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The sun was shining: The hit on New York Mafia underboss Frank Scalice

By Thom L. Jones

In the only borough of New York to begin with the indefinite article, it was not unusual at end of day to watch “fathers trundling home with a monumental sadness on their shoulders”. * It was a hard place to live for the working man and his family. A good place for organized crime.

Frank Scalice lived at 211 Kirby Street in the outlier enclave of City Island. An unassuming, three-bedroom weatherboard-house built in 1940. In the Bronx. It was his domain. Nothing went down there of any consequence unless he sanctioned it. At least as far as it concerned the Anastasia Mafia crime family. He held a job as Vice President in a plastering company called Mario and Di Bono, in Corona, in the borough of Queens, since at least 1954, or earlier, and had a lock on the construction industries that was so tight, not even bags of cement could be moved in his borough unless he approved it.  The company carried out substantial construction work at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) a hospital in the Bronx, and on many city-owned housing projects. Scalice turned up one day at the company, and somehow, he became one of the owners. 

He was Cosa Nostra and everybody knew it. He was sometimes referred to in his older age as “Cheech or Ciccio,” often used as a diminutive of Frank, especially in Italian neighborhoods.

Francesco Scalici ** (right) was born in Palermo, Sicily, on March 31st, 1893. He and his brothers came to America, settling in The Bronx, and by 1919, Frank was a United States citizen. There were at least six brothers and a sister, Rosa. The FBI claimed that in addition to Frank, four brothers-Salvatore, Giacomo, Giuseppe and Giovanni-were members of the mob. Frank, by 1919, also had his first criminal record on file for Grand Larceny-- burglary in New Rochelle. He married his first cousin, and one of their children was a mentally retarded deaf mute.

Twelve years after he arrived in America, he was the boss of a New York Mafia family. He had listed a butcher shop in the Bronx as a legitimate business enterprise. It was an area of commerce that seemed to appeal to his biological family members. His brother-in-law, on his wife’s side, Mafia capo David Amodeo, operated one in the Bronx and another crew boss, Michele Giacomo Scarpulla, Rosa’s husband, ran one, in Brooklyn. His sons, Angelo (another butcher) and Philip, were also part of the crime family.

Frank Scalice was possibly involved in bootlegging during the Prohibition Years, working with Vincenzo “Jimmy Marino” LePore, who lived on St Peter’s Avenue in the Bronx, and sometime in the 1920s, Frank had become a member of a Mafia family run by Salvatore D’Aquila who also lived in the Bronx and was murdered in 1928.

Between 1930 and 1931 an underworld war broke out in New York between factions headed by Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano over control of Cosa Nostra (the name the mob used to describe itself). Maranzano had the support of Scalice, and after the murder of his crime family head, Alfredo Mineo, in November 1930, Frank was then bumped up to head the family. When Maranzano ordered him to murder Vincent Mangano, a member of his group, and a close friend, he refused and brokered peace with Charlie Luciano (real name Salvatore Lucania,) who was Masseria’s right-hand man.

Maranzano was subsequently killed, and it was agreed that Frank, because of his links to him, would step down as head of the family, and Mangano would replace him. Then as now, the Mafia lives and dies by its politics.

Everything ran smoothly until 1951 when Vincent and his brother Philip were both murdered and the family was taken over by Albert Anastasia, the underboss at that time, who made “Cheech” his number two.*** Frank had gone from soldier to capo (crew chief) to boss, then back to capo and then up again in the rankings, all in twenty years.

Albert Anastasia (right) replaced Vincenzo Mangano who replaced Frank Scalice who had replaced Al Mineo who had replaced Salvatore D’Aquila and who knows whom before him. Back to the turn of the 20th century when the family, like a primeval microcosm, had emerged from the underworld swamp of New York’s cluttered and swarming streets to metastasize into what would be a powerful underworld force in a city of millions. One that exists to this day, now known as The Gambino Crime Family.

Anastasia was the first non-Sicilian to head this Mafia clan, and maybe his choice of Scalice was as much mob politics as anything.

