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Ninth Ward

The Ninth Ward (1916)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-11131

Death Corner: South Murray Street & Desmond Court

The Triangle Redevelopment Project in the 1960s destroyed the heart of Madison’s Greenbush neighborhood. Along with homes and businesses, entire streets were eliminated, including the intersection of South Murray Street and Desmond Court – a spot that had come to be known, during the Rum War of the 1920s, as Death Corner.

The first killing in the area was on May 1, 1912, when Nicolo Quartuccio shot Andrea Stasi, a boarder in his father’s house on Murray Street, who had tried to act as peacemaker during an argument. Stasi lived long enough to identify his assailant; Quartuccio was sentenced to 25 years at Waupun for the crime.

After passage of the Volstead Act in 1920, which made Prohibition the law of the land, the Bush became one of Madison’s sources for moonshine. Two gangs, one centered on Regent Street and the other on Milton Street, contended for control of the liquor trade. The so-called Rum War soon broke out between them, leading to an era of violence and murder.

On August 31, 1922, James D'Amico was shotgunned through the window of his store at South Murray and Desmond Court by gangsters from Chicago, possibly the same ones who had murdered his brother in that city in similar fashion one month earlier.

On February 12, 1923, Carl Justo was found dying in a bloodstained snow bank on Murray Street with a charge of buckshot in the back of his neck. Some said it was an act of retaliation because his son Dominic had “squealed” on individuals who had robbed the Randall State Bank on Monroe Street in March 1922.

It was the murders of D’Amico and Justo that gave Death Corner its name.

On January 31, 1924, Louis Lotwin, a Jewish laborer who had moved back to Madison only a month before, was shot at Death Corner in a dispute over his job. At 5 a.m. he was walking to his stableman’s job at the Sinaiko Brothers Fuel Company when a man passed him in the street, then turned and fired four shots. Lotwin died on February 10 from blood poisoning without identifying his assailant.

On December 1, 1924, Elmer "Props" Thomas and Albert "Speedy" Millett were shot at as they walked down Desmond Court while seeking moonshine. Speedy was unhurt; Props, a cripple on crutches, received a superficial wound in the shoulder. When police arrived at the scene they found Patrolman Herbert Dreger, the youngest officer on the force, dying in the street. He too had been shot. While two suspects were arrested, they were acquitted by a jury in Sauk County.

On January 6, 1925, as officers Lyman Mason and Taylor Gray crossed Regent and Murray, half a block from Death Corner, shots rang out from a parked car they were approaching. Neither was hit.

Finally, on April 8, 1928, Joseph DiMartino was killed as he stood in the kitchen of the Joe Voresi house at 22 South Murray.

Except for the killer of Andrea Stasi, none of the other murderers were ever caught.

Mark Gajewski