Evidence and Conclusions Concerning
the Medeiros Confession

On November 16, 1925, the battle to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti took a surprising turn when a convict in the Dedham jail, where Sacco was doing his time, passed to Deputy Jail Master Oliver Curtis a note addressed to the Editor of the Boston American.  The note read: 
     Dear Editor 
          I hear by confess to being in the shoe company crime at south Braintree on April 15 1920 and that Sacco and Vanzetti were not there. 
     Celestino F. Madeiros
When he learned of the letter, Thompson rushed to the Dedham jail to visit Madeiros.  Madeiros told Thompson that he and four Italians that he had met in a Providence bar committed the Braintree crime.  One of the other four was called Mike, another Bill, but he did not know the names of the other two.  Madeiros claimed to have ridden in
the backseat of the Buick during the holdup--"scared to death."  After the crime, they switched cars in the Randolph Woods and made plans to meet in a Providence saloon the next day.  The men never showed up, Madeiros said, and he then went on unsuccessful trips to New York and Chicago looking for the men and his share
of the loot. 

Madeiros's story failed to fit some of the well-substantiated testimony in the Dedham trial.  For example, Madeiros said the gang didn't arrive in Braintree until mid-afternoon, but Shelley Neal and other witnesses testified to having seen either the Buick or men involved in the crime between nine o'clock and noon.  He also claimed that the payroll money was in a black bag, when in fact it was in a metal box. 

Undaunted by the inconsistencies in the Madeiros confession, Thompson used it as the basis for a new trial.  Thompson (accompanied by future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter) traveled to the Dedham courthouse to argue his motion before Judge Thayer in May, 1926.  Five months later, Thayer denied the motion, calling
Madeiros's confession "unreliable, untrustworthy, and untrue." 

Interview with Medeiros in Dedham Jail (June 28, 1926)
Thompson (Defense) Brief: Medeiros-Morelli Theory Compared to Sacco-Vanzetti Theory
Opinion of Judge Thayer Denying Medeiros Motion (Excerpts)
Opinion of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Denying Medeiros Motion (Excerpt)
Lowell Committee Statement Concerning Medeiros Confession
Governor Fuller's Statement Concerning Medeiros Confession

Thompson (Defense) Brief: Medeiros-Morelli Theory Compared to Sacco-Vanzetti Theory
CHARACTER OF ACCUSED Typical gangsters and gunmen of the worst type. One of them an industrious workman with a family and a savings bank deposit, and no previous criminal record.  The other a fish peddler never before his arrest accused of a crime.  Both unpopular as pacifists and extreme radicals.
MOTIVE Desperate need of funds for lawyer and bail before trial for serious Federal offense.  Source of income through robbing freight cars blocked by U. S. Marshal and R. R. police. Robbery for private gain alleged.  No claim or evidence that either defendant ever received or had any part of the stolen money.
OPPORTUNITY TO PLAN CRIME Had been repeatedly stealing large shipments from Slater and Morell and Rice and Hutchins. None alleged.
ACCUSATION BY CONFEDERATE Direct testimony of a participant. None.
IDENTIFICATION BY OTHERS Opportunity restricted, but Joe, Mancini, and Benkosky identified from photographs as well as defense witnesses.  No available photographs of Mike or Frank.  Undoubted resemblance of Joe Morelli to Sacco in many particulars. Some identification of Sacco; very slight of Vanzetti at the scene of the murder.  Identifications open not only to doubt, but to the gravest suspicion owing to the unprecedented manner of displaying these defendants, previous identifications of other criminals by the same witnesses, changes in stories, suppression of testimony, manifestly impossible details such as Vanzetti using  "clear and unmistakable English,"
and man identifying Sacco as having an unusually large hand.
ALIBI Full of contradictions as to Morellis.  None by Medeiros. Testified to by many reputable witnesses.
CONSCIOUSNESS OF GUILT Alleged motion to draw gun on officer--uncontradicted.
Falsehoods consistent with nothing but consciousness of guilt of crime charged.
Confession by Medeiros.
Alleged motion to draw gun on officer--contradicted.
Falsehoods explained by radicals and draft evaders at time of persecution of "reds" two days after murder or suicide of a friend while in the custody of Justice Department officials.
BULLETS One fired from a pistol of a type owned by Joe Morelli (Colt 32), and five from type owned by Mancini (Star or Steyr, 765 mm). One only claimed to have been fired by weapon of Sacco, and none by Vanzetti.  Sharp disagreement by experts, but if real opinion of one of the Government's experts had been known at the time of trial he would have proved a defense witness.
OTHER CORROBORATIVE MATTER Morellis were American-born and could have used "clear and unmistakable English."  Every member of the murder party accounted for.  Unwillingness of Morelli lawyer to state anything tending to implicate his former clients in South Braintree murders. Testimony shows that cap claimed to be Sacco's was not identified by Kelly, and effort to connect Vanzetti's popular make of revolver with Berardelli's supported by most remote type of evidence, including confused records of gun-shop offered by an ex-agent (unrevealed) of the Department of Justice.  Does not account for other members of the party.
STOLEN MONEY Medeiros' possession of $2,800 immediately thereafter (about his "split" of total sum stolen). None.  On the contrary, when arrested, Sacco and Vanzetti, supposed to be in possession of over $15,000, and ex-hypothesi, to be accomplished automobile thieves, were using street cars after an unsuccessful attempt to borrow a friend's six-year-old Overland.
ATTITUDE OF AUTHORITIES Seriously offer statements and affidavits of Morellis denying participation in crime.  Declined request of defendant's counsel to interview all witnesses jointly to avoid vulgar contest of affidavits.  Declined to investigate. Anti-Red excitement capitalized; highly prejudicial cross-examination as to draft evasion and anarchistic opinions and associations; patriotic speeches and charge by Judge to jury; interference by Department of Justice agents who believed defendants innocent; suppression of testimony favorable to defense; intentionally misleading testimony of expert on vital points.


