|John Cammilleri, 63, of Cornwall Ave., Town of Tonawanda, shot to death outside the Roseland
Restaurant on Rhode Island St., the night of May 8, 1974.
Hit. Clipped. Whacked. Iced. Bumped off, knocked off, burned, done up, popped, put on the spot, rubbed out or sent to sleep with the fishes.
Murder as standard operating procedure was once so common among the gangsters of Western New York and elsewhere that they developed more ways of referring to it in their speech than Arabs did of camels in theirs.
And for all of those sent to that great clam house in the sky, we salute you.
Mob hits are the centerpieces of any book or movie about the life, and we here on the Niagara Frontier are blessed with a bountiful legacy of imaginative, vibrant, and exciting executions that still give us a reason to smile or simply shake our heads over a plate of antipasto or bowl of macaroni and red gravy all these years later.
Who can forget, for example, the botched job performed by future don Tony Papalia and Dominic Pugliese on Stefano Magaddino’s nemesis and Hamilton, Ont., crime kingpin Rocco Perri one sultry night in August, 1930?
Perri and his wife Bessie had been out on the town, returning home around 11:30 p.m. Rocco backed their deluxe Marmon coupe into the attached garage of his Hamilton manse and went to close the garage door as Bessie opened the door leading to the house.
All hell broke loose as Papalia and Pugliese, who had been hiding in the garage, opened fire with 12-gauge shotguns from just a few feet away. The original gang that couldn’t shoot straight missed their man entirely, but blasted poor Bessie to bits.
The boys made their getaway and Perri was found a short distance away by a neighbor out walking his dog. When they returned to the garage, Rocco – now a widower – collapsed, went into shock, and began babbling to his dead wife in Italian, police said.
Later, it was discovered that Bessie, who was Jewish, had been the brains of the Hamilton outfit all along, and had pretty much just kept Rocco around as a front man to deal with the other machismo-obsessed gangsters. The Perri organization was never much of a threat again.
Sixty-seven years later, Tony Papalia’s son, Johnny “Pops” Papalia met his own end in Hamilton. On May 31, 1997, a two-bit Irish punk named Ken Murdock knocked on the door and shot Johnny once in the head with a .38.
A drunk and a dope fiend, Murdock told the cops he did it for a couple thousand in cash and a small quantity of cocaine. The contract was ordered by Patsy Musitano, the ambitious son of another old-time Magaddino capo.
The cops investigating the hit were real comedians.
“Up until he was shot,” one wrote in his report. “Papalia’s day was relatively uneventful.”
It was much the same for John Cammilleri, a made guy with a lot of juice who died in a hail of bullets on a Buffalo street corner in May 1974.
Cammilleri had been at the Rubino Memorial Chapel at the corner of Porter and Niagara in Buffalo, having attended the wake of another mobster, Batavia crime boss Frank LoTempio, who had been shot to death a week earlier outside a mob wedding at Holy Angels Church on Porter.
He left around 9:10 p.m. and drove the dozen blocks or so to the old Roseland Restaurant on Rhode Island Street at the corner of Chenango.
As Cammilleri was crossing the street, a late model Buick screeched to a halt, a guy jumped out and threw several .38 caliber slugs in his direction; one hit him in the chest, passing through and exiting under the armpit, the second hit him in the back of the head and the third whizzed by and hit the restaurant façade.
Cammilleri was deader than charity and the Buick sped away.
The cops fingered Vincent “Jimmy” Sicurella for the hit, but no charges were ever filed. Jimmy was the best.
“It was considered an honor to be taken out by Jimmy,” one old-timer said. “He was one of the best hitmen Buffalo has ever seen, and he would do any job for anyone. He was loyal to his employer, whoever it was.”
Charles Gerass, 36, was a real estate salesman and degenerate gambler who was found hog-tied, beaten, shot to death and left in the trunk of his Cadillac in a deserted parking lot at the intersection of Sheridan and Delaware back in September 1965.
As recently as June 2004, Town of Tonawanda police were calling the recently deceased Joe Todaro, Sr. a “person of interest” in the still unsolved murder, since Gerass disappeared after leaving his Glenside Avenue home for a business meeting with the alleged mob boss.
John Certo’s beaten and mutilated body was pulled from what was left of a burned out shed at the Lewiston town dump on Nov. 14, 1977. Just as the FBI attempted to pin the Gerass killing on Todaro, they moved heaven and earth to tie Certo’s demise to reputed Niagara Falls mafia capo Benjamin “Sonny” Nicoletti.
The feds theorized that a very public argument between Certo and a female relative of Nicoletti’s in a Niagara Street bar a short time before the murder provided the motive, but were never able to prove their case.
But the all-time classic mob hit on the Niagara Frontier was one ordered by the Old Man himself.
Albert Agueci and his brother Vito were a couple of zips – Sicilians just off the boat – who happened to come from Magaddino’s hometown of Castellammare del Golfo. Don Stefano had a soft spot for guys from home and hired the brothers as drug smugglers.
The Aguecis had a thing worked out where they would befriend American tourists, offer to carry their luggage, stuff the bags with heroin and then steal them once the suckers were safely inside the United States.
Until Albert got caught in 1961, it was a pretty sweet setup.
Magaddino didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to be linked to the drug trade and refused to put up any bail money. Albert Agueci’s wife Vita had to mortgage their house to spring him. But he probably would have been better off had he stayed behind bars.
Instead, he started making noises about going to the feds and blowing the Old Man in to get himself out from under a possible life prison sentence and also for revenge. Magaddino got wind of the tough talk and acted swiftly, sending Danny Sansanese and Freddie “Lupo” Randaccio to take care of it.
“Burn his face until he has no face,” the don ordered. “Burn his hands until he has no hands. Do it even if you have to use a blowtorch.”
Too bad the FBI tape that caught that little bit of poetry had been made illegally as well; the taped evidence was inadmissible.
Randaccio and Sansanese, goodfellas that they were, did as they were told, and Agueci’s horrifically mutilated body was found a few days later in a farm field outside of Rochester.
He was badly beaten, half his teeth were knocked out and his penis had been cut off and stuffed in his mouth. Knives were used to carve 30 pounds of flesh from his bones while he was still alive, and then the killers strangled him with a length of clothesline before soaking the body in gasoline and setting it ablaze.
A few days later, another illegal FBI tape caught Sansanese bragging about the atrocity to some associates, laughing as he told it.
Like the murders of Perri, Cammilleri, Gerass and Certo, the Agueci killing remains officially unsolved, a cold case that’s never going to warm up.
All that’s left are the memories.