On December 19, 2005, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, died at the age of 77 at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. The late mafia boss gained notoriety on the streets of Little Italy as he walked about in a bathrobe speaking incoherently to himself and those around him. He became known in the media at the “Oddfather”. His death marks the end of an era as the late Gigante is considered to be among the last of the old-fashioned Mafioso who controlled the streets of New York City. The former boxer, trigger man and boss remains a legend in organized crime history.
But just who was the true Vincent Gigante? And what really went on behind the bathrobe and mystifying ramblings? Larry McShane, a writer for the NY Daily News, presents to us an inside look into the life of one of the most intriguing mob bosses to have ever lived. Based on interviews with those who knew him, including his younger brother Father Louis Gigante, court records, investigation records and testimonials of mafia members, McShane has composed a definitive account of Gigante’s life from his beginnings on the lower East Side all the way to his final confession that his “demented” state was an act to throw off authorities. And what has resulted, is an incredible life story of a complex character committed to the life of La Costra Nostra.
Before reading this book, I had little knowledge of Gigante’s vast family, including several siblings and the two women in his life with whom he created two separate families while at the same time, ruling a Mafia family with an iron fist. The careful don evaded conviction through several decades due to impeccable street smarts and a cloak of privacy that confused and threw off investigators for years before the final curtain call. Once a confederate of such names as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, the late Gigante was a walking history book having witnessed some of the most important events to have taken place within the American Mafia. And even among some of the most hardened members, his name evoked fear and images of murder and other acts of vengeance.
Today, the Genovese crime family is far different from under the leadership of the Chin. The big names are either deceased or in prison and the family no longer has the power it once did. The RICO act combined with the testimony of cooperating witnesses served as the final nail in the family’s coffin. But while the family has lost a large portion of its aura, the Gigante name lives on as does the Chin’s legacy. Some of us will feel that he was nothing more than a street thug who came up with a ridiculous gimmick while others will look back on their time with him and remember a loving relative and good friend. His past deeds and life aside, he remains a crucial figure in New York City and American history. For those who are interested in the Italian-American Mafia and the life of one of its most colorful bosses, this book is a must read.