A Funeral in Brooklyn

A Funeral in Brooklyn

By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.

Historians describe the Mafia underworld of Gotham as fraught with complexities, uncertainties, frustrations and terrors. (1)

In 1951, there were 243 recorded homicides in the city of New York (2).

One of them was Philip Mangano. What makes his violent death memorable are his family ties, both genealogical and criminal. His brother, Vincent, was the boss of what is today referred to as The Gambino Family. Part of the Mafia of America. Although never confirmed, some sources claim Philip was his brother’s underboss, although most Mafia researchers maintain this was a man called Albert Anastasia and that Philip was consigliere, or counsellor to his brother. Either or. We don’t really know.

Hidden to the public, and even many law enforcement agencies, the brothers had a brief claim to international fame in 1940. In Italy, the Treasury Police compiled a document and forwarded it to a U.S. Customs Supervisor in New York, who sent it to his boss in Chicago. From there, it found its way to The Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The report outlined details showing there was a Grand Council of the Sicilian Mafia in America, made up of nine men, two of whom were Vincent and Philip Mangano. Five of the nine were from New York, showing the powerhouse it was within America’s Italian-American underworld.

Although it mentions nothing about how this council operated, it confirmed the existence of a Mafia in the United States, and that it was organized enough to have a board of governors. And there were Vincent and Philip at the top of the list. This was years before senate hearings into organized crime in America disclosed the existence of the secret society and the general public became aware of the phenomena. (3)

10165257494?profile=RESIZE_180x180Joe Bonanno, the boss of his own Mafia family, and a close friend of Vincent, once referred to Anastasia (left) as “Mangano’s number two,” which could be on the mark, although Bonanno was writing his memoir over thirty-years after the events surrounding the murder of Philip Mangano, and his book was referred to as “an exercise in self-deception and revisionist history.” So how accurate is accurate, is hard to say. (4).

Another source based on the so-called history of one of New York’s first alleged big Mafia bosses, Giuseppe Balsamo, whose stamping ground was Red Hook, states, “Vincent Mangano and his brother Philip, picked as co-bosses.” However, this account of the formation of early Mafia families riddled with inaccuracies, is written more as a novel than a historical interpretation of the events that were taking place among Mafia clans in the first half of the 20th Century in America’s biggest city and should be treated with caution as a reliable source. (5).

Anastasia is a man who will reappear in this story.

10165255490?profile=RESIZE_400xHis family waked Philip (right) in a closed coffin. The damage to his face and head by heavy calibre pistol bullets was too much for even the most experienced embalmer. Gunshot wounds at close quarter are catastrophic examples of the frailty of the human body.

This photograph, supplied by a member of the family, is the one posted by the author some years ago on the web. It was the one that stood on his coffin at his wake and funeral service. Prior to this, an image of Lawrence Mangano, a member of the Chicago Outfit was advertised as him. Interestingly, they may have been distant paternal cousins.

Philip’s nephew, Vincent, who everyone called Jimmy, or by his nickname, Tootie, decided to keep his uncle’s body an undisclosed centre for the mourners who would attend. His uncle Vincent, who was also his godfather, as well as the Godfather, did not attend the wake or the funeral. Patronyms fill Italian families like bees searching for honey.

At first, it was believed he had gone into hiding to avoid the same fate as his brother; was perhaps hiding out at his farm in up state New York, fled to Florida, but this was gradually determined to be a false hope for his family. Ten years after he vanished, on November 15, 1961, his son, a lawyer, officially had him declared dead. For tax purposes. The date of death is shown on his wife’s gravestone as though he was laid alongside her twenty years after Carolina’s passing. Wherever his remains lie, it is not in a graveyard in Brooklyn next to the woman he had rushed back to Sicily in 1911 to marry when he learned she had another man chasing after her.

He brought his 20 year old bride back first class on the SS Guglielmoon September 13. He was listed as carrying $1000 in cash, about $30,000 in today’s money. For a twenty-four-year who had arrived in New York as a teenager on the SS Gerty on July 5, 1905, with $10 declared, life had changed dramatically in his six years in America.

10165231901?profile=RESIZE_400xBoth the biological and criminal families were no doubt shocked by this sudden episode of violence that had taken place as spring was thrusting its way through a city eager to forget its winter. For Philip and his brother, there would be more than just showers in this April 1951.

Jimmy and his family cared for Agatha, Philip’s wife, and supported her son, in the weeks of questionings they faced from the police and other law enforcement agencies who were trying to make sense out of something beyond their capabilities. The media were getting it wrong as usual, with The New York Times claiming Philip as an aide to Joe Adonis, who was, in fact, one of the capi, or crew bosses in the Mangano Family. Technically, way out of Philip’s league in the pecking order. (6)

Mafia stories most times don’t turn out good-someone almost always dies. The great paradox is, of course, the players are often ordinary people doing the bad stuff. Men with wives and families trying to navigate their way through the complexities of a Machiavelli way of self-destruction driven by greed and jealousy.

