Long before Gangsta, there was Gangster.
“John Gotti is my uncle. He’s gonna kill your whole family.”
Most people I know enjoy a good mob story; especially, the TRUE ones. As a former police officer, I have no love for lifelong criminals. The world would be a wonderful place without them. There is a certain fascination with gangsters, though. The REAL ones, anyway. Those who won’t bring harm to your loved ones – unless your loved ones are part of “The Life”. The ones who keep their bloodshed exclusively in-house gain a certain respect from me, even though I’d put them behind bars in an instant. I’ve seen the workings of the mob through the eyes of a Brooklyn kid who lived among the legends, and then, much later, from my perspective as a New York police officer. My New York friends and family have a seemingly endless supply of mob stories, as well. Actually, there may not be any true good guys or bad guys. Only differing shades of gray.
I, along with my late cousin, Peter Randazzo (who had even more tales than I) have a novel called SONS OF THE POPE. It is fiction – but based on things all too real. It is the story of a family-within-a-family. It spans five decades of New York. It, as the best-selling title ever from its publisher (Blood Bound Books) has achieved something that doesn’t happen often – an option for television for an indie novel. More on all of that, and some pretty big name praise for the book, at the end of the post, but how about some REAL organized crime stories – FOR FREE – from the mouths of the Brooklyn folks who were there? None of these incidents appear in my novel. That is chock full of the better ones. Unless an incident is already public knowledge, names have been changed to protect – everyone. Feel free to add your own stories in the comments section for all to see!
If this post draws interest, I will add additional true mob stories in a series, perhaps weekly, so be sure to “follow” this blog to be notified of the latest updates!
It might now be relevant to include a quote from the first page of my novel as we begin:
“Though inspired by certain true events, SONS OF THE POPE is a work of fiction. Because as many a New Yorker will tell you when asked about organized crime…There’s no such thing.”
“John Gotti is my uncle. He’s gonna kill your whole family.”
I’ve heard that, or some variation on it, countless times. Sometimes Mr. Gotti was their cousin, or their aunt’s ex-boyfriend, or their girlfriend’s neighbor. The smarter ones would use John’s older brother, Peter Gotti, as a more realistic curveball. This was when I was a cop in New York. Mind you, I was working in Suffolk County, Long Island. My precinct was 30 miles from John Gotti. Seemed any punk who was unhappy with being locked up, somehow thought the cops would shudder in fear, and open up the jail doors, at the mere mention of their fictional connection to a famous mobster. I can only image what the NYPD cops heard.
Years before, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, if I happened to have the upper hand in some street fight, or even just an argument, I’d get Carlo Gambino or “Big Paul” Castellano thrown in my face as the man who was going to do me in. That’s right, the alleged head of an organized crime family was going to execute a 15 year-old boy because he happened to have someone in a headlock.
The point of all this is that the big mouths who are quick to tell you how “connected” they are, or boast about who they “know”, and who is going to be dumping you in a swamp, are always completely full of shit.
If you have a confrontation or altercation with someone, and they dust themselves off, give you a steely-eyed smirk, and quietly walk away, THEN you might have something with which to concern yourself.
My wife watches the VH1 television series MOB WIVES, and whenever I have seen a bit of it, my mind has been blown. Some of these ladies may actually be connected to alleged crime families (or were – before they were excommunicated), yet they are the complete antithesis of a true gangster, in every way.
The late Vincent “The Chin” Gigante – a man who, to downplay any relationship to the criminal mastermind the government accused him of being, spent decades walking the streets in a bath robe and staring into space – can you picture his reaction to watching an episode of MOB WIVES?
Seems all they do on that show are scream at each other, call one another “rats” or “cop-callers”, and boast about their affiliations with “the lifestyle” – oh, and they do this all ON NATIONAL TELEVISION! Back in the day, this would not have stood a chance of happening. In fact, in the early 1970s, the makers of the film THE GODFATHER made a deal with legendary wiseguy Joseph Colombo, whereby the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” would not be uttered in the movie – and that motion picture, based on Mario Puzo’s novel, was FICTION. Shortly thereafter, Colombo was shot, paralyzed, and eventually died from his injuries. Word on the street was that he was targeted because he was bringing too much unwanted publicity to the five crime families of New York. This was the guy who thought THE GODFATHER was bringing too much attention to the Mafia – and HE was likely gunned down for doing the exact same thing.
Now, think about MOB WIVES one more time.
