By Photographic Collections Manager James Smith
For nearly 50 years, Bartolomeo “Bartolo” Guiducci (1892-1963) and his wife Caterina Mansini (1885-1972) ran a grocery store in the heart of Portsmouth’s old North End, and yet little is known about the couple today. With no surviving descendants, the story of the Guiduccis might have been lost completely if not for persistent rumors about Bartolo and a shocking crime that occurred in December of 1956.
Both Bartolo and Caterina had emigrated from Italy: Caterina from Longiano and Bartolo from Santarcangelo di Romagna, the birthplace of many other Italian immigrants living in Portsmouth’s North End. In 1911, Bartolo arrived in New York aboard the S.S. Duca before he made his way to Portsmouth. Two years later, Caterina arrived on the S.S. Canopic.
In the 1916 Portsmouth city directory, Bartolo was listed as a grocer at 79 Russell Street in the North End. Since the early 1900s, the North End had become a true American melting pot, with a richly diverse population. Predominantly home to Italian immigrants, there were also Yankee-born, Greek, Polish, Chinese, Swedish and African-American families all living in this densely packed neighborhood. When the couple wed on Feb. 6, 1917, the marriage certificate listed Bartolo’s occupation as a shoeworker. For the next decade, the Guiduccis ran a market at 23 Deer Street, and it appears Caterina may have run the store while Bartolo made and sold children’s shoes under the name “B. L. Guiducci Shoe Co.” By the end of the 1920s, the couple became naturalized American citizens, and in 1932, Caterina purchased the Deer Street Market at 129 Deer Street, on the corner of Deer and Vaughan streets.
A view of the former Deer Street Market just prior to demolition in the North End, c. 1970. The area was demolished during the Vaughan Street Urban Renewal Project (c.1968-c.1973). Photograph attributed to Tom Minichiello Jr. (1948-2007). [Gift of Kevin G. Lafond, North End Neighborhood Collection, P45_405_207.]
In addition to the Deer Street Market, Bartolo was a member of the Italian Republican Club, and during World War II, he was an air raid warden.
Photo of the Italian Republican Club on the steps of the former Portsmouth Post Office and Custom House on the corner of Pleasant and State streets, dated 1924. Based off the only known newspaper image of Bartolo Guiducci, he may be the man on the left holding the larger bottom banner. His brother-in-law Carlo Grilli is holding up the other side of the banner. [Courtesy of Hugo E. Riciputi, North End Neighborhood Collection, P45_198.]
The Guiduccis lived above the Deer Street Market and ran their store from morning until night. The couple never had children, and it appears the only family members living in the area were Bartolo’s sister Dora Guiducci Grilli and her husband Carlo Grilli who lived down the street in the North End on Raynes Avenue with their son Joseph Grilli.
In 1942, while still operating the Deer Street Market, the “well to do” Guiduccis decided to move out of the North End. They purchased a large Victorian mansion, roughly 1.4 miles away, at 206 Lafayette Road on the corner of South Street (known historically as Ward’s Corner). They had bought the house from the estate of Thomas A. Ward (1858-1927), the first owner. Ward had operated a successful distillery along the North Mill Pond off Dennett Street. Ward also reportedly had the first automobile in Portsmouth. At least twice, the Guiduccis sought a permit to sell gas at Ward’s Corner, but each time the city denied the request.
Detail of the 1920 Portsmouth Sanborn map. The Ward-Guiducci house is circled in red at the very edge of the 1920 map. Today, the former Guiducci home site is the current location of the Lafayette Professional Park and Center, or more commonly known as the ABC Buildings, a collection of medical and dental office buildings.
While unknown, the decision to purchase the Ward estate may have been motivated by potential business opportunities for the Guiduccis; however, over the years, some of the neighborhood children (and perhaps some adults) began to speculate why the Guiduccis would have bought such a large house just for two people. Stories circulated that Bartolo was somehow involved with the mafia and that the couple hid stacks of money in the floorboards and around the old mansion. Was this just idle gossip spread among the children or was this true?
In late 1956, this speculation would only grow.
Front page of the Portsmouth Herald, Dec. 29, 1956, with the headline “Grocer Shot in Holdup Attempt.” Image courtesy of Newspaperarchive.com
According to the Portsmouth Herald, Bartolo returned to their home and dropped Caterina at the back door. He then proceeded to park the car in the nearby garage. While exiting the vehicle, Bartolo was suddenly faced by a masked figure who appeared in the doorway. The assailant described as “slightly built” was holding a flashlight and a gun. He demanded money and reportedly said, “I mean business.” Bartolo responded by grabbing what was nearby, which happened to be a gallon of bleaching solution. He threw the bleach at the assailant who simultaneously fired off his revolver hitting Bartolo in the stomach. Bartolo slumped against his car and exclaimed, “Oh, you’ve killed me.” The robber also shot Bartolo in the leg before fleeing into the night. Bartolo shouted for Caterina, who had heard the gunshots, and as he staggered out of the garage, the police arrived. One of the officers rushed Bartolo to the Cottage Hospital on Junkins Avenue where he would endure a three-hour emergency surgery.
