For many, a house is a symbol for family support and protection, but looks can be deceiving, especially one such place in Northwest Denver.
On the outside, this single-family home looks like the other late 19th century houses on the block, but for one moment in January 1954, it was the scene to one the most horrific crimes in Denver history.
A decade and half before this chapter unfolded, Frank Macri Sr. arranged marriages for his two daughters, Rose and Mary to Italian nationals Frank and Gene Archina. In 1954 the entire family lived under one roof in a house on 39th and Tejon. It was a full house with the elder Macri, the two married couples, Frank Macri’s wife, Elizabeth and older siblings Steve and Frank Macri Jr.
January 24, 1954 was a sunny and unusually warm day in Denver. Frank Macri Sr. and Frank Archina were having their usual verbal barbs when the altercation became a matter of life and death.
The two men were having an argument on the Macri front porch when, a fevered Archina kicked Macri Sr. and stomped up the stairs to retrieve a shotgun from his bedroom.
The focal point for the unrest between the two men was the definition of marriage. The family patriarch forbade Rose and Frank Archina to live as man wife until a church ceremony was held.
After the commotion on the porch, Frank Macri Sr. told his wife and daughters to hide in the bedroom as he grabbed his own shotgun to face Archina.
The two men again confronted each other in the living room. Nobody knows who fired first, but the elder Macri was on the floor with a shotgun blast to the chest. Archina proceeded to the kitchen and fired at Frank Macri Jr., mortally wounding him.
Two other family members, Steve Macri and Gene Archina, were outside when the melee started, heard shots coming from in the house. Steve fled to call the police while Gene fainted in the driveway.
Frank Archina paused for a moment, reloaded his shotgun and proceeded to the bedroom where Elizabeth, Mary and Rose were hiding in a closet.
Archina threw open the door.
Elizabeth fell to her knees.
“Please don’t shoot! My God please don’t shoot!” she pleaded in Italian.
Archina calmly leveled the gun and shot his mother in law in the head.
Archina turned his attention to his sister-in-law, Mary, aimed, fired and almost tore off one of her arms. Mary would succumb to her wounds days later, making her another victim of this massacre.
After shooting Rose’s mother and sister, Frank turned the shotgun on his own wife, aimed, pulled the trigger, but nothing more than a click tore through the silence. Archina turned and ran to the nearest window to make his escape.
Rose followed suit and ran to the nearest neighbor. “Mother! My mother,” Rose screamed hysterically. “My husband did it! My husband did it!”
Sometime in 1936, 18 years before the grisly scene took place, long before the Macri family even settled in Denver, they moved overseas to Italy. Reasons behind the move are unknown, but at an unspecified time during their stay, Frank Macri Sr. arranged marriages for his daughters, Rose and Mary to Gene and Frank who were extremely young.
By 1950, Frank Macri Sr. moved back to the U.S. with his two sons, while Elizabeth, Mary and Rose stayed behind until 1952 when civil marriage ceremonies were held so that the Archina brothers would gain entry into the United States.
And while Frank Macri was from Chicago, they chose to reside in Northwest Denver.
For Frank Archina, the honeymoon part of his marriage never came to be since the Macri patriarch prevented the couples from living together until a religious ceremony was held.
Frank Archina abruptly left the Macri household to New York City. His father-in-law spent some time convincing him that he should return to the home.
All the while Frank Macri Sr was discretely exploring the option to deport Archina back to Italy.
Within a half an hour of the shootings, thousands flocked around the North Denver house.
The Hollywood image of sterile and well-groomed crime scenes didn’t exist. The police had to contend with a chaotic scene of family members and onlookers mingled in and around the Macri home.
Police combed the neighborhood around the Macri home for Archina. They jumped on a tip and found him at the Tivoli Tavern, at 1400 W. 37th Ave.
As they walked into the bar, a police officer spotted Archina sitting alone in a booth. When he saw the officers, he rose to his feet, then raised his arms in a gesture of futility and gave himself up.
