In this episode, we are going to cover one of the most inconsequential yet significant murders in the history of the American Mafia, that being the hit on one Ferdinand “The Shadow” Boccia.
Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of The Member’s Only Podcast. I am your host Jacob Stoops, and I’m a long-time history buff and mob aficionado.
As I mentioned in the intro, today’s episode is going to be slightly different that our usual in-depth biographies in that I’m going to tell the story of the murder of a low-level associate of the Luciano Crime Family, Ferdinand “The Shadow” Boccia.
For those of you that listened to the recent episode on Mike Miranda, you’ll probably notice that this content is repurposed, and I’m personally okay with that. The reason that I wanted to repurpose this story – which I tell in the middle of the Miranda episode – is because it’s an amazing story in it’s own right and the consequences of this seemingly insignificant murder are enormous. The killing of Boccia, who was nothing more than a low-level family associate, had a ripple-effect on the mob that played out not just over days or years, but decades.
So what was the ripple-effect you might ask?
Consider the situation in the early 1930’s. The Castellammarese War had recently concluded with Charles “Lucky” Luciano established firmly as the victor, becoming head of his own crime family, and the modern American Cosa Nostra being formed. There were 5 families in New York City and 20+ families stretched across the United States all working collaboratively together and operating under a unified set of rules.
Just below Luciano in the pecking order was one, Vito Genovese. Upon the creation of the Luciano Crime Family, Vito Genovese was named Underboss and Frank Costello was named Consigliere (the #3 position in the family). Vito is firmly entrenched in a position of power.
Then the murder of Boccia occurs in 1933 and Vito is forced to flee to Italy for almost ten years. During that time, Luciano is arrested and put in jail for a very long prison stretch and names Costello as acting boss.
When Genovese finally returns from his Italian exile, he is bumped down to Caporegime, a prestigious position certainly but something he believed to be beneath his status.
This resentment leads to the power play against Costello which culminates in an assassination attempt, which in turn is followed by the hit on Albert Anastasia, which leads to Carlo Gambino, which leads to Vito’s ultimate arrest, and which leads to the Gambino family being the preeminent Cosa Nostra borgata over the 20-30 years after the events of 1957.
But if you playback the tape, those wild events likely never happen (or go down much differently) if Vito never has to flee to Italy. And Vito never flees to Italy if he first doesn’t murder Boccia.
And in hindsight, if Vito had it to do over again, maybe he’d think twice about hitting Boccia knowing what it ultimately would lead to? But then again, I doubt it.
In the end it’s impossible to know how events might have changed, but as you listen, just think about the effects on the mafia if this hit never went down and be sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Anyhow, here’s the real story of the Boccia murder from the perspective of Vito Genovese and the subject of our recent biography, Mike Miranda.
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The Boccia Murder:
According to FBI reports, in December 1933 a low-level hood named Ferdinand “The Shadow” Boccia steered a wealthy merchant to Genovese and Miranda as a favor and the pair relieved the unsuspecting man of roughly $150,000 to $160,000. The two-stage scam involved a crooked card game and a fake machine that supposedly made currency, but instead allowed Genovese and Miranda to pocket the cash.
Now you’d think the issue might have come from the rich man who’d lost the money, but the victim of the ruse already knew one of the 2 most important lessons in life, wisely choosing to eat his losses and keep his mouth shut. Instead, the trouble for Genovese and Miranda came when Boccia decided to demand his cut of $35,000 share of the scam’s proceeds. Considering who he was dealing with, this was really fucking stupid.
Boccia was already in the pair’s doghouse, and steered the “sucker” to Genovese and Miranda as atonement for holding up a liquor store that happened to be operated by a dear friend of Genovese, one Tony “Bender” Strollo. Robbing a guy like Strollo by itself is enough to get a person killed, but for some reason Genovese and Miranda had thus far let Boccia off the hook.
So when Boccia became “too insistent,” to the point of annoyance, Genovese and Miranda decided it would be much easier to just murder him and gave the contract to Miranda’s crew. The setup for this contract has striking similarities to the murder of Maury in the movie Goodfellas.
Miranda then ordered a local knockaround guy named Ernest “The Hawk” Rupolo to set up both Boccia as well as Boccia’s accomplice in the liquor store heist, William Gallo, to be murdered. Ernie “The Hawk” Rupolo was originally brought to Miranda’s attention by his close associate and fellow Brooklyn gangster Cosmo “Gus” Frasca.
According to Rupolo in later testimony, Miranda said to him, “Frasca tells me you are a good boy, that you could do a good job. Shadow [Boccia] and [William] Gallo are no good. I want you to put Gallo and the Shadow on the spot, so they can be killed.”
