Death sentence rings an end to Emperor Pic’s reign in Alberta

Emilio Picariello pulled double duty as a businessman and a bootlegger. He was also a family man and a bottle king, combined with a little bit of Robin Hood.

More widely, he was known as an emperor. Emperor Pic, to be exact.

In the end, though, he just ended up being a killer.

Before all of that, Picariello got his start in Italy ? reportedly in 1879. Twenty years later he moved on to Toronto.

Lured by the opportunities out West, Picariello then moved his family to Fernie, B.C., which had a substantial Italian immigrant population. He went to work as a merchant and quickly enjoyed success.

Picariello soon expanded his operations, selling cigars and ice cream, as well as recycling liquor bottles for breweries and distillers. In the process, he earned the title of ?Bottle King.? Other names would follow.

Although not an official designation, Picariello earned the label of emperor for his position in the community. His rise in the world of business and bootlegging corresponded with his rise in prominence in the Crowsnest Pass area.

The introduction of Prohibition in Alberta in 1916 brought him into the world of bootlegging.

When Prohibition moved into British Columbia the following year, Picariello moved in the opposite direction. Purchasing the Alberta Hotel in Blairmore, Alta., it served as his base of operations for his bustling trade.

Over the years his stature continued to grow in the area. Seen as a Robin Hood figure, Picariello handed out packages of food, candy and other goods to the less fortunate members of the community.

By the early 1920s he also enjoyed success in politics. Running for town council in Blairmore, he won by a majority.

Despite Prohibition in the province, federal laws still allowed the shipment of liquor from BC a to the US.

However, Alberta legislation prevented its transportation into that province, which was necessary for Picariello to reach his markets south of the border.

In response to the illegal activity in the area, Alberta Provincial Police detachments were set up in Blairmore, Bellevue and Coleman.

Police roadblocks and checkpoints were common sights along the route.

Picariello operated for years with few problems. Although some shipments were stopped and seized, he simply attributed the ensuing fines to the cost of doing business.

Acting on a tip in September 1922, the provincial police set out to stop Picariello and his son, Steve, during a delivery. With Steve speeding back to British Columbia with a load of liquor, Const. Steve Lawson fired a shot that hit him in the hand. Unaware of the extent of the injury, Picariello only knew that his son had been shot and vowed revenge against the officer.

Along with Florence Lassandro, a friend and employee, he headed to Coleman to confront Lawson. With Picariello still inside the car, the heated discussion turned physical. It ended with Lawson dying in the street with a bullet in his back. Picariello and Lassandro were soon captured and brought to trial.

The defendants claimed self-defence, which was debunked by the fact Lawson was shot in the back. It was also unclear who actually fired the lethal shot.

Ultimately, they were both found guilty and sentenced to death. Appeals to the Supreme Court and prime minister proved futile. They were hanged on May 2, 1923. Lassandro, who protested her innocence until the end, was the only woman ever hanged in Alberta and the last woman hanged in Canada.