Died: Unknown, disappeared December 17, 1930
Married: Twice; Augusta Menzel was his second wife.
Pietro Tanzini, also known as Peter and Pete Tanzini, was a skilled mason who came to Saranac Lake from Italy to install the Italian-made altar in the second St. Bernard's Catholic Church. He remained in the area, where he specialized in cobblestone masonry.
He became involved in bootlegging during Prohibition, running an illegal still from the basement of his house, Pietro Tanzini Cottage, then 28 South Hope Street, now numbered 3 Olive Street. (Note that the clippings below give the address as 25 South Olive Street and 25 South Hope Street.) He disappeared under mysterious circumstances on December 17, 1930.
On February 19, 1931, local reporter Albert I. Evans issued the following press release dated Knickerbocker Press, Albany, N.Y.: Startling developments in the case of Mrs. Peter Tanzini's supposed suicide was the alleged discovery of a huge still to which an underground passage led from the home. It is said the officers also discovered a large quantity of fake wine and whiskey labels, wrappers, foil paper, corks, bottles, gallon jugs, card board containers and other evidence that the place was the headquarters of an extensive bootlegging racket. All the material is said to have been concealed behind four secret panels that were discovered only after the most painstaking search. The still is said to be one of the largest to be found in Northern New York and worth many thousands of dollars. Bottled goods found in the place bore fake lables of well known brands of Scotch and rye whiskeys. Cartons in which the bottles were placed were marked "bottled under government supervision," "aged in wood" and similar phrases, it is reported. It is also alleged that the entire outfit is to be turned over tomorrow to federal agents. Those in charge of the investigation would say nothing today regarding the alleged finding of the still and other contraband. . . .
More at at Bunk's Place.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, August 29, 1922
POLICE DOGS MAKE ARREST IN BOOZE CASE
Pete Tanzini, known to federal and state authorites as the "bootleg will-o'-the-wisp," was captured at Teboville on the Canadian border by Captain J. H. Broadfield of the state troopers stationed at Malone and Sheriff F. S. Steenberg, of Franklin County after a chase that had many of the ingredients of a movie thriller.
For the first time in the annals of rum-running in Northern New York a police dog made an arrest, the object of the animal's attention being Tony Salretti, a son-in-law of Tanzini.
The captures were accidental. Captain Broadfield and Sheriff Steenberg we're searching for Paul Roseman who had escape from the Franklin County jail at Malone, when they sighted Tanzini and Salretti coming across the line from Canada with a liquor-laden automobile. When he saw the officers Tanzini "stepped on the gas" but his car had not enough power to run away from the pursuers. Tanzini then resorted to strategy of breaking bottles of beer in the road in the hope that the officers' car would have its tires blown out.
The officers piloted their machine through the broken glass and finally overtook Tanzini's car at Teboville.
Tanzini was seized but his son-in-law jumped from the car and ran across the fields. The police dog was then released and it caught Salretti after a short fight.
Lake Placid News, June 15, 1923
TANZINI MAY RECOVER
Peter Tanzini, auto racer, and supposed bootlegger, may survive the shooting affair at New Russia last Friday night. The bullet which is said to have penetrated his liver and one lung, was later extracted at the Champlain Valley Hospital, and he was said to have an even chance for his life.
According to Oscar Saunders, who drove the car in which Tanzini was riding, the car containing the man who did the shooting signaled to pass and then slowed up. Five shots were fired, blowing a tire, and the last hitting Tanzini.
It is supposed to have been the result of a feud, either over bootleg stocks, or over Mrs. Menzel, whom Tanzini was said to be taking to Syracuse.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, June 12, 1923
HOLD-UP PARTY SHOOTS TANZINI
Saranac Lake Man Brought to C. V. Hospital
CAR STOPPED IN ROAD NEAR ELIZABETHTOWN
Search Being Made—Patient in Critical Condition Following Removal of the Bullet
Peter Tanzini, known as the "Will the Wisp," because of exploits he has figured in, was shot in the back and seriously wounded by four or five men who hold up the car in which he was riding at a point several miles north of Elizabethtown between 11 and 12 o'clock Saturday night. The authorities are not certain whether or not the men who did the shooting were prohibition enforcement agents or holdup men but a thorough investigation is being made by the authorities of Essex County and by state troopers, who are scouring the roads in that county and Clinton County for those who did the shooting.
Tanzini was taken to Elizabethtown and from there was rushed to the Champlain Valley Hospital in Plattsburgh. He was attended by Dr. R. S. MacDonald, who stated yesterday that he bullet had passed through Tanzini's back, through the right kidney and into the chest wall. The steel-jacketed missile was removed after an operation Sunday morning. It. was reported the man was in a critical condition and the results of the wound may prove fatal, altho physicians and nurses are doing everything possible to save his life.
