By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
On July 2, 1944, just a few days over a month old, Rudy was baptized at St. Francis of Assisi Church on the corner of Lincoln and Nostrand avenues, six blocks away from his home. Although Rudy's father was reputed to pray every night before a small altar on the dresser top in his room, his wife and mother-in-law were not as enthusiastic or routine about their worship. On Sunday mornings, Helen would escort Rudy to mass, but allegedly only on Harold's orders. Harold's sister-in-law Evelyn Giuliani recalled that Helen was "not very religious."
At five years old, Rudy was enrolled in the church's kindergartenif not solely for the religion, then for a generous dose of discipline. Founded in 1909, the school served children of the parish, providing stern, regimented instruction from kindergarten through eighth grade. Wrist rappings and ear boxings were as commonplace then as detentions and demerits.
One afternoon in 1948, as Helen's younger brother Leo (a/k/a Tullio) D'Avanzo was coasting down Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn in his taxi, hunting for customers, he noticed that an old neighborhood bar on the corner of Kingston and Rutland had been closed. He talked to the owner of the building, Philomena Mandelino and, within a few months, made a bold career move: He bought the bar and reopened it. The deed to the property wasn't filed in his name, though; it was listed under his wife's name, Veronica "Betty" D'Avanzo. And the business license wasn't in his name either; that was conveniently registered under the name of his brother Vincent D'Avanzo, who happened to be a patrolman in the 67th Precinct. Since nothing was ever in Leo's name, the reincarnated watering hole was named after Vincent.
With ornate tin ceilings and a commodious dining area that stretched nearly half a block, Vincent's Restaurant could accommodate upwards of 150 revelers. A 12-block walk from Ebbetts Field, it was located in what was known in the '30s as "pig town"a poor, highly populated area in which many Italian immigrants raised pigs in the yards of their often ramshackle, makeshift homes. Convenient and familiar, Vincent's drew a hearty clientele of firemen, fishermen, bookies, sanitation workers, and others. The bar was also a roost for a roster of wizened regulars, sardonic old Italian and Irish guys who drank rye whiskey with rock candy and had nicknames like Ippy and Stumpy.
Most important, Vincent's Restaurant became the headquarters of Leo D'Avanzo's loan-sharking and gambling operations, ventures he ran with a partner, Jimmy Dano, who was a made man. Dano had once worked as a runner for the powerful numbers-racket operator and narcotics distributor James (Jimmy the Clam) Eppolito. He and Leo had a secret wire room tucked in the back of Vincent's and employed a small army of as many as 15 runners. "There was a lot of booking and numbers and all that nonsense," said Leo's former mistress of nearly 30 years, Elizabeth Mandelino, who was the daughter of the prior owner, Philomena. (The Mandelinos were related by marriage to the Eppolitos). "That's how they survived."
And in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, it was Leo's show. If you needed money, you went to Leo. If you wanted to place a bet on a horse, he was the man to see. "Everybody in Flatbush knew Leo," said Mandelino, who had lived in an apartment above Vincent's with her mother and would later move into a nearby eight-family apartment building Leo bought on Beverly Road.
Tall and thin, with fingernails as white as piano keys, Leo D'Avanzo was an immaculate dresser, hair never out of place, shoes always freshly shined. Often taking drags on a cigarettehe smoked a pack a day easilyhe would tell his mistress about his shylocking business and extorting people and having to "break their legs." But he'd never kill anyone, he assured the woman 16 years his junior. He'd never kill for money.
In family circles, Uncle Leo was the shadowy black sheep. "Everybody in the family said, 'Don't be like Leo,' " recalled Rudy's cousin Gina Gialoreta. "Leo was Mafia, bad, bad. . . . Uncle Leo lived by his witsthat's what my grandmother used to say."
On August 17, 1951, at age 38, Leo was arraigned in Brooklyn Criminal Court on felony "criminal receiving" charges, but the case was eventually dismissed. Seven years later, in April 1958, he appeared in Brooklyn Gambler's Court, arraigned on bets and bookmaking charges; he put up a $500 bond and was discharged by Judge Anthony Livoti.
Even Leo's cop brother Vincent found himself on the receiving end of an arrest on a few occasions. On October 15, 1954, he was arraigned in Gambler's Court on minor charges related to the Alcohol Beverage Control Act, but was discharged. On February 14, 1961, Vincent was arrested with 12 other defendants by an officer from his brother Roberto's precinct, the 71st, for a violation of the New York City administrative code that appeared to be related to gambling; given a choice in district court between one day in jail and a $2 fine, Vincent paid the fine.
Since New York State criminal records before 1970 are not computerized and, therefore, either unavailable or extremely hard to locate, these incidents may not represent the totality of Leo D'Avanzo's criminal career.