Who Killed Joe Colombo? We Asked His Son

Anthony Colombo died on January 6 in San Diego of complications from diabetes.

Anthony was Joseph Colombo's son.

Joseph Colombo, ready to take on all comers.

Joseph Bonanno ordered his top gun, Joseph Colombo, to kill two bosses. Colombo, seemingly appalled at the move, showed fealty to the two bosses, Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese.

The Commission took care of Bonanno (though he certainly retaliated decades later, perhaps unintentionally) and as a reward for Colombo's loyalty, they named him, only 41 years old at the time, boss of one of New York's Five Families -- the Profaci family, which was re-christened the Colombo crime family. It still carries his name to this day.

Anthony Colombo recently took the time to answer some questions for the following Q&A. We connected via a mutual friend.

Colombo: The Unsolved Murder by Don Capria and Anthony Colombo is available now, priced at $4.99 for the Kindle version and $16.95 for the paperback.

The book essentially "reopens" the investigation into Joe Colombo's death, offering what the authors describe as "compelling evidence that contradicts the popular belief behind Colombo’s death."

Some 45 years ago Joe Colombo, the alleged boss of the Colombo crime family, as well as the Italian-American Civil Rights League founder, was at the pinnacle of power and prestige.

Around 50,000 people had shown up for the first public rally, in Manhattan's Columbus Circle on June 29, 1970. Frank Sinatra was among the many celebrities who performed at a league benefit held at Madison Square Garden.

While speaking at the League's second rally on a hot summer day in 1971, Colombo was shot in the head before a bewildered crowd of thousands in one of New York City's most highly publicized shootings in its history. Then, before the shocked crowd of supporters could figure out what had happened, Colombo's assassin, Jerome Johnson, was shot dead by a gunman who swiftly disappeared. Despite thousands of potential witnesses, Johnson's killer has never been identified.

Anthony is truly old school as you will see, writing in one of his below responses: "What Mafia?"

Anthony was very generous in providing detailed responses. You will find never-before-revealed information about his storied father. Among the revelations: Joe Colombo was planning to step down from his post at the league and was going to announce this on the day he was shot. Colombo had in fact met with Carlo Gambino, then considered to be the boss of bosses, shortly before the Second Italian-American Unity Day Rally, the one during which Colombo was shot.

Panemonium broke out in Colombos circle as Joe Colombo was shot in cold blood.
Gambino had practically raised Joe Colombo after Joe's father was murdered. As Anthony writes, "Carl was, in fact, concerned about my father’s war with the FBI and the resources with which the FBI would focus on their community as many accounts mention."

He also hones in on some details that he believes serve as signs of who was truly behind his father's murder. "Would (Jerome) Johnson or anyone else believe that the Gallos had the influence to get Johnson out? It’s not plausible. Who would Johnson believe could slip him away and cover it up? The Gallos or law enforcement?"

As for his work in the league, Joe Colombo was in touch with an interesting array of people, including someone you probably wouldn't believe: "My father was uniting racial and ethnic groups traditionally opposed to each other. He was even in touch with the feminist movement at the time and he had meetings with Gloria Steinem and other prominent members of their movement."

There's also some odd circumstantial happenings. R. Lindley DeVecchio, the FBI agent who handled Greg Scarpa, was there when the shootings occurred and he also was part of the team that investigated the shootings.

Jerome Johnson, the shooter, had actually tried to blow up the Italian-American Civil Rights League's offices -- six months prior to Colombo's execution.

A segment of the story below is so amazing and intense, I don't think you'll ever forget it.

Joe Colombo takes his sons on a hunting expedition during which he basically explains to them "the rules" of life.

"There are a few things in life that you’re not going to do and I’m not going to tolerate.” Joe makes sure his sons are focused.

“You know you can never fool around with drugs.”

He pauses and looks at both of them, “You know that, right? You can’t sell drugs. You can’t use drugs.” The boys know this."

Joe adds more details regarding how the boys should conduct themselves. He's loading his shotgun while telling them the facts of the life. At the end, he gives them a blunt warning about the consequences of disobeying him.

You'll be utterly shocked.

Anthony recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about his father's assassination, titled "Did the FBI Kill My Father?"

He details his reasons for writing the book and also reconstructs the backdrop against which the shooting of his father occurred.

"As Joe Colombo’s son, who was responsible for my father’s death — and that the efforts he made for the Italian-American community have gone unrecognized — has weighed heavily on me for years. 

I finally decided I would write a book to address who my father really was, and to address who should be held responsible for his death. The book is based on my personal life beside my father, my in-depth knowledge surrounding his shooting, and what I’ve come to learn was a suspiciously flawed investigation into his death.

