By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
A woman who worked for the US government tracking guns used in crimes, had no one do that for her after someone shot her dead.
The man who became the most logical suspect in her murder is married to the niece of one of America’s Mafia bosses.
Was there a link between Margaret Yeatman, the victim, and mobster Philip Rastelli, almost always referred to as Rusty?
It’s a long and twisting road.
I’ll start with the dead and then move into the murky world of New York’s Mafia.
Joe Pistone, former FBI agent, who adopted the alias Donnie Brasco working undercover against the mob, once said: “Rastelli was someone you didn’t cross. The mob was not the romanticized, glorified guys in the movies. They are gangsters, thugs, murderers. There is no poetry about them.”
Pistone spent many years working in the tortuous alleyways of Mafia city and knew a thing or two about the bad guys.
He was head of perhaps the most dysfunctional Mafia family in New York and spent a fair chunk of his criminal career as a boss behind prison walls.
Just where he fits into this story itself is as complex as the murder investigation itself.
If motive is the biggest trigger in the commissioning of a crime, there was a man who also worked for the US government, a bomb expert in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who could have fitted the bill. He was having an affair with Margaret Yeatman when she died.
He could also have been linked into the killing by the mob into which something connected him, namely his wife.
Margaret and Artie both worked for the same federal agency in the Baltimore office, and that is how they met. They had a relationship that lasted for five years. She knew Artie was married and had a family in New York. He’d told her his wife was dying of cancer, which was why he had never divorced her.
A divorced mother of two, Margaret was in a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, and she had admitted this to her sister.
On June 29, 1986, a security guard found Yeatman’s body stuffed into the trunk of her blue Toyota Corolla, covered with an afghan throw from the sofa in her apartment. The killer had parked the car on the roof area of The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It had been there probably five days. Margaret had been shot, once, in the back of her head. The slug disintegrated in her brain, but forensics identified it as a.22 caliber.
Cunn owned a gun of this caliber. Under the body, investigators found a pair of reading glasses, identical to those worn by him.
The day before Margaret (left) died, Julia, Cunn’s wife, arrived in Washington to be with her husband. That week Artie started wearing a cast on his right arm to cover serious scratch marks. Investigators found human hair at the crime scene that was not the victims. There was blood and skin under her nails. The killer had accessed her apartment without forcing entry. Someone she knew and trusted.
The family and friends of Margaret imaged they would arrest Artie Cunn for the crime within twenty-four hours. He never was. And never has been.
He and his wife had divorced in 1985, and then, in May of ‘86, they flew to Las Vegas and re-married.
Julia, born in 1930, was the daughter of Antoinette Brigandi. She was the sister of Philip Rastelli.
Enter the Mafia, stage right.
The thing that’s really interesting about Rusty Rastelli was not so much him but his wife, Connie. If only half we read about her is true, she sounds like “Thelma and Louise” squared. It’s really hard to find out the truth about Connie, although she appears to have been a lot smarter and capable than the man she married.
Driving her husband on heists. Beating up his girlfriends. Shooting at Rastelli in broad daylight on a Brooklyn street after one of their many disputes. Keeping track of her husband’s gambling records and extortion credits. Running abortion mills. Ratting to the Feds. She seems to have been a well-rounded female gangster.
She apparently died in 1962, although information about her end is as vague and contradictory as her life. Some sources claim someone shot her dead outside the door to her apartment, others, that she simply disappeared, presumed murdered. Her life is a big mystery. Her death even more so.
John Ormento, a skipper in the Lucchese Mafia Family, threatened her after she warned her husband she would spill the beans on him and his associates, although there is no evidence her murder and or disappearance involved him.
A description we have of Connie is not that complementary. Aged 43, short and dumpy with dyed red hair. She had a son by a previous marriage who had spent time in prison for relatively mundane crimes. (1)
Carl Sifakis believed Rastelli’s best claim to mob immortality was his wife (2).
It was once claimed she had more balls than any Mafioso.
She was the first wife. There was another called Mildred, but it didn’t seem to last long, with her dying in 1972, twenty years before Rusty himself. They married in the same year Connie dies. We maybe know this because of Walter Lotoski (3)
Some sources claim Rastelli married a woman called Irene McKee in 1964, and the marriage ends a year later. It’s conceivable he married her in 1962 and Mildred later. She is the one buried alongside Rusty.
It’s possible that something connected the killing of Margaret Yeatman through her boyfriend’s wife into the murky world of Cosa Nostra, American style. Before we arrive there, it’s time to look at Rastelli.
“La Cosa Nostra is a descent into hell. I was there for almost, at one level or another, for almost 40 years. It’s not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship. And when you rise to the position of a boss, you rule over everybody and everything.
The one directly beneath me would be the Underboss. That would be Joey Merlino. Whenever I wanted something done in the street, whether it was an extortion, whether it was a beating, or a murder, I would pass the order on to Joey Merlino, and then he would have to find the men within our Family to go ahead and do it. That is the Underboss. He’s actually the street boss. He does the running around and takes care of everything.
