Carlo Feared Pitera Death Threat for 'Butcher' Book

Guy in the middle had no idea what the future held when this
photograph was snapped.

Philip Carlo (April 18, 1949 – November 8, 2010) wrote best-selling novels and non-fiction, focusing mainly on sociopaths, pedophiles and psychopaths.

A popular, beloved writer and New York figure, he also was known for letting the occasional fact stray in his non-fiction, which spans the range from mobsters, including Thomas "Tommy Karate" Pitera, to serial killer Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez -- with Richard "The Ice Man" Kuklinksi falling somewhere in between.

I just finished reading Carlo's final book, "The Killer Within"; he in fact died a few weeks after completing it, of the horrifying illness ALS -- better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Turns out, of all his subjects it was Tommy Karate who was weighing on his mind the most heavily toward the end of his life.

He wrote "Killer" by dictating to his assistant, Kelsey, often making references to Kelsey in the book, as well as his wife, Laura (née Garofalo -- Laura is the Tall Guy's sister, which also makes her Alicia DiMichele's sister-in-law). No doubt Laura suffered as much as Carlo had; it is heartbreaking to imagine how she had to watch him slowly whither away from this horrid disease, about which this book really opened my eyes.

Carlo toward the end of his life.

Living with that progressive disease is the story at the heart of the book, the literal "killer within" Carlo, which transformed a well-muscled writer who traveled the world carrying a huge zest for life into a shell of his former self. In the final days, Carlo was in a wheelchair, paralyzed to the extent that his diaphragm no longer properly functioned, requiring him to use an artificial breathing tube. But perhaps the greatest cruelty of this terminal condition is that it leaves the brain alone -- Carlo's thinking was as clear as a bell during this time.

And toward the end of his life, Carlo was doing a lot of  thinking -- about the subject of an earlier book of his, about Bonanno mobster Thomas Pitera. Carlo had learned that Tommy had somehow gotten an early copy of the book, titled "The Butcher." He had read it in his prison cell -- and didn't like it very much. Word on the street was the Tommy "was pissed off" and had maybe reached out -- perhaps wanting Carlo whacked for writing the "The Butcher." (Not sure if Carlo had specific information or a general concern.)

"Pitera is the last person in the world you'd want mad at you," Carlo wrote.

"The fact that he went to trial... and never opened his mouth about what he knew -- and he knew a lot -- does not bode well for me... Essentially what that means is that he still has connections and friends, confidants, on the outside who respect him and will do his bidding."

Pitera had already been away for 20 years when Carlo was writing this. "I thought that most people he knew who could be a threat to me were long gone, and forgotten, but I may have been wrong." 

So Carlo hired Chuck Zito as his bodyguard. Zito, for anyone not aware, is an American actor, amateur boxer, martial artist, celebrity bodyguard, stuntman, former boxing trainer -- and former president of the New York chapter of the Hells Angels.

Still, at a party for the book in one of his friend Robert DeNiro's swanky Tribeca eateries, a wheelchair-bound Carlo was very concerned about Pitera.

Concern quickly became terror for Carlo when he noticed one of Pitera's chief lieutenants walk into the restaurant...Manny Maya, "one of Tommy Pitera's main men," who can be seen in the photo section of "The Butcher." Carlo was "tense" as he watched Maya -- but then noticed Zito was already making a beeline toward the man Carlo presumed had come to kill him.

But instead, Zito and Maya shook hands, both smiling. Zito brought Maya over to Carlo, made introductions, and soon Maya was smiling at Carlo and shaking his hand.... Maya, whatever his initial intent, realized Carlo was tight with Zito, Carlo speculated. Zito, in turn, was known on the street to be very tight with Paul Vario Jr., tight enough for Maya to realize that Carlo was untouchable, under Vario's "muscle-bound umbrella" of protection, as Carlo wrote.

Then, typical of Carlo, he lets loose one of his famous zingers, that Paul Vario Jr.'s father, the well-known Luchese capo on whom Henry Hill had famously turned, was the mastermind behind the infamous Lufthansa heist. In fact, Jimmy Burke played that role.

PS: The book mentions several times the fact that Mickey Rourke, one of Carlo's close friends, was going to play The Ice Man in a film based on Carlo's book. The film about Kuklinski that was released, however, stars Michael Shannon as the lead character -- and was based on another book about the alleged contract killer.

Whatever happened to Mickey Rourke's version?


  1. Phil Carlo was a great writer and I enjoyed his books with his real life knowledge of the mob and his Brooklyn hood where he grew up next door to Gaspipe Casso

    1. Read "The Killer Within" -- it's his most biographical work in his entire oeuvre.

  2. Zito is friends with Basciano nothing was ever going to happen to Carlo.Carlo knows wiseguys too he didnt need zito for anything

  3. Nice story and i enjoyed the book, but it sounds like Carlo was just trying to boost up sales !!

  4. I meet Zito many times. Never impressed me much. He was what he was but a real actor he is not. Phil Carlo on the other hand was a a very talented gentleman who I had the pleasure of interviewing. Good story Ed! Keep it up. - Nicky from Mob Candy Magazine


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