At the time of his shooting, my father had made enemies of the FBI, the NYPD, and various members involved in organized crime. In many ways, my father’s shooting parallels the assassination of JFK. After all the shock and finger pointing, an official investigation embraced a “lone gunman” theory."

He further notes that even though after a year-long investigation, the NYPD closed the case, claiming Johnson was a lone gunman, two key members of law enforcement were convinced Colombo was killed as part of a larger conspiracy.

Chief of Detectives of the New York Police Department Albert Seedman, within days of the murders, made comments to the media about there being a mob-related conspiracy. He later wrote a book about it, Chief!.

Another law enforcement official, Daniel P. Hollman, then the Chief of the Joint Strike Force to Combat Organized Crime, also believed a conspiracy had been at work on that summer day in 1971. Only Hollman didn't believe Johnson was a mob associate. "He noted how organized crime members would never send a crazed gunman shooting into a crowd of women and children."

So ultimately Anthony is in no way the first or only person to believe that his father's death resulted from a conspiracy; nor is he the first or only one to believe the conspiracy was not mob related.

"I have not been convinced Johnson was a lone gunman. I believe, just as (Seedman and Hollman) both did, that there was a conspiracy in Columbus Circle the day of my father’s shooting."

Colombo: The Unsolved Murder "leans towards a more sophisticated plot arguing that certainly a conspiracy existed, but not one perpetrated by elements of organized crime."

Here's my Q&A with Anthony Colombo.

1. What compelled you to write Colombo: the Unsolved Murder now?

A few years ago I suffered several heart attacks. This unfortunate health crisis allowed me to reflect upon life and a regret which I’ve carried for a long time. In the past 40 years I’ve been approached by major publishers, authors, producers, and all sorts of people to write a book or a screenplay about my father. All of them had a myopic view of my father that was associated only with organized crime so I turned every one of them down. My regret though in turning them down is that I never had the ability to tell the other side of my father’s story, and my story beside him.

"This would also explain why Johnson detonated a bomb at the league’s offices only six months before the shooting. Not many people were aware of this..."
Every news article, magazine article, or book that references my father repeats with little detail the same information. Who he was as a person, how he rose to power, what drove him to openly protest and attack the FBI, the battle he fought for the Italian-American community, and who was behind his shooting have all remained a mystery. I thought it was time that I share what I knew, and what Don Capria, my co-author researched, about my father so that there was a more a complete picture about his life.

2. What can you tell us about who killed your father, and why? Were the Gallos involved or was it Carlo Gambino? Did Jerome Johnson, the shooter have any ties to the Patriarcha family?

Jerome Johnson killed my father. He pulled the trigger. That is not a mystery. However, Jerome Johnson did not act alone. Eyewitnesses reported he was with a young black woman who was seen handing him the gun used to shoot my father that had been hidden inside the Bolex camera box for the camera that Jerome Johnson was either using, or pretending to use to film my father. Both   Johnson, and the young black female had authentic press credentials. The question then becomes who were behind Johnson and his accomplice?

I am certain that it was not an organized crime hit by the Gallos or Carlo Gambino. I am certain as this theory not only defies common sense, it also defies my personal knowledge and experience. As for my personal experience, what people did not know at the time and is discussed in the book is that Carl was a father figure to my father.

Also my grandfather and Carl were very close. When my grandfather was killed my father was very young and Carl took care of my father like he would his own son. What the public also was not aware of was that before the Second Italian-American Unity Day Rally, the day my father was shot, Carl and my father met. Carl was in fact concerned about my father’s war with the FBI and the resources with which the FBI would focus on their community as many accounts mention. However, my father was going to announce he was stepping down from the league. He agreed with Carl the best thing to do was step down and let someone else run the league. My father had planned to announce this in his speech at the rally. 

As explained in the book, I met with Carl, had many discussions with him, looked him in the eye, and he simply had nothing to do with my father’s shooting. Carl loved my father, and simply had no motive to kill him at the time.

As for the Gallos: 

My father lived on President Street when he was young. He was very close with Larry Gallo. Larry himself told me of the mutual respect he and my father had for one another. The animosity between Joey Gallo and my father is extremely exaggerated and sensationalized to fit a convenient “mob hit” theory to obscure the truth of what really happened.

Corrupt FBI agent Lin DeVecchio, Greg Scrapa Senior’s handler, who was indicted for corruption in New York, had been assigned to the taskforce investigating my father and was there along with a number of other FBI agents before and during the shooting.

More importantly though, common sense dictates that the Gallos were not involved. In over 40 years how many informants have come forth and presented any evidence to support this theory? None.