In Italian he spoke to the arresting officer, “are you going to kill me?”
“What do you think?’ One officer answered. “Don’t you know what you’ve done?”
After he was arrested and was taken to police headquarters, the one thing he complained about was that the handcuffs were too tight on him.
The Denver police had to use three officers as interpreters and all the while, Archina was pleading innocent saying he didn’t shoot anyone.
It would take nearly year before Steve and Rose saw Frank Archina in court to face justice.
The first trial, held August 1954 was declared a mistrial. The second started in November of that year and was postponed due to illness on the defense team.
When the trial started in March 1955, Rose was the star witness for the prosecution as she went over the brutal details of the family. She had to testify that after Archina shot her father and brother, she heard him reload the shotgun before entering the bedroom.
She had to describe again how her mother pleaded for her life and that of her daughters.
She had to re-live on the stand the moment of unlikely grace when Archina failed to kill her as well.
“He would have gotten to me too,” Rose said, “but he ran out of shells.”
The jury convicted Frank Archina of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. The decision was upheld after Colorado District Court found him sane. The verdict earned Archina a trip to the gas chamber for Archina.
But the Colorado Supreme Court stepped in, vacated the verdict and ordered a new trial for Archina, which took place September 1957.
Rose took the witness stand for a second time to testify against Archina. Her testimony was pivotal in sending him to death row back in 1955.
Rose again retold the tragic tale yet again.
The defense spent the majority of the trial attempting to throw out her testimony because she is married to the accused. Despite their attempts, the judge ruled she was a competent witness.
One key difference in the second trial was that the surprise witness that was called to the stand by the defense.
A former neighbor stepped forward and said that he was the first to enter the house following the shootings.
Robert Koch was in the backyard and heard what he described as drum beats and saw Rose escape to the outside.
He claimed to be the first to enter the house after the shooting and found Frank Macri Jr. in the kitchen lying on his back wounded.
He then found Frank Macri Sr. face down, took a pulse and said he was dead.
“Before I turned him over, he was lying on a gun — the gun seemed to be in the crook of his arm. I picked up the gun and set it against the wall. It was a double barrel shotgun.
He said he was there to hear semi-coherent words coming from Mary Archina.
“Don’t let them hurt him.” Koch quoted Mary’s words “We made him do it. He wouldn’t hurt me.”
When cross-examined on why he didn’t step forward sooner, Koch said that he didn’t think it was important at the time but after reading about how the the police were puzzled why the elder Macri’s shotgun leaning on the wall he wanted to step forward.
This time, the jury found Frank Archina innocent by reason of insanity.
Rose was silent as the verdict was read aloud, neither she nor Steve Macri had anything to say following the end of the third trial.
Some members of the jury told the Rocky Mountain News they considered Archina mentally incompetent and felt that Archina had a second grade education.
Two jurors interviewed by the Rocky Mountain News said they also could not believe all the testimony given by Rose.
But what was the difference in believing her testimony the second time around? Was it that lack of emotion in her testimony or the seed that a wife is not a reliable witness against her husband?
Archina was sentenced to the State prison hospital in Pueblo for mental health evaluation.
His time in Pueblo was short since the federal government petitioned to deport Archina back to Italy. His defense lawyers didn’t fight the order.
So in April 1959, Archina sped through Denver on a train as he was being sent back to his native land.
The story doesn’t end here though since he was arrested after stepping off a plane in Italy.
An Italian judge ordered Archina tried under law stating that Italian citizens could be brought to trial here for crimes committed abroad, even if they already have been tried.
In 1961, the Italian court convicted him of murdering Elizabeth and Mary Macri. He was also found guilty of attempting to murder Rose.
Archina was excused of Frank Sr. and Frank Jr. killings on grounds that they may have been armed and shootings were self-defense.
In July 1963, eight and half years after the fateful day, Archina was granted freedom for the crimes he committed.