District Attorney O. B. Brewster of Essex County was notified of the shooting shortly after it occurred and at once began a thorough investigation. He stated yesterday he did not know whether or not the men who did the shooting were prohibition agents or hold up men.
It was learned that about an hour after Tanzini was shot a, group of from four to five men stopped Bert Risley on the highway at the same point where Tanzini was held up. Risley said the men claimed to he prohibition agents and that one of them displayed a badge which was apparently that of a prohibition enforcement man. Risley had obeyed their summons to stop and after doing so the men unlocked the back of his roadster, he said, to search for "booze" but failing to find any said they were sorry to have stopped him and told him to proceed.
Oscar Saunders, a former taxi driver of Saranac Lake was piloting the Cole Eight in which Tanzini was riding. Guzzie Manzel, who recently figured as correspondent in a divorce suit brought by Mrs. Tanzini, 1 was riding in the front seat of the car, while it was reported Tanzini was riding in the back seat and had been asleep up to the time of the shooting. He was awakened, when the men opened fire on the car, and after several shots had been fired, one of which pierced the rear of the machine, Tanzini cried out with pain and declared he had been shot.
District Attorney Brewster stated that upon questioning Saunders he learned that the latter had seen a large Wills-St. Clairs oar alongside the road at Spruce Hill. He said that just before rounding a sharp curve on the highway, he noticed the car parked at the side of the road. Four of the men were in the group, some of them in the car and another standing nearby. Just before Saunders approached to within a few hundred feet of the strange machine he says he saw one of the men dart across road to the opposite side of the highway.
The men shouted to Saunders to stop but he said he would have been unable to do so even if it had been possible as he was proceeding at probably over 35 miles an hour and would have been unable to apply his brakes. As his car shot past the strange men he says the man who had crossed to the opposite side of the highway opened fire at the front of the car, hitting one of the tires which exploded, forcing Saunders to come to a stop a short distance down the road.
The men followed Tanzini's car and after coming up with it learned that he had been shot. According to a statement Saunders made to the police at Saranac Lake, he said one of the men produced a flashlight and looked into the car, making the statement that he was looking for "booze." Then it was said they followed the Tanzini car for some distance down the road but later turned around and, sped back north in the direction of upper Jay.
A man at Saranac Lake who said he knew Tanzini and had learned of some of the details of the case stated yesterday that the Tanzini party believed that holdup men may have done the shooting, while another report states that Tanzini declared at he hospital that federal men had held him up. The Saranac Lake man said that Tanzini was carrying between $400 and $500 with him but said that the strange men did not ask Tanzini for any Money.
Saunders drove the car to Elizabethtown despite the flat tire. After arriving at that place he went to a garage where they telephoned for a doctor and Tanzini was brought back to Plattsburgh in another car. It was said that up to an early hour Sunday morning Mrs. Manzel, who was riding with Saunders, had not been located after she had left Elizabethtown early Saturday morning in the machine which conveyed the wound-ed man to Plattsburgh.
Information from customs officials located at Rouses Point failed to throw any further light on the mystery. It was said that if federal men held up Tanzini's car, they had not been connected with the customs office at Rouses Point. If they were prohibition men it is believed they probably were special enforcement agents and not connected in any way with the Rouses Point office. District Attorney Brewster said that enforcement men occasionally stopped cars near Elizabethtown. He intends to make .a careful canvass of all enforcement men operating in Essex County and Clinton County with the view to establishing definitely whether any prohibition officers were in the vicinity of Elizabethtown on the night of the shooting.
It was said the men who held up the car appeared to be young men. One of Tanzini's friends at Saranac Lake stated that Tanzini said he secured a good description of one of the men; who wore dark clothes and a light cap. Tanzini said the man was dark complexioned and said he could identify the man again if he saw him. The descriptions of the other men were not obtained; neither was the license number of their car secured but Saunders declared it was a Wills-St. Claire car with disc wheels.
Tanzini has four children living in New York city and also four brothers. John Tanzini of Saranac Lake will probably come to Plattsburgh this morning to see his brother.
It was said that none of the occupants of Tanzini's car opened fire on the hold-up party and as far as could be learned none of them were armed.
It was learned that Tanzini has figured in several spectacular affairs when federal agents and booze cars have clashed. He made a sensational get-away last summer by running his car over a 30-foot embankment into the Salmon River, only to be captured by a police dog.
Federal Agent Angell at Malone stated that it was not any of his men who did the shooting and federal headquarters reported they had no representatives in the Elizabethtown section at the present time as they are all attending a conference at Albany. Captain Broadfield of Troop B state police, also said that none of his men were on the highway Saturday night as they were attending conference at the Barracks.
