Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Mystery Writers Of America Presented Crime Novelist Michael Connelly With The Grand Master Award

Michael Connelly (seen in the above and below photos), author of the Harry Bosch crime series and other crime novels, was awarded the title of Grand Master at the Mystery Writers of America during a celebration in New York City on April 27th.

I covered many of his novels in my Washington Times On Crime columns, and I interviewed the best-selling crime novelist some years back. 

You can read the Q&A with Michael Connelly via the below link: 

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Beat Column: Killers, Cops and Crime Reporters: My Q & A With Crime Writer Michael Connelly

You can also read my Washington Times On Crime column on Michael Connelly's novel Fair Warning via the below link or the below text: 

Michael Connelly on 'Fair Warning' and his crime reporter character Jack McEvoy - Washington Times

“Death is my beat,” Michael Connelly’s crime reporter character Jack McEvoy tells us in “Fair Warning.” 

Shifting from his longtime police detective character Harry Bosch, Mr. Connelly’s latest crime thriller offers Jack McEvoy, his character from his earlier novels “The Poet” and “The Scarecrow.” Like those earlier novels, McEvoy is pursuing a serial killer.


This killer uses DNA tests and the dark web to target his promiscuous and vulnerable female victims. The serial killer, known as “the Shrike,” murders his victims by Atlanto-occipital dislocation, which the medical examiner explains is internal decapitation. The Shrike snaps their necks.


Jack McEvoy becomes involved in the case when two Los Angeles detectives visit him and ask him about a murdered woman that he was briefly romantically involved with. The detectives asked him where he was the night the woman was murdered. He told them he was at a work meeting and there were people who could verify his being there.


One of the detectives then asked the reporter to tell them again about him and the murdered woman. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Contentious Times? Consider the late 1960s: My Broad + Liberty Piece On A Look Back At Another Contentious Time In American History

Broad + Liberty ran my piece on a look back another contentious time in American history. 

You can read the piece via the below link or the below text:

Paul Davis: Contentious times? Consider the late 1960s (

I recently had a discussion with a friend who lamented the times we live in and how we are so polarized. He told me that he was worried about the future of the country.

I recall a similar conversation I had a few years back with a newspaper editor. An avowed Trump-hater, he told me that this was the most contentious time in American history.

More contentious than the Civil War? I replied to the editor, who happened to have a history degree. Or more contentious than the War of Independence, in which one third of the people supported the Revolutionary War, one third supported the British crown, and one third was indifferent?

And more contentious than the late 1960s? 

I recall vividly the late 1960s as I was then a teenager. I recall the anti-war and the civil rights protests. I also recall the riots that rocked Philadelphia and other cities in America after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. 

I was a student at South Philadelphia High School, called Southern, at the time. After King’s assassinations I walked to school and landed smack in the middle of the fights between black and white students. The fights in and around Southern went on for hours until the police managed to separate the two groups.

Say what you will about Frank Rizzo, but the then-Police Commissioner  ensured that Philadelphia was one of the few cities that didn’t burn. Philly cops under Rizzo went out in force that night and prevented the city from being destroyed like other American cities.

In addition to violent race relations in the late 1960s, the Vietnam War divided the country. The “silent majority,” coined by Richard Nixon, were for America’s involvement in Vietnam, although many disagreed with President Johnson’s leadership and war policies. Many Americans, including me, believed that we should go all out and defeat the North Vietnamese Communists.        

The anti-war protestors were anything but silent. Made up of mostly draft-age young men, the anti-war protestors called for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam and the end of the draft. Some anti-war protests turned violent with protestors taking over college buildings and clashing with police and national guardsmen. The anti-war violent protests were covered prominently by the press and the TV news in an age before the Internet.  

The Vietnam War also divided families and family dinners often erupted into contentious debates over the war. Fathers, many of whom were World War II veterans, disapproved of the opinions and actions of their anti-war sons and daughters. Elected officials and political pundits were also divided on the war and public debate was often heated.            

Due to the protests and opposition to the Vietnam War, President Johnson declared that he would not seek another term as president. The 1968 Democratic political convention in Chicago selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey as their presidential candidate. Outside of the Chicago convention center, radical and anti-war protests erupted into violent clashes between the protestors and the Chicago police. Republican Richard Nixon became the Republican candidate. 

In 1964, author Robin Moore published “The Green Berets,” which was about the early years of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Moore, who trained with the Green Berets before venturing to Vietnam, accompanied Green Berets as they fought the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese and trained the South Vietnamese.

