#18: Angelo Bruno, The "Docile" Don (Part One)


In this video, we cover Angelo Bruno, the man known as the "Docile Don" and/or "Gentle Don" who ruled over the Philadelphia underworld as the city's Cosa Nostra don from around 1959 until his murder in 1980. Bruno presided over one of the most, relatively speaking, peaceful eras of the Philly mafia.

In this video, we cover:

  • Bruno's birth in Villalba, Sicily (and his original surname of Annaloro)
  • The Bruno's immigration to the United States
  • His early family life and eventual move to Philadelphia
  • Bruno's early connections to the mob and how he eventually got into the life
  • How a young Angelo began to rise as a racketeer and businessman
  • The Bruno and Carlo Gambino connection
  • Bruno's involvement in prohibition, illegal alcohol sales, numbers, and more
  • Bruno's involvement in several relatively unknown homicides
  • The early history of the Philadelphia Mafia family
  • Bruno's making in the 1950's and ascension to capo of Marco Reginelli's crew in the mid-1950's
  • Bruno's involvement in legitimate businesses
  • Bruno's involvement in Cuban casinos
  • Bruno's ultimate dispute with Antonio "Mr. Mig" Pollina, which led to his being crowned Boss of the family in 1959 or 1960

Episode Transcript

Episode Teaser

“Bruno stated that as soon as Denaro went to New York, he, Bruno, was contacted and advised. Bruno stated that Denaro was the sorriest man that ever did what he did, that is, going to the Commission. Bruno stated that he, Denaro, was told by Carlo Gambino: ‘I want you to know Angelo is with me even if he is not here, he is sitting right there just the same, just like we represent Angelo.’ This statement was interpreted by informant to mean that Gambino respects Bruno as an equal because Bruno, too, is a member of the Commission.”

Episode Intro

Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of The Member’s Only Podcast. I am your host Jacob Stoops, and I’m a mob enthusiast and historian.

I’m really excited for today’s episode, which will be focusing on one of the more infamous Mafia figures outside of the Five Families of New York City, that being Angelo Bruno of Philadelphia.

Angelo Bruno would rule the Philadelphia underworld for over 20 years and has the distinction of presiding over one of the most peaceful time periods in that city since the mob became active in the Philadelphia area.

However, because this show is the about the Mafia, we know that the wheel is always turning, and Angelo Bruno, no matter how peaceful his reign might have been, fell victim to plots from within, and was murdered in 1980 in one of the most infamous and enduring events in the history of Cosa Nostra in this country.

But before we cover all of the machinations that went into the end of his life, we’re going to talk about the beginning. In this episode, we’ll cover his youth, his early career in the mob, and how he rose to power and ultimately took control over Philadelphia’s Cosa Nostra family.

And I’m going to make a personal prediction. Because I know how much digging I had to do to find certain information and because I stand behind my work, I’m going to predict, actually I’m going to guarantee, that you’ll learn something about Bruno and maybe about Philadelphia that you didn’t know before.

If you don’t, good for you, and you have my permission to let me have it in the comments. But if you do, please do me a favor and either subscribe (if you haven’t already) or share the show with others who you think would be interested.

I’m still a small show, and I could use all the help I can get to keep growing. It’s certainly a passion project, but I do put a lot of time into the research and production in order to bring you stories that are as close to accurate as I can. Not everybody is willing to go to those lengths.

Anyhow, I’ve kept you waiting long enough. Let’s get into the episode—Angelo Bruno, aka “The Docile Don!”

The Early Years

Angelo Annaloro was born on May 21, 1910 in Villalba, a province of Caltanissetta, Sicily. It should be noted that his surname at birth was Annaloro but was later changed to Bruno.

The Annaloro family would immigrate when Angelo was just over a year old from the port of Palermo to the United States and would arrive at Ellis Island, New York on October 13, 1911 aboard the Sant’ Anna according to records.

An FBI report would notate that his birthplace of Villabla, the town the Annaloro’s left behind, has been variously described as a collection of “squat little houses with earth floors” and “one of the dens of the Sicilian bandits.”

Young Angelo’s family would settle first in Trenton, New Jersey, where his father, who had immigrated about 5 years ahead of them, was living and working at the time.

After spending roughly a decade in Trenton, the Annaloro clan would move to Philadelphia, residing at 432 Fitzwater Street.

Angelo’s father was a man named Michele Bruno Annaloro, and his mother was Vincenzina “Jennie” Bruno. According to the records I found, Angelo’s family was relatively small for an Italian family of the time, as he only had one sister Josephine who was 2 years his senior and two younger brothers Victor and Joseph.

As a quick aside regarding Angelo’s citizenship (which has been known to become a thorny issue for some mobsters of this time period), according to records Angelo appears to have received his naturalization through derivative citizenship when his father was naturalized as a citizen in March of 1931.

However, later in life in 1945 the legitimacy of Angelo’s citizenship was raised by curious immigration officials. They would press the question as to how he could have been born in Sicily during the early part of 1910 when his mother had never been to America and his father claimed to have been in the United States continually since 1906.

Angelo would tell a group of friends that his father had secretly returned to Sicily in 1907 or 1908 but that, following an encounter with the law, had had to flee back across the Atlantic in order to avoid prosecution. At some point during that time, young Angelo was supposedly conceived.

Officially speaking, Angelo would testify that if he was to be deprived of his citizenship because his legitimacy was questioned, he would apply for citizenship through his wife since she derived her citizenship through her father. However this was not necessary as the Nationalization Service decided to allow his derivative citizenship.

Angelo’s father was a foundry worker who opened a small grocery store at 4341 North Sixth Street in Feltonville, Philadelphia. Ever the dutiful son, Angelo helped his father at the store until around 1922, when at the age of 12 he’d enter school for the first time, attending South Philadelphia High School.

However, similar to many other youths at that time, it would appear that school just wasn’t a fit for young Angelo and after he completed just two years, he dropped out. Some records show him attending in 1924 instead of 1922 and dropping out by 1926, while other records suggest earlier.

While records would show that he would continue for a time to work for his father, it wasn’t long would hit the streets of Philadelphia. In fact, U.S. Census Records in 1930 and U.S. Probation and Parole records would later show that Angelo was, for official purposes, was employed as a grocer’s clerk up until 1935 for his father at 1813 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, and then in December of 1935 Bruno would be employed, again as a grocer’s clerk, by a man named M. Immorlino. For all intents and purposes he’d be in the grocery business until 1940, but by that point he had already spent over a decade making his way in the criminal underworld.

In the early 1930’s Angelo would get married to his childhood sweetheart, Assunta “Sue” Maranca, in around 1931 or 1932. The happy couple would elope to West Chester, PA.

Angelo and Sue would go on to have two children, a son Michael (born in 1932), and a daughter Jeanne (born in 1941). Bruno would be characterized by his friends as, “A person who ‘likes anyone who takes care of his family,’” and who was also regarded as a “Good family man.”

It’s also worth noting that with regards to his family, Bruno was known to take the approach of deliberately not involving either of his children in any of his illicit activities.

Jumping a little bit ahead in our story (which we’ll do quite a few times), in 1956 or 1957 while still a rank-in-file member of the mob, Bruno reportedly asked to be released from the rackets (and according to several reports I saw, possibly from the organization itself) for fear of embarrassing Jeanne.

When Jeanne was married in 1962, Angelo is said to have sent wedding invitations to his fellow Commission members Carlo Gambino and Stefano Magaddino but recommended that they not show up.

