Bloodiest Murder Ever Recorded In Stark County

Mr. Tony Panella and Mrs. Clara Pizzano fell in love. Unfortunately for them, they were married to other people. Doubly unfortunately for them, one of those other people strenuously objected to being part of a love quadrangle.

Tony and his wife Louisa married in 1897 in New York, shortly after Louisa’s immigration from Italy. They settled in Deans, NJ and lived with Louisa’s sister, Josephine. Clara married a tailor named Peter Pizzani in 1904. They lived in New York City but Clara regularly visited family friends Tony and Louisa. During a visit in 1908, Tony (35) and Clara (22) fell in love and after she returned to New York they continued their affair through letters.

Nobody Walks Out On Me

Tony took out a mortgage on his home with Louisa for $900, and in February 1909 sent her to visit a brother in New York. While she was gone, he made his escape to elope with Clara. Clara left behind her husband and a three and a half year old daughter named Cileste. The couple made their way to Stark County, Ohio where Tony’s sister was living with her husband. They planned to stay there until they could establish themselves and open a grocery store.

There was a major flaw in the plan though. Louisa knew where Tony’s sister lived and she wasn’t having any of it. They’d only been gone about a week when Louisa’s brother tracked them down and asked a police officer to arrest them. Louisa had also signed on the mortgage making Tony’s departure with the money Grand Larceny. There were also laws against abandoning your spouse. Clara was also charged with Grand Larceny for the property she took with her when she left New York. Both claimed that they’d done nothing wrong. A bit of a stretch in my opinion. Tony agreed to go back to New York willingly to face charges, but Clara refused. She didn’t want to go back to her husband, who she claimed was cruel.

About a week after their arrest, Clara was still waiting in a Stark County jail to be claimed by officials from New York. A jury in New York had indicted Clara, but New York officials had not gone through the process of filling out requisition papers to force her to return to the city and she refused to go without them. New York eventually sent correspondence that they weren’t going to extradite Clara and she was released. Louisa, who you’ll remember was not on board with being jilted, traveled to Ohio to take back her husband.

He Had It Coming

Somehow, it was decided that Tony and Clara AND Louisa would all live together. They opened a grocery store with an attached house at the back. Clara, as the pretty one, worked behind the counter. Louisa was in charge of What she called the drudge work, mostly cleaning, stocking, and the like. It’s unclear what Tony’s day to day was, besides being a man that shouldn’t be surprised he would eventually be murdered.

All this was settled by the end of April 1909. Louisa made it to August 1909 before she killed them both. The Stark County Democrat credited her with the “bloodiest murder ever recorded in Stark county”. It’s unclear if anyone else has broken the record.

August 1, 1909, Louisa was asleep on her cot in the grocery. She woke up early to start working and walked into her husband’s bedroom and saw Clara in his arms. He kept a revolver by the bed, which Louisa said was used to keep her in line. She took the revolver and shot Tony twice in the forehead. Rather than shooting Clara, Louisa grabbed a twelve inch butcher knife. In the time it took her to do that, Clara had called the police, but before she could tell them what was wrong, she was attacked. The officer that answered the call heard only screaming. Accounts differ on how many times Clara was stabbed from 20 to over 30. Louisa then sat and waited for the police to arrive. Clara was taken to the hospital, but died on the way.

Lua Wanna Smith, a reporter for The Stark County Democrat, met Louisa at the jail. The Chief of police came in, let’s call him Smith (which makes sense to do because it’s his name), and told Louisa she was being taken home to change out of her bloody clothes. The article emphasizes that she was in a chipper mood. You could probably call her merry. She didn’t seem concerned about returning to the scene of the crime. Louisa asked the reporter if she was single, and when she replied that she was, advised:

“You stay single. Don’t you ever get married. Married life is all trouble, especially mine. Oh, my husband! All men are alike.”

Louisa Panella August 1909

How Could You Tell Me That I was Wrong

Louisa was charged with two counts of second degree murder and put on trial in November of 1909. The trial was only related to the killing of Clara. It was acknowledged in the newspaper that Louisa would likely never be charged separately for the murder of her husband. Louisa’s lawyers argued both self-defense and temporary insanity. She admitted to shooting her husband but said that the stabbing of Clara was only because the woman attacked her after Tony had been shot.

According to an article published ten days after the start of the trial, the state attempted to enter new evidence after closing arguments. The evidence they wished to submit was the skull of Tony, who they claim could not have been shot at the angle that Louisa claimed. The judge did not allow the evidence, maintaining that it should have been entered prior. At one point during the trial Louisa’s lawyer claimed that “nine and seven-tenths of the women who lose their minds do so through domestic troubles” (Stark County Democrat, 1909). The Judge felt the need to point out that this was not an established fact. Public sentiment favored Louisa and two days later she was convicted of assault and battery and sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of $200. The Judge announced during sentencing that he believed she should have been convicted of manslaughter and if she had been he would have given her the minimum sentence. In that spirit, he assigned the closest sentence he could to the minimum for manslaughter. In justifying his sentence the judge said that Louisa was moved by “extreme provocation”. He also claimed that, “No wrong, even to the marriage relation, will justify the taking of human life.”

And All That Jazz

Louisa was released from prison in April of 1910. It had been rumored after her conviction that a local theater owner was going to recruit Louisa for the stage. If the offer was made, it was refused, and she went to live with her brother in Pittsburgh. At that time she made the statement:

I will never marry again. I’ve had enough of men. They can’t be trusted and the women, too, are deceitful and cannot be relied upon.”

Louisa Panella April 1910

Clara’s first husband, Peter, remarried in 1910 and had three additional children.

Story sourced from articles found in The Stark County Democrat, The Semi-Weekly New Era, the Marion Daily Mirror and various documents including death certificates, census records, and marriage records.

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