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Barberton’s Killing Field

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A rainy dreary October makes a good day for murder. A desolate field on the edge of town makes a good location.  If a person was compelled to write a novel all the parts were in play. An angry dispute over money, a Blackhand gangster who always seemed to show up when there was trouble and an innocent divorcee. If you needed a title for the book some may call it Barberton’s Killing Field.

October 5, 1940 was rainy day in Barberton. Not necessarily cold, hanging in the mid 1970’s, but the cold was in the heart of the Sicilian born James Ferraro 50, who in a moment of anger accidently killed a twice divorcee Jerushia Anna Ellis, 36 with the slug from a double-barrel shotgun. The other slug was for his intended victim, Dominick Cacciola.

There is a lot in the background the story. To tell the readers Ferraro accidently killed Ellis in a fit of anger would be true, but the interesting part goes back twenty three years to 1917 in Wadsworth where Dominick Cacciola began to ran afoul of the law in the Italian quarter.

As always in a novel there is a pretty young girl and in this case there was a certain young underage dark-haired girl, Antionette, to whom Cacciola had affections toward. Young Antionette disappeared for some time and word was Cacciola absconded her to Pennsylvania or New York. Later she returned to Wadsworth married.

On May 30, 1917 Sam Butto, Antioette’s uncle, who in the custom of the old world felt the need to defend her honor, shot Caccaiola four times on the Main Street of Wadsworth after he finished his breakfast at a local cafe. Cacciola survived as the wounds proved to not be serious.

In May of 1919 Cacciola was shot at four times again by Sam Butto at the home a Sam Arrego, Antionette’s father. This time Antionette threw herself in front of her husband causing Butto to shoot wild and missing Cacciola.

On September 5, Frank Butto was shot and killed by Cacciola in a gun fight in front of a Water Street barbershop. Phillipo Simato, Butto’s companion fired five times at Cacciola through the window with only one bullet grazing his side.

Cacciola was taken to the Medina County Jail. On December 7, 1920 Cacciola returned home after a jury found him not guilty. The murder of Frank Butto was expected to send him to the electric chair.

After that encounter people in the Little Italy area of Wadsworth considered him to have supernatural powers and lived a charmed life. One could only think by this time he would have settled down and took advantage of the charmed life but not so. Bootlegging and other involvement in vices kept him and his wife under the finger of the law. It would take pages of articles to record all his deeds. At one point he returned to his motherland, probably to escape the heat though he said he was going back to defend his country during WWI.

In an odd twist of fate another case popped up in court that eventually tied into the Barberton murder when a 50-year-old Wadsworth city truck driver by the name of Cecil Westfall was taken into custody for an illicit relationship with a 17-year-old girl who lived at his home. Police were called the Westfield home and discovered the girl and her 16-year-old brother living there. She had been abused and beaten about the face. Westfall had already served in the Ohio Penitentiary in 1931 for attempted burglary so he was no stranger to the law.

Now, Westfall moved to Akron and somewhere and for some reason Cacciola went to Westfall’s house and robbed him at gunpoint for a paltry three dollars. He was charged with armed robbery. Was this a payback from Wadsworth doings or a feud from the Penitentiary or maybe a left-over black hand technique. Nobody knew.

With all that past behind, the unfortunate murder becomes clear how things were building up to that point. The situation leading up to the murder that rainy October day came about when Cacciola of 35 Elison Ave, swore out a perjury warrant against James Ferraro, 50, allegedly over Ferraro failing to tell the truth about money Cacciola had paid him in a hearing before a notary public. Or, at least that is what Cacciola said.

In Akron’s Municipal court on Oct 4th the perjury dispute hearing was continued until October 29. Ferraro was released from custody on a $495 bond. The perjury charge set Ferraro off and he immediately set foot to return to his small cement block house down at the end of a rough dirt road on Elson in Snydertown where he lived alone.

Ferraro’s house sat behind Cacciola’s wooden frame house. Ferraro claimed to own both structures that sat alone on the desolate field, about a half a mile from the nearest neighbors.

About 5 p.m. Ferraro arrived home and walked into his house without even looking around. Cacciloa and his housekeeper were sitting on a bench in the rear of their home near Ferraro’s block house. There he picked up a pistol.

At that time, he fiddled with the pistol as if he were considering the idea of murdering Cacciola with it. A friend, Ben Andrush of 18 Wolf St. sat there as Ferraro laid down the pistol and picked up a12 gauge double barrel shotgun. He never spoke a word to Andrush. Only one thing was on his mind and that was to kill Cacciola.

Ferraro walked into the room and with 12 feet between them, opened the first shot toward Cacciola, barely missing his head, who then fled into the field. When he fired the second barrel the slug hit Anna Ellis as she ran up the back steps. Ellis instantly fell over dead.

Upon investigating police found two more fresh shells in the shotgun but apparently Cacciola had fled into the desolate field before Ferraro could get off another shot.