Later in his life, according to reports in the 1960’s, he was known to boast that Michael would not do things in an illegal manner.

It’s around the 1920’s or early 1930’s that a young Angelo made the decision to change his surname from Annaloro to Bruno in honor of his paternal grandmother’s maiden name although his friends would simply call him “Ange.”

It’s also at this time that a young Angelo Bruno begins to make some connections that would loom large throughout his life, and drive him towards a life of crime.

Criminal Beginnings

As young Angelo was coming of age during the 1920’s, Prohibition was in full swing across the country. The Volstead Act as it was called made the sale of intoxicating liquors illegal but inadvertently caused a criminal revolution in this country due to the demand that still existed from a thirsty public. As a result, bootlegging became an incredibly profitable and easy-to-enter profession, though it was dangerous as we’ve touched on in many of my episodes.

Though I couldn’t find specific documentation on just when Angelo started bootlegging, it’s clear that at some point in either the late 20’s or early 30’s, he would start to dip his toes in the water of criminality. It’s around this time that Bruno is supposed to have made a monumental life-long connection through his bootlegging activities to another young Sicilian mobster based out of New York, one Carlo Gambino.

It has been alleged over the years that the pair would go into real estate together (owning their own still), and would make a lot of money together over the years. Now, I’m going to admit. I struggled to find proof and documentation here to make the bootlegging connection between Bruno and Gambino around this time period, but it’s a case of where there’s smoke there’s probably fire. Whether that’s 100% accurate or not, what’s clear is that the pair would appear to have established a strong bond during this time period and would become fast friends and allies for the rest of their lives. That we do know to be 100% true.

Bruno also would have some familial connections to the underworld. You see, living with Angelo at the time was the cousin of John Simone. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same John “Johnny Keys” Simone who would later become famous in his own right after being murdered by Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. So, both Bruno and Simone were up-and-coming underworld figures running the streets side-by-side in those days.

Over time, through bootlegging and other illicit activities, Angelo Bruno would continue to deepen his connections within the Philadelphia underworld, and would meet and form a relationship with well-known early Philadelphia figure named Michael Maggio, who was the founder of the Maggio Cheese Corporation and to whom Bruno would also be related to by marriage. Michael Maggio’s real occupation of course was as a mobster and prominent member of the Philadelphia crime family, who was also a convicted murderer who was sentenced to 5 years in 1934 for the killing of ex-wife who was 34 at the time and son, who was just 21 at the time (allegedly with 3 small children sleeping the next room—so it’s clear this dude was cold as ice. As a side-note, Maggio plead guilty to a double-homicide, and only got 5 years. Again, just a sign of how powerful the mob was in those days, and how far the governmental corruption went. It wasn’t the last time Maggio would be connected to and arrested for a murder.

Anyhow, as I mentioned, Angelo Bruno was allegedly in the grocery business up until 1940, but in reality his criminal career for all intents and purposes had been launched well before that and he would ring up his first arrest in 1928 at the age of just 18.

Bruno would be arrested numerous times over the next 38 years, but would only ever receive a handful of convictions, all coming with relatively minor sentences, which is a testament to the power of the organization during his time as well as its control over the judicial system.

In order to give you a good idea of how Bruno got started in “the life,” I’m going to go through some of Bruno’s arrests, starting with the 1928 incident and running all the way into the 1950’s.

Angelo Bruno would ring up his first arrest on November 21, 1928. During this incident, an 18-year-old Bruno was arrested at Passyunk Ave. and Federal Street where he was charged with reckless operation of his automobile as well as collision, misuse of license tags and damaging city property. He had apparently collided with another vehicle and knocked down a patrol box. The disposition was discharged. Now, I have no idea if this particular arrest was a result of him possibly running from the authorities while in the commission of another crime, or if it was more of a youthful indiscretion. But either way, it got his name on the scoreboard of criminality so to speak.

Interestingly enough, I found something else that showed up in the news in 1928, and this would be the first time I would find Bruno’s name crop up in the local papers. It appears that an 18-year-old Angelo Bruno (and the address listed in the article 4341 North Sixth Street does match where his family resided at the time) may have dropped a dime on some other local hoods. According to the report, it would appear that he played a significant part of a sting operation that netted local Black Handers who’d been trying to shake him down. Now, some may consider this a rat move, but it didn’t seem to have a noticeable effect on his rise within the underworld. An odd story nonetheless.

On June 1, 1930, federal prohibition agents would raid a distillery in Somerset County, Pennsylvania owned by Bruno, as well as an associate named Nick Distefano. The distillery, operatives said, was located in a one story building on the Younker farm on Alyntown Road. A 150-gallon still, 1,008 gallons of mash, 800 pounds of corn sugar and 104 gallons of moonshine were seized. In October of that year, Bruno and Distefano would get four months in the Cambria County jail after being convicted of possession and manufacture of liquor.

It would not be Bruno’s last brush with the law related to illegal alcohol.

On April 19th, 1935, while residing at 1725 Packer Avenue, the FBI records show that Bruno was arrested and charged with violation of the Pennsylvania State Liquor Control Act. Arrested with him were his brother Victor Bruno, brother-in-law Ralph Maranca, as well as a man named Joseph Lunio. Thirteen containers of 5-gallon white liquor were confiscated as well as a single 500-gallon still complete and in operation, and the authorities also destroyed 2,000 gallons of mash.

Then again on October 8, 1935, Bruno was again arrested, again with his brother Victor and brother-in-law Ralph Maranca, for operating a still and manufacturing illegal liquor. He would plead guilty and in November of 1935 would receive a 15 month suspended sentence for this infraction and was put on three years probation.

On April 9, 1937, Bruno, now residing at 1628 Norris Street was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and paid a $10 fine.

Fast-forwarding to the 1940’s…

On October 18, 1940, at 1905 Broad Street, Bruno was arrested and charged with setting up and maintaining an unlawful lottery, 50,000 number plays, and one adding machine (which was confiscated). He was indicted and found guilty on October 28, 1940.

Three years later, On July 28, 1943, Bruno was again arrested and charged with setting up and maintaining an unlawful lottery, though the charge would be dismissed.

He’d run into his next bout with the law on May 25, 1944 when he was arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods and violation of the Witkin Firearm Act. A set of stolen silver fox furs were found in his apartment, and in the process of searching his home, the authorities found a .38 caliber gun in his bureau drawer. He was indicted for these charges in 1944, but ultimately found not guilty.

And of course as you begin to get into the 1950’s, you’re going to begin to see Bruno’s rise. I’m going to ask that you forgive me in advance as we’re going to bounce back and forth on the timelines quite a bit in this episode.

I’ll also ask that you please bear with me as I’m one of those people who is interested in the genealogical perspective and I take the time to look at old census records and listed occupations of mobsters. In the case of Bruno, according to the 1950 census, he listed his occupation as ‘Broker Proprietor.’ I always find these things funny. What exactly was he brokering? What was he a proprietor of?

Anyhow, Bruno, 43 at the time, was arrested again on March 18, 1953, with his cousin John “Johnny Keys” Simone (who was using the alias of John Pernna), and charged (yet again) with setting up and maintaining an illegal lottery. This was really the first time I observed Bruno being reported in the news as someone of any importance within the underworld, and The Philadelphia Inquirer would refer to him and his associate (fellow underworld figure Pete Casella) as “chieftains of the South Philadelphia numbers mob.”