The judge who presided at the trial and who heard the motion has decided that no reliance can be placed upon the alleged confession; that its truth is not substantiated by other affidavits; that the allegations of conspiracy to convict, of improper suppression of evidence and of improper use of unreliable witnesses, are not made out.  These decisions are of matters of fact.  Upon them the judge's findings are final.  The granting or the denial of a motion for a new trial rests in the judicial discretion of the trial judge.  Commonwealth v. Devereaux, 257 Mass. 391, and cases cited; and his decision will not be disturbed unless it is vitiated by errors of law, or abuse of discretion....

An impartial, intelligent and honest judge would be justified in finding that the confession gains no persuasive force from the credibility of Medeiros; that the facts relied upon by the defendants in confirmation, if true, go no further than to furnish basis for a contention that he and some members of the Morelli gang of criminals took part in the murder at South Braintree, but fall far short of furnishing adequate proofs of their guilt or of establishing reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendants....


I give no weight to the Madeiros confession.  It is popularly supposed he confessed to committing this crime.  In his testimony to me he could not recall the details or describe the neighborhood.  He furthermore stated that the Government had doublecrossed him and he proposes to doubiecross the Government.  He feels that the District Attorney's office has treated him unfairly because his two confederates who were associated with him in the commission of the murder for which he was convicted were given life sentences, whereas he was sentenced to death.  He confessed the crime for which he was convicted.  I am not impressed with his knowledge of the South Braintree murders.


The impression has gone abroad that Madeiros confessed committing the murder at South Braintree.  Strangely enough, this is not really the case' He confesses to being present, but not to being guilty of the murder.  That is, he says that he as a youth of eighteen, was induced to go with the- others without knowing where he was going, or what was to be done, save that there was to be a hold-up which would not involve killing; and that he took no part in what was done.  In short, if he were tried, his own confession, if wholly believed, would not be sufficient for a verdict of murder in the first degree.  His ignorance of what happened is extraordinary, and much of it cannot be attributed to a desire to shield his associates, for it had no connection therewith.  This is true of his inability to recollect the position of the buildings, and whether one or more men were killed.  In his deposition he could remember nothing immediately says that he was so scared that he after the shooting.  To the Committee he said that the shooting brought on an epileptic fit which showed itself by a failure of memory; but that hardly explains the fact that he Could not tell the Committee whether before the shooting the car reached its position in front of the Slater & Morrill factory by going down Pearl Street or by a circuit through a roundabout road.  Indeed, in his whole testimony there is only one fact that can be checked up as showing a personal knowledge of what really happened, and that was his statement that after the murder the car stopped to ask the way at the house of Mrs. Hewins at the corner of Oak and Orchard Streets in Randolph.  As this house was not far from the place on a nearby road where Medeiros subsequently lived, he might very well have heard the fact mentioned.  In short, if the Government were to try to convict him of this offense, and he were to say that the whole thing was a fabrication to help Sacco and Vanzetti, he certainly could not be convicted on his own confession, and probably not even indicted.

How far do the other affidavits corroborate his statement?  They state that Madeiros-who seems to have been rather prone to boast of his featshad previously told Weeks that he had taken part with the Morelli gang in the South Braintree crime, and had talked with the Monterios also about it. The affidavits further state that he was acquainted with this gang, which consisted of a hardened set of criminals who had stolen shoes shipped from the Slater & Morrill and Rice & Hutchins factories, and were accustomed to spot the shipments when made at such factories; that on April I 5th, 1920, a number of that gang were out on bail for a different offiense for which they were afterwards sentenced, and consequently could physically have been at South Braintree; that the photographs 6f Joe Morelli showed a distinct resemblance to Sacco and to whoever shot Berardelli, and that of Benkoski to the driver of the car-but identification by photograph is very uncertain; that Joe Morelli possessed a Colt automatic 32-caliber pistol.  They state that one of the gang was seen in Providence late on the afternoon of April 15th in a Buick car which, by the officer who so reported, was seen no more.  In regard to the last item, the great improbability may be noted that bandits who intended to hide the car in which they made their escape should have first shown it in the streets of Providence after all but one of the members of the gang had already returned in another car.  Even without considering the contradictory evidence it does not seem to the Committee that these affidavits to corroborate a worthless confession are of such weight as to deserve serious attention.

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