The following is an excerpt from Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani, which will be available in New York stores on July 11. It is printed by permission of the publisher, Basic Books.
•Harold Giuliani and Helen D’Avanzo met at a party in 1929 or 1930. The roaring ’20s had tapered to a whisper, the Great Depression had recently cast its vast and wretched shadow, and Prohibition had long ago confined much of the American social scene to speakeasies. It was not an auspicious time for romance, and Harold and Helen’s dating life was typically austere: picnics in the park, moonlight strolls, home-based dances and get-togethers. Occasionally, they would splurge on a movie at Times Square—tickets were only 35 cents, if you bought them before 5:30 p.m.
At 5’11”, with a solid frame and big-knuckled hands, Harold was a thickset ruffian who squinted at the world through cumbersome, Coke-bottle-thick glasses. He had been trained as a part-time plumber’s assistant but had remained financially dependent on his parents into early adulthood. Much of his childhood had been spent on the streets of East Harlem, staving off boredom with stickball and other games. At age 15, he dropped out of high school and was soon arrested for burglary and sentenced to probation in New York City Children’s Court. Emboldened by regular beatings from his father, he took up boxing and, through a demonstration of sheer feral aggression, persuaded a local trainer to condition him for a pro career. But because of poor vision, Harold was kept out of the ring. Instead, he took his pugilistic prowess to the streets, engaging in countless scuffles. Blinking behind his half-inch-thick lenses, he would fling a flurry of punches, landing them anywhere and everywhere, mercilessly hammering his opponent into submission. The vision problem only compounded his volcanic temper, mixed in with it, to create a sort of unalloyed, inexorable ferocity. Taunting Harold with a typical teenage gibe like “four eyes” would guarantee an immediate pummeling.
Shy and proper, Helen was the perfect antidote to Harold. She was an excellent student who skipped two grades and graduated from high school at the age of 16. A dark-featured southern Italian, she would often bleach her hair blond for social occasions and loved dancing the Charleston.
Throughout their seven-year courtship, Harold was a persistent suitor and Helen a hesitant target. Most of her five brothers, at first, turned up their noses at her inelegant beau, regarding him as a poor match for their little sister. Helen harbored doubts of her own, she later admitted, particularly when it came to Harold’s “terrible temper.” She recalled one incident early in their courtship. “It was about six months after we met and we were walking up 123rd Street,” she said. “He had his arm around me and when a car passed by, somebody in it yelled, ‘Ain’t love grand!’ The car stopped for a light and Harold ran to the corner, pulled the guy out of the car, and boom! I yelled, ‘Harold, what are you doing, you savage?’ ”
But it was not just Helen’s honor he was protecting. If Harold overheard a man on the street utter what he perceived to be a disparaging remark about a woman, “Harold would smack the guy,” Helen said. These incidents became so common that Harold would affectionately sign all his love letters with the sobriquet “your savage.”
At least four years after they began dating, Harold truly earned his nickname. In the spring of 1934, just a week after his 26th birthday, jobless and restless, he resorted to desperate measures.
On April 5, the “savage” was arraigned on armed robbery and assault charges in the Magistrate’s Court for the City of New York and ordered held on $5000 bail. Before Magistrate Alfred Lindau, Harold Giuliani lied about his age and address, claiming he was 24 and lived on East 84th Street. He also lied about his occupation, saying that he was an electrician. When asked to identify himself, he told the court that his name was Joseph Starrett.
On that day, Harold Giuliani (a/k/a Joseph Starrett) pleaded not guilty.
On April 12, in the case of People v. Harold Giuliani indicted as Joseph Starrett, Giuliani was charged with four felonies: robbery in the first degree, assault in the first degree, grand larceny in the second degree, and criminally receiving stolen property.