The trial wouldn’t take place until October 15, 1954, at which point Bruno and Simone (alias Pernna) plead no contest, receive a fine of $200, and three years probation.

Showing that he was a fairly shrewd mobster, it was speculated that Bruno had originally planned to plead ‘Not Guilty’ in this case, but as a result of a decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania allowing wiretapping information to be accepted as evidence, Bruno decided to change his plea to ‘Guilty.’

It is alleged that Bruno believed it would be better to plead ‘Guilty’ than to accept evidence from the wiretaps which would allow his confederates’ names to come out in open court. Again, this was a shrewd play that bolstered his reputation with minimal consequences.

It’s also around this time in 1953 and 1954 that Bruno’s name starts to pick up some steam with the media as he continues to be mentioned with increasing prominence as the leader of South Philadelphia’s “Bruno Mob,” specifically during the trial of Magistrate Joseph J. Molinari. This would tend to indicate that Bruno had begun to cultivate connections with local politicians, which certainly enhanced his power.

Here’s an interesting line of questioning from the trial between District Attorney Richardson Dilworth who was questioning a defense witness, one Gus A. Wilderman, Molinari’s attorney of 25 years:

“‘Did you ever hear of the Bruno gang in South Philadelphia?’ Dilworth asked.

‘No,’ Wilderman replied.

‘You have never heard of the Bruno gang?’

‘No, I never.’

‘You mean you never heard of Angelo Bruno?’ Dilworth persisted.

‘No, I never heard of him,’ Wilderman answered.

‘You didn’t know that Angelo Bruno is a close and intimate friend of Magistrate Molinari?’ Dilworth asked again.

There was no answer from Wilderman. The audience leaned forward, expectantly and Lemuel B. Schofield, Molinari’s trial attorney rose slowly from his chair.

‘Don’t you know,’ Dilworth shot at Wilderman, ‘that Bruno was the reputed head of the South Philly Mob?’”

We’ll get more into Bruno’s rise in just a bit, but you can really see the picture starting to come into focus as to who Bruno was, even in the 1950’s.

And then in May of 1956, in what I believe to be the funniest charge he had on the books by this point, Bruno (age 46) was arrested and charged with being a “common gambler,” a charge that would be dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Honestly, arresting him and charging him with that at this point in his career (knowing full well that it would do nothing but slightly inconvenience him for a few days) can probably be characterized a little bit like harassment by this point from law enforcement. It certainly gave me a chuckle in my research.

However, as I did more digging, this arrest coincided with another effort by law enforcement in which they detained and photographed Bruno and several others around the time of the death of one of Bruno’s mentors, Marco Reginelli. Again, both events seemed like a pre-emptive strike by law enforcement, though I’m not sure how effective it really was in the end.

Again, this is getting just a bit ahead of ourselves, but this arrest was essentially a warning to Bruno and others, as the local police suspected that Bruno would be taking over for Reginelli, who passed away right around that time. The police were even calling him Reginelli’s “heir apparent” around this time.

In a story by The Philadelphia Inquirer featuring public statements from then Police Commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons, the paper would relate the following about the effort:

“Police Get Photos of Hoods Linked to Reginelli Mob

Up-to-date photographs of seven notorious hoodlums rolled off the new monolith machine at police headquarters yesterday, accompanied by orders from Police Commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons to post the pictures and records of the men in every police unit in the city.

‘This is not an arrest order,’ Gibbons explained. ‘I want the 2,500 new policemen to become familiar with these men and to closely watch their activities. And it won’t hurt the veterans to refresh their memories either.’


‘I have information that these men are part of the Marco Reginelli mob and I want their movements watched,’ Gibbons explained. He referred to the late alleged gang leader who was buried in Camden yesterday.

Police discussion of possible successors to Reginelli have included Angelo Bruno, 46, of Snyder Ave. near 9th St., whose picture and record were included in those sent to all police stations.

Bruno has a record of eight arrests and two convictions on numbers racket charges. He was placed on probation each time and thus has never served jail time. His arrest record dates back to Nov. 21, 1928, and includes charges of numbers writing, Firearms Act violation, disorderly conduct and motor code violations.


On Sunday Bruno was discharged again after being picked up as a common gambler. Gibbons named him the top man of the ‘sinister seven.’

Among the first batch to be spotlighted were the three Matteo brothers, Salvatore, 49; Frank, 47, and Michael, 50, all owners of long police records dating back to 1925.

They have been charged with various crimes, including narcotics possession, suspicion of homicide, larceny and numbers writing.

The three other hoodlums listed were Peter Casella, 48, with a record dating to 1927 and only 60 days spent in prison in 10 arrests; Louis Campbell, 57, who was first arrested in 1917 for robbery, and who spent two years in prison after 17 arrests, and Felix DeTullio, 49, of Camden, with a record of 14 arrests dating back to 1924.

Gibbons said the faces and records of the seven men would remain on all bulletin boards for 10 days. At the end of that period another batch of photographs of known hoodlums will be sent out for posting, he added.”

Bruno would appear in the papers several more times in 1956 and 1957, most prominently due to his alleged efforts to “muscle in” on a newly-chartered union, the Local 410 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union (AFL-CIO). This union local had been set up to organize Philadelphia area luncheonette workers.

Wiretaps would show that there were connections between Bruno, as well as local underworld characters named Samual “Cappy” Hoffman, Samuel “Shorty” Feldman, as well as Jules Berg. In this incident, there was also a reference to a man named Charles Paulson, sent by none other than James Riddle Hoffa, to run the Local 410.

The wiretaps contained references to Bruno, as well as references to breaking the neck of a particular individual named Ray Turchi, who was the business agent of the local waiters union and who was protesting the creation of Local 410.

Again, there’s much more to cover on Bruno’s rise and I’m putting the cart before the horse just a little bit so let’s quickly back up and talk about how Bruno made his way into Cosa Nostra.

It’s very evident that he had major connections early on in his underworld career due to bootlegging with LCN powerhouses such as Carlo Gambino and even Russell Bufalino not to mention his familial connections as the cousin of John “Johnny Keys” Simone (who also would join LCN), and the marriage-related connection to Michael Maggio. Generally speaking, I’d say there’s no disputing that Bruno was around “the life” from a very early age.

And the interesting thing here is that there was no evidence that I could find that Bruno had any major issues growing up, he had a reasonably good education, his family wasn’t impoverished (they weren’t poor), nor was he lacking a father figure (his father didn’t pass away until 1940 when Bruno was 30 years old). So the choice to run the streets and get into the criminal lifestyle wasn’t one of necessity like it was with some gangsters of that era. It seemed more like a personal choice to go in that direction.

As a result his connections at an early age, there are some websites you’ll find out there that claim Bruno was officially ‘made’ in the 1930’s. While it’s certainly possible, I’ll just say that my research (which stems from multiple reports coming from several FBI informants at the time), indicated that he was not in fact ‘made’ in the early 1930’s or even in the 1940’s. Informants would indicate in several reports that Bruno was allegedly ‘made’ into the Philadelphia family either around 1951 or ‘52 or more realistically closer to ‘55 or ‘56.

Now, here’s why I think the 1950’s ‘making’ date is likely more accurate. Had Bruno been inducted in the early 1930’s it would have put him in his early 20’s which would have been very young. However, being ‘made’ in the 1950’s put Bruno in his early to mid 40’s, which is of course a more seasoned and experienced age.

