Dana Cutolo On Her Father, Former Colombo Underboss "Wild Bill" Cutolo

Dana Cutolo, daughter of William (Wild Bill) Cutolo, a longtime Colombo gangster, has come far in life in a short time period.

Bill Cutolo, with a young Dana, and her mom.

(Wild Bill had two families. That's not exclusive to wiseguys: I have an uncle who had three.) 

Two years ago, she mixed cocktails at an outerborough country club. Today, she's a successful ethnobotanist and herbalist who started her own company, NY'ALA, which offers a natural sustainable skincare line (see the company website at www.Ny-Ala.com). Just this year, she relocated from Staten Island to Hawaii.

But back in 1999, she was a little girl whose daddy didn't come home one day...

Her father was underboss of the Colombo crime family. And in 1999, he drove to a garage in Brooklyn, lost an FBI tail, and quite simply vanished. Pretty quickly it was clear that Wild Bill had been murdered. His Colombo "cohorts" didn't exactly hide their bad intentions. Jackie DeRoss, Bill's longtime partner/friend came around the Cutolo home looking for Bill's  loanshark books the next morning (and the Cutolos gave him ugotz instead).

It was no secret why Bill vanished either. During the '91-'93 Colombo war (see story with Larry Mazza), Bill stood with acting boss Vic Orena's faction. Fast forward to 1999. Acting boss Little Allie Boy Persico was going to jail for a gun charge, and that meant Wild Bill, who had worked his way to underboss, was in position to be the most powerful mobster in the Colombo family. He could've  seized control of the crime family in a heartbeat. (Bill's other daughters believe he had no intention of doing that.) The Persicos weren't about to risk that happening nevertheless. The Colombo family went through three civil wars, recall.

As a former NYPD detective who worked organized crime told me: “The Persicos felt that Cutolo was going to make a move to take over the family and they weren’t going to let that happen."

“Allie started to secretly recruit big earners in Billy’s crew. He started to understand what Billy was making. It was a very calculated move. Only, Allie Boy left a trail of bread crumbs from the murder straight to himself.”

“You could list Bill as the last murder in the Colombo '91-'93 family war,” the detective concluded.

On December 28, 2007, the hammer fell and Persico and Jackie DeRoss were convicted of Cutolo's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Almost a year later, in October 2008, FBI agents, searching an alleged mob graveyard in East Farmingdale, New York, discovered human remains wrapped in a blue tarp. A forensic dentist confirmed that, at long last, Wild Bill had been found.

"After he passed away my mom was open about everything, but I was told by some people to just not talk about it and that experience sort of closed me off to even thinking about what happened," Dana said.

"After everything I did this year and how much I grew I thought this was the time to take ownership of my loss and have some sort of a memorial for him. Here in Hawai'i it's a tradition to throw a Lei out for those who have passed away. We chose one of the most powerful and beautiful spots for me, called China Walls in Hawai'i Kai -- the waves shoot up through the blowholes and crevices in the walls and it's just beautiful -- looking out into the endless Pacific ocean and just finally celebrating him for myself.

"I know he would have only dreamed of being here, and I really wish he had that chance to just leave all of the shit behind him and just start over somewhere worth it. I never had a funeral (for him), I was never told about his remains (I still don't have access to them or proof they exist) -- I never had actual closure, so instead of remembering that on his birthday, I celebrated him -- then I ate some Italian food, had a martini!"

To this blogger, Dana's personal story truly crystallizes  after Wild Bill's death, when longtime friends and acquaintances, even total strangers in her and her mom's life, suddenly change. They "became distant ... some (were) egocentric and aggressive... their masks fell off..."

And so much is unsaid. A tremendous story hides behind, "My mother was his best friend, his everything, they grew up in the same neighborhood around the same people - he relied on her... she's no dummy... "

Dana Cutolo's words are eloquent, poignant, and painfully honest. She details the raw reality of Cosa Nostra life for the  innocent families fated to live in its periphery, as seen through the eyes of a savvy, confident twenty-something woman living in 2018 America. Dana is also a powerful writer and we hope to read her full memoir one day.

What’s your favorite memory of your father
I have very limited real memories of him because I was so young, and because of everything I dealt with after he passed, I repressed a lot of it. I don't really have a favorite either - because every minute with him was truly amazing. I have little bits of memories - here's a couple of them. One time at the Woodbridge mall he let me take the sword out of his cane and wave it around like a "kung foo fighter", or him singing Frank Sinatra (he seriously sounded exactly like him) while making pancakes in the morning, or the time we went to his chiropractor and I told the "doctor" that he was sneaking candy despite his diabetes - that's how I learned what a rat was.

The father of another kid at my school told me not to speak of my Dad to anyone... that stuck with me for my whole life. 

