Marie Cirile started life as Maria Teresa Panzarino, the daughter of Italian immigrant parents from Bari, Italy. Starting out as a self-declared “98-pound stringbean,” Marie Cirile was to become the most famous woman in New York Police Department history. Yearning to do something with their lives, Marie and her sister Lee Dante took the police test. Much to their families' surprise, they both made it onto the force (and both eventually became NYPD detectives.) In 1957, Marie was singled out by Lt. Teresa Melchionne to join the Policewoman'’s Bureau: the first official squad on NYPD where women could do real police work. Marie begged to be assigned to the most challenging jobs, and she was.

Marie Cirile had shown herself fearless and effective. When a chance came to finally promote a woman, Lieutenant Melchionne didn’'t have to think too hard about whom to offer the job. In 1963, she proudly told Marie that the highly touted Manhattan South Burglary Squad, a Detective Division, needed a woman officer to help infiltrate upscale New York City hotels that had been beset by millions of dollars in burglaries to their celebrity guests: Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, Merle Oberon, and Cary Grant. This was the big time! Melchionne calmly explained that the Burglary Squad was in the Detective Division, but that Marie would enter it as a Policewoman on a Policewoman’'s salary. This was not fair; but both knew that the only way a woman could “make the grade,” or become a detective, was to work with detectives.

There were no women in the Detective Division. Marie found herself with no partner. She pushed to become the “third wheel” in First-Grade Det. Ed Lehane's team. Lehane was famous, renowned for catching “The Mad Bomber” and solving the case of the United Parcel stick-up murders. But Lehane had heard about Marie Cirile, too. He told her, "I don’t want to work with a woman. I want to work with a great cop. Remember that we’'re a three-man team, and that you’'re just one of the boys.”" Marie heaved a sigh of relief. For once, she had been accepted, not just as a lady cop--but as a damned good cop. It felt terrific. Soon, the “3-man team” of Ed Lehane, Jimmy Capano and Marie Cirile were breaking departmental records.

Marie had already scored 13 Departmental Citations. She was shooting for her Detective’ Shield. She’ met more celebrities than she could count, and even had the pleasure of being hit on by Frank Sinatra when her team was staking out Sinatra’'s favorite hangout, “Jilly's.” She and the team also guarded President Kennedy at his 46th birthday bash, where he was serenaded (and more…) by Ann-Margret. The “Wide Awake Detective Agency,” as they called themselves, were getting very well known, on and off the streets.


Marie had become an expert in the art of disguise and makeup. She loved going into character, and had standard costumes for various cases. Marie carried a disguise kit in her car, complete with a variety of wigs, hats, quick changes, and an arsenal of makeup. Marie Cirile hit the streets in full costume using disguises daily in her undercover work. She had even had lessons from special effects make-up whiz Dick Smith. Smith'’s greatest influence over Marie Cirile was in helping her create her “bag lady disguise,” which ended up making her famous. Marie also loved hats, and became famous for her tiger-striped fedoras. For this, as well as for her bravery in the line of duty, Marie earned the nickname of The Lady Tiger.


With over 300 arrests under her belt, NYPD finally promoted Marie to Detective. On May 4th, 1963, she jubilantly received the golden shield. In October of 1963, Marie admitted to her partners that she was seven months pregnant. She had even managed to disguise her pregnancy. That same day, Marie spotted a team of burglars making off with a truckload of loot. Ed and Jimmy took off on foot to nab the bad guys--when Marie saw Ed crumple to the ground: felled by a heavy suitcase slammed over his head. She was sure he was dead. What followed was a crazy car chase through New York’'s garment district, with Marie firing at the fleeing felon out of her car window. Finally, she cornered him with her car, jumped out and pummeled him over the head with the butt of her gun, screaming, “"You killed my partner!"” News cameras were everywhere, reporters in her face. So was an amused Ed Lehane, who was not dead.

Marie’'s arrest made the cover of The New York Daily News; The New York Journal American and the New York Times. She was hero of the day, the lead story on every news program in New York.

Marie gave birth to her second child in 1964 and soon after returned to the job. In early 1965, Marie created her grandiose old lady disguise. With Ed and Jimmy watching closely, Marie moved in to intercept a drug deal going down at Horn “& Hardart’ automat in NYC. The dealer lunged at “the old broad” with a knife. Ed moved in after Marie had her arm smashed by a rookie cop who had thought, “the old lady was kidnapping” the drug dealer! The press and the public couldn’'t get enough of the story. Marie, in her “old lady” disguise, was on the cover of every New York paper. She became the first woman in history ever to win The New York Daily News Hero Award, and the New York Journal American Hero Award.

At Yankee Stadium in July 1969, Marie Cirile was the only woman to be honored by the New York Yankee’s, in conjunction with the Daily News, for Heroism in the line of duty. In 1970, Det. Marie Cirile and Det. Robert Volpe were chosen as NYPD'’s first “Art Squad,” assigned to recover priceless pieces of art stolen from New York museums. Working together, Dets. Cirile and Volpe recovered over one million dollars in stolen art.

Marie Cirile grudgingly left NYPD in 1975 because of injuries received in the line of duty. She married Patrick Spagnuolo, an entrepreneur and FDNY firefighter. Marie’s' activities at present are writing her Memoirs, and being active in the Progress Energy Art Gallery, “Poet’s Point,” in Newport Richey, Florida. In addition to publishing her first autobiography, Detective Marie Cirile: Memoirs of a Police Officer,” Marie is also a fine poet.

Cynthia Cirile

April 2011

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