The book was popular and sold well in 1964, but by the time John Wayne optioned the book and made the film “The Green Berets” in 1968, the mood had changed. The pro-military and pro-Vietnam War film was slammed by nearly all of the film critics and television commentators (but the film made money at the box office).

Richard Nixon became president, and he was demonized by the press and commentators far worse than President Trump. Yet he was overwhelmingly reelected in 1972 by the silent majority. 

Nixon ended the draft, which broke the back of the anti-war protests, although the war dragged on. It appeared that many of the protestors were not anti-war — they were against their personal participation in the war.  

So, those who think that we are now on the eve of destruction (the title of a song from the 1960s), should recall or research the late 1960s. 

The student radical group the Weathermen set off bombs, and the Black Liberation Army ambushed and murdered police officers. It was an era of violence and tumultuous events. In addition to the racial strife, and anti-war and radical violent protests, there was drugs, crime, the counterculture movement, and political assassinations.

We survived the late 1960s, and our great Republic will survive these contentious times as well.

Paul Davis, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, is a Philadelphia writer who covers crime.   

Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Private Eye Witness To History: My Washington Times On Crime Column On Max Allen Collins 'The Big Bundle'

The Washington Times ran my On Crime column on Max Allen Collins’ The Big Bundle.

This interesting and insightful crime novel is about a fictional private eye traversing through a begone era and a true and once famous child kidnapping.  

You can read the column via the below link or the text below:

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Big Bundle' - Washington Times 

In “The Big Bundle,” Max Allan Collins’ 18th novel featuring Nathan Heller, the private detective appears alongside Robert F. Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa, as well as historical crime and law enforcement figures involved in the real-life kidnapping of a millionaire’s son in 1953.


I contacted Mr. Collins and asked him to describe “The Big Bundle.”


“In many respects, it’s a private eye thriller in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane,” Mr. Collins replied. “I was moving to a new publisher, Hard Case Crime, and knew their audience was steeped in hardboiled fiction and might be put off by the famous crimes I usually look at in a Nathan Heller novel. The real-life case in ‘The Big Bundle,’ quite well known in the 1950s but forgotten now, allowed me to put the emphasis on the noir aspect of the Heller novels and not be accused of teaching a “history lesson.”


How would you describe Nathan Heller?


Heller is a businessman who starts out in a small office where he sleeps on a Murphy bed and winds up with a coast-to-coast detective agency. He is not the typical Phillip Marlowe-style modern-day knight who would never take a bribe or seduce a virgin — Heller has done both and often indulges in situational ethics. Unlike most fictional private eyes, he marries (more than once) and is a father and had a father and mother and even grandparents. He ages with the years. At any age, Heller recoils at injustice in society and serves up rough justice when he feels it necessary. He not only knows where the bodies are buried, he has buried more than his share.”


Why have you written a series of crime novels based on historical events with a fictional character interacting with historical figures?


“Rereading ‘The Maltese Falcon’ for a college class I was teaching in the early 1970s, I noticed the 1929 copyright. I had a light-bulb moment: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was 1929 — Sam Spade and Al Capone were contemporaries! Instead of Mike Hammer meeting a Capone type, I could have Capone meeting a Mike Hammer type. It was a fresh way into a form that had gone stale,” Mr. Collins (seen in the bottom photo) explained. “What evolved, from the initial novel about Frank Nitti’s Chicago (“True Detective,” 1983), was Heller solving famous unsolved or controversially solved crimes, like the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Black Dahila murder, the assassinations of Huey Long and JFK. Often, I substitute him for a real detective involved in a case. Heller becomes a sort of ‘private eye witness’ to history.”


How did you research the history that you use in “The Big Bundle”?


“Less was available about the Greenlease case than with most mysteries Heller has tackled — both Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, the Roswell incident, required dealing with a staggering number of books and voluminous newspaper and magazine material. Only a handful of books about the Greenlease kidnapping existed to draw upon in “The Big Bundle.” But the political aspect — Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa’s involvement in the aftermath of the ransom’s disappearance — meant referring to several dozen nonfiction works, as well as the usual newspaper and magazine articles, which the kidnapping itself also generated. The idea is that I prepare to write the definitive nonfiction book on a real crime or mystery. Then I write a private eye novel instead.


Did you discover anything in your research that surprised you about the kidnapping and other elements you use in your novel?


