Dinner With Three Capos; A Personal Experience

The three men were murdered in one fell swoop in May of 1981. I was 13 at that time. A year or two before they met their demise, they had had dinner at my grandparent’s home at my grandfather’s invitation. Unfortunately, because I was so damn young when it happened, I have only a few vague memories of the evening—an historical evening, in my opinion.

I asked my parents, and they don’t remember exactly when the dinner occurred, nor do they remember many details. My grandparents, in whose Queens, New York, condo the dinner took place, have since died—my grandfather 11 years ago, my grandmother two years ago, each at ripe old ages. I love them both dearly and will never get over their deaths.

I may not remember much of that specific dinner, the one the three Bonanno capos attended before their murder at the hands of Joe Massino, Sonny Black Napolitano and Phil Rusty Rastelli, but I can imagine it. My grandmother would have cooked her sauce as she did every Sunday, like any self-respecting Italian Grandmother with a hungry family and guests to feed would do. There would have been giant bowls of ensalada and pasta, served first, followed by the arrival of huge oval platters of every kind of meat you could imagine—beef, pork, chicken—soaked in sauce, the meat so tender (and tasty) it would fall off the bone. An endless supply of thick tomato sauce, baskets of chunks of seeded Italian bread, pecorino romano shredded cheese would have been on hand as well, all par for the course. And bottles of red.


We would all be seated at the custom-made, long table that nearly took up the entire dining room of my grandparents’ condo. (My grandfather was somewhat wealthy at the time—wealthy enough to have had the duplex condo professionally decorated. Too bad he blew it all.) The comfortable, padded, long-backed chairs made sitting through the hours-long meals extremely easy, even after you finally dropped your cloth napkin on top of your sauce-smeared plate and were so full you felt like your stomach would burst (a rather tasteless analogy, I must admit, considering what is coming in the next couple of paragraphs).

Then coffee and dessert. I won’t delve into that. I have trouble writing about food—I tend to get carried away and lose the thread of what I am trying to say in favor of, say, the rich cream floating out of a cannolli shell – but I digress.

My grandfather would have been sitting at the head of the table. I, his daughter’s first born, usually sat at his right hand, though that night I have a feeling a Mafia captain was in my usual seat. I might have even been hurt by that, I don’t remember. To me, my grandfather was God: He had such a powerful presence, he could drown out an entire roomful of people (which he often did at family functions, to the chagrin of many). Whenever we gathered together he would hug me so tight, squeeze our faces together, his sometimes-bristling cheeks would tickle my face. When I was really young, he’d hold me aloft and take me in his car--always a long black Lincoln--to the local candy story and buy any candy I wanted.

Looking back, I wish I was older because I’d have surreptitiously taken notes so I’d be able to provide a fuller, more colorful portrait of that night. Instead I remember a heavyset man, who resembled a somewhat heavier version of my grandfather. That would have been Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera. When they shot him, his stomach supposedly split open and pasta came flying out—that’s what happens when you whack someone after eating a big meal. The stealthy Bonannos should have arranged a pre-dinner meeting; clean-up might have been easier.

I remember a thin, good looking man with sharply parted black hair: Phil “Lucky” Giaccone, whose nickname carried an irony so very unfortunate for the man himself. I believe my grandfather had a separate relationship with Phil; he knew Giaccone better than the other two, because over the years, before Giaccone’s body was found, my grandfather would sometimes mention with a deep sigh how his friend “Philly” had disappeared. I know Giaccone was punched in the face by Massino himself before the execution in that basement from hell; Phil was once Massino’s capo, I have read.

Oddly, I don’t remember the third guy, who would have been Sonny "Red" Indelicato. (Forget the Pacino/Depp Brasco film, with its cinematically engineered Sonny Red/Sonny Black rivalry. The problems between the three capos and the rest of the family were more complex than what was portrayed in that film).
The general, albeit vague, consensus: It was a good meal with plenty of laughter. The three capos were not threatening. Why would they be? Mobsters, after all, are human beings; they put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us do. One thing my parents did remember was that they were extremely respectful to all of us. My parents knew these men were involved in the Mafia, either at the dinner or after it, but, as I said, they have no specific memories, no anecdotes to tell me, other than it was a nice dinner—no cursing, just a bunch of well dressed men, some chain smoking cigarettes, along with my grandfather, who was the unfiltered Camel type. It was a typical Sunday dinner composed of family and friends.

We didn’t of course know about the power play going on in the Bonanno family about that time. It followed the Commission-sanctioned hit of Carmine Galante. The feud was for control of the family. Rastelli, who had the support of the other families, and his lieutenants, came out on top.

When I was reminded of this meal a few years ago by my grandmother when all the stuff about Joe Massino was on the news, and they found the remains of Big Trin and Phil Lucky, I transformed into a question machine: What were they like? Why were they over for dinner? Was Grandpa involved with them?

From what she could recall they wanted my grandfather to do a “favor” for them. My grandfather, as I said, was a small-business owner and never a criminal, and had never been arrested, even though he was born in a time and place were Mafiosi were produced as if via an assembly line. He owned and operated a fleet of limos. A huge chunk of his business was tied into the airports—JFK and LaGuardia—and my grandmother said it had something to do with my grandfather’s airport contacts … and garbage delivery. (What else? Really – what else?)