But then again, the counter-argument to that is that in the early 1930’s it wasn’t nearly as abnormal for younger guys to get made as given the climate change of the times. I’m not saying it’s impossible that Bruno was inducted earlier, but given the information I came across from multiple sources, my personal beliefs tend to lean towards the 1950’s timeframe to be more accurate.

To further support that notion, here’s another reason why I believe the report that Bruno wasn’t made until the 1950’s. In my research, I came across another FBI report stemming from 3 different informants in the family T-1, T-2, and T-3 that laid out the induction ceremony of a man named Rocco Scafidi, who was allegedly made in 1950, but then (weirdly) banished from the family for a period of 10 years after which he was reinstated.

The report lists the other members present as Gaetano Scafidi, Joseph Scafidi, Antonio Pollina, Anthony Maggio (also being made), Joseph Ida (who was Boss at the time), Joseph Rugnetta, Marco Reginelli, Pat Massi, Jimmy Gioella, Anthony Perella (also being made), and Ignazio Denaro. Tradition has it that if Bruno were a Capo at this time, or even an influential Soldier, he’d more than likely would have been in this room. But again, that’s just me speculating.

Either way, it’s clear that at some point he did get his button, and if we’re to believe that it truly happened in the 1950’s, it actually makes his rise even more astonishing in my opinion. Not only that, it also makes some of what ultimately happened make a little more sense as well.

According to reports as I stated, Michael Maggio, a very powerful mob figure in Philadelphia at the time, served as Bruno’s mentor and would be the one to ultimately sponsor his protégé for membership into the Philadelphia family.This is a connection that went at least as far back as the 1930’s and would continue on through Maggio’s sons even after the elder Maggio’s death in 1959.

After securing his button, Bruno would be placed in the crew of another influential family member, Marco Reginelli, where he would establish himself as a chief lieutenant for his captain along with other notable members including Pete Casella and Joe “The Boss” Rugnetta. It’s worth noting that Reginelli would eventually become the family’s Underboss, so he was a fairly powerful guy in his own right who was running an extremely powerful crew at the time.

By this point in the mid-1950’s, Bruno’s status within the family and subsequent rise to power was well on its way and I think it would be fair to say picking up steam.

What was clear to me in my research was that he became a big-time earner for the family, and that most of his publicly-known crimes were non-violent offenses, which can’t often be said for most mafiosi. And I think that trend would serve to characterize his personality generally-speaking as more of a racketeer than a gangster. But please don’t get it twisted, me saying that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t be a gangster when the situation called for it.

Why do I say that? I say that because I did come across several notes within FBI files that suggested Bruno did in fact personally take part in murders, which at that time in Cosa Nostra was a more significant requirement than it would become in later years.

The note simply said:

“Because Bruno is alleged to have committed gangland executions in the past, he should be considered armed and dangerous.”

So don’t let his affable demeanor fool you. People seem to get the impression that Bruno never wanted to get his hands dirty, but let this be clear. Angelo Bruno, like many other mafiosi of his era no matter how reserved, was capable of great personal violence and even murder.

And it would be those murderous sentiments along with his relationships and accumulated power that would put him in a position to ultimately rule Philadelphia after a series of events would lead to changes within the family’s administration.

Rise to Power

Before we get any deeper into how Angelo Bruno rose in stature and was eventually able to ascend to the top-seat within the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra family, let’s provide a brief history of the mob in Philly.

In the early 1900’s, Philadelphia had become a beacon for Italian immigration within the United States. The city had a rich history dating back to the American Revolution and essentially represented the epitome of American freedom and the American dream at the time.

From the early 1880s to the mid-1920s marked the peak of Italian mass migration to Philadelphia. At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, South Philadelphia saw a wave of Italian immigration from Southern Italy. Many came from the regions of Abruzzo (formerly, Abruzzi), Campania, and Sicily.

However, the American dream it was not. In fact, most Southern Italian immigrants were unskilled laborers which meant back-breaking work, and on top of that, they were often confronted with discrimination, branded as violent, and prone to crime in relation to the mafia.

Similar to other cities, mafiosi and Black Hand style extortion existed and was relatively commonplace around the turn of the century. The Black Hand would eventually fizzle out and be replaced by larger, more well-organized groups of Italian-Americans (as well as other ethnicities including Jews and Irish) who by that point had formed themselves into legitimate street gangs.

There is even evidence from infamous Mafia chronicler Nicola Gentile that he was inducted into a crime family in Philadelphia as early as 1907, though he didn’t report anything else about the city. These groups would eventually coalesce to form what would eventually become the organization we know today as the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra or Mafia.

The first leader and original namesake of the group was a man named Salvatore Sabella. Born in 1891 in the mafia stronghold of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily (the birthplace of many other famous mafiosi including Joe Bonnano, Stefano Magaddino, Gaspare Milazzo, and of course Salvatore Maranzano).

Sabella would allegedly commit his first murder at the age of 14 for which he would be sent to prison in Italy. However, after a few years he was released, became involved with the Sicilian Mafia, and eventually immigrated to the United States somewhere between 1912 and 1915. The Sabella family would settle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Sabella would become a part of the Mafia as a young man. Williamsburg being a big stronghold of the local Mafia in New York.

Eventually, he would officially become part of the Salvatore D’Aquila organization, which would eventually become the Gambino Crime Family. The leaders in the family saw something in the young Sabella, and high-ranking family member Guiseppe “Joe” Traina took him under his wing and groomed Sabella for leadership. At a certain point, Sabella was sent to Philadelphia to serve as the rappresentante for the Mafia and the D’Aquila organization. He was tasked with building a Mafia presence within the city, organizing the city’s rackets, consolidating with other Italians, and essentially establishing a beachhead for the Mafia in Philly.

At this time, the underworld in Philadelphia was still highly fragmented and somewhat competitive, so Sabella would go to work building the family, pushing out other gangs, and getting the organization involved in bootlegging, extortion, loansharking, and illegal gambling. Sabella would set up an olive oil and cheese business as well as a soft drink business to serve as fronts for his criminal operations.

It’s around this time in the mid 1920’s that Sabella allegedly first runs into Angelo Bruno, who he takes under his wing, as well as a man named John Avena, who would be a key Sabella lieutenant. Sabella would train and tutor both men in ways of “the life.”

As mentioned, similar to other cities, the ascension of the Sabella organization wouldn’t be completely smooth during the 1920’s and there would be some necessary violence in order to establish his organization at the top of Philadelphia’s underworld.

There was a report in The Philadelphia Enquirer as early as May of 1923 indicating that Sabella and another man had been arrested in connection with the “Black Hand” bombing that wrecked the lower floor of M. Maggio and Company wholesale grocery. They were noted to be members of the “local gang.”

In 1925, Sabella was a prime suspect in the murder of rival mobster Leo Lanzetti. Lanzetti was the third man killed in a 5-day period in local bootlegging feuds, along with a man named Joseph Bruno, 26, who refused to identify his killers despite laying mortally wounded with 14 gunshots.

Then, on May 30, 1927, in a fairly significant incident, two rebellious members of his organization, Vincent Cocozza, 30, and Joseph Zanghi, 19, were shot and killed in front of the Cafe Calabria on 824 South 8th Street.

