Wild Bill, Colombo War's Last Casualty

Wild Bill and Christina.
[Property of Cutolo family/Cosa Nostra News]

William"Wild Bill" Cutolo (June 6, 1949 – May 26, 1999), a Brooklyn-born mafioso in the Colombo crime family, left prison in 1994, escaping a lifetime sentence primarily linked to crimes committed during the early-1990s Colombo family war.

Bill had been certain he'd never get out from behind bars, but thanks to some irregularities in his trial due to Greg Scarpa's having afforded assistance to the FBI throughout the war years, Bill was breathing fresh air again.

He was a new man, with a new attitude toward life that included a deeper devotion to his faith in God. He became more religious, attending mass regularly, and engaged in charity fundraising, among other things.

For most men getting out of prison, such an epiphany would be a positive, life-changing moment. But for Wild Bill, who was not an ordinary man getting out of prison, it may have been the cause of his doom, according to his daughters Barbara Jean and Christina Cutolo, who spoke to me in an exclusive interview.

Wild Bill with BJ at his granddaughter's christening.

Wild Bill is not a brand-name mobster of the John Gotti type; he is relatively unknown outside the mob, but within he was a larger-than-life figure. Cutolo most notably was a key participant in the infamous Colombo war that broke out when acting boss Vic Orena decided to take control from jailed-for-life boss Carmine "The Snake" Persico, who had visions of setting up a Mafia dynasty by making his son, Alphonse "Little Allie Boy" Persico, the boss. The war, which shot up the streets of New York City from 1991 to 1993, ended after Orena was sent to prison for life; the decision was made it was time to put the guns away and start making money, the Mafia’s raison d'être.

Wild Bill was busted from capo to soldier as part of the peace treaty. But the general respect the tough, wily gangster had generated, his ability to earn large stacks of cash and popularity in the family seemed to have compelled Allie Boy to eventually promote him to underboss. In reality, the Persicos were taking a page from the script of The Godfather: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Wild Bill

The promotion and passage of six years’ time following the end of the war had put Cutolo off guard. But there was something else, the Cutolo daughters relayed to me, and this something else may have sealed his fate.

Allie Boy was on the verge of going off to prison; the Persicos feared that if underboss Cutolo been made acting boss, he would've been in position to "pull an Orena" -- something the Persicos did not want to chance, which does not mean that that would’ve happened.

Wild Bill’s daughter Barbara Jean, or BJ, told me that when Wild Bill got out of jail in 1994, where he had been held for war crimes, he turned to the Catholic church. “He immersed himself in religion,” she said. “I think he might have been trying to repent for some things in the past. He lost some of his lethal edge.

“[Before he was in jail] he never trusted anyone, but religion made him more forgiving and [less prone to commit the necessary violence and duplicity],” BJ said.

Wild Bill’s time in jail – during which he faced down a possible life sentence -- had brought about an epiphany for the gangster, a personal change that made him a better man, but also a less-lethal gangster, and at the worst time possible for him.

There is widescale confirmation from press reports as well as an NYPD detective I interviewed that Wild Bill had a strong devotion to his faith. He was considered an extremely devoted churchgoer at Our Lady Help of Christians on Staten Island. A parishioner of the church recalled shaking the mobster's hand during the Catholic Mass's exchange of peace: "I sat behind him and his family every Sunday."

Orena sought to wrench control from the Persicos. 

Cutolo even worked as a fundraising chairman for the National Leukemia Research Association, sat on the Medical Advisory Committee as Chairman of "Team Leukemia" and was associated with the New York chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He helped raise $400,000 for Local 204 as well as many other locals over the years. In 1988, Cutolo was honored as the National Leukemia Association's Man of the Year. Cutolo paid for their holiday parties and dressed up every year as Santa Claus for the National Children's Leukemia Association as his son handed out gifts and posed for pictures with the stricken children. (More on Billy Jr. in our next article.)

