Shooting Frank Costello In The Head (And Missing)

On the evening of May 2, 1957, Frank Costello dined at Chandler’s Restaurant at 49 West 49th Street.

In preparation for his role in The Godfather, Marlon Brando reportedly watched recordings of Costello speaking. 

His companion may have been Philip Kennedy, a former semi-pro baseball player who was a sometime actor who managed a modeling agency.

Costello likely enjoyed Kennedy’s company because Kennedy moved nimbly and freely among Manhattan’s wealthiest denizens.

Costello, the insecure Don, was supposedly fixated on being accepted by those folks. The blue bloods made him self-conscious about his voice and his inability to lose the “deeze, doze, dem” East Harlem diction. (Bizarre stuff for the mob boss who filled Lucky Luciano’s shoes, but it is the insecurities that keep us interested in the guy, anyway.) Costello’s gravelly voice (which wasn’t as gravelly as you might think, as per the video below, which includes more of Frank talking than any other clip we’ve seen) was the stuff of legend, thanks to the Kefauver Committee and some decidedly crappy advice from attorney George Wolfe.

Costello’s voice reportedly started to change in 1933, possibly owing to a longtime habit of smoking three packs of English Oval cigs per day. The rasp reportedly was accompanied by a sore throat that together propelled the man to the office of a throat specialist, who found and zapped with radiation a tumor – thereby screwing up and paralyzing Costello’s vocal cords.

He took a cab to Chandler’s Restaurant that night in 1957. Costello routinely took cabs to get just about everywhere. He also preferred walking around without an entourage—or bodyguards.

Afterward, Costello and Kennedy headed to L’Aiglon on East 55th Street where they met Costello’s wife and the publisher/founder of the National Enquirer, Generoso Pope.

Costello and Kennedy made one more stop, at Monsignore, down the block from L’Aiglon, before calling it a night. There, enjoying their drinks, Kennedy had suggested they hit one more place for a final nightcap, but Costello declined, noting that he had to get home and make a call to legendary Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams.

The two hailed a cab outside Monsignore at around 10:40 p.m. and drove uptown to Costello’s luxurious residence, a co-op apartment in the Majestic, the twin-towered skyscraper one block away from both Central Park and the equally upscale Dakota.

Earlier that same evening, some other men made a similar trip uptown. Tommy Eboli drove an old boxing protégé—a man who looked like his better days were far behind him. Vincent Gigante, in the passenger seat, weighed more than 300 pounds, well above his fighting weight. He also was armed to the teeth. (Eboli and Gigante weren't alone in the car that night.)

Gigante had spent weeks working with the revolver he carried that night. He also spent that time putting on the pounds. Gigante had been in excellent shape but had deliberately eaten to excess to develop layers of fat that would swallow his muscles. He was changing his appearance to throw off potential witnesses.

Eboli double-parked on Central Park West, near 72nd Street, and waited.

The cab with Costello and Kennedy stopped outside the majestic 30-story building, which offered some of Manhattan's most spectacular views.

Costello climbed out and started for the lobby while Kennedy paid the driver.

Kennedy suddenly heard a loud blast -- “like a large firecracker.” 

It was 10:55 p.m.

Chin, moving at a fast clip, followed Costello inside and sprinted passed the doorman. He was holding the revolver in his right hand; it was pointed directly at the target. 

Gigante blurted the now famous line: “This one’s for you, Frank.

And Costello instinctively spun around and threw up his hands.

Gigante squeezed the .38-caliber’s trigger from point-blank range, firing one shot that penetrated Costello's fedora, skimmed the skin on the right side of his head above the ear, and exited out the fedora’s back, burying itself in the lobby wall.

Gigante raced away from the scene as fast as his waddle would carry him. 

He never fired a be-sure shot at Costello.

He never even looked at Costello after getting off the first shot.

All Chin's training, the weeks that he spent aiming and shooting (and eating) -- and the bullet only winged Costello. 

Some would say that if Gigante had kept his mouth shut at the moment of truth, the bullet likely would've blasted Costello's brain apart.

After hearing the shot, Kennedy ran into the lobby and found Costello hunched over, holding a bloodied handkerchief to the side of his bleeding head.

