Genealogy, Dual Citizenship, New York Mafioso, and the Murder of My Great Aunt Claudia

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Giuseppa Maria Cesira Nicolini with children, Claudia is to the far right.
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Claudia’s father Paolo Nicolini
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Claudia at 16 picture from front page of NY Daily News September 24, 1925

Genealogy throughout the past thirty years of my life has been personally rewarding. As an American, my ancestry includes a convergence of 6 different northern European cultures. And as an American, this experience is not at all an uncommon one. During graduate school thirty years ago I had the opportunity and privilege to live in England and Sweden. While in England, researching my ancestors from Harrogate, Northern Yorkshire, and traversing St. Catherine’s house, in London, amid the microfiche, microfilm and International Genealogical Index; I contracted the family history affliction. I felt a deep connection to the history and a delicate melange of human travail and personal belonging. Europe is where I promised myself I would connect to all of my family lines despite what little was known about my ancestors, and return one day as a citizen.

Although I was on a student visa, I realized having dual-citizenship would offer advantages and options to a very different life. Alas, I was unable to remain and after completing my studies I returned to the U.S. with a new bride, and started a teaching career, and promptly had four daughters. In the midst of my very busy life, I continued with my family research-based in England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.

In my studies, and twenty years on, while researching the ascendant lines of the Italian family tree, I noticed that my maternal grandmother was born in Moonachie, New Jersey in 1917, two years before her Italian father naturalized. Her parents’ names were Isidoro Paolo Giovanni Nicolini known as (Paul or Paolo), Giuseppa Maria Cesira Corradi and known as (Cesira). They were from Motta Baluffi, in northern Italy, near Cremona in the Lombardy region.

I confirmed that the birth of a child prior to American Naturalization in the Italian law “Jure Sanguinis” (by the blood) provides an angle to claim citizenship. Despite descendancy rules that precluded women born before 1948 from transferring citizenship to their children. I decided to Challenge the 1948 law in Italian Administrative court although it seemed daunting considering the notorious nature of Italian Bureaucracy. In spite of my concern, I found, Marco Permunian, an Italian attorney, who accepted the case and after 9 years of collecting: Bergen County Common Pleas Petition Declarations and Federal Naturalization records with State of New Jersey Birth, Marriage, and Death long-form documents, Amending them, having them translated and securing Apostilles (international notaries). I secured citizenship through an administrative hearing/court decision for my mother, her sister, my brothers as well as my daughters and lastly, myself. A 9-year odyssey that provides my family with access to the European Union.

This seems like the end of the story, but it is not. During the COVID-19 pandemic while quarantined I found time to edit my expansive family tree created on ancestry.com, and tie up loose ends and generally clean up the pictures or documentation that was repetitive.

I noted my Italian grandmother’s sister 1 of 6 total siblings, Claudia, from the single-family photo, and realized after years of research spanning prior to the development of the internet; I could only account for Claudia’s footprint in the most marginal of terms possible. This included an Ellis Island passenger list from 1909 on the S.S. Verona, and an entry on the 1920 Federal Census in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey listing her name as “Claudina.” While assisting my girlfriend in her journey to secure dual citizenship she was having difficulty locating dates of Birth, Marriage, and Death dates for her grandparents. My recommendation was to search through the newspapers.com index and locate her family by name, date,and location.

We found some rich information that provided some of the raw data we all need when starting the dual citizenship process. When she was done with her search it occurred to me to avail myself of the free trial to seek information on “Claudina” but again another brick wall. I then decided to alter her name to the Americanization “Claudia.” When I searched this name in the newspaper.com index the proverbial floodgates opened. I located articles in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Philadelphia Inquirer among many other newspapers. Titles in the articles included, “Love Rival Slain,” “Young Woman Murdered in Asbury Park, New Jersey,” “Hasbrouck Heights Woman Murdered.” At first, blush, seeing my Great Aunt Claudia at the center of a nationally publicized love triangle murder I was gobsmacked. I decided the appropriate course of action was to confirm her identity by reading the relevant articles under the realization this could simply be someone with the same or similar name.

In reading the second article, I noted halfway through the page that a one Mrs. Paul Nicolini of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey was escorted by a detective from H.H.’s to identify a body in the Asbury Park, New Jersey morgue — a stirring realization the only Nicolini family residing in H.H.’s in 1925 was my Italian clan. The shock of this confirmation stood as a stark departure with my own grandmother, Ernesta (Ness) and the younger set of siblings, who were all under the age of 10, when Claudia was murdered; and their abject silence concerning their family and what was conveyed to their children and grandchildren. The oral history that was shared was that the Nicolini family, and their story, was “no one’s business” and or that “Claudia committed suicide.” The younger siblings took this narrative to their respective graves.

According to the reports, Claudia Nicolini sometimes referred to as Marie was “running around” with a mobster of significant ignominy. His name was Paul Siciliano, a 29-year-old craven and ignoble Mafioso capo in Astoria, Queens referred to as the King of Ravenswood. He was married and his wife Theresa Siciliano from whom he was estranged, was a mafia princess in her own right and known to be a jealous person, and who had murdered another individual for some personal slight. Allegedly, Mrs. Siciliano shot at Claudia Nicolini 4 times, in total, striking her once in the chest rupturing the aorta of her heart at The Naples, a restaurant Paul Siciliano purportedly, and recently, purchased for Claudia, in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Mrs. Siciliano was tried in court for murder in Monmouth County New Jersey. She was acquitted after numerous witnesses conveniently disappeared and sketchy testimony from a hairstylist in NYC and after the conclusion of the trial, 3 witnesses were also held on perjury charges. Worthy of some note, my great grandmother Cesira, initially identified, and then mysteriously withdrew the identification of Claudia’s remains. In a curious twist, Paul Siciliano who was arrested, as was his wife, identified Claudia with a picture provided to the authorities by Cesira. Moreover, his statement to the Chief of Police was, “Oh the mother wouldn’t want to identify her.” In my estimation an existential threat…

Claudia wasn’t 17 or 19 or 20 as was stated in the newspaper accounts. She was 16 and was a runaway, she looked older than her actual age. My great grandparents, I’ve been told, were strict and quick with their hands. They were adherents of traditional Italian discipline combined with ritual submission of children to family tradition.

On September 24, 1925 Claudia’s life ended with a 38 revolver. Her parents and her brothers and her sisters disavowed her existence. Claudia was a young woman who was beyond her depth, and her family’s denial of her, in death, is unpardonable. My kin chose to live in 95 years of fear of a potential family vendetta, ignorance, and shame. This short testament is an acknowledgment of Claudia’s existence as a Nicolini. No longer does she need to remain unclaimed in an unmarked grave in Mount Prospect Cemetery Neptune, New Jersey. In contrast to my ancestors, I embrace Claudia’s agency, and fully restore her as a member of the family by way of healing the wounds of old sins that no longer abide.

Genealogy is simultaneously a wondrous experience and, yet, a cold and powerful reality check that one must be prepared to reconcile with your family and your collective past.

Keith Lockwood is a New Jersey based genealogist, specializing in British, Irish and Italian genealogy and securing New York and New Jersey documentation. Keith lives in northern NJ and can be reached at locutus577@gmail.com.

Kris Gage

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ASL teacher, Teacher of the Deaf, Keith is also a New Jersey based genealogist specializing in British, Irish and Italian genealogy and citizenship reclamation.

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