The crime occurred on April 2, 1934, at 12:05 p.m. in the unlit first-floor corridor of a 10-family residential building at 130 East 96th Street in Manhattan. Shortly before noon, Harold Giuliani and an accomplice positioned themselves in shadowy recesses near the stairwell. Within 10 or 15 minutes Harold Hall, a milkman for Borden’s Farms, entered the building to make routine payment collections. As he began to make his way up the stairs, Giuliani emerged from the shadows and, according to the indictment, pressed the muzzle of a pistol against Hall’s stomach. “You know what it is,” he reportedly said. He forced the man into a nook behind the stairwell, where his counterpart was waiting. The other man plunged his hand into Hall’s pants pocket and fished out $128.82 in cash.
As Giuliani’s accomplice frantically stuffed the money into his own pockets, either he or Giuliani—or both—commanded Hall to “pull down your pants.”
Giuliani grabbed Hall’s pants and yanked them down to his ankles. He told Hall to sit down. He grabbed the man’s hands, pulled them behind his back and bound them with cord. Squatting, his back to the wall, Giuliani leaned over his victim and began tying his feet together. Before he was finished, a police officer, Edward Schmitt, burst in the front door of the building.
“Throw them up!” yelled Schmitt. Giuliani obeyed.
His accomplice, who, at this point, had the gun and the money, fled down the stairs to the basement and escaped onto the street.
Schmitt collared Giuliani and took him to the 23rd Precinct. The officer later told the judge assigned to that case that he had been “tipped off by a citizen that a couple of fellows were hanging around 130 East 96th Street for about half an hour, and he finally saw them going into the hallway. After they went in, a milkman went in, and the citizen suspected that there was something wrong and he called me and told me about it.”
Although Giuliani’s family didn’t have the means to help him, he had friends with resources. Three days after he was arrested, a man named Valentine Spielman put up $5000 to bail him out. Spielman listed his address as 351 East 60th in Manhattan.
On April 19, a week after the indictment was filed, Hall changed his statement, telling a markedly different story. This time, he said it was Giuliani’s accomplice who had pressed the gun to his stomach and said, “You know what it is.”
During a hearing on May 23, Louis Capozzoli, an assistant district attorney, told the judge that Hall altered his story only after he was threatened. “This milkman tried to change his statement,” noted Capozzoli, “after he was visited at about four o’clock that morning by several people who threatened him. Then he said he thought this fellow [Giuliani] ought to get a break.”
Hall’s coerced reversal may have been effective in reducing his assailant’s prison time. On May 9, before Judge Owen Bohan in the Court of General Sessions, Giuliani switched his plea to guilty. He was allowed, in light of Hall’s altered statement, to plead to one count of armed robbery in the third degree. While still a serious felony conviction, armed robbery drew less prison time than a guilty plea on any one of the original charges.
At Giuliani’s sentencing hearing, his attorney, Robert J. Fitzsimmons, appealed for leniency. “I believe this is the case that warrants extreme clemency,” said Fitzsimmons, who later explained: “The defendant realizes his mistake. His home life has been of the finest and he comes from a wonderful family.”
Judge Bohan firmly replied, “I am a very sympathetic judge, but I have no sympathy for robbers with guns.”
Fitzsimmons, yielding, acknowledged that his client “should get some punishment to make him realize the seriousness of his act.”
The judge then addressed Giuliani, bluntly asking, “Who is the other man that was in this thing with you?”
Officer Schmitt spoke up, telling the judge that Giuliani “gave a fictitious name and address” and “refused to give us the name and address of the other man.”
Suddenly, Fitzsimmons announced the name of Giuliani’s supposed accomplice, Joseph Podemo. (No one named Joseph Podemo, however, was charged in connection with this, or any other, crime between 1929 and 1935.)
The judge was suspicious of Fitzsimmons’s remark. “I will commit this defendant,” he said. “If he wants to help himself, let him tell us the name of the man who had the gun.”
On May 29, Judge Bohan sentenced Harold Giuliani to two to five years at Sing Sing state prison.
