One of the enduring images of old-time mafia New York is the body of Albert Anastasia on the floor of a barbershop with a towel over his potato face. That was 1957. And now, Carmine ‘‘The Snake’’ Persico, the wise guy who allegedly pulled the trigger, has finally gone to hit-man heaven.
Last of the old-time New York godfathers, Colombo crime family boss Carmine ‘‘The Snake’’ Persico – who continued to run his dirty business from a jail cell – has died at the age of 85.
When Giuliani was a hero
Some of those who might breathe a sigh of relief include Donald Trump’s legal adviser Rudolph Giuliani who – in his more glamorous and celebrated days as a prosecutor – put Persico away for 139 years.
He’d been in prison since 1986.
Persico responded by putting a hit on Mr Giuliani – a contract that was apparently never withdrawn.
For a goodfella who started killing in his teens, it’s perhaps ironic that Persico died from a withered heart – along with diabetes and a rampant infection – mainly because history suggests he never had one.
And he came from a good family
Rare for a volatile personality, Persico couldn’t blame his manipulative, vengeful, faithless self on a miserable upbringing.
His father was a respectable, middle-class stenographer, engaged by local law firms, and his mother stayed at home, tending to the ravioli and taking a firm hand with her children.
But in South Brooklyn of 1940s, young boys didn’t worship singers or even sportsmen quite as much as they were drawn to neighbourhood hoodlums: well dressed and well moneyed, these local heroes were happy to recruit cheap and eager youngsters to run errands and, eventually, prove themselves as do-anything apprentice gangsters.
By the age of 16, short and slight and tempered like a firecracker, Persico was running his own band of stand-over merchants. At 17 – dark-haired and almost pretty with big mournful eyes – he was accused of beating another boy to death. Charges were dropped and suddenly he was a guy on the make.
So began his rise into the world of organised crime at a time when the five New York families – which formed the core of what became known as the Commission – and rogue Italians ran multi-million dollar loan-sharking, hijacking, drug and extortion rackets. All of which has been endlessly glamorised in books, films and TV shows.
The great hits and misses
Legend has it that Persico was part of the hit squad that audaciously killed Albert Anastasia – the most powerful hoodlum of the time – as he was being shaved in the barbershop at the Park Sheraton hotel in Manhattan.
What gave that legend credence beyond rumour was Persico’s own eventual admission to a relative which he made as he headed to jail for good, and perhaps had his own eye on history.
Another legend, at the Sahara Club, a Brooklyn bar, 1961: Persico and another thug were busy strangling a former ally, Larry Gallo, when a policeman walked in. The hoods ran out, leaving Gallo with a rope around his neck.
Charges against Persico were dropped when Gallo begged off giving evidence. Some have wondered if this event inspired the scene in Godfather II when Frank “Frankie Five Angels” Pentangeli, a member of the Corleone family, survives an attempted strangling in a New York bar.
Ten action-packed years later, and countless arrests that led nowhere, Persico – who preferred the nickname “Junior”, a name later given to Tony Soprano’s uncle – had developed a reputation as an untouchable. The law always seemed no more than an inconvenience.
Then, in 1971, and newly convicted on hijacking charges, Persico took control of the Colombo family, after then-boss Joseph Colombo was shot and paralysed during an oddball, Italian-American civil rights march.
Short but with a big mouth
By this time, Persico had survived a shooting assassination and went nowhere without his tomb-stone shape and bull-sized bodyguard Hugh McIntosh (probably not an Italian).
But it was his own big mouth that brought him down, in a series of wiretaps that also led to the breaking up of the Commission and the federal takedown of Lucchese family boss Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo and Genovese boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno who each were given 100-year jail sentences on racketeering charges under the famed RICO statutes (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations).
The Snake was the last man standing.
All those other guys have long rotted in their natty woollen suits.