Among the hundreds of “made” men under Anastasia’s control was one called Vincent J. Squillante, who would become a powerful capo with a meteoric rise within the family and the criminal underworld.

And the bad-news guy for Frank.

Born in East Harlem in 1917, there is little known of his early life. Married twice, with three children, he operated at one time as a commission fruit merchant. Jockey-size-- 5’2” and 122 lbs-- like many small men, he had an overbearing and forceful personality. In 1950, he became associated with the garbage removal industry and was somehow, with no background or experience, elected a director of the Greater New York City Cartmen’s Association, on a salary of $10,000 a year. Over $500,000 in today’s currency. He had no criminal record until 1953 when he pleaded guilty to failing to file tax returns. Through his control of Local 813 of The Teamsters Union working with its corrupt and unscrupulous head, Bernard Adlestein, Squillante, and his brother Nunzio became a dominant force in the garbage removal business which it was reported generated over $50 million annually. That’s the equivalent now of $500,000,000!

By the 1950s the Mafia families of New York were operating as well-oiled machines, driving their illegal endeavors: loan-sharking, illegal gambling, numbers, construction manipulation and above all drug trafficking. Frank was into this, boots and all, according to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Joe Amato, one of the bureau’s four agents in their New York office, the so-called “Italian Squad,” had been tracking him since 1946 and confirmed at a Senate hearing, The McClellan Committee, in November 1957, that Scalice worked in partnership with Harry Stromberg, a notorious Jewish criminal who worked as a banker for many criminals, especially those in the drug trade. Scalice was also being monitored visiting Italy and in particular, one well-known ex American gangster-Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.

Frank had traveled to Italy during the winter of 1948 and 1949, and visited Luciano. There is a photograph (below) of them both, along with Charlie’s girlfriend of the time, taken on the terrace of the Excelsior, a five star hotel on Via Partenope, set in a five acres, lemon-scented garden, overlooking the Bay of Naples.  

Since his release from prison in the USA and enforced deportation in January 1946, the Feds had been watching Luciano closely through agents based in their Rome office.

  • Read: Lucky’s Luck: How Charlie Luciano got out of jail and passed go

Transported originally to Sicily, Luciano had re-located to Naples and the American and Italian law enforcement agencies suspected he was working, as he always had, on the wrong side of the track. He lived in the penthouse of a small, multi-story apartment building at Via Tasso 464, which he had purchased for $150,000, and ran a restaurant near the port, called “The San Francisco Bar and Grill.”

He had been one of the participants at a Mafia meeting held in Sicily in a hotel in Palermo for four days in October 1957. Mafiosi from America and Sicily had gathered to sort out among other things, the best way to organize the rapidly growing drug trafficking trade between the two countries.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the DEA) believed, “Luciano was the guiding genius behind the expansion of the international dope traffic.” Maybe he was, although there is little to no hard evidence to support this. The Feds linked Luciano to almost every narcotic connection between Italy and America whether there was evidence or not. He was never prosecuted for anything connected to drugs. Maybe the agency simply wanted to neuter Luciano, and make him untouchable to traffickers. Whether he and Scalice ever worked together in the drug field is also open to speculation.

The major drug operations in Italy between 1948 and 1952 concerned the illicit trade in narcotics from legitimate wholesale chemists, over 1100 kilos, and this was taking place in Milan, Turin and Genoa, in Northern Italy. Just how much of this found its way into America is unknown, and through what sources, although Scalise along with another major drug trafficker, New York mobster, Jo Di Palermo, considered by law enforcement agencies to be “the dean of dope dealers,” may well have been involved.

Frank was not the only New York hood to visit Luciano, according to FBI files. They claim in the spring of 1948, Carlo Gambino and his brother, Paul, met up with Charley in Palermo. Carlo was a long-established capo in the family then run by Vincenzo Mangano. Law enforcement believed the meeting was about heroin, asserting that the Gambino brothers, “were reported to exercise control over the narcotic smuggling activities between the Mafia element in Palermo and the United States on behalf of Salvatore Lucania.”

