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The Sleep-Walking Murderer – Podcast #144

Years ago, I rented an apartment in the southern portion of Troy, New York, and behind the complex was an old cemetery.  I spent a lot of time there riding my bike on its paved roads and reading books while sitting under its trees for shade.  The vast majority of the tombstones were simple and weather-beaten, while others were grand and indicative of great wealth.  Yet, one thing was clear from wandering around the cemetery for the seven years that I lived there: tombstones say very little about the person buried in that spot. Typically, all one gets for their entire life of living is their name and year of birth and death carved into the stone.  Nothing else.

For example, there is a tombstone in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, New York that has six members of the De Hall family noted. It is an ordinary granite marker that would give a passerby no cause to stop and take notice. Yet, if one were to stop, they would probably be most curious about the name at the very top: Salvatore De Hall. Chiseled in on the left of his name is his year of birth: 1916.  On the right is the year of his death: 1930. That’s a fourteen-year difference, which is far too young for anyone to die.

The De Hall tombstone. Note that the father’s name is John D. Hall. Philomena was Michael Filosa’s wife. Image appears on the BillionGraves website.

And then you start to wonder. How did young Salvatore die? Was it a bad heart? Disease? A tragic accident? The answer is none of the above.  It was cold-blooded murder. Forgotten today, the trial of his murderer would be front-page news in the New York newspapers for nearly three years. 

The scene of the crime was at 20 Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, which is within walking distance of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Today, a non-descript warehouse has replaced the three-story brick building that once stood on that site.  On November 24, 1930, the day of the crime, it was home to Mrs. Anna De Hall and her three children. They were 14-year-old Catherine, Salvatore (who was not 14, but 15-years of age according to court records), and her son from a previous marriage: 26-year-old ex-sailor Michael Filosa. Another son, Edward Filosa, lived in the next building with his wife.

Anna’s husband, Frank D. Hall (it’s unclear how the family name became De Hall), had left her five years earlier for another woman.  Without financial support from her estranged husband, Anna earned what little she could at the Haskin Garment Company, but it was never enough to make ends meet.  After a sighting of her husband in December 1929, Anna had him arrested for failing to help support their children.  “Somebody told me they seen him, so they told me, and I brought him to the court. Why should I support the children all my life and him living with another woman? Many a night we went to bed without a bite to eat.”

Policeman Frank Grego arrived at the scene of the crime at 12:45 AM. He later testified, “I observed Michael Filosa standing on the stoop of 20 Carlton Avenue and talking with three or four other young men. I asked what the trouble was. He said ‘My mother, brother and sister are all cut up.’ I said ‘Who done it?’ He said, ‘I did.’ ‘What did you do it for?’ ‘I don’t know.’”

Patrolman Frank Grego was the first to arrive at the scene of the crime.
Patrolman Frank Grego was the first to arrive at the scene of the crime. Syndicated image appeared on page 62 of the July 18, 1948 publication of the New York Daily News.

Patrolman Jesse Lewis would arrive five minutes later.  The two entered the apartment and found Salvatore lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. The jugular vein on the right side of his body had been severed and it was immediately clear that Salvatore had died. His sister Catherine had slashes across her shoulder, cheek, and nose, while Mrs. De Hall had cuts on her back, right arm, and right hand. 

Officer Grego went into the mother’s bedroom, where she had shared a bed with Catherine. “Bloodstains all over the bed.” He then proceeded to Salvatore’s bedroom and described it to be “Covered with blood, large round circle covered with blood.”

Patrolman Lewis found a broken razor on the floor, which he concluded was the weapon used in the brutal attack. “I found that on the floor right near the door going into the mother’s bedroom.” He added that he had found it on the kitchen floor and that “The razor was about four or five feet (approximately 1.2 – 1.5 m) from the body of Salvatore.” 

Frank Grego questioned the mother, Anna De Hall. “Who cut you, did Mike cut you?” To which she replied, “I don’t know. I had some trouble.” She was clearly in shock and was taken to nearby Cumberland Hospital. 

Patrolman Lewis then asked her son why he did it.  His reply was, “I don’t know. I heard my mother hollering, ‘Mike, Mike,” and I looked down and seen the razor in my hand.” Michael Filosa was then arrested and taken into custody. Later that day, his brother Edward went to the Kings County morgue to identify the deceased body of Salvatore.