READ War-Ridden History of Violent Colombo Crime Family
Books have been written by two very close Joey Gallo associates who became informants, Pete “The Greek” Diapoulos, and Leroy “Nicky” Barnes. Neither mentions anything about the plot. Certainly to execute this type of high profile “hit” in a crowd of thousands, among a sea of NYPD blue required coordination among a number of people. 

Johnson and his accomplice would need a plan of execution, and more importantly, a plan of escape. Would Johnson or anyone else believe that the Gallos had the influence to get Johnson out? It’s not plausible. Who would Johnson believe could slip him away and cover it up? The Gallos or law enforcement? Certainly law enforcement. If Johnson were caught, why would any “mob” guy believe Johnson would clam up? Johnson took no oath of silence. Also remember that Johnson was immediately shot after he shot my father. That shooter has never been identified. A shooter was sent to shoot the shooter. If this was a “mob” guy how did he think he was going to get away? What would have happened if this “mob” guy accidently shot someone in the crowd, someone that could have been another “mob” guy or a family member? If this were a so-called “mob hit of a boss” wouldn’t it have had to be sanctioned? Where in the last 40 years is there any evidence of this? There
isn’t any.

So common sense dictates that we ask who also had a great motive to eliminate my father? The FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, the political status quo. My father was viewed by them as a threat to their power structure, to their stability, they certainly did not want an Italian Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X stirring up discontent and causing political upheaval. 

My father attacked them directly and WAS WINNING. The Italian-American Civil Rights League in only a year period was a force to be reckoned with and directly responsible for forcing the Justice Department to eliminate the use of the words “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra,” shutting down a major Hollywood motion picture, The Godfather, and halting production of the New York Times, something that had never happened in the paper’s long, storied history. This was legitimate real power being exercised by my father.

Even more frightening was my father’s alliance with the Jewish Defense League and black radical groups including the Black Panthers. Both JDL members and Panthers were marching on the picket lines protesting the FBI and it was all organized and created by my father. 

I was there on the picket line too, every day. I saw it, I experienced it, I lived it. My father was uniting racial and ethnic groups traditionally opposed to each other. He was even in touch with the feminist movement at the time and he had meetings with Gloria Steinem and other prominent members of their movement.

Rabbi Meir Kahane said about my father, “Whatever you may think of Colombo, no other group had as many members and spoke as clearly as his did for the lower-class and the lower-middle-class.” 

I believe this more than explains the motive for my father’s shooting.

I have never heard that Johnson had any connection to the Patriarca family. I do know that Johnson had ties to the New England area, but he also had ties to New Jersey, New York, and Los Angeles. I also know that the Bolex camera that Johnson used in his disguise as videographer was “rented” from a store in Boston with a $25 dollar check that bounced. 

I believe Johnson was an FBI shill, and an employee of Hoover’s COINTELPRO domestic spying program run through the FBI. COINTELPRO was developed by the FBI to infiltrate and destroy domestic political groups Hoover believed were subversive. This would explain Johnson’s travel throughout the country, his extensive criminal record for serious crimes for which he never did any jail time, and would also explain why he believed he would make a clean escape on the day of the shooting.

This would also explain why Johnson detonated a bomb at the league’s offices only 6 months before the shooting. Not many people were aware of this, and it is fully discussed in the book. Importantly for me, it would explain the FBI’s response to my FOIA request for Johnson that although he had been assigned an FBI number, according to their records, he didn’t exist. 

How could the shooter of an alleged “Mob boss” and prominent civil rights leader not have an FBI file, but WAS assigned an FBI number? It is very strange and suspicious. 

Also very suspicious, and one has to consider, corrupt FBI agent Lin DeVecchio, Greg Scrapa Senior’s handler, who was indicted for corruption in New York, had been assigned to the task force investigating my father and was there along with a number of other FBI agents before and during the shooting. We all know DeVecchio had fed Scarpa information in the 1990s that led to multiple murders. Is it a stretch that DeVecchio might have been involved in an element within the FBI tasked with eliminating my father? DeVecchio and the other FBI agents confiscated all of the videos from the shooting and also buried the photograph of Johnson’s female accomplice. Why? Did they do so to protect the identity of the person who shot Johnson? Was Johnson’s killer the young black woman who was with him? If the shooter who shot Johnson was a “mob” guy or my father’s “bodyguard” what interest would the FBI have in protecting him? None. 

They would have released the videos and the photographs and charged him. It is very strange and suspicious that Johnson’s shooter has never been identified, and the FBI
buried the evidence that would have identified who it was.

