Mob boss Paul Castellano aka Big Paul was a notorious Mafia leader known for being ruthless. He was the head of the Gambino crime family, la Cosa Nostra’s largest American family at the time. Here’s a peek into the Mafioso’s life.
He was known as “The Howard Hughes of the Mob” & ran America’s largest Cosa Nostra family during his reign. His name was Paul Castellano & he left behind a bloody legacy within the world of the mafia.
June 26th, 1915: Constantino Paul Castellano is born in Brooklyn, New York to Concetta & Concetta & Giuseppe Castellano. His father worked as a butcher & member of the Mangano crime family, which was the forerunner to the Gambino family. Paul dropped out of school in the eighth grade to learn more from his father, which included butchering & collecting numbers game receipts.
Growing up, Paul did not have a bad temper like most other children-turned-mob bosses & he was able to keep a relatively low profile. But being exposed to the criminal underworld at such a young age meant it wouldn’t take long for him to serve some time. In July of 1934, Castellano was arrested for the first time in Hartford, Connecticut for robbing a haberdasher & stealing a car. He spent three months in federal prison but never revealed the names of his two friends that were also involved. This paid off as his refusal to cooperate with police helped enhance his reputation for his eventual return to the mean streets of Brooklyn.
In 1937, Castellano married Nina Manno, the sister-in-law of mafia “Don to be” Carlo Gambino. He would spend the next several years heavily involved in gambling & bootlegging but nevertheless, still managed to maintain a low profile. It wasn’t until the 1940s that Castellano became a “made man,” in what was then known as the Mangano family. But to further explain his rise through the ranks, we must take a closer look at the history of the Mangano/Gambino family.
The Mangano family was founded in the early 1930s by Vincent Mangano. Along with the Mangano family, Vincent also established the City Democratic Club to ostensibly promote American values. But the Club, in reality, was as a coverup for Murder, Inc.—a notorious band of Jewish hitmen who performed nationwide contract murders for La Cosa Nostra. Murder Inc.’s operating head was Mangano family underboss Albert Anastasia, also known as “Lord High Executioner”.
Anastasia & Mangano worked closely together but were usually arguing. This hit a boiling point when Anastasia was convinced Mangano wanted to have him killed. He’s therefore believed by many to have launched a preemptive strike. So on April 19th, 1951, Vincent Mangano’s brother, Philip, was found dead while Vincent disappeared without a trace. He was never found but is presumed to have died that same day.
Albert Anastasia was called upon to face the Commission, where he refused to accept guilt for the Mangano murders. Anastasia had already taken it upon himself to run the family in Vincent’s absence. The Commission was, in fact, intimidated by Anastasia, who gathered support from several other families, the most notable of which includes the Luciano family. The Commission eventually accepted Anastasia’s ascension as boss to what was now renamed the Anastasia crime family.
It was at this same time that Carlo Gambino became underboss of the family and right behind him, Paul Castellano. Castellano & Gambino had grown very close because of Castellano’s marriage to Gambino’s sister-in-law. As the new boss, Anastasia was ruthless. He had too many enemies & did not realize the importance of turning these enemies into friends. Thus, Carlo Gambino began eyeing the leadership right off bat & was just waiting for the right moment.
His wait was not long as Anastasia quickly butt heads with Meyer Lansky, who had proven over & over again that despite not being a made man, he was the one guy you didn’t want to butt heads with. Lanksy, therefore offered Gambino the position of boss in return for killing Anastasia.
On the morning of October 25th, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel hoping to come out with a fresh new look…but he never did. As he sat vulnerable in the barber’s chair, two or three assailants rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, & began shooting. Anastasia tried fighting back but only managed to lunge at their reflection in the mirror.
It was only logical for Carlo Gambino to become the new boss after Anastasia’s death, but this decision awaited official approval. So on November 17th, 1957, Vito Genovese—boss of the Genovese family—called for an enormous summit to take place in Appalachian, New York at the home of mafia member Joseph Barbara, which would be attended by all mafia men in America.
The meeting was an iconic event as state police were tipped off about it. Gambino knew this & thus sent his trusted associate Paul Castellano to take his place. As soon as police raided Joseph Barbara’s residence, dozens of mobsters tried escaping by jumping out of windows & running through the woods in their expensive suits & patent leather shoes; a scene that was later often portrayed in many different Mafioso movies. But Castellano was one of the few that did not try running away. As such, he was one of the 61 total high-ranking mobsters arrested that day.