“Automobiles were everywhere in the narrative, befitting the postwar boom in car buying and interstate travel. Key events took place at a famous no-tell motel, the Coral Court, outside St. Louis. A crooked taxicab company was caught up in the probable theft of half the ransom, and every criminal in the case seemed either to drive a Caddy or want to — purchased inevitably at one of the many Midwestern Cadillac dealerships owned by the kidnap victim’s father.”


Do you plan to continue the Nathan Heller series?


“Too Many Bullets” has been completed, with Heller present in the pantry at the Ambassador Hotel when Robert Kennedy was shot. It’s an open-and-shut case, supposedly, yet the research indicates otherwise. In many respects, the real story is like something out of Raymond Chandler: hit men, crooked cops, a crazy hypnotist, a duplicitous showgirl. That comes out in October, again from Hard Case Crime. There may be one more after that. The degree of difficulty here is high, however, and I just turned 75, so it depends on how well Heller and I hold up.”


• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.

• • •

The Big Bundle
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, $22.99, 304 pages

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

My Crime Fiction: 'Byrne's Sitdown'

 The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine: 

Byrne’s Sitdown 

By Paul Davis 

I was sitting in a booth at the Penrose Diner in South Philadelphia waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. 

I was drinking a cup of the diner's good coffee and looking out the window to see if my friend had arrived when I received a text on my phone that he could not make it. 

Not wanting to hog a booth by myself, I started to pick up my coffee and move to the counter when someone said my name. I looked up and saw Fred Byrne. 

“Paul, you eating alone? Can I join you?” Byrne said. 

“Sure. I was waiting for a friend, but he just texted me that he can’t make it.” 

Byrne, a stocky man with gray hair, was about 70 years old. He was a retired hardware store manager that I met at a cigar dinner some years ago. He came up to me a the cigar dinner and told me he recognized me from the photo that accompanied my crime column in the local newspaper. He introduced himself and we shook hands. 

As we smoked our fine cigars, we spoke of our military service during the Vietnam War. Byrne had been a Marine at Da Nang and I had been a sailor on an aircraft carrier. 

I liked him and I gave him my card that had my telephone number and email address on it. He wrote his telephone number and email address on a piece of notepaper and handed it to me. But for whatever reason we never contacted each other. 

The waitress stopped by our table and Byrne and I ordered lunch. Byrne had a copy of the Philadelphia Daily News, a newspaper I used to write for, and he showed me an article on the murder of John “Johnny Boy” Grillo, a local mobster who had just been released from federal prison. He had been shot multiple times and died on the street. 

“I read that online this morning,” I said. “I didn’t know him, but I knew his father Dom some years back. I heard the kid was nothing like his father.” 

“I knew them both,” Byrne said. “I knew the father from the neighborhood, but only to say hello to. I knew he was a mob guy, but he was always polite. I knew the kid as he was a friend of my daughter’s. 

“Want to hear a story about my “Sitdown” with Dom over his kid?” 

“Sure,” I replied. 

I didn’t pull out my notebook or small tape recorder, as I didn’t yet know if he was telling me this story for my crime column, and I didn’t want him to shut him down by asking just yet. 

“Well, it wasn’t a formal sitdown, as I wasn’t a member of the mob. Hell, I’m not even Italian. But like I says, Johnny Boy was a friend of my daughter when they was teenagers." 

Our lunch orders arrived and as we ate, Byrne went on to tell me about the time he was returning to his South Philly rowhome years ago. He was accompanied by his friend Mike Fratelli, a Philly detective. 

Byrne’s teenage daughter and wife and gone to the New Jersey shore and were staying at his in-law’s summer home. Byrne had remained in South Philadelphia as he had to work at the hardware store where he was the manager. He met Fratelli, and they had a couple of beers at their favorite corner taproom. 

They walked from the bar to Byrne’s house and when they got there, Fratelli saw that one of the basement windows and been pushed in. Lights were on in the basement, and they heard music. 

"Your family is down the shore, right?” Fratelli asked. 


“Give me your house keys and you stay here,” Fratelli said. 

Fratelli took the keys, drew his firearm, ran up the steps to the front door and let himself in. 

Byrne bent down and looked in the busted basement window and saw about four or five teenage boys and girls drinking his liquor from his basement bar and dancing to the music from his radio. 

Byrne, who had a license to carry a firearm as he handled money at his store, drew his 9mm Beretta and pointed it at the group in his basement. 

“Get the hell out of my house, you punks,” Byrne yelled. 

“Fuck you,” one of the boys said. 

