THE MURDERS OF ANTONIO AND DONATA JEANETTE



Antonio "Benedetto" Jeanette, born 11-29-1858 in Boiano Italy.
Murdered 3-15-1895 in McGregor, Aitkin County, Minnesota

Donata Barile Jeanette, born 3-1-1859 in Boiano Italy.
Murdered 3-15-1895 in McGregor, Aitkin County, Minnesota

Ben and Donata were born in Boiano Italy. They were married September 24, 1881 in Boiano and immigrated to the US. Two children, Michael and Mary, were born in New York before they moved to McGregor. Ben and Donata were among the early Italian settlers in McGregor in 1891. Three children were born in Minnesota: Theresa, Thomas and a baby who died a few weeks after the murder. After the murder the children were cared for by Dan and Mary Lozway.

After the trial, Michael lived with the interpreter, Mr. A. Dufrench, in St. Paul. Dufrench was hired as an Italian interpreter for the trial since the Cristellos did not speak much English. In one of the newspaper articles it stated that Michael was adopted by the interpreter. I was never able to find the name Dufrench in the census. I found Michael in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census living in St. Paul.

Mary and Thomas lived with Ben's brother, Nick Jeanetta, in Duluth. The Jeanetta name was spelled many different ways back in those days. In Italy it was Iannetta. Nick eventually settled on Jeanetta but Ben's family spelled it Jeanette.

Thomas eventually moved to Michigan. Theresa was adopted by the Sallisbury family and lived in Michigan.

Ben and Donata were murdered by Nicholas and Archangel Cristello because of a dispute over ownership of some logs. Many articles about the murder were found in the Aitkin Age, the Aitkin Republican and the Duluth Evening Herald. Archangel and Nicholas were sentenced to life in prison. Archangel Cristello died in prison in 1900. Nicholas Cristello was pardoned in 1911 and died in 1961.

This story evolved over many years with the investigation started by Michael, Thomas and Theresa finding each other and has been carried on by the great-grandchildren of Ben and Nick with the connection finally being made that Ben and Nick were brothers. The only part left to find out in this story is where Ben, Donata and the baby are buried and hopefully the family can put a stone on the graves to honor them.

Contributed by Pam Bautista
Source: Aitkin Independent Age Newspaper



Notes from Pam Bautista:
Michael, Thomas and Theresa set out to find each other, probably in the 20's or 30's or so and now the great-grandchildren are carrying on the torch. The original Internet query was put on Rootsweb in May 1999 by Linda Mortenson from Michigan. I saw her query in 2001, was eventually contacted by George Jeanette and Jeanette Brooks, all great-grandchildren of Ben.

Then, while investigating, I found that my great-grandfather Nick was the brother of Ben, it was astounding. Actually Nick Jeanetta lived in McGregor in 1895 (found in the 1895 McGregor census) next to Nick's wife's parents, Vito and Ida Jordan, whose obituaries are published on this site.

I've requested microfilms from Italy to document the birth registrations and marriage registration of Ben and Donata. Poor Donata, in all the newspapers articles she was Ben's wife or not mentioned at all. In fact I think in the murder trial, her murder was not considered at all, only Ben's. I guess that would be another story under some other heading.

Notes from the Webmaster:
It was very common in the 1800s to acknowledge women as wives and mothers, but seldom more. While transcribing hundreds of biographies for Wabasha Co., MN from two thick books I found only one was solely for a woman! Usually, women achieved published recognition only in their obituaries.




"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses.
I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make.
Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live!"
Deuteronomy 30:19


TRANSCRIPTION OF COURT PROCEEDINGS

In Justice's Court, County of Aitkin.

The state of Minnesota against Nicholas Christello and Archangel Christello for the crime of murder in the first degree of which you have been duly convicted.

State of Minnesota Vs. Archangel and Nicholas Christello, waived reading of warrant and pled not guilty.

Don Lozway, Witness:
I reside at McGregor, Aitkin Co. I was acquainted with Benjamin Jeanette on the 15th day of March last.

Where was you on that day?
I was at home.

Where is that?
At McGregor, Aitkin Co.

Did you at that time see Ben Jeanette at McGregor?
Yes.

Did you see the defendants on that day?
Yes.

Do you know whether or not Benjamin Jeanette was killed on that day at that place?
Yes.

Did you see him after he was dead?
Yes.

State to the court all you know about the affair.
On that date I was out to my home and I saw Nicholas Christello and Archangel coming down from their shanty toward Ben Jeanette's house. One of them had a gun and an axe and the other had a gun. I thought they were up to something then. I watched Nicholas. He went on over to Ben's shanty. Archangel, he came about 15 rods from the shanty and turned and went back. I walked on toward the house. The next thing I heard was Nicholas hollering at Archangel. I went around just behind my house and Nicholas, he was dragging Ben along the path that they had then. He drew the gun up in Ben's face and told him he would shoot him and Ben catched the gun. He commenced hollering louder for Archangel. Archangel, he came running down the path with the rifle he had. I told him not to shoot. He got about 30 feet of them to where Ben and Nicholas stood tussling about with the gun. Ben's woman was standing a little to one side of them trying to pull him away, her husband. Archangel drew the gun and pointed it toward Ben Jeanette and his wife, and Ben looked up and seen Archangel and he dropped the gun he had hold of, and the both of them shot at the same time, Archangel and Nicholas, and they both fell, Mr. and Mrs. Jeanette. I walked into the house and got my rifle and stepped out of the house. (Objected to by Defendant, immediate overruled.) I seen Ben and half of his head blown off. They started to run. I told them to halt I fired two shots that way, but they kept right on running.

