A few people have asked me how did I find all the details for the story of “The Ragman Murders”.. After all, it is a true story, for the most part. Much angst and sweat went into the research. It is almost a book, itself. Be prepared for a long read; the story behind the story.
What started as an innocent question, thinking I was going to get a simple answer, ended up becoming the most intense research project of my life. I wondered how a woman died. Yes, it happened nearly 100 years ago. Yes, it involved a group of people who did not speak about the subject for all those years. But I wanted the answer.
I had been told the answer, or answers, as I discovered over time. She was either killed in a car accident in Italy with her husband. Or, she died in childbirth and her heart-broken husband ran away. Or, she took a bullet for her husband when an angry neighbor brandished his gun. None of these turned out to be the truth. All I knew is that Carmela Amato died in the early 1910s, probably in Hartford, Ct.
I began at the end of the story. Or, so I thought. This was twenty years ago, before a google search was known. Before ancestry.com existed.
Working on what seemed to be the most likely scenario, that she took a bullet from a neighbor’s gun, I looked up the phone number for the Hartford, Ct police department. It was a whim. I was brave enough to ask what might be a totally foolish question. The phone operator was kind enough to pass me through to Detective Lt. Jose Lopez. Instead of taking my phone call as a silly one, Detective Lopez listened to my not very clear description of what I knew and said he would get back to me.
And he did. About two weeks later, I received a phone call from Detective Lopez. I was at work and, luckily, it was a slow day. The first thing he said was, “Are you sitting down?” I sat down immediately. Then the detective told me that he had combed the archives of the Hartford Courant and found several long articles referring to the death of Carmela Amato…..by her own husband. Stunned, I listened to his information and his promise to send me copies of the articles. It was only a few days later when I received the package including a personal letter.
Soon, my curiosity got the better of me, so, I called Detective Lopez and arranged a meeting to personally meet him and, separately, a crew from the Hartford Courant while I arranged two days of research at the Connecticut State Library. I found this all very exciting and decided to bring my 13yo step-daughter, Teresa, with me. I figured she could learn something about doing research. We drove the three hours across state lines and into Hartford. The first order of business was getting registered with the security department of the library, thus procuring an ID for me to be acceptable.
The library had microfiche readers, files full of microfiche film for every New England newspaper I had ever heard of and many I hadn’t. There were copies of city directories for as long as they had been published lining the whole wall of one of the rooms. Another room contained legal documents such as wills and coroners’ reports. The place was ripe for the picking. I was overwhelmed and wanted to start everywhere at the same time. I set Teresa to reviewing all the Hartford city directories, looking for my great-grandfather’s name in each. I, meanwhile, began going through all the newspapers looking for follow-up news reports dated after the murder. I found several supporting articles and printed them.