Bensonhurst Murder Put Early Test To NY’s Capital Punishment

(Source: Minnesota Historical Society)

Red Bolognia’s life was only worth a bag of nickels. His cohorts in a 1935 Bensonhurst-area murder, though, may have helped test the limits of capital punishment in New York State, and pushed reform through regarding the age limits of those who could receive the penal system’s most severe punishment.

On Sunday, the Daily News ran a piece dredging up the history of the 76-year-old case that involved Joseph (Red) Bolognia, and five other Brooklynites. The schemers were arrested in 1935 for a hold-up that turned into the murder of Edwin Esposito, a subway coin collector. All they got was a measly $245.05, but the case had a lasting legacy.

Daily News describes the stick-up:

Esposito was on his knees at the change box, filling up his bag, when a voice behind him barked, “Stick ’em up!”
He turned to find himself in the sights of a gun gripped by Joseph (Red) Bolognia, 23. Skinny and bug-eyed, Bolognia got the nickname from his crown of carmine-tinted hair, bristly as Brillo.
Bolognia clubbed Esposito with the gun butt and fired a fatal shot that hit him squarely in the chest.
The gang grabbed the hefty bag of nickels and sped to Red Hook to divvy up the loot.
… Triggerman Bolognia treated himself to the biggest cut, $38. Some got as little as 15 bucks.
Brooklyn cops were instructed at musters to be on the alert for miscreants with bulging pockets, and a Court St. beat cop happened to see Sal Scata, 18, of Carroll St., use nickels to buy groceries.
Twenty minutes later, he was sitting in the canary cage at the Butler St. stationhouse, warbling a long list of names for detectives, including that of Red Bolognia, his Carroll St. neighbor.
Scata, Bolognia and four other Brooklyn hoods were charged with first-degree murder: Sam Kimmel, 20, and Dominick Zizzo, 25, of Borough Park; Eugene Bruno, 20, of Bensonhurst, and Ted Di Donna, 30, of Red Hook. (Two other men were identified but never apprehended.)

Even though Bolognia was the only one who committed the murder, they were all held accountable and sentenced to death by the electric chair – the second time in state history that so many people were given the death penalty for a single murder.

But in the weeks before their scheduled execution, proponents for capital punishment reforms that would exclude those under 21 years old seized hold of the case. Through a series of maneuvers detailed by the Daily News, all but two – Bolognia and Di Donna – were spared.