My Dad was very healthy, he had the cane sort of as an accessory, it was a cane that held a samurai style sword and thought it was funny. One time at the mall he let me take it out and see it - it's an odd and random memory. He did have a ring finger missing, I believe from an accident when he was a kid.

Do you watch Mafia films, read books about the Mafia? Do you ever have an emotional reaction considering what happened...
Mafia stuff - no, I never really had an emotional response to that stuff because that life is honestly disgusting to me. I wish my father had chosen to start over - I wish he could have. The only emotional response I have to hearing about that stuff is just ... sadness. I feel bad that people live that life and put their families through hell and back. If my father had chosen to leave with us, he would be alive, and I would have a father, I would have a grandfather for my future kids, I would know him. A lot would be different - and I wouldn't have made bad choices because of my pain. Basically - when someone chooses this life, they are choosing to negatively impact everyone around them, it trickles down. That's the only emotion.

Tell us about your mother, and how she met Bill
My mom and dad - I really wish my mom could tell you this story on her own... But I do know that my mom knew him her whole life from growing up in the same neighborhood. She ran into him again when she was in her 20s, she was working, waitressing a private meeting he was having. They hit it off and fell head over heels in love - so cheesy, but when you see the pictures you'll believe it! They joked around, laughed and always had fun together - I distinctly remember that as a kid (imagine my shock when i realized adult hood wasn't just fun all the time LOL). I know it was a couple of years later that my mom found out that they were having me. The videos of Christmas and their first year with me are so cute. I'll have to ask her for some more details because my memory is a little foggy from all of the stories she tells me.

Can you describe when you found out he was "connected"?
I never knew while he was alive - our life was very normal, and incredibly fun. Everywhere we went everyone loved my Dad, or that's how it seemed to me as a child. I thought it was normal to go to the club (his meeting/club in Brooklyn) and play poker, eat all the cake and cookies I wanted without Mom knowing, and I thought it was normal for everyone to give me $100 dollar bills and tell me to go buy toys or having the guys bring over an entire deli for Sunday dinner... but at 9 years old, you don't really have the mind frame to think like that.

People became distant ... some (were) egocentric and aggressive... their masks fell off...

When I was very young, around 2-3 years old, he had spent some time in jail, and I was told that he was at work and we had to go visit him; I would have never thought to question that. I'll never forget driving down the B.Q.E. and looking at the abandoned-looking warehouses, passing Sunset Park, the MDC, and thinking "that's where Daddy works"... I don't know why I still think of that today.

Bill and Dana.

After he passed, that's when things changed enough to really notice. I thought, my Dad must have been pretty powerful because after he passed everyone treated my mom and I different -- even family. People became distant, or like some people -- egocentric and aggressive towards us, their masks fell off and they probably figured there was nobody to protect us, and there wasn't -- just my mom. I'm sure it was the most gut-wrenching thing for my mom to have to explain to me. I honestly cannot even imagine what she went through at that time, and how she made the decision to explain to me what happened.

To me, he was a science nerd who spent hours at the National Geographic store in Woodbridge with me... 

I have a pretty fuzzy memory from that time because of everything that I experienced... but I remember that day my mom picked me up early from school and we went straight home. For a couple of weeks she tried to keep  our home as normal as possible, but she finally told me around Father's Day -- I can't forget that day because my elementary school P.S. 4 had us make these handmade painted wagons for our Dads... I guess that was the final straw. From that point on my mom was 100% open and honest about everything, and I think she had to be because there was a lot happening around that time. It was just my mom and I dealing with everything completely alone.

Did you ever learn he was an underboss while he was alive? How’d that make you feel?
I mean he wasn't an underboss in reality, he was a boss in every sense, but I guess that's semantics... But I didn't know, I had no idea whatsoever. He was my Dad, he did Dad things with me -- I was not the kind of mafia kid that people are used to, I grew up in a really normal way. That's probably why I always had a lot of respect for my father-- enough to not speak out and make up false memories. When I did find out, I don't know how I felt -- I was told by family and people in private (never my mother) to just not talk about it -- so I felt very distant from it. When I found out, it felt more like a persona I didn't know, not my Dad. In my mind growing up, my father was something totally different than what people had told me or what people thought. To me, he was a science nerd who spent hours at the National Geographic store in Woodbridge with me... I felt very torn and confused, and alone. I was almost embarrassed for years. It wasn't until recently that I accepted that part of him, and realized that people have different sides to them, and people cannot be defined by a single part of their life.

Dana with Bill Jr.

Can you describe one or more incidents that made you aware your father had ties to crime?
I never had an incident where I was aware of him having any "ties" while he was alive. I think I more had incidents that confirmed how well known or powerful he was... A strange thing happens to a child when such a sick tragedy happens, especially when it's followed by threats and fearing for your life -- you just don't have a lot of memories or you repress them. Honestly, my father was so incredible, my memories are actually all good -- I don't have a single bad or negative association. I know I was at risk in a couple incidents with him -- where people wanted to hurt him while I was with him... but those are all stories I heard later on. 

