Mob Killer: The Bloody Rampage of Charles Carneglia, Mafia Hit Man: The Bloody Rampage of Charles Carneglia, Mafia Hit Manby Anthony M. DeStefano
He dissolved the bodies of some of his victims in acid and poured them down the sewer. He hung grisly souvenirs on nails in his junkyard.
La Costra Nostra
Charles Carneglia was a stone-cold killer who fell in with the bloodthirsty John Gotti crew. As the infamous crime family rose to power with their murderous trail of sex,/b>/b>
A Crazed Killer
He dissolved the bodies of some of his victims in acid and poured them down the sewer. He hung grisly souvenirs on nails in his junkyard.
La Costra Nostra
Charles Carneglia was a stone-cold killer who fell in with the bloodthirsty John Gotti crew. As the infamous crime family rose to power with their murderous trail of sex, jealousy, greed, and revenge, Carneglia rose with them.
Mafia, Madness And Murder
This is the horrifying story of a misfit who fit perfectly into the New York mafia. In a harrowing journey inside a ruthless criminal underworld, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anthony M. DeStefano chronicles one man's life in a world of depraved acts of violence and the horrors that went with being a member of the Gambino family.
"Thrilling American crime writing." -Jimmy Breslin on King of the Godfathers
Includes 16 Pages of Shocking Photos
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- 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)
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By Anthony M. DeStefano
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Anthony M. DeStefano
All right reserved.
Chapter One"What's with the Beard?"
Looking like oversized cigars, police battering rams are made of steel and weigh about thirty-five pounds. When swung by just one man, they can generate a shattering forty thousand pounds of force. They can punch a hole through concrete, crack a rib, or even shatter a skull.
The devices go by the trade names of Stinger and Thunderbolt—there is not a front door in Howard Beach that could stand up to them.
Bracing himself outside the front of the two-story residence on Eighty-fifth Street on the morning of February 7, 2008, FBI special agent Greg Hagarty wondered whether he could breach the entrance with just one slam of the battering ram he held in his hands. A one-shot entry with the ram was the gold standard for SWAT team members. Hagarty, a sandy-haired man who favored crew cuts, swung the ram backward and then, with a sharp forward movement, accelerated the stubby device into the front door.
Bam. Nothing. The door held up to the first of Hagarty's swings. It took another smash before the wood door frame splintered and the door swung open on its hinges in the predawn darkness. I'll have to work on my swing, a bemused Hagarty thought.
Early-morning breach entries of this sort were not common during law enforcement operations in this particular Queens, New York, neighborhood. True, Howard Beach, a white enclave near the Atlantic Ocean, had a reputation for being a Mafia haven. Known as Census Block 869, the neighborhood was almost entirely white. The well-manicured front lawns with the occasional religious sculptures and mini-mansions of Mediterranean style bespoke of its heavy Italian-American population. More residents here graduated high school than in many other city neighborhoods, but the same wasn't true of college. Most of those who worked had varied jobs of regular obscurity as teachers, construction workers, realtors, office administrators, lawyers, and accountants. Then there were those who made their living as wiseguys, the mobsters whom everybody knew.
Over the years, the FBI SWAT teams had arrested a number of gangsters here. But for the most part, takedowns were done with the agents knocking on the door in the early hours before dawn to announce their presence and taking their quarry away peacefully. All of the men in the Mob knew the value of a bad reputation, which was how they wielded power. Bosses like John Gotti and Joseph Massino mixed brutality and business in a balance that made them both feared and respected. Then there were those like Charles Carneglia whose value in life seemed to be measured solely by his bad reputation.
It was that reputation—there were allegations of at least five murders and claims that Charles was always armed to the teeth—that prompted Hagarty and the rest of the FBI team, which gathered at the Dunkin' Donuts on Cross Bay Boulevard in the hours when the coffee wasn't even warm, to don protective vests, ready their own weapons, and take along the battering ram for a surprise entry. After all, this was a man whose neighbors said he used to keep a life-sized poster of the Ayattolah Khomeini in his garage. It didn't seem prudent to the agents in this particular case to try and announce themselves with a polite knock.
After Hagarty made quick work in the breach entry of the door, other armed agents, who were stacked in line behind him, rushed inside. One of them stood among the splintered wood of the broken door to secure the foyer, while others scrambled up the stairs to the living area. Charles was said to have guns and knives stashed all over the house: in dresser drawers, in cupboards, and on windowsills. Informants said he even crafted silencers out of two-liter plastic soda bottles. But the agents saw nothing. It was safe. Gary Pontecourvo, the FBI team leader, went back outside.
"Clear," he said to the four men arrayed around the smashed door.
Detective Steve Kaplan, a burly man with a shaven head, took the lead and led the others up the stairway toward the living area and bedrooms. One of the agents from the team had already pulled a sleepy Charles, clad in a T-shirt and underwear, from his messy bedroom, where clothes littered the floor, and sat him down on a couch in the living room as Hagarty looked on.
