

The eighty-sixth anniversary of the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti will occur in less than two weeks, on August 23. On such an occasion, it’s worth reflecting for a moment on the life of their executioner.

Robert Elliott came of age at the end of the nineteenth century fascinated by “electricity and its wonders.” As fate would have it, soon after the electric chair was approved as a so-called humane replacement for the gallows, Elliott began his career as an electrical engineer. He worked in New York prisons for many years, and later as an independent contractor.

His duties included executions. Yet Elliott opposed capital punishment. He believed it had no deterrent effect and “serves no useful purpose.”

“Each time I send a human being hurtling into eternity…, I realize that I am partly responsible for his death,” Elliott wrote in his memoirs, Agent of Death. “But my responsibility is no greater than that of any member of the society that demanded this person’s life.” His responsibility, he said, was certainly no greater than that of the district attorney, the jury, the sentencing judge, the pardon board, the warden, “and all the others upon whose shoulders rests the obligation of the state’s legal killings.”

Elliott believed that “man should not be permitted to destroy the one thing which cannot be restored—life.” By the time he wrote those words, he had thrown the switch on three hundred eighty-seven prisoners in six states.

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Boston’s Other Terrorists?


They were assimilated immigrants, self-radicalized followers of a firebrand philosopher who published bomb-making instructions.

So yes, as some have asked: similarities do exist between Sacco and Vanzetti and brothers Tarmelan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of Boston Marathon bombing notoriety.

Nick Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were not just philosophical anarchists, but supporters of influential anarchist Luigi Galleani. Sacco and Vanzetti subscribed to Galleani’s weekly journal, Cronaca sovversiva (Subversive chronicle), which could be compared to Inspire, the online al-Quaeda magazine said to be the source of the Tsarnaevs’ bomb-making knowledge.

In the pages of Cronaca and in his other writings, Galleani  promoted social revolution, endorsed the use of violence to win the “good war” against capitalism, and published practical tips for aspiring bomb makers—where to buy explosives, how to avoid arousing suspicion, how to build devices to injure the maximum number of people. Followers of Galleani were suspected of involvement in a wave of bombing attacks in the United States in 1919.

But comparing Sacco and Vanzetti to the Tsarnaevs doesn’t go very far. There is no evidence that Sacco and Vanzetti ever engaged in acts of anarchist violence themselves. The crimes of which they were convicted—payroll robbery and double murder—were not connected to radicalism. Most important, it is my conclusion after analyzing the evidence against them that the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti were almost surely wrongful convictions, and that the men paid with their lives for crimes they did not commit.

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Indie Gold

In 1927, in his last known letter, Bartolomeo Vanzetti thanked a supporter for his efforts and asked him to study the Sacco-Vanzetti case so that “our fate may…serve as a tremendous lesson.”

In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti is, I hope, but the latest step toward achieving that goal. On May 29 the book will receive the gold medal for True Crime from the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

My original objectives for the book were to write a double biography of Sacco and Vanzetti, and to view the men in situ, in the turbulent era before, during, and after World War One. Along the way, I was repeatedly surprised by new information I uncovered about supporting characters in the case. In the end, I hope readers will come away from the book with a fresh perspective on the difficult issues of immigration reform, workers’ rights, wrongful convictions, and the balance between civil liberties and homeland security. Along with Vanzetti, I hope that the case “may be understood.”

The “IPPY” Awards, established in 1996, annually recognize excellence in independent publishing. This year’s program drew more than 3,600 national entries in several categories.ippygoldjpeghr

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Italian immigrants to the United States faced fierce discrimination in the early 20th century. In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti tells part of that story.

Entertainer Jimmy Durante, on the cover of the new issue of Primo Magazine.

Primo Magazine—the magazine for and about Italian Americans—recently posted an interview with me about the book. Read the excerpt below (from Primo Magazine, vol. 14, issue 3, 3rd edition, 2012).

Primo: You bring to life the prejudices and outright bigotry back then that a host of politicians, journalists, and community leaders displayed against Italian immigrants. Share with us some of the most egregious examples of anti-Italianism in the era of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Tejada: The most egregious example would have to be the largest mass lynching in American history, when eleven jailed Italians were killed in a single night in New Orleans in 1891. Five of them were awaiting trial for the murder of the city’s chief of police; of the other six, three had experienced a mistrial in the same case and three had already been acquitted. Another egregious example is the 1911 report by the U.S. Immigration Commission, stating that “certain kinds of criminality are inherent in the Italian race.”

Of course, Italians weren’t the only immigrants who experienced bigotry. Almost 70 percent of immigrants to the United States between 1900 and 1909 came from Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, and nativists viewed them all as worthless riffraff, “the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans,” in the opinion of Madison Grant, the chairman of the New York Zoological Society.

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Certainly Not a Bright Spot

Certainly Not a Bright Spot

Headline in the January 3, 1920 edition of the Boston Evening Transcript reports on roundups in New England.

January 2, 2013. You and I still have time to make our New Year’s resolutions.

On a different January 2, however—January 2, 1920—only one resolution mattered for thousands of people across the United States: the resolution to get out of prison. On that date, police rounded up and arrested two to four thousand people attending meetings that had been organized by undercover government agents. The chaotic roundups struck thirty-three cities in twenty-three states.

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (FBI photo).