According to Giuliani’s “Receiving Blotter,” obtained from Sing Sing Prison, he started serving his time on May 31. The blotter form requires answers to standard questions, such as height, weight, and address. His address is listed as 313 East 123rd Street, across the street from his parents’ building at 354 East 123rd. The criminal act for which Giuliani was sentenced is described as follows: “Held up man, hallway,daytime, gun, money.” The form indicates that his “habits” are “temperate” and include “tobacco.” He speaks “good” English, the interviewer observed, and is also semifluent in Italian. His religion is noted as Catholic, and his church attendance is described as “occasional.” His alias is listed as Joseph Starrett.
When asked by the interviewer to what he “attributed” his criminal acts, Giuliani answered “unemployment.” He listed two employers under “Employment Record.” The first mentioned was Koch Plumbing, where he earned a weekly wage of $30 as a “plumber’s helper.” But his 1934 employment at Koch lasted only two weeks. The second employer, John N. Kapp, also a plumber, hired Giuliani at a weekly wage of $24 and kept him on from 1929—around the time he met Helen—until 1932. Giuliani described no other employment.
Two weeks before he was committed to Sing Sing, Giuliani underwent a psychiatric exam. Benjamin Apfelberg, a psychiatrist with the city’s Department of Hospitals, sent his report to Judge Bohan on May 18. Although Apfelberg found that Giuliani was “not mentally defective” and displayed “no psychotic symptoms at the present time,” the report painted a troubling mental portrait.
“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.”
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:
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.”
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 kindergarten—if 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 cigarette—he smoked a pack a day easily—he 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 wits—that’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.
Behind the mahogany bar at Vincent’s Restaurant, puffing on a cigar while he drew pints and fixed cocktails, was Harold Giuliani. The 40-year-old father of a four-year-old son had a patchwork employment history of a few on-again, off-again jobs. Nearly two years after prison, in July 1937, at the age of 29, Harold had applied for a Social Security number, listing his job status as “unemployed.” At some point in the late ’30s or early ’40s, he tried his hand at door-to-door salesmanship, hawking tablecloths and bedspreads, before going on to work briefly at the Navy Yard. Now what Harold needed most was security and a weekly paycheck. The one man who could provide both was his brother-in-law, whose illegal operations were fronted by his other brother-in-law, the cop. “My father-in-law [Leo] was kind of close with Harold,” noted Lois D’Avanzo, who would later marry Leo’s son Lewis.
Like his brothers-in-law, Harold was a snappy dresser, usually attired in a starched shirt and tie and wearing a hat. Relatives described him as an affectionate man, who hugged as tight as a vise and kissed old ladies and children. Because of his stomach ulcers, the gray-eyed, bespectacled bartender often drank milk while his customers knocked back scotch. In case anyone got too rowdy, he kept a baseball bat behind the bar and a .38 caliber pistol next to the cash register. An opinionated and voluble Yankees fan in Dodgers-land, a man who reputedly hated most politicians, Harold would engage in heated arguments with his customers, his voice booming sometimes out into the street. If there was a bar fight, it was Harold who broke it up. If a customer had let his tab go for too long, it was Harold who went with his baseball bat to collect.
But bar tabs weren’t the only debts Harold collected. He had come a long way since the spring day more than 14 years ago when he mugged a milkman. Now the crimes he committed were part of an organized criminal enterprise. Known as the “muscle” behind the loan-sharking operation, Harold was Leo’s collection agent, recouping money that had been loaned out and was now overdue.
Most debtors would pay at the bar, slipping an envelope to Harold across the counter. In the mid to late ’50s, Harold collected as much as $15,000 a week, tapping dozens of debtors. The “vig” usually began at a stifling 150 percent and rose with the passing of each week. Many people borrowed money to pay rent or foot a business expense and would pay back four or five times the amount they borrowed. There were no excuses for being late.
One afternoon, a man reluctantly entered the bar to apologize to Harold, saying that he didn’t have the money—could he have just one more week? Frowning, Harold reached under the bar, out of sight, and gripped his baseball bat. As the man before him continued pleading for an extension, Harold swung the bat, cracking him flat across the face, sending him back a few feet. “Don’t be late again,” Harold said, according to an eyewitness.