He had other contacts even earlier, before yours truly was born. In those days (the early 1960s) the Mafia was a common presence among small business owners in New York City; I think Marty Scorcese talked about this in a documentary he filmed. Everyone knew the "racket boys," as my grandfather called them. (My grandfather hated John Gotti because of all the publicity he attracted, and to his dying days refused to believe Gotti ran the Gambinos; he believed the real boss put him out front to catch all the attention. No matter what he read or what I told him, that was his story, and he stuck to it. It's a shame for the Gambinos he was wrong.)

The one anecdote my mother remembered was the loanshark who used to loan the drivers money. I won't name him. My mother, a young woman at the time, was walking into my grandfather's office one day lugging groceries. The loanshark looked at his guys -- they hung around the office on occasion, I guess when money had to change hands -- and said something like, "What the f---- is wrong with youse? Help the lady! Now!" They ran outside and took the bags from my mother and helped her inside the building.

I do know the alleged deal between my Grandfather and the Bonanno capos never panned out. I would think that the failure of my grandfather to fulfill whatever his obligations were would have meant bad things for him, but nothing happened. While my grandfather wasn’t in the Mafia he had “friends.” Phil, for one. Also, some of his regular customers had “Gambino” for their last name.

That’s it. Just a little story about how close my family and I came to Mafia infamy. We had dinner with it.

And I still remember the last thing my grandmother said about that night.

“Sonny, I felt so sorry for him. His son had bad trouble with drugs.” She was 94 when she told me that. I knew Sonny’s son Bruno had a Coke habit from books I have read over the years. But my grandmother knew it because she had dinner with a man some 30 years ago and he had told her about it and she felt a compassion for him and his problems that transcended decades. I call that a caring heart.

Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. My validation for writing this site is being a journalist for 20 years with a library full of about 20 to 30 true-crime books on the mafia; I mentioned that certain personal issues sparked my "lifelong interest" in this subject matter, things from real life, not a film.

    Despite what you wrote, I do know something about the mob, quite a lot in fact -- but from reading and re-reading and constantly expanding my library of books, plus I read newspapers and other Internet sites.

    I don't write from experience, that's what guys like former mobster Sonny Girard does, and you can read a couple of his posts on this site or his site, sonnysmobsocialclub.com. He is a former mobster, I am not. I don't even know a single mobster (well maybe a couple of half-ass ones, but only because of a marriage, not through blood or choice.)

    What you just read -- and clearly didn't understand -- was my attempt to write a "memoirish" post about a dinner my family had with the three Bonanno capos who were killed together 30 years ago. To me, it is something worth writing about, something historical, even if none of us can remember hardly a damn thing about the night!

    So, I was 13 years old, and I didn't have a clue--back then. But I am reporting facts, or making every effort, too, Anonymous. I will say this: My grandfather was friends with these guys. He never took the leap into joining the mob -- by choice -- but he had friends. He died close to age 90 in the year 2000, and he grew up in the same neighborhoods that they did, and I am talking about an earlier breed of mobster -- his relationships with these guys went back to the late 20s-30s, through the 60's, then slowed down, after he lost his business (and he didn't lose it to the mob, if that's what you thought; he lost it to the Texas Pavilion of the '64 World's Fair, which went bankrupt and owed him a fortune.)

    As far as I know, going into the 70s and on, he had no more ties, except for his friendship with Giaccone, which ended in 1980, when the guy was blown to pieces. The Mafia he knew was not today's Mafia. The men he grew up and was friends with died decades ago and came from a different age -- they made more money, unlike today's wiseguys, who are trying to live impossible lives and must be half-crazy with all the constant heat on them, and it was easier for them to do their thing -- the Feds weren't even after them.

    My grandfather wasn't a "wish guy" or a "sucker," and I really don't think insulting my dead grandfather is, well, a nice thing to do. He had friends from the neighborhood whom he grew up with--some of them went to the mob and some didn't. Eventually he exchanged favors with them, like most small businessmen in a similar position had to do, Marty Scorcese talks about this in his documentary, the same thing happened to his father. My grandfather wasn't some jerk trying to work his way in and up, or whatever you are trying to say about it. He slightly crossed that line -- he dealt with them in a small ways, doing mutual favors, I don't even know what he got out of it. He died with the utmost respect for the Mafia, but as I said, it was not the mafia of today.

    My grandfather working his way up? I said he was a legit businessman--and a successful, although uneducated one--who maybe deep down inside was drawn to those in the life, since he lived among those guys for decades, and worked his ass off his whole life while they sat on their asses and grew fat -- but when it was time for him to make decisions about his future, he didn't go down that path. He took the legit path, never served a day in prison and was not a mobster or an associate or whatever word you want to use.

    Anonymous -- don't read this blog anymore if you don't like it.

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  3. The post adds a sense of humanity to men long depicted as inhuman by a sensationalized press.
    If you were Italian, first or second generation, successful, in the 50's, 60's, or 70's, the odds were great you knew and were helped by street money. In reality that was the only money available to you. "They", the WASP POWER STRUCTURE, WAS NOT GOING TO PROVIDE CAPITAL TO ALLOW YOU IN THE GAME.The unfortunate nature of the post is that The Bonanno's were a joke, incapable of keeping their own house in order or standing up when braced

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  4. The basement scene was a fabrication by the Limey director of "Donnie Brasco"----the killings took place at a Catering Hall.

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  5. They were killed in the basement of a club Sammy Bull owned at the time.

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