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Philip Carlo And The Quacking Duck

I recently read a hardcover book by organized-crime specialist scribe Philip Carlo about Anthony Gaspipe Casso, a fascinating, psychotic Luchese mobster, who I think is the first mobster in history to flip for the police, then flip back, only once you flip, you really can't flip back. So he is a mafiosi who was thrown out of the mob for deciding to turn state's evidence, only the state decided the evidence he provided wasn't strong enough to outweigh his crimes, which included the torture/murders of a lot of people.

This was the first and only book I know of that is devoted solely to Gaspipe, so it was with great enthusiasm that I arrived home and ripped it out of its paper bag—-and in no time at all, found so many errors, I actually got a pen and paper and began to list them. (I am a journalist, this is the kind of stuff we are compelled to do.)

These are among the notes I scribbled: "It's Joe Massino, not Massimo. Angelo 'Quack Quack' Ruggiero earned his sobriquet because he never shut up, not because he had an uncanny knack for dodging subpoenas. (The writer is confusing Ruggiero with former Luchese boss Tony “Ducks” Corallo, who earned his nickname due to his reputation for successfully “ducking” subpoenas. A duck quacks—-perhaps therein resides the writer's confusion?)"



There were more mistakes: "Gay Talese's great book 'Honor Thy Father' was indeed made into a movie, despite that Carlo wrote it was not, and it was Joseph Bonanno's book 'Man of Honor,' not Talese's previously mentioned book, that provoked Giuliani’s Commission Case, which eventually put the last of the legendary mob bosses away for the rest of their days. (Is it me, or does it seem slightly ludicrous to give a convicted criminal a 100-year sentence, especially if the man in question is already well past middle age? It was kind of sad to me; never again would we see the aging Fat Tony Salerno swat the media with his cane like they were wild monkeys on the attack.)"

The list of corrections above addresses only some of the mistakes I encountered while reading that book, titled, “Confessions of a Mafia Boss: Gaspipe.”

In view of the controversy over one of Carlo's earlier books—“The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer”—that it is mostly b.s.; that Richard Kuklinski, whom I consider the Forrest Gump of La Cosa Nostra, the Librium-dosed heavyset guy who did all those prison interviews for HBO, was not nearly the “Mafia hitman” he portrayed himself to be and had lied about a lot of things, if not everything. It is disheartening to find these Gaspipe errors further impugning the reputation of the author of an otherwise great addition to the Mafia library. For despite its mistakes, I enjoyed Carlo’s Gaspipe book a lot. I never read the Iceman book, though I own a copy.

Carlo is a good writer, and the Gaspipe book further benefits from the fact that the author has an existing personal relationship with Gaspipe. It is not often that a crime writer actually has an existing relationship with his or her subject. Another example that comes to mind: Ann Rule, the famous true-crime writer, who at one point in her life was good buddies with Ted Bundy, the necrophiliac serial killer. She, of course, wrote a book about Bundy, including her relationship with him, titled appropriately enough, "The Stranger Beside Me."

There is also a problem, however, when the writer knows his subject, because to “know” someone inevitably leads to empathy for that person. So inevitably Carlo tries to revise Gaspipe's reputation, justifying some of his murders and other insane actions. Read “Gangbusters” by Ernest Volkman for a counterpoint view of Gaspipe that is probably a more accurate one (though Volkman's book too is riddled with errors: More on this coming up).

The fact is errors run rampant through the true-crime Mafia book genre. I find there are only a few authors you can really trust with telling the most accurate versions of what they are writing about. Jerry Capeci is one, due to his reputation for always getting it right (he could probably be credited with being the first journalist to work full time reporting on the mob for a daily newspaper). I believe that Selwyn Raab, who wrote the excellent “Five Families,” and Anthony M. DeStefano, who authored the absorbing “King of the Godfathers,” the story of Joe Massino, the Bonanno boss who flipped, also set a standard for other writers in this genre to consider.

Raab was a New York Times reporter, DeStefano a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who worked for Long Island’s Newsday daily newspaper. Reputations aside, Raab and DeStefano include in their books something you rarely find in any books about the Mafia: namely, a bibliography and chapter notes. This means, they let it be known that every fact, every quoted conversation they include in their book, came from some kind of credited source, whether an interview with an FBI agent, a 302 (an FD-302 form is used by FBI agents to report or summarize the interviews that they conduct and contains information from the notes taken during the interview), trial transcripts or some kind of report or other published, and presumed vetted, work.

