Case #1- St. Aubin Massacre of 1929
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
St. Aubin St. Massacre 1929 Transcript
So, the case I chose for our first episode is known as one of the most brutal massacres in Detroit, and on a street that have people thinking the street is just straight up cursed. The case I'm talking about is the St. Aubin Massacre of 1929, where a man and his family were brutally murdered in their home in the middle of the night. But before we get into that, I want to tell you more about Benny Evangelist to get an idea on how big the suspect pool was in this unsolved murder. Benny Evangelist, born as Benjamin Evangelist, was born in Naples, Italy in 1885. Around 1904, when Benny was 19 years old, he and his brother Antonio moved to the US and settled in Philadelphia. After living there for two years, Benny began to claim he was having visions from the late hours of 12 am - 3 am. When Benny told his brother this, Antonio immediately disowned Benny. See they were raised as Catholics and claiming to be receiving visions didn't support the Catholic views. Disowned from his brother, Benny moves to York, Pennsylvania where he meets a man by the name of Angelino Aurelius. Together they both take up an interest in cult activity. I feel like Benny really clicked with this guy, because his brother disowned him and now he's all alone and here comes this guy who will indulge in this cult behavior with him with no judgement. This friendship quickly ends though when Angelino murders his two children with an axe. He was sent to an insane asylum, where later he escapes and was never seen or heard from again. I'm saying this because this may or may not play a part in this case. So I don't know if this just really bothered Benny or he was just ready to move on, either way, Benny moves to Detroit where the case takes place.
Once in Detroit, Benny begins his new life with his wife, Santino, and their four children. Benny worked as a carpenter and jumped into real estate. Although Benny moved to a new state, his visions and interest for cults followed him. He started a cult named, Union Federation of America. Weird name for a cult but hey that's him. Benny started to do psychic healing for as high as $10 a reading which was two days pay on the Chrysler assembly line back then and as high as $146.85 in today's currency. He even started calling himself a prophet and would give religious demonstrations on the streets to spread the word.Honestly most of his money came from this prophet gig he had going on. He published a book called, "The Oldest History of the World Discovered by Occult Science." The book was to be one out of four volumes but no record of other books written were found. The book covered 4305 years before the first father Adam to 1116 years after the birth of Adam. From some of the reviews I heard about the book, it was a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Along from the crazy long name, a lot of people must have felt the same about the book because the book didn't sell well and police found 1000's of copies in boxes in the basement. Supposedly the book was made up of the night time visions he'd have from 12-3, which later it was revealed that Benny lied about this and had someone write the book for him. Something that did creep me out about this book though was a few lines from the preface it reads, " I mean to complete my work if I live." Another thing that shook my about this book is that one one of the characters in the book, which he referred to as the bible, wrenched the head of the antagonist from his shoulders and hurling it at his feet, a fate Benny himself will face. Despite the book sales, at the age of 43, Benny was doing pretty good for himself. He moved him and his family to a spacious green and white painted home on St. Aubin street. It was a two story home with four room downstairs and 5 rooms upstairs, along with a basement and an attic. This beautiful home is where our story starts.
So instead of jumping straight into it, let's start the evening before the massacre. It's July 2nd and Benny is meeting with a demolishing company about some lumber from a house that was recently torn down on Huribot Ave. Once the meeting was over, Benny returns home and tells his watchman along with two other associates that he's expecting a delivery the next morning around 7 am and that he will pay for the lumber then once it arrives. Let me add in that if Benny was going to pay for the lumber once it got there that next morning, it was most likely that he had the large sum of cash on him because there would be no banks open that early. Around 8/9 pm, Benny mentions to the watchman that the site was about a 60 mile trip to Benny's home, which the watchman felt was kind of strange for a long delivery to be made at such short notice. The watchman doesn't question this, but I wonder if after the fact he would have tried to get more information from Benny if he knew what was going to happen to him hours later. But the night goes on and to the neighbors it was a typical night on their street until the next morning when the gruesome discovery.
Around 10:30 am Vincent Elias arrived at the Evangelist home, ready to take care of a transaction for a property with Benny. Vincent knocks on the door but there's no answer. He notices the door is unlocked and makes his way into the house, calling out to Benny and his family. But Vincent wasn't prepared for what he was about to see as he goes deeper into the house. Benny's office faced the front door so it didn't take Vincent long to get to it. He gets to Benny's office, opens the door and there inside he finds Benny sitting behind fully dressed with his hands placed in his lap... his head sitting by his feet. Around Benny's decapitated body were 3 large poster size pictures of a young boy in a casket, which later was revealed to be Benny's eldest son who had passed away a few years years back. I read somewhere that having pictures like this was a common thing in that time, but I'm not really sure.
