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Piermont’s Unsolved Murder

Back during the big war just about everyone in Piermont knew “Pops” Ferrante. He’d been around the village for decades. He and his wife, Raffael, came to America in 1913, and opened a little grocery store on Piermont Avenue across from the Post Office and Chaize’s garage. Villagers stopped every day for fruits, vegetables and needed groceries.

People were accustomed to seeing “Pops,” wearing his brown felt hat, as he drove around the river village delivering grocery orders in his old truck. Many of his customers didn’t even know his real name was Felice, he was Phil to some and “Pops” to just about everyone. His little grocery store struggled and survived the Depression and the war years. It was a popular stop for the GIs stationed over the mountain at Camp Shanks. In 1947 his wife passed away. His son, Matthew, found a job down in Washington. “Pops” thought, at age 68, that it might be time for him to sell the house and store and move closer to his son. He put a sign out front and began to dream about retirement. On a cold winter Wednesday his dream ended.

George Donzella packed his bread truck and started out on a delivery route from his father’s bakery at 198 Main Street in Nyack on February 6, 1952. George made daily bread deliveries up and down the river villages and into North Jersey. Just before lunch he pulled up in front of Ferrante’s Grocery to see if “Pops” needed bread.

The store seemed empty when George entered. He looked around and heard the moaning. Ferrante was lying behind a counter, a pool of blood forming around his head, his ever-present felt hat lying by his side. Donzella ran to the Post Office for help. Piermont’s Health Officer, Dr. Nicholas Viggiano was talking to Postmaster Frank Scott. Donzella told them how he found Ferrante. Dr. Viggiano called Piermont’s Emergency Squad, and rushed across the street to Ferrante’s aid. Postmaster Scott put in a radio call for the Piermont Police. Lieutenant Wallace Kile rushed to the store. The Emergency Squad, under the command of Captain John Boyan, arrived in minutes. They quickly placed the dying man in their ambulance and with Lt. Kile acting as escort raced up River Road to Nyack Hospital. Dr. George Looser provided immediate care, but with Ferrante’s massive loss of blood he died only a few minutes after arriving at the hospital. Ferrante was a small man, and Looser believed the brutal clubbing took place shortly before he was discovered since he could not have survived long after the blows he received.

By the time Lieutenant Kile returned to the store, a large crowd gathered as word of the murder spread through the village. Acting Police Chief, Howard Haight, who was off duty, met Kile, and along with the help of Rockland County Sheriff Henry “Buddy” Mock they began to investigate Piermont’s first murder in a long time.

They knew Ferrante didn’t trust banks and was known to carry large amounts of cash to pay wholesalers who would normally deliver on Wednesdays. His pants pockets were turned inside out and no wallet or money was found. At Ferrante’s side, as if it had been dropped from his hand when he was struck, was a small jar of mayonnaise. A quarter lay on the counter. Police theorized the murderer asked for Mayonnaise and clubbed Ferrante when he bent over to pick up a jar.

At the rear of the store was a room Ferrante used as a kitchen. A six-inch length of pipe with its cast iron elbow was found in a cardboard box in the kitchen where the murderer apparently tossed it as he made his escape. There was a side door in the kitchen leading to an alley along the railroad tracks. It was not unusual to see people walking along the tracks. Police learned Ferrante was at the Post Office around 9:45 joking with Postmaster Scott. They talked to Catherine Sturges of Piermont, who shopped in the store shortly after 10am and was possibly the last person to speak to Ferrante. A neighbor told police she had seen him outside the store at about 10:30.

Rumors were rife and police followed every lead but came up against a stone wall. To many it seemed strange how a mid-morning murder could happen in their village. Ferrante’s store had a large plate glass window in front and the killer should have been in full view of anyone going to or from the Post Office. Police theorize Ferrante may have known his killer, making the murderer a local man.

The case was never solved. With the passing of 60 years, it is doubtful it will be. “Pops” Ferrante’s killer got away with a few bucks and murder.