Honoring omertà, Castellano kept his mouth shut to the grand jury. And because he didn’t try running away, he got off pretty easily by spending only a year in prison on contempt charges. After his release in the 1950s, Castellano focused primarily on running semi-white hat operations & was very successful doing so.
Despite his semi-white hat businesses, Paul Castellano was just as ruthless as all his other mobster counterparts. According to Jonathan Kwitny’s book Vicious Circles, the Castellanos owned many meat stores & distributorships throughout Brooklyn & Manhattan. They had a long record of welching on debts, suffering suspicious hijackings to file false insurance claims, & selling goods stolen from docks & trucks.
His violent nature surfaced on two occasions, both of which involved his daughters. The first instance occurred when his daughter Constance’s boyfriend—named Vito Borelli—compared Paul Castellano to Frank Perdue, a man who owned a chicken business & advertised himself on TV commercials due to the fact that he also had a chicken-like face. The comparison did not sit well with Castellano, who consequently ordered to have Borelli killed over this insult.
The second instance took place when his other daughter, Connie, got a divorce from her husband after he abused her during her pregnancy. Castellano then lined up serial killer & hitman Roy DeMeo to assassinate Connie’s ex-husband. DeMeo cut up the man’s body then disposed of the remains at sea.
Although Castellano did not have his eyes on the position of boss of the Gambino family, it fell into his lap anyway. Carlo Gambino had a very severe heart condition that weakened him & he was forced to appoint his successor in 1975 before dying shortly after in October of 1976.
The favorite to take over for Gambino was his underboss, Aniello “Father O’Neil” Dellacroce, who had been appointed underboss during Castellano’s short one-year stint in prison & served as underboss for the past 10 years. But Gambino chose to stray away from the old mafia customs & instead appointed Paul Castellano as the next boss.
This surprised & astonished mob circles everywhere, including lower-ranking members of the Gambino family itself. But to their surprise, despite being passed up, “Father O’Neil” Dellacroce made sure to protect Castellano for many years to come. He ruled the Gambino family with an iron fist. Along with being gifted the position of boss, he raised the “take”—or percentage charged from soldier’s earnings—from 10% to 15%. This naturally did not sit too well with many of the lower-ranking members.
Along with raising the “take,” two important events took place that weakened Paul Castellano’s reputation among his own men. First, he decided to go into business with the Irish mafia. This was frowned up by Italian mafia members as they saw the Irish to be too wild. Secondly, he prohibited all of his crew members from dealing in the narcotics industry, which was arguably the most lucrative business to be in during the 1970s & ’80s.
As we stated earlier, “Father O’Neil” Dellacroce was the biggest advocate for protecting Castellano from his own unhappy & disgruntled members of the Gambino family…particularly John Gotti. Dellacroce was passed over for boss but nevertheless held a strong belief in the mafia’s core values & loyalty. It was when “Father O’Neil” succumbed to cancer in 1985 that Castellano lost the only shield that was protecting him from Gotti & his men.
Additionally, Castellano made two huge mistakes in the aftermath of Father O’Neil’s death. First, he did not attend the funeral, which was considered highly disrespectful by his entire crew. And second, he appointed a man named Thomas Bilotti as the new underboss. Despite being a loyal mobster, Bilotti was a brutal loanshark who held little diplomatic skill that was necessary to hold such a high rank within the organization.
Castellano was actually aware of the fact that he was losing control of his own family & thus planned to whack John Gotti & his crew. But what he didn’t realize was that it was too late. Too many members of his crew had turned against him & Gotti had already lined up men to murder Castellano.
So when he announced a dinner meeting to take place on December 16th, 1985, Gotti & his conspirators decided that this would be the perfect time for their assassination to take place. A hit team was positioned near the restaurant’s entrance while backup shooters Dominick Pizzonia, Angelo Ruggiero, & Anthony Rampino were placed down the street. As Castellano was exiting his car at the front of the restaurant, the gunmen ran up & shot him several times. They also shot underboss Bilotti as he exited from the driver’s door. It’s said that this all took place as Gotti observed the scene from his car across the street & before leaving, drove over just to view the bodies. At 70 years old, Paul Castellano was dead & John Gotti took over as the new boss of the Gambino family.