Cacciola called the Barberton police to report the shooting then later went to the police headquarters to tell the story. But a short time after the alarm went off to pick Ferraro up, he walked into the police department.

“I shot a woman,” Ferraro said wearily.

Ferraro later told officers he could hear Cacciola talking to his housekeeper and taunting him about his arrest. He felt it was payback time.

James Ferraro

Jerusha Anna Ellis was survived by her parents, Mr., and Mrs. Christopher Ellis of Hudson Run Rd. She had two sons Fred and James McLain and was divorced from Roy McClain of West Virginia and more recently Joseph Hall of Barberton.

Before the Ferraro murder trial could get under way, Cacciola, now living on Wabash Avenue in Akron had to be arraigned on the December 22 armed robbery charges for the $3 Westfall holdup. The case was to go the jury on April 8, 1941.  The next day on April 9, Cacciola was found guilty after the jury deliberated for half an hour. Cacciola’s extensive criminal background did not work in his favor.

The judge ordered him to be held in County lockup until the deposition of the Ferraro case could be heard. That murder case was set for April 21. Cacciola could get ten to twenty-five years for the holdup. It was May before the trial began in Judge Walter Wanamaker’s court.

As the trial opened for the second-degree murder trial. E. Guy Hammond, Ferraro’s attorney, said the killing of Ellis was the result of a “mental explosion” that followed weeks of taunts and mistreatment by Cacciola.

Cacciola was led to the witness stand from the county jail. During the trial several sheriffs were compelled to stand between the one-time friends as the glares of hatred was thrown about.

Cacciola told the jury he borrowed a thousand dollars from Ferraro four years early and repaid all of it except $400. During those years’ arguments broke out over the money until he decided to evict Cacciola from the house he was renting from Ferraro. That is when Cacciola responded by having Ferraro arrested on perjury charges over a dispute of the remaining balance.

According to court testimony the day Ferraro was released from jail by posting bond he swiftly walked home, grabbed the 12 gauge, walked by the person waiting to visit him and when he got within 12 feet of the couple he opened fire.

The state was to rest its case that afternoon after testimony from Tony Tiskus, an Ashland County farm worker who witnessed the murder and Berne Andrus an employee on Ferraro’s farm.

On May 9, 1941, the short of stature and pale looking Ferraro was found guilty of manslaughter after the jury deliberated for 6 hours. Judge Wanamaker was not happy with the jury’s return and gave them a stern lecture.

“If I ever saw a case that had all the elements of first-degree murder, this one is it.” Wanamaker said.

“I am entirely unable to understand how you arrived at your decision,” he sternly told the jury.

The state contended the manslaughter charge was because Ferraro had no intentions to shoot Ellis last October 4.

Both Ferraro and Cacciola had served previous sentences in the Penitentiary. Cacciola admitted to authorities he had been arrested 20 times for bootlegging, as was his ex-wife. He was already sentenced to 10 to 25 for a robbery charge. Ferraro faced 1 to 20 years for the fatal shooting of Jerushia Anna Ellis in the moment of passion.

As in every story there is a final chapter. Every character had a life after prison plus an exit from this mortal existence. Often curiosity asks whatever became of……..

James Ferraro went before the parole board the next year but was turned down. He was finally released from London State prison farm on June 22, 1945. He returned to his farm on Elson Ave, and got a job at Diamond Match. He passed away May 17, 1963 at the age of 74.

The story about Cacciola is a bit more confusing but he was paroled November 30, 1948 after serving nearly seven years for a $3 hold-up. Somewhere along the line he divorced his first wife and partner in crime Antoinette. She passed away in the Massillon State Hospital of unknown causes in July 1959.

It seems like Cacciola decided to go into barbering after his last stint in Prison. He now had a second wife, Mary, who outlived him. She passed on Feb. 24, 1998 in Greencastle, Ind.  At the age of 85.

As for “Nick” Cacciola, he lived on Hobart Avenue in Akron when he died at the age of 80 in September 1971. He had been ill for a year and a half. He left behind a multitude of children grandchildren and great grandchildren. He also left behind decades of crime, gangster’s deeds and death.

In this day and age of drugs, murder and crime we may pass this by as another pitfall in our area, but in the early 1940’s as America was entering another World War, the unjustified murder of an innocent divorcee in the Snydertown fields was scandalous. To this day Elson Avenue is an open field dotted with newer subsidized homes, mostly well kept, but it isn’t hard to imagine as you drive through the flat open onetime farmland, the Barberton Killing Field.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed reading this story. Now I have to read Barbertons 5 darkest days. I have a question for you, Did they ever find out who murdered the owner of the wonder bar?

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Micheala Johanson
Micheala Johanson
I've worked at several occupations throughout my life including journalist, photographer and chef/owner of Micheala's Cafe. Local history is one of my first loves. I sit on the board of the Wadsworth Area Historical Society and a member of the River Styx Historical Society. Being a resident of Barberton for the past fifteen years I have become interested in Barberton area history as well.

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