Imagine living in New York City. The people you’d meet and see every day, what you would eat, the stores that you’d frequent, the immersive theater experiences you would be a part of. Now think of having it all disrupted with a shocking murder mystery in your own neighborhood.
In our latest Murder Mystery NYC Diaries entry, we'll explore how the citizens living in Manhattan awoke to find Antonio Saloa hacked to death in his own establishment, which had become a staple of the working community.
While his name alludes to a more Spanish background, Antonio Saloa had unmistakable Asian features. On his way to New York from the West, Antonio, then known as Chong Ong, he stopped in Cuba and acquired his Hispanic- American name. Antonio settled on Fifth Avenue, in the heart of what became the “foreign quarter”, where Spanish, French, and Italian were spoken, and usually unfamiliar to immigrants from the West. Chong Ong’s knowledge of these languages allowed him to become well known among the foreign population as Antonio Saloa.
New York City in the 1800s
Antonio began his own business as a cook, often catering to cigar-makers, making and delivering their lunches to their factory. Eventually buying a shop, Saloa attracted many Cuban and Asian patrons, quickly gaining their favor.
On the afternoon of the murder, Saloa’s neighbor said that he had seen him leaving the shop to pick up a music box in The Bowery. An hour and a half later, a peddler named Daly was seen descending down the steps to Saloa’s shop, only to return running in horror from what he had found.
The establishment itself had seemed undisturbed, with clean tablecloths and polished glasses and silverware. Garlic hung in strings on the walls, shelves full of cheese, preserved vegetables, and spices all seemed untouched.
However, there on the floor, lay Antonio soaked in pools of his own blood. He had been hacked, slashed, and beaten from head to toe. Antonio had been stabbed in the breast and directly over the heart again and again, cutting his heart in two and severing some of his ribs. His head had been nearly crushed flat, with one of of his eyes gouging from it’s socket. The coroner’s investigation revealed that his head had been crushed by the murderer after the stabbing, as the wounds to the heart caused the body to begin quivering.
Strangely enough, the murder weapon had been found at the scene, only feet away from Saloa himself. The weapon, a kitchen knife with an 11 inch blade, had been plunged into Saloa to the hilt so many times, causing it to bend.
A blood mark at the stove and on glass panes showed evidence of a struggle, but not much else in the shop seemed out of place. Searching the rest of the establishment, investigators found the Saloa's bedroom ransacked. The investigators also found bloody water in the sink, where the murderer had probably tried to wash their blood stained hands. However, they could find no direct evidence alluding to who the murderer could be.
Suspicious that no one had heard any noise or noticed any disturbance from the struggle, investigators thoroughly questioned Saloa’s neighbors.
A witness had been found in a boy named George Mainz who, while returning from a work errand, had seen two men arguing outside Saloa’s shop. According to the boy, one of these men resembled Saloa, while the other appeared to be tall, strong, dark skinned, and had “a terrible scar on his left cheek”. The boy also stated that he had seen this man on several occasions outside the shop.
George had seen the darker skinned man stab Saloa and work his way downstairs, with Saloa following. This man was said to be a part of a Cuban insurrectionary organization named the “Niazzas”, which years before, had a photographed all their members. Using this photo, George Mainz had identified this man as the possible killer. The photo was shown to many and eventually lead investigators to a man named Augustus Rebella, a cigar maker in a local factory in Brooklyn.
1800s Cigar Factory
On the day of the murder, Augustus had only worked half a day, leaving mid-day and returning at quitting time. The investigators had also ascertained the fact that Augustus had made a previous attempt on Saloa’s life. However, Rubella’s "Niazza" associates were powerful, and forced many of his fellow workers to sign affidavits stating Augustus had never left the premises. Those who did not sign were afraid to come forward, fearing they would be killed.
With a lack of quality evidence, Augustus could not be convicted of the murder, and justice has never been served for the murder of Antonio Saloa.
Stay tuned for more cases in our Murder Mystery NYC Diaries series. For the introduction to this series, click here!