On January 31, 1974, Carmine Galante was loving life. Everything had that new freedom smell. Another thing had changed since Galante went away a dozen years earlier: He no longer drove. Now he always had a driver pick him up and drop him off. Sometimes bodyguards would drive. Other times his daughter Nina would play chauffeur. On this day, Galante was driven around town in a white-over-red Caddy by his nephew, who lived out on Long Island in Nassau County.
They rode from Manhattan to Bath Beach in an Oldsmobile bearing Jersey plates. Galante visited the Magic Lantern, a bar owned by his son-in-law, Nina’s husband, Louis Volpe, located on Bath Avenue. Volpe lived at Eighteenth Avenue and 79th Street in Bensonhurst, just north of Bath Beach.
As exhibited by his handball games, Galante’s days of losing were over. FBI informants—one of whom turned out to be Bill Bonanno, son of Joseph, turned rat—laid it out for the feds: Galante controlled the Bonanno Family and would “definitely make a power play with Carlo Gambino in an attempt to become the one-and-only crime lord of New York City.” Inside the Magic Lantern, Galante was observed talking to swarthy men in Sicilian-accented Italian. It looked like Galante was conducting business.
The swarthy men were Knickerbocker Zips, the Sicilian guys who did more than just drive and bodyguard. Galante gave them capo status so they could operate with their own crews, and they had their headquarters in a variety of pizza parlors and pastry shops up and down Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick.
With the Bonanno Family in disarray, ranks depleted, the Zips formed the infrastructure for a new family, Lilo’s Family. And Galante was conducting business out of the Magic Lantern. He took over a gambling and loans op that was running out of Penn Station. He chipped away at Gambino power by demanding a piece of the action in Manhattan sweatshops.
Galante had grudges. Rastelli, whom the Commission had named top Bonanno, and Gambino underboss Aniello Dellacroce. Galante and Dellacroce, vicious down to their toenails, were two peas in a pod and so naturally hated each other’s guts. Besides, Galante still held a grudge against Dellacroce because he’d whacked a couple of Galante’s heroin dealers.
But there was nobody Galante hated more in the world than Frank Costello, tops on Galante’s list of guys who would die before he did. Problem was, on February 18, 1973, while Galante was still in Atlanta, Frank Costello died of throat cancer in Doctors Hospital in New York City at the age of eighty-two. Costello’s body was taken to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. Galante heard the news and was beyond pissed. Smoke came out of his ears. Costello had deprived Galante of the pleasure of killing him.
Costello’s death was reported heavily in the news. America had an interest in Costello, getting to know him when he testified before the Kefauver Committee on national television. He was memorable as the guy whose face they didn’t see. He agreed to be on television only if his face was never shown, so TV cameras focused on Costello’s finely manicured hands during his testimony, which he delivered in a raspy voice straight out of Central Casting.
Costello answered more questions than most of the hoods who testified. He didn’t take the Fifth at all, which made him different. He also said absolutely nothing of value to the Kefauver Committee. He admitted to being a bootlegger and a bookmaker years before. Who wasn’t? But that was a long time ago and these days he knew less than nothing about organized crime.
They asked him what he’d done to his credit as an American citizen. “I paid my taxes,” Costello said. Everyone laughed. Oh yeah, America remembered him.
His obituary was action-packed. Illegal booze, gambling, a famous assassination attempt featuring parted hair and a celebrity gun- man known for his chin, the attempt to deport him during the late 1950s, a man who’d aged out of hood activity, who’d been laying low during the last years of his life, seldom leaving the Central Park apartment that he shared with his wife, Loretta.
When Costello died, there was a small fuss about the size of his funeral convoy, about the size of the flower arrangements around his coffin, and, finally, about the size of his tomb, which was larger than many Manhattan apartments. Joking—sort of. A caretaker at St. Michael’s Cemetery was a blabbermouth, told a reporter that the plot alone cost Ms. Costello $4,880.
“She paid in cash,” the caretaker said.
On that five-grand plot they built an elegant marble mausoleum. The contractor who built the structure later said he had no idea that its occupant was infamous. “I didn’t recognize the name,” the guy said, a smart contractor. He said that he’d taken the job from an elderly man named Amilcare Festa, who turned out to be a trusted neighbor of Frank Costello’s mother. The contractor was paid in cash, a series of packets, each containing fifty hundred-dollar bills.
This stuff about Costello’s legacy being the fanciest tomb in the whole fucking cemetery appeared in the papers and Galante had Nina read it to him while he sat and drank wine and brooded. That shit stuck in Galante’s craw. When Galante got out of prison in January 1974, one of his first orders was: “Blow up that fucker Frank Costello’s fucking mausoleum. Fuck with his body!”
Costello had been dead for months, but the mission was ordered with urgency. If Galante couldn’t blow Costello up when he was alive, he would blow him up while he was dead.
So a few Zips, The Tall Guy and a couple of others, went out to buy the dynamite and headed to St. Michael’s Cemetery in the East Elmhurst section of Queens, where Costello’s final resting place was about to lose its doors to an explosion that could be heard all the way to Astoria.
The police report said that the doors to the tomb had been blown right off and that the “remains had been disturbed.” Not too many guys have the stomach for that kind of ghoulish work. They grow ’em tough in Castellammare.