While visiting the National Archives at San Francisco this summer, the Director, Daniel Nealand, introduced me to a rare and fascinating audio recording of an Alcatraz prisoner. The recording was recovered from a 1947 SoundScriber disc within Record Group 129, Records of the Bureau of Prisons at the National Archives.
The recording is twelve and a half minutes of a Bureau of Prisons official interviewing Inmate 417, Salvatore Mancuso on January 27, 1947. Mancuso is being “charged with the possession of contraband” –croutons and pepper! The official wants to know what Mancuso was doing with croutons and asks, “you running a restaurant up there?”
Listen to the audio clip, “Mancuso and Croutons”:
The prison official says, “Mancuso, you know, it’s pretty serious –there’s pepper too.” He wants to know why Mancuso needs enough pepper to “cut through a thousand sandwiches.” For these charges, the prison official says they are going to have to give him “solitary this time.” Mancuso asks, “Can’t you do it without the hole this time?”
Listen to the audio clip, “Mancuso and the Hole”:
According to Bureau of Prisons Archivist Anne Diestel, the recording is probably an Alcatraz disciplinary hearing, and the main Bureau of Prisons Alcatraz official conducting the hearing is most likely an Associate Warden, although he is not identified in the recording.
Salvatore Mancuso was imprisoned at Alcatraz from 1937 to 1945. His records are part of the Comprehensive Case Files for (Former) Inmates of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which encompass 600 linear feet of records at the National Archives at San Francisco. These records include information about previous criminal record, reason for incarceration, inmates’ personal property, prison work and cell assignments, progress reports, including medical and psychiatric information. The files were assembled in the mid-1970s as a special collection through a nationwide effort by the Bureau of Prisons.
This intriguing 1947 recording is currently the only known audio recording of an Alcatraz disciplinary hearing.
Mancuso was initially sentenced to four years for selling narcotics to an undercover narcotic agent and then for forty years for kidnapping a sailor, who was brutally tortured at Mancuso’s residence in Brooklyn, New York. Mancuso spent time in the United States Penitentiaries in Lewisburg, Fort Leavenworth, Alcatraz, and Atlanta. In 1949, Mancuso was paroled, taken into INS custody and deported to Italy.
Salvatore Mancuso’s page in the Warden’s notebook states that he was “regarded as a menace to society and a man who has utter disregard for human life.” It says he was not “presently fit to mingle in organized society” and that the recommendation was a “transfer with maximum custody.”
The Warden’s notebook also sheds some light on others involved in the crimes Mancuso was charged with. It says his brother, Pier de Stefano, was imprisoned at Alcatraz, and his wife, Nellie Mancuso, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years at Alderson, a federal women’s prison in West Virginia.
Many infamous criminals were at Alcatraz during Mancuso’s incarceration, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert (the Birdman) Stroud. One inmate, Arthur “Doc” Barker, attempted an escape from Alcatraz in 1939 and was shot and killed by the guards. Their records, along with most of the 1,551 men incarcerated at the Alcatraz US Penitentiary can be found at the National Archives at San Francisco.
What happened to Mancuso?
Here’s what the records tell us: On October 2, 1951, Salvatore Mancuso was re-admitted to the United States to act as a government witness in a case pending in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. On or about October 12, 1951, Salvatore Mancuso absconded.
Salvatore Mancuso’s file is just one of the millions of fascinating records that can be found within the stacks at the National Archives. Take some time to visit us online or in person to see what you can uncover.
For More Information:
- Listen to the entire 1947 audio recording (Note: most of the audible audio begins at 4:15): Mancuso Alcatraz Hearing
- Read the transcript of the full recording: alcatraz-mancuso-full-transcript
- Citation: Warden’s notebook page with “mug shot” of Salvatore Mancuso; Comprehensive Case Files for (Former) Inmates of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, ca. 1924-1988; Records of the Bureau of Prisons, Record Group 129; National Archives at San Francisco, San Bruno, California.
- Alcatraz records, including digital images of Warden’s notebook pages, are available on the Archival Research Catalog.
- Numerical Index of Former Inmates of the U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz, 1934-1963 from the Records of the Bureau of Prisons (RG 129) at http://www.archives.gov/pacific/archives/san-francisco/finding-aids/alcatraz-numeric.html
- Alcatraz Island, National Park Service at http://www.nps.gov/alcatraz and http://www.nps.gov/history/museum/exhibits/alca/overview.html