20 Carlton Avenue
Syndicated photograph of 20 Carlton Avenue, the scene of the crime, that appeared on page 62 of the July 18, 1948 publication of the New York Daily News.

The questioning of Michael Filosa was handled by Assistant District Attorney Bernard Becker. He determined that Mike was hard-working, respectable, and unable to provide much detail about what had happened.  Becker stated, “Apparently this man has never been in trouble in his life. So far as we can learn he has never quarreled with anyone. He rushed out to get medical attention and help for the victims.”

Becker was able to piece together from Mike’s statements that he had gone to see a violent movie with his friends that evening, after which he returned home and went to bed. The next thing that he remembered was that he began to hear his mother’s agonizing voice, which brought him out of his slumber and to his senses.  It was at that point that he noticed the bloody razor in his hand and began to piece together what he had done.  Michael Filosa had slashed his half-brother, half-sister, and mother while sleep-walking. 

Within hours, the story of the sleep-walking murderer was front-page news across the city. The idea that someone could walk around and attack others while not being aware of what was happening seemed like something that could only occur in works of fiction.  Reporters interviewed leading psychiatrists and psychologists, who were mixed in their opinions.  Some of the experts felt that such an act was theoretically possible, with the attacker being in a “twilight state.” Yet others disagreed.  One prominent Brooklyn doctor stated that this was all “a lot of baloney.”

On April 27, 1931, Michael Filosa went on trial for the murder of his half-brother Salvatore. The defense presented evidence that Mike had been to the movies the prior evening and that he was in a semi-unconscious state when he committed the murder. The prosecution attempted to prove that no person could commit such a heinous crime while asleep.

The trial didn’t last long.  Mike was convicted of second-degree manslaughter the next day.  Yet, County Judge Franklin Taylor wasn’t so sure that Filosa was guilty.  He told the court, “I want the truth and I don’t think it has been told here. If someone is being shielded, I want the guilty party to come forward.”  As you could probably guess, no one came forward. Judge Taylor postponed Filosa’s sentencing, pending further investigation by District Attorney William F. X. Geoghan.  This was quite an unusual case.  Not only was the accused claiming that he slashed his family while sleep-walking, but both the judge and district attorney found fault with the guilty verdict that had been handed down by the jury. Can you think of any other case where the prosecution was unhappy after winning a case?

District Attorney William F. X. Geoghan did not believe that Michael Filosa was telling the truth.
District Attorney William F. X. Geoghan did not believe that Michael Filosa was telling the truth. Syndicated image appeared on page 63 of the July 18, 1948 publication of the New York Daily News.

An order was issued for Catherine De Hall to report for further questioning, but she failed to do so. As a result, she was removed from her mother’s care and placed with the Children’s Society. Her bail was set at $10,000.  ($173,000 today.)

On May 11, Judge Taylor postponed sentencing once again.  He stated, “If the defendant is guilty he faces the longest sentence. If he is not guilty then his attempted loyalty to the guilty person is misplaced. He is a young man, but his life will be ruined if he is sentenced. If some one else is guilty that person is not entitled to such extreme affection. That person is undeserving and should not allow this situation.”

While awaiting sentencing, Michael was held in the Raymond Street Jail, which was demolished years ago.  Patrolman Grego suggested to Edward Filosa that he should go visit his brother and tell him that he was going to “get the limit,” which was fifteen years at Sing Sing prison.  This wasn’t necessarily true but was intended to get Mike to finally tell what had really happened that night.  The visit was made on May 24 and Mike was shocked to hear how much time he may have to serve.  He suddenly had a very different story to tell.  

Whether true or not, Michael Filosa now claimed that he didn’t kill his brother.  Instead, he now named his mother as the slayer. He now told of arriving home from the movie and finding his mother running around the apartment like a madwoman with the bloody razor in her hand.  He wrestled the blade away from her, cutting his thumb in the process. Believing he would serve only a year or two in prison, Mike opted to shoulder the blame and concocted the sleep-walking story.

Anna De Hall was arrested the next day and taken to the Gates Avenue police station. While being questioned, she was not told that her son had accused her of the murder.

