By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
Vincent Squillante and his part in the Mafia underworld of New York is a snapshot of a time long gone and unlikely to be repeated. As he came into adulthood, Cosa Nostra was reaching its zenith.
There is little written about significant events occurring in Italian-American organized crime after 1931 until the Kefauver Hearings, a United States Special Committee on Organized Crime that carried out its investigation during 1951. It produced an 11000 page report and introduced millions of Americans to real gangsters, not the ones they had watched in movies and on their black and white television sets.
Assuming the five Mafia crime families that came to dominate New York were emerging in the early 1900s, the 1950s was not only a midway point in the 20th Century but also a half-way point in the growth and development of this criminal organization that had essentially remained hidden from the public until the senator, Estes Kefauver, from Tennessee, faced up to the gangsters in cities across the country.
By the time Squillante fell in with Cosa Nostra, joining a regina or crew in The Bronx, his crime family had already gone through three leaders at least, and there would be three more in his short lifetime. One would be murdered, one bring him wealth and power and the other would kill him.
Luigi Squillante and Bedelia Alberti, who had settled in The Bronx, had at least ten children, seven girls and three boys. What happened to the sisters is unknown. One brother, Nunzio, lived until he died of natural causes, cancer, aged sixty-seven in 1990, in a hospital in Catskill, New York.
One disappeared, assumed dead. That was Vincent. William, the third brother, ran The Bluebird Pizzeria on Burke Avenue in The Bronx that was a suspected hangout for drug traffickers and mobsters.
Vincent was born in June 1917, and at some stage in his late teens or twenties was part of the Mafia in The Bronx, working in a crew under Frank Scalice, who had at one time ruled the Mangano Mafia crime family before stepping down in the early 1930s. Some sources claim Scalice proposed Vincent into the mob, which, if true, would make later events almost like a Greek tragedy.
In the early 1940s, the underboss of the family was a man called Albert Anastasia (right). He had accepted the role when Scalice stepped aside and handed the leadership of the family over to Vincenzo Mangano. He was from Palermo. Albert from Calabria. They were in a fiercely partisan organization, like fire and water. It would not turn out well for one of them.
The Mafia family we know today as The Gambinos had at least four crews operating in The Bronx and Harlem when Squillante entered their world, or in the years immediately following, led by David Amodeo, Rocco Mazzie, Arthur Leo and Joe Zingaro. Vincent would mix and mingle with a lot of strange men with names like Pasta Fazula, Joey Surprise, Nanny the Geep, Shats, The Sidge, Foongy and Joe Stutz. In the Mafia underworld, men would know each other for years only by their nicknames. In a landscape where no one trusted their own shadow, it made sense from a security angle.
Squillante generated a criminal record from the early 1950s for income-tax evasion, extortion and drug trafficking, although the tax rap was the only one he fell victim to. The 58K fine the courts issued him was paid for its alleged, through levies imposed on cartage companies that came under his control. He euchred his association members into effectively bailing him out of a federal crime.
He was in the sights of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) who registered him as a major target, although his main forte became control and manipulation of labor unions, especially in the field of garbage removal.
- READ: “I’m in waste management!” - Genovese Mafia family soldier Frank Giovinco
At the 1957 McClellan senate hearing into organized crime****, FBN agent Joe Amato, a founding member of what was referred to in the bureau as “The Italian Team” a squad of four, based in New York, stated before the committee members that “Squillante and his nephew, Gennaro Mancuso, were the kingpins of a secret society specifically organized for narcotic smuggling.”
Dramatic as it sounded, the agency could never pin a charge on Squillante for peddling drugs.
The Gambino Family throughout their ninety years of changing names and leaderships, have concentrated on three main commercial areas to generate cash revenue through their control of legitimate sources-construction, the waterfront docks and the garbage industry. Vincent Squillante would make his bones for the family not by killing people but by making a lot of money for it, by controlling the trash industry, or at least a significant part of it, especially on Long Island.
He operated from offices in Manhattan and Long Island City and shared the control of Teamsters Local 813 formed in 1951 whose approximately 2000 members were self-employed garbage truckers operating in New York and Long Island, with a crooked Jewish con man called Bernard Adelstein who had been with the union since its inception, manipulating the union for his and the Mafia’s benefit.
“Bernard Adelstein (left), secretary and treasurer of Local 813, the dominant union in the New York carting industry, served as a tool in all the empire-building activities of Vincent Squillante.......
..... Adelstein was able to put his union at Squillante’s complete disposal in enforcing monopolies, punishing trade association critics of Squillante and engaging Squillante-favored non-union firms. We find that garbage collection industry men banded together in associations which eventually invoked monopoly and restraint of trade arrangements with a system of punishments for nonconforming members.
