Italians and Prohibition – Emilio Picariello
In January, 1918, prominent Fernie businessman Emilio Picariello purchased the Alberta Hotel in Blairmore and began regular liquor runs across the Alberta-BC border and south to Montana.
In spring 1922, new Alberta Provincial Police Superintendent W. C. Bryan hired Stephen Lawson (former Fernie Chief of Police) and stationed him in Coleman. As the most successful bootlegger in the region and a foreigner, Picariello became a target. The APP conspired with bootleggers Jack Wilson of Fernie and Mark Rogers of Lethbridge to set Picariello up. Rogers hired Picariello to deliver a liquor order in September 1922 and informed the APP.
When Picariello was challenged as he drove up to the Alberta Hotel, he instructed his 16-year-old son, who was carrying the load, to escape into BC. Stephen was shot in the hand by Constable Lawson but escaped. Lawson warned Picariello to bring his son in and, when later that evening Picariello, accompanied by family friend Florence Lassandro arrived at the Coleman detachment, there was an altercation and Lawson was killed. His murder created a storm of outrage. The media constructed a larger-than-life criminal persona for Picariello.
Picariello and Lassandro were charged with murder and tried at the Calgary Provincial Court House in November/December 1922. They were found guilty; appeals failed, and they were hung on May 2, 1923, at the Fort Saskatchewan Jail near Edmonton. Picariello, to the end, claimed that he was innocent and that there had been another shooter – either a rival bootlegger or the police – in the alley.
Audio clip with transcript: “Doug Fink Oral History | Picariello and Bootleggers (00:36)”