I brought the poor woman two prayer books today. She cannot read, but she is intelligent, and knows the meaning of the passages I have marked in the books. She knows prayers by heart. She learned them like a machine; but on the threshold of death she has now learned their import, their significance. She is thankful today that she knows and understands those prayers. They are her comfort. Until Sunday last I had never seen a tear in... Valentina’s eyes. During the prayers in the prison there she suddenly gave way to her feelings, and wept. Oh! Her grief! Her outburst was overwhelmingly sad. It was the very first time since her incarceration that Anna Valentina gave way to her feelings.
28 September 2015
While glancing at headlines in a 1906 Trenton Times, one in particular caught my eye. Ask Mercy For Mrs. Valentina: Several Thousand Letters are Sent to the Court of Pardons. Those letters unanimously requested for commutation of sentence for Anna Valentina who was in the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack under a sentence of death for murder. The Reverend James A. Reynolds of Red Bank, acting on behalf of the Italian citizens of New Jersey, also urged the governor to grant Mrs. Valentina clemency.
In response, Governor Stokes called a special meeting of the Court of Pardons. Counselor James M. Trimble of Newark requested to present the court with a “number of matters in connection with the murder which he claims will induce favorable action of the court.”
Just who was Anna Valentina? Who did she murder and why were so many eager to save her life?
Around 1895, Anna Valentina immigrated to the United States from Italy. She was in her mid-thirties at that time and, according to the Evening World newspaper, “possessed a luxuriant beauty of the daughters of the South” and she bore “the marks of refinement and a certain degree of culture”.
Life in the United States was not easy for Anna. She reacquainted herself with a man she once knew in Italy, fellow immigrant Michael Carlucci, and he “resumed his influence over her”. Although not legally married, the press at the time reported that they lived together “as man and wife. There had been no ceremony, but the two loved one another and were happy in their simple way.”
Carlucci was a “boss mason” in New York. The couple moved to Long Island and then, around 1902, they moved to Lodi, New Jersey where they built a house. Carlucci persuaded his girlfriend or “common law wife” to invest her money in the construction of their home by promising her an interest in the property. Anna Valentina not only provided backing for the house, but also physical labor, carrying “the hod and mortar and working faithfully to complete the dwelling.” The promised property deed, however, was never given to her.
Instead, Carlucci’s interest in Anna began to wane. He and his son from a previous marriage “ill treated” Anna. They argued and argued. Anna even took Carlucci to court, but there was nothing the law could do. Carlucci’s new romantic interest, and Anna’s “rival, Rosina Salza, was his leading witness, “and they went out of the court arm in arm, Michael and Rosina, and straight to the home that [Anna] had helped to buy with years of the hardest sort of toil - and she was shut out.”
After nine years of common law marriage, the couple separated in 1903 (he actually deserted her) and Carlucci and his son began spreading disparaging stories about Anna’s character among their fellow Italian immigrant neighbors.
In addition to dealing with Carlucci’s desertion, she now had to “bear the scorn and taunts of her countrymen and the loss of her money” as the house she helped to build, both financially and physically, was taken away from her.
Stories of Carlucci’s unfaithfulness abounded. Rosina Salza eventually moved in with Carlucci, and Anna went to work in the house next door to where she used to live. Every day as she went to work, Anna would see Rosina Salza sitting in the kitchen window. When their eyes would meet, “taunts and jeers flew fast”. Rosina was relentless with her verbal abuse. “Rosina exulted over her and taunted her that she was old and wrinkled, and could not keep her man when a younger and prettier came.”
Finally, Anna had enough. At 3:00 in the afternoon on March 10, 1904, she rushed into her old house, ran up the stairs, burst in the door and grabbed Rosina Salza by the wrist. Anna struck her down and then proceeded to stab Rosina eighteen times, the knife “hacking its way into the woman’s breast.” Anna Valentina then walked three miles in the snow to the police station where she turned herself in. After confessing and turning over the blood-stained knife, she added, “now I die. Now I am satisfied.”
