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FBI: Rocky Marciano received death threats prior to fight

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FBI: Rocky Marciano received death threats prior to fight Empty FBI: Rocky Marciano received death threats prior to fight

Post by WelshDevilRob Tue 17 May 2011, 5:32 pm

Rocky Marciano received death threats prior to fight, FBI files reveal

GateHouse News Service

BROCKTON — The address on the envelope appeared to be written in blue crayon. The letter was in blue ink, scrawled across simple lined paper apparently ripped from a notebook.

“Listen Cocky Rocky,” it started. “We mean business.”

The next few scribbled lines were an order to Rocky Marciano: Lose the upcoming fight with Ezzard Charles, it threatened, “or we will bump off your wife and little child.”

“We’ll get them sooner or later,” the letter read. “You bet on that.”

Signed: “Desperate Duo.”

The letter, postmarked March 9, 1954, was the first of four the late Brockton boxing legend received in a three-month span threatening to kill his wife and daughter if he won a June 17, 1954, bout with Charles, according to files recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The threats grew more aggressive, featuring ethnic slurs, a newspaper clipping with a picture of his family and the phrase “dump or die.”

Marciano’s father also received a letter of extortion, and his manager, Al Weill, received at least three phone calls, one threatening to kill both him and Marciano.

“Dump the bout,” read the final letter, “or lose your ugly, fat family. ... We hate your guts.”

The threats and the subsequent investigation are part of more than 200 pages of files the FBI released recently under the federal Freedom of Information Act. They include government memos, FBI reports and a reprint of at least one letter, all of which had parts blacked out and names redacted.

Among them was that of the person whom officials arrested on charges of writing at least three of the letters, a Glenolden, Pa., man who was identified in an Associated Press report from Feb. 5, 1955, as John Joseph Hannigan, then 23.

In his statement to police, Hannigan said he lived with his parents and wrote the threats “because he was for the underdog,” according to documents. The complaint and warrant were later dismissed in U.S. district court, but the reasons for doing so were blacked out.

Marciano, of course, beat Charles, winning by decision. It was the only championship fight Marciano needed the full 15 rounds to win.

He fought three more times, the last in September 1955, and retired 49-0 as the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history. He died Aug. 31, 1969, a day before his 46th birthday, in a plane crash in Iowa.

The threats, his younger brother said, never bothered Marciano.

“He really just shook it off as absolutely nothing,” Peter Marciano, 70, said by phone last week. “I kind of felt like, ‘Gee, maybe a lot of famous people get threats, idle threats, and maybe people get off on it.’

“I just remembered thinking — and this may sound kind of weird — but I thought my big brother, nobody could hurt him. Thank God nothing ever did happen.”

‘Desperate’ letters

Rocky Marciano’s father, Perrino Marchegiano, was the first to notify Brockton officials of the threat. Also postmarked March 9, the note sent to Marchegiano’s Brockton home said Charles “has no chance against Rocky without a little cooperation,” and that their life savings were on the challenger.

It didn’t matter how the undefeated heavyweight champion lost, it read, “just lose.”

“It won’t be much trouble to take care of Rocky’s wife and child if he crosses us,” read the letter, written in blue pencil.

In the coming days, the FBI became involved, and Marciano revealed he had received two letters, the first of their kind in his career, according to documents.

The second threat warned Marciano, “If you think that it is worth the lives of your loved ones to win an old boxing match, go ahead.”

Each of the letters, along with a fourth postmarked May 11, contained similarities: They all originated from towns within Delaware County, Penn., they were all signed “Desperate Duo” and, as FBI labs confirmed, none contained fingerprint impressions.

It prompted an “urgent teletype” dated May 19, 1954, ordering all offices involved to give the case “preferred and continuous investigative attention.” The sender was J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI.

The next day, a government memo detailed the best lead officials had: Marciano’s manager Weill, who, a Brockton detective told authorities, was capable of writing the letters simply to drum up publicity for the fight.

It wasn’t until June he was ruled out after officials compared hand-writing samples — and Marciano received another letter.

‘Dump or die’

“Look Rocky, the threat still goes,” read the note, this one the most malicious and postmarked two weeks before the bout. “If Phila don’t do the job, we will and with pleasure.”

The letter said the writer would be at the fight with “Newark Boys with our zip guns” and later called Marciano a slur usually directed at Italians. It included a newspaper clipping from the New York Daily News — also featuring an ethnic slur scribbled on it — and was sent from Bayonne, N.J.

The signature was also different: “Greenville Terrors — N.J.”

“Remember,” the letter concluded, “dump or die,” the last word denoted by a drawing of a skull and crossbones.

But most of Marciano’s family and inner circle expressed little concern over the threats, Peter Marciano said last week.

He said their mother was obviously worried, that being her nature. She famously spent Marciano’s fights in church praying, “not that he wins, that he didn’t get hurt,” said Armond Colombo, Marciano’s brother-in-law.

But Peter Marciano said he didn’t ever remember his brother mentioning the threats directly to him.

“This was almost a nothing thing” back then, he said. “Until you brought it up, I wouldn’t even have thought about it.”

Said Colombo: “Knowing Rocky, I’m sure he’s the first one not to let his family worry about it, and that includes his wife.”

The fight — considered one of the classics in Marciano’s career — came and went without any reported incident. If Marciano received another threat, it wasn’t included in the FBI’s files, and in October, with no new leads, officials considered the case closed.

It didn’t stay that way.

‘A troubled guy’

An official from the Chester, Pa., post office contacted the FBI on Jan. 20, 1955, to discuss a separate investigation.

At least seven young girls in Delaware County had received hand-printed, anonymous letters of an “obscene” nature. The hand-writing, however, closely resembled that of three of the letters sent to Marciano, the official told authorities.

In the next two weeks, the FBI determined the same person wrote both sets of letters, and through a letter the man had sent to the selective service board in Delaware County, they identified him as Hannigan, though all mentions of his name in released FBI files were blacked out.

Officials arrested him at his Glenolden, Pa., home on Feb. 4, 1955, on charges of violating the federal extortion statute. While in custody, he verbally admitted to writing the letters, according to documents.

But he refused to sign a written statement “because he is afraid of national publicity,” according to the document.

Yet, for reasons blacked out in reports, the warrant was dismissed on June 23. One special agent said the subject “may be mentally cool,” according to a document.

Peter Marciano said he never even knew of an arrest.

“I kind of got the feeling knowing Rocky and the kind of person he was, if they had gone to him with this situation, he would have said, ‘Let the poor guy go,’” Peter Marciano said. “Obviously he was a troubled guy. But hearing that for the first time, I don’t have an answer for you.”


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