This is a chapter from my book, NOTORIOUS JEFFERSON COUNTY (The History Press). This tale took place on Golden, Colorado’s famous landmark, Table Mountain.
In the late summer of 1910, a 59-year-old Denver woman named Maria Laguardia vanished. An 1890 immigrant from Italy, she married Michael Laguardia in 1875. The couple had no children.
Maria was known to carry hundreds of dollars stashed amongst the folds of her clothing, and her worried nephew and niece thought she might have been the target of a robbery. They contacted Mrs. Laguardia’s “god-daughter,” Angelina Garramone, who, along with two other women, was the last person seen with Maria. Angelina assured them that Maria Laguardia was alive and well and had simply gone off to meet her long-lost husband. Sixteen years earlier, Michael Laguardia had also disappeared after getting into some “trouble” involving a young girl.
Family members were skeptical and did not trust Angelina Garramone. Though the 1910 census lists her husband, Luigo (or Louis) Garramone, as a “huckster” (a vegetable peddler) and her occupation as “none,” she was by all accounts a prominent and notorious figure in Denver’s Italian community. Thirty-five-year-old Angelina was a small woman at five-foot-two and 110 pounds. Although she later claimed she had lost six children, she had six living children, including a boy at the reform school (called the Industrial School) in Golden. She had recently moved out of her family home and taken her own room. The central figure in a series of real estate deals, she had allegedly erected over a dozen buildings in Denver. Some of these deals had gone bad. Recently arrested and tried for forgery and uttering, she was expected to be given a significant term in prison. Meanwhile, people still called her the “Queen of Little Italy.” She was also considered a witch and a soothsayer and folks were afraid of her. Angelina Garramone had many enemies in the Italian community.
Eventually, Maria’s family contacted police but the investigation went nowhere.
About a month later, another woman from the “Italian Colony” disappeared. Mrs. Dorinto Labata had been living as a wife with a man named Clemento Cellanto when she vanished. Her body was soon found in a ditch in Adams County, her throat sliced from ear to ear. Authorities suspected Clemento Cellanto, but he had a different story to tell. He said that Mrs. Labata was a partner of Angelina Garramone and that, shortly before Mrs. Labata disappeared, the two women had a falling out and dissolved their partnership. Cellanto told police that Angelina had been in their home visiting with Mrs. Labata on the day the latter disappeared. Cellanto went out for awhile and when he returned, his “wife” was gone. Angelina told him that Mrs. Labata had gone to visit someone in North Denver. She told police she had no idea what happened to Mrs. Labata.
In January of 1911, Angelina was sentenced to five to eight years on her forgery case. She was taken to Cañon City to begin serving her sentence.
Seven months later, on August 1, 1911, a young Golden rancher named J. M. Johnson Jr. was up on South Table Mountain, which was part of the Johnson property. Peering down into a gulch, he noticed a bit of blue calico peeking out from amongst the weeds. Something about it didn’t look right, so he crept down the gulch and had a closer look. To his horror, he realized the blue calico was part of a woman’s skirt and below that material were the remains of a pair of human legs. The shoes were still on the feet. Nearby lay a piece of skull and several ribs.
Investigators who closed in on the Johnson ranch surmised that the body had been hastily buried in the gulch at least a year earlier. The rainstorms that spring had washed away the dirt covering South Table Mountain’s grim secret.
Based on the shoes and the tattered bits of clothing, the victim’s niece and nephew identified the remains of Maria Laguardia. Also discovered near the body was a collar with a silver pin attached. Family members produced photographs of Maria wearing the pin.
Police quickly zeroed in on the women who were last seen with Maria a full year earlier: Mrs. Concetta Forgione and her 19-year-old daughter, Stella. The third woman, now in Cañon City, was Angelina Garramone. Interestingly, the man who claimed to have seen the trio with Mrs. Laguardia was none other than Clemento Cellanto. He told police he saw Angelina Garramone with the other women buying tram tickets to Golden in August of 1910. He stated that Angelina told him the next day that she had taken Maria to her husband.
