A most unusual photo was recently [March 2000] submitted by Bob Curtis. Perhaps our site visitors can enlighten him as to the story behind this old card. If you have info about an incident that might have happened by the Courthouse and jail around 1909 please contact Bob.

Jailhouse Photo

"I wonder if you might be able to help me identify the scene shown in a postcard that I purchased recently. It is of the black and white "real photo" variety. From the stamp box, I believe it dates from somewhere between 1904 and 1918. It's slightly blurry and skewed, as if it was taken hastily. From my travels, I recognize the side of the beautiful old Montgomery County Courthouse, and the back of the brick building next door (a jail?). There are eight or nine men in suits milling around between the buildings. There's an irregular hole in the brick building at about second floor level with a rope or cable hanging from it.

The card was sold as a view of an outhouse, which is in the foreground, but this doesn't make sense to me. Could this be a shot of a jail break, or is there a more mundane explanation? There's no writing on the back other than the date 1909 written in pencil.

I'm originally from Upstate New York, and I have a particular attachment to the Mohawk Valley. I'd appreciate any information that you or any of your colleagues might be able to provide."


Bob Curtis
March 2000


October 2010

I was just looking around and happened to see a question I can answer Re: Town of Mohawk, Early Mohawk History, Mont. Co. Courthouse Mystery photo posted by Bob Curtis.

Your mystery photo is that of the May 1909 Jail break. 3 Italian men, John Cincotta, Joseph Gervasia and a Mr. Damiano, had been brought to Fonda from Dannamora to testify in the Denatto murder trial. They were referred to as "desperate characters". They managed to dig a fairly small hole through an 18" thick wall, squeeze out of the opening and shimmy down what I assume to be a make shift rope. Mr. Damiano was caught shortly thereafter. Unfortunately I do not know if the 2 other men were ever captured. Maybe someone could help us to finish this story.

Melissa Zaleski

NOTE: Capture articles found! At this time period, it was common journalistic practice for newspapers to point out, regardless of whether news was positive or negative, the nationality of people who were of the "new" groups among those immigrating from Southern and Eastern European countries.

Utica Herald-Dispatch, Friday Evening, May 28, 1909


Three Italian Convicts Brought
From Dannemora Prison to
Testify in the Denatto Murder
Trial at Fonda Forced Their
Way Through an 18-Inch
Wall Last Night.


The Two Others, John Cincotta
and Joseph Gervasia, Are at
Large, But the Authorities Are
Making Strenuous Efforts to
Apprehend Them - Both Are
Desperate Characters.

[Special to the Herald-Dispatch]

Fonda, May 18.- At 5:45 this morning it was discovered by Turnkey MacLachlan of the Fonda Jail that three Italians, namely John Cincotta, Joseph Gervasio and Mr. Damiano, who had been brought from Clinton Prison at Dannemora as witness in the Denatto murder trial, had made their escape through what seems to have been a skilfully (sic) arranged jail delivery. The men occupied cells on the upper floor on the south side of the jail facing the Mohawk River, and got out by forcing their way through a wall 18 inches thick. That they had help from the outside is most apparent, as a ladder, a heavy rope and a carpenter's pinch bar were the implements employed. The rope was fastened to an iron bed.

The prisoners left part of their clothing in the jail and changed to other garments as soon as they got out, as other parts of their apparel were found in the yard in back of the jail, in all probability dropped there when fleeing from custody. It is believed that the delivery took place as early as 3 o'clock, but it was not discovered until nearly three hours later.

Were Charged With Murder.

Cincotta and Gervasia have both been tried for the same crime for which Denatto is now on trial, namely the murder of Justice MacLaughlin at Crane's Hollow in July, 1907. Cincotta is under sentence of 20 years and Gervasio is under sentence of 14 years. Damiano, who is serving time for a lesser crime, was also to be placed upon the stand as a witness in the Denatto trial.