That was the gist of Harold’s job: enforce Leo’s law through threats or violence. He shoved people against walls, broke legs, smashed kneecaps, crunched noses. He gave nearby Kings County Hospital a lot of business.
“People in the neighborhood were terrified of him,” said a frequent customer at Vincent’s, who was one of Leo’s son Lewis’s best friends and whose family borrowed money from Leo.*
He remembers what happened early one Saturday morning after his own father failed to make a payment. “When I was a kid, my father borrowed money from Leo,” he said. “He couldn’t pay, so Harold came to collect. He knocked on the door and yelled, ‘I want the money now, or I’m going to break both your arms!’ ”
After Harold calmed down, an agreement was worked out. “They talked to Leo and straightened it out,” he said.
While in high school, Lewis’s friend did occasional chores around the bar, and his brother took a job in the wire room, charting bets on the numbers boards. Many years later, after opening his own business, Lewis’s friend borrowed $90,000 from Leo and paid back $160,000, a fairly modest repayment total. “It would only take me four to five weeks to pay him back,” he said, adding that his brother once borrowed $5000 and ended up paying back $20,000.
Gambling, loan-sharking, and booze weren’t the only sources of income at Vincent’s. A black man who worked in the payroll office at a local hospital would stop by the bar every week or so to give Harold several dozen fake paychecks. The checks were made out to a host of fictitious employees and were drawn on the hospital’s bank account. “Harold would cash them in the bar,” said Lewis’s friend. “There would be several thousand dollars’ worth of checks every week. Harold would get half, and the black guy would get the other half.”
Harold told his confidant, Jack O’Leary, A Christian Brother who was one of Rudy’s teachers, that one reason he left Brooklyn in 1951, moving to Garden City, Long Island, was “to get away from my in-laws.” He didn’t want his son exposed to what went on at the bar, he explained, and vowed that his boy would not end up like Lewis, Leo’s boy, who hung around the numbers charts and lived with his family in the apartment above the new bar.
Sometime in the late ’50s, Harold stopped tending bar full-time at Vincent’s. On January 12, 1959, two and half months shy of his 51st birthday and shortly before Rudy’s 15th, Harold Giuliani got his first on-the-books, legit job.He was hired for $3300 per year as a groundskeeper for Lynbrook Public High School in Lynbrook, Long Island, where Helen’s younger brother Edward lived with his wife, Anna, and their three children.
Perhaps in connection with that job, Harold requested information about the cloud that had hung over him since 1934. A notation in the General Sessions court file indicates he sought copies of the “complaint and certification” of the criminal case against Joseph Starrett. The notation lists Giuliani at his Garden City address, indicating that copies of the key documents were sent to him there.
As a member of the buildings and grounds crew for the Lynbrook district, Harold spent his day maintaining sports equipment, buffing the terrazzo marble floors, grooming athletic fields, and, in the winter, salting parking lots and driveways.
In October 1959, the Giulianis migrated once again. Harold, after only 10 months on the job at Lynbrook High School, took out a $162-per-month mortgage on a new, comparably capacious split-level ranch house in Bellmore, closer to Lynbrook. Fixed in a tidy row of similar houses on a short block called Pine Court, the Giulianis’ new home, replete with a deck and a two-car garage, was Harold’s castle.
Although open-minded and mild-mannered, Brother O’Leary was no softy when it came to discipline. When Rudy made a wisecrack in the middle of an afternoon lecture, his homeroom teacher marched over to the lisping upstart and cuffed him on the side of the head. In October 1959, the beginning of Rudy’s junior year, at a Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School open house, O’Leary was surprised when Harold and Helen Giuliani tentatively approached him and thanked him for smacking their irreverent son. “They asked me if I remembered the time I punished Rudy. I said yes. They said, ‘We want to thank you, because he became a much better student after that.’ ”
From that encounter, a relationship blossomed. Since Rudy and his friend Alan Placa were, in their earlier years, misbehaving to the detriment of other students, O’Leary “would report to my father on my conduct every week,” Rudy said. This weekly check-in system soon evolved into a friendship with the Giuliani family. The young Catholic brother would join Rudy, his parents, and his grandmother for spaghetti dinners at their house in Bellmore.