Under him is the Consigliere, which was Stevie Mazzone, at that time. The Consigliere [if] there’s a rift between the Family, will settle it. That’s his position. Under the Consigliere are the Capos, or captains. They’re the ones who have the Soldiers under them. They’re given the direct orders from the Underboss to them to go out and follow these orders through." (4)
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Rastelli was born to be part of something like this. The police record his first arrest in 1926 when he was eight years old. Delinquency, it read. Over the next sixty plus years, his attitude did not improve. He graduated from small-time street thug into the academy of Cosa Nostra and by the 1960s was a skipper in charge of a crew in Brooklyn for the Bonanno Family.
To call it dysfunctional is perhaps overstating the adjective. It had emerged by name in late 1931 under the leadership of the youngest Mafia boss ever, in America at least, a mere twenty-four.-year old Giuseppe Bonanno (left), known forevermore as “Joe Bananas.”
The family’s origins are obscure, but it could have existed at the turn of the 20th century. Its first known boss is allegedly Sebastiano Di Gaetano, a former barber in Williamsburg. He disappears from the scene around 1910 or 1912 and is replaced by Nicolo Schiro, who will hand over the reins to Salvatore Maranzano in the fall 1930. Murdered the following year, Bonanno takes over.
The crime family became the laughingstock of the underworld when it’s learned an undercover FBI agent had infiltrated it for years, pulled from his job only days before being “made” as a soldier. It became even more notorious when its current boss, Joseph Massino, rolled in 2011, and became the first Mafia head in New York to become a government informer.
Raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Rastelli, a criminal all his life, was inducted into the Bonannos in the 1950s. His adult rap sheet started when he was 22, in 1940 and in the years that followed, listed him charged with murder, extortion, loansharking and illegal gambling. Connie apparently informed the FBI that her husband was also a drug trafficker.
He was part of a bumbling crew of shooters who attempted to murder Bill, son of Joe Bonanno in 1966, and failed miserably.
Following the retirement of Joe Bonanno, and many attempts to manage the family, Rastelli allegedly became the boss, taking over from Natale Evola, who died of cancer in 1973.
By the time Margaret Yeatman died in June 1986, Rusty was awaiting prosecution on charges of labor racketeering involving Local 814 of the Teamsters Union. It began in March 1988 and was unique in that he and the entire Bonanno Organized Crime Family were the defendants. The first time in America, that a Mafia family had been indicted and gone on trial.
As Rusty (right) sat stewing in the Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan, his niece’s husband was dancing a dangerous tango with his lover’s emotions and with his wife in town, things were probably going south seriously.
If anyone had a motive to remove Margaret, it surely was Artie. And yet?
Gerald Goldstein, a lead detective from the Baltimore police, believed there was enough evidence to arrest and indict Cunn, but it was the state’s District Attorney, Kurt Schmoke, who would have made the final decision on this. Although it turned out Cunn was the lead suspect, there was enough reasonable doubt not to proceed further. After thirty-five years, memories are dimmed, records faded, information roads have become dead-ended.
Mary Jordan, in her article on the killing in The Washington Post of 2018, tried to unravel the mystery but could not get past the evidence or lack of it. She interviewed Cunn and his wife on separate occasions at their Long Island home and wondered if Rusty Rastelli is part of a conspiracy to kill Artie’s girlfriend.
Maybe Julia had perhaps approached her uncle Philip to help remove Margaret Yeatman from the dance floor?
Conversely, had Arti avoided arrest by informing on the Bonanno Family and his wife’s uncle, co-operating with the FBI during the massive investigations going on in New York into the Mafia leading to the famous Commission case of 1985/86?
She met with denials.
This link into organized crime is tenuous, but not beyond possibility. A history of America’s Mafia dating back over a hundred years is littered with weird and unbelievable stories. The only winners in their violent world are the dead and the stupid.
Having spent most of the last twenty years of his life in prison, Philip Rastelli, like the boss he replaced, died of cancer, in June 1991 at Booth Memorial Hospital in Queens. In the end, the only thing he had to look forward to was the past. Joseph Massino, the man who would make history by turning and becoming a government informant, moved in as the family boss to fill the vacuum.
Margaret’s family is still hopeful someone will somehow solve her murder.
File 7808, Margaret’s murder dossier, is one of thousands of unsolved homicides archived at Baltimore’s Police Headquarters. The forensic evidence taken at the time has disappeared over the years. With the Mob boss dead and the prime suspect long since disconnected from the crime, it’s a most ultimate cold case.
Artie and Julia, unless they have died since 2018, will live out their last years somewhere in New York. He will be eighty-eight, and she ninety-one. Only they know the actual truth about who killed Margaret Yeatman.
Unless, of course, they don’t.
I acknowledge an article in the Washington Post 2018, by Mary Jordan, as a source for some of the background of this story.
1) Brooklyn Eagle. 13 December 1954.
2) Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia: 1987.
3) Kwitny, Jonathan. Vicious Circles: W.W. Norton. New York, 1979.
Lotoski became a government informant and confirmed through an intermediary, Vincent Soviero, a close associate of Rastelli, that he became the official photographer of Rastelli’s wedding to protect the integrity of the images from law enforcement sources. Lotoski does not mention the wife by name.
4) Testimony at trial in 2001 in Philadelphia, of Joseph Merlino for racketeering.
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