Police brought the Forgione women into the station and interrogated them separately. Officers escorted them to South Table Mountain, bringing the ladies separately to the spot where Mrs. Laguardia’s body was found. Upon arriving at the gulch, each woman blurted out a confession.
The stories they told were very much the same. Angelina had informed Maria Laguardia, who was illiterate, that she’d had a couple of letters from Mr. Laguardia, asking her to tell his wife to meet him up on South Table Mountain. At that time, South Table Mountain was a popular destination for hikers and picnickers from Denver, easily accessible on the tram.
On August 19, 1910, the four women took the Denver and Interurban tram to Golden. Along with the Forgione women, the party consisted of Maria Laguardia, Angelina Garramone, and Angelina’s baby. The Forgiones said their job was to watch the baby. They arrived in Golden late in the evening – too late to climb up to the mesa. The entire party, including the baby, spent the night on benches at the depot.
At daybreak, they hiked up the trail to Castle Rock, a prominent butte on South Table Mountain. The party trudged around the mesa, searching for the elusive Mr. Laguardia.
At some point during what must have been an exhausting ordeal for Maria, she finally became suspicious. When they were near a place the newspapers called Long Gulch, she announced that she was going home and began scrambling down the gulch. Angelina scurried after the old woman, pleading with her not to give up. When Maria ignored her, Angelina pulled out a butcher knife. She clutched the old woman around the neck, exclaiming, “Oh, look at the big worm on your throat.” Then she sliced Maria’s gullet from ear to ear.
After Maria died up on the mesa, the Forgione women watched while Angelina ripped open Maria’s dress and found the money that Maria was known to carry. When she was done, Angelina shoved the body down the gulch, then kicked and scraped with the knife to send clumps of dirt down on top of the body.
While Concetta was still holding Angelina’s baby, Angelina told her she would kill her too if she ever said anything. She gave the Forgiones a portion of the loot from Maria’s dress. Mrs. Forgione claimed she returned it to Angelina the next day.
The three women plus the baby then trudged down the mountain and walked along the tracks to the Industrial School tram station. At some point, Angelina noticed that her long military cape was drenched in blood, so she prevailed upon young Stella Forgione to cram it under a cattle guard. They had also stolen some “holy cards” from among Maria’s things. They found these smeared with blood as well. The trio disposed of them down a crack in the station platform.
They then caught the tram back to Denver, where Angelina was able to make it to a required ten a.m. court appearance related to the forgery charges against her.
On November 6, 1911, Angelina was brought from Cañon City to Golden and arraigned on charges of murder. She pleaded not guilty, saying, “No, no. I could not be guilty of such a crime as that.” She said that Maria Laguardia was alive, had gone to California to join her husband and would surely show up to save her at any moment.
After two postponements, she went on trial on December 21, 1911. The prosecution’s star witnesses were Concetta and Stella Forgione, both of whom had previously pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact with sentences of not more than two years. (No prison records exist for either woman.)
Angelina’s attorney, Mr. Clover, created an uproar before the trial even got started when he tried to get the case dropped on the grounds that nobody had actually proven that Maria Laguardia was, in fact, a human being. The paper quotes him as saying:
“Why, how do we know…but what Maria Laguardia is a race horse or someone’s cow or some thing. There is nothing in the information to show that she was a human being.”
The patient judge excused the jury and spent some time apparently researching the legal issues around human being-ness, after which he overruled the motion and got on with the trial.
When opening his case, the D.A. explained to the jury that Angelina was considered a soothsayer and that the Forgione women had kept quiet for an entire year because they were terrorized by her and believed she would cast a spell on them if they told about the murder.
The proceedings went slowly, as most of those involved spoke no English and the interpreter, Frank Potestio, struggled with the lengthy translations.
Maria’s nephew, Dominick Tito, testified that the day after Maria’s disappearance, he asked Angelina where his aunt had gone. Angelina, apparently unconcerned about anyone actually checking on her story, told him she had sent Maria to her husband at Eldorado Springs. As the days, weeks, and months went by, Angelina continued to answer his queries with the promise that Maria was fine and that he would hear from her soon.