The devoted Catholic brother would become one of the most important influences in Rudy’s early life. “He was terrific,” Rudy said. “He spent a lot of time with me, developing interests that I had that I wasn’t comfortable about. Like reading and opera, things that I wouldn’t talk to my friends about, because they would think I was a sissy.”
Some evenings after dinner at the Giulianis’, Harold, O’Leary, and Rudy would excuse themselves and take a stroll in a nearby park. They would discuss news, politics, matters of religion. Rudy might prattle on about Jack Kennedy or jaw with his father and teacher about the Yankees. Sometimes the high school senior would tread a few paces ahead or lag a few paces behind, and when he was out of earshot, Harold might broach other, more serious, matters with O’Leary. In the spring of 1960, during one of these walks, while Rudy tagged behind them, Harold made a sudden, cryptic confession to his confidant.
“I’ve done things in the past that I’ve paid for,” Rudy’s father said.
The men continued walking, wordlessly, the sounds of their feet on the path suddenly loud in the wake of Harold’s comment. Keeping silent, O’Leary waited. He would let Harold offer an explanation, pour his heart out if needed. And O’Leary was ready for whatever this hard, vexed man had to tell him.
But Harold Giuliani said nothing more. As the dusk enclosed them, Harold shunted the conversation back to generalities, and Rudy caught up with them and the three sauntered together through the dark back to the house.
The following fall, Harold Giuliani REceived a letter from Richard P. McLean, the assistant superintendent of the Lynbrook Public Schools. Dated December 7, 1961, the letter read:
We have heard no word from you concerning your return to work in the Lynbrook Public Schools. The custodial staff is presently shorthanded one man. May I ask that we resolve this issue as soon as possible. . . . Your immediate response to this letter will be appreciated.
McLean was writing Harold because he hadn’t been to work in months. Nearly two weeks after the first letter, the assistant superintendent sent the 53-year-old, AWOL custodian a second letter, terminating him.
Harold lost his job just as Rudy was finishing up his first semester at Manhattan College. Asked a few months earlier—in his February 1961 application for a scholarship from Italian American Charities—what he planned to do if financial assistance was not granted, Rudy had written: “My father will, of course, help to pay towards my college education as much as he can. Then I expect to work this summer. However, this will not be enough. I must, of necessity, have some outside aid in order to complete my education.” He had listed his father’s job as a custodian.
With scorching ulcers and a nascent heart problem, Harold Giuliani was no longer the swaggering, hearty man readily disposed to put the knuckles on someone for looking at his wife the wrong way. But the reason he had failed to report to work since the previous spring was not a physical one. “Harold had something of a nervous breakdown,” explained his confidant Jack O’Leary. “He wasn’t working at the time.”
Harold told friends that one of the events that triggered his breakdown was an incident in a Long Island state park in the spring of 1961. For the first time in many years, he was arrested, a chilling, jolting experience that abruptly exhumed old memories. The offense was trivial but embarrassing. Harold had long suffered from severe constipation. One afternoon, while strolling in the park, he suddenly felt the need to go. By his own account, when he found a public rest room, he pulled his pants down and began doing deep knee bends outside the stalls to expedite the process. A police officer happened to walk in right then. Harold was arrested for “loitering” and hauled down to the local police station. The charges were eventually dismissed, but the experience haunted the 53-year-old.
“The last time I saw Harold,” recalled O’Leary, “he was practically bedridden. He was sitting out on a lawn chair in the backyard all pale and terrible-looking.”
In October 1978, Harold and Helen sold their split-level house in Bellmore for $52,000 and rented a three-bedroom apartment in Bayside, Queens, for $600 per month. A sedentary middle-class neighborhood, their section of Bayside was populated with clusters of retired Italians, Irish, and Germans. The Giulianis’ apartment building on the corner of 218th Street and Horace Harding Parkway would have been just as peaceful and quiet as Pine Court if not for the relentless roar of the Long Island Expressway less than 50 feet from the front door.