What kind of a gun did Nicholas have?
He had what they call a zuter shot gun. (In the newspaper articles it said that Nicholas had a Zulu gun and Archangel had a Winchester - per Pam Bautista.)

Do you know which one of the murdered parties the shot gun was pointed at when it was discharged?
It was pointed at Ben's face.

How far was Nicholas from Ben when he fired?
I could not tell just how far, just as near so you can tell. I should say it was between 18 inches and two feet from the end of the gun to Ben's face, and you see this all occurred at McGregor in this Co.

By Defendant:

What descent are you?
I am French descent. I do not understand Italian, just a few words that I have picked up from my associations.

(NOTE: At this point the questioning appears to return to the witness.)

Was there any conversation between the parties at that time?

I did not hear a word by where he said he would shoot them. That was in English. There are no Italians down there but what can talk English.

You say that Nicholas had a hold of the old man Jeanette. You say after he told him he would shoot him, he was dragging him along the path then.
He was a little stronger than Jeanette, I think.

How far away from Nicholas was Ben when you first saw them?
I could not say about 75 to 100 feet away.

How far away from Nicholas was Ben when you first saw them?
I could not say: about 75 to 100 feet away. (Witness draws out lines of diagram of ground.)

Did you see the gun?
Yes sir.

Did you have it in your hand?
Yes, sir, I had it in my house for six months.

How did you know it was the gun?
The way that I knew it was the gun shell.

What was done with the gun? Did you see them?
They had them with them when they went into the woods.

Did they both frequently carry the guns?
I think they did carry the shot gun. Not the same man. It is a custom for men going to work to carry a gun with them. (Objected to by the state and not crossed examined. Overruled.) No, sir, I don't think it is customary. I have seen them do it but not to make a business out of it. (State relents.)

State when the first time you seen Nicholas that morning.
I seen him coming down the path that was the first time.

Where did he go then?
He went over to the corner of Ben's house.

What was he doing there?
I could not say what. They caught too quick.

Was that before you saw him come over with the gun and axe?
Just after.

How long after that before you saw Ben and him together?
It did not seem over a half a minute to a minute.

Was Ben in sight at the time you first saw Nicholas?
No.

In regard to this gun are you familiar with the appearance of that gun?
I have known it for the last two or three years.

Did you recognize it in the hands of Nicholas at the time he did the shooting?
I am positive it was a zuter shot gun. I am positive to the best of my knowledge. I did not examine him. He was dead.

Re-cross Defendant:

Was there anyone present except these two persons?
My wife and Mrs. Black. One little Italian, I do not know his name. (Identified the man as this man: Mike Dichurzio.)

Did you see any others?
No, sir. I don't think I did. They might have been there. I do not know just where Mike stood at the time the shot was fired. I was standing between the buildings where the shot was fired.

Is this a fence that runs parallel with the path?
Yes, and on the south side. My fence runs down to about 10 to 12 feet. I could not say positive. It may be more than that.

Witness excused.


Mrs. Mary Lozway: I live at McGregor, Aitkin Co.

Were you there on the 15th of March last?
I am acquainted with the defendant. I was on the 15th day of March acquainted with Ben Jeanette and wife as neighbors. As I knew on the night of the 14th (should this be 15th?) I seen them coming from the railroad track and into Ben Jeanette's about 6 o'clock. Then I went in the house. Shortly afterwards I heard a terrible racket over there. I went over there and Archangel was at the door. I asked him what was the matter. He did not tell me. He was trying to pry the door open with an axe. I told him he ought to be ashamed of himself and go home. He did not say a word. Pretty soon Nicholas came out and I asked him what was the matter. He said they had a little trouble about some logs. He said Ben he is going to take some logs. He went up toward Ben's house. Pretty soon Ben came out and the next thing I seen after, they were 'bout coming toward my house. Both had a hold of the gun. Nochoas had a hold of it, but Ben of the muzzle. When they got up almost opposite my place Ben's wife came. Then Nicholas called for his brother and he came running down there with a rifle. And he fired, right away both at the same time. I turned my head and went right in the house.

Did you see the parties fall?

Yes, just as I turned. I seen them afterwards. Ben lay on his back and she stretched out on the ground. She was not dead.

Did she die?
She did.

How long after she was shot before she was dead?
I should think a half an hour probably.

Could you tell what kind of a gun the defendants had when they done the shooting?
Nicholas had a musket and Archangel had a rifle.

Do you know which one shot Ben?
I think Nichoas shot him with the shot gun. I am sure that this occured on the 15th day of March and at McGregor.

Cross By Defendant:

Where was your husband at the time of the shooting?
I could not say positive. He was on the side of the house, and I was on the side of the house and he was on the other. I was on the west and our door points west.

