June 28, 1971-Joseph Colombo, the charismatic leader of the Italian American Civil Rights League and head of the Colombo crime family is shot and gravely wounded during a Unity Day rally in Columbus Circle. He lingers in a coma for 8 more years before dying on May 22, 1978 in Blooming Grove, New York. His assassin, an African-American man from New Brunswick, New Jersey named Jerome Johnson, was shot and mortally wounded himself. The official story is that Johnson was a crazed gunman possibly acting on the orders of Colombo’s rival, Crazy Joey Gallo. Gallo, a Colombo associate, is known for his hair-trigger temper and blunt manner of speech. Gallo denied being behind the murder and maintained that position up until the time of his own murder on April 7, 1972 as he dined at Umberto’s Clam House in Manhattan. The motive behind Colombo’s murder was never discovered and his murder is essentially a closed case. But upon deeper inspection, we come to see that when examined thoroughly, the facts surrounding the case cast serious doubt on Johnson’s means and motives. Colombo’s son Anthony and Don Capria have reexamined the late Colombo, Sr.’s life and death in this gripping investigative report that is bound to leave the reader with more questions than answers.
More than 45 years have passed since Colombo’s murder, but his life remains one of the most intriguing of the 20th century. On the streets of New York, he was known to law enforcement as a high-ranking member of the American Mafia. But at home, he was simply known as dad. The father of several children, Colombo is examined here as a husband and father as Anthony travels back in time recalling all of the fondest memories from the time spent with his late father. The Colombo we see here is far removed from the mafia boss described in police reports and FBI files. Fiercely protective of his family, reputation and heritage, he took the unprecedented step of picketing the FBI offices after being subjected to surveillance and harassment by the bureau. And in his effort to redeem the image of Italian-Americans, he created the organization that was unrivaled in its size and popularity in New York, the Italian-American Civil Rights League. Colombo continues to stand out as the most unusual mafia chieftain of all time. And to this day, his act of picketing the FBI offices has yet to be matched by any other mobster. But his popularity and actions did not go unnoticed and came with a steep price. And as his son Anthony shows us, the FBI and local police never let up on their crusade to put Colombo behind bars for good. And his relationships with other mobsters were either positive or negative depending on the situation.
The strongest part of the book is the relationship between father and son. As I read this book I continued to recall the story of Albert DeMeo as he talks about his father Roy in ‘For The Sins of My Father‘. Spending the majority of their time in upstate Blooming Grove, the relationship between the two was strong, sometimes tense but ultimately full of love and unconditional loyalty. One might expect the book to contain confessions from Anthony about his father’s criminal escapades. But here, like in DeMeo’s book, that isn’t the case. Insulation of the family from the streets was routine practice by many mobsters and Colombo was no different. Those looking for a smoking gun about Colombo’s street activities won’t find it here. This book is purely about Colombo as the family man, center of law enforcement investigations, civil rights activist and tragically, murder victim. Following his death, the Colombo family eventually became embroiled in an internal civil war that left dozens of mobsters dead as Vic Orena and Greg “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa lead internal rival factions that caused the streets of Brooklyn to run red with blood. Today, the family’s name is hardly mentioned at all and Colombo remains a figure of a distant and forgotten past. But at one time in New York City’s history, his name was the talk of the town.