I lived in the heart of the Joe Colombo/Joey Gallo stronghold for a part of my youth. I lost my parents before I turned seven, so I bounced around a bit between families – both mine and the territories of the “Five Families” of New York. I always, however, lived in Brooklyn. From 1960 through 1990.
Joe Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League offices were directly across the street from the apartment in which I lived, on Fifth Avenue. I could see it from my bedroom window. Right around the corner, on President Street, was the entry into Joey Gallo’s territory. Many believe that Colombo was shot (in 1971) because of his many television appearances in connection with his Civil Rights League. Too much of a spotlight brought to the families. Most also believe that Joey Gallo was behind the shooting, though he did not pull the trigger himself. A year later, Gallo was murdered in a restaurant in Manhattan. Bob Dylan even wrote a song about him. “Joey” appears on my favorite Dylan album, DESIRE.
Did you know that the mob even controlled gumball machines?
Joey Gallo’s crew used to give neighborhood kids a quarter to smash any gumball machines that were not owned and operated by their gang. Well, one day, a shoemaker on Smith Street caught three kids in the act of destroying the machines in front of his store. He managed to grab one as they fled and began to inflict some street justice. I guess he didn’t count on the other two returning to help their captured friend. Return, they did – and the three of them handed the shoemaker one of the more serious beatings the neighborhood had seen. The kids made their bones that day. Instead of the 25 cent piece they would normally receive for the routine machine-smash, they each received a stack of crisp bills. Within days, the Joey Gallo gum machines stood in front of that shoe repair shop.
As a child, my own Italian wife, Joanne, growing up near Court Street, was told by her parents, “Do not go too far down President or Carroll Streets. That’s where the gangsters are.” The many law-abiding Italian-Americans went to great lengths to steer clear of the trouble.
After Gallo’s murder, his sister Carmella declared, over his casket, that “The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”
This may have run through the minds of some of my childhood friends as they sat, one late night, on a street corner in Sheepshead Bay. They were in their early teens. A black car pulled up, and two well-dressed, burly men got out. They walked up to the teens and said “Yous might wanna go somewhere else. It ain’t safe here.” Now, these kids usually would have risked a smack in the teeth by responding in some smart-ass manner, but they had the street sense to know this was the big leagues. They retreated into the alleyway behind the buildings. Within the hour they heard the shots fired, screams, then, a bit later, police sirens. That meant, to them, that they could emerge. They ambled from the alley to find people surrounding a bloodied man on the sidewalk. He was in front of a restaurant and a health club. They recognized the woman kneeling over his body as a young lady they knew from the neighborhood. For reasons known only to her, she was wiping his blood on her arms and face as he died.
“The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”
Those same kids, in that same back alley, had an incident happen in broad daylight, as they played a game of Wiffle Ball. The stores and restaurants along a certain section of Avenue U would have their back doors open into small yards that were fenced in from that particular alley. There was a restaurant there that had closed down and was converted into a “social club”. The kids were often given five bucks by the club members to run to OTB (Off-Track-Betting was a legal form of wagering on the horses in NY at the time) and bring back copies of The Racing Form (also known as the “scratch sheet”). The kids had earned their cash, brought back the Racing Forms, and were now onto their Wiffle Ball battle in the alley.
They thought they heard fireworks. Maybe some M-80s or “ash cans”, they figured. Then the men from the social club began to scale the back fence and spill into the alley, completely disrupting their ball game. It was a shotgun hit in the club. The kids later learned that the victim was the father of someone they knew fairly well.
Remember that health club I mentioned, outside of which the young woman was wiping her dying boyfriend’s blood all over herself? As a kid, I “worked” there. It was also featured in the documentary PUMPING IRON, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou (“Incredible Hulk”) Ferrigno. When I say I “worked” there, I mean I had a handshake deal with the owner. I would come in at the end of each day and put away all of the weights that were strewn about the floor. I would keep the place tidy, and in return, I could work out any time I wanted. That is how Brooklyn operated back then. That’s how an orphaned kid, without a cent, could secure a prime health club membership. Also, see nothing and say nothing.
The Story of Muscle Matty:
Muscle Matty might’ve been the strongest guy I’ve ever met, in terms of physical power. Sometimes it would take two of us kids to hand him the dumbbell he was going to pump with his ONE hand. We were in awe of him. He was a monster. Unfortunately, he was also a monster of a different kind, and we had no idea. It seemed Muscle Matty had a thing for under-aged boys. Word was, if the boy wasn’t interested, Matty might just take what he wanted anyway.
Who was going to stop him?
This may have been one of those cases where the mob actually did some good.
