A Bootlegger’s Death; Florence Lassandro

Alberta, a Bootlegger paradise

To say that Alberta has a checkered past with its relationship to alcohol is putting it mildly. This constant strain between the people who like to drink VS. the people who try to prevent them has wielded more wild stories than I can recount in a small piece.

The territory that became Alberta first enacted prohibition in 1875. That fell apart by 1892, partly due to widespread bootlegging.

“Yes, I voted for prohibition and I’d vote for it again. I went broke farming.” – Notorious Calgary Bootlegger George Packwood

On July 1, 1916, Alberta tried it again.  By 1923 half of all pool-halls and cafes sold illegal alcohol. On May 10, 1924 Alberta prohibition ended, though stifling conservative laws, such as a ban on standing while drinking a beer in a bar persisted. Interested readers of Alberta bootlegging should find Frank Anderson’s excellent, The RumrunnersDodging the Law During Prohibition. But I’d like to zero in on just one story.

Florence Lassandro mug shot 1922
Florence Lassandro. Mug shot 1922.

Florence Lassandro, Alberta’s only hanged woman

The only woman ever executed in Alberta was an Italian immigrant named Florence Lassandro. She was a bootlegger involved in a shootout with a cop who had shot one of her accomplices, and purported lovers, Stefano (Steve) Picariello.

Steve was the son of Emilio Picariello (“The Emperor Pic”) who employed Florence. Picariello was a respected business person, philanthropist, town alderman and wildly wealthy thanks to bootlegging. His operations started from him taking ice cream that he produced and trading it for bottles and then reselling those bottles in the increasingly dry counties of Alberta. Florence worked for Emil as a server at Blairmore Alberta Hotel.

In 1918, Alberta made importation of alcohol illegal. Picariello was bringing alcohol into the province by the barrel-load. He wasn’t about to stop. Emilio excavated a room under the hotel and dug a tunnel to it from the road to get product into the hotel covertly. Then Emilio arranged loud piano music in the lobby to cover the noise of his operation.

Florence was a driver

Florence began to drive one of Emil’s six McLaughlin’s in his bootlegger operation. They would move in 3 car convoys, disguising alcohol in bags of flour.

On September 21, 1922 things went bad. Alberta border control officers attempted to stop the convoy in Blairmore. Steve Picariello turned his car turned around and was racing back to the Alberta/BC border. Coleman border guard Constable Stephen Lawson fired at him, wounding him in the hand. Steve escaped. Emil arrived shortly afterward and was furious with the Constable. He said that Lawson was lucky that he had not shot Steve, because if he had Emil would’ve killed him. The elder Picariello returned to Blairmore, and found out that Lawson had, in fact, shot his son. Not knowing Steve’s condition Florence and Emil returned to Coleman to face Lawson, both armed with handguns. There are many conflicting stories about what happened next. But in the end Lawson was dead.

The next day Picariello was arrested in the hills outside Blairmore. He was told that his son was only lightly injured, but the Constable was dead. Florence turned herself in shortly afterward.

“The age of chivalry has gone.”

Their case went to the Supreme Court. Florence’s case unintentionally wandered into the broader issue of feminism and suffrage. A notable voice in the case was Famous Five suffragette Emily Murphy, who was against the death penalty for women. However, Murphy made an exception for Florence saying that her fear was that bootleggers would use more women to commit violent crimes if she wasn’t held an example.

In May of 1923, Lassandro and Picariello were hanged in Fort Saskatchewan. Florence died for the same crime as Emilio, as the Judge in the case instructed the jury that they could apply the same conviction in the case to both defendants, even though no one knew for sure who shot the Police constable.

Lassandro died just 12 months before the end of Prohibition in Alberta, and just 6 years before women gained status as ‘legal persons’. That would have definitely prevented her being executed for the same crime as her boss, who was the likely shooter.

Updated Algonquin Bootlegger
Updated Algonquin. A stiff drink to enjoy while you process the story of Alberta’s only executed female bootlegger.

The Updated Algonquin

1.5 oz Alberta Premium Darkhorse Rye

1 oz Punt E Mes

1 bar-spoon Pineapple shrub

2 Dashes Ms. Better’s Pineapple Star Anise Bitters

1 Dash Ms. Better’s Chocolate Bitters

Stirred and strained into chilled coupé. Lemon oil expressed over the drink.

Making the Pineapple Shrub:

In a large glass container combine: 1 fresh pineapple – Remove rind and cut into small cubes. 1 355 ml (12 oz) bottle of Organic Rice Vinegar. 1000 ml (33.8 oz) granulated sugar. Cover and leave in fridge for 3 days. Fine strain liquid and store in a fridge. Resulting shrub should have bright pineapple flavor with sweetness and a soft acidic zing.

The idea behind this update is to showcase the bright tropical notes of pineapple in a sturdy, bold Manhattan – as opposed to the traditional Algonquin, which called for the cocktail to be shaken with Pineapple juice.

 

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