Thug Life

The Shocking Secret History of Harold Giuliani, the Mayor’s Ex-Convict Dad

"A study of this individual's makeup," wrote Apfelberg, "reveals that he is a personality deviate of the aggressive, egocentric type. This aggressivity is pathological in nature and has shown itself from time to time even as far back as his childhood. He is egocentric to an extent where he has failed to consider the feelings and rights of others."

Noting Harold's "nearsightedness," Apfelberg continued: "As a result of this physical handicap, especially because of taunts in his boyhood years, he has developed a sense of inferiority which, in recent years, has become accentuated on account of his prolonged idleness and dependence on his parents. . . . His school life was marked by retardation on account of the mischievous and unruly conduct. Due to his aggressive traits and through his excessive aimless idleness, he has been attracted to haphazard associations which apparently were the direct precipitating factors in bringing about the present offense. He is anxious about his predicament on account of a feeling of guilt. He rationalizes the motives of his offense in a self-pitying way in order to obtain sympathy."

Apfelberg concluded his report with this recommendation and caveat: "From a purely and strictly psychiatric standpoint, without considering the social, environmental and other factors in this case, the findings indicate that the social rehabilitation possibilities are favorable for eventual readjustment but are rather dubious as to the prognosis in regard to improvement in personality."

Illustration by Tim Gabor

After a year and a half at Sing Sing State Prison, Harold Giuliani was released on September 24, 1935. A year later, while on parole, he married his long-courted sweetheart, Helen D'Avanzo, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Brooklyn. On May 5, 1939, more than two years after he and his new wife had moved into a house they shared with her mother, he completed his parole.

It took the Giulianis six years and one miscarriage to have a baby. "Helen had the miscarriage early in the marriage," recalled Anna D'Avanzo, one of Helen's sisters-in-law. "The next time I saw her, she was crying. Harold always looked at the good side, 'We'll have another one.' " Eventually, Harold was right. On Sunday, May 28, 1944, Helen, age 35, gave birth to her long-awaited and only child, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani. After receiving the news, Harold frantically ran up and down the steps of every building on his block, handing out cigars. Named after his grandfather Rodolfo, little Rudy (then spelled Rudi) was considered by his verging-on-middle-age parents to be a blessing from God, an answer to countless prayers.

It was Helen's mother, Adelina D'Avanzo, who spent the most time with "the little prince," as some relatives referred to him. Adelina was not only the Giulianis' emotional bedrock; she was also the family's financial foundation. She owned 419 Hawthorne Street, the building in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, to which Harold and Helen had returned that Sunday with their newborn. A modest, two-family red and tan brick house, 419 was indistinguishable from all the others in the unbroken, block-long row of fused-together buildings between New York and Brooklyn avenues. Harold, Helen, Adelina, and Rudy lived on the second floor, in a narrow, six-room apartment with parquet floors, decorative moldings in the plaster walls, and high ceilings.

At the time of Rudy's birth, Harold was working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a plumber's assistant, the trade he had learned before prison. World War II had lasted more than four and a half years. D Day was just nine days away. Headlines had then heralded a "Nazi Escape Road" into Europe. The only member of either the Giuliani or D'Avanzo family who served in the war was Harold's brother Charles, stationed in New Guinea for four years until 1948. Harold's younger brother, Rudolph, born on December 13, 1926, was too young to be drafted. Four of Helen's brothers were excused from service because they were cops; her youngest brother, Roberto, entered the police force on November 21, 1942, in the middle of the war.

Harold told relatives and friends that he wasn't drafted because of his poor eyesight and ulcers. What, in truth, protected him from military service, however, was his criminal record. The record was almost impossible to find—then and now—because it is filed in the name of Joseph Starrett. Harold apparently helped the local draft board locate it.

On April 18, 1941, Morris S. Ganchrow, secretary of the Selective Service System's Local Board #217 in Brooklyn, wrote a letter to the Court of General Session, inquiring into Harold's criminal background. The letter read:

Dear Gentlemen:

We understand that Harold Angelo Giuliani, using the alias "Joseph Starrett," a registrant in this Board, was convicted of Attempted Robbery, 3rd degree, on April 24, 1934.

In order that he may be properly classified by members of this Board, will you please give us the details of his Court Record, as to the charge—whether a misdemeanor or a felony, and if sentenced, the period he was confined.

Enclosed is self-addressed envelope for reply.

The charge was, of course, a felony, and anyone guilty of a felony was barred from wartime service.

The D'Avanzos and Giulianis still discussed the Allies' great campaign over dinner. The fact that their homeland was an Axis country did not diminish Helen Giuliani's sense of patriotism. "Helen was a little sticking up for the Italians, a little on the Italian side," recalled Anna. "She liked Mussolini and things like that."

« Previous Page
Next Page »