Remembering the 1972 Neapolitan Noodle "Mistaken Identity" Shootings

Frank "Punchy" Illiano added

Larry and Albert Gallo depart Brooklyn court
Larry Gallo and Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo outside Brooklyn Supreme Court, October 25, 1965.

The mistaken identity slayings left two dead. 

And The Godfather was playing in New York theaters at the time. 

This past week marked The Godfather's 45th anniversary as an Academy Award triumph, cementing its status as one of the greatest films ever made. Released in 1972, it received 11 nominations and emerged with three Oscars.

The Godfather II, released in 1974, also got 11 nominations, and won six Oscars. (We won't mention Godfather Part III.)

Legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola expressed regrets about making both sequels, including The Godfather Part II. In 2011, Coppola, when asked if he'd ever consider returning to the story, said: 'There should have only been one."

In August 1972 four innocent businessmen were blasted at the Neapolitan Noodle restaurant at 320 East 79th Street in Manhattan, two of them killed. It was a case of mistaken identity. The hit was revenge for the killing of Joseph 'Crazy Joe' Gallo, who was incorrectly presumed to have orchestrated the 1971 shooting of Joseph A. Colombo Sr., the reputed Mafia leader who was a founder of the Italian‐American Civil Rights League. (He was gunned down and left almost totally paralyzed at a league rally in Columbus Circle. He died years later in May 1978 at St. Luke's Hospital in Newburgh, New York. He would have been 55 years old on June 16. Joe Colombo's story, we've heard, will be featured in Martin Scorcese's The Irishman mob flick slated to appear on Netflix next year.)

The mistaken identity slayings left two dead. And The Godfather was playing in New York theaters at the time. The widely lauded film was five months into its initial theatrical run, and many critics, newspaper writers, and pundits who had just praised the film felt the need to expunge themselves of any residual blame. The brutal violence even drew the ire of politicians, New York City's mayor foremost among them.

The Neapolitan Noodle shootings resulted from the Colombo crime family's second protracted spasm of violence as the Gallo brothers and their loyal crew vied for a bigger piece of the action. (Gallo crew member Punchy Illiano who, with Kid Blast, was taken into the Genovese crime family, rose to become one of Vincent (Chin) Gigante's most powerful capos. Punchy died in January 2014. Illiano and Kid Blast operated a crew in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, that was still active as recently as 2010, running gambling and loan sharking operations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. During the 1960s and 1970s, Illiano served as a top lieutenant to the Gallo brothers in their two wars with family boss Profaci, then Carmine Persico.)

Frank "Punchy" Illiano added
Frank "Punchy" Illiano 

Joseph Colombo had assumed control of the renamed Profaci crime family in 1963 after Profaci died. The Gallo brothers had pulled their guns on the Olive Oil King too. Due to the mess Profaci left behind, which included a conspiracy to assassinate Carlo Gambino and Thomas Luchese, the Commission sought to whack Profaci from history by elevating Joe Colombo to boss of the Profaci crime family and renaming it the Colombo family. This is why the Colombos are occasionally referred to as the "youngest crime family."

The Noodle was a semi-basement eatery. Patrons, to enter, walked down some steps. This meant it was impossible for passersby to casually glimpse inside and see who was eating there.  Speculation holds that that was the reason why Allie Boy Persico picked the place to meet with his "war council," as some described it (some who probably watched the Godfather too many times). 

In any event, three of the intended victims, who had taken seats in the back of the restaurant, were later identified by police as Alphonse (Allie Boy) Persico, brother of Carmine (Junior) Persico, then the imprisoned de facto leader of the Colombo crime family; Carmine’s son, Alphonse T. Persico (known as “Little Allie Boy” Persico); and Gennaro (Jerry Lang) Langella, Allie Boy’s bodyguard. A fourth intended target was later identified as Charles (Charlie The Moose) Panarella, a Colombo soldier.

Allie Boy and his companions went to the Neapolitan Noodle to eat. They initially stopped at the restaurant's bar for drinks, then walked into the dining room and sat at a table.

Four businessmen then happened into the Noodle and positioned themselves where the four Colombo wiseguys had been. They bellied up at the bar and ordered drinks, a group of old friends gathering to celebrate a daughter's wedding engagement.

Shortly after the new arrivals took over the vacated seats at the bar, a mysterious hitman purportedly hired from Las Vegas entered. News reports described the shooter as “bulky” and middle-aged and wearing a shoulder-length black wig.

He slapped $10 on the bar and ordered a scotch and water. He spent five minutes sipping the cocktail, then rose to his feet, pulled out two .38-caliber revolvers and blasted away — at the wrong targets.

A Gallo tipster (who may have been Robert Bongiovi, aka Bobby Darrow, a longtime Gallo crew member) allegedly had followed Allie Boy and his companions around on the night in question. He apparently last spotted them at the Noodle's bar, where the besuited wiseguys sat shoulder to shoulder. He exited, sent word, and the shooter entered a short while later, spotting the four suits at the bar. The wrong suits.

In the chaotic aftermath, with four men down, the shooter slipped out into the night.

Two of the businessmen—kosher beef wholesalers from Westchester County and Long Island—died and their companions were wounded.

The next day Jimmy Breslin wrote that, to the widow of one of the men killed at the Noodle, The Godfather was “hard-core pornography.”

New York Mayor John Lindsay held a news conference and demanded “that the romanticization of the mob must be stopped and the gangsters run out of town.”

The Neapolitan Noodle shootings marked one of the few times in mob history when truly innocent bystanders were deliberately killed.

Read What Was Found in Crazy Joe Gallo's Billfold After His Murder...
The mob was far from being the major mainstream topic that it would become. Its profile was rising, however. In the year before The Godfather, Gay Talese's nonfiction book about the Bonanno family, Honor Thy Father, was released. Among its revelations: the Mafia had annual earnings exceeding nine of the then-Top 10 Fortune 500 companies, combined.

While the Godfather drew attention to the mob, its romanticized portrayal actually re-energized low-level hoods all over New York City (including a young Salvatore Gravano and Dominick Montiglio). It gave some wiseguys a new, compelling way to view their criminal lifestyles, and an aura of glamour and honour.

The Mafia was still in its prototypical golden age, and was many years away from the mainstream notoriety it'd be subjected to in wake of Goodfellas and The Sopranos.

Today, the shooting at the Neapolitan Noodle has been virtually forgotten. The restaurant itself no longer exists. The building where it was is now a building in Manhattan's Upper East Side Lenox Hill neighborhood.

The names of the real-life innocent bystanders felled by the Las Vegas shooter— Sheldon Epstein, 40, of New Rochelle and Max Tekelch, 48, of Woodmere, where I live — will probably remain as they have been for decades. Forgotten.