On June 1, Michael Filosa was escorted to the warden’s office at the Raymond Street jail.  As soon as he entered, he saw his half-sister Catherine sitting there.  He blurted out, “Don’t open your mouth, Kitty.” He added, “I have said too much now. They want to frighten you. I’m fed up on this and I’m through.” The district attorney brought the meeting to an abrupt conclusion, telling Filosa, “Very well. If that is the way you feel about it, we are also through. The book is closed.” 

Filosa was escorted back to his cell while Catherine was taken back to Children’s Society. Not long after she arrived, Catherine changed her mind and told of what she knew. “It was about half past ten when I went to bed. I woke up with a sharp pain on my cheek and felt blood. A woman was bending over me. I knew it was a woman because she had long hair. She was a stockily built woman. Then I heard the door open and shut, and I heard Michael’s voice. I saw the form of a man come into the bedroom. He tussled with a woman for something she held. They fell on the bed. The man then went to a chair and put something under a leg of the chair and pulled up. I then turned on the light and I saw my mother and Michael. He was dressed in his Sunday clothes. He took off these clothes and put on khaki pants before he went out to call a doctor and the police. I saw my brother, Salvatore, lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Michael said to me: ‘Kitty, if ever you did me a favor, don’t say anything about what you saw here tonight.’”

Colorized photo of 20 Carlton Avenue as it looked in 1940.
Colorized photo of 20 Carlton Avenue as it looked in 1940, ten years after the crime was committed. Edward Filosa lived in the building on the left. Original image appears on the NYC Dept of Records website.

Five days later, this new story that their mother had committed the crime quickly came into question when the medical doctors concluded that there was no way that Mrs. De Hall could have inflicted her wounds on herself. Someone else had to have done it.

Could her son Michael have done it after all? Someone wasn’t telling the truth.

At trial, Anna De Hall refuted the testimony of her three surviving children. Yet, on July 1, 1931, it took just one ballot for the jury to unanimously find her guilty of murder in the second degree.  As she was escorted out of the courtroom, Anna exclaimed, “God knows I’m innocent.”

This created an interesting situation.  Two people were found guilty by a jury of their peers for independently committing the same crime.  One would presume that Michael Filosa would have been immediately set free after the conviction of his mother, but Judge Taylor opted to hold off on that decision.  “From the very beginning, I had my own opinion as to who committed this crime. I felt that Michael Filosa was shielding somebody. However, if the Appellate Courts should set aside the conviction of the mother, I will not allow my opinion to stand against that of the twelve men of the jury that convicted Michael Filosa. I would send Michael Filosa away for the limit sentence if the conviction of his mother was set aside.

“The trial of Filosa reeked with perjury. He himself was part of the conspiracy to frustrate justice. He is worthy of no sympathy. There was also perjury in the trial of the mother. I am not going to dispose of the case of the son until there has been a final disposition of the charges against the mother, because I do not intend to let any conspiracy to be successfully carried out that would free everybody of any guilt of this kind.”

Judge Franklin C. Taylor.
Judge Franklin C. Taylor. Syndicated photograph appeared on page 63 of the July 18, 1948 publication of the New York Daily News.

On September 8, 1931, Anne De Hall was brought into the courtroom for sentencing.  When asked if she had anything to say, she tearfully stated, “I’ve done nothing. I was cut myself. I lost a beautiful boy and they say I murdered him. God was betrayed and for his sake I am satisfied to be betrayed.” She then turned toward her family in the back of the courtroom and added, “I thank you, my children.” Mrs. De Hall was sentenced to serve twenty years to life at Auburn prison in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. 

An appeal was immediately filed arguing that Anna De Hall did not receive a fair trial.  Among her claims were that 1) The medical opinion that she could not have inflicted her own wounds was never introduced. 2) She was required to use the same defense lawyer as her son Michael, 3) Her lawyer did not call witnesses who were willing to testify on her behalf, and, 4) She was not permitted to tell her entire story.  It wouldn’t be until June 17, 1932 that the Appellate Court would order a new trial.

The second trial got underway on March 27, 1933. The transcript of the trial is available online and provides direct quotes from all of those who testified.  It runs nearly one-hundred pages, so here are a few brief excerpts from the principal witnesses:

Anna’s son Edward was the first to be called to the witness stand.  He described his encounter with his mother when he first entered the apartment. “She was in a rage, and she said to me, ‘No, no, no, my boy didn’t do it; I done it.’ I do not know whether she said that in protection of the boy or not, but that is the remark she passed to me.” He recalled her stating, “My boy Mikey didn’t do it.”

