"the frigid glare of a killer"
As a member of the New York Bonanno crime family, Carmine Galante was a ruthless killer who performed cold-blooded murders on behalf of the mafia. Rising swiftly through the ranks, Galante soon orchestrated a take-over.
Becoming acting boss of the Bonanno family made Galante one of the most powerful men in the New York underworld. However, he had made powerful enemies in his rise to power, enemies who plotted to have him killed.
Born on February 21, 1910, in a tenement building in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, Camillo Carmine Galante’s parents had emigrated in 1906 from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, where his father had been a fisherman, to New York City.
From a young age Galante proved to be a troublemaker, and by the time he was 10, he had been sent to reform school. During his teens, he had formed a juvenile street gang on New York’s Lower East Side, and by the time he was 15, Galante had dropped out of school altogether.
On December 12, 1925, the 15-year-old Galante pleaded guilty to assault charges. He was sentenced on December 22, 1926, to at least two and a half years in state prison. Because he refused to cooperate with law enforcement, Galante earned the respect of the local Mafia hoodlums.
During the years of Prohibition, he became a Mafia associate, rising to the rank of enforcer by the end of the decade. In this capacity, Galante was required to use brute force against anyone who crossed the Mafia, including civilians, police and Government officials.
As a cover for his criminal acts, Galante worked a legitimate job as a fish sorter, and for a time worked at an artificial flower shop. In Autumn 1930, Galante participated in a payroll robbery, during which police officer Walter DeCastilla was killed.
Although he was arrested for this crime in August of that year, Galante was never indicted for a lack of evidence. That same year he was caught along with other gang members by NYPD officer Joseph Meenahan as they attempted to hijack a truck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
A gun battle ensued and Galante wounded Meenahan, as well as a six-year-old bystander, both of whom survived. Arrested for this crime, Galante pleaded guilty on February 8, 1931, to attempted robbery and was sentenced to 12 and a half years in state prison. While in prison, doctors diagnosed Galante as having a psychopathic personality.
The Luciano Crime Family
Carmine Galante was released from prison on parole on May 1, 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The following year he was working on behalf of Vito Genovese, carrying out assassinations on behalf of the official underboss of the Luciano crime family.
Over the course of the next few years, Galante gained a reputation within the criminal underworld as a vicious killer, and was suspected by the NYPD of involvement in as many as more than eighty murders. A cold and calculating hitman, Galante reportedly had a dead-eyed stare.
Ralph Salerno, a former NYPD detective, once said, “Of all the gangsters that I’ve met personally, and I’ve met dozens of them in all of my years, there were only two who, when I looked them straight in the eye, I decided I wouldn’t want them to be really personally mad at me.”
“Aniello Dellacroce was one and Carmine Galante was the other,” he said. “They had bad eyes, I mean, they had the eyes of killers. You could see how frightening they were, the frigid glare of a killer.” In 1943, Galante committed one of his most high profile killings.
While living in exile in Italy, Genovese offered to kill Carlo Tresca, the publisher of an anti-fascist newspaper in New York, as a favor to Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. Genovese allegedly gave the murder contract to Galante, one of his most trusted killers.
On January 11, 1943, Galante allegedly shot and killed Tresca as he stepped outside his newspaper office in Manhattan, before getting in a car and driving away. Galante was arrested as a suspect, but was never charged in the murder.
After the Tresca murder, Galante was sent back to prison after violating his parole. He was eventually released from prison on December 21, 1944. Upon his release, his former boss Genovese was out of favor with the Luciano crime family after losing his powerful position.
The next year in February 1945, Galante married Helen Marulli, and together the coupe had three children; James, Camille, and Angela Galante. The couple remained together until 1959, when he left his wife and began living with Ann Acquavella, with whom he had two more children.
By the early 1950’s, Galante began working on behalf of the Bonanno crime family, whose boss Joseph Bonanno sent Galante to Montreal, Quebec to organize the families drug business and rackets. There Galante worked alongside Vincenzo Cotroni of the Cotroni crime family as part of the French Connection.
This operation involved the Bonannos importing huge amounts of heroin by ship into Montreal, which was then sent onto the United States. The Bonannos were also heavily involved in the lucrative gambling business, with police estimating that Galante was collecting about $50 million per year in gambling profits in Montreal.
By April 1956, Galante was deported back to the United States after he was investigated for his strong-arm extortion tactics. The following year in October Galante, who was now consigliere, or family advisor to the Bonannos, participated in a meeting held a hotel meeting in Palermo, Sicily, along with Joe Bonanno where plans were discussed on importing heroin into the United States.
Other mobsters who attended the meeting included the infamous Lucky Luciano, as well as a delegation of Sicilian Mafiosi led by Giuseppe Genco Russo. This meeting proved significant, and led to the agreement whereby Sicilian mobsters would come to the U.S.
These young Sicilian men, such as Cesare Bonventre, were derogatively known as Zips because of how fast they spoke their native language, something the Italian-Americans found difficult to understand, and were brought over from Italy to distribute the narcotics.
Galante brought many of these Zips from his family home of Castellammare del Golfo, Trapani, to work as drivers, bodyguards, contract killers and drug traffickers. By the late 1950’s, Galante was being indicted on drug conspiracy charges, and promptly went into hiding.
