July 29, 1932: Santo Bazzano came to our attention while we were researching the 1932 murders of the Volpe brothers. Bazzano was identified as a witness. He was in the Wylie Avenue coffee shop where the killings took place and hid behind a counter when bullets started to fly. He was still there when police rushed in several minutes later.
Bazzano was “crouched behind a counter and crying hysterically, ‘I don’t want to be shot, I don’t want to be shot,’ ” read the Sun-Telegraph.
Dead on the floor of the shop were James and Arthur Volpe. John Volpe’s bullet-riddled body was outside, lying a few feet from the shop’s entrance.
(Read a detailed account of the Volpe murders in the PG’s interactive presentation, “Pittsburgh: The Dark Years.”)
The Volpe brothers were well-known racketeers. Their killings at lunchtime on a busy street shocked the city. Police could find only one witness — Santo Bazzano. Our archives contain a picture of two detectives marching a man in handcuffs away from the scene. A handwritten note on the back of the image indicates this is Bazzano. He was taken to headquarters and questioned, but Bazzano couldn’t (or wouldn’t) identify the gunmen. The Volpes were his buddies, he said. So he was released.
A few weeks later, Bazzano was again in the news — his older brother John Bazzano had been stabbed more than 20 times during a visit to Brooklyn, N.Y. John Bazzano, himself a racketeer, was implicated in the Volpe assassinations. Santo followed his brother’s widow as John’s casket was marched to its grave.
Santo Bazzano then disappeared from the news until 1935. In January of that year, police had some questions for him concerning the murder of a Bridgeville gambler, whose body was found face-down in a muddy lane two miles west of Carnegie. We found no evidence Bazzano was arrested or charged. His name failed to turn up in any later news stories.
We wondered, “What happened to this young man who witnessed one of the most brazen murders in the city’s history?”
Census records indicate he was born Oct. 8, 1904, in Reggio Calabria, Italy, and came to the United States in 1921. His brother John had already settled here — he was a rising star in the Pittsburgh-area bootleg business. By 1932, John had teamed up with the Volpe brothers. That’s how Santo ended up in the coffee shop during the murders. Apparently, John had changed his mind about the partnership.
By 1940, Santo Bazzano was living in Arnold, Westmoreland County, with his wife Vera, daughter Emma and son Stephen. Census records list his occupation as proprietor of a pool hall. Over the next several years, he’d own and operate a number of businesses, including the Colfax Inn in Springdale and the Havana Inn in Arnold.
His obituary states Bazzano was famous for his homemade spaghetti sauce. His son, Robert Bazzano of Lower Burrell, remembers him as “a great father. He ruled the roost.
“He was really truthful. He didn’t lie,” Robert said. “And he didn’t like anybody who lied.”
Santo and Vera Bazzano were married 65 years and raised four sons and two daughters. He died at his home in Springdale on Oct. 17, 2002. He was 98.
And what did Santo see in that Wylie Avenue coffee shop more than 80 years ago? Santo never talked about it, Robert said.