The raids were a response both to a wave of bombings that had terrified Americans the previous year and to the failure of law enforcement to nab the bombers. U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose own house had been bombed, was under tremendous pressure “to do something and do it now, and do it quick.”

Palmer’s solution was the deportation roundups which, according to the FBI’s own version of events, “turned into a nightmare.”

The Palmer raids targeted Communist Party and Communist Labor Party members. It soon became clear that the dragnet had swept up people who were not Communists at all. Some detainees “did not so much as know the difference between bolshevism and rheumatism,” one congressman said. Worse, subsequent rulings found that membership in neither party justified deportation.

A May 1920 report documented the illegality of the Palmer raids, concluding that the Dept. of Justice had been a bigger threat to the country than the radicals rounded up in the raids.

In a detailed report on the raids published a few months after they occurred, twelve prominent lawyers documented charges against the attorney general and his agents of cruel and unusual punishment, arrests without warrants, unreasonable search and seizure, entrapment, misuse of office, and the compelling of self-incrimination.

The raids “were certainly not a bright spot,” according to the FBI, although they did teach “important lessons about the need to protect civil liberties and constitutional rights.”

For more about this dangerous time in history, read In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti.

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Six Dollars a Week

Six Dollars a Week

In New York, Vanzetti said, “my language meant little more…than the pitiful noises of a dumb animal.” (photo source: Lower East Side Tenement Museum)

The American stories of long-ago immigrants come alive at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on—where else?—New York’s Lower East Side ( In a gutsy feat of urban archaeology, planners restored 97 Orchard Street to the way it was at the turn of the twentieth century, when the neighborhood was said to be the most densely populated place on earth. Visitors can enter the rooms where immigrant families once lived—the Gumpertz and Baldizzi families, the Levine and Rogarshevsky families—and hear their stories of hard times and survival.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti came to America in 1908. He landed in New York and stayed there for about a year before striking out in search of work elsewhere. Laboring in a New York restaurant kitchen that year, he earned about six dollars a week washing dishes twelve to fourteen hours a day, with five hours off every other Sunday. He bunked in a garret so hot that he said he preferred to sleep outside in a park at night. To him, 97 Orchard Street would probably have been paradise.

The immigrant lives of Sacco and Vanzetti will be the subject of a Tenement Talk at the museum on November 27. Filmmaker Peter Miller and I will share stories about the men and their controversial criminal case. If you can’t be there in person, watch the event as it’s livestreamed at 6:30 p.m., or catch it later at

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The Pull of the Past

Nancy Drew cracks another case.

I asked: What books influenced you when you were growing up?

You replied:

Nancy Drew mysteries. “I wanted to be a detective. Now I’m an art historian and art appraiser—an art detective!”

Under the Lilacs. “I wanted a standard poodle for 25 years after reading that book, and finally I got one!”

Also: Black StallionIsland StallionMy Book HouseLittle House on the Prairie, and the Oz books.

Plus: Anything by Lucy Maud Montgomery or Louisa May Alcott (besides Under the Lilacs).

Finally: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, and a series about an “entwined set of families on military bases (can’t remember the author, but one of the characters was named Tippy).”

The responses would have differed if I’d heard from more guys—Treasure Island, anyone? The Hardy Boys? Encyclopedia Brown? Or if I’d heard from younger readers—Harry Potter, Harry Potter, and Harry Potter.

The books we loved as kids, we never forget. Excuse me. I think I have to go jump on the running board of the roadster now.

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Name That Book

N.C. Wyeth cover illustration

“What books influenced you as a child?”

Good question. I’d never really given it any thought, so when someone asked me that recently, I didn’t have a ready answer.

Then I remembered Mrs. Babcock, the librarian at the Rochambeau Branch Public Library in Providence. She rescued me when I was at that awkward age—too old for Nancy Drew and Jo March, too young for Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet. With some trepidation, Mrs. Babcock directed me to “boys’ books”—sports biographies and adventure stories.

Thank you, Mrs. Babcock!

Now I understand which books were important to me then—The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, because it was the first book I read that made history (or a fictionalized version of it) come alive; and the biographies of Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese, because until I read them, I had no idea that non-fiction could be exciting.

Tell me: what books influenced you when you were growing up?

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Where Bookivores Gather

Contemporary Life or Family Storytelling? It's advisable to peruse the program before making a decision.

I love ink on paper.

On two spectacular fall days last weekend, thousands of others who feel the same way I do turned out for the 2012 National Book Festival. There was something for everyone. More than 100 authors spoke on subjects ranging from presidents to puppies.

Speaking about In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti.

It was my privilege to speak about Sacco and Vanzetti. To tell the truth, it was a big crowd, I was nervous, and the time seemed to go by in a blur. I’m told that Patricia Cornwell, who had spoken earlier that day, was in the audience, taking notes.

In 2006 best-selling author John Grisham took up non-fiction to write The Innocent Man, the true story of a wrongful conviction in Oklahoma. Could Cornwell be contemplating a similar move? The more than 250 prisoners exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence since the 1980s would surely agree that shining a spotlight on the subject of wrongful convictions would be a good thing.

Flanked by the History & Biography Pavilion, the U.S. Capitol, and the Smithsonian Castle (behind the trees), bookivores gather for the 2012 National Book Festival.


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