In Vincent Squillante we have presented the picture of a man who traded on his association with key underworld characters and his ability to “handle” Local 813, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to parley himself into a position where he was the absolute czar of the private sanitation industry in Greater New York.”
The chairman of the committee’s concluding statement focuses on Squillante, whose “only previous qualifications were in the New York policy rackets and as a pusher of narcotics.... [and who] traded on his associations with the under-world and the union to create a monopoly and the racketeers also set up ‘whip’ companies to discipline nonconforming carters by bidding away their customers with artificially low prices.”
The committee also claimed Squillante traded on his links into the Mafia to establish himself as executive director of Grand Sanitation Company, Corsair Carting Company and Carters Landfill Company. That he forced people into various associations and Local 813, and created a monopoly in the collection of cartage in the greater New York area.
He also refused to answer questions 120 times, quoting his rights under the 5th Amendment, which gives a person a right not to answer questions that may incriminate themselves.
Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy tried every which way, but could not get Squillante or Adelstein to disclose anything. The little mobster even checked with his lawyer before admitting his name.
So, he was acknowledged as a powerhouse in graft and corruption, controlling a labor union, and the waste disposal industry. But.
Was he a killer?
History has written about him being a hit-man for Anastasia, although it seems more sound than fury.
A tiny man physically. An FBI report lists him as five two, some sources claim below five feet, and weighing, in the shower, wet, about one twenty. About the size of a jockey. Doesn’t mean he could not be deadly. Although the claims made by writers about him being a killer are not born out by any evidence. The law never arrested him in connection with a murder.
Although he was allegedly connected to two notable killing-one in 1951 and the other one that occurred on a hot, sunny day in the summer of 1957.
Vincent Mangano, the boss of the family, was constantly fighting with Albert Anastasia. On one occasion, it’s alleged, they almost came to blows.
In April 1951, Vincent and his brother Philip disappeared. They found his body in a salt-marsh in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, shot repeatability in the face. Vincent was gone forever. Rumors that circulated afterwards claimed he was part of a housing complex foundation on Long Island.
Their murders have been a cold case since day one.
In 1968, a man called Jim Carra, in an interview in Parade Magazine, claimed Vincent Mangano was lured to a house somewhere on Long island, killed and his body ground up in a garbage truck and dumped somewhere. The killer, according to Carra, was Vincent Squillante. There has been much debate that Carra was actually Alfonso Attardi, a soldier under the family boss Salvatore D’Aquila, who himself was murdered in 1928.
Jim never told us who killed Philip. Someone did. Badly. Shot repeatedly in the face, his funeral was a closed coffin affair. His nephew, Vincent Greco, helped to organize the send off, ensuring his uncle’s body remained a memory only by his photograph on display in the funeral parlor.
Frank Scalice, the underboss to Anastasia, was killed one afternoon in June 1957, while shopping for peaches in a fruit store on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. Two men, identically dressed in white shirts and wearing sunglasses, walked up to him and shot him dead. They then left the store, climbed into a waiting car and disappeared into the shimmering heat of a dog-day afternoon.
Squillante may have been one of the shooters, we don’t know for sure. If not hefting a gun that afternoon, he probably set up the killing, managing it for Anastasia. Only a family boss could authorize a hit of this magnitude. And he would have used someone close to organize it.
Squillante’s relationship with Anastasia was tight enough that they shared the barbershop on that historic October morning in 1957, when Albert was blasted out of his chair by two gunmen.
Sitting in chair number five, as the bullets flew and ricocheted, according to a manicurist, Jean Weinberger in her statement to detectives from the 18th Precinct, Vincent yelled “I’m outta here.” and was gone in a New York minute.
- READ: Mob Meeting at Apalachin
Carlo Gambino (right), a long-serving member of the crime family, almost certainly orchestrated Anastasia’s murder. By the time the dust settled and the other family's heads knew what was what, he had taken over the reins and was guiding its destiny for the next twenty years.
While all this was fitting into place, Vince Squillante was nervously preparing for his future. He probably knew fate was sliding around him like a hungry anaconda and a month after the sensational rub-out of his boss, the law came looking for him.
On November 19, 20 or 22 (different sources give varying dates), along with brother Nunzio (left) and Adelstein, he was arrested and charged with extortion linked to garbage removal contracts for the U.S. Air Force base on Michael Field, Long Island. Their trial in 1958 at Nassau County Supreme Court found them all guilty, and they received various sentences: Vincent up to 15 years, Nunzio up to 5 years, and Adelstein up to 10 years. They released Vincent on bail of $50,000 while his appeal process wound its way through the judicial system.
While being held in prison, Squillante shared a cell with a Russia spy called Rudolf Abel. His real name, which was never disclosed while he was in American custody, was William August Fisher, and he had been born and raised in Benwell, a suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the north-east of England. America eventually exchanged him for Gary Powers, the famous U-2 spy pilot shot down over Russia.
