Child murder still unsolved after a century

Posted 4/17/24

Vincenzo Picano sang as he ventured down the dusty road toward Thornton with his iron milk bottle carrier in his hands. The nine-year-old knew lots of songs and customers would often hear him …

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Child murder still unsolved after a century


Vincenzo Picano sang as he ventured down the dusty road toward Thornton with his iron milk bottle carrier in his hands. The nine-year-old knew lots of songs and customers would often hear him crooning as he went door to door picking up their empty bottles to refill. His father, Salvatore Picano, had died in 1918 at age 28. His mother, Arcangela (Petrillo), then married Antonio Soscia. The family, which included Vincenzo’s brother Phillip, lived on the corner of Fletcher Avenue and Tabor Street in Cranston.

It was about 8:00 on the morning of July 16, 1923. Vincenzo and Phillip usually completed the milk bottle run together but on this particular day Phillip was a few minutes behind in getting ready to leave the house and eventually ran to catch up with his brother.

Their first stop was the Rambone house. Phillip gazed toward the door as he passed but didn’t see Vincenzo. A woman Phillip had never seen before, who looked to be of Italian descent, was passing in the opposite direction.

“Did you see a boy go by with milk bottles?” Phillip asked.

She told him she didn’t, explaining that she’d just left Priscilla Mill after applying for a job there.

“I saw a boy but he had no milk bottles,” she said. “A man was dragging him in there.” She pointed to the orchard and vineyard maintained by the Rambones, a 48-acre hillside draped in grapevines.

Arcangela was first to arrive home from work that evening and learn that Vincenzo never returned from gathering empty milk bottles. She quickly made her way around town, asking if anyone had seen him. No one had. Just before midnight, Antonio contacted police and they combed the dark streets with searchlights.

The next day, police went to Priscilla Mill in search of information about the woman Phillip had talked to on the street. They were informed that only two people had come to apply for jobs the previous day; a teenaged girl and a woman not of Italian descent. Both of those individuals were tracked down and stated they had spoken to no boy on the road after leaving the mill.

The police questioned nearly one-dozen men employed in the Rambone orchard and vineyard. They had been working all that day and none had seen anyone dragging a little boy onto the property or heard any commotion.

Randall’s Pond searched

Like most boys his age, Vincenzo loved swimming in Randall’s Pond, the large body of water east of Fletcher’s Avenue. Bordering a cemetery on one side, the pond’s edges were overgrown with trees in some areas and opened up to small sandy beaches in others. It was feared Vincenzo had drowned and several areas around the pond were searched for discarded clothing left on the shore. None was found.

Then two boys informed authorities they had just located Vincenzo’s milk bottle carrier. It was laying in the brush on the side of the road, not far from where he had started out.

Across the country, newspapers reported the mysterious disappearance on front pages. Anyone in the area of Cranston who looked remotely suspicious was arrested and expected to have a good alibi. Most in RI felt petrified at not knowing who among them had a secret concerning the whereabouts of an innocent child.

Phillip was asked by the police why he waited until the day after the disappearance to tell his stepfather about the conversation with the woman on the road regarding Vincenzo being dragged into the orchard. He assured them he didn’t wait but had told him that very day, and that his stepfather had replied, “He’s probably being punished for taking apples.” Antonio, however, argued that there had never been such a conversation between them and that he’d known nothing about that alleged scenario until the day after Vincenzo went missing.

Later that afternoon, three teenagers found the child’s body. William Lane of Thornton and Reginald Brewster and James Fusco, both of Cranston, were wading in about three feet of water at one of the sandy areas of Randall’s Pond when they made the discovery. Vincenzo was brought to the surface and police contacted

It appeared that the child had been hit in the face with a blunt instrument and knocked unconscious as the majority of the bones in his face were broken. The medical examiner deemed the cause of death to be “shock and hemorrhage from multiple incised wounds together with severe contused and lacerated wounds of face – violence on part of others.” It was estimated he had been in the water for about 24 hours.

Thrown into pond

As his lungs contained no water, it was determined that he was thrown into the pond after death. And because no blood was found anywhere along the route he would have been walking the previous morning, it was assumed that someone abducted him and did the killing elsewhere before taking the body to the pond to dispose of it. Aside from massive cuts and lacerations to his hands and body, strange marks on his back, which extended from cuts, appeared to be impressions from something his body had lain on. And on his right cheek, grotesquely carved there after death, were the letters “A” and “C”.

Newspapers continued their front-page reports on the case. Had the murder been committed by someone who didn’t like Italians? By someone who didn’t like Vincenzo? It was too personal to have been a random attack, the letters left on his skin possibly being the initials of the murderer who wanted to make his identity clear to a chosen few. Did Vincenzo’s father have enemies? His stepfather?

The little boy was buried in St. Ann’s Cemetery. In the days and weeks that followed, the story of his mysterious disappearance and horrific murder moved from the front page to the second, then disappeared altogether. No one has ever been held accountable for the murder of nine-year-old Vincenzo Picano.


Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • jsoscia3

    Thanks for publishing this. did a lot of research on this back in 2022. A couple of things - Vincenzo’s father was Antonio Picano, not Salvatore. And it wasn’t his stepfather that did it, that makes no sense and was never considered. It was probably a neighbor that had anger issues. It amazing what you can find searching old newspapers on Newsbank.

    Sunday, May 19 Report this

  • jsoscia3

    My mistake, you were correct. Salvatore Picano was his father. What a terrible circumstance that family went through.

    Sunday, May 19 Report this