Byrne fired a round into his basement wall away from the teenagers as a warning shot. The teenagers ran up the basement stairs in fright and straight into the arms of Fratelli. Fratelli herded the teenagers out the front door and onto the sidewalk. 

“We thought you were all at the shore,” one of the girls said. “We just broke in as a goof. We weren’t going to steal anything.” 

“I know you. You’re Janice, my daughter’s friend,” Byrne said. “What the hell do all of you think you are were doing?” 

One of the boys, a big and husky teenager, rushed Byrne and pushed him up against the wall. Byrne slapped the teenager across the back of his head and face with his Beretta. The kid fell to the sidewalk bleeding. 

“You killed Johnny Boy,” Janice cried out. 

The kid stood up and placed his hand on the back of his head. Byrne told the teenagers to get lost. He told them to never see his daughter again. 

“That kid was Dom Grillo’s kid,” Fratelli said as the teenagers walked away. 

“He shouldn’t have broken into my house.” 

The following evening, Janice and her father visited Byrne. The father apologized for his daughter’s behavior and pleaded with Byrne to not have his teenage daughter arrested. Byrne told the man he did not plan to press charges. 

The father thanked Byrne and assured him that his daughter would be punished. 

The two men shook hands as Janice looked down in shame and embarrassment. 

While at work the next day, a neighborhood hoodlum strolled into his hardware store and approached Byrne. Byrne’s hand reached behind his back to the holster that held his Beretta. 

The man smiled and said that Dom Grillo wanted to buy him a drink at the Oregon Avenue bar that night at eight o’clock. 

“Tell him I’ll be there.”

Promptly at eight, Byrne walked into the dimly lit bar with Fratelli. They began to walk to the back of the bar where Dom Grillo was sitting with his son. 

A young hoodlum stepped in the way and asked if they were armed. 

“Hell, yeah. I got two guns on me,” Byrne said. “And I’m a Marine, so I know how to use ‘em.” 

“I’m a cop, so you know I’m packing,” Fratelli said. 

“Let ‘em through,” Dom Grillo said. 

Grillo, a rugged and gruff man in his 60s, was a captain, or capo, in the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra organized crime family. He controlled illegal gambling and loan sharking in the neighborhood. But having faced the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers in close-quarter combat, Byrne was not intimidated by Grillo or any other gangster.

 “Sit down,” Grillo offered. 

Byrne and Fratelli sat down across from Grillo and his son, whose face and head were bandaged. 

“I see you brought Mike the cop with you,” Grillo said. 

“Yeah, he’s my friend and he was with me when we caught your son and the other kids in my house.” 

“And you felt you had to pistol-whip my son because he broke into your house.” 

“He attacked me. So yeah, I was defending myself. I could have shot him.” 

“This true?” Grillo asked Fratelli. 

“Yeah,” Fratelli asked. 

Grillo turned his head and faced his son. 

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” 

"This crazy guy threatened us with a gun, so I rushed him and …” 

“Shut up now.” Grillo ordered. “You broke into the man’s house. He had the right to shoot you. Perhaps he should have.” 

Johnny Boy Grillo sat back and remained quiet. 

“I’m truly sorry for my boy’s rash and stupid behavior, and I’m grateful that you didn’t shoot him. I hear you are a decent man, and I hear you was a Marine, so I respect you.

 “Let me pay for the damage to your home,” Grillo said. 

“I manage a hardware store, so the repairs got done. I don’t need or want any money.” 

Grillo rose and shook Byrne’s hand. 

“Even after this, Johnny Boy still went on to be a pain in the ass to his father. He followed his dad into the mob and the dad had to get him outta of jams," Byrne said as the Penrose busboy cleared away our dishes. “The kid was always mouthing off to people and making trouble for his father. 

"I think the old man was glad that Johnny Boy was put in prison. Old Dom got to spend his last years not worrying about his brash and stupid son.” 

Byrne added that he was not surprised that someone shot and killed Johnny Boy Grillo the minute he walked out of prison.  

“Apparently, he didn’t get the kind of homecoming he expected,” I said. 

© 2023 Paul Davis 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Cop Jazz: A Look Back At Don Ellis' Musical Score Of The Classic Crime Film, 'The French Connection'

As I've noted here before, I'm a huge fan of the 1971 film, The French Connection.

One of the elements that made The French Connection suspenseful and thrilling was the eerie and unusual musical soundtrack by the late Don Ellis (seen in the below photo).