This is where an issue starts for Sabella as Joseph’s brother, Anthony “Musky” Zanghi (the alleged target of the hit), a guy with a pretty big reputation, would name the names of his brother’s killers in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

As a result, eleven alleged gunmen would be placed under arrest and seven of the men would be charged with double-murder. The men charged with murder would be: John Scapelliti, Salvatore Sabella (identified by Zanghi as the actual slayer of the two men), John “Big Nose” Avena, Paulo Domenico, Dominich Testa, Luigi Quaranta and Joseph Ida. Dominick Pollina would also eventually be pulled in after testimony from Zanghi.

And although Sabella would be acquitted, according to a later report from the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, the investigation would allegedly reveal that he was an illegal alien who had entered the United States without proper documentation (and may have been fleeing an old Sicilian murder charge when he did so).

At the end of 1927, Sabella would be deported back to his native Sicily at which point he put John “Big Nose” Avena in control as the family’s Acting Boss (sometimes listed as the family’s first Boss), though Sabella would allegedly continue to steer the ship from afar.

And then in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, all Hell broke loose in New York as the Castellammarese War erupted. While predominantly being centered in New York City, the war also spilled into other cities including places such as Detroit and Philadelphia, and allegiances were put to the test. Either you were with Joe Masseria’s group or you were on the side of Salvatore Maranzano.

Primarily due to sharing the same city of birth, Sabella took the side of Salvatore Maranzano and the Castellammarese clan. Rumor has it that in 1929, Sabella returned to the United States along with some Sicilian gunners in order to fight for Maranzano, and when the fight was eventually won in 1931, he was alleged to have resumed control over the Philadelphia family and thus was the Boss.

However, as we know Salvatore Maranzano was murdered on September 10, 1931, and it’s around this time that Sabella decides to step away and “retire” from organized crime at the age of just 40. It’s unclear what led to his departure, but it was highly likely due to the fact that he was too close to Maranzano. As a result, he passed the mantle of Boss permanently to John “Nasone” (or “Big Nose”) Avena, and went on to live peacefully, dying of natural causes in 1962.

John (Nasone) “Big Nose” Avena was born in Novara, Messina, Sicily in 1893, and arrived in the United States as a teenager around 1908. He is reported to have first tried his criminal wares as a Black Hander, but eventually he was taken into the Sabella organization, working closely as one of Salvatore Sabella’s trusted lieutenants.

When he was named official Boss in 1931, he pushed the organization into partnerships with the city’s Jewish mobs, as well as moving into other rackets including narcotics, gambling, extortion, loansharking, etc.

However, this transition from Sabella to Avena would lead to another period of bloodshed when John Avena was challenged in a feud by the Lanzetti brothers, kicking off a 5-year-war for control of the Philadelphia crime family.

The Lanzetti brothers, a group of five Italian brothers, who were infamous at the time for their penchant for violence.

Without going too deep into this conflict (it could be a topic for another episode), on August 17, 1936, John Avena was betrayed and murdered by members of his own faction on orders from the Lanzetti brothers.

After Avena’s assassination, Guiseppe “Joe Bruno” Dovi took over as the family’s next Boss.

“Joe Bruno” Dovi was a powerful family member, born in 1889 in Messina, Sicily, had by that time established important connections with the Five Families in New York as well as the Chicago Outfit.

The interesting thing is that at this time, Joe Bruno was about as hot as you could be from a press perspective, being referred to by the media in 1936 as “five times convicted as a murderer and now the most wanted person in Pennsylvania.” There were even reports that Joe Bruno’s picture and description was to be circulated throughout the U.S. He is even alleged to have escaped from prison and was subsequently captured in 1937.

So, a bit of an odd ascension. Typically, you’d want someone more in the shadows, which at this time “Joe Bruno” was not, but I digress.

Once Boss, “Joe Bruno” pushed to expand family operations outside of South Philadelphia to take over the Greater Philadelphia area, and even pushed into Atlantic City and other areas of South Jersey. This is where the Atlantic City and New Jersey connection really seemed to become significant for the family.

By this point, the family’s income would be primarily derived from narcotics, expansion of illegal gambling and loansharking, as well as extortion activities. It’s during the 1930’s and 1940’s that Dovi formed close bonds with both the Mangano and Luciano families out of New York.

Dovi allegedly ruled the family until October of 1946, when he was said to have died of natural causes (though I couldn’t find any records of his death).

It’s at this point where the national Cosa Nostra Commission would really begin to exert its authority over Philadelphia in terms of naming who would be the next Boss, and it’s these maneuverings that would eventually turn the tides of power and deceit within the family over the years.

So in late 1946, the Commission appointed Dovi’s consigliere, Joe Ida, as the new Boss of the Philadelphia family.

Joseph Ida was born in 1890 in Fiumara, Calabria, Italy, and at some point came to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. He was known to have been a strong supporter of “Joe Bruno’s” regime, which likely played a part in his ascension to Boss after “Joe Bruno” passed away.

Ida would run the family throughout the late 1940’s and most of the 1950’s. Under Ida’s leadership, the family would continue to accrue more power and influence with the goal of pushing other mobs out of Philadelphia and South Jersey completely (though the Jewish mob would hang on for years).

Ida’s tenure as Boss would be heavily influenced by the New York families, particularly the Luciano family. During Ida’s tenure, the family garnered more power not just Philly, but also in Atlantic City and South Jersey, and the family would essentially be viewed as an extended faction of the Luciano family, which in the 1950’s was run by the man known as the “Prime Minister of the Underworld” Frank Costello, and of course the maniacal and always-scheming (eventual family namesake), Vito Genovese.

After the events of 1957, which would include Vito Genovese engineering both the attempted assassination of Frank Costello as well as the successful assassination of Albert Anastasia (with an assist from Carlo Gambino), the landscape of Cosa Nostra in America would change. These events would have a trickle-down effect on the Philadelphia family that would lead to a change in the family’s hierarchy.

Weeks after the assassination of Anastasia, Genovese called the infamous meeting of the national Cosa Nostra in upstate New York at Joe Barbara’s house in Apalachin. This meeting, as we know, was attended by around 100 prominent mobsters across the country and was meant to solidify his standing as the new Godfather of the old Luciano family, which would be renamed the Genovese family, as well as to garner support for naming Carlo Gambino as Anastasia’s successor.

Of course, the meeting was raided and a total of 62 mob chieftains would be arrested and detained, including Philadelphia’s Boss Joseph Ida and Ida’s Underboss, Dominick “Big Dom” Oliveto.

Ida and Oliveto would leverage their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid answering questions, with Ida only offering that he’d been “invited to Barbara’s house by Oliveto for a party” to the authorities at the time of his capture (a story which he’d supposedly change). However, the government would keep the pressure on, forcing Ida to again answer questions in front of a New York grand jury in early 1958 to account for his presence at the meeting.

In 1959, the government would continue to apply pressure to Ida and others by arresting 21 men who’d allegedly been at Apalachin and charging them with conspiracy to obstruct justice. As things would heat up, Ida would become a fugitive and allegedly would flee to Italy. Overall, 20 men would be found guilty of conspiracy, but Ida specifically was never actually apprehended.

So as of mid-1959, Ida is out of the picture as it relates to Philadelphia’s Cosa Nostra leadership. He’s essentially on the lam, and would ultimately never return to power within the family.

Now, I just want to stop here and point out that if these events never take place, Joseph Ida likely would have remained as Boss of the Philadelphia family until his death, abdication, imprisonment, or demotion. He probably doesn’t leave the post. There were no indications up until this point that a change at the top was being considered.