Anna was arrested and her case went to trial in April. Even with her repeated confession, “...we were forced by the law to go to trial.” She took the stand and admitted to killing Rosina Salza and recounted the details of the crime. “Not defending herself, the twelve men in the jury box had no alternative. Murder in the first degree was their verdict.” The jury delivered their verdict just eight hours and four minutes after the trial began. Sentence was pronounced on April 16th and on May 19, 1904 Anna Valentia was “to be hanged by the neck until she is dead.” The sentence was eventually delayed, rescheduled for June 15th at 10:00 in the morning.
Meanwhile, Anna languished in jail. According to the Evening World, she paced ceaselly up and down in the narrow passageway outside the second elevation of cells in the women’s department of the prison in Hackensack. She looked the incarnation of despair and stoical resignation. Her face was colorless, her eyes dark and her hair jet black. She wore a brown skirt and loose white jacket. “Her arms were folded, her head thrown back defiantly, her figure erect...[She] shows traces of former beauty, but the expression is now one of vengeance satisfied. ‘I die! I die! My conscience is clear. Yes, I am going to be killed. It is an old law of God and man that if you kill, your life must pay. I am ready to pay. I had to kill her. I suffered too much.’”
Almost immediately after her trial, Anna gained the sympathy and support of the public. Her lawyer, Milton Demarest, struggled to save her life, but there was little hope. He could not comprehend Anna’s attitude. Demarest stated that, “until this very hour she has resigned herself to the knowledge that she removed from her path one of whom she was jealous, one she hated.” As much as she would lash out about the woman she murdered, she had nothing to say to, or about, her former lover Michael Carlucci. “I asked her today, ‘Shall I send for Michael Carlucci? You may wish to see him before...’”
“‘Before I die? No, I do not care to see Carlucci. It is better he should not come to me. I am prepared to die.’”
Officials in Hackensack continued to try to save Anna’s life. They included Prosecutor Koester, who initially presented the case of the State against Anna Valentina, Sheriff Soley, Senator Edmund Wakelee and County Clerk Ramsey. They called upon Governor Murphy, who said he was willing to reconvene the Court of Pardons provided Vice Chancellor Magie of Trenton would agree to it. Magie, however, was opposed to the idea. “Nothing can convince me that the sentence of death in the case of Anna Valentina was not justified by the facts. I will not change my decision.”
Father John Lambert of St. Mary’s Church in Hackensack administered the blessed sacrament to Anna in her “gloomy cell.” Initially he was infectiously optimistic, but now that her new death warrant had been signed, he left her cell in tears. “Without money, without friends save the good priests who have administered to her, forsaken by the man she once loved and for whose love she had committed a crime for which her life is to pay the penalty, the Italian murderess is powerless in appeal...”
It was a combination of her human interest story and the fact that she was a woman that garnered her so much sympathy. She was seen as an attractive and intelligent woman. “If her mind was inflamed by jealousy and hatred when she raised her hand to murder,” said her lawyer, “today this woman is mentally sound. No defense of insanity could be interposed successfully in her behalf.”
Father Lambert added that Anna was not heartless. “It is indeed all more than sad and pathetic. It is tragic.”
The priest continued:
The notion of hanging a woman - a first in New Jersey - was repugnant to the public. The Governor’s hands were tied, however. New Jersey law at the time did not allow the Governor to commute a death sentence; he could only grant a stay of execution. And this he and his successors would continuously do, not so much because they felt sorry for Anna but because “commuting the sentence will save the state the disgrace of hanging a woman, something which has not occurred in New Jersey since Mrs. Meirhoffer was hanged at Newark over twenty years ago for the murder of her husband.”
C.J. Prehall was a Jersey City lawyer who had previously been successful in delaying the hanging of an African-American murderer named Hallinger. He called upon Sheriff Soley in Hackensack informing him that he had been hired by New York and New Jersey Italians to take Anna’s case to the United States Supreme Court.