You can watch a video about Don Ellis and The French Connection soundtrack via the below link:

Don Ellis: Cop Jazz - The Music of The French Connection (1971) - YouTube

And you can watch the film's trailer and listen to the score via the below links:

The French Connection | #TBT Trailer | 20th Century FOX - YouTube

 01. Main Title - The French Connection Soundtrack - YouTube

You can also read my post on a look back at The French Connection film and my Washington Times On Crime column on the real French Connection detectives, Eddie Egan, Sonny Grosso and Randy Jurgensen, via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: A Look Back At The Real 'French Connection' Detectives

Saturday, April 22, 2023

A Look Back At Ralph Natale, The Former Boss Of The Philadelphia Cosa Nostra Organized Crime Family

 I recently had a discussion with a Philadelphia mob guy I’ve known since we were kids growing up together in South Philly. 

We spoke of many things, but what stood out to me was his strong, bitter feelings about Ralph Natale, the former boss of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra organized crime family. Natale died in January of 2022.

The veteran mob guy said that Natale was a phony and a lousy crime boss, whose greed was the undoing of the local mob. 

I interviewed Ralph Natale and reviewed his book, Last Don Standing: The Secret Life of Mob Boss Ralph Natale, for the Washington Times in 2017.The book was written by Dan Pearson, the executive producer of the Discovery Channel’s I Married a Mobster, and Larry McShane, a crime reporter and author of  The Chin: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante. 

The book covers the life of Ralph Natale, the boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey Cosa Nostra organized crime family in the 1990s, and the first mob boss to become a government witness.          

As I wrote in the review, I grew up in South Philly, not far from where Natale was raised a generation earlier. I contacted him and we talked about his life and the book. I noted that he didn’t appear to be particularly remorseful or repentant in the book. I asked him if had any regrets about his past criminal life?

“I have regrets about one thing, I broke my marriage vows,” Natale replied. “That’s the only thing I regret in my life. When I was 12 years old, I was a hoodlum. I was a born killer, that’s what I did and why I rose to the top so easily. But I never touched an innocent man or a woman or a child. I just clipped the guys who were supposed to get clipped. And they went. It was a simple thing for me.”

You can read my Crime Beat column Q&A with Ralph Natale below: 

Davis: Why did you write the book? 

Natale: It was very simple. When I “went away,” the second time, I did 13 years. I told my friends to make sure every month that my wife has enough until I come home. Oh, yeah, yeah, they said. When I asked her every month, she said no, I said OK, maybe something happened. Then I said, OK, how about these punks? 

Davis: That made you bitter? 

Natale: When I first came home from the first bit - I did 16 on that because I didn’t want to be a witness - they were living in their mother’s homes and they were driving other people’s cars. Forty-five months later when they arrested me for a parole violation, they were now driving Mercedes, BMW’s and they bought their own homes. Forty-five months! Before that they didn’t know how to get out of their own way. This is all a matter of fact. Everybody in South Philly knows and everybody in the mob knows. And now when I go away and this thing happens, I said I want to see those punks. I got indicted for helping my son-in-law and his drug business, I leant him some money, and this and whatever. He got arrested with everybody else and my name came up. So I got indicted on this. Now this was the third time around. I was facing life. I would have gladly done it, gladly, because I did 16 when I really was in trouble. But they didn’t come up with a dime. And that’s why I wrote every word, and every part of it. You have to believe it because they never denied it. They couldn’t deny anything. 

Davis: Did you have any difficulty testifying against your former criminal associates in court? 

Natale: I saw them in the courtroom when I think did eleven or twelve days on the stand. In fact even the marshal said, we never seen nothing like it, you ripped the lawyers up. We never saw a man answer like you. I was telling the truth. It’s easy to tell the truth. The FBI agents when they arrested me in Florida, they said we’ll get you on the big one, I said you guys are crazy. It all came out later in the trial when I was a witness. That’s the reasons why I did this. Throughout the mob, every mob leader at that time could not believe it, but then they said we know why Ralphy did it, because these bastards kept everything for themselves and didn’t give me a dime. 

Davis: Can you briefly describe what it was like to be the boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey Cosa Nostra family? 

Natale: Well, first of all, I always loved the guy who ran it, Angelo Bruno. When I went to work under “Skinny Razor,” John DiTullio, I saw what it was like to be admired and respected by “men,” and to tell men what to do and they would do it. I loved the ways, the world, everything was in place. I like things in order. I don’t like any disorder. When it gets disordered you see what happens in the world, in politics, in everything. It was like being dead and then all at once I became alive when I became a boss. I loved every moment of it. There is nothing like it in this world. I once saw a movie, a great sports movie, The Hoosiers. Did you see it?       

