17 Feb 65 : Fun nights out with Mafia mobsters and hitmen : New York, USA

Wednesday 17th February
Dear Family,

I hope you are all in good health, especially Mum who had a stiff neck the last time I heard from you.

I am fine although becoming sick to death with New York and the suburbs, and dead keen to get away. However – the future looks black. It is almost certain that next week we have to go to Philadelphia to do a job there. This will be terrible as Philadelphia is considered ‘home base’ and we get no expenses whilst there.

It’s hard luck on us as the other fellows live in the Philadelphia area and can live at home, but it means we will have to find somewhere to live out of our own pockets again. After the luxury of the last few weeks this will be hard.

However, we knew this when we took on the job, but we didn’t expect it to happen so soon (if indeed at all). Still it’s not definite yet, and we are dragging out our jobs in Brooklyn, taking so long that we hope that they will get someone else to do it instead.

Tony in America, 1965

We have had the most fantastic week imaginable here in Brooklyn. We are working at a place called — — –. It is owned and run by two brothers, J– and G– —.

They are Italians, and have a very good business in junk cars, parts, odds and ends, etc. It is in the roughest and toughest part of an area called Canarsie. The store is built on the same plot of ground that was used as the dumping ground for the victims of ‘Murder Inc‘ – notorious during the 20’s and 30’s.

We have been there nearly a week now, and I know you won’t believe me, and will probably hoot with laughter when I say this – I have been living and working with gangsters!!!

The oldest brother, J– –, is the smoothest, smartest and best dressed man imaginable. He is 51 and has three sons. He has three Cadillacs (we have seen them all) – and the newest is out of this world. He has a fabulous house, a farm up north, this tremendous business, plus other businesses, and money galore.

He permanently carries two guns (both white pearl-handled jobs), and has a loaded rifle behind his office door. He has been shot through the head (we have seen the scar), and has shot many (although never killed). He is feared and respected. You are now laughing I’m sure (possibly rolling on the floor), but it’s true!!


He is tough and demanding, and speaks in a broad Brooklyn accent, and is very interested in us, as we are the first English people he has ever met. He seems to have ‘accepted’ us and he invited us out to dinner with him last night. This is true.

We went into a nice restaurant, and were immediately surrounded by the staff – the head waiter, waitresses, wine waiter, etc, and as soon as we were seated – the Chef!!! He personally took our order, and we had a delicious meal. J– didn’t eat, but had a coffee ‘in a sterilised cup and with a small paper napkin between the cup and the saucer’ – which he demanded, and of course, got!!

This tickled me pink, and later when I ordered coffee, I asked for, and got, the same (probably for the first and last time). J– is a member of the Mafia, the Cosa Nostra and the Sons of Italy – all well-known and dubious organisations.

J–‘s son has just left college, and at 20 is a very well educated fellow, and he told us lots about his father. He said he even sleeps with his gun, ‘and he can’t afford not to – my father needs a gun’. These were his own words.

All sorts of shady characters come in and out, and honestly, I have seen more guns this week than I ever thought possible. Also the gangster jargon we are learning is quite funny. For instance if a man has his ‘six brothers’ with him, this means he has a gun (the six being the bullets).

This afternoon we were invited to go to J–‘s office and have some coffee and cakes (a great honour) and there sat down with the biggest load of gangsters imaginable.

One we learnt later, a fellow called — –, a big strong oafish sort of character, is a ‘professional collector’ and also a hired gun. He has killed – people that can’t or won’t pay up, and for $500 will break a man’s two legs (or whatever else you would prefer done)!!

He was there because he was having his Cadillac repaired. When we told him the police in England have no guns, a broad grin crossed his face, and he said ‘Boy – dat’s da place for me, I could really clean dem out over dere’. This all sounds like a scene from a film, but if you met these people, as we have done, I’m sure you would believe it too!!

Out of curiosity we asked the clerk and the manager at the hotel, if they knew of J– –, and they said ‘Yes’ and also said he is well known as a heavy tipper.

Strangely enough, in J–‘s place we have also met and chatted to two cops, and they told us some amazing things. We have already decided that the police here are a bit shady. They look almost as thuggish as some of the thugs, and we were told that a fantastic amount of bribery and corruption goes on.

The average cop on a beat will pick up $10 every week from every shop he passes, and some pick up as much as $200 a week on top of their wages. The two cops that come in here are very dubious, and what they are doing in a place like this I can’t imagine!

So there it is, two yokels from the West Country, mingling in the gangster world of Brooklyn!! I shan’t be at all surprised to find myself having tea and cakes with Joe Bananas tomorrow – still we’ll wait and see.
To be continued…

< Previous letter | Next letter >

Note: Joe Bananas was the nickname of top Mafia gangster Joseph Bonanno, who was snatched from the street and presumed murdered, just as Tony and Colin arrived in New York. Tony described their bewilderment at headlines stating ‘BANANAS RUBBED OUT’ in an earlier letter. Bonanno would later re-emerge onto the scene, very much alive.

NOTE: In an abundance of caution, I’m not sharing the full names from this letter! However we’ve got the company’s business card, and I’ve Googled the family name. Sure enough, it’s one of the key historic Mafia clans. Yikes!

ALSO: While Tony clearly thought his parents would find his time with the Mafia hilarious, it’s highly unlikely that they did, especially as his dad was a Police Inspector!

AND FINALLY – We now have a Facebook page – please come and join us, and feel free to say hello or ask Tony any questions!