Anna Vallentina’s appointment with the gallows continued to be postponed. By the end of June, 1904, Senator Wakelee had become Acting Governor. He issued her a reprieve, delaying her execution to July 6th. Lawyers working on Anna’s behalf continued to make appeals. On May 9, 1905, Judge Lanning in the United States District Court, refused to grant a writ of habeas corpus. An appeal with the United States Supreme Court was made on the refusal to grant the writ.
At the same time, Gustavo Tosti, acting Consul General for Italy in New York City, had received instructions from King Victor Emanuel II to spend up to $100,000 if necessary in the defense of Anna Valentina. The Italians did not believe she had been given a fair trail and that the treaty between Italy and the United States that guarantees to Italians the same consideration as American citizens had been violated.
The Independent newspaper bemoaned the refusal of the Court of Pardons to act on Anna’s behalf. “The decision of the Court of Pardons of New Jersey is an example of the brusque, relentless procedure which long since became famous throughout the country as ‘Jersey Justice.’”
In February 1906, Attorney James W. Trimble took Anna’s case to the United States Supreme Court. He first argued that Anna Valentina had not actually been tried, “but had undergone an extraordinary proceeding merely to determine the degree of murder of which she was guilty.” Both the Constitution and the treaty with Italy entitled her to a trial by jury. The proceedings “...did not constitute a trial by jury in a legal meaning of the term, because a trial by jury is a proceeding wherein, on a plea of not guilty, there is, in theory at least, the possibility of an acquittal...This miscalled trial, however, was only an inquiry as to the degree of the crime.” It was also brought out that Anna was not accorded the privilege of facing her accusers and hearing their evidence because she did not understand English and there was no attempt to translate what the witnesses were saying.
The Supreme Court refused to grant her a new trial. The Court of Pardons, under pressure from Governor Stokes and faced with a petition with 40,000 signatures, finally agreed to hear her case. Prosecutor Koester of Bergen County, who had conducted the case against Anna, appeared before the Court and made a plea on her behalf. On May 17, 1906, they commuted her death sentence to life imprisonment.
That summer Michael Carlucci, the former common law husband of Anna Valentina, was again in the newspapers. It was learned on July 25, 1905, that he married once again. He and his new wife Mary and his son from his first marriage still lived in the apartment where Anna stabbed Rosa to death. “It is said that Carlucci has already turned over all his property to his [new] wife, including the [three-story] brick house in which Anna Valentina’s labor helped to build and the possession of which led up to the tragedy after Carlucci discarded her. One of Carlucci’s friends says he does not think the new wife knows a murder was committed in the kitchen where she now prepares meals for her husband.” It was decided not to tell Anna Valntina about Carlucci’s new marriage!
By 1916, Anna had been transferred to the Clinton Reformatory. Suffering from “weakened mentality”, a petition was made for a pardon so that relatives could care for her. On April 12, 1916, Anna Valentina was granted a parole by the Court of Pardons, after having served nearly fifteen years imprisonment.
Albuquerque Citizen. December 29, 1905.
Decatur Herald. March 14, 1905
Evening World. April 18, 1904.
Evening World. June 11, 1904
Independent. January-June 1905 (Volume 58).
Indiana Weekly Messenger. June 29, 1904.
Inter Ocean (Chicago). December 28, 1905.
Leavenworth Times. April 24, 1904.
Mount Carmel Item. May 10, 1905
New Jersey Law Journal: Volume 39. 1916.
New York Tribune. June 19, 1905.
New York Times. May 18, 1906.
North Carolinian. May 11, 1905.
Pensacola Journal. May 18, 1906.
Reading Times. July 27, 1905.
Scranton Truth. February 27, 1906.
Trenton Times. May 16, 1906.
Washington Times. March 13, 1905.