Murder in Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy

Did you know that card games can be deadly? Of course you did. If you have ever seen a western film you know that the guns start flying out whenever someone drinks too much liquor and loses too much money. Well, this sort of thing doesn’t just happen in Hollywood folks, it happened right here in Poughkeepsie! Some games can get you so hot and bothered that friendships can end, or people can, well, die. Have you ever played the game of “Big Boss and Little Boss” also known as “Brisque?” Well that was the game that was played when tempers got too high and someone lost their life in 1935.

Fifty-two year old Phillip Nuzzi lived on the second floor apartment at 91 North Bridge Street right in the center of the area known as Little Italy. He was the father of nine and had been the “Italian Boss” for Spoor and Lasher Company. Nuzzi’s friend and hot dog vendor, John Matera lived in the apartment on the first floor. On the evening of May 5, 1935, these men along with Andrew Digilio and Joseph DiCosmo were sitting together in Matera’s apartment, drinking wine and playing cards. The game was said to be “a game that breeds ill feeling” which appears to have been the case. A fight broke out between Matera and Digilio over a disagreement as to whether Matera had won four games or three (a whopping 10 cents was on the line).

The fight became physical and then men were tossing about inside the apartment. Matera walked off into his bedroom where he was followed by Nuzzi who was trying to calm him down. Matera grabbed a .38 caliber pistol from his room and stormed back. He began to fire his weapon; the first shot grazed Nuzzi’s hand, who then turned his back. Matera fired a second shot; this one went through the back of Nuzzi’s head, killing him instantly. A few more shots were fired into the room before Matera fled the scene. He made his way two blocks over to Charles Street where he hid in a basement before being discovered by police a little over an hour later. Amazingly, no one else was shot during Matera’s outburst, but sadly, the one man who was trying to cool things down, was the one who ended up paying the ultimate price.

When the police got Matera down to the station house, he was “formally grilled in a private office” where he spoke freely to law enforcement informing them that not only had he shot Nuzzi, but that he had hoped to shoot Joseph DiCosmo as well. Perhaps he was still drunk, perhaps he wanted to go to jail, it’s difficult to say exactly what was going on in his mind at the time. However, it didn’t take long for a trial to commence and after a few days in front of a jury, Matera decided to plead guilty of murder in the second degree. The district attorney and Judge Taylor both approved of this and Matera was sentenced to 25 years to life in Sing Sing Prison on July 8, 1935. He was sent to Dannemora Prison where he died in August of 1952, at age 66. So the next time you’re sitting down for a game of cards with your friends, make sure to go easy on the consumption of wine and remember— it’s only a game.


Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 6 May 1935, 21 June 1935, 27 June 1935, 9 July 1935

Sing Sing Prison Register – 8 July 1935

1940 United States Federal Census – Dannemora Prison


PEN-Jun-27-1935 – Newspaper clipping showing a photo of John Matera and the selection of a jury for his trial. 1935.

JohnMatera-SingSingrecord – John Matera’s registration at Sing Sing Prison, 1935.