The 1981 Three-Capo Murders: Part One

Members of the Bonanno family who believed that the meeting set for the night of May 5, 1981*, was just another attempt at peace either were killed—or realized the confirmation of their worst fears.

Phil Lucky, left, Sonny Red, Big Trinny.
Phil Lucky, left, Sonny Red, Big Trinny. Source: Wikia.

A trio of captains helming a dissident faction of the Bonanno family were invited to that meeting in an attempt to make the peace. It wasn't the first meeting that sought to head off possible bloodshed, but the family's loyalist faction made sure it was the last.

Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato, Philip Giaccone, and Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera were not men to be trifled with. The three had together grown increasingly disillusioned with Philip (Rusty) Rastelli's prison house leadership and had begun to make their feelings known. Phil Giaccone, who had been Joe Massino's skipper for six months in 1978, had been targeted first, but the hit was called off, possibly because the decision had been reached that the better move would be to simply wipe out the heads of the dissidents in one fell swoop.

Massino later testified that he learned about trouble brewing with the Indelicato-Giaccone faction after Dominick (Sonny Black) Napolitano told  him that JB and Bruno Indelicato had repeatedly passed Napolitano's club in a van. Then, a week later, Tutti Franzese and an unidentified Colombo associate referred to as Vinny LNU [which stands for "last name unknown" or "unused"), told Massino that the Indelicato faction was buying guns and "burying" them in a Bronx junkyard owned by Trinchera.

Massino also has said that after it was decided to kill Sonny Red, Phil Lucky, Big Trin, and Bruno Indelicato, he met with John Gotti, then an acting captain with the Gambinos, seeking help disposing the bodies.

The staged meeting where the murders took place was intended to be a "captains’ meeting," as per Massino.

As for the location of the meeting, the Bonannos "rented" a social club in Brooklyn on 13th Avenue from the Gambino family, specifically Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano and Frank DeCicco. Bonanno wiseguy Frank Lino was a habitué of the 13th Avenue club, where he frequently drank and gambled. His knowledge of the club's layout probably saved his life.

The Rastelli loyalists who would meet with the Sonny Red faction included the two key plotters of the night's events, Joseph (Big Joey) Massino and Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia. Also onsite that night were Joseph (Joe Bayonne) Zicarelli, Giovanni Ligammari, Santo Giordano (who was called Tony), Nicholas (Nick the Battler) DiStefano, and a few others.

As per the loyalists' plan, a smaller group waited inside a closet. Wearing masks and armed to the teeth were Sal Vitale, Vito Rizzuto, Emanuele Ragusa, and the "old timer." Massino, testifying many years later, added another wiseguy (as per his Reddit-posted testimony), Frank Navarra, and alleged that the old-timer was "named Bonventre."

Sonny Red also made plans before the May 5 meeting. Earlier, he had called in Frank Lino, who was an acting captain for Bruno, to explain that he, Trinchera, and Giaccone were going to attend a dangerous meeting with rival Bonanno members. Bruno was supposed to attend the meeting with them, but—as Sonny Red confided to Lino—he wanted to leave his son out of it. Sonny Red then told Lino that he was going to attend the meeting in Bruno's place.

“They thought they might get killed," as Lino later recalled. "They had asked me to go [with them] because they thought there would be trouble. I didn’t feel too good [about that], but I went.”

Before departing for the meeting (and life on this earth), Sonny Red left behind some orders.

If he and the others did not return, Bruno was “to kill everybody in the zips, Joe Massino [and] Sonny Black [Napolitano]; get them."

(Interestingly, Massino, in testimony, in so many words, referred to himself as a zip, or as a member of the zip faction. As per Reddit, which posted his 2011 testimony from the Vinny Basciano trial, Massino said that "someone who comes over from Italy is called a "zip" or "greaseball" and that (Sally) Ferrugia was part of the "zip" faction. However, in the same discussion he also specifically says that he (Massino) himself was part of the "zip" faction. So it seems that anyone allied with the "zips" was considered part of their faction.")

Indelicato also had told the members of his faction who were not attending the meeting that night to spread out across New York City (“They were already at their places. Some were in Staten Island. Some were at Tommy Karate (Pitera)’s in Brooklyn,” Lino said.)

Sonny Red's final order went to his companions, Lino, Big Trinny, and Phil Lucky.

“If there is shooting, everybody is on their own. Try to get out."

Sonny Red and his men were not going to show up at the meeting armed. As per Mafia protocol, a member cannot bring a gun into an administrative meeting. (This would be their doom.)

Philip (Rusty) Rastelli
Philip (Rusty) Rastelli in court. His reign provoked inter-family bloodshed.

Early on the night of May 5, Sonny Red, Philly Lucky and Big Trinny stopped by the My Way Lounge, Frank Lino’s club, to pick up Lino. The foursome then proceeded in separate cars, Lino and Big Trinny in one, Philly Lucky and Sonny Red in another. They drove to a diner, where they met up with two "neutral" captains who also had been invited to the meeting—Joe Bayonne and Nick the Battler. The pair had been invited to allay Sonny Red’s suspicions; the two old-timers supposedly didn't know anything about the true plans for the meeting.

As per the arrangement, two zips also showed up at the diner to drive Sonny Red, Frank Lino, Phil Lucky, Big Trinny and the two old-timers onward to the meeting.

The various cars were left at a nearby Nathan’s Famous restaurant, and everyone climbed into the vehicles being driven by the zips.

They arrived at the club, a modest two-story building. They rang the doorbell, alerting the hit team in the downstairs closet.

“When the doorbell rang, we looked through the crack at who entered,” Sal Vitale later said.