I did have incidents after he passed away -- people that were close to us making hurtful comments and such, or people would give me strange looks and whisper comments towards me obviously in public. One time, I was in 8th grade so about 2-3 years after he passed, the father of another kid at my school told me not to speak of my Dad to anyone, I didn't know why but that stuck with me for my whole life. Teachers and coaches sometimes oddly knew my Dad's name. In high school, we were able to buy pages in our yearbooks, you would submit your photos and text and then get them back after they were scanned -- while everyone else received their photos, mine were missing and I think they were stolen, which was very creepy. 

Did he ever talk about “business” in front of you and your mother ? 
My Dad never made me feel like there was anything wrong. I never knew of any business or work related things. My mother was his best friend, his everything, they grew up in the same neighborhood around the same people - he relied on her -- it wasn't a "stay at home distant wife" relationship, she's no dummy... so he probably talked business with her on occasion.

How and when you learned he had another family 
That's an odd thing, because I didn't know until I was probably 14 that he had daughters. My brother Billy was a big part of my childhood (in my memory), but I oddly didn't associate him with "another family". My brother would come play with me, take me to shows and bring presents. At 9 years old he abruptly stopped speaking to me, we went to his apartment and were ignored -- we were just abandoned. I honestly thought he died too - until I saw many articles coming out in the newspapers. Most of the news concerning my own father, I found out from the newspaper.

I was contacted by my sister Christina at 18 years old. I stupidly was so excited that she wanted to know me, and a long story short - she cut me off as well. At 18 years old there were articles in the news published about how she stole my inheritance from us, and after years of struggling financially - it was just a lost cause. I never really knew or associated with anyone from his side - I honestly feel terrible that he had them as a family, I couldn't imagine what that was like.

Dana at China Walls in Hawai'i Kai.

My father was always with us, for dinner, for morning pancake making, for church and dinner on Sunday's, for the movies or Broadway on Friday's - I don't really remember him not being with us ever so I would have never knew. That was a strange thing to have to digest and understand without him here to explain it. I struggled with that for years, even though my Mom was there to explain it all. He left us letters that he wrote to my Mother and me from jail in the early 90's, explaining his life and love for us. I know it's a great selling piece of gossip to assume that a man lived a dual-life with two wives, but it couldn't be more opposite than that. I know my sister's always talked poorly of us, and it makes me sad to think that he had to struggle like that, and be demonized.

Life is a funny thing, it really is, and we now live in such an amazing time in 2018 where we are supported by each other - we can be free to do what will make us happy. My father married young, he was part of that life (the mafia) before he even knew the consequences, imagine that... you don't even get the freedom to choose your life, because there is not escape once you make that choice. He wasn't happy in his marriage, and that is okay, it happens - it's a sad thing but as adults his children and ex-wife really should have been more caring, loving and understanding. I know it isn't easy to see your husband want a divorce but she made it her life mission to make him miserable because of his choice... and demonizing my mother, who simply fell in love as a young girl - is a tragic way to deal with heartbreak.

My mother had known my Dad since she was a kid - she used to go to a place he worked in Flatbush (I'll have to double check that par) and get "chicken in a basket" with her saved up lunch money - she had a crush on him since she was 12 years old. Fast forward to her as an adult - the fell in love. I could cry writing this in a way, because to see them together was so powerful... I distinctly remember that as a child. The way the laughed together, joked around, the way they looked at each other, they were best friends. When you have a chance to be happy, like my father did with my mother, especially considering his life, you take that chance. I'm glad my father put himself first for once in his life - and chased love like he did.

One of many letters from Bill while he was in prison.

Can you describe what it was like when you first heard he was missing — including when and where you were and what you thought might have happened...
I didn't know for a while - I just thought he was away and coming back. I waited weeks until around Father's Day when my mom told me that he might not come back. I do vividly remember getting angry in our kitchen on Gunton Place in Staten Island - I yelled "my Dad's missing and he isn't ever coming back"... I don't know when that was or what made me say that or what I experienced that led me to that thought - but sometime in the summer for 1999 before we moved out of that house. It was a confusing time, we were afraid and alone and unsure of what was happening.

It wasn't until 2008 that his case was closed and Persico was put away - and his remains were found. From 1999 - 2008 I was left confused and I never got closure... When they found his remains, I was in my second month of college living in a dorm in Long Island when it came on the news. I was in my communal living room with people I just met, finding out from the news that my father's bones were found wrapped in a tarp by the Farmingdale train station... Shortly after that my mother called... and everything is a blur after that.
Wild Bill....rest in peace.....