Once Vincent sees all this, he flees out the home and calls the police immediately. Now this is something that really irritated me when I was reading into this case and I know I mentioned this to you when I was researching this. So apparently, the police weren't the only ones notified of the killing. Somehow word spreads fast through the neighborhood that Benny, this big time prophet has been killed and people storm through the crime scene trying to get a first hand look at what had happened. By the time the police did get on the scene the whole thing was contaminated. People pretty much treated this crime scene like it was some walk through museum or something and we will never know how much evidence was destroyed, all I know is this definitely worked out in favor of the killer. When police did arrive on the scene, they weren't expecting to see what they seen that day. So remember how I told you Benny's body was found with his head sitting at his feet. The police go upstairs to where the remainder of the family would have been. In the main bedroom, Benny's wife Santino, was found hanging slightly off the bed. Her head was severely mutilated and was only hanging on by a strip of flesh. In her arms lay the youngest child whose head was bashed in to the point of no recognition.
In the room next to the master bedroom were the three girls room. Margaret and Jean who were the younger two sisters were found in their bed with their heads bashed in just like the youngest child. Angeline, who I believe was the eldest sister, was found on the floor near the door, with her arm hacked off. I have a theory that maybe she might have been trying to fight off the attacker or maybe even trying to escape, just because of the placement of her body compared to her sisters. The only evidence police were able to take from this scene was a bloody fingerprint on the doorknob and a bloody footprint leaving Benny's office and heading towards the stairway where the bedrooms were. The police checked the house for anything that might be missing but they notice nothing and everything seems to be accounted for, all except for one thing. Remember how Benny said he was going to pay for the lumber that morning when it came? Police couldn't find a large sum of money that would have been used for the payment and to make things even more suspicious. The delivery truck Benny said would be there at 7 that morning never showed up.
The police didn't have much evidence to go on but they were able to start a list of potential suspects to get them started.
The police questioned Vincent Elias to see if he may have any involvement but he was quickly released. The next on the detectives list was the companion who went with Benny to the lumber site to make the deal, but he was released when he didn't have much more information to give. Detectives wanted to learn more about the delivery company that was supposed to bring the lumber that morning and never showed up. Benny never mentioned a name of the company and the guy who went with Benny didn't know anything. So it was practically impossible trying to trace this company and even after efforts through the media to find this company, no one ever showed up. Police did struggle with cooperation from the community., despite the hundreds of people Benny served. The community was made up of Italian immigrants and many wanted to stay away from that kind of attention from the police.
Detectives then thought, what if there was a similar case to this one and if so maybe that will give them a little more insight and some kind of direction. The murder of the Cipinski family happened a few days prior to the Evangelist massacre. The style in which both families were killed shared some similarities. But when police ended up finding the killer to the Cipinski murder, they tested his fingerprint to see if it was a match to the one found on the doorknob but no luck. Detectives look more into the Evangelist home to see if they can uncover anything else. They end up finding a few notes threatening Benny for money from a group named Black Hand, the most recent note sent being dated 6 months prior to the massacre. Black hand was a criminal group who preyed after wealthy Italian immigrants for money. Two detectives with insight on Black hand joins the team weeks later to assist with the case. Crude extortion was outdated by the time of the massacre the Black hand moved on to more organized way of handling things, so this too was a dead end.
Once again, with no luck police sit back and think. The funeral, most likely whoever killed the Evangelist family will attend the funeral. So police will just have to set up officers throughout the funeral and look out for anyone that acts suspicious. This was easier said than done, because around 3000 people attended the Evangelist funeral. Benny didn't know this many people but a lot of people wanted to get a glimpse of the family that was plastered across every newspaper every morning. But police end up making an arrest. A guy who they say seemed overly excited for the occasion. When they questioned the guy, they quickly realized that he knew nothing about the case at all.