But his leaving would cause a chain of events that would take almost three decades to fully unwind.

It is alleged that upon his departure, Ida would leave the family in control of his Underboss Dominick “Big Dom” Oliveto for a time. This was a temporary position.

At least one source would report that Joe “The Boss” Rugnetta would be appointed by the Commission to take over for Oliveto, and he’d run the family until things were sorted out.

When the Commission did sort things out, they appeared to have made some big changes.

Allegedly, a meeting was called on September 26, 1959 and at that meeting Oliveto was stripped of all authority, Rugnetta was demoted to Underboss, and a man named Antonio “Mr. Mig” or “Mr. Migo” Pollina was elected Boss. Some reports say the position was official, while others say Temporary or Acting.

To close the book on Joseph Ida, from this point, he would essentially be “retired” from family business though he wouldn’t pass away until 1984.

Antonio Pollina would name Ignazio Denaro as his Acting Underboss.

Now here’s an important sidenote.

In 1959, the balance of power on the Commission was changing, and Vito Genovese was fighting a drug case that would eventually see him sent to prison for the rest of his life, meaning that his control not just over New York but also other cities was starting to wane at this point. The new powers on the national Commission were Carlo Gambino, head of the recently renamed Gambino family, and his close ally Tommy “Three Finger Brown” Lucchese. And because New York had their hands in many pots, including Philly, this was an important development.

Now jumping back to Philadelphia to give a quick bio on “Mr. Mig.”

Antonio “Mr. Mig” Pollina, was born in 1892 in Caccamo, Sicily and immigrated to the United States as an adult and settled in Philadelphia, residing on South 11th Street and later on Snyder Avenue. As mentioned, he was arrested with Salvatore Sabello, John Avena, and Joe Ida in the Zanghi and Cocozzo murders in the 1920’s and also had several other run-ins with the law over the years.

Shortly after Pollina’s ascension to the position of Boss (which as I said was allegedly greenlit by the Commission it appears that he would initiate an event that would give the always-scheming Gambino and Lucchese the opportunity to shift the balance of power on the Commission in their favor.

Another side-note that I came across in research: I was also able to find some information captured in a wiretap between Sam Giancana and Tony Accardo that indicated Chicago might have been a part of the Philadelphia decision as well. So take that for what you will.

Now, bringing the story back to our subject, Angelo Bruno. By this point, Bruno wasn’t just an up-and-comer within the Philadelphia family, he was becoming a legit superstar in his own right, and someone who had a tremendous amount of power and popularity within the family.

At some point in the 1950’s, Bruno would take over as captain of the crew formerly headed by Marco Reginelli at which point some reports would notate him beginning to rise in terms of prominence. As I mentioned, Reginelli passed away in a Baltimore hospital on May 28, 1956, and at that time the police would like up a “hoodlum list” of 15 men associated with Reginelli, noting publicly that Angelo Bruno was his likely successor and heir apparent.

Police Commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons would fear that a gang war was imminent in May of 1957 after Reginelli’s passing, and due to the Bruno ascension, as Bruno and the crew moved in to take over Reginelli’s $30,000,000 a year numbers racket. However, it appears that there was a peaceful transition or that Bruno was already in control, and no such war would erupt.

Now, the list of crew members and close associates of Bruno would end up being some names you’re sure to recognize:

Alfred “Freddie” Iezzi – At the time of this report in the 1950’s, Iezzi was a soldier within Bruno’s crew and was primarily working as a numbers banker out of South Philadelphia and running dice games in Camden and North Jersey. He co-owned The Television Bar on 8th and Washington Ave. with Felix “Skinny Razor” De Tullio. He would later go on to become a Caporegime overseeing the crew of Nicky Scarfo.

Peter “Pete” Casella – During the 1950’s Pete was running a large numbers racket in South Philadelphia, Camden, as well as North and South Jersey. He was also into the illicit alcohol business, as well as running dice games in New Jersey. Casella would eventually achieve the rank of Underboss to Bruno’s successor, Philip Testa (and participated in the successful assassination of Testa).

Felix “Skinny Razor” De Tullio – Famously portrayed by one of my favorite mob actors, Bobby Cannavale, in The Irishman (2019), “Skinny Razor” was one of Bruno’s enforcers whose role was to keep all the numbers pickup men and writers in line, as well as to straighten out any trouble. De Tullio was also into narcotics trafficking as a wholesaler, and as I mentioned co-owned The Television Bar with Alfred “Freddy” Iezzi. He would later famously own the Friendly Lounge and serve as a mentor to future bosses, Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo and front-Boss, Ralph Natale.

Philip “The Chicken Man” Testa – By the late 1950’s was said to have been one of Bruno’s key men in running his numbers operation. He would be called in some FBI reports, Bruno’s “leg man,” which I found funny. Testa would later become Bruno’s Underboss in 1970, and then step into the role of Boss after Bruno, and would be famously assassinated by way of a bomb on his front porch.

John “Johnny Keys” Simone – Simone was made relatively famous when he rebelled against family Boss Nicky Scarfo at which point he was infamously whacked by Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. His final request to his killers of course was to “let him take his shoes off.” Based on my findings, Johnny Keys got his start as Angelo Bruno’s bodyguard before going on to run the Atlas Extermination Company out of Trenton, New Jersey for Bruno. Over the years, it was alleged that keys committed many homicides for the family.

Nick Romano – Was a pickup man for Casello who worked in the numbers bank at this time. Though he was listed in this FBI report, I couldn’t find a ton of information on Romano.

John Amato – Formerly in the illicit alcohol business, Amato at this time was into the numbers business, and had a record of 31 arrests dating back to 1931. And just for the record, based primarily on the age, I don’t believe that this is the same John Amato who was later a Boss of the DeCavalcante family before being murdered after it was discovered that he was gay.

Louis Campbell (alias George Williams) – Was a professional gambler and former bodyguard of previous crew captain Marco Reginelli, but at this time was in charge of dice games in New Jersey, as well as being responsible for all Bruno numbers played in Camden, New Jersey.

Frank Fort (alias Ferdinand De Stepheno) – Fort was formerly an enforcer for previous crew captain Marco Reginelli, and transitioned into a role as pickup man for Bruno’s numbers racket as well as running the numbers office. He also worked dice games in Jersey and had a criminal record dating all the way back to 1915, making him a relative old-timer. He was another that I wasn’t able to find a lot of background information on. That said, there were actually a few reports that indicated Fort was part of Joe Rugnetta’s crew, but it’s clear that Frank was one of Bruno’s close associates.

Carl “Pappy” Ippolito – Frequently mentioned as an associate of Bruno, one who had invested in Cuban casinos with Bruno.

Johnny Longo – By the late 1950’s was said to have been one of Bruno’s key men in running his numbers operation.

Domenick Colizzi – By the late 1950’s was said to have been one of Bruno’s key men in running his numbers operation and his “office man.”

Now here’s a report from that FBI that will blow your mind a little bit. Dating to March 18, 1958, a confidential informant T-10 stated the following:

“Confidential Informant T-10 advised SA’s JOHN L. ADAMS and J. ROBERT PEARCE that ANGELO BRUNO was ‘a big man.’ He stated that BRUNO, in his belief, had taken over the position formerly held by MARCO REGINELLI but believed that BRUNO ‘won’t last long because he came up too fast.’ He said that TONY CAPONIGRO, wa., Tony Bananas of Newark, N.J., or someone else might possibly kill BRUNO or have him moved out of the way.”