Immediately after the delivery was discovered Sheriff Bartlett began with all the energy and assistance at his command to run down the escaped convicts and he was rewarded in soon recovering Damiano at Amsterdam who, although the least in importance of the three, may be of some help in catching the other two, who are rated as desperate men.

The whole affair is charged to members of the Black Hand Society, who, it is said, did a clever job in liberating the men who this morning dug their way out of Fonda jail. The police and detectives are confident, however, that it will be only a question of a short time before the two men now at large will again be behind the bars.

It is thought that the fugitives are hiding in this neighborhood, because every outgoing train has been carefully searched nd the police of every town in the vicinity are on the look-out for the pair.

Description of Fugitives.

The following description of the fugitives has been sent out:

John Cincotta, aged about 55, 5 feet 6 inches in height, weight 165 pounds, smooth face, gray hair, black suit of clothes.

John Gervasio, aged about 20 years, 5 feet 5 inches in height, weight about 140, smooth face, black hair, large scar on one side of face and neck, black suit, black derby hat, both well dressed.

The Post-Standard, Saturday Morning, May 29, 1909, front page (Syracuse NY)


Amsterdam All Excited by Escape of Prisoners.


Third One Expected to be Captured Soon.


Men Brought to Fonda to Testify
in Criminal Case - Bored Hole
Through Eighteen-inch
Brick Wall.

AMSTERDAM, May 28.- Digging a hole through an 18-inch brick wall of their room on the top floor of the jail, John Cincotta, Giuseppi Gervasio and Joseph Damiano, Italians, escaped from the county prison at Fonda last night.

A carpenter's pinch bar was found in the room and a package of hack saws which had not been used.

A man named Davis captured Damiano on the towpath of the Erie canal west of Amsterdam about 10:30 this morning and brought him to this city. He was locked up in the city jail. His leg and arm were injured and he limped badly.

Gervasio, who had been without food all day, was captured about 8 o'clock this evening at a point three miles west of this city. He was seen near a wooded plot by some farmers, who communicated with the local authorities and the capture speedily followed.

The apprehension of Cincotta is momentarily expected, as the woods in which he is believed to be located have been surrounded.

Whole City Excited.

No event in the criminal history of Amsterdam has so excited the populace as the escape of the prisoners to-day from the Fonda jail. Thousands of people tonight surrounded the city building when Gervasio was brought to Police Headquarters.

Cincotta and Gervasio, who are under long sentences to Dannemora Prison for the murder of William McLachlin, at Cranes Hollow, in this county, two years ago, were brought from prison some days ago to testify against Frank Denatto, who is accused of complicity in the McLachlin murder and whose trial began at Fonda last Monday.

Although scores of officers and volunteers scoured the woods in which Cincotta was believed to be hiding, he had not been apprehended up to midnight. Gervasio was captured by William Marshall of Aken, who will receive a reward of $250.

The Post-Standard, Friday Morning, June 11, 1909 (Syracuse NY)


Catch Cincotta Trying to Leave Amsterdam in Auto.


Italian Had Been Hiding in Woods -
Going Without Food for Days
at a Time He Lost Forty

AMSTERDAM, June 10.- John Cincotta, convicted of manslaughter and who was serving a long sentence at Dannemora Prison, was captured in this city Wednesday night, after having escaped from Fonda Jail, two weeks ago.

Cincotta was transferred to the jail from prison, as a witness in the murder trial of Frank Denatto, now in progress at Fonda.

The Italian has been hiding in the woods about Amsterdam, and at 11 o'clock last night he passed through the city in an automobile intending to go to Canastota.

Sheriff Bartlett stopped the automobile west of the city and found the man in it. The sheriff had previous information that Cincotta would try to get by the deputies, who have been guarding all roads leading out of the city, in an automobile, and he cleverly arranged the capture of the convict.

Cincotta has been without food for three days at a time, and he secreted himself in an old stump of a tree for three nights. He lost forty pounds and is in a weakened condition.

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Created: 3/22/00
Updated: 10/25/10
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