Murray Kempton, an iconic figure in the newspaper reporting world, once claimed, “Mobsters didn’t control the world, that they were mostly just truck drivers without jobs.” Another famous New York reporter, Jimmy Breslin, called them “grammar-school dropouts who kill each other....”

Every source tells us that Philip’s funeral was sparsely attended. All of them are wrong. The whole Mangano family waked and mourned him prior to his burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in East Flatbush, in a graveyard as flat as an Illinois plain. There would have been north of twenty, plus family friends. Maybe both families. (7)

Four of the eight Mangano children and their mother, Serafina, came to America, settled permanently, and lived good lives, contributing their atoms of decency and effort to the elemental molecule we know as New York. The vast majority of Italian immigrants were honest, hard-working people searching for the American dream. The exception that proves the rule manifests itself in outliers like Philip and his brother Vincent.

The two became powerful figures in the world of New York’s Mafia, although significantly unimposing in the physical sense. Philip was small in stature, standing barely five feet one. Vincent was by far the tallest in their biological family at five six or seven. The whole family, boys and girls, were on the short size, with some females not even making five feet. Growing up in the harsh world of nineteenth-century Palermo, there was a lot more to worry about than how tall they might come to be.

The funeral is held on April 23, four days after his body was discovered about ten in the morning, sprawled face down in marshland near Avenue Y and East 72nd Street in the Bergen Beach marshes area known today as McGuire Fields, in south-east Brooklyn. Mary Gooch, who lived on Avenue X, about 300 yards away, found the body as she was heading off to her boat nearby. Not the first time for her. In 1949, close by, she had discovered the strangled body of a police officer’s wife. Another crime that was never solved. (8)

10165259686?profile=RESIZE_400xPhilip was wearing a shirt, tie and clip, under-shorts and socks. There was no jacket and no trousers or shoes. His socks underneath were clean, which showed the body (left) had been carried or dragged to the spot and dumped. Police found a rope near the body which may have been used for this purpose. He had died from three gunshot wounds to the neck and each cheek.

There was nothing to identify the body, except a large diamond ring on one finger, but his fingerprints revealed him as a man with a substantial police record of eight arrests, including one for murder, in 1923, when he was twenty-five. He was a lead suspect in the March killing of Giovanni Pecoraro, a Mafioso from Palermo Province, who was a member of another New York Mafia family. Police surmised it was part of a dispute involving rival boot legging gangs. It may have been a much complicated incident involving the Mafia gang the Mangano brothers had become part of and a man called Giuseppe Masseria who was creating his own underworld pack of thugs and killers, and spreading his wings across the city.

Philip is a person of interest in a gangland killing in Buffalo the year after. The Mangano brothers and the mob bosses of up-state New York were close friends. The law can not find enough evidence to prosecute him in both cases. He turns up again as a major suspect in the shotgun murders of Joe Amberg and Morris Kessler, gunned down in a garage in Brownsville, Brooklyn in September 1935. Slides away from this one as well.

His autopsy report assumed death sometime on the day before his body is discovered. If this is accurate, it shows he was probably kidnapped and held somewhere for maybe as long as a day before his execution. His wife, Agatha, last reported seeing him on the morning of April 17.

The day of his funeral, the winds were blowing from the south with a slight drizzle of rain coming in from the Atlantic. It might have reached 15 degrees as the mourners huddled around the graveside under a bleak, grey sky filled with clouds drifting like rags soaked in dirty chalk.

No one was ever remotely a legal suspect in his murder. Whoever killed him, may well have also killed his brother, Vincent, who disappeared about the same time-frame. They did not find his body. Claiming to be a real estate dealer, he ran his business from a building in the 300 block of Clinton Street near Degraw, called The City Democratic Club, and the ILA (International Longshoremen’s Association) meeting room at 33 President Street, both in Brooklyn.

Why Philip is discovered minus his shoes, pants, and coat has never been explained. If the killer was sending a message, it was heavily coded, and so far, never solved. Was there a reason he had to be found but not his brother?

Maybe his killer simply took the clothes and shoes because of their obvious high quality, but drew a line at stripping the body naked. Mafia killers are rarely chosen for their moral compass.

10165333473?profile=RESIZE_400xLegend tells us that the murders were organized by Albert Anastasia (right), the possible underboss of the family since it arose out of the turmoil of the 1930-1931 New York Mafia underworld war. It’s as good a speculation as we will get.

The killers may have been Gioacchino “Jack” Sparacino and Jimmy Squillante, both subsequently murdered themselves. Interestingly, Squillante was the same height and build as Philip Mangano. The history of the Mafia is filled with assumptions and theories. There is a lot of alleging in Mafia land. The dead litter its recorded pages like coffee stains spilt by someone lost in a dream as they flip the pages.