Rupolo, perhaps to show how tough he was, suggested to Miranda that he could do the deed himself to which Miranda seemed “disappointed,” but told Rupolo “to meet him in a restaurant on Mulberry Street, near Kenmare Street.”
At that meeting, Miranda introduced Rupolo to Genovese as “Don Vitone” or “The Great Man.” It was at this meeting that Vito demanded that if Rupolo didn’t want to put Gallo and Boccia “on the spot” that Rupolo would have to do this piece of work in the particular way that Genovese wanted. According to Rupolo, Genovese referred to Boccia as a “cokie bastard” and Gallo as a “pimp bastard,” so it was fairly clear Vito had it in for these two punks.
At the meeting’s conclusion, Miranda told Rupolo to go back to Brooklyn, lay low, and keep in touch with him, Frasca, and George Smurra. After some time, Miranda took Rupolo to see another of his associates, Peter De Feo. De Feo then told Rupolo to kill Gallo and that Smurra, Frasca, and another man would kill Boccia. It was at this time that Rupolo was paid $175.
Both Boccia and Gallo were so hated by the mob that Rupolo recalled Miranda telling him that the pair had to be murdered even if it mean the hitmen had to “cowboy” them, meaning shoot them wherever they were found, “even in the middle of Broadway.”
Court records would later suggest that on September 19, 1934, at either 533 or 553 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, a group of hitmen fulfilled the contract on Boccia by shooting him dead inside a Brooklyn coffee shop known as the Circolo Christofo Club and Cafe.
Rupolo later testified that on September 18, 1934, with the help of an old prison associate, Rosario “Solly” Palmieri, he took Gallo to Coney Island in order to fulfill the second half of the hit contract. They proceeded to wine and dine Gallo while they waited for word on whether or not Boccia had been killed.
Rupolo was to be paid $5,000 for the hit on Gallo in total, with $1,000 going to his accomplice Palmieri. After spending the evening in a hotel getting Gallo drunk, Palmieri excused himself to find out what had happened to Boccia. Once they received word that “The Shadow” had been executed, they got in their car to continue their evening and even made plans to go see a movie.
As the men were driving to the movie, somewhere around 14th Avenue in Bensonhurst, Rupolo pulled out his pistol, shoved it to Gallo’s head, and pulled the trigger three times. Pretty damned dramatic if you ask me. The only problem was the gun misfired which left the trio in what I can only imagine was the most awkward situation imaginable.
As Rupolo would later tell investigators, a shocked Gallo turned to Rupolo asking, “What the hell are you doing?!?” to which Rupolo replied “Nothing, I am only kidding with you; the gun ain’t loaded.”
Now I don’t know about you, but 99.9% of people’s first instinct would be to get the hell out of there. And while I don’t believe that most anyone deserves to be murdered, this story had me personally muttering, ‘What on Earth were you thinking?’ In the end, it’s highly likely that William Gallo may have been simply too drunk to fully comprehend what was going on around him.
So instead of fleeing immediately, Gallo stayed and Rupolo excused himself to go “drop off the gun at the home of a girlfriend” after the joke had “concluded.” What Ernie “The Hawk” Rupolo actually did when he got to the girlfriend’s place was to slather the mechanically-defective and most-definitely loaded gun as well as its firing mechanism with oil before going back outside again.
Once outside, Rupolo, Palmieri, and Gallo continued their drive. Then suddenly, in front of 6603 Thirteenth Avenue in Bensonhurst, both Palmieri and Rupolo turned on the unsuspecting Gallo and threw nine shots in his direction, four of which hit the mark. Both shooters thought Gallo was dead.
After the shooting, Rupolo and Palmieri dumped the wounded man on the street and fled. Miraculously, William Gallo had somehow managed to survive – likely because of Rupolo’s poor eyesight (to which I wondered, maybe he should have chosen another profession?).
Now aside from not killing Gallo, Rupolo screwed up this hit in another way. Out of pure ruthlessness, Mike Miranda had allegedly ordered that Gallo was to be doused in gasoline after he was shot and set on fire, a part of the plan that Rupolo also failed to carry out.
The reason for this extra-cruel step appears to be that Gallo along with the previously murdered Boccia had created such emnity within the underworld, that the Mafia wanted to exact this additional punishment as a warning for others.
The next morning, when Rupolo finally went to see Miranda who was seething mad in Little Italy, Miranda informed Rupolo that he’d royally fucked this hit up and gave him what was probably an epic and severe tongue-lashing for good measure. According to The Deadly Don: Vito Genovese by Anthony DeStefano, one of Miranda’s lieutenants, George “Georgie Blair” Smurra yelled, “Why didn’t you shoot him in the head like we did to that other bastard?”