During the trial, Angelina’s smiles and “flashes of wit” kept curious spectators entertained. When D.A. Morgan asked her to remove her coat and gloves, she smiled at him and said, “I guess this is just a little garden party.” He complained about her “undue frivolity.” Angelina pointedly asked the sheriff if he had a rope ready for her. The Rocky Mountain News had nothing pleasant to say about her:
…Mrs. Angelina Garramone, whose name has had somewhat the same effect upon the Italian colony of Denver for years past as the hiss of a snake upon a band of monkeys…
Concetta and Stella Forgione both testified, relating nearly identical stories that deviated little from what they’d already told detectives. Although young Stella was described as pretty, the mother was described by the Rocky Mountain News reporter in colorfully unflattering terms
…her shriveled, hard, cunning face, acrobatic with passionate Italian mobility, her beady, black eyes restless and peering like a monkey’s and her brittle, falsetto voice, working in time to her emotions, [she] sat upon the witness stand in the district court at Golden yesterday and detailed the revolting murder of Mrs. Maria Laguardia on South Table mountain on the morning of August 20, 1910.
During her testimony, Concetta often glanced nervously in the direction of Angelina but “looked everywhere but into the dark eyes which the Italians believe have hypnotic power and can read their thoughts, their very souls.”
Mrs. Garramone leaned upon her elbows and transfixed her accuser’s back with a steady stare as Mrs. Forgione said: “She grabbed Mrs. Laguardia by the hair, pulled her head back and, as she said, ‘Oh, godmother, you have a big worm on your throat,’ she cut it with a butcher knife.”
At the end of the day of Concetta’s testimony, Angelina spoke to reporters:
She lies. She lies. Just wait and you will see. She will be in hell before she gets through. She will think it over in Cañon City—there is lots of time to think in the penitentiary. She won’t look me in the eye when she lies. She is afraid.
Prosecutors brought a box into the courtroom containing what was left of Maria and showed it to the jury, piece by piece. Angelina reportedly laughed during this process and remained unmoved until they brought out the skeletal foot, still wearing its shoe.
Mrs. Anne DeMotto, Maria’s niece, identified the shoes as belonging to her aunt and fondly recalled tying the laces for the old woman when Maria wasn’t feeling well. She testified that she recognized the blue calico because she herself had made the dress for her aunt.
Finobella Garramone, Angelina’s son, testified against his mother. He and his father, Angelina’s estranged husband, Luigo, had given police an earful about how Angelina had cheated her husband out of a large amount of money.
The defense rested on an alibi that placed Angelina in Denver the day and night before the murder and the fact that she showed up for her ten a.m. court appearance on the alleged day of the killing.
The prosecution disputed this alibi with testimony from an employee of the Industrial School in Golden, who said that he saw four Italian women at the Golden tram depot that night, corroborating the Forgione story. Clemento Cellanti also testified that he saw the four women get on the tram to Golden. There was considerable speculation during the trial that Angelina had either killed Cellanti’s wife, Mrs. Labata, perhaps because Mrs. Labata knew about the Laguardia murder, or that Angelina at least knew something about the killing. Mrs. Labata’s murder was never solved.
At the end of a one-week trial, Angelina testified on Thursday night for two hours. She insisted that the Forgione women were lying. She said that Maria’s missing husband had sent three letters, which Angelina read for Maria because Maria was illiterate. Mr. Laguardia, she said, was a fugitive from justice and ran off because the Italian community was going to hang him. She claimed that one of the letters said “Dear Wife. I will come to Denver the Saturday before St. Rocco’s day, Meet me at the loop at 15 minutes to 10, but for the love of God don’t tell the family or let my nephew know. You know why.”
Angelina testified that the long-lost Mr. Laguardia showed up when the ladies were sitting on the bench at “the loop.” Mrs. Laguardia rushed into her husband’s arms, the blissful couple boarded a tram for Eldorado Springs, and that was the last anyone saw of them.
