Crazy Joe’s Birthday: Playing the Godfather Game
April 13, 1972
“Poor Crazy Joe, he should have stayed in jail where he was safe,” said a newsman while Rome fell down around us. We were in front of Umberto’s Sea Food Restaurant at Mulberry and Hester Streets and it was 10 a.m., five hours after Crazy Joe’s shooting by an unknown assassin. The street was mobbed.
There were neighborhood kids and a gang that called itself “the Elizabeth Street Crew,” delivery truck men, an Italian tv outfit (the anchorman held up a copy of “Honor Thy Father” and said the word “Mafioso”), random old folk, plainclothesmen in brim hats, and cops. They weren’t allowing the press into Umberto’s. Chief of Detectives, Albert Seedman claimed it wasn’t his idea, but Oscar Ianello, the manager, had had it and enough was enough. So I peered through the plate glass windows. Beyond the cramped bluecoats, I could spot a dozen or so butcher block tables with chairs piled sky high, a tiled bar, a jukebox, and a couple of men with tape rulers measuring distances between tables. I could see a sign that said Italian pastries and one that said homemade clam chowder, scungilli, calamari, and a plant with a red ribbon streaming from its green leaves — a good luck gift to Umberto’s on its opening, seven weeks before. And a couple of waiters sweeping the floor of debris and a cop with a mop.
Around the corner on Mott Street, Paramount shot the scene from The Godfather where Marlon Brando as Don Corleone was gunned down at the fruit stand. And on Grand Street, only a block a way, last week, a heist of $55,000 from Ferrara’s. Killing is met with a shrug in Little Italy, but to rob a “family” establishment on Easter Sunday, a place where you take the wife and kids, you don’t do.
But someone did, and someone got to Joey, and someone said “Praise God, they got Joey” and someone else said “Don’t go out tonight, there’ll be shooting on the streets” and the manager of Ferrara’s wasn’t talking about the heist.
The press conference that Chief Seedman and Police Chief Murphy called for 3 p.m. began with a four-foot diagram of Umberto’s Restaurant attached to a blackboard and wheeled out to the waiting cameras. Little red dots indicated where bullets were found on the restaurant floor. An X marked the table in the back of Umberto’s where Gallo sat with his party. The back doorway where the gun-man entered and got away was marked, and circles indicated tables where other patrons sat and a horizontal line showed the clam bar and a square indicated the kitchen in the back. Murphy held a long pointer and detailed the chart. He said there was another outbreak of gang violence in the city that involved organized crime and proceeded to explain the wherefores of the shooting, if not the whys.
Then Seedman took over. Gallo, his wife, stepdaughter, sister, bodyguard, and bodyguard’s girlfriend had been to the Copacabana earlier for Don Rickles’s opening and to celebrate Joey’s 43rd birthday. About 4 a.m. they hopped into Joey’s 1971 Cadillac and drove to Little Italy for an early morning snack. They decided on Umberto’s. Joey had never been there before. The theory is that he was fingered and trailed from the Copa. The shooting occurred at a time when the Gallo party was in a particularly festive mood. The assassin entered. About 20 shots in all were fired, some by the killer (three 38s hit Joey), some by Joey’s bodyguard, Pete the Greek, some by a stranger seated at the clam bar who chased the (gunman) out of the restaurant, firing at him and missing. Joey himself had no gun. Hit, he staggered out the front door. The killer kept firing. Gallo collapsed and died in the middle of Hester Street, near his Cadillac.
“Any questions?” asked Seedman, about the morning’s events. Plenty. “Was it a professional hit?” “Seems like it.” “Is it true that the organization never fingers a victim when he’s with his family?” “There’s nothing to make us come to this conclusion.” “What did Gallo’s death do to the Colombo investigation?” “So far nothing. There may be no connection at all.” (This remark bought a snicker from the newsmen.)
The questions continued. “Was Gallo in some way responsible for the Colombo shooting?” “Mere supposition at this point.” “Was Colombo responsible for the Gallo shooting?” “Same answer.” “What’s happened to the Jerome Johnson murder investigation?” “We’re still in the process of putting it together.”
Seedman has been in the process of putting it together since July 1971.
