Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Crime Beat Column: Mobland: Mob Murder Puts Focus On South Philly

The below column originally appeared in the South Philadelphia American on March 27, 1998:

South Philadelphia was again the media focus of our region when Anthony Turra was shot and killed on his doorstep early one morning last week.

Turra, 61, stricken with cancer and aided by a cane, was on his way to Federal Court to await the verdict on a number of racketeering charges stemming from the widely reported conflict between his gang of drug dealers and the South Philadelphia Cosa Nostra organized crime family.

I was on the scene shortly after the shooting, as I live a few blocks from Turra's house. The local TV news vans and police vehicles quickly set up shop at the crime scene near the corner of 20th Street and Passyunk Avenue. As the police fanned out looking for evidence, the reporters, notebook or microphone in hand, went out among the curious onlookers in search of a good, colorful quote.

The broadcast and print reporters (including yours truly) were not disappointed, as South Philadelphians are generally earthy, honest and gregarious.

While some people were frightened and didn't want to get involved, others said they didn't see organized crime as an immediate threat to them and were unconcerned about the occasional shooting it generates. Some neighbors said they were taken aback at the bold early morning killing.

"At this time of morning there are children walking to school and people waiting for the bus to go to work," a neighbor named Rita said to me when I asked her about the shooting. "I don't know what the man was involved with, but I'm glad no innocent children were hurt."

One South Philly man on his way to work called both the shooter and the victim "Bums, criminals who can't hold down a real job."

One neighbor said he believed that by having mob guys as neighbors, muggers and burglars applied their trade elsewhere. And unlike other parts of the city, where idiot criminals who have more fire power than skill and technical knowledge shoot indiscriminately into a crowd, the local mob tends to get up close and personal with their hits.

Another neighbor I know, a man who dabbles in the rackets himself, told me that the general public has nothing to fear from mobsters.

"These guys only kill each other," he said. "And they only offer the things people want and the law says no to, like gambling and prostitution."

Of course, the law enforcement community has a different point of view.

A while back I asked Robert Courtney, III, the chief of the U.S. Attorney's Organized Crime Task Force, about this when he was my guest on Inside Government, a public affairs radio program that airs Sunday mornings at 6:30 AM on WMGK 102.9 FM and repeats on WPEN 950 AM at 7:00 AM.       

"This is misguided thinking," Courtney replied. "When you step back and look at what organized crime is about, it's about making money."

"The murders and the violence are used to enforce the discipline of the organization so they can ultimately make money," Courtney added. "Organized crime preys on legitimate businesses and involves corruption of the political process as well.'

While covering the crime scene, I ran into a detective I know who lives in South Philly and works out of South Detectives. He asked me not to use his name, but he told me that the occasional mob hit is to be expected, considering the mob's greed and propensity for violence.

"It's the nature of the business," the detective explained. "It's the natural thinning of the herd."

The day after the Turra murder, the Philadelphia Daily News' front page headline proclaimed South Philly to be"Mobland." Inside the newspaper was a multi-page spread that listed the long history of mob hits in South Philadelphia.

South Philly is known far and wide for good entertainers, good food, good neighbors - and the occasional mob hit.          

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