The detective I spoke to confirmed that Wild Bill was not putting on an act for the Feds.

“He went to the same church as I did and I saw him there quite often,” the detective said. Also, the detective’s mother and aunt quite by chance were deeply involved in the same charity as Wild Bill, and actually knew him, so the detective knows all about Bill’s fundraising work. And it was legit; the detective admits that while Wild Bill was a lifelong criminal who murdered people, the Colombo gangster did not steal from that charity, the detective says.

“Some Feds will try and say that it was all bullshit and he was skimming off the top. But I know that he was totally legit and it wasn’t a scam.”

Also, “Wild Bill had in his backyard a life-sized religious statue of the Blessed Mother,” the detective recalled. “Every morning he knelt before it and prayed."

Wild Bill had himself designed the Blessed Mother grotto, then had it specially made, BJ said, adding that the Cutolos also had a large cross inside the house.

“I hope because of his devotion to religion -- whatever was going through his head [at the end], maybe he spent it in peace and solace,” his daughter added.

John "Jackie" DeRoss. 

At the same time, she noted: “If he didn’t become [so deeply religious] he’d still be alive.

“He trusted Allie and everyone said he shouldn’t. My father would say, ‘I am not going to start another war.’”

Cutolo acted very much unlike a mobster in other ways.

“He was very respectful to law enforcement,” the detective said. “Even getting arrested, he showed respect, and I arrested him a few times.

“One time, we were removing quite a lot of money – in cash – out of one of his clubs during a gambling raid. There were only a few of us, and his guys were pretty pissed off watching us taking that away from them.”

It seemed that for a little while the situation could have gone a couple of ways, the detective said. But Wild Bill firmly grabbed hold of the situation.

“He told his guys to shut their mouths and get with the program. He even once told me if I ever had a warrant for one of his guys, I could go to his club and the crew member would let me put him under arrest.

“He was very respectful. I showed him the same respect. I wouldn’t throw him in a cell the second I arrested him and brought him in. I’d let him smoke a cigar. He had diabetes, I made sure he got his insulin."

But Bill’s newly strengthened religious views did not stop the FBI from building another case against Cutolo the minute he got out of jail. In fact, the Feds were actually following Wild Bill on the last day of his life, but lost him. “I know if he had lived, a couple months after his death he would’ve been arrested by the FBI,” the detective said.

The primary reason he was killed is because Carmine Persico believed that Bill would try to take over the family once Little Allie Boy went away to serve time on the gun charge.

“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,” the detective said.

“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.”

The detective testified at that trial at which Allie Boy and Jackie DeRoss were convicted of conspiracy – before Bill’s body was found.

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

Allie Boy made mistakes in putting together the hit on Bill, which is why he is now sitting in a cell, like DeRoss, and will be for the rest of his life after the two were arrested and found guilty of Cutolo’s murder, in what was primarily a circumstantial case, supported by evidence from the forced court testimony of BJ Cutolo and mother Peggy, who were compelled to testify by the prosecution.

On the last day of his life, Bill lost the Feds when he dropped his SUV off at a garage. There are divergent viewpoints over what happened next, with the Cutolo sisters believing their father may not have ever left the garage alive.

The detective I spoke with said one of the mechanics dropped Bill off on 92nd and Shore Road, where he was supposed to be picked up to meet Allie Boy. As underboss of the family, Wild Bill was subject to mob protocol which dictates no less than the boss of a family can order the underboss to attend a meeting; the underboss must attend such a meeting.

“Billy ends up waiting; it’s maybe around 3 in afternoon on May 26, 1999, a few days short of his 50th birthday,” the detective says.

“He gets picked up by someone and brought to the home of a Colombo associate in Bensonhurst, where he is ultimately killed, then buried in Farmingdale.”

His daughters offer a different view on Wild Bill's last day. According to Christina, the FBI surveillance team lost Cutolo for about five minutes after he arrived at Ralph and John’s garage to get his truck fixed.