Now the next suspect was actually arrested the morning of the massacre with his friend who I'll talk about later. 34 year old Angelo Depoli was a frequent visitor of the Evangelist home. Angelo and his friend actually was at the home the evening before the massacre. When questioned about this, Angelo tells detectives that he and his friend went to grab a drink afterwards, and the alibi was solid. Police search Angelo's home which he shares with his friend and police finds an axe with an unknown stain on it. They weren't sure if it was blood or rust. The owner of the home scoffed at the idea of it being used in the slaying though. He said that the axe had been lying in the barn for about 2 years and the blade was so dull it couldn't cut butter. He was held in custody for a few days and then turned over to Immigration authorities.
Now Angelo's friends, 42 year old Umberto Tecchio was also arrested as well. And for the first time in the case, detectives felt like they had their guy, so the media and police focuses in on this guy. The reason they were set that this was they guy because just 3 months prior to the massacre, Tecchio knifed his brother to death in the heart and never did time for it. People said that Tecchio was a scary man and people actually feared him. When Tecchio was confronted by detectives but he simply told detectives he was at the Evangelist home to take care of a transaction and then he grabbed a drink afterwards with Angelo. But someone did place Tecchio at the house again at a later time. Weeks after the investigation, a paperboy comes forward with information. Supposedly during his route early that morning, he seen someone who looked a lot like Tecchio leaving the house. The paperboy tried to call out to Tecchio but he disappeared into the night. When detectives asked if he noticed any blood on Tecchio and the paperboy said no. This is not what police wanted to hear, because if Tecchio was responsible for the massacre, how come he wasn't covered in blood. A massacre so messy, wouldn't he be covered in blood? But I can't shake why someone who had nothing to do with the murder would be at the house that early anyway. But with no evidence and no confession police let's Tecchio go. He later died in 1934 and if he really was the guy that secret died with him.
Police entertained the thought that maybe a rival cult might have done the massacre due to jealousy of Benny's success but this also was a dead end. Another theory was that the Downriver killer confided in Benny about the killings and afterwards became fearful Benny might betray him he returns and murders Benny and his family. But this was just a theory and there was never any connection made. The case starts to go cold until detectives get an anonymous tip leading them to a tailor in Lansing. The tailor revealed to detectives that Benny was actually fearful of one of his patients. Supposedly, a woman receives services from Benny and she was advised to leave her husband. Obviously this enraged her husband and he might have had been seeking revenge. The tailor couldn't give a name and Benny serviced and ripped off a lot of people that it could literally be in anyone in Detroit.
Once again the case goes cold, detectives reach out to Benny's brother to see if he knows anything. Louis had actually fled Detroit 3 years prior to the massacre, fearing vengeance from the friends of Felice Argento. Felice was shot during a bad deal with Black hand. Louis suggested that maybe they went after Benny and his family when they couldn't find Louis. But like every other suspect, this too was another dead end and police were no closer to finding out who was responsible for taking the lives of this family. With all of the people brought in for questioning, the fingerprint found on the doorknob was never matched to anyone and to be honest with the public having access to the crime scene, it could have been a spectator. And although police did receive an anonymous tip that the murder weapon was in a suitcase in house, which turned up to be a fake, the murder weapon was never found.
As time pass, with no answers, people begin to come up with their own theories of what happened. One of those theories were that Benny stages his entire death. His head found at his feet supported this. Remember how I mentioned that in Benny's book the antagonist's head was cut off and hurled at his feet. That was just too similar of a detail for some to believe it was random. But with this theory, I don't get why the rest of the family was killed then. Would Benny take this prophet charade that far? The fact that Benny still went to a Catholic church supported that he didn't really believe in what he was so called preaching to people. It just seems like a far reach for me.
Another theory, and for some reason, I believe this might have happened even though it's definitely a reach too. Okay, so remember Benny's friend Angelino who killed his kids with an axe and was sent to an insane asylum? So I also told you that he escaped and was never heard from again. Some believed that Angelino escaped and once out he heard of Benny's success with this cult. Angelino's life is a mess now but look at Benny, just living the life doing what he and Benny spent hours talking about in their younger days. Filled with rage, Angelino makes his way to Detroit where he kills the Evangelist family in a similar style in which he killed his own family. This could explain the person the paperboy claims to have seen leaving the Evangelist home early that morning who he thought was Tecchio. It would also explain why the man didn't respond and scattered off when the paperboy called out to him. Maybe because that's not even his name. But we will never really know what happened that night in the Evangelist home. The home was torn down a few years back but some say the lot is still haunted by a headless man who wanders the lot. This was the first massacre but not the last massacre that took place on this street which is why some believed this street is cursed.