AuSable Forks Record-Post, October 22, 1931
Bootlegger May Face Charge Abandonment
Reports are in circulation at Sararnac Lake that Peter Tanzini , an alleged bootlegger who disappeared from the Adirondack resort on the night of December 17 last, has been seen in Rochester and Brooklyn and Saranac Lake authorities are investigating these rumors with the intention of preferring charges against Tanzini for desertion of his two children. Tanzini's wife committed suicide in August, her body having been found with a bullet wound in her head and the revolver near where she lay. After the death of Mrs. Tanzini, her mother, Mrs. Frank Menzel of Saranac Lake, took the two children, William, aged nine and Shirley, aged six and has since cared for them from her own resources. Owing to the uncertainty of Tanzini's death no effort has been made to settle the estate and therefore the grandmother of the two children has been forced to support them without assistance from any other source.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, February 20, 1931
WIFE OF MISSING SARANAC LAKE MAN FOUND DEAD IN BEDROOM
Just Two Months After Disappearance Of Peter Tanzini Whose Case Is Listed Among Unsolved Mysteries Of Adirondack s —- District Attorney And Troopers Refuse To Give Out Statement — Shot Through Head — Revolver Found Near The Body
SARANAC LAKE, Feb. 17—Just two months to the day after her husband disappeared, Mrs. Peter Tanzini, 29, of this village was found dead in her bedroom at her home at 25 South Olive street. She had been shot through the head. A 22 revolver was found beside the body.
As a result District Attorney Harold W. Main of Malone assisted by Lieut. C. B. McCann of Troop B; state police, arrived here late this afternoon to make an investigation. Authorities refused to state last night whether or not it was a case of suicide or murder. An autopsy wlll be performed this morning.
Mrs. Tanzini's. body was found at two o'clock this afternoon by Norman Deno, a hired man. He told District Attorney Main he heard a shot and upon entering Mrs. Tanzini's bedroom found her dead.
The disappearance of Mrs. Tanzini's husband, Peter Tanzini, 47, mason contractor on December 17, 1930, resulted in one of the greatest man hunts ever held in the North Country and the case has been listed among the unsolved mysteries of the Adirondacks.
When Tanzini was first reported missing there came a report that he had been taken "for a ride" and his mutilated body found in Mea-cham woods which proved to be untrue.
According to a report made local police at the time,[sic] Tanzini was last seen about five o'clock on the afternoon of December 17 when he left his home to keep an appointment with a friend at the Club restaurant on Main street. At that time he told his wife he would return in about an hour.
He went to the restaurant and was requested by his friend to come back about eight o'clock. Tanzini premised to do so, but failed to keep the appointment.
Within a few hours after Tanzini's disappearance; Sergeant Henry Schermerhorn and Corporal Harry McCann of the state police and village police rounded up a half dozen of alleged bootleggers, gamblers and others. These men were taken to police headquarters and questioned for several hours, but shed no light on the mystery, according to police.
Tanzini was the victim of an unknown assailant's bullet about nine years ago. At that time he was riding in an automobile with another man and two women beyond Elizabethtown late at night. The driver was signaled to stop by two men in the road who wore civilian clothes. He sped past the strangers, who pursued the car and fired several shots, one of which seriously wounded Tanzini.
The searchers overtook and searched the machine, displaying some kind of badges. No contraband of any kind was found, but the strangers stated they were placing Tanzini and his companion under arrest and ordered them to drive to Plattsburgh police head-quarters.
The supposed officers told Tanzini and his party that they would drive behind them to the jail, but disappeared on a side road on the journey. It has never been learned whether the assailants were officers or enemies of the party.
Dr. Wardner, acting coroner, stated tonight he had no statement to make and had left the entire investigation in the hands of the county prosecutor and state troopers.
Malone Farmer, January 3, 1934
TANZINI MYSTERY STILL UNSOLVED
Three years ago, December 17, 1930, North Country police were startled by a mystery which appears fated to remain in the annals of unsolved crimes of the prohibition era.
The mystery is the disappearance of Peter Tanzini, who made and lost fair-sized fortunes in bootlegging. The 47-year-old contractor left his home in the early evening of December 17, 1930, and was never seen again. Whether he was "taken for a ride" or merely went on a joy ride of his own is a problem the police of New York state have been unable to answer.
Pete's disappearance was not taken too seriously until the death of his young wife, Augusta, by a pistol shot in the bedroom of her home on February 17, two months to the day after he had left her and two young children awaiting his return. The coroner's verdict was suicide. Suspicion that this suicide was induced by the same sinister influence that caused Pete to vanish still hovers over the tragic drama, the most mysterious episode of the North Country prohibition era.
2012-06-05 11:08:47 The report from the Malone Farmer, January 3, 1934, has incorrect date of murder for Augusta Menzel Tanzini. Correct date is February 17, 1931. —188.8.131.52
- Thanks! Actually, the paper had it right— it was a transcription error made in putting it on this site (fixed now). — MWanner
1. Apparently a first wife in Manhattan, with whom Tanzini had four children