With the last vestiges of sleep gone from his eyes, Charles glanced up at a familiar face. Eight years earlier, Hagarty had to arrest him on a different case. It was also one of those times when Charles was roused from a deep sleep in his bachelor pad near the airport. His ears plugged to ward off the noise of jetliners and his eyes covered with black eyeshades, Charles was oblivious that day to the agent's banging on the door. It was only after Hagarty climbed over a fire escape to rap on a window and yell out his name that Charles let him inside. This time, Hagarty didn't need to let the door stand in his way. Charles didn't like the unannounced approach.
"Hagarty, what are you doing that you had to break down my fucking door?" an irate Charles said. If he had known it was his old case agent, Charles said, he would have let him in without a fuss.
"Charles, this is not my case. I had to do it," replied Hagarty.
Faced with Charles's reputation as a stone-cold killer for the Gambino crime family, the FBI didn't want to take a chance that he might react violently to the approach of the agents. Any criminal in his right mind wouldn't try to battle it out with armed FBI agents carrying M-4 tactical assault rifles and protected by bulletproof vests. But Charles wasn't often in his right mind. He abused a lot of cocaine, became paranoid, and lived in a fantasy world in which he saw constant threats. If he wasn't doing drugs, Charles would drink to excess. His favorite libation was Cutty Sark whiskey. "Sinking the ship" was how friends described his binges when Charles polished off bottles of scotch. The drinking at times left him loud, obnoxious, and aggressive. Mix that type of personality with a gun, knife, or an ice pick, and there is no telling what would happen.
However, the commotion that soon erupted didn't come from Charles. Hagarty heard a woman's voice, crying out in fear.
"Oh, my God!" the woman yelled.
"Oh, my God!" she said over and over again.
The sudden, ferocious destruction of the door and the sight of the menacing armed men taking over the home stunned Elsie, the live-in aide whose job it was to take care of Jennie, the elderly mother of Charles. Once a vigorous woman, Jennie, a former seamstress, had become a frail ninety-four-year-old and needed Elsie to assure her everyday safety. From the way the house had been assaulted, and given what Elsie may have known about Charles's underworld friends, she could truly believe she and Jennie were in danger.
"Oh, my God!" the frightened woman kept screaming.
But Hagarty and the rest of the team never had any intention of harming the women. It was regrettable that the ladies would be scared by the forceful intrusion, but there really was no other option. A no-knock entry and show of force was the thing to do. Mercifully, one of the first things the agents did was go to the bedroom where Jennie was asleep and closed the door.
Striding quickly up the stairs and into the living area came Kaplan. He was a big bear of a man, with deep-set dark eyes that seemed to be constantly sizing things up, watching for clues, any clues. Kaplan was an imposing figure who could have passed for one of the gangsters he hunted. But in truth, said his colleagues, Kaplan was a polite, shy teddy bear who had a knack for getting witnesses and suspects to feel comfortable and cooperate. From the beginning, Kaplan had wanted to be a cop, and after spending his early New York Police Department (NYPD) years in the relatively staid rookie job as a neighborhood stabilization officer in South Jamaica, Kaplan went to a robbery task force and then on to the narcotics division of the Organized Crime Control Bureau (OCCB).
Promoted to detective, Kaplan then went to the career criminal apprehension unit, which arrested some of the worst criminals in New York City. Then, in 1996, Kaplan reached his final cop assignment: the cold case squad. If there is a plum, elite job in the NYPD for a detective, it is in the cold case unit (CCU). These are the cases that may languish for years as the regular detective squads, overworked and undermanned, have to place some of the difficult homicides on the back burner, where they can languish for years because of inattention. It then falls to the cold case detectives to fork over the old evidence, seek out new leads, reinterview witnesses, and turn up new ones in an effort to crack a case. CCU stories become legendary and fodder for television programs.
Kaplan's particular niche, and the reason why he had taken so much interest in Charles, was in the Mob hits that had remained fallow, their leads dried up. In a city with decades of Mafia involvement in the underworld, there were plenty of organized crime homicides that were unsolved. In the world of the Gambino crime family, there was a fair share of those killings, and Kaplan believed some of them lay at the feet of the strange man who sat in front of him in the Howard Beach living room.
Charles had, in fact, been expecting Hagarty, Kaplan, and the rest of the arrest team. There had been enough subpoenas flying around the neighborhood that Charles knew something big was coming his way. But what really led him to believe trouble was brewing was the news that Kevin McMahon, his old protégé known as "the Weasel," and the crazy Albanian gangster Johnny Alite had decided to cooperate with the FBI. Another Howard Beach denizen, Peter Zuccaro, had also decided to cooperate a couple of years earlier. Faced with life prison terms, the three of them had only one card they could play to have a chance to spend some of their remaining days outside of jail: talk about gangsters like Charles. They knew most things about him, and much of that wasn't good. For the FBI, that was just fine.
If the world of law enforcement viewed Charles Carneglia as some kind of heartless killer who like Norman Bates in the film Psycho only had affection for his mother, the man Kaplan gazed at before sunrise seemed more like some village eccentric who did nothing worse than scare children. His hair, once dark and trim, had grayed with age, leaving him with a thinning mane, which he had combed back over his head. His once ruggedly handsome face was hidden behind a dense bush of a beard that seemed thick enough to hide a canary. The edges were gray and the middle tinged with vestiges of his once darker hair color. He looked like some woodsman and quite out of place, considering the well-coiffed and neatly shaven appearance Mafiosi generally favored. In fact, it was very odd to Kaplan and the rest of the law enforcement team that Charles was so hirsute. John Gotti used to have a barber come every day to his social club in nearby Ozone Park to shampoo and cut his hair. From the looks of it, Charles had soured on barbers quite some time ago.
