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About Pietro ‘Pete’ Tanzini

October 22, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Last week in this space we wrote about "Prohibition" (1919 to 1933) and the local connection and promised a great story this week written by Phil "Bunk" Griffin. Do yourself a favor and go to his website,, and read the entire tale. He has given his permission to use the following excerpts (they will appear in quotes), which we will get to shortly.

In the meantime, in making the Legs Diamond (born Jack Nolan), Dutch Schultz (born Arthur Flegenheimer - no wonder he changed his name) connection, our research says Diamond was killed in Albany by the Schultz gang. Jim LaFountain believes his dad, Mose LaFountain, had driven Legs to Albany that day or the day before. Remember Diamond's brother Eddie was curing in Saranac Lake.

The most famous speakeasy in this area was Bert LaFountain's (also described in Bunk's story) in Gabriels, which operated long after probation was repealed as a bar but without a liquor license. I was happy to have met Bert there on a couple of occasions, once on a Sunday afternoon with my friend Hank Stern.

Article Photos

The police blotter entry from Feb. 17, 1931

Jack Finegan who has lived on the family farm on the Harrietstown Road all his life (well, not yet) said he saw Bert LaFountain pull up in his big Packard one day many years ago and put a case of whiskey in the culvert across from their farm house. He told his father, Fletcher, about it and he said to Jack, "Keep your eye on that culvert". A few days later Jack watched the troopers pull up and retrieve the whiskey. When he told his father about it, he replied; "Bert just paid another installment on his liquor 'license'.


The Tanzini story

"Pietro (Pete) Tanzini and his brothers had come to the U.S. from Italy in the early 1900s and eventually came to Saranac Lake where they operated a construction company specializing in first class masonry. The brothers produced some beautiful stone work in Saranac Lake, including the early brick streets, which they laid around 1916." [Bunk had interviewed the late Shirley Ann Tanzini McCarthy, daughter of Pete and Augusta (Guzzy) Tanzini, Pete's second wife.]

"Four of Pete's brothers settled in Binghamton but one brother, Jack, stayed in Saranac Lake and was associated with Rocco and Jimmie's American-Italian Restaurant at 104 Broadway, which was frequently busted for selling illegal beverages. Pete, on the other hand, decided to become more active in the illegal booze trade.

"Pete was in his early twenties at that time and, besides his ability as a stone mason, was also am adept race car driver. He would utilize both of those skills in his bootlegging career."

Now I have to condense this part to get to the mystery that still surrounds Mr. Tanzini. In 1922 state trooper Captain Charlie Broadfield and Franklin County Sheriff Frank Steenburg were looking for an escapee from the Franklin County jail when they spotted Tanzini and his son-in-law Tony Salvaggio coming across the border with a load of booze. Tanzini tried to outrun the lawmen but was forced over on the banks of the Salmon River. Pete and Tony jumped off a 30-foot ledge into the river and were captured by Captain Broadfield's 14-year-old police dog. They paid a $600 fine.

He was later shot by gangsters posing as lawmen as he was in his car with others. The bullet went through the right kidney and lung and lodged in his chest. He was taken to the Champlain Valley Hospital in Plattsburgh where he was expected to die but after several weeks he was back in Saranac Lake declaring that he had made his last trip over the 'Adirondack Booze Trail'.


Jumping ahead to 1930

"On Wednesday, Dec. 17, 1930, at 5 p.m. Peter told Guzzy that he had a business meeting in town and left the house. He told her that he would stop at the store on the way home and pick up groceries. He went directly to the Club Restaurant on Main Street and met with the owner, Al Chapple and Jimmy Carolina, a local businessman, concerning a store they were planning on building in town.

"A Saranac Lake salesman reported seeing Pete a short time later near Work's Corners now better known as Donnelly's Corners. The man said Pete was driving his Buick and was accompanied by two men who he did not recognize. That was the last known sighting of Peter Tanzini."

This is a really condensed version of events that followedTwo months after Pete had disappeared, Feb. 17, 1931, his wife received a telephone call and immediately after went into her bedroom and killed herself. Some claim that there were two telephone calls and also someone had come to the door but the illustration seen here is the official police report of that event.



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