At this meeting, the decision was then made by Miranda and the others to send Rupolo and Rosario Palmeri up to Springfield to “lam it” for the time being until the heat that was sure to come had cooled down. So on September 21, 1934, the two button-men were driven to Springfield, Massachusetts, by another future ‘made’ member, Salvatore “Little Sally” Celanbrino, in order to lay low. They were placed under the protection of Nicholas Camerota, a ‘made’ soldier in the Springfield faction of the Genovese family.
However, as Rupolo later recalled to police, Palmieri became suspicious that they were both being set up to be killed and fled Springfield immediately. Rupolo himself stayed for around two weeks before deciding to come back to New York.
Unfortunately for Rupolo and Palmieri, the case had not yet cooled down and both men would be hauled in for questioning and eventually found guilty of assault in December 1934 after a reluctant Gallo fingered them as his shooters. They were each sentenced to prison terms of 12 to 20 years for first-degree-assault. Rupolo would end up serving 11 years worth of prison time for the Gallo shooting.
Apparently, there was some initial suspicion that both Genovese and Miranda were also involved in the Boccia hit and two months after the killing, Miranda was charged in connection with the murder and Genovese was hauled in for questioning. However, charges against both would eventually be dismissed (for the time being) and two uninvolved individuals would wrongly be arrested and sentenced to prison.
Seemingly insulated from the Boccia murder, both Genovese and Miranda both returning to their normal lives with Miranda specifically dabbling in car sales in addition to other mob-related activities.
However, their comfortability was short-lived as at the time, New York special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey was launching a full-court press against the mafia. With law enforcement scrutiny heating up and the threat of several potential rats to implicate them in the Boccia murder, both Genovese and Miranda decided to flee to Italy where they would remain for approximately 10 years and until after the conclusion of World War II. At this time Miranda told close associates that he’d be taking “a vacation in Italy for a while,” and shortly thereafter Miranda – a fugitive – was spotted by FBN agents in Italy.
So in essence, both Rupolo and Palmieri were left holding the bag for Genovese and Miranda. For now.
Though he stuck to the code of Omertà and did his time without giving up Genovese or Miranda, Ernie “The Hawk” Rupolo would eventually have a change of heart after getting jammed up in several other cases that threatened to put him in jail for an even longer stretch than he’d already served.
In 1944, Rupolo’s change of heart led him to become a government informant at which point he began singing about many crimes including the Boccia murder, which of course would come back to bite Genovese and Miranda in the ass a decade after the fact.
As a result of Rupolo’s testimony, on August 7th, 1944, a grand jury indicted Mike Miranda, along with his mentor Vito Genovese, as well as Peter De Feo, George Smurra, Cosmo “Gus” Frasca, and another man listed as John Doe (but with an alias of “Solly”) for the murder of Ferdinand “The Shadow” Boccia 10 years earlier. The “Solly” in this case appears to have been a reference to Rupolo’s accomplice in the Gallo shooting, Rosario “Solly” Palmieri.
The aforementioned indictment charged the five men as follows: “Defendants on or about September 13, 1934, in the County of Kings, willfully, feloniously and of malice aforethought, shot and killed Ferdinand Boccia, with firearms.”
Court records indicate that on August 2, 1944, Vito Genovese was placed under arrest in Italy. After some time in custody, he was returned to the United States where he was arraigned in Kings County on June 3, 1945, at which time he entered a plea of not guilty. The records indicate that the indictment had been filed on August 7, 1944, and that Genovese was in Italy at the time the indictment had been filed, and that he had resided continually in Italy since 1937.
The court records also contained an affidavit of the Detective in the case, Harold E. Fox, dated September 28, 1944. Detective Fox stated that his investigation indicated that on September 19, 1934, at or near 533 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, one Ferdinand Boccia was shot and killed; and the defendants after the commission of the crime met at a house at Mulberry Street, and from that point were driven to Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 21, 1934, by one Salvatore “Little Sally” Celanbrino.
On August 14, 1944, due to the fact that the NYPD could not locate Miranda or any of the other suspects in the indictment, a bulletin was put out to all commands announcing that warrants had gone out for their immediate arrests.
After Genovese was held for several months, the trial finally began on June 6, 1946, with Genovese as the only person present (and of course the marquee defendant). Mike Miranda and the rest of the co-conspirators were conspicuously absent but no doubt monitoring the proceedings from afar. Some sources suggest that Miranda had simply stayed in Italy during the trial.
Ultimately the case against Genovese would fall apart completely as Rupolo’s testimony – while compelling – failed to directly link the key conspirators to the crime. Additionally, the prosecution also ran into a thorny issue relating to a New York State accomplice law that required that a defendant couldn’t be convicted solely based on the testimony of an accomplice to the crime. Due to this particular law, the prosecution would have to leverage additional witnesses who could corroborate the testimony. And this is where the far-reaching tentacles of the Mafia left the case against Genovese, Miranda, and their cohorts in shambles when several material witnesses in the case turned up dead.