Daughter Catherine had been asleep when she was slashed and described the moment that she woke up. “I do not know where I was first cut, but I know that the cut I first felt was the one on my shoulders.” When questioned as to who cut her on the face, she replied, “My mother.” She discussed how her mother had been wildly jealous because her children had spent a lot of time with their father.  Catherine believed that it was Salvatore’s decision to go live with his father permanently that pushed her mother over the edge.

Michael Filosa detailed exactly what happened that night. Around 7 PM, he had attended a movie at the Duffield Theater, which has since been torn down and replaced by a Planet Fitness.  After grabbing a bite to eat, he arrived at the front stoop of his home to meet up with some friends.  From there, he was off to get a cup of coffee before returning to his front stoop. After hanging out there for a bit, he entered the building around midnight.  Shortly after walking into the apartment, Michael found his brother Salvatore dead on the kitchen floor. After that, he spotted his mother on her bed with a straight razor in her hand.  “I tried to snatch the razor from my mother.” In doing so, his mother received some minor wounds and his hand was cut. Once gaining possession of the weapon, he placed the blade under the leg of a chair and “I snapped the razor.”

Colorized photo of the Duffield Theater as it looked in 1940. Original image appears on the NYC Dept of Records website.

Michael then went back to his room and noticed that blood had stained his shirt. He took it off and washed out the blood in the sink.  He changed his clothes and then ruffled up his bed to make it look like he had slept in it. Next, he told his mother to pretend that she was asleep. “Keep quiet, and wake up and say you found me there by the door.”

His family was in urgent need of medical help, so he rushed out to the front stoop and told the boys there that “everybody in the house was cut.” At first, they didn’t believe Mike but he made it clear to them that he wasn’t fooling around. “I told them to hurry up and get an ambulance.”

From there, he went next door to awaken his brother. When asked if had done the slashing, Mike replied, “I don’t know, Edward, whether I did it, I may have done it, but I don’t know.”

As you can imagine, Anna De Hall had a very different story to tell the court. She denied having argued with any of her children that day. “I had just come home from benediction, from church, and we took a sandwich and the whole three of us went to bed.” 

Anna De Hall
Syndicated photograph of Anna De Hall that appeared on page 62 of the July 18, 1948 publication of the New York Daily News.

“The next thing I remember, I felt like suffocating, I couldn’t get my breath. I was all wet, because I was completely, all full of blood. I called for my little girl. She was fast asleep. We slept without no lights.” 

“I says to her ‘Katie, wake up, Katie, may be the gas is on. I am suffocating.’ And my little girl, she pulled the light, and the light went up, because the light in the room has got nothing to do with the kitchen. So she pulled the light and the light went on, and I was covered with blood. I was cut.”

She continued, “When I woke up, when the light went up, I was calling Mickey, Mickey, look at me, I am all covered with blood. My boy stood up just this way in between the two doors with his BVD’s and he came and he said ‘Mother, who did that?’ I said ‘I don’t know.’ I said ‘I am all covered with blood.’ So he said ‘Wait awhile and I will get somebody to help you.’ So he put on his overalls, khaki pants, and went out to get help. When he moved I seen him a little bit like red as if – this was the bedroom, and in the back of him when he walked out the boy was like red in the back.”

When questioned as to if she had slashed Salvatore, Mrs. De Hall replied, “No. Why should I? He was my best boy. I had given him three years of high school and I am only a poor working woman.”

At 3:35 PM on March 31, 1933, the jury retired to consider its verdict.  They returned at 5:15 with a decision: “We find the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree, as charged in the indictment.”

Several days later, a motion was made for Michael Filosa’s release.  Judge Taylor said that he would wait until his mother was sentenced before he would dismiss the charges, but, in the meantime, did allow him to be released on $5,000 bail.

On April 5, 1933, Anna De Hall was sentenced to eight to thirty years in prison.  Probation laws at the time allowed three months credit for each year of good behavior, so she would be required to serve a minimum of six years.  She was released on parole in 1940.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide. 

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