Squillante protested the cell arrangement as “being cruel and unusual punishment,” claiming it was ruining his good name.
On or about September 30, 1960, he disappeared.
While some claim the mob killed him over his ties to Anastasia, it seems more likely, based on the timing, that Carlo Gambino acted to head off at the pass something that could’ve been a major problem. By taking Squillante out, Gambino eliminated the scenario of a media spotlight on a potential Mafia-linked scandal involving the waste removal industry.
Joseph Valachi the mob informant, claimed when under questioning on September 25, 1963, in a U.S. Senate Investigation into organized crime, “Squillante when he lost Albert, he was not worth a nickel.” The soldier in the Genovese Family also started the rumor that Anastasia had made Squillante his godson. Considering there was a mere fifteen years difference in their ages, Valachi probably meant it in the Italian padrino way rather than a biological one.
There was also the ever possible chance Squillante might turn cop and become an informant to get a lighter sentence. Otherwise, Gambino did not seem to be in a rush to kill a lot of Anastasia’s close associates.
One that went was Armand Rava, who worked with the same crew as Squillante. He had been close to Anastasia and died because of his defiance towards the new family head. According to an FBI informant, someone murdered him sometime in 1959, ironically, in a funeral home in Florida, and his body dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Sleeping with the fishes, the mob called it.
Another was Johnny Robilotto, who had come in with Anastasia after being rejected as a member of the Genovese Family because his brother was a police officer. His dead body, with multiple gunshots wounds to the head, was found on Utica Avenue, Brooklyn, in the late afternoon, on September 7, 1958. According to different sources, he was either murdered by Rava along with Aniello Dellacroce, or the brothers Eppolito, Ralph and Jimmy.
Years into the future, Dellacroce would become the underboss to the notorious John Gotti, and the Eppolito’s nephew, Louis, will go down in history as one of the most infamous New York cops, ever.
The shifting sands and tortuous maneuverings that always result after a mob boss is murdered, and the vacuum filled triggered both murders. Almost always by the man who orchestrated the coup. The politics of Cosa Nostra make the “Hill” in Washington D.C. a monastery in comparison.
How Squillante died and who killed him remains a mystery, as expected. He disappeared sometime after September 21, 1960. The FBI had an informant they registered as T-174 and he passed on to his handler that the hoodlum was murdered by Frank Troia along with three others, his brother Leo, Nick Rattenni, and Joe Fiorello, aka Joey Surprise, at a garbage dump in Hopewell Junction, New York. The body was compacted and buried in the tip. Or so the snitch claimed.
An apocryphal story that did the rounds for many years claimed Squillante was invited to a party in a house somewhere in New York, where, when suitably drunk and helpless, he was attacked and murdered by a bunch of women who were girlfriends, wives, mothers or sisters of men he had killed.
Stabbing him repeatedly, they then chopped up the body that was carted off to some unknown place.
Perhaps the closest to the truth which might link into the theory of Gambino approving the hit to ensure no problems with Squillante becoming a liability as his trial loomed, is the version offered by Jerry Capeci, the Mafia expert, in his book, “Murder Machine.”
It’s claimed Antonino Gaggi, a Brooklyn-based criminal, had hated Squillante (right) for years for his alleged part in the murder of Gaggi’s relative, Frank Scalice. He and an associate murdered Squillante somewhere in The Bronx and disposed of the body at a place on 10th Street. All neat and tidy, except there are nine 10th Streets across New York, and none of them in The Bronx. This act of vendetta may have promoted Gaggi into the Gambino family as a soldier. Getting a “button” for carrying out a hit would be the ultimate aim for any would-be Mafioso.
Often, when trying to understand the Mafia, the difference between fact and fiction is self-delusion. So much written about it is rumor, heresy or speculation. Even the hard facts have, at times, the consistency of Camembert cheese.
Vincent James Squillante was a hoodlum; a tater-tot one, but still, a bad guy. He lived and died in a society where mistakes almost always resulted in bad stuff. He ended up a particle in the quantum world of something as dazzling as theoretical physics, provided you prefer your crime as noir as it gets.
The American Mafia at mafiahistory.us hosted by Tom Hunt was a source of reference and I acknowledge his website and the invaluable contribution he makes to help researchers understand the complexities of a criminal phenomenon that has puzzled and intrigued so many of us, for so many years.
Other provenances for this story are various books, newspaper articles, reports from government hearings and FBI records available on-line.
****The McClellan Committee was formerly titled: United States Congress Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field. Formed on January 30, 1957, it published its final report on March 11, 1960.
- Back to Thom L. Jones' Mob Corner or the Gambino crime family section on Gangsters Inc.
- Check out the latest news on organized crime and the Mafia at our news section
- Check out our social media channels
- About Gangsters Inc.
Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.