Brutal Christmas killing of Paul Castellano – one of New York’s most feared Mafia bosses

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Nine days before Christmas 1985, feared Mafia Godfather Paul Castellano arrived for a meeting over dinner at Sparks Steak House in Midtown Manhattan.

As he was getting out of his chauffeur-driven car, a squad of gunmen ran up to the head of New York’s Gambino crime family and shot him multiple times in the head, chest and abdomen.

The once-feared Mob boss was left in a pool of blood on the pavement busy New York street, his body riddled with bullet holes.

His execution sparked fears of a new crime war in the city.

One FBI expert said at the scene: “This undoubtedly will trigger some sort of reaction. It’s part of the changing of the (Mafia) guard that’s been going on for the last 25 years.

Castellano’s death is one of the brutal incidents that’s played out in Netflix’s latest true crime series, Fear City: New York vs The Mafia.

Paul Castellano was born in New York in 1915. His father was a butcher and a member of the Mangano crime family, later renamed the Gambino crime family, one of five Mafia crime organisations that dominated New York.

He dropped out of school in his early teens, helping his father run gambling rackets.

Throughout his teens his reputation for Mob loyalty grew – he served three months in prison after refusing to identify accomplices in a robbery – and by the 1940s had become a member of the Mangano crime family.

He was soon promoted to the rank of capo, running a crew of soldiers like a business that earned thousands of dollars every week for him and the bosses above.

The following decade saw him join the Gambino crime family as underboss, one rank below the head, where he helped control New York’s unions.

The Gambino family was the most powerful crime organisation in the United States, and in 1975 he was promoted to acting boss when Carlo Gambino fell ill.

The decision was not well received, with many supporting the family’s other underboss.

Throughout his Mafia career, Castellano ran his crews like a business rather than an organised crime unit, legitimising businesses and making millions of dollars. He built himself a huge home on Staten Island that resembled the White House.

Nevertheless, he could still be cold-blooded.

He allegedly ordered his daughter’s boyfriend to be murdered after he compared him to the owner of a meat processing firm, something he considered a grave insult.

Frank Amato was also said to be killed, chopped up and thrown into the sea after Castellano learned he’s apparently been abusing his daughter, who Amato was married to.

Numerous other murders were also ordered by Castellano.

When Castellano was made boss of the Gambino crime family, he took over the business leaving popular long-standing underboss Aniello Dellacroce in charge of the traditional Mob side, such as extortion and loansharking.

This move effectively created a split in the family, with those loyal to Dellacroce unhappy about the decision to put Castellano in charge.

One of those men was John Gotti, who believed the boss was just a businessman who didn’t get his hands dirty on the streets, like a true mobster.

Things escalated with Gotti becoming heavily involved with drug trafficking, and had been arrested in 1983 for dealing heroin.

Castellano had banned his family from drug dealing under threat of death.

On December 2 1985 Dellacroce died of cancer. His death sparked a chain of events that would lead to Castellano’s assasination a fortnight later.

Castellano announced his bodyguard Thomas Bilotti as the new underboss,

He also failed to attend Dellacroce’s wake – something seen as an insult to his family and followers – and hinted that Gotti’s crew would be broken up.

An incensed Gotti was also aware Castellano could order a hit on him, or demote him from his rank of capo, due to his drug dealing the which was becoming more widely known by the authorities.

He decided to strike first.

To assassinate a Mob boss, permission would normally need to be given by the rest of the Mafia Commission, made up of the heads of all five New York crime families.

Instead, Gotti garnered support from those at his level in the city’s other crime organisations.

Gotti was informed that Castellano would be meeting other members of the Gambino mob at Sparks Steak House on December 16 1985.

A team of gunmen lay in wait near the restaurant entrance with a back-up crew further down the street. Gotti himself was watching from across the road.

At 5.26pm, Bilotti pulled up outside the steak house with Castellano in the rear of the limousine. As the boss got out, gunmen wearing hats and trench coats ran up to him and shot him six times.

In the flurry of shots Bilotti was also hit six times in the head and chest.

The Godfather was left on the pavement, his head in the gutter, while this number two lay stricken in the middle of the busy New York street.

Afterwards Gotti drove up to the scene to take a closer look at the bodies before leaving.

John Gotti was made boss of the Gambino crime family shortly after the execution.

The following year an attempted car bombing on him – ordered by another family head to avenge Castellano’s death – killed his underboss.

In December 1990, nearly five years to the day since the hit, Gotti was arrested and charged with five murders – including Castellano and Bilotti’s – as well as conspiracy to murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion.

At the 1992 trial the prosecution played recordings of bugged conversations, showing the animosity between Gotti and Castellano.

A former member of the Gambino family, Salvaatore Gravano, also testified that he sat in the car with Gotti and they used walkie-talkies to notify the gunmen when Castellano was approaching.

A New York Times report said “Gotti maintained a fixed smile as he stared at his former friend and trusted aide”.

Gotti was convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison. He died of cancer in 2002.

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