Most Mafia books don’t include source notes. Authors sometimes will "thank" people for their help in the Acknowledgment section, but for all we know, the writer could be making stuff up to fill holes or add color or for whatever reason. There is no excuse for shoddy, error-filled journalism no matter what the subject matter, be it a history of the Battle of the Bulge or an account of the St. Valentine Day's Massacre. I know there are paperback houses who probably can't afford to do the fact checking all non-fiction books require, but author's need to make more of an effort to get it right. I am not being a curmudgeon, and I am not the only one who feels this way.

Ernest Volkman didn’t include source notes or a bibliography in “Gangbusters,” a book I enjoyed nevertheless. Jerry Capeci has taken aim at Volkman in the past with both barrels, going so far as to create the “Volkie,” an annual award given to the “so-called journalist who makes the most mistakes and comes up with the most unadulterated drivel in one article, book, or television appearance or who consistently exhibits the wretched and pathetic journalistic non-skills of Ernest Volkman,” Capeci wrote.

In “Gangbusters,” according to Capeci, “Volkman made so many factual errors that you'd need a computer and a couple of cyber geeks to count them.” (Please remember, Volkman also is a competitor of Capeci's; draw your own conclusions from that.)

After excerpts of “Gangbusters” were published in Penthouse magazine, Volkman was actually threatened by a couple of gangsters—only these threats were of the legal kind: They threatened to sue Volkman and Penthouse magazine unless corrections were published. Corrections were published.

Capeci himself is not off the hook. He doesn’t include source notes and bibliographies, either, though he does thank a lot of people in the back-of-the-book acknowledgments section—a common practice as I wrote earlier; it is easier than constructing source notes.

In “Murder Machine,” his excellent book about Roy DeMeo and his crew of serial killers, we got some feedback from Roy's son, Albert, in his own book. Sure, Al has an axe to grind, but some of his complaints ring true.

“I read detailed descriptions of events that were grossly inaccurate, events that I had witnessed first hand,” Al DeMeo wrote in “For the Sins of My Father,” a gripping account of what it was like to be Roy DeMeo’s son.

“Most of the information (in Murder Machine) came from Dominic Montiglio, Nino Gaggi’s nephew. (Gaggi also was DeMeo’s boss.) ... I remembered all the years Dominick had spent in a drug-induced fog ... And most of all, I remember my father talking Nino out of killing Dominick because my father felt sorry for him ...

“This was the ‘impeccable’ source for Capeci’s endless accounts of Mafia life in the seventies and eighties—-that and the Gemini Twins," who were a couple of psychotic mob associates who worked with Roy, along with a handful of other murdering sociopaths. The Gemini Twins--Anthony Senter and Joey Testa--were named after Roy's bar, the Gemini Lounge, located in the Flatland section of Brooklyn back in the seventies and early eighties. With and without Roy’s help, the "twins," who were actually only friends and not blood relatives, together snuffed more lives than the police could even hope to put a final count on; they were eventually inducted into the Luchese family and are now both doing life in prison--separate prisons.

Roy DeMeo was murdered and found in his trunk in the early 1980s at the behest of the doomed Paul Castellano, who felt valium-gobbling Roy would be unable to stand up to police questioning. Supposedly Nino Gaggi and the Gemini Twins shot him to death, but spared his body the dismemberment with which they disposed of many a body before dumping it in pieces into the Fountain Avenue Dump, in Brooklyn.

Now I am not trying to take the fun out of the this popular book genre, but I am trying to make fellow readers aware that errors have a way of creeping into these books, especially if there isn’t a bibliography or source notes. Also, I'd like to tell writers, keep up the good work but remember some of us are reading your books closely, and if you reach for a fact, please make sure it is true. The genre is called "true crime," not just "crime." If you don't understand the difference, write fiction.

Comments

  1. You talk about Capeci's flawlessness and accuracy , I happen to know for a fact there are MANY inconsistencies in his book Murder Machine , some are because he didn't know what he was talking about and some were flat out LIES . Phillip Carlo is no better . Most journalists are full of shit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also wrote:
      "Capeci himself is not off the hook. He doesn’t include source notes and bibliographies, either, though he does thank a lot of people in the back-of-the-book acknowledgments section—a common practice as I wrote earlier; it is easier than constructing source notes."

      Delete
  2. Journalist inaccuracy case in point . Gemini lounge was on Flatlands AVENUE at the corner of Troy Avenue in the FLATBUSH SECTION of Brooklyn .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So it its 100% incorrect to call it the Flatlands section, when the bar was on Flatlands Avenue? You are splitting hairs dude. Why are you reading this defunct blog anyway? check out my Mafia blog: Cosa-nostra-news.blogspot.com

      Delete
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