Two days later, while Bartolo Guiducci remained in critical condition, the police received their first break in the case. After following a pair of snowy footprints about 300 feet from the garage to the field off Middle Road, the police discovered gloves, and in the nearby brush, partially buried in the snow, they uncovered a .32 caliber revolver, a holster and ammunition. Putting a tracer on the gun, the police were able to locate the suspected shooter: Gene Whitehouse, a 21-year-old local Portsmouth resident and an airman at the Pease Air Force Base. The police arrested Whitehouse while in uniform at the airbase. He then implicated another person: Kenneth Ball, a 30-year-old ex-con who lived on Gates Street.
Ball was, in fact, the connection to the Guiduccis. As a fuel delivery driver, he had delivered coal to local businesses, which included the Deer Street Market. It was during one of those deliveries that Ball saw Bartolo Guiducci had “two or three wallets on him and a roll of bills.” Seeing all this money, Ball informed Whitehouse, and the two men hastily made a plan to rob the Guiduccis. In planning the crime, the men referred to Bartolo as “Handlebars” due to his large mustache.
While neither image offers much clarity, this unidentified man in the Italian Republican group photograph (left) might be Bartolo Guiducci as a younger man.
On December 26, three nights before the attempted robbery, the men drove 10-12 times around the Deer Street Market. They realized that the market’s central location in the North End created a scene for potentially too many witnesses.
By the time of the trial in June of 1957, Whitehouse had turned state’s evidence and took the stand implicating Ball as the mastermind. With both bullets still lodged in his body, Bartolo also testified to his recollection of the shooting. The trial ended abruptly as the two men changed their pleas to guilty, and each later received a six to 10 year prison sentence for their roles in the shooting and attempted robbery.
This was neither the first nor the last time the Guiduccis and their business had been targeted. In 1946, Bartolo reported that cash, jewelry, watches and a table model radio were stolen from their house at Ward’s Corner. In 1959, Caterina was physically assaulted during an armed robbery at the Deer Street Market.
In 1963, six years after the trial, Bartolo passed away at the age of 70. He was laid to rest in the Sagamore Cemetery. A year later, a group of doctors purchased the land adjacent to the mansion house at Ward’s Corner. They constructed three medical-dental office buildings, and future plans involved renting out the Guiducci house. The widowed Caterina appeared to move back above the Deer Street Market. In February 1968, Caterina sold the house on Ward’s Corner to the group of doctors and supported its demolition for another medical-dental building. The Lafayette Professional Park and Center, or more commonly known as the ABC Buildings, still stands today.
Side view of the Ward-Guiducci Mansion during its demolition at 206 Lafayette Road, corner of South Street (known as Ward’s Corner). Built in 1899 for Thomas A. Ward, the Guiducci family purchased the mansion house from the estate of Thomas Ward in 1942. Nearly 30 years later, the widow Catherina Guiducci sold the property for the construction of the medical-dental “D” building, which still stands today. This is the only known image of the property taken from the Portsmouth Herald, February 16, 1968.
In 1969, during the Vaughan Street Urban Renewal demolition of the North End, Caterina had no choice but to sell the Deer Street Market to the Portsmouth Housing Authority. Like other North End residents, the loss may have been more than just that of a physical building, but an extension of one’s identity, a sense of place for nearly 50 years, and a shared connection that was now irreparably severed. The site of the old neighborhood would later become featureless and unrecognizable with large minimalist buildings and vast parking lots, but Caterina would not live to see this.
A view of the Deer Street Market post demolition, c. 1970. Photograph attributed to Tom Minichiello Jr. (1948-2007), whose family lived on Russell Street. His father Thomas Minichiello Sr. was a pall bearer at Bartolo Guiducci’s funeral as were John Paganelli (owner of the nearby Vaughan Street Market), Joseph Ronchi, Dante Caminati, Carl Geraci and Larry Ciotti. [Photograph gift of Kevin G. Lafond, North End Neighborhood Collection, P45_405_208.]
In 1972, Caterina passed away. Her only heir was her nephew, Joseph Grilli (1921-1997) who was a school administrator. Over the years, Joseph was the principal at the Farragut in the North End, the Pease Elementary School on the airbase, and Portsmouth Junior High. Unmarried, he died in 1997. With his passing, the family history appeared to be lost. Much like their homes and businesses, gone were the personal accounts and the photographs of the Guiducci and the Grilli family. What remained were the rumors shared among the neighborhood children, and as those kids grew up so did the apparent legend.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum is still actively collecting photographs and paper materials related to the North End. In addition, if you have more information and/or materials on the Guiduccis, the Deer Street Market or the Grilli family or you have corrections, please contact James Smith at 603-431-2538 or email@example.com.
James was the curator of the 2016-exhibit “The North End: A Lost Portsmouth Neighborhood” featured in the Athenaeum’s Randall Gallery.