The law kept their eyes on Scalice over the years. He was observed attending a meeting at a hotel frequented by the mob, in Miami, in March 1953, along with Scarpulla. In June 1955, Frank had been ordered to appear as a witness at a US Senate Committee, but claimed he was too sick following surgery.

By 1957, he was under suspicion by the New York Police in connection to three mob hits-Vincent Macri, Dominic Calicci and a man murdered in the kitchen of a Bronx restaurant, Tami’s Corner.

As the family’s second in charge, Frank led a busy life, traveling across the city to check on and coordinate the family’s criminal activities. Meetings had to be held with the capi who ran the crews that kept the wheels of criminal commerce rolling. He was also a man of predictable habits. One of which would be his downfall.

On June 17th, 1957, Frank drove a blue Cadillac from his island home the short distance into the Belmont area, parking it outside number 625 Crescent Avenue, and made the two-minute walk to his brother’s business.  

Every Monday, he had lunch with Giacomo who ran a candy store on Arthur Avenue, the “Little Italy” of this most northern New York borough. Jack used the shop as a base for his criminal activities, as a soldier in Anastasia’s crime family It was less than seven miles from where Frank lived. They would go to Anne and Tony’s on the corner of 187th Street and stuff themselves on mozzarella and roast peppers and baked clams. The family restaurant, opened in 1927, is still serving the kind of food the brothers Scalice loved.

After they had eaten, Frank would often wander down the street, talking to people, as he did this Monday afternoon, pausing to chat to women pushing prams, and old men sitting in the sun, filling in time before they died. The kids would be playing ringolevio or stickball, or flies-are-up, perhaps standing in line at the Good Humor Man’s van to buy an ice cream or Popsicle.  The start of the week was always a hectic time: mothers out shopping stocking up on groceries, suppliers delivering fresh produce; the side-walks crowded and busy with pedestrian traffic.

One of Scalice's favorite stops was at Enrico Mazzarae’s fruit and vegetable shop at number 2380, further down the Avenue, on the same side, from the diner where he would lunch with his brother.

The shop was a great spot for a hit. Easy to enter and exit, nowhere for the victim to escape and there were always lots of people around who would panic not understanding what was going on, the way people do when they are confronted with sudden, shocking violence. It would create chaos and plenty of diversion for the killers.

They would be two young men, cugines, associates of the family, **** anxious to get themselves made, hot to prove their worth. Vincent Squillante, it is alleged, was given the contract to kill Scalice by Anastasia, and most probably used someone he trusted to carry out the arrangements. The killers would know only him as their contact who was working for the man who in turn was setting up the job for Albert Anastasia. The degrees of separation would minimize the risk for the family boss. A classic style Mafia execution.

Vincent Squillante (left) had make a big thing of his relationship with Anastasia, claiming among other things, that he was Albert’s godson. However, his baptismal documents, dated June 7th, 1917, show no mention of Anastasia's name, which is hardly surprising, as he was only fifteen at the time and had just landed in New York as an immigrant from Calabria. Nevertheless, the myth persisted, and as a result, Squillante was much feared by less important racketeers and would be the subject of many police and federal investigations until he disappeared in September 1960.

A story circulated claiming he was shot dead by Anthony Gaggi, who had been close to Frank, who was a blood relative through Gaggi’s father. Nino Gaggi, who would become a capo in the family sometime in the future, told his nephew, Dominick Montiglio, he had shot Squillante, and the body had been dumped into an incinerator in the basement of a building on the lower east side of Manhattan, on 10th Street in what is now called The East Village.  

At around one-thirty, Frank came strolling down the street, He was wearing light tan slacks and a yellow sports shirt. It was blindingly hot, the sun’s rays shimmering across the sidewalks, the passing traffic kicking up dust as a dark, old model sedan pulled up and double parked outside the fruit shop.