3. What do you want the world to know today about your father?

My father was a great man, he fought for not only Italian-Americans, he fought for the underdog. He served our country honorably in World War II. He was the founder of the Italian-American Civil Rights League, a grass roots political movement that sought to help everyone fight police and governmental abuse. He, and he alone, was bold enough to stand up to the FBI. No one before, and no one since, has directly challenged their abusive tactics, their clandestine domestic spying, and their willingness to thwart the very law they purportedly sought to uphold. 

Within only a one-year period my father changed the face of New York politics, and was poised to change the face of American politics. I’d like his accomplishments to be recognized.

4. What was your father like? Can you give us a few stories you remember while growing up?

As a father, he was fiercely loyal and protective of his family. He was a strong disciplinarian who believed that everyone was worthy of respect, whether they were homeless and living on the street or serving in the White House as the President of the United States.  

He treated everyone equally and taught me to do the same. The book is filled with stories from my childhood.

Below is an excerpt from the book:

The tall grass blows for miles in every direction as the Colombo boys follow their father across open fields behind the Blooming Grove ranch. Anthony and Joe Junior follow in quiet formation; they look at each other in anticipation. Today they are going to get a special treat. They keep walking farther away from the horses and stables. They have never been this far out before with their father.

Joe is leading the way with a serious grin. He has on his best country gear, a pair of rounded cowboy boots, pants and sweater, and his hunting cap. The boys aren’t looking at their father’s attire, although they always find it odd to see him without his suit. Today they are focused on the Browning shotgun he has restingon his shoulder. Their eyes widen at the mere thought of his firing his weapon.

They have both held his World War 2 bolt-action Enfield, but neither has shot a gun before.

They approach the small brook and Joe stops to look around. There is nothing in sight for miles, just open fields and sparse trees. The boys stand and wait as Joe turns to kneel. He looks down at the grass momentarily and balances the shotgun on his leg.

“I want to tell you something.” Joe’s brusque delivery has the boys attention. “There are a few things in life that you’re not going to do and I’m not going to tolerate.”

Joe makes sure his sons are focused. “You know you can never fool around with drugs.” He pauses and looks at both of them, “You know that, right? You can’t sell drugs. You can’t use drugs.” The boys know this.

They do their best to express silent understanding. “You also can never become cops. You know that, right?” His questions were not to be answered; just heard and understood. 
“You know you can never rat on anybody, for any reason.” Joe fixes his position, shifting the gun between his hands and repeats, “You don’t rat on anybody for any reason. 
Something happens to you, you take care of it yourself.” He fiddles with the guns moving parts. “You don’t go to the law for nothing.” He concludes, “And you can’t marry outside of your race.”

He holds the shotgun vertically and begins to load the shells in the chamber. He does not break eye contact with them as he does this.

“Because if you do any of those things, I’ll kill you and bury you myself on this property right here.” He motions to the infinite locations of burial space surrounding them in every direction. He looks back at them severely. They know this warning is not for effect, but meant with complete sincerity.

5. Did your father truly not consider himself part of organized crime - or did he consider himself the embodiment of an evolution to make the Mafia legitimate?

My father denied any involvement in organized crime, and I will leave it up the reader to make up their own mind as to whom my father was in the end. To me, he was my father, a man I loved, deeply admired, and respected.

6. What did your father think of his contemporaries, guys like Joe Profaci, Joe Bonanno, Albert Anastasia, Carlo Gambino, Carmine Persico?

I never heard my father say anything disparaging about any of the friends he had or the ones that I   met. My father was optimistic, encouraging, and was always trying to motivate everyone around him to better themselves. 

Funny, the only time he ever had a bad word to say about anyone they were usually carrying a badge.

7. What do you think of Carmine Persico?

He’s a lifelong friend and I wish him well as I always have.

8. Is the “Mafia” finished today?

What “Mafia?”

9. How would America be different today if your father hadn’t been killed?

This is a very difficult question to answer. I’d like to think that my father would have helped expose FBI and law enforcement corruption and foster better community relationships with law enforcement, maybe preventing many of the tragic police shootings we’ve experienced recently.

On a personal level certainly my life would have been different. I was a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, a Vice-President of the league, I traveled around the country speaking publicly, educating the public on our movement, and recruiting members. I know my father had political aspirations for me and my younger brothers, Joey and Vinny, much the same way Joseph Kennedy had political aspirations for his sons, John, Bobby, and Ted. 

Joseph Kennedy, an Irish-Catholic realized those aspirations for his family. If my father, an Italian Catholic, had lived, might he have realized similar aspirations?


  1. Weren't both Joey Merlino & Joe Bonanno bosses before the age of 41?


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