Could you see your husband?
I could not. The house was between us. I could not tell how far they were. When the shot was fired I do not know how far, about half the lenth of this room or a little more. I did not hear them say any thing except Nichoas calling his brother.

What was they doing when you first seen Ben and Nick together?
They was scuffling, trying to get the gun away from one another. They was near the house. I was in the house prior to that time.

How did you happen to come out?
They was talking Italian. I did not know what they was saying. There was considerable hollering quite a bit before I came out toward Ben and Nick.

When did you first see Nick?
In the morning. He was coming from his house. Archangel had a gun when he first came out.

How near was Archangel to Ben and Nick when he shot?
I do not know. He was about the same distance as where I stood.

What was Mrs. Jeanette doing at this time?
She had a hold of Ben trying to get him back. I could not tell what she was saying. They was talking in Italian. Nick was not far away. The end of the gun might have been 18 inches. They stood diagonally across from me.

You saw them coming down the path going toward the Jeanette house?
I was at my door. I was about 5 minutes in the house before I heard the hollering.

How long after you went in did you hear the first hollering?
About 5 to 6 minutes. I did not pay much attention to it. They were frequently quarreling. (Objected by state. Overruled.)

Did you hear any conversation during any of the time?
It was all in Italian. I could not say where my husband was during this time.

Who else was there?
This man was there, Mike D. He was nearer to them than I was.

Did you see any others?
I seen Mr. Black. He stood right above us, on a little hill not very far away. He could see them from where he stood. No others. I have no idea as to the length of time I was in the house. I was in the house I just guess.

State Rests. Exam. in second charge wounded by defendant. Waved reading. Pled not guilty. Committed to common jail to await the action of Grand Jury without bail.


THE INDICTMENT

Paragraph One: The State of Minnesota against Archangel and Nicholas Christello are accused by Grand Jury of the county of Aitkin in the State of Minnesota, by this indictment of the crime of murder in the first degree. Committed as follows: The said Archangel and Nicholas Christello on the 15th day of March A.D. 1895, at the Station of McGregor, County of Aitkin and State of Minnesota did wrongfully, unlawfully, feloniously and intentionally and without excuse or justification and without authority of law, and with a premeditated design to effect the death of a human being, kill one Ben Jeanette by then and there shooting the said Ben Jeanette with a shot gun commonly called a shot gun. Said shot gun was there and then loaded with gun powder and leaden shot contrary to the form of the Statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota. Dated at the Village of Aitkin in the County of Aitkin and State of Minnesota, the 20th day of May A.D. 1895.

Names of Witnesses examined before the Grand Jury:
Mary Lozway
Don Lozway
Mike Gennetie

Paragraph 2: The State of Minnesota, to the sheriff or any constable of said county: Whereas, R.W. Hall has this day complained in writing to me on oath, that Archangel Christello and Nicholas Christello on the 15th day of March A.D. 1895 at McGregor in said county did willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and intentionally without excuse or justification and without authority of law and with a premeditated and deliberate design to effect the death of a human being, to which one Donata Jeanette, kill the said Donata Jeanette by then and there discharging at upon and causing to be discharged at upon and against the body of her, the said Donata Jeanette, a fire arm, to which a Winchester Rifle. Said Winchester Rifle was then and there loaded with gun powder and leaden bullets and then and truly inflicting upon the body of her, the maid Donata Jeanette, a wound from which the said wound, the said Donata Jeanette then and there died. Against the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota and prayed that the said Archangel and Nicholas Christello might be arrested and dealt with according to Law. Now, therefore, you are commanded forthwith to apprehend the said Archangel and Nicholas Christello and bring them before me to be dealt with according to Law. And you are also commanded to summon material witnesses in said complaint, to appear and testify concerning the same. 15th Day of March, 1895

Paragraph 3: The court certifies that in its opinion, by reason of exceptional circumstances, this case is not one in which the penalty of death should be imposed, has considered and adjudged that you, Nicholas Christello, for the crime of murder in the first degree of which you have been duly convicted in this court, the court having certified of record that in its opinion, by reason of exceptional circumstances, this case is not one in which the penalty of death should be imposed, be punished by confinement at hard labor in the state's prison at Stillwater during your natural life. It is considered and adjudged that you, Archangel Christello, for the crime of murder in the first degree of which you have been duly convicted in this court, the court having certified of record that in its opinion, by reason of exceptional circumstances, this case is not one in which the penalty of death should be imposed, be punished by confinement at hard labor in the state's prison at Stillwater during your natural life.


POSSIBLE EXAMPLES OF THE ZUTER/ZULU SHOTGUN


The 19th Century Zulu Gun: A composite colonial rifle/shotgun often referred to as a "Zulu" type gun. Barrel with Belgian proof, incorporating a British Snyder action. The stock a converted and shortened military item. 50" overall length.

Possibly the word "zuter" is derived from the common Swiss name "Sutter" which is sometimes spelled "Suter" and pronounced "zoo-tare."

Photo of midget Benny Lynch with General Sutter's Gun, a shotgun which is 6'3" long and weighs 35 pounds.