Bewitched: Witchcraft, Life Insurance and the Business of Murder

Rachel Snyder


Ferdinando Alfonsi of 2515 East Ann Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, died October 27, 1938, at National Stomach Hospital, his life reduced to a piece of paper in the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Bureau of Vital Statistic's office. The death certificate captured a snapshot of a thirty-eight-year-old, white, married, male of Italian parentage and origin, who made his living as a construction worker. By all accounts, this is an ordinary death certificate of an ordinary death, with all the official signs, stamps, and registration numbers that came along with death in the twentieth century. Except, in the middle of the right-hand column, under principle cause of death, stamped in smeared, bold letters read "INQUEST PENDING."1 This is no ordinary death certificate. This is the death certificate of a murdered man, a man whose murder led to the discovery of an expansive insurance murder ring operating in 1930s Philadelphia.

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