Dengrove Recreates the 1921 Sacco and Vanzetti Trial

Com. v. Sacco, 151 N.E. 839 (Mass. 1926)

Braintree, Massachusetts—April 15, 1920: a paymaster and a security guard are transporting two steel boxes full of cash. Five robbers approach, kill the guards, grab the money, and escape in a stolen Buick. Less than a month after the crime, police arrest Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Both men are armed: Sacco has a .32 Colt automatic and Vanzetti a five-shot nickel-plated .38 revolver, the latter identical to a gun stolen from the slain security guard.

The Sacco and Vanzetti trial was steeped in political vitriol on both sides: the defendants were suspected Galleanists, anarchists who used violence to promote their political ends; the American government had labeled Galleanists enemies of the state; and the proceedings that grew out of these sentiments were rife with contradictory evidence and questionable testimony from the prosecution as well as the defense. On July 14, 1921, a jury deliberated three hours before finding Sacco and Vanzetti guilty of first-degree murder, a capital offense in Massachusetts. Years of motions and appeals followed, all of them denied. Sacco and Vanzetti died in the electric chair on August 23, 1927.

Their convictions became a symbol for jury bias and erroneous verdicts, with H.G. Wells and Upton Sinclair denouncing the trial. But in the more obscure corners of Sacco and Vanzetti literature, continued investigation has strongly suggested that Sacco, at least, was guilty.

In 1977, NBC News asked Ida Libby Dengrove to recreate the Sacco and Vanzetti trial in sketches. She considered the verdict, as many still do, “one of the worst injustices of modern American history.”