The brothers had, through their crime family, exerted a stronghold on the Brooklyn docks, especially in the Red Hook area for many years. Anastasia was their muscle as was his brother, Anthony, through their control of the International Longshoremen’s Association along with Emil Camarda, the Mangano’s cousin, and Gus Scannavino, their brother-in-law. Providenza, one of Philip’s sisters, had married Constantino (Gus) in June 1920 and he became part of both the families.

The good one and the bad one.

Family members recall him as “Uncle Gus,” a kind, old grandfather-type who told them stories and fed them candies when they visited as small children at his home in Carroll Gardens which butts onto Red Hook, where quaint streets filled with terraces of brownstones stand lined with ash and maple and plane trees, shading gardens of roses and lilac and forsythia.

They never knew that he was a suspect in the kidnapping and murder in 1939 of Peter Panto, a young, trade union activist fighting for better pay and conditions on the Brooklyn docks. He left a meeting at 33 President Street, got into a car that contained three men, including “Uncle Gus,” about 7.30 that evening of July 14, and is never seen alive again. (9)

His decaying remains are found in marshland in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, in December 1940. Emanuel Weiss, a member of the infamous Brownsville Troop of Jewish thugs and killers sometimes used by Anastasia to clear the streets of bothersome problems, had murdered him.

On weekends, Phil and Vince would take the children, the cousins and nieces and nephews, the whole gang, to the movies on Saturday to see the latest film at the Westend Theatre on the corner of West Beach Street and Tennessee Avenue in Long Beach, then afterwards, to the ice-cream parlor. Sundays they would go boating and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, then load up on the food that Phil’s wife, “Aunt Aggie,”Agatha Trovato, would keep coming from her endless kitchen at their weekend home near the beach.

On Mondays, the brothers Mangano would go back to work running their other family, the criminal one, screwing the Brooklyn docks, and, when necessary, killing people.

They were gangsters or hoodlums or mobsters, but above all, in the panorama of life, they were men with wives and children. In the bleak uncertainty of their existence, their only paradigm was their family. The true compass they needed to follow. Their proper family, not the strange, unnatural world of Cosa Nostra, an expression Vincent sometimes used when describing their criminal life. It was a term that would come to haunt the anthology of Mafia literature in the decades to follow. In America and Sicily. Our Thing or This Thing of Ours becomes a synonym that will forever be inextricably part of Mafia lore.

Anastasia, often referred to as “The Mad Hatter,” in the underworld of New York, was apparently soft clay in the hands of his Canadian-born wife, Elsa Barnesi.

Agatha Mangano will live on long after her husband’s death, until her time comes in a New Jersey care home, when she is bordering on a century. Almost 50 years after her husband was taken from her, she goes to join him. Their only son, like Vincent’s boy, was a lawyer. A power maker on the right side of the law. The first generation that came from the immigrants, escaping the poverty and restrictions of a sometimes medieval Europe, would surely be the right example for the next generation.

There would be more funerals in Brooklyn for the Mangano family, but none of them were like the one in April, 1951.

As time, with its comet tail, takes us through the decades since the killing of Philip Mangano, it’s worth remembering what Chilean author Roberto Bolaño believed:

“In the vast night, the same night in which all of us will be lost, the stars twinkle and beyond them the moment extends its mantle of orbs and lights.” (10)

Maybe that is where all the answers are to be found. All the mysteries explained.

Some of the background for this story was provided to me by a member of the Mangano family, whose identity I agreed not to disclose.

I also acknowledge http://www.writersofwrongs.com/2017/04/66-years-ago-mangano-murder.html

Tom Hunt’s story about the killing of Philip Mangano as a source of information.

1) Block, Alan. East Side-West Side. Cardiff University Press, 1980.

2) Wnyc.org

3) The document is located in The George White Papers, housed by History San Jose Research Library at 1661 Senter Road, San Jose, California 95112.

4) Bonanno, Joseph and Lalli, Sergio. A Man of Honour. Andre Deutsch, London. 1983.

5) Balsamo, William and Carpozi Jr, George. Crime Incorporated New Horizon Press, 1988.

6) The New York Times. April 20, 1951.

7) The Mangano Biological Family looks like this. All born in Palermo City to Vincenzo and Serafina Simonetti. In ascending order of age:

Rosalia born February 28, 1876. She never visited America.

Francesco born 1882. He moved to America in March 1905, but at some point, returned to Italy permanently.

Venera born January 6 1884. Died in New York September 4 1969.

Lorenza born January 4 1886. Died in New York. Unknown date.

Vincenzo (Vincent) born December 14 1888. Date of death unknown, probably on or around April 17-19 1951.

Girolamo born November 11 1892. Died Brooklyn 1983.

Providenza born September 19 1895. Died Brooklyn 1972.

Filippo (Philip) born September 9 1898. Died, probably in Brooklyn, between April 17-19 1951.

8) Reavil, Gil. Mafia Summit. Thomas Dunne Books. 2013.

9) Labor Noir: transportworkers.org/node/1618

10) Bolaño Roberto. Cowboy Graves. Penguin Press. New York, 2021.

Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.

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