Matty apparently came upon a boy he fancied in a public restroom. The kid wanted no part of him, but the muscle-man forced himself on the child.
Unfortunately for Matty, that kid was one of the quiet ones who knew better than to boast about the connections he had.
Maybe a week later, Muscle Matt’s body was found with his own severed penis stuffed in his mouth.
Lest anyone think my claim is that only Italian-Americans can be gangsters, I can assure you that I am well aware that there are gangs and gangsters of almost every ethnicity. It’s just that the Mafia has risen to a strange level of popularity in American culture. My own father, at the age of eight, in 1931, was almost accidentally gunned down – most likely by Irish-American gunmen. He was just a kid walking down a Brooklyn street at the wrong time, when one of those machine-gun-out-the-window-cars we have all seen in the movies turned a corner blasting at somebody. He dove under a parked car for safety.
“You shouldn’t hang around here, Eddie,” said one of the local toughs as everyone dusted themselves off. My father ran straight home, never bothering to survey the aftermath of the drive-by. He also knew, at that tender age, to be “in the wind” by the time the coppers arrived.
In fact, my father’s first cousin, Helen Walsh, was, at that very moment, gun moll, and accomplice for Irish/German-American gangster, murderer, and cop-killer, Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley. Miss Walsh was in the fifth floor Manhattan apartment with Crowley and his partner, Fats Duringer, as they waged a gun battle with 300 New York City police officers, before finally surrendering. 15,000 people found their way to the scene of that incident that day. My cousin Helen wound up testifying against the two men, and both went to the electric chair. Needless to say, I am not proud that my own blood was an accomplice to a cop-killer, and also had the distinction of becoming a “rat”, or a “canary” – “singing” to the feds.
Well, we all have family members who go astray. But, the reporter who gave the tip that brought them all down was named Joe O’Connor. Shared my family name. Way to go, Joe.
Two-Gun Crowley was immortalized by the character Cody Jarrett, as portrayed by James Cagney, in the 1949 film, WHITE HEAT. I never met my cousin Helen, who lived her life out on Long Island – never uttering another word about her times with Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley. I did know her sister, Margaret, who was all too willing to share details about the entire story.
Currently, if one does a YouTube search for “Two Gun Crowley”, footage of his arrest is available. After he is wheeled out, wounded, Helen Walsh can be seen being escorted, and arrested, by police. So too can Fats Duringer.
I wonder, is there any chance my then eight year-old father, wasn’t just “accidentally” in the sights of those machine-gunners? Could this have had anything at all to do with his high-profile gangster cousin and whatever the heck she was up to her elbows in? Could he have been a pawn – or part of some message to her and Crowley?
Probably not, but I’ll never know for sure.
I have some amazing, true mob stories all set for the next blog post, so please stay tuned!
If you’d like to read a novel that Amazon reviews have compared to gangster classics such as THE GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS, and THE SOPRANOS, take a FREE peek at SONS OF THE POPE. It’s available in a new, second edition paperback, and for Kindle or Nook.
It has a 4.9 rating (out of 5) on Amazon.com. 4.4 on GoodReads.
It has been optioned for television by brilliant creative forces behind incredible shows such as DEXTER, NURSE JACKIE, RECTIFY, RED WIDOW, and CONSTANTINE.
Remember AL PACINO’S incredible performance in THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE? Well, the man who wrote the novel upon which that film was based, ANDREW NEIDERMAN, has praised SONS OF THE POPE, and his quote can be found on the back of the book. Mr. Neiderman has also written all of the books in the VC ANDREWS series for over thirty years. He has sold over ONE HUNDRED MILLION books.
New York Times best-selling author, KEVIN O’BRIEN, who has brought readers to the edge of their seats with ONLY SON (optioned for film by TOM HANKS), THE NEXT TO DIE, THE LAST VICTIM, and UNSPEAKABLE, called my novel, “A rich, epic chronicle of murder, the mob, and miracles.”
JOHN LOCKE, who was the first self-published author to sell over ONE MILLION novels on Kindle, felt so strongly about SONS OF THE POPE that he ran a contest for his readers to win copies of the book. He bought those contest copies with his own money. Mr. Locke’s DONOVAN CREED thriller series and EMMETT LOVE westerns have proven so popular, he became the first author ever to sign a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster. He retained all editorial rights, and control over design, content, and pricing. In the publishing world, that is unheard of.
Take a FREE peek at what those three New York Times best-selling authors are all excited about. See what might spur a top television producer and director to option an independent novel for television.
Have a look at SONS OF THE POPE.
These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.