Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Hanging of Florence Lassandro

Florence Lassandro

Born Flumena Costanzo in Cosenza, Italy Florence immigrated with her family to Southern Alberta, Canada at the age of nine.

At the age of 15 her parents arranged a marriage for Florence. She married Charles Lassandro in October of 1915. Their marriage was not a happy one.

Charles moved Florence to the United States in order to make his fortune but ended up with huge gambling debts. The couple moved back to Alberta.

Charles hit up his former boss for a job.

Emil Picariello known as “The Emperor Pic” manufactured ice cream and owned the Alberta Hotel in Blairmore. However, these legitimate businesses where just a cover for his criminal activities.

Prohibition was in effect in Alberta and PIcariello was a successful bootlegger. He ran liquor from British Columbia into Alberta and Montana. Charles became involved in his rum running operation and so did Florence.

Picariello’s son Steve was also involved in this shady business and it is speculated that Florence was in love with him. Florence, who viewed Emil as a father figure and fed up with her irresponsible husband, ended up living with the Picariello family.

In September of 1921 the police spotted Steve Picariello making a rum run. They chased him and gunfire was exchanged. Steve was injured and then escaped to Michel, B.C.

Constable Lawson's home.
When Emil heard what had happened to Steve, he and Florence approached Constable Lawson at his home in Coleman. An argument ensued and gunshots were fired. Lawson’s nine-year old daughter Pearl, watched as her father was fatally wounded.

Both Emil and Florence where arrested for the murder of the constable. During the trial no evidence was presented that showed which one had actually shot Lawson. The jury was told they could convict both, which they did.

A public outcry arose over the fact there had been no proof or witnesses presented against Florence and appeals where submitted but nothing came of these.

One account mentions that Florence remained silent through her trial supposedly because Emil had asked her to take the blame—“for they would never hang a woman.”

During the trial Florence was dubbed, “The Mobster Princess.”

Both Emil and Florence were sentenced to hang. After the trial Florence’s pleas that she was innocent fell on deaf ears. She was hanged on the gallows at Fort Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Alberta in 1923 at the age of 23.

Fort Saskatchewan was used for a Northwest Mounted Police outpost—29 people were hanged here—Florence was the last woman to be hanged in Alberta.

People still wonder if Florence was just a victim of circumstance or was she a hardened criminal.

Fort Saskatchewan
Today several buildings that made up this fort still stand—including the courthouse where Florence was convicted. They are run as a museum today.

Many have experienced strange activity in these buildings. Unexplained voices and noises are heard on a regular basis. Apparitions are felt and seen in the buildings and around the grounds.

One ghost that lingers is believed to be Florence Lassandro.

One noted encounter with her ghost was during a Fright Night Halloween event and sleepover the fort hosted for young people.

Darlene Briere a member of Fort Saskatchewan Historical Society and a Special Event Coordinator for the fort took this group of young people outside after the event.

During this time she noticed a thick fog roll in to the area. Thinking it was strange she took several pictures with her digital camera.

Later when she downloaded them to her computer she saw a female standing amidst the fog. She became convinced it was Florence.

Later that same evening she went to check on the children whom were bedded down in the museum’s courthouse. As she walked by an adjoining room she spotted a curtain moving strangely.

She entered this room and saw this curtain move again—it then fell off its rod. It landed and outlined the shape of a body kneeling on the floor. She bravely approached this figure and pulled off the curtain shrouding the figure.

Before her was a young woman who looked just like Florence. *

* Excerpts from the television show Creepy Canada.

Side note: A popular Canadian Opera based on Florence’s or Flumena’s life and death has been performed in Canada since 2003. 

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