Cascarelli’s fruit store. Hillsdale County His­torical Society | Courtesy


In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, June 24, 1923, an attack was launched in an attempt to destroy the fruit shop of the Cas­carelli family, a hard­working, Italian family living in Hillsdale, Michigan.

And the per­pe­trator is still a mystery today.

The Cas­carellis found their home in the hushed, quaint town of Hillsdale, one of the few places that accepted Italian immi­grants in the early 20th century. Ful­filling their American dream as entre­pre­neurs, they started their own fruit business with loca­tions in Hillsdale and Albion.

The night of the attack, a bomb had been placed on the Broad Street side of the Cascarelli’s store. In the apartment above the store, the explosion woke Peter Cas­carelli, his son, Joe, and his nephew, Frank Cas­carelli. While causing great struc­tural damage, no one was injured or killed.

Upon hearing the explosion, Sheriff W.H. Bates, who was sleeping in the jail on Cour­t­house Square, imme­di­ately headed toward the scene of the explosion.

No one was ever arrested. All that remains is the tes­tament of the Cas­carelli descen­dents who know the oral tra­dition of that summer night, told to them by the gen­er­a­tions before them.

Today, Peter’s great-nephew, Robert Cas­carelli, lives in the Hillsdale area. Robert and a few of his other rel­a­tives carry the family legend through the oral tra­dition. He said he grew up hearing the stories from his father, Frank Cas­carelli, who was at the fruit store the night of the bombing. Frank told Robert that the blast of the bomb blew both Frank and Joe out of bed and just about every window on the block was blown out.

“It was not a small bomb,” Robert said. “It was meant to do damage. The power of that bomb, to do what it did to the whole block, there was intent to do badly on the people.”

Robert also under­stood from the stories of his father that his great-uncle Peter was not someone who took matters to the author­ities, he dealt with them himself.

“You have to remember that old Italians, like my father, were very closed mouth about what was going on,” Robert said.

The sheriff only knew what Peter offered to him, and it wasn’t much.

At the time of the bombing, Peter Cas­carelli owned the fruit store on Broad Street in downtown Hillsdale, while his brother, Robert, owned the store in Albion.

The location of their fruit stores wasn’t the only dif­ference between the brothers. According to the younger Robert Cas­carelli, the family knew Peter was someone not to be messed with. The story that Robert tells is that Peter was asked to pay pro­tection money to the mafia, and he refused.

“Italian’s took advantage of their own race,” Robert said. “Peter only had his son Joe, he could be tougher against the group. But Robert had eight children to protect, he had more to lose.” Peter later found out that his brother, Robert, was paying the group believed to be out of Cicero, Illinois. According to the Hillsdale County His­torical Society, at the time it was known as “The Black Hand,”  which was a criminal tactic of extortion and a pre­cursor to orga­nized crime and the mafia.

At one point after the bombing in Peter’s store in Hillsdale, he got a call from Robert in Albion that “the guy” showed up to collect the money and was at the Stag Bar next door to Robert’s fruit store. Peter pro­ceeded to drive to Albion and con­front the man in the bar.

“Pete had a weapon on him and walked up to the guy in the bar and stuck the pistol in this guy’s ear,” the younger Robert said. “My dad told me that Pete stuck it in his ear and made it bleed like hell.”

According to the stories Robert heard from his father, Frank, Peter told the guy in the bar, some­thing along the lines of, “You tried to put me out of business, blew up the whole block in Hillsdale, and I’m still not going to pay you. I under­stand my brother Robert is willing to pay you, but if you ever come back to Albion, if you ever go near my brother, I will kill you.”

The guy never came back.

“You figure they ran into a toughy,” Robert said, “and they knew he meant what he said.”