Two terrified building employees stood frozen nearby in disbelief.

“Someone tried to get to me!” Costello cried.

Kennedy ran back outside to hail another cab. He led the wounded Costello to the street, helped him inside the cab, and ordered the driver to hightail it to Roosevelt Hospital on Tenth Avenue.

Doctors stitched up Costello at Roosevelt Hospital as detectives rummaged through his things, including his pockets. In the jacket he'd been wearing that night, they found a slip of paper on which a list of numbers had been scribbled.

The detectives photocopied and replaced it.

It should be noted that, even though Costello was a notorious mob boss, a major investigation was launched to hunt down whoever was responsible for the shooting.

Some 66 detectives probed the Costello shooting.

Costello learned about the search through his pockets only when he was hauled before a grand jury and confronted with the photocopy of that slip of paper. Prosecutors asked him to explain what the following meant:

Gross casino wins as of 4/26/57 $651,284.  Casino wins less markers $435,695. Slot wins $62,844.

That was followed by a list of amounts paid to Mike, Jake, L, and H.

Costello declined to answer....

The detectives were annoyed -- and shipped him off to Rikers Island for contempt.

Working with the Nevada State Gaming Commission, NYPD law enforcement figured out that the numbers matched, exactly, a then-recent week's gambling revenues from the Las Vegas Strip's new Tropicana Hotel.

Costello's path to an interest in the Tropicana had been circuitous.

Phillip (Dandy Phil) Kastel — who allegedly killed himself shortly after Luciano died in exile — was an associate of Arnold Rothstein, the criminal genius who taught a generation of Mafiosi and associates how to earn, among other things.

Following Rothstein's death in 1928, Kastel went to work for Costello, also a former Rothstein associate.

Kastel later moved from Manhattan (where he was born to a Jewish family on the Lower East Side) to New Orleans to establish a slot machine operation for Costello in the 1930s.

Between 1935 and 1937, Costello and Kastel earned an estimated amount of more than $2.4 million from slot machines alone, according to federal authorities. (Kastel had other ties, to the Chicago Outfit; there's more to this...)

By the 1940s, Kastel and Costello had opened high-class gambling casinos in New Orleans. from which they earned many additional millions.

It was around that time that Costello allegedly committed his one and only act of violence.

Kastel, in daily contact with the New York mobster, had reported his suspicions that casino employees had been skimming from his slot machines.

Costello said he would handle the matter personally.

He flew down to the Big Easy and called a meeting of quite literally everybody -- Kastel's entire organization including bagmen and assorted thugs and associates (enforcer Carlos Marcello may have been among the invited). Costello allegedly called out the suspected thief.

He asked the man to explain himself, as certain accusations had been made.

While the man spoke, Costello, unnoticed by most, had reached under a podium to grab a wrench that he used to bash the suspect in the head.

Costello told the man to return to his seat (once the man regained consciousness).

Costello bluntly told the audience the facts of life.

Kastel eventually hauled up stakes for Las Vegas. He, in partnership with Costello, played a key role in the formation of the Tropicana, among other hotel casinos. Kastel and Costello also were key investors.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board traced the Costello link to two “rogue” employees: executive director Louis Lederer and cashier Michael Tanico.

The two promptly left the Tropicana. Their departures, combined with the casino’s announced intent to repay Kastel's investment, satisfied the powers that be that the Tropicana would, in the future, be as clean as its neighbors on the Strip.

Kastel remained in his apartment at the Claiborne Towers in New Orleans until August 16, 1962, when his body was found. He had been killed by an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

November that year it was Albert Anastasia's turn. He was shot to death in the Park Sheraton Hotel's barbershop.

Then age 55 the "burly, beetling Lord High Executioner of the old Murder Inc. mob, was shot to death .... by hired killers of his own kind in the Park Sheraton Hotel, Seventh Ave. and 55th St," the Daily News noted in a report published right after Anastasia was killed.

Of the 10 bullets fired, five penetrated the Mad Hatter, the News reported.

Soon, Anastasia's family departed the deceased Mafia don's 25-room Fort Lee mansion in North Jersey. A slot machine was located in the basement, along with other things, including a "strange tiled room," about which you can read right here....