Scalice walked in and started talking to the owner; he was laughing, joshing the little fat genial storekeeper, before he walked across to a stand and started to choose some fruit. As he was about to pay for it, the two men walked into the store. They were dressed identically, in dark slacks and white shirts, sleeves rolled up. Wearing sunglasses. About the same height and build, wearing the same clothes, designed to confuse witnesses. They walked up to Frank, who stopped and looked at them in surprise. Each of the men pulled out a.38 caliber revolver and started to shoot. They fired five times, two of the bullets ripping into Frank’s throat, one blowing a hole in his right cheek, one shot going wide, and the last one banging into his right shoulder, spinning him around and tossing him in a heap on the floor. The two men stepped over the body, walked past the astonished shop owner, and climbed into the black car, which pulled away and disappeared into the afternoon traffic. It was all over in seconds.

People ran around in circles, shouting and yelling at each other. In a few minutes, a police patrol car came screaming down the street, followed shortly afterward by an ambulance, and then more police cars, and soon the block was crowded with cops and detectives. The body inside the shop, sprawled out on its back, leaking blood, flanked by crates of oranges on one side and heads of spinach on the other. Someone placed a drop-sheet over the body. A patrolman stood near it, writing in his notebook.

Outside, the sun was shining.

Enrico Mazzarae’s fruit and vegetable shop is now a hairdressing salon. Today, people come here to get their hair parted with a comb, not a bullet. Just half a block north was where Vincenzo Le Pore, Frank’s old bootlegging partner, had been shot dead outside a barber shop on Arthur Avenue in September 1931. A residual casualty of the 1930-31 underworld war that had given Frank such a gift. It was to say the least ironic, that he would lose it in the same street.

On June 18th, investigators from the Bronx’s District Attorney's, Office opened a safe deposit box at The Dollar Saving Bank on The Grand Concourse near Fordham Road. The box actually belonged to Scalice’s wife, although he had permission to access it. It contained $950 in cash, $2000 in Bearer Bonds and some of his wife’s jewelry. Searching the home on City Island, they found $192 in cash, which in addition to the $72 found on his body, was all they came across. He either stashed his wealth somewhere else or like so many mobsters, lived daily or weekly, from one scam to another. For all the efforts they put into it, and the hours they worked, along with the dangers they faced from within their own criminal satellites and the outside forces of law and order, most of the mob seemed to struggle to find enough for the weekly housekeeping bills. Investigators also found dozens of photographs of Charley Luciano and Frank’s loansharking ledger that contained the names of numerous well-known business men and public officials.

The absence of significant amounts of cash in his holdings was inexplicable considering that the Bronx District Attorney, David V. Sullivan referred to Scalice as “A big shot and kingpin in this area.”

Why Frank was murdered has never been confirmed. The Mafia keeps no bills of accounting and the only street information that law enforcement gathers, almost always comes from informants, who may or may not be playing a double game. It was rumored he had welshed on a big drug deal and paid the price. A source suggested that the killing was ordered not by Anastasia but by another New York boss, Vito Genovese, who was making a play to become the boss over all the city’s five clans and wanted Anastasia handicapped by the killing of his number two, so as to make him vulnerable.

Then there was the membership scam story that started to circulate not long after Scalice took the long drop.

Joe Valachi, the Genovese soldier who became a government informant in the early 1960s, becoming a fountain of underworld knowledge or a trickle of lies, depending on where, in the scheme of things, the observer was standing, claimed Frank was killed because he had been selling membership into the Anastasia crime family.

For $40,000 or maybe $50,000, men like Charlie Barcellona and Aniello Mancuso and Arthur Leo and Tony and Mike Sedotto, and Jimmy Massi and many more were earning their “button” a term the mob sometime used about the initiation rite, rather than doing it the traditional way-years of waiting and being watched, rite of passage, i.e. killing someone, recommendation by those who knew the applicant-instead becoming soldiers in the family by simply greasing the palm of the underboss. The “books” as the Mafia referred to its state of grace, had been closed since 1931, and only officially re-opened in 1954, although some mobsters had been made, under the counter, so to speak in the intervening years.