A friendly Italian couple, Joe and Lina Merli, owned the building, living in the first-floor apartment. The Giulianis, who lived upstairs, would often join the Merlis for dinner, bantering in Italian over Lina’s sprawling pasta feasts.
“Harold, he was so funny man, a very familiar person,” recalled Lina, an 82-year-old retired hotel housekeeper, who still struggles at times with her English. On Saturday afternoons, Lina and Harold would often share stories, lolling in lawn chairs on her small garden patio, just a chain-link fence and a few lilac bushes away from the drone of the LIE. Harold proudly predicted that his lawyer son Rudy would go on one day to become president of the United States and, perhaps as evidence, carried with him a photo of Rudy standing next to President Ronald Reagan. He once told Lina how happy he would be if Rudy married her beautiful daughter, Luchana.
On one of these afternoons, Harold also shared with his new landlord his views on race. “Giuliani’s father,” recalled Lina, “was disturbed by colored people.” The polite woman listened as Harold expounded on the differences between whites and blacks. “Harold say, ‘God separate the colored and the white.’ He say, ‘Because all the world is white, except Africa.’ ” Harold’s explanation for why blacks are black? “God said the colored were not mature,” Lina remembered Harold telling her. “So God put them in the oven to make them mature. But God, he forget to take them out, so colored people came out black.”
Because of his progressing prostate cancer, Harold had to urinate frequently, and often while out in the garden with Lina, he would stagger into a corner, unzip his pants and moan with relief as he pissed into the weeds.
Rudy, then a full-time partner at Patterson, Belknap, earning $160,000 per year, frequently visited his parents in Bayside and even had his own room in their apartment. Lina remembered that the third bedroom in Harold and Helen’s apartment had been made up for Rudy, who would occasionally stay for as long as a week at a time.
At 70 years old, Harold was commuting by bus to a part-time custodial job at the Gotham Building Maintenance Corporation on 28th Street in Manhattan. A man whose sporadic 50-year work history was made up largely of off-the-books jobs was back on the books again, part of a 300-man fleet that, among other things, waxed floors, shampooed carpets, and washed windows in city buildings.
On the weekends and on Harold’s off days, he and Joe Merli would usually walk three blocks down Horace Harding to the Bayside Senior Citizens’ Center, a flat, maroon-brick building where they would spend the afternoon playing pool and poker with the grumbling, ill-tempered old-timers. It was a familiar setting for Harold, its fluorescent lighting, dull, salmon-colored linoleum floor tiles, and bright, multicolored plastic chairs reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. It was a place to hang out, chew the fat, get away from the house. Everybody had chores, though, and Harold and Joe would usually end up washing dishes. As they sponged plates one afternoon, Harold suggested to Joe that if they only did a so-so job washing these dishes, maybe they could escape dish duty in the future.
After more than a year living in Bayside, Harold suffered such severe pain from his prostate cancer that he had trouble walking. He quit Gotham Maintenance. His routine checkups at North Shore hospital became more frequent. Lina remembered Harold telling her about his doctor’s warnings. “The doctor, he tell him, ‘You have to be operated on,’ ” she recalled. But when it came to surgery, the proud man was obstinate. “Nobody is going to touch my balls!” Harold declared to Lina one afternoon in the garden.
On some nights, racked with pain, Harold would roll out of bed and fall onto the floor, helpless, unable to move. Helen would rush downstairs and rouse Joe Merli, who would help hoist the stubborn, tortured old man back into bed.
Research assistance: Jennifer Warren
•This source, referred to subsequently as “Lewis’s friend,” provided critical details of the criminal histories of Leo and Lewis D’Avanzo and Harold Giuliani, including the fact that Harold had “done time” at Sing Sing. Court documents and other records confirmed more than a half-dozen pieces of information he supplied. None of his information proved to be incorrect. A close friend of Lewis’s, this source is also a convicted felon, with a criminal record dating back to the ’60s.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 4, 2000