Golden Police Chief Armstrong later testified that Angelina at first told him she had put Maria on a Golden car but changed her story to Eldorado Springs.
Angelina also claimed that on the day before the murder, she was in Denver. First she had gone to her attorney’s office, then to the city park with the two Forgione women. They all spent the night in her room at a rooming house – not in the tramway depot as the Forgiones said.
During the examination by her attorney, Angelina protested that she was not capable of such a terrible crime:
Attorney Clover asked her if she had ever hurt anyone or whipped the children. “That’s why I left home,” she said, “because I would not whip the children. I never could stay around when a chicken or a duck was killed.”
She claimed that Mrs. Laguardia was alive and that the entire affair was an elaborate plot constructed against her by members of the Italian community in revenge for losing their money in various real estate deals. She said she had been in danger for many months from a diabolical figure named Clyde Cassidente.
Her attorney, Mr. Clover, spent two hours arguing on her behalf. He accused the D.A.’s office, court employees and law enforcement of conspiring to bring about the death of Angelina Garramone. She was simply a victim of jealous persecution and revenge plots. During this speech, Angelina broke down and cried for the first time.
Attorney Clover did not bother agreeing with Angelina’s theory that Maria was actually still alive, but proposed that the long-missing Michael Laguardia had killed his wife.
Clover’s other tactic was to discredit Mrs. Forgione, which wasn’t difficult. He brought up a horrific event from 1893, when Concetta Forgione and her ten-year-old son had been arrested for torturing her six-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Concetta and the boy had burned the little girl’s back, breast, and private parts with hot flatirons and burning sticks, then hung her by the neck from a bedpost. Rescued by neighbors, the child was removed from the family. Although the boy said his mother was the ringleader, he was sent to reform school for three years and Concetta got only six months in the county jail as an accessory.
During their summation, the prosecution surprised everyone in the courtroom by demanding the death penalty for Angelina Garramone.
At 8:30 on a Saturday night, December 23, 1911, the jurors, described by a Denver reporter as “the stern farmer jury of Jefferson county,” retired to deliberate the case. The following morning, they announced they had reached a verdict and Angelina was brought back in. She hid her face while the jury shuffled into the courtroom. The court clerk read the verdict: guilty of first degree murder with a sentence of life imprisonment.
When asked if she had anything to say, this was Angelina’s reaction:
…Mrs. Garramone’s wonderful smile again came into evidence and she tossed her head and said: ’well, you can tell them this one thing. My conscience is clear and that will keep me from being unhappy. I know I didn’t kill her, no matter what the jury thought. Mr. Clover has ask[ed] the judge for a new trial, and maybe I will have better luck the next time. Maybe Mrs. Laguardia will hear by that time and come and save me.
After the trial, Angelina came up with yet another explanation for the murder, this time laying the plot against her at the feet of Concetta Forgione’s husband:
“What will they think when they learn that the body found had been thrown in the gulch by Nicola Forgione—Nicola Forgione,” she repeated, “who works at the Coronado cemetery. He robbed a grave and put some of Mrs. Laguardia’s clothes on the stolen bones that I might be accused and gotten rid of. O, they planned well to keep me forever away. I hope they have sweet dreams! God bless them!”
Nicola Forgione was Concetta’s second husband, who had survived a knife attack by her first husband back in the 1880s.
Maria Laguardia’s remains went to their final resting place in October of 1911. The morticians reported that “it was a hard proposition to dress up just a few bones so they would look like a body.”
On May 24, 1922, after Angelina served a little over ten years, Governor Oliver Shoup commuted her sentence and she was released on parole. Public records show glimpses of an Angelina Garramone in the Denver area during the 1930s and 1940s, but it is impossible to confirm her identity.
After the murder of Mrs. Laguardia, Stella Forgione changed her name to Ethyl Jones. After Angelina was released, Stella/Ethyl left Colorado and moved to Amarillo Texas, where no one had ever heard of the Laguardia murder.
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