Florence Lassandro
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She was born Filomena Costanzo in 1901 in Calabria, Italy. When she was a young girl she
immigrated to Canada with her parents and was from then on called Florence.
As a teenager Florence was married to Charles Lassandro. Charles was years older than Florence
and a friend and employee of Emilio Picariello. Florence was reluctant to marry Charles, an
aversion that never gave way to any true affection toward her husband.
Florence was living apart from Charles and with Emilio and his wife Maria. This fact alone
contributed to speculation at the time about the actual nature of the relationship between Florence
and the Picariellos. It is believed she was in love with Emilio's son, Steve.
The Canada Temperance Act reigned over most of Canada in the 1920s and no province was
drier than Alberta where big money could be made smuggling booze across the Rockies from
pickup points in neighboring British Columbia.
Emilio Picariello - known for his powerful McLaughlin car - and his son Steve ran a major rum
operation out of a hotel in Blairmore in the hard-drinking Crowsnest Pass coal mining region.
Florence, who worked at the hotel, often tagged along when Emilio and Steve ran car loads of
booze over the Divide on rutted, dirt roads through Phillips Pass.
One late night in September, 1922, the Picariellos came through the pass in two cars unaware that
cops of the newly formed Alberta Provincial Police lay waiting in ambush. A chase ended in the
town of Coleman with Steve receiving minor injuries in a shoot out. Someone, though, told Emilio
his son had been killed. Emilio, armed and with Florence at his side, confronted Constable Steve
Lawson on a Coleman street. The two men scuffled and the unarmed officer was shot dead on
the street as his young daughter looked on in fear and horror.
It remains murky who fired the fatal shots. It is generally believed that Emilio gunned down
Lawson but in an effort to save him from the gallows, the defence offered evidence indicating
that Florence had pulled the trigger. If it was a ploy, it failed. A law-and-order jury found both
guilty and on May 2, 1923, Florence Lassandro was executed moments after Emilio at the Fort
Saskatchewan jail.
The day of the execution was gloomy, with low clouds and dawn breaking in what witnesses
described as a "fretful morning sky." She made the long walk from the woman's building across
the jail yard with a steady step.
"Why do you hang me when I didn't do anything?" she asked, looking down from the scaffold.
"Is there not anyone who has any pity?" No one answered. "I forgive everybody," she said. Then
the trap was sprung.
The Canadian Press reported that Florence "displayed the greatest fortitude" before her execution,
but continued to protest her innocence.
About one year later - on May 10, 1924 - prohibition was abolished ending this colorful era in
Alberta history.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Florence Lassandro asked plaintively shortly before
dropping to her death! A story of fast cars, booze and an attractive girl hanged for
murder.