Nicky Scarfo's Early Years in Philadelphia Cosa Nostra

The following is based on information gathered by New Jersey's State Commission of Investigation.

Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo was formally inducted into the New Jersey Cosa Nostra crime family during the reign of Angelo Bruno's predecessor, Joseph Ida.

The event took place in the mid-1950s. Several men were "made" during the same ceremony, which occurred in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Sans Souci restaurant and cocktail lounge.

Bruno was crafty when he killed....

So Scarfo told Leonetti, according to Leonetti, who later flipped and recounted the story.

Inducted with Little Nicky were Scarfo’s cousin, Anthony (Tony Buck) Piccolo, and two uncles, Michael (Mike Buck) Piccolo and Joseph (Joe Buck) Piccolo.

Another uncle, Nicholas (Nicky Buck) Piccolo, was inducted some five years earlier.

Nicholas, Joseph and Michael Piccolo are brothers. The Piccolo brothers are Leonetti’s great uncles; Anthony Piccolo and Leonetti are second cousins.

Felix (Skinny Razor) DiTullio was Scarfo's first capo; he was the man the young soldier directly reported to.

DiTullio took Scarfo "all over when he traveled around and introduced him to a lot of people involved in La Cosa Nostra," Leonetti recalled. DiTullio owned the Friendly Tavern, a South Philadelphia bar located near 8th and Washington Streets.

It was a known location for gangland hits, Scarfo told Leonetti.

"The Friendly Tavern was used to murder people when DiTullio was still alive."

Docile Don Covered His Tracks
A narcotics conviction caused Joseph Ida to disappear in 1959 when he fled to Sicily.

This marked the rise of the boss who fashioned a Cosa Nostra entity in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into a force to be reckoned with. Angelo Bruno was the son of an earlier Philadelphia boss, Joseph Bruno, who ran the crime family from 1927 through 1946 when he died.

Joseph Bruno succeeded the region's first boss, Salvatore Sabella, whom the Sicilian Mafia sent to the city to organize its rackets. Sabella was boss from 1911 until his 1927 death when Joseph Bruno assumed power.

In or around 1962, Dominick (Reds) Caruso disrespected Bruno's consiglieri, Joseph Rugnetta.

Bruno deemed the act of disrespect a death penalty offense. He put together a hit team that included made members as well as associates. The hit team consisted of Scarfo, Santo Idone, Santo Romeo, Anthony Casella and Salvatore Merlino. Others also were involved but Leonetti did not know all the names.

When the hit was carried out, Scarfo, Romeo, Casella and Merlino all lived in South Philadelphia. Idone lived in the Chester, Pennsylvania, area.

The chosen location for the grisly murder was the 9M Bar located in the Vineland, N.J., area. A member of the Bruno crime family named Anthony (King Kong) Perella had owned it, or a Perella relative.
Nicky Scarfo was made in the mid-1950s.

Leonetti learned about the murder from assorted conversations over the years with Scarfo and others, including Salvatore Merlino and Idone. (Apparently, the Reds story was good fodder for conversation.)

In the summer of 1986, Scarfo, Leonetti and Idone, then a capo in the family, met on the Atlantic City boardwalk, somewhere between the Enclave condominiums and the Golden Nugget casino.

The talk turned to Reds.

As the story went that time (apparently some facts changed with each retelling), Reds Caruso had had the gall to attempt to shake down Rugnetta for money. Reds also slapped Bruno's consiglieri in the face.

Scarfo had been on very friendly terms with Caruso, so once his murder was ordered, he worked their relationship in order to “romance” the target, as per basic mob strategy of setting someone up.

On the day the murder was carried out, Salvatore Merlino visited Caruso’s South Philadelphia house.

"Nicky Scarfo is waiting for you outside in a car," Merlino told Reds.

Reds went up to the car to see Scarfo.

"I need you to come with me to a bar in Vineland," Scarfo said.

"No problem," was Caruso's basic reply.

The bar actually was closed for business that day.

Members of the hit team got the keys from the bar owner.

The plan went like this: Scarfo was to bring Reds to the bar. Then, Anthony Casella and Santo Romeo would hold him while Santo Idone choked the man to death.

Bruno had expressly ordered that Caruso be strangled. 
But as the saying goes: Men make plans and God laughs.

Idone arrived too late to play his designated role. 

Scarfo had simply shot Caruso five times with a handgun concealed in his coat pocket (where it had been wrapped in a scarf). 

Scarfo, thinking the job was done, suddenly heard Reds tell him, "You got me, Nick."

So Scarfo grabbed an ice pick and stabbed the man repeatedly in his back. In fact, during the stabbing frenzy, the ice pick broke apart.

A loud knock at the door gave the guys a fright (the ones still breathing, anyway). The planned time of the hit happened to coincide with the time that a local cop was known to stop at the bar for his daily beer.

The killers thought that it was the cop knocking.

But no, it was Santo Idone. The men got back to work placing a rope around Reds neck to make it appear that he'd been strangled to death, as Bruno had ordered.

Caruso’s body was then wrapped in blankets -- or plastic -- and placed in the rear of a pick-up truck, which drove it to a pre-dug grave somewhere out in Vineland.

As per the boss's instructions, Reds' body was to be placed beside the grave, but not buried.

Another team had dug the grave; the burial team was going to return to bury the body after the first team had driven off in the pick-up truck. Bruno had purposely set it up this way so that the two teams would never know each other.

Scarfo later found out that Bruno had added an additional twist: the men who dug the grave had simply refilled it without depositing the body inside. Instead, they drove off with Reds' bode and buried it in another grave.

Bruno had decreed the murder and burial be carried out this way in case a member of the hit team ever cooperated with law enforcement. If the informant ever brought law enforcement to the "grave" and no body were found, then the informant would loook like he'd been caught deceiving law enforcement.

After Caruso’s body was dropped off at the "fake" grave, Scarfo drove the pick-up truck to his parents’ apartment building in Atlantic City where a 9-year-old Leonetti lived. 

Scarfo picked up Leonetti and took him for a ride to Philadelphia. Scarfo was driving a vehicle used to transport a murdered man; he figured police would be less likely to stop him with his young nephew along for the ride.

Scarfo told Leonetti the story that “a very bad man” had been killed -- and that the very truck they were driving in had been used to bring the man's body to the grave.

Scarfo was bringing his nephew to a place in Philadelphia where the truck could be destroyed.

For years after the murder, well into the 1980s, Scarfo and Leonetti went to the 9M Bar to meet with Salvatore Merlino.

Reds' brother was often there drinking.

Scarfo had known the brother for as long as he'd known Reds, and each time the trio ran into him, Nicky Scarfo went up to the brother to say hello to him.

Leonetti couldn't recall the name of Reds' brother.

On January 30, 1962, Caruso's wife reported her husband missing.

Caruso’s body was never found.