Anastasia was furious when he found out and ordered Frank to be de-franked. Apart from anything else, all these extra hoods in the neighborhood were Frank’s men, which made for sleepless nights for the king sitting uneasily on the throne, which was par for the course in the world of Cosa Nostra. A real cynical observer of the times claimed Frank was really killed because Albert, who had shared 50/50 in the initiation scam, got cold feet and decided to close down, forever, any possible future source of embarrassment that would have made him very vulnerable to the wrath of the other Mafia clans in the city. This kind of Machiavellian gesture seemed well-suited to Anastasia’s psychopathic profile, a man who was as cunning as a shiver of sharks.

Just what is fact and what is myth in all of this is dubious at best. As has been sometimes quoted, “There’s two sides to every story, and then there’s the truth.” 

FBI files tell us that following Frank’s murder, some of his mob holdings were handed over to Arthur Leo, and some to “Pappa Dave” as David Amodeo was known on the street. Anastasia no doubt took his share.

Just a three minutes’ walk from where Frank had parked his car the day he died, in the opposite direction to his brothers candy shop, was the Scocozza Funeral Home at 657 Crescent Avenue, where his funeral service was held on June 23rd, and then he was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, which is designated a National Historic Landmark of the Bronx and the nation, not because of all the hoods buried there as in St John Cemetery in Queens, although it has a few, like Jimmy Blue Eyes, and Tommy Gagliano and even Patsy Lo Lordo from The Windy City.

Frank had a grand send-off: 20 cars, eight of them carrying flowers.

They couldn’t bury his brother, Giuseppe, anywhere. After Frank’s murder, he apparently swore vengeance on the killers. When he realized that Albert was not doing anything to support him, he quietly disappeared but came out of hiding some weeks later. He was, it was rumored, invited to the Bronx home of Squillante, where a welcoming party in the basement, killed him, cut up his body, wrapped the bits in rubbish sacks and it was then delivered by one of Squillante’s garbage trucks, to one of his garbage dumps where no doubt the seagulls dined à la carte.

1957 was a less than auspicious year for New York’s Mafia. It was an Annus Horribilis if ever there was one.

Vito Genovese tried to kill Frank Costello the boss of the old Luciano Family and failed. Anastasia probably killed Frank Scalice and was himself killed, four months later, almost certainly by men under the direction of capo Carlo Gambino, who had replaced Scalise in the number two position and then became the family’s new boss in 1960. In November, at Apalachin, upstate New York, there was a major mob upheaval when dozens of Mafiosi from all over America were flushed out of a meeting by a country cop.

Maybe the Chiefs and the Indians as they sat drinking and socializing in their clubs across New York, enjoying the easy camaraderie that men in the mob had with each other, organizing deals, running scams, comfortable in each other’s presence, consoled themselves with the thought that bad times were in some way like gypsies-they only stayed for a while. 

* Jerome Charyn: Bitter Bronx: W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015.

**Just when his named change occurred I have been unable to document. Most sources refer to him as Scalise, although that his not the name on his tombstone.

*** As always, when dealing with Mafia history, facts often are fiction and fiction make-believe. There are Mafia chroniclers who believe that the underboss of the Anastasia family at this time was actually Palermo born Salvatore Chiri who stepped down and retired sometime after Anastasia was murdered. Others claim he was simply the leader of the family’s Bergen, New Jersey crew, working under Ruggiero Boiardo aka Richie The Boot. An FBI reports states he was the family consigliere or counselor. Whoever he was, he was important enough in the scheme of things, to attend the infamous Apalachin Conference in 1957. 

 **** It’s been claimed the killers were Arthur Leo and Vincent Squillante, although this has never been confirmed. S. Jonathan Bass, a professor at Alabama's Samford University, alleges one of the killers that day was Rudy Pipilo, a 31-year-old, who as a result, made “his bones” into the Anastasia crime family. Pipolo features as one of the characters in HBO’s new TV series “The Deuce.”

For more of Thom L. Jones stories check out his Mob Corner

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