Davis: Yes, good film, with Gene Hackman. 

Natale: OK. When the woman in the movie was talking about her brother she said around here if a guy plays basketball, he’s treated like a God. Hackman said, listen, he told her, anybody, if he’s treated like a God for 15 seconds, then that’s well worth anything in the world. That’s true.     

Davis: That’s the way you felt when you were the boss? 

Natale: Yeah, that’s the way I felt. To be a part of La Cosa Nostra, when things meant something, you had to at least make a kill on your own. In my time, I committed, I think I pled to eight of them when I had to plea. I love my peace, I love my family, I love whatever I do, but if it comes time, I’m still mobster Natale. That’s all I know. The reason I speak so plainly is because I want you to understand what men like me are like. We don’t look any different. I don’t act like a mobster, I never did.        

Davis: I’m half-Italian, I grew up and live in South Philly and I’ve covered organized crime for a good number of years. I know the Cosa Nostra culture. 

Natale: The culture is this, if you can’t do it and then go home to sleep, then you shouldn’t do anything. I was brought up at 6th and Wharton in South Philly. I was born and raised in that area. My mother family comes from there. My father’s family died early in their lives when they came from the other side. They got caught up in that flu epidemic. I was still see the same stores, the same houses and the same people. And I love every one of them with my heart. 

Davis: How were things different from when you were the boss and, say, from when Angelo Bruno was the boss in the 1960’s and 1970’s?    

Natale: Well, when Ang was the boss, money was around. Gambling, and this and that, but when I became boss, we had to go out and make our money. There was a lot of punks around. It was tough. Two weeks after I came home I called one big meeting. I said I want everybody to go get these guys taking all the action and tell them to meet us. When we were through with this meeting at a banquet hall we all became partners with the guys that were there. That’s what I did. We started to make money. 

Davis: Did you meet any resistance from other ethnic gangs, like the Russians or biker gangs? 

Natale: Everybody else knew that I was home and they knew what kind of man I was on the street before and when I was in prison. Once I called them in and had something to say, they all knew I kept my word. And they had to keep their word. I wasn’t Superman. You could put two in my head. But so far, I’m OK. I’m here. 

Davis: How different is today’s mob, as I guess you’re watching it from afar, and from your day and era? 

Natale: They don’t keep the rules. The watch too many movies. They watch The Godfather, they watch Casino. I was with those people, I knew those people. It was a joke. And these guys want to walk and talk like that. It was not like it was when we were young. We had men on the street. The few men that are left are the men that did time with Scarfo. They all did their time like men and they all came home like men. I didn’t know them because I was much older than them and I was away, but I admired men who did their time and came home. They are the only men who are left in South Philadelphia.  

Davis: Scarfo recently died in prison. What did you think of him and how he ran the crime family? 

Natale: He destroyed it. Nicky Scarfo was a man who had a hole inside him. He had no soul, no heart. You know, he didn’t have one true friend? Not one. I knew him very well. Many years ago when we were working in Atlantic City I wanted to kill Nicky Scarfo. It came out. I asked Angelo Bruno. No, Ang said, his uncles are my friends, and he’s this, he’s that. I said he’s going to give us trouble. But Ang said, with half a smile, don’t do this. It can’t be done. He put all those guys, all men, in prison. 

Davis: There is some question of who is the South Philly and South Jersey boss today. Do you know who it is? 

Natale: There is no boss! There is no more mob there. They are not recognized anywhere in the country because of what they did and who they were. They don’t even know how to walk on Passyunk Avenue. The men who came home can and I wish them all well. It’s not like before. 

Davis: Can you describe your homecoming when you became the boss? 

Natale: When I came home the first thing I did was walk from Jefferson Hospital, where I arranged to have a hernia operation later, to South Philly. I wanted to see South Philly again. When I went down Ninth Street at the Italian Market, all the guys working behind the stands came and we hugged and kissed. They already had the word because the news media had me as the new boss. It was so warming for me. And then we stopped at the Villa de Roma and we had a little drink – it was in the afternoon – and then we went home. That’s what South Philly was to me. I lived my life pretty good in South Philadelphia. Walk up and down every street and find out how I treated my friends and other people that I barely knew, and then you’ll know what kind of man I was. Then you’ll understand me. 

