Transcribed by Jaylyn Thacher

Olean Times Herald, Wednesday, April 3, 1985


75-Year-Old Double Murder Still Unsolved

75 Year Old Double Murder Still Unsolved Photo 1 of 1

By Joe Mecca

BELFAST – In Allegany County it occasionally happens that someone is murdered and no one pays for the crime.

Because there is no statute of limitation for murder cases, the book never closes on an unsolved homicide, and police investigators are always hopeful that a new piece of evidence will be found or a witness will come forward – even years after the crime has been committed – to help them find the guilty party.

But it’s safe to say that the public will never know who killed Norman Chalker and Bruce Gleason, shot to death outside a Belfast hotel nearly 75 years ago.

The case is unusual not only because it is perhaps the oldest unsolved murder in Allegany County but because two men were tried for the double homicide, 32 years apart, and both were found innocent.

The date was April 20, 1910. The scene: Decilio’s, a hotel-saloon-store-boarding house run by Mike and Antoinette “Mom” Decilio that catered to the numerous Italian immigrants who came to Belfast to help construct the Erie, Pennsylvania and B&S railroads.

At about 9:30 p.m., a group of B&S railroad men – Americans – along with Bruce Gleason, who owned nearby Gleason’s Hotel, went to Decilio’s, even though the Italians were resentful of Americans frequenting what they considered to be their exclusive establishment.

The B&S men reportedly had been drinking before they arrived at Decilio’s and had four more drinks while there. They became noisy and were asked to leave by Mike Decilio. One of the men, Fred Holmes, upon leaving, fired four shots into the air from a revolver.

Chalker, recently elected constable, was in another part of the hotel when he heard the shots. Upon investigating, he encountered Merle Sherman, another B&S man, and asked him if he fired the shots. Sherman said it was none of his business. An argument ensued, and Chalker was set upon by some American railroad men.

During the scuffle, three or four shots rang out in the darkness, striking Chalker in the heart and back and striking Gleason, who apparently had come to the constable’s aid, in the kidneys. Chalker died almost immediately, Gleason the next day in a Buffalo hospital.

For the next two weeks, the county sheriff and district attorney interviewed the many witnesses and conflicting accounts abounded; some of the Americans claimed that an Italian fired the fatal shots, some of the Italians insisted that the Americans fighting with Chalker did the shooting and several others claimed not to have seen anything.

Eventually, some of the Italians claimed that Luigi Vicchiano, a son-in-law of Mike and “Mom” Decilio, committed the murders. They claimed Vicchiano was at his house, across the street from Decilio’s when he heard the shots fired by Holmes, got his revolved and went down to the hotel to investigate. Outside the hotel, they claimed, he saw the fight and Mom Decilio trying to break it up. Having a deep hatred for his mother-in-law, according to his accusers, Vicchiano fired into the crowd, hoping to hit Mrs. Decilio. After the shooting, Vicchiano caught a train to New York City and eluded the sheriff’s efforts to find him.

Vicchiano was indicted for the murders in September 1910, but the following month one of his accusers, Vito Frucci, was arrested and on trial for the crime. He was acquitted after several Italians testified that it was Vicchiano who killed Chalker and Gleason.

Mom Decilio was arrested at the same time as Frucci, charged with and eventually convicted of running a “disorderly house.” She was fined $400, sentenced to six months in the Erie County Jail and told never to return to Allegany County. After serving her sentence, she and her husband returned to Italy.

The years passed, and it became increasingly apparent that the Chalker-Gleason murders would not be solved. Until 1942, that is, when Vicchiano was found living in Birmingham, Ala., under the alias of Louis Bakane. He had been a grocer and a respected member of the Birmingham community for almost 30 years.

It seems that Vicchiano’s wife, who was seeking a divorce, was told by her attorney that she did not have sufficient grounds, upon which she informed him that her husband, thought to be Louis Bakane, was in reality Luigi Vicchiano and wanted for murder in Allegany County.

Vicchiano was brought back to Allegany County, where he stood trial for the double murder. He was 64 at the time. Several of the witnesses were over 70. An even greater number of witnesses had died, as well as the then-DA and the coroner who performed the autopsies.

Because of a lack of witnesses and physical evidence, Vicchiano was acquitted by the 10-man, two-woman jury, which deliberated only 32 minutes before reaching its verdict.