Holy shit! This is in a report in 1958!!! Caponigro was clearly a devious fuck even back then, and this is what we call foreshadowing.

Either way, Bruno’s rising power and popularity at the time was a major concern for “Mr. Mig” (and maybe even some others). Now it’s important to note here: Bruno and Pollina were supposedly close friends who’d been in business with each other for over a decade by this point.

But clearly, Pollina was likely looking to solidify his power and position as Boss, and having someone under you with so much power and so many connections, when you’re likely not as powerful yourself, can make your position – especially in this world – tenuous at best. But we’ll get to that in just a minute.

Stepping back to Bruno. Now, the thing to understand about Angelo’s rise in the Philly underworld is this: Despite his connections to the underworld in terms of friendships and his familial connections, Bruno was a relative unknown for longer than you’d expect for someone of his eventual stature. However, as you got into the late 1940’s that would start to change, and that’s really where he becomes like a meteor within criminal circles around Philadelphia.

According to reports, underworld sources would later state that Bruno was relatively unknown among the hoodlum element until bookmaker Frank Matteo introduced him to the numbers racket in 1949 or 1950. By 1963 Bruno would be described as “the biggest numbers man in Philadelphia” with one of his operations employing over 200 writers.

By this time, Bruno would be involved in the Italian lottery (for which he was arrested several times). Bruno was said to be very active in handling the “edge off” in South Philly along with Phil Testa and yes, even Antonio “Mr. Mig” Pollina (sometimes referred to as Dominick).

And of course, Bruno’s success in the gambling business made him incredibly wealthy and served to bolster his loan-sharking business, which also increased his wealth exponentially. Over time, reports would indicate that he preferred only to deal in large amounts with big-time racketeers who have more income. Bruno was said to have made some very large loans to members of the Jewish mob, who even by this point were still not 100% pushed out of the area.

Bruno was also taking pieces of crap games in Philadelphia as well as in New Jersey, and informants in late 1959 were reporting that for Bruno to be allowed to operate a crap game in Southern New Jersey indicated that he was now more powerful that previously or had the sanction of the New Jersey racketeers to operate.

In December of 1948, there is also an interesting article that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer that Bruno, referenced as a “South Philadelphia sportsman,” owned local boxer BeeBee Wright. So as many mobsters in those days were, he seems to have had at least a small piece of business in boxing.

Now if you’re following the timeline, much of Bruno’s success is also being bolstered by the fact that around this time in the 1950’s he allegedly got his stripes as a “made” guy within the family. As far as I can tell, he likely would have been successful on his own due to his money-making talents, but having his button and the subsequent backing of the family gave him the juice he needed to take everything even further.

In addition to running a strong crew and being an earner in his own right, Bruno was also the leader of and thus had the ear of the old-timers within the family, affectionately referred to as “The Greaser Gang” who were said to control South Philadelphia. These were older members of the family who’d had roots allegedly to the Mafia in Sicily and Reggio Calabria, who were allowed to operate here in the United States, and who would be sought out for advice when needed. Not only that, they were still earners and at that time were still dangerous – making them an important ally.

Not one to put all his eggs in a single basket, Angelo Bruno was also smart enough at the time to invest his illicit proceeds in legitimate businesses, which could then be used as fronts to launder his money. This is an approach strongly preached by financial wizard Meyer Lansky as a way to avoid prosecutions from law enforcement. It’s a way to hide your money.

Bruno would invest in the Atlas Sanitation and Extermination Company, based in Trenton, New Jersey, which was run by powerful mobster Johnny “Keys” Simone. And of course, there were no records kept of Bruno’s alleged involvement in Atlas Sanitation as it was apparently registered in the name of his son, Michael Bruno.

He would also allegedly have a desk job at the Maggio Cheese Company, owned by Michael (who had proposed Bruno for membership into the mob) and Mario Maggio. According to reports, Bruno and the Maggio’s were “thick” meaning very friendly.

Bruno would also allegedly get into real estate suggesting that he owned (at this time in the mid 1950’s) a building at 8th and Catherine Streets, which contained four apartments and one store. According to the Real Estate Directory, the properties he owned, including his own home, were all listed as being owned by someone else.

He also stated that he was in business with a man named Irving Carrey making and selling glass shower doors, a company called Glass Doors, Inc.. Pretty mundane stuff if you ask me. He also had a piece of the Aluminum Products Sales Corporation based in Hialeah, Florida in which he owned 2 shares, Carrey owned 50 shares, and Bruno’s son Michael owned the other 48.

Now in a note that was of more interest to me, it was alleged by the FBI that Bruno was also considering going into the Banana business with a friend from Miami and was working to get his Parole Officer to give him permission to travel to South America to investigate this further. Now, I’m speculating here, but my real guess here is that the banana business would have been a front for setting up a narcotics operation. However, it was noted that Bruno eventually gave up on the South American venture as he was spending all his time “working” for the Atlas Extermination Company.

Additionally, ever the enterprising businessman, Bruno and his soldier Peta Casella would operate a cigarette vending machine service as well as a bootlegging business (side note: I find it funny that there was still significant money to be made in illicit alcohol even 20 years after Prohibition ended). In fact, according to an FBI Criminal Intelligence Digest circulated to field offices in 1966, in the 1940’s non-taxed alcohol was one of Bruno’s largest sources of income, and he was said to have made Bruno at least 1 million dollars from a single still in one 12-month period.

Also, showing that he was getting his clutches into the local government of Philadelphia, there were reports indicating that Bruno, ala Tony Soprano, was making arrangements through Philadelphia City Councilman Dale Paul D’Ortona to get into the trash hauling business.

A bit farther from home, FBI reports from an extremely reliable source also indicated that as of 10/25/58, Bruno had a “piece” (maybe as much as $180,000 in investment) of the Sans Souci casino and/or possibly the Hotel Plaza casino in Havana, Cuba, and that he was a partner in the casino with Trenton-based mobster and Philly family member, Carl “Pappy” Ippolito (which probably also means that he was regularly in touch with Santo Trafficante and of course Meyer Lansky who was leading the mob’s interests in Cuba at the time). Of course we all know the situation in Cuba was extremely tenuous at that time and Fidel Castro’s revolution would eventually kick the mob out of Cuba, but it just goes to show that Bruno had connections at the highest levels far outside the bounds of Philadelphia. And by the way, if you’re looking for a good book on Cuba, I suggest you read “Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution” by T.J. English.

In fact, when Castro eventually toppled the regime of Fulgencio Batista, it was even speculated, however ludicrous, that it may kick off a gang war in Philadelphia as a result. Reportedly, this was because Bruno was now back home eyeing local pursuits rather than making money in Cuba. I’ll let you judge the voracity of that claim, made by Assistant Philadelphia Police Commissioner David Malone, but it just helps to validate that Bruno did have interests in Cuba that were affected by the Cuban Revolution.

So it’s clear by this point, Angelo Bruno had a piece of A LOT of different things. What’s also clear by this point in the late 1950’s is that Bruno was an extremely powerful and well-respected Caporegime with many strong supporters not just in Philadelphia, but more importantly in New York and other areas of the country.

Now this next part I think you’re going to find interesting.

As I touched on earlier, with guys from this era, the generally accepted rule was that you had to commit a murder for the family in order to get your button. This rule was said to have been more readily enforced in the early days, with the effect of binding family members together in blood.