Davis: How difficult was it to become a government witness after a lifetime in Cosa Nostra? 

Natale: It wasn’t difficult for me. I’m not going to cry like other people. I wanted to get those punks. When my wife and family had nothing and I gave those punks everything? It was so easy. Done and done. 

Davis: If you look back in crime history, Cosa Nostra took pains to support the families of guys who went away to prison. This was key, along with a threat of death, that there is no record of any Cosa Nostra member becoming a government witnesses prior to Joe Valachi, and not many afterwards until much later, when greed, along with the RICO statute, changed all of that. 

Natale: It was like that. When I was away at Lewisburg I got subpoenaed to appear before a Senate Investigation Committee On Organized Crime. This was in 1982 and I had the first three years of a 23-year sentence. When they took me there they told me if you give us the right answers you’ll have your sentence reduced and you’ll be home within three months from today. I said you got the wrong guy. There were just three guys there. There was Nicky Scarfo, who had just become the boss, and the old man from Chicago, Anthony "Joe Batters,” Accardo. and me. I was the only one in prison and I was in jeopardy of getting another sentence for perjury, for this, for that. I did what I had to do. It was on C-Span and I still got the clip. I didn’t say a word about anybody. I could have put in prison half of New York, half of Chicago and all of Philadelphia. And you know who went to jail? Me. And that’s the truth. That I’m proud of. 

Davis: What do you think of Ron Privite, the man who wore an FBI wire, recorded you and testified against you? 

Natale: Anybody who testifies against me was what he was. I have no ill feeling about anything or anybody. I look at him, and say, well, you know, he did what had he had to do to save his ass. That’s what kind of name he’s got and that’s it. I ain’t got time for hate. I intend to live to be a hundred, but if I die tomorrow, I don’t have any hate in my body for anybody that did anything against me. 

Davis: Are you concerned about your personal safety? Is there an open contract on you? 

Natale: Who’s going to come after me (laughs)? I’m still a man. I was always known as a dangerous, dangerous man. That’s all I can tell you. 

Davis: There is that interesting story of “Harry the Hunchback” Riccobene, an elderly man, who took a couple of bullets but still managed to take the gun away from the hit man who was a young guy. Did you know him? 

Natale: Let me tell you a story about Harry Riccobene. You’re the first guy I’m going to tell it to, a South Philly guy. When I was home and I was the boss, I was down at 8th and Tasker, at Frankie’s bar and I had to see him about something. I ran into a couple of my old school chums from Bartlett Junior High and one of them came over and said can I speak to you? Yeah, what is it? He said he gets a call every week from a man who praises you and loves you. He said if I ever ran into you I should arrange for you to come to my home and talk on the phone to him. What’s his name, I asked? Harry Riccobene. Little Harry? I love him. You make the arrangements and we’ll get it done. I did go over the week after. That was a real man. You know what he told me? He was glad I got it. He said I deserved it more than anybody. I said thanks Harry. He said he was fine - he had a ton of money. You remember I love you, ever since I was a boy, I said, and he said he loved me too. He died at 93-years-old, I think. 

Davis: He was a tough old guy. 

Natale: Harry Riccobene was a notorious killer. He used to drive Skinny Razor around and they were the men that I knew and they watched me grow up. I loved and respected them with all my heart. 

Davis: You write about Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa in you book. Are you aware that Martin Scorsese is making a film about Frank Sheeran, the former Teamster and hit man who claimed to have murdered Hoffa as well as “Crazy Joe” Gallo in New York? 

Natale: Let me tell you about Frank Sheeran. He’s nothing but a drunk and he imagines things. He begged for me to see him when I was home and I did. I went over to South Philly and I met him there. He was half-drunk and that was it. He said he killed Jimmy Hoffa. I know who killed Hoffa. I have a picture in the book with me and a few of the guys from Lewisburg and one of the guys in the photos was one of the three guys who killed Hoffa. His name was Tommy Andretta. His brother was with him and there was the other guy they killed in New York, Salvatore Briguglio. This was a hit squad from “Tony Pro” Provenzano, who was my dear friend. He was a capo. I get a little angry. You know how guys claim to killed Jimmy Hoffa? I think 15. 

Davis: And he’s buried here, there and everywhere. 

Natale: I just gave you the three guys. It will come out. 

Davis: Why do you believe he was he murdered? 