“The story is confusing,” she said. “Some say he came out and got into a car and went to Shore Road; others don’t know if he came out.”

After Bill’s disappearance, rumors were floating around the street almost immediately. And the Colombo family, rather than making an effort to track their underboss down, acted as if they already knew he wouldn’t be coming back.

The very morning after Billy was gone, Jackie DeRoss, who took over as underboss after Wild Bill, went to the Cutolo house.

“The first day my father was missing, the first thing he did was show up and ask for my father’s [loanshark] books,” Christina said.

“We knew then and there [he was in on it], and it destroyed us.” “He’s just a dirt bag,” Christina said of DeRoss. “My father disappeared and all he was concerned about was money."

BJ got in his face: "I told Jackie he should be out looking for my father; that if it was him my father would leave no stone unturned.”

DeRoss searched for secret compartments in Billy’s office, but didn’t find a dime. All he walked out with was what the Cutolo family had given him; namely, nothing – nothing for the new Colombo underboss who thought he was on the verge of snatching a cold fortune.

Unbeknownst to Jackie, Wild Bill had given his family instructions to follow in the event that anything ever happened to him: “Give them nothing if anything ever happens to me, he told us,” Christina said.

“We got all my father’s [loanshark] books. We put $10,000 and an old set of books together and gave them to [Jackie]. We took the original books, saw who owed what and burned them.

“Mother played like she didn’t know anything – but she did know.”

To create the appearance of innocence, Little Allie Boy sent around his female PI to “investigate” Wild Bill’s disappearance, and DeRoss, who started dropping by the Cutolo house on a near-daily basis, told them all to cooperate with her. The Cutolos didn’t – and that was when DeRoss subtly threatened the family.

“In the beginning he came all the time; every other day,” said BJ. “He wanted to make sure we weren’t talking to anyone. He wanted us to talk to Ally’s investigator.” When they balked, he said: “You have kids and a husband who works in the city,” BJ related. “They were showing that Ally was investigating what happened to my father, which meant he didn’t do it.”

On the surface everyone was pretending everything was normal. DeRoss and Wild Bill had “come up” together, so it seemed perfectly OK that DeRoss would visit the Cutolos regularly to make sure everything was copacetic (and that no one was talking to the police).

The idea of killing him had already entered the Cutolo sisters’ thoughts and they began to figure out possible ways of carrying out potential scenarios.

BJ and Christina huddled together out of DeRoss’s earshot. BJ told Christina: “He’s sitting in our house all the time, let’s take care of him.

“First we thought of poison, because he always asked for a glass of water when he came by. I thought I’ll do what I have to do. I even went so far as researching it. What was tasteless? I found that potassium sulfate can kill you.”

They even entertained the notion of just shooting him down; one sister would rip her shirt open, bruise herself and pretend DeRoss had tried to rape her (which was not an unbelievable stretch as the mobster regularly hit on the women, rubbing salt in their wounds).

But the scheme was never carried out. DeRoss stopped drinking his usual glass of water -- as if he had sensed something was afoot. They decided not to kill him in any event.

On December 28, 2007, Persico and DeRoss were convicted of Cutolo's murder, and both were eventually given life imprisonment. In October 2008, federal agents started searching a field in East Farmingdale, New York, based on tips they about a "mob graveyard." This tip, however, was on the money: human remains were discovered wrapped up in a blue tarp. A forensic dentist confirmed that the body was Wild Bill Cutolo.

What still stings the sisters the most is DeRoss’s betrayal.

“My father really, really loved him,” BJ said.

“In that life you can’t.”


  1. all about jealousy..I believe every word thé Cutolo daughters said. That Christina is one tough girl. She truly is her fathers daughter.

  2. It's sad how the columbo's could neva bounce back .just double cross After double cross. Killing off good members perisco could of been a real boss and pass the numver 1 seat to a another member but no now look at u guy's dumb move junior


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