One government witness, Genovese associate Peter LaTempa, had agreed to cooperate with authorities early on after Genovese fled to Italy because he believed that Genovese would never be prosecuted from the crime. However, when it was announced that Genovese was being repatriated home to face charges, LaTempa pretty much went “oh shit” and immediately contacted the Brooklyn D.A., demanding to be put in protective custody.
Unfortunately for LaTempa, he underestimated the mob’s connections as less than a week after Genovese’s return, he was famously found dead in his cell after taking medication for his gallstones. An autopsy allegedly revealed that he had ingested enough poison “..to kill eight horses.” There is much speculation as to whether or not Genovese had arranged this mysterious death, but the fact remains that LaTempa was no longer around to testify.
Another man who was reportedly going to appear as a material witness, a man named Jerry Esposito, was shot to death beside a road in Norwood, New Jersey. From a trail of blood that extended 150 feet south of where the body was found, police deduced that the victim had been shot in an automobile and thrown out while it was moving fast.
So if you’re keeping count, that’s one ineffective witness, and two dead potential witnesses for a score of Mafia = 3, law enforcement = 0.
Without anyone to corroborate the testimony, the government’s case collapsed. So on June 10, 1946 after a verdict of ‘not guilty’ was announced, Judge Samual Leibowitz had no choice but to throw the case out. Before rapping his gavel and dismissing the case, he delivered the famous rebuke as Genovese stood in the courtroom with what was described by those in attendance as a disinterested smirk:
“You are always just one step ahead of Sing Sing and th electric chair. You and your criminal henchman have thwarted justice time and again by devious means, among which were the terrorizing of witnesses, kidnapping them, yes even murdering those who could give evidence against you… I cannot speak for the jury but I believe that even if there was a shred of corroborating evidence you would have been condemned to the chair.”
Let’s bring this all back to our subject, “Big Mike” Miranda. Still in Italy, Miranda watched events with great interest and three months after the case fell apart against Genovese, he decided to take his chances by returning to the United States from exile and surrendering himself at a Brooklyn police station. After Miranda turned himself in, prosecutors found that there was no additional corroborating evidence against him and in January of 1947 the charges against him were dismissed. He walked briskly out of the courtroom after spending just five months in jail.
Soon after, the rest of the fugitives, George Smurra, Cosmo “Gus” Frasca, and Peter De Feo turned themselves in and were also able to wiggle their way out of the case as well.
So it appears, their personal long-standing crisis was averted which allowed both Genovese and Miranda to get back into the fold within the Luciano Crime Family. Of course as time goes on, the freedom attained from beating this case set the stage for Genovese and Miranda to go on to influence events that would result in far-reaching impact to the American Cosa Nostra.
As for Rupolo, shortly thereafter, he left prison early in what equated to repayment from the mob for his futile testimony against Genovese and Miranda. While the judge who released him expressed significant concerns for his life (and even his friends had expected him to die), nothing actually happened to him in the immediate aftermath of the case.
Rupolo’s brother Willie would claim that Mike Miranda personally told Ernie: “Take care of yourself, kid. Don’t worry about nothin. If you need anything, come to me.” When a reporter asked Rupolo why he was still alive, he answered, “Don’t you know I did Vito a big favor? A man can’t be tried twice for the same murder.”
But the mafia has a long memory and eventually in 1964, Rupolo would be brutally murdered, with authorities finding his body in Jamaica Bay, Queens. Legend says that Rupolo was personal murdered by John “Sonny” Franzese, legendary Underboss of the Colombo family.
Okay, so that’s it for this episode. Another episode in the books. Very soon we’ll either be doing a new biography or beginning a series on reactions to famous mob movie scenes, I haven’t 100% decided yet.
As always, I really appreciate the support and (if you’re on YouTube) please let me know what you thought about this episode in the comments below. Also please, mash that Subscription button on YouTube and hit the notification bell so you know when I’ve posted a new episode.
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Until next time, gratzie!
Books & Other Sources:
- DeStefano, Anthony M. The Deadly Don: Vito Genovese, Mafia Boss. Citadel Press. Kensington Publishing Corp, 2021.
- Bonnano, Joseph. “A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno.” St. Martin’s Publishing Group. 1984.
- New York State Archives; Albany, New York; Sing Sing Prison, 1852-1938; Box: 24; Volume: 59
- Sussman, Jeffrey. Big Apple Gangsters: The Rise and Decline of the Mob in New York. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020. Pgs. 89, 138.
- Nash, Arthur. New York City Gangland. Arcadia Publishing Incorporated, 2010.
- Nash, Jay Robert. The Great Pictorial History of World Crime. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. ISBN 1-928831-20-6
- Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
- Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-8160-4040-0