Natale: Because he wanted to come back and take over the union. I got a whole chapter in there. He asked me to help him and it explains it in the book. He was killed because he made the first major mistake in his life. If a man is a gambler, a drinker, a womanizer, he’s got other things to do when he’s retired, you know. Hoffa had only thing – the union. He loved it. He was a rich man but he wanted that union back. I met Hoffa and told him if Ang wants me to help you, fine but if not, I can’t serve two masters. Sorry. That was the last time I saw Jimmy Hoffa and then he was dead. 

Davis: In your book you debunk the idea that Cosa Nostra was against drugs. You write that everybody sold drugs. But why did some bosses like Paul Castellano in New York prohibit them in such a strong way? 

Natale: Listen to me. Let me break that fable. Every mob in New York, Chicago, Philly, always has a man who sells drugs. Everybody handles drugs. There was Joe Bonnano, who in the beginning said no drugs, no drugs, meanwhile he became the biggest rat in the world. You get the bosses money, and that’s it. 

Davis: After Bonanno was exiled from New York to Arizona he was suspected of running a major heroin operation from Mexico. 

Natale: Listen to me. There is no crime that cannot be done if you belong to the mob. 

Davis: You spent a good many years in prison and your descriptions of prison life in the book seem almost nostalgic. Was prison life for you like the scenes from the movie Goodfellas? Did you live fairly well inside? 

Natale: That’s another thing they overdid. It’s all bullshit. You go to prison and you got time to do. You do it and it’s hard. Some guys can do it and some guys can’t. I did almost 30 years in prison. So I know what prison is about. 

Davis: Are there plans to make a film from your book? 

Natale: We’re ready to make one. Dan Pearson will be leaving in a couple of weeks to go to Hollywood and sit down and talk turkey with some real big people. You’ll hear about it in two or three weeks. We’re going to make a beautiful movie. 

Davis: Are they going to shoot the film in South Philly? I hope they don’t film it in Pittsburgh or Scranton like they did the film 10th and Wolf. I grew up near 10th and Wolf. 

Natale: It is going to be filmed in South Philly and Jersey. 

Davis: Who was the most impressive man you came across? 

Natale: I would have to say that the most impressive man I ever been around was John DiTullio, Skinny Razor. He was the most feared man in the United States, you know. He was number one. And I give you the Chicago guy, Anthony Accardo. When I met him, I thought I was meeting God. 

Davis: What is your life like now? 

Natale: I love my family. I enjoy my wife and all my children. I had five children and they had ten children and now we have 12 great-grandchildren. Can you image that? They are all beautiful and smart and entertaining. They are great looking people.   

Davis: Thanks for talking to me. 

Note: You can read my Washington Times review of Last Don Standing via the below link:    

Friday, April 21, 2023

Mark Bowden, Author of "Life Sentence: The Brief And Tragic Career Of Baltimore's Deadliest Gang Leader," In Conversation with Bill Marimow

I look forward to reading Mark Bowden’s newest book, Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore's Deadliest Gang Leader, and interviewing him for my On Crime column in the Washington Times. 

I’ve interviewed him several times in the past about his previous books.

I just watched a video of Mark Bowden, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and editor, being interviewed by former Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow at the Philadelphia Free Library.

The event took place on April 11th. The discussion was not only about his book, but also about reporters, journalism, crime, the history of Baltimore and Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. (I was a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer for 19 years before moving over to the Washington Times). 

It was a most interesting discussion.  

Below is the Philadelphia Free Library’s description of the two speakers:    

Renowned for his “signature blend of deep reportage and character-driven storytelling (The New York Times Book Review),” Mark Bowden is a former national correspondent for The Atlantic and a former longtime reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is the author of 16 bestselling books of investigative journalism, including Black Hawk Down, adapted by Ridley Scott into a popular film; Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam; Hue 1968, the story of the Vietnam War’s bloodiest battle as told by U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers; and The Steal, an account of former President Donald Trump and his allies’ attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election that he co-authored with Matthew Teague. In Life Sentence, Bowden writes about the inner workings of one of Baltimore’s deadliest gangs and details the painstaking FBI investigation that brought it down.

As a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bill Marimow twice won the Pulitzer Prize for public service. The editor in chief of the Inquirer from 2006 to 2017 and formerly its vice president of strategic development, he also served as vice president of news at National Public Radio and editor in chief of The Baltimore Sun. His other honors include two Silver Gavel Awards from the American Bar Association and two Robert F. Kennedy awards.

You can watch the discussion via the below link:

Mark Bowden | Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore’s Deadliest Gang Leader - YouTube