"Charles, what's with the beard?" Hagarty had to ask.
"You know, it's a Fort Dix thing," answered Charles, alluding to his days when he was serving a three-year prison sentence at what was once a military base but had become a federal correction facility. Growing beards became a pastime for the incarcerated, especially the mobsters, explained Charles.
For years, Charles had been something of a Mob recluse. He kept a shack at one of his properties in Brooklyn, which seemed forbidding to outsiders. But it was in such a place that he liked to stay for hours on end. When he needed to, Charles could cook his steaks and hamburgers on a grill. It reminded one lawyer who visited the premises of the kind of place, deep in some secluded woods, in which the infamous "Unabomber" Theodore Kaczynski dwelled when he was captured in the 1990s. In fact, the beard made Charles bear a resemblance to Kaczynski.
Unlike some seamless, cohesive organization, the New York Mob families were rife with cliques and factions. While they had the overall goal of making money, particularly for whoever was the boss, the various borgatas were in perpetual internal struggle. Sometimes the rivalries never surfaced or led to anything more dramatic than somebody being demoted—broken down—or ordered into retirement, an act that the mobsters called "being put on the shelf," as if the offending party was a can of corn in a grocery store. Other times, the struggles led to bloodshed, such as when John Gotti orchestrated the December 1985 slaying of Gambino boss Paul Castellano, one of the most seismic events in the history of the Mafia. Charles had been one of the group of men around Gotti and represented what Kaplan and the others believed was the last links to the violent group of Howard Beach men who became Gotti's source of power. Gotti's crew was known for its brutality, and it seemed to rely on loyal, vicious soldiers like Charles. His unkempt appearance seemed to symbolize the wild and brutal nature of what Gotti had spawned.
But it was the eyes that said it most about Charles. They weren't really wild. There was no fiery madness like Charles Manson had shown the world after he was caught for the Sharon Tate murders. Instead, what stared back at Kaplan and Hagarty were dark holes from which nothing—no trace of emotion, no spark of life, no joy—emanated. It was a face that offered no solace, no hope.
Hagarty told Charles to wash, brush his teeth, and dress for the winter cold. He preferred light-colored denim jeans and a patterned cotton sweater with a series of brown, black, and white rectangles.
After he was "hygiened," Charles had one request. "Can I kiss my mother good-bye?" he asked Kaplan.
Though she had lived long, Jennie was getting near the end, and even if Charles was able to beat the case, it wasn't clear if he would get out of jail in time for her. Her son had gone away for long stretches before, and Jennie always thought he was working in some faraway place, like California. In those times, Charles had made sure friends and neighbors took care of her, driving the increasingly frail woman to the store and to her doctor appointments. In her younger days, Jennie on paper was helping her sons own and run a junkyard and auto salvage operation in South Brooklyn. But those energetic days were over.
If she was able to do so, Jennie would visit her sons in prison, posing for family-style photographs as was the style on visiting days in the correctional institutions. But Jennie spent what was left of her days watching television fare like the daily mass show. She could no longer go for walks to the local Waldbaum's supermarket or the Dollar Store, shopping visits that Charles would take her on. He doted over her as she crossed the street—the loyal bachelor son pushing the shopping cart ahead of Mother as he clasped her arm in the crosswalk. At times like that, they looked like just another close Italian family, one where the stay-at-home son who never married—though he said he had a fiancée—ministered to Momma.
Jennie had exceeded the actuarial tables, and Charles knew that time for Mother was growing short. Even with the morning commotion, the elderly woman seemed to lie in her bed oblivious to what was going on around her.
"This is probably the last time I will see her," Charles explained.
Kaplan had made a living as a cop arresting all sorts of hardened career criminals and he wasn't a soft touch. Kaplan's own steely resolve showed in his own eyes. He had a tough exterior that came in handy as he navigated the world of the Mob, whether it was in the search for information or to make an arrest. Yet, Kaplan was of a school of gumshoe who thought it best to treat his prisoners with some dignity and respect, even if they had not done as much for others: Sure, go ahead. Kiss your mother.
There was also another, more ulterior motive to be solicitous to Charles. There was hope among some in the FBI that he might want to cooperate. Perhaps if Charles saw that the agents were willing to accommodate him, maybe—just maybe—he would join "Team America" and spill what he knew about others in the crime family. Charles may have been the deadliest fish in the Mafia pond, but he wasn't the biggest. There was a large group of acting street bosses and important crime captains who were also considered large trophies.
Jennie was clothed in floral pajamas, and her son went over to the bed. Kissing her, Charles had a few parting words that Hagarty overheard.
Excerpted from MOB KILLER by Anthony M. DeStefano Copyright © 2011 by Anthony M. DeStefano. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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