In the CT weekly, Hartford News, there is an article, also titled, “Justice for Pidgie D’Allessio,” written by Anne Goshdigian. The piece is entirely Goshdigian’s journalistic point of view, describing the travesty that befell Pidgie, and still taunts her almost 70 years later: Goshdigian focuses on the rich, Republican, CT, blue-bloods, two former governors, John Davis Lodge, who offered the reward claimed by Pidgie for information that would lead to the apprehension of the killer of my fifth-grade classmate, Irene Fiederowicz, and Judge Raymond Baldwin, who denied Pidgie the reward in legal terms that Paul Theroux deemed “disgusting.” Ms. Goshdigian includes a sidebar, with contact information for the State Senator and Assemblymen, who represent West Hartford, where Pidgie now lives, and also the Assemblymen who represent the districts where Pidgie was raped, and Irene was raped and murdered, when children, and also contact information for present Governor, Ned Lamont. I asked that readers contact these politicians and ask them to introduce legislation that would give Pidgie the reward as a gesture of justice. And too, to ask for an apology from the state of CT from Governor Lamont.
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith (Cameroon 1965-67)
“Justice for Pidgie”
66 years ago a horrific murder in Hartford was solved and justice was served…except for one thing
BY ANNE GOSHDIGIAN
Hartford News–January 9, 2020
When Robert Nelson Malm was put to death in the electric chair on July 18th, 1955, the book “Legal Executions in New England” begins the entry about his crime with “This man was a decorated veteran of World War II. He saw hard action as a naval gunner and was awarded 11 battle stars plus a presidential citation. On the down side, he was a pervert with an insatiable appetite for little girls.” On the down side. The book goes on to paint a rather melodramatic portrait of Malm’s last moments of life: “Malm walked to the electric chair with his head bowed and his eyes closed. The warden later told reporters that Malm acted that way because he was deeply ashamed of himself.” By being endowed with praise for his wartime service, and absolved of his crime by a warden—who must have fancied himself a mind reader—by assuming unspoken feelings of shame and remorse—the killer was given more respect than one of his victims.
Irene Fiederowicz, an 11 year-old student at Mary Hooker School, was walking home from a Hillside Avenue grocery store when she was stalked, grabbed off the street, and dragged through back yards to the rear of a house on Sequin Street, where she was sexually assaulted, and then strangled to death by Malm on December 10th, 1953. The murder and its aftermath is at the gut-wrenching heart of “Girls of Tender Age”, the bestselling 2006 memoir by Hartford native Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, who was Irene’s classmate and friend. Receiving glowing reviews from prestigious publications after its release, the book has sold tens of thousands of copies nationally and internationally, been the choice of dozens of book clubs, and has not been out of print during the ensuing 14 years. Smith grew up in Charter Oak Terrace and is a 1961 graduate of HPHS. The memoir, which also focuses on her family life with an autistic brother, a self-centered mother, and a father who tried to hold it all together, also shines a light on the 1950s world of not only Hartford, but the societal attitudes of that era—a pre-“Me Too” movement” era– when crimes and offenses committed against girls and women carried a stigma; the tacit shaming and blaming of the victim, the pressure to keep quiet about what happened and even forget about it, a stifling which would often affect lives for decades to come.
Just like what happened to the 17 year-old Hartford girl who also lived in the southwest part of the city and was also followed, grabbed, nearly strangled with her scarf, and sexually assaulted by Malm two weeks before Irene was killed. The difference was that Patricia “Pidgie” D’Allessio (the pseudonym Smith gave her in the book) lived. And she told—told her parents and told the Hartford police, right after it happened. If she’d been taken more seriously by the officers who came to her house that night, she might have been able to save Irene’s life. But it didn’t happen that way. The traumatized Pidgie, bolstered by her parents, was questioned about what had happened. They asked her if she had “a lot of boyfriends”. And when they left her house, they concluded that the marks and welts on her neck and throat from the tightened scarf were just hickeys; love bites. In their mind, no assault or rape had occurred because Pidgie had answered that she was not raped. (In the 1950s, for a sexual assault to be labeled “rape” required that the victim’s vagina must have been penetrated by a penis. Malm had forcibly penetrated and fondled Pidgie’s vagina with his hand and then ejaculated on her. By today’s standards, his actions would be classified as rape.) In Irene’s case, he had also removed all her clothing and, by his own eagerness to accept a deal to have a bench trial instead of a jury trial, confessed to restraining and torturing her for a half-hour and then molesting and murdering her. Following the discovery of Irene’s body, detectives were sent to the D’Allessios’ home on December 12th, 1953, due to the similarities of the attacks. This time Pidgie was able to give them more information which helped them identify Malm, who had a record of molestation and attempted molestation both in and out of Connecticut going back several years. They brought him in, and Pidgie, accompanied by her parents and a policewoman, picked Malm out of a lineup as the man who assaulted her. The next day, the police asked her to come to the station again. They have her enter a room where he’s sitting across from her and looking at her; she hears him speak, and attests that it’s the voice of her attacker. It was a stressful, frightening, difficult process for the teenager, but one of great value to the Hartford police. Without the 17 year-old girl’s bravery and willingness to confront Bob Malm, the architect of her nightmarish experience, they might not have been able arrest him for Irene’s murder.
Governor John Davis Lodge was a blue blood. Born in Washington, D.C. to a wealthy political family, his ancestors included seven United States Senators. Educated at several private schools in his youth, he later graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law, and was admitted to the bar. A handsome man with a flair for the dramatic he next spent the years from 1933-1942 working as an actor in film and on the stage, including some major Hollywood pictures. He served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy during WW II. Lodge entered politics in 1947, and the Republican was elected to the U.S. Congress from Connecticut’s 4th District, serving two terms, and was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1950. (He was later appointed U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Argentina, and Switzerland by Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan, respectively). On December 14th, 1953 Governor Lodge offered a reward of $3,000 for information leading to the apprehension of Irene’s killer.
Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Raymond E. Baldwin was also a lifelong Republican with a storied political career. Raised in Middletown, he graduated from Wesleyan University and then entered Yale Law, but at the start of WW I, he left Yale and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, earning the rank of Lieutenant. In 1918 he returned to school and was admitted to the bar in 1921. In 1931 he was elected to the Connecticut Legislature and served as a Representative from Stratford until 1933. He served his first term as Governor from 1939-1940, and was re-elected two more times in 1942 and 1944. From 1946-1949 he served as a U.S. Senator. In 1949 he became an Associate Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors, and was appointed Chief Justice from 1959 until his retirement in 1963.
Pidgie D’Allessio put in a claim for the $3,000 reward. It was denied by Baldwin. An appeal was filed. It was denied again.
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith:
“Baldwin determined that an offer of a reward was a contract, no different from a business contract. Since the reward—the contract—was dated December 14th, two days after Pidgie gave the police the details of the crime against her and one day after she picked Malm out of a line-up, Judge Baldwin ruled she did not claim the reward in response to the offer; the offer hadn’t been made yet. According to Baldwin, Pidgie did not abide by the conditions of the contract. And where did the governor’s offer of reward make such a stipulation? Nowhere. The two other judges witnessing the proceedings concurred with him.”
The text of Judge Baldwin’s repulsive conclusion to his argument:
“An offer of reward … is not the recognition of an equitable duty of the government to the informer, but a mere act of public policy…whose terms are wholly within the discretion of the government. Whoever [makes a claim for such an offer] must bring himself within its terms. Failing to do that, his compensation is the consolation which comes to every citizen from the discharge of a public duty…the common obligation of all…. Courts must apply legislative enactments [meaning Governor Lodge’s reward offer] according to their plain terms.”
“Judge Baldwin saw fit in his parting shot to lecture Pidgie with condescending derision, berating her for not appreciating that her consolation should not come from a reward, but from her public duty, which according to him, is an obligation. But Pidgie was consoled by performing her public duty, consoled by her hope that her testimony would prevent what happened to her from happening to other girls.”
Pidgie D’Allessio is now 84 years old and living in West Hartford. She had a life—college, marriage, and three sons. The youngest, Joseph, reached out to Mary-Ann. He never heard of the crime against his mother, and only learned of it when checking a census for family names. His mother’s maiden name showed a connection to Malm’s case, and he told his mother he needed to speak to her about something in her past. Now, the two haven’t stopped speaking about what happened to her, how it affected her and their loved ones. She told him that when her book club was planning to discuss Girls of Tender Age, she realized that her rape was integral to the book. She quit the club. She never read the book, but a decade later her son did:
Dear Ms. Tirone Smith,
My wife and I have just finished reading your book, Girls of Tender Age. Thank you for it. It has affected me deeply, and my understanding of who my mother is. I first learned of Robert Malm a few years ago when I was searching my mother’s maiden name hoping to find her in the newly publicized 1940 census. My mother and her family never mentioned Malm or her involvement in the case. In some very profound ways, my mother has remained a teenager her whole life. I now understand why her development was stifled. She is 84 years old and will answer my questions about this terrible time directly and eerily without the emotion one would expect. I am pretty sure she distanced herself from emotions all those years ago.
I hope it is rewarding for you to know how impactful your work is and how telling Irene’s story continues to heal generations who weren’t even born at the time of her murder.
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith:
“If I see wrong, I go on the attack. It’s just what I do. If I’m not furious at least once a week, it means I’m dead. Pidgie was badly treated by Connecticut politicians—even Governor Lodge. This is a decades-old miscarriage of justice, and she deserves the $3,000 reward and an apology from the State through Governor Lamont. All I want to do is talk to somebody and see if we can make it happen”
She has tried to talk to somebody. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith has contacted Governor Lamont’s office. The same with Derek Slap, State Senator, West Hartford, District 5; and Jillian Gilchrest, State Representative, West Hartford, District 18, who represent the area where Pidgie currently lives. In Hartford, the same request was sent to John W. Fonfara, State Senator, Hartford, District 1; Edwin Vargas, State Representative, Hartford, District 6; and Julio Concepcion, State Representative, Hartford, District 4. These men now represent the districts where Pidgie D’Allessio and Irene Fiederowicz lived the year they were attacked. She has received only one response thus far: A form letter from Vargas thanking her for contacting him.
Looking for a way to get Pidgie’s story out to the broader public, she also contacted the Hartford Courant—more than once. “They blew me off without so much as giving me the courtesy of a response.” Mary-Ann, a tenacious woman, a gifted writer on a mission, wants justice for Pidgie. She wants it in time for an epilogue to Girls of Tender Age to be published in the next edition. (The full epilogue can be read online at www.mary-anntironesmith.com). She’s not seeking 66 years worth of interest to be added to the original $3,000 reward, although it’s a sure bet that for hundreds of State employees, that’s only about one week’s salary.
“Pidgie D’Allessio was raped twice, once by a brutal psychopath and then again by the State of Connecticut. This courageous teenager, who acted on her obligation to society—one that treated her with obscene scorn—deserves a second reparation from Connecticut: an official apology from Governor Ned Lamont.”
If you would like to support this effort, please email or call the elected officials below and tell them you want “Justice for Pidgie”
Governor Ned Lamont, 860-566-4840
State Senator Derek Slap, District 5, Derek.Slap@cga.ct.gov, 860-240-4436
State Senator John W. Fonfara, District 1, John.Fonfara@cga.ct.gov, 860-240-0043
Representative Jillian Gilchrest, District 18, Jillian.Gilchrest@cga.ct.gov, 860-240-8585
Representative Edwin Vargas, District 6, Edwin.Vargas@cga.ct.gov, 860-240-8585
Representative Julio Concepcion, District 4, Julio.Concepcion@cga.ct.gov, 860-240-8585