On June 3, 1959, Carmine Galante was arrested by New Jersey State Police officers after stopping his car on the Garden State Parkway close to New York City. It had come to the attention of Federal agents that Galante was hiding in a house on Pelican Island off the South Jersey shore.
He was released after posting $100,000 bail, and on Mya 18, 1960, he was indicted on a second set of narcotics charges. This time Galante surrendered voluntarily. His first trial was in November 1960, and one of his co-defendants was one William Bentvena.
Known as “Billy Batts,” Bentvena was a made man in the Gambino family, and is best known for his murder at the hands of James Burke and Thomas DeSimone, Lucchese associates of Henry Hill, who himself became immortalized in the 1990 crime drama Goodfellas.
This first trial was beset by a series of mishaps, including jurors and alternates dropping out, as well as coercive courtroom intimidation by the defendants. The jury foreman suspiciously fell down some stairs at an abandoned building in the middle of the night and was unable to continue the trial due to injury.
Because of this, the judge overseeing the proceedings declared a mistrial on May 15, 1961. No longer facing a long stretch, Galante was instead sentenced to 20 days in jail for contempt of court. At his second narcotics trial, Galante was convicted on July 10, 1962, and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
After the end of an internal civil war that became known as the “Bananna War,” Joseph Bonanno was forced to retire by the Commission in 1968, and in his place several short-lived appointments eventually saw Philip “Rusty” Rastelli rise to the head position by 1974.
In January 1974, Galante was release from prison on parole. When Rastelli was indicted and sent to prison in 1976, Galante took the opportunity to seize control of the Bonannos as unofficial acting boss. In this role he began a brief war against his rivals the Gambino crime family.
By this time the Gambinos were led by Paul Castellano, the unpopular successor of the old-time leader and family patriarch Carlo Gambino. Without seeking approval from official boss Rastelli, Galante ordered several murders.
Throughout the late 1970’s, he allegedly organized the deaths of at least eight members of the Gambino family. The conflict was the result of a take over bid of a massive drug-trafficking operation, that resulted in intense rivalry between the two New York families.
Death on Knickerbocker Avenue
Galante’s brazen attempt to take over the narcotics market, and his refusal in sharing the profits had caused alarm and anger amongst the other New York crime families. With his rise to power not sanctioned by the commission, Genovese crime family boss Frank Tieri felt confident in moving against him.
Tieri began contacting the other leaders of the Cosa Nostra families in a bid to gain support for a hit on Carmine Galante. This resulted in widespread approval, even from retired Bonanno family boss Joseph Bonanno.
By 1979, official Bonanno boss Philip “Rusty” Rastelli sought approval from the Commission to have Galante killed. This request was relayed by Rastelli loyalist Joseph Massino, and was a contract on Galante was given the green light.
As part of the plot against Galante, Rastelli and Massino also sought the approval of the Sicilian Zips to betray him, specifically the leader of their faction, Cesare Bonventre, who together with his cousin Baldo Amato, acted as Galante’s bodyguards.
On July 12, 1979, Galante was dropped off for lunch at Joe & Mary’s, an Italian restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. There he dined on an open patio with two loyalists, Leonard Coppola, a Bonanno capo, and restaurant owner/cousin Giuseppe Turano.
After a short while, Bonventre and Amato joined Galante. Despite it being a hot summer day, the two men were wearing leather jackets, presumably to protect themselves from stray bullets.
Suddenly, and without warning, three men wearing ski masks appeared on the patio and opened fire on Galante, Coppola and Turano with shotguns and handguns. After this the three hitmen ran out of the restaurant.
Galante, whose left eye was shot out during the hail of gunfire, and his two lunch companions died instantly. A photograph of the murdered Galante showed a cigar still held between his teeth. Bonventre and Amato were left unharmed, and seemingly did nothing to protect Galante.
The two Sicilians were alleged to have joined in the attack, before disappearing from the scene. A week after the Galante’s murder, Bonventre was arrested by federal agents, but he was soon released and was never charged with involvement in the crime.
For his betrayal of Galante, Cesare Bonventre was subsequently made a capo in the Bonanno family, the youngest ever at the age of twenty-eight. He soon became involved in a lucrative business known as the “Pizza Connection,” in which heroin was imported from Sicily into New York pizza parlors.
With the murder of Galante and the affirmation of Rastelli as boss, a period of discontent and rivalry took place within the Bonanno family. As a result, Rastelli and Massino started purging their opponents in the organization.
In May 1981, three Bonanno family capos were murdered by the Massino/Rastelli faction. Led by Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, the three mobsters had planned a hostile take-over the family, but were lured to their deaths and taken out in what became known as the Three Capos Murders.
But by 1984, Bonventre, who had initially supported the three capos before switching sides, was placed on a hit list by the Bonanno leaders, who considered the young Sicilian a threat to their leadership. He was murdered in April 1984, his remains later found stuffed inside two 55-gallon glue drums.
With Galante’s murder, the power of the Bonanno crime family was eventually consolidated under Joseph Massino, who by the early 2000’s was considered by the FBI to be one of the most powerful mob bosses in the nation.