However, there were certain guys, like Angelo Bruno, who were clearly more along the lines of racketeers rather than gangsters. Of all the people in the history of the Mafia, I doubt that he would be high on the list of members you would think of as personally committing a murder. But then again, in order to get in, you’re supposed to have killed someone right? So by that logic, even if we can’t prove it, that means he must have, correct?!?

One FBI report actually suggests that line of thinking is misleading and potentially pretty inaccurate. Quoting directly from that FBI report in which a very “friendly informant” answered various questions about the Mafia:

“If a ‘good fellow’ is used to make a hit it does not necessarily follow that he will be made a member of the organization. On the other hand it is not necessary at all for a member of the organization to have ever made a hit. It is necessary, however, that he be considered capable of handling such an assignment with efficiency and discretion.”

All that being said, it’s clear that almost every member of “the life” is a person capable of great violence when necessary. And while most of what I saw relating to Bruno’s early career were non-violent offenses and more along the lines of racketeering-style enterprises, I did find at least a few instances where he was suspected by police to have personally committed murders before he became the Boss. So while Bruno was known to be diplomatic and not necessarily a blood-thirsty killer, if he wanted to make a move, he had the connections and the willingness to do so.

According to an FBI memo, testimony from an informant in the late 1950’s dubbed T-3 stated the following under the subject of “Gangland Executions” related to Bruno:

“T-3 said that during the past two years, BRUNO was said to have been involved in at least one gangland style murder.

[Redacted] according to the Informant, is a well-known loan shark who resides in South Philadelphia.

On 1/31/58, Captive DAVID H. ROBERTS, Homicide Squad, Philadelphia Police Department, said that the age and location do not agree but the victim appears to be ALPHONSE LANATTO, wa., “Snake Eyes.” Captain ROBERTS said that BRUNO and TESTA were suspects in the investigation but his department could locate no evidence or proof that they committed the murder. He said LANATTO was murdered on September 26, 1957, and the body was discovered near a sewage works in southwest Philadelphia.”

And I can confirm through a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer dated September 27 ,1957, that indeed Alfonos Lanatto, a small-time thief who’d been released from Eastern Penitentiary just 16 months earlier, was murdered. The report indicated that Lanatto was found early on the morning of September 26th shot “gangland style” on a lonely roadway (old Penrose Ferry Road) in the Southwest Philadelphia meadows roughly three quarters of a mile east of International Airport.

Lanatto had three bullet wounds in the head and back, and a medical examiner said he also had bruises on the neck, indicating that he may have been throttled. Police said clothing on the body was neatly arranged and that Lanatto was lying on his back, his arms along both sides. The position of the body indicated that Lanatto had been placed there. A pool of blood about 15 feet from the body led authorities to believe he was slain at that spot, and then repositioned.

In addition to the hit on Lanatto, I came across (keep in mind I wasn’t looking for it) another FBI report which contained the story of Bruno supposedly personally committing the murder of a man named Marshall Veneziale.

This one seemed straight out of Hollywood script:

“T-11 also advised that after the disappearance of one MARSHALL VENEZIALE, a former South Philadelphia bootlegger, he learned that BRUNO left town by airplane. T-11 stated that he had heard that BRUNO was at a meeting the night VENEZIALE disappeared, which was held at the South Philly Grill, which is owned by JOE RUGNETTA. He stated that quite an argument took place there, supposedly with BRUNO, VENEZIALE, JAMES ‘LEFTY’ GATTI, and that BRUNO was supposed to have been seen leaving the grill holding a handkerchief over his eye. He stated that VENEZIALE had quite a temper and it is possible that VENEZIALE hit BRUNO and this led to his murder. T-11 said the story is that JAMES ‘LEFTY’ GATTI was supposed to have done the killing but at the last minute he got cold feet and that BRUNO did the job. This information is known to the Philadelphia Police Department.”

And again, by cross-referencing this bit of information with old newspaper reports, I can indeed confirm that a man named Marshall Veneziale, age 39, was indeed found murdered and stuffed in a trunk. So this story wasn’t just a Hollywood fabrication, it was indeed real. Veneziale’s corpse was found on December 17, 1954, and he’d been missing since December 6, 1954. He had been shot through the head.

In fact, 30 Philadelphia policemen would be charged with neglect of duty in connection with the disappearance of Veneziale, who was labeled as an installer of stills and said to be bucking a rival gang. This would indicate to me that the local authorities knew what was what, and were maybe even compensated for looking the other way and maybe not going out of their way to find Veneziale.

A later report in 1958 would indicate that the Police Inspector at the time, John F. Driscoll, said that Veneziale was a “lone wolf” in the bootleg racket—which as we know was a big part of Bruno’s income—and that the mob had ordered him killed when he refused to stop “lone wolfing.” If they order you to kick up and not be by yourself, it’s not time to mess around. It’s time to kick up. It was very much a f**k around and find out sort of situation, and unfortunately for Veneziale he found out the hard way.

Now whether Bruno personally murdered Alphonse “Snake Eyes” Lanatto and/or Marshall Veneziale or not, these incidents were just more things that would have bolstered his reputation within the family as not only a big earner but someone who had the balls to get his hands dirty if necessary even after becoming a high-end soldier and Capo.

So to bring things back once more to “Mr. Mig,” Bruno (despite their past friendships) was likely not considered an ally, but rather a potential threat to Pollina’s leadership. And the story that’s about to follow just goes to show that in the Mafia, there really are no friends.

Now, there is a commonly accepted version of events regarding Bruno’s eventual ascension to Boss of the family, and I’m going to lay that out first. This story can be seen across many pieces of content online and has been repeated by many pundits over the years.

As the story goes, the “Acting Boss” Antonio “Mr. Mig” Pollina would make the decision that Bruno had to go due to a disagreement between the two men. Bruno was called in front of the Commission and admonished, and subsequently ordered to reconcile with Pollina, an order with which he attempted to comply.

However, shortly thereafter it has long been alleged that Pollina gave his Underboss Ignazio Denaro a contract to murder Bruno.

Then, in a move similar to what would occur with Joe Colombo in the 1960’s, rather than take the contract, Denaro instead went to Bruno and let him know that Pollina was planning to have him whacked.

Supposedly, it was at this time that Bruno went to his friends on the Commission, Gambino and Lucchese, and it was agreed that “Mr. Mig” would step down as Boss and The Commission made Bruno the next family Boss. Pollina had clearly overstepped his authority as Interim Boss, which did not make the members of the Commission happy.

In addition to becoming the family Boss, Angelo Bruno would become the first Boss of Philadelphia to have an official seat on the Commission. This move would swing the balance of power away from the Genovese family and more towards the Gambino and Lucchese alliance within the national syndicate. Bruno would name Joe Rugnetta as his Consigliere and would keep Ignazio Denaro as his Underboss.

It was at this point when Bruno would allegedly earn his nickname, “The Gentle Don” and/or “The Docile Don” allegedly by some in the media with the sparing of Pollina’s life being dubbed the Pax Bruno. The Commission would give Bruno a choice. He could have “Mr. Mig” murdered if he so desired, or he could allow him to live and either put him on the shelf or continue to operate within the family.

Bruno would famously choose to show mercy and allowed Pollina to not just live, but continue to operate in a “retired” status within Philadelphia. So, more or less shelved. Not that the relationship