Forgotten Crimes: Specter of the mob hangs over Angola butcher's slaying - The Buffalo News
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Forgotten Crimes: Specter of the mob hangs over Angola butcher's slaying

Thirty-nine-year-old Steve Solecki and his wife, Stella, always worked late on weekends. The industrious butcher was known to stay at his store – the Cleveland Meat Market at Main Street and Center Road in Angola – until well past midnight on Saturdays, tallying the prior week’s receipts and preparing meat for the week ahead.

After finishing up one such late-night shift in the morning hours of Sunday, July 12, 1931, the Solecki family – Steve, Stella and their two daughters – made the two-mile drive back to their house at 61 Gowans Road in the Town of Evans. When they arrived home, Steve Solecki dropped his fatigued family off at the front door, then drove solo up the remaining 400 feet of darkened driveway to the garage.

Moments after Solecki exited his vehicle in the dim shed, two armed men leaped out from behind a cluster of bushes adjacent to the garage and fired at least five shots in his direction. One of the leaden pellets pierced the Polish butcher’s neck, while two more traveled through his chest, penetrating his lungs, according to a July 13, 1931, report by the Niagara Falls Gazette.

“Help, Stella, help!” the fatally wounded Solecki screamed as he slumped to his knees.

According to a Buffalo Evening News report from the following day, one of the men reached into the butcher’s coat pocket and stole the money within – about $169.50 from the shop’s till – then both assassins made off for their nearby getaway car.

Photos from the July 14, 1931, edition of The Buffalo Evening News, featuring the scene of Steve Solecki's murder, top; Steve Solecki, inset; and the Steve Solecki's wife, Stella, and their daughters, Marian and Virginia.

The assailants drove past Stella Solecki as she ran up the driveway toward her dying husband, their unlit sedan bathed in darkness, concealing its color. The News reported how the shooters also blinded Stella Solecki with bright flashlights to prevent her from seeing their faces. The only thing that Stella Solecki could ascertain as the killers sped off into the night was that the car was clearly a new and expensive sedan; that was an unusual sight in poor, rural, Depression-era Angola.

Steve Solecki succumbed to his wounds just a few short minutes later, dying before he could identify the men who stalked and ambushed him that night.

•••

Despite the fact that Steve Solecki had been robbed of a substantial amount of money, detectives immediately dismissed robbery as the main motive in his slaying. Whoever committed the crime was keenly aware of the butcher’s weekend schedule, having waited for him to return at such an unusual hour.

The News also reported how the Solecki’s German shepherd, Jimmy – who “never failed to bark when strangers were around” – had been silent when the family returned home that night, indicating that he was familiar with whoever had been lurking on the property.

A kind man with a “pleasing personality,” according to News reports, Steve Solecki was well-liked in his adopted hometown of Angola, where he had settled after emigrating from Poland two decades earlier. But the butcher was known to have at least one adversary: 40-year-old Antonio “Tony” Amico.

Tony Amico owned a group of buildings at the corner of Main and Center streets in Angola – a major junction in the rural town – where Steve Solecki’s meat market was located. A few months prior to the shooting, the butcher and his landlord found themselves at odds when Solecki alleged that Amico had broken a crucial clause in their lease.

As the Buffalo Courier-Express reported July 13, 1931, “Solecki recently attempted to get an order forcing Amico to evict a chain store that was operating in the same building [as his butcher shop]. Solecki claimed that his lease with Amico held that the owner could not rent to any other store that sold meat.”

When Amico attempted to retaliate by evicting Solecki from his rented storefront, a judge not only halted the eviction, but Solecki in turn also decided to sue Amico for $20,000 in damages lost due to competition with the chain store. The two men thereafter became sworn enemies, their animosity spurred by nearly a year of back-and-forth litigation.

Photo of Tony Amico featured in the July 14, 1931, edition of The Buffalo Evening News.

The Courier-Express described how just one day before the shooting, Steve Solecki was sitting in a soda shop in Angola when he saw Amico pass by the window. "If anything happens to me, you can look for him, because he is the only one who would do it,” Solecki was heard saying, while pointing to Amico.

•••

Police arrested Amico on Monday, July 13, and brought him to Buffalo, where he was held for questioning without formal charges.

A thorough search of Amico’s home – which he shared with his elderly father, an adult sister and a widowed boarder – turned up two .38 caliber revolvers, for which Amico did not possess a permit. Even though it had already been determined that a .32 caliber revolver had been used to kill Steve Solecki, Amico’s lack of a gun permit was a sufficient enough charge for police to keep him locked up while they investigated further.

On July 14, 1931, The News made mention of Amico’s recent connection with “Buffalo’s Italian Secret Society" – allegedly, Amico sought society membership one week earlier.

Could the murder of Steve Solecki have been not only Amico’s attempt to eliminate the main source of his financial and legal anxieties, but also a means of proving himself to the hierarchy of Buffalo’s budding mafia? The involvement of  “Buffalo’s Italian Secret Society” would certainly explain the expensive new sedan the shooters used to escape the crime scene.

The Mafia is all but dead in Western New York. So what killed it?

On the same day that Amico’s alleged mafia connections came to light in the press, both his sister and the middle-aged woman who boarded in the Amico home swore that Tony had been at home in bed on the night of the murder and therefore could not possibly have killed Steve Solecki. Though the alibi lacked substantiating evidence or additional witnesses outside of the Amico home, investigators took the two women at their word.

Despite strong circumstantial evidence that Amico at least had some involvement in the murder of Steve Solecki, investigators halted their investigation of the Italian landlord just a week into the investigation, due to their lack of viable witness testimony or hard physical evidence placing him at the scene of the crime.

Charged only for the illegal possession of a firearm without a permit, Amico was released from police custody July 17, 1931, after a Mr. Calogero Gallo of Niagara Street in Buffalo posted his $5,000 bail, the News reported later that evening.

On July 23, 1931, one of the two .32 caliber revolvers used to kill Steve Solecki was found near the murder scene, but that seemingly crucial evidence never led to any new leads. The use of fingerprinting in criminal investigation had not yet become a universally utilized tool in American law enforcement, so detectives were unable to garner any helpful information from discovery of the murder weapon.

Despite being found guilty of his 1931 gun charges, Amico remained a landlord in Angola for the next several decades, where he died on March 6, 1970, according to an obituary published in the Evans Journal.

The murder of Steve Solecki remains unsolved to this day.

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