There are a few other murders that Seedman is either in the process of putting together or, for some reason, has abandoned completely — these three in particular have certain similarities:
BOBBY J. WOOD: His bullet-riddled body was found on a Queens street on February 18, 1970. Wood is the former owner of the Salvation Restaurant at 1 Sheridan Square. He left letters with his lawyers telling how the mob muscled in. The letters alleged extortion and threats and named names, among them Thomas (“Tommy Ryan”) Eboli, who controlled Tryan, the vending machine operation on Jones Street; John Riccobono and Andrew B, both employees at Wood’s restaurant; and Joseph Riccobono, an alleged consigliere in the Carlo Gambino family.
Two months after Wood’s murder, the Salvation re-opened with a new name, the Haven, and with a new policy: it was now a teenage gay-straight drug drop juice joint without a liquor license, operating under a state charter as a social club. On many weekends, Sheridan Square looked like a freaked-out circus. Finally, through pressure from Community Planning Board 2 and the residents of the area, the Haven was closed in September 1971. Proprietor Nicolas De Martino, who was also vice-president of TelStar (a reputed Mafia organization under which the Haven had received its state charter), was found guilty on a contempt charge by the State Supreme Court. At his trial in January, De Martino said he hadn’t a pot to piss in. He claimed he had mended his ways and received a fine of $250 and a lecture by the judge. He has since found a golden cauldron for his urine — he is fronting a son-of-the-Haven type operation in the East 80s. Separate from that, a new night spot is being talked about by new people at the old Haven. Vincent H. Petti and Robert Santopietro have rented the place and applied for a liquor license. If it does open as a Haven type operation, it’ll be “over the dead bodies” of the Washington Place–Sheridan Square Block Association. And the man behind the dead body of Bobby Wood still roams the streets, unless he too has got hit, Gallo style, saving the department the bother.
SHELLY BLOOM (real name: Allan Gold). On March 21, Bloom was shot in the stomach and chest and had his skull fractured in his plush Gramercy Park bathroom. According to police, robbery was not the motive — $14,500 was found in the apartment, plus an assortment of expensive jewelry. Bloom and Seymour Seiden operated the Sanctuary at 407 West 43rd Street, a midtown version of the Haven. Bloom’s murder, coincidentally, occurred two weeks before the Sanctuary was closed down by the Supreme Court and by Lee Miller, the state prosecuting attorney who successfully handled the Haven case. Coincidentally, too, the Sanctuary’s closing came as a result of pressure by the 43rd Street Block Association. The place was also under surveillance by the police.
Behind the walls of the former church Sanctuary, the department discovered the workings of a stolen car operation. It discovered stolen credit cards, counterfeit money, plus “a supermarket in drugs” (33 drug busts in three consecutive nights, three employees arrested for pushing meth and amphetamines). There was little overhead. On a good weekend, the Sanctuary would net $4000 a night.
Incidental disjointed facts: the late Bloom and his Sanctuary partner were also partnered in Poutassa, a discotheque that still operates at 1234 Second Avenue. Both men were frequent visitors at the Tambourine. Speculation is they were involved in that operation, too. The Sanctuary building is owned by Seymour Durst, who also owns a number of buildings on that West 43rd Street block and is one of the six people working with the city on planning the West Side Convention Center. The West 43rd Street Block Association is fighting both the commercialization of its neighborhood by big time real estate operators (it is waging a war against Durst, who is trying to get a zoning variance in order to construct two 46-story apartment buildings) and the drug sore spot that, until its recent closing, made the block a murderously dangerous reality. Coincidentally, again, at the same time that the Sanctuary was getting its final “move away” papers, Shelly Bloom got his final “move on.” What’s up?
PETER DETMOLD. Killed by knife wound, January 6. No arrest made. Detmold was executive director of the Turtle Bay Association Board, and was hassling a sore spot in its midst, the Tamburlaine. It was located at 148 East 48th Street, an offshoot of the Haven, a sister of the Sanctuary, basically the same customers, same of the same front men. The day before Christmas, the Tamburlaine was mysteriously gutted by fire. It never re-opened. Two weeks later, Detmold was found murdered
With Seedman as Chief of Detectives, it will be interesting to see how long the Wood and Bloom and Detmold murders remain unsolved, how long before we know the identity of that mysterious gunman who gave it to Crazy Joe on his birthday, how long before we know who bumped off Jerome Johnson and why, and how many more rounds of the Godfather game will be played, and who’s playing the game, before we get to the final reel.