2014-10-01 / Features

Jackson Heights Co-Naming Immortalizes ‘Wrong Man’

BY JASON D. ANTOS


The sons of Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero, Robert and Greg, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblymembers Michael DenDekker and Francisco Moya, Councilmember Daniel Dromm, Judge Terrence O’Connor, the son of Judge Frank D. O’Connor, and members of CB 4 unveiled a co-naming plaque in honor of Balestrero, who was falsely arrested and whose plight was immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Wrong Man. The location of the new sign is at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue on the three-way border of Woodside, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights. The sons of Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero, Robert and Greg, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblymembers Michael DenDekker and Francisco Moya, Councilmember Daniel Dromm, Judge Terrence O’Connor, the son of Judge Frank D. O’Connor, and members of CB 4 unveiled a co-naming plaque in honor of Balestrero, who was falsely arrested and whose plight was immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Wrong Man. The location of the new sign is at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue on the three-way border of Woodside, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights. From the moment Jackson Heights resident Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero returned to his Jackson Heights home after work at Manhattan’s famous Stork Club on the night of Jan. 14, 1953, his life would never be the same. As he reached out to open his front door, a pair of undercover police officers approached Balestrero and took him to the 110th Police Precinct for questioning.

PHOTO JASON D. ANTOSPHOTO JASON D. ANTOSThree witnesses had identified him as the person who robbed the Prudential Insurance Company office at the Victor Moore Arcade. They were dead wrong. Balestrero was charged with the hold-up along with two additional armed robberies of area stores and, despite his innocence, was brought to trial. He was exonerated six months later, when another man, who bore some resemblance to Balestrero, confessed to the crimes.

“Name any crime in the area and I did it,” the man boasted during his confession.

The lesson of Balestrero and his ordeal are now forever immortalized as 73rd Street at 41st Avenue on the three-way border of Woodside, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights was renamed Manny “The Wrong Man” Balestrero Way.

“Manny Balestrero’s story is one example how we must continue to reexamine our criminal justice system,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm at the ceremony on September 27, just a hundred yards away from the Balestrero home. “Street co-namings can also serve as an educational tool. I hope that when people see the Manny ‘The Wrong Man’ Balestrero Way sign they will be compelled to delve into this history and in doing so they will learn about their community, about cinematic history and continue to think critically about how our justice system works.”

The event was attended by elected officials, including state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymembers Michael DenDekker and Francisco Moya, members of CB 4, and Balestrero’s sons, Robert and Greg, who both flew up from Florida to be at the special event.

Also present was Judge Terrence O’Connor, the son of Judge Frank D. O’Connor. It was his father who defended Balestrero and would later become district attorney of Queens.

“The co-naming of the street is a remarkable event for our family,” said Greg. “Though my father is not alive, I am sure he would be honored to be recognized both as a part of the legacy of Jackson Heights, but also to know that his experiences so long ago can encourage the use of deliberate due diligence to protect the rights of all individuals, and prevent serious emotional harm to those unjustly accused of a crime. Our family is proud to have my dad associated with this event, and the Innocence Project.”

The saga of Balestrero’s ordeal was picked up by many newspapers and became a feature story in Life magazine. It was that very issue which was put on the desk of Alfred Hitchcock. The master of suspense read the story and immediately saw that this case of being wrongfully accused and charged with the burden of proof was consistent with similar themes Hitchcock had explored in many of his films.

In 1956, Hitchock released The Wrong Man starring Henry Fonda in the role of Balestrero. The film was special because it was Hitchcock’s first movie based entirely on fact and he even shot all the exteriors and most of the interiors on the streets of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Woodside, on the 7 train and inside the Queens County Courthouse and lockup.

The owners of Famous Famiglia, who donated pizza to the co-naming, have been advocating for wrongly accused individuals after a friend of theirs was convicted of a crime he did not commit.

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