Sonny Red and the others walked inside and saw some of the other Bonanno captains present for the meeting.

Santo Giordano greeted Sonny Red and his companions at the door.

“We’re getting everything ready upstairs,” Giordano told them. “Give me a few minutes.”

“When we first walked in, we walked downstairs and there was a room. Looked like a storage room,” Lino said. “There was Joe Massino. There was George from Canada … another couple of Italian guys, I don’t know their names, and, you know, and us guys.”

In the main room, “Sonny Red was holding onto Joe’s arm,” Lino said. “Like a friend, like two friends, you hold an arm.”

“They were talking in the back. Philly Lucky was in the back talking to Joe Bayonne and these two Italian guys. I was talking to George from Canada, Big Trinny and Nick the Battler,” Lino said.

Lino was not supposed to be there. Sciascia put an arm around him, baffling him. Sciascia tried to make the gesture a friendly one, but the already anxious Lino said he didn't consider it very friendly.

Then Sciascia slowly ran his fingers through his silver pompadour.

In a practice drill in the runup to May 5, Vitale almost killed Johnny Ligammari by accident when his Tommy gun haphazardly went off and fired a burst, so Vitale had been told by Massino to be backup. 

“Vito led the way,” as Vitale later said in court. “I was last. Vito entered the room with Emanuele, while me and the old-timer guarded the exit door.”

(Vito later insisted he did not pull the trigger. “The other people came in and they started shooting the other guys,” he said. Vitale strikes us as being more believable on this matter.)

Vitale alleged “I seen Vito shoot. I don’t know who he hit.” Then, “all hell broke loose.”

Sonny Red and his men, unarmed, were like lambs lead to the slaughter.

“When they came in with the shotguns, Big Trinny charged them. He made a loud noise. They shot him. He died right there,” Lino said.

“I knocked George down. I don’t know, you know, I jumped over Trinny. While I was jumping over him, I see Philly Lucky in the back, ready to get killed, and I see Joe hit Sonny Red with an object, I don’t know what it was. 

“I was jumping, you know, over Trinny, to get out,” Lino said.

Frank Lino
Ex-Bonanno capo Frank Lino wound up serving eight years for six gangland murders.

“I’m jumping over a body—the guy is six-six, 400 pounds.”

Vitale’s hesitation allowed Frank Lino to outlive the evening’s festivities.

“I froze for five seconds,” Vitale said. “By the time me and the elderly gentleman gets to the door, Frank Lino came flying past us. He was running. And kept running.”

Meanwhile, Sonny Red had been shot in the back and in his side. Still, he started for the door.

That was when “I seen George reach in the back, pull out a gun and shoot (Sonny Red) on the left side of the head,” Vitale said. “By that time, it was all over.”

Massino, in testimony, said of that night that Phil Giaccone attempted to run but was shot and went down. Trinchera took a lot of shots and wouldn't go down. Lino escaped through an unlocked door and Indelicato started for the same door--when Massino grabbed him by the leg. Trinchera finally went down after a blast from a double-barreled shotgun. (Another guy was also hit with the shotgun, which could refer to the accidental shooting of Giordano.) Massino held Indelicato's leg when Navarra dropped his gun, Sciascia grabbed it, put it to Indelicato's ear, and shot him in the head.

Lino's luck incredibly enough continued even once he was outside the club. Bonanno family lookouts somehow missed him.

“I got out the door and I ran,” he said. “I made a left. I went up 68th Street, jumped over a few fences, went into these people’s home. I knocked at their door, elderly people; the man was in a wheelchair. I told him I’m not there to hurt him, if I could use their phone. They were nice, let me use their phone.

“First I called the My Way Lounge. Then I called my house,” Lino said.

Vitale and the old-timer waved their guns to keep the remaining living capos inside the club until Vitale got the all-clear signal from outside the club. (The plotters did not want a panicked crowd running out onto the street, drawing the attention of any witnesses or passersby, some of whom might then possibly call 911.)

Vito and his Sicilian colleagues vanished immediately after the shooting. Some have speculated that the Canadian crew and their New York–based Sicilian kin must have arranged an alternative route to safety—and kept it to themselves.

Sonny Red’s corpse had collapsed near the door in the foyer. Big Trinny, dead, lay in the main room while Philly Lucky’s body was near a wall.

Massino and Vitale then left the club.

“We exited the building through the front door, walked to the corner, where we ran into Sonny Black,” Vitale said. “Massino and him had a conversation. I had stood to the side. They talked and they said it was time to go back in and package the bodies.”

Sonny Black’s crew came in for the cleanup

Santo (Tony) Giordano, the zip who played the vital role of host prior to the commencement of the bloodbath was hit by some friendly fire during the shootings. Two fellow zips grabbed the wounded and bleeding Giordano and helped him out of the club via the exit that Massino and Vitale did not even know existed.

Sources we've been consulting don't agree on the precise date of the murders, with some alleging the meeting may have occurred a day or two earlier.

Parting shots: 

Frank Lino was not supposed to be there... And George from Canada didn't touch his silverish hair---to signal for the shooters to come out and commence the killing---until he had put his arm around him (and walked him away from the bullseye?). 

Sciascia himself would be visited by the grim reaper some 20-odd years later (on March 18, 1999) in the form of the seven bullets Patty from the Bronx gave him while en route to a "meeting." After killing him, they dumped him in the Bronx on a "deserted" street, where at least one eyewitness watched them attentively. We can't confirm if that phony meeting also was supposed to be a captains' meeting. (Hey if it ain't broke...)

 As for the whereabouts of Frank Lino these days, we can't say a thing.