Man slain in home suspect was named in note

Block bartender gunned down in Little Italy

December 06, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Brenda J. Buote contributed to this article.

Anthony Franciotti apparently knew he was about to die.

Before the 64-year-old was fatally shot in his Little Italy rowhouse Wednesday night, he wrote the name of a suspect on a note, which was found by homicide detectives. Police arrested the man yesterday in Essex.

What has emerged from the investigation into the rare Little Italy slaying is a tale of strip clubs and of a jockey-turned-bartender that culminated in gunfire in one of the city's most celebrated tourist districts.

Police suspect that Franciotti -- who was arrested in the 1994 state police raid on Baltimore's Block and convicted of selling cocaine from a strip bar -- was killed by a suspected drug dealer with whom he often argued.

Franciotti, a decadelong Little Italy resident who was considered a rising star as a jockey in the 1950s, was found dead about 10 p.m., lying inside his front door in the 200 block of S. Exeter St. He had been shot once in the chest. The note was found elsewhere in the house, but police would not elaborate.

"There was a note found at the crime scene indicating that the suspect may have been involved or responsible for the victim's death," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman. "It appears at this point it was written by the victim before he was shot."

About 5 p.m., the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force arrested Louis Ralph Barber, 42, of the 5200 block of Hazelwood Ave. He was charged with first-degree murder and a felony handgun violation. Barber has been convicted twice of drug possession since 1990 and has spent two years in jail.

City police were quick yesterday to stress that Franciotti was a target in the killing, hoping to ease neighborhood concerns about crime. "It does not appear to be a random act of violence," Weinhold said. "Mr. Franciotti was the intended victim in this case."

That didn't stop the Little Italy Community Association from putting out a flier yesterday titled "Crime Crisis" and sponsoring a meeting last night at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church, across the street from where the slaying occurred. "Who else has to get murdered before something is done?" the flier says.

Maj. John E. Gavrilis, the commander of the Southeastern District, said Little Italy is "probably one of the safest areas in the city."

The Little Italy Restaurant Association is considering hiring off-duty police officers to patrol the area, said Frank Velleggia, the group's president. "I don't think they would have been able to prevent what happened last night."

The slaying occurred in a house on a quiet residential street, one block from several popular restaurants packed in to the small community that attracts scores of tourists to its narrow streets.

The victim's neighbors would not comment publicly on the slaying or on Franciotti. But many said privately he was a well-known player on the community's boccie ball courts. And though most knew he worked on The Block, they knew nothing of his questionable activities.

"A man was shot and killed, and I have no idea why," said one neighbor. "Anything like drugs was down where he works. There was no indication of anything like that here."

Police sources said Franciotti -- a bartender at Crystal's Show Bar -- had a long-running dispute with a suspected drug dealer working the strip clubs on East Baltimore Street. Police said they don't know what the argument was about.

Two dancers from Crystal's, who identified themselves only by their stage names, said detectives were asking about the ZTC suspect yesterday. "The guy is down here, and that's who they are looking for," said a woman who called herself Nikki.

According to court records, Franciotti is a native Marylander who was a horse trainer in Belmont, N.Y., in the late 1940s, and became a jockey in Maryland, New York and Florida. An accident at the Belmont track in 1963 ended his career.

His lawyer, Stuart J. Snyder, said Franciotti used connections through bookmakers to land a job on The Block, where he tended bar in several clubs starting in 1973. He was convicted of assault in 1976 and marijuana possession in 1985.

Franciotti got into more serious trouble in 1994, when 500 Maryland State Police troopers swept through the strip clubs in what turned out to be a botched effort -- because of police misconduct -- to shut down the adult entertainment district.

More than 85 people were charged with drug offenses in the raid. Franciotti was one of 36 to plead guilty -- he admitted to selling 10 bags of crack cocaine to an undercover officer at the Circus Bar.

Franciotti was sentenced to one year in jail, but only served four months, winning a sentence reduction after complaining that he suffered from "mental illusions" at the Baltimore City Detention Center, court records show.

Snyder said Franciotti was once married and had a brother known as "Rocky" who died recently. "People either really liked Tony or they disliked him," the lawyer said. "He had an abrasive side that just irritated some people. But he could be as kind and congenial as anyone you could meet.

"He was no kind of drug dealer," Synder added. "You hear of a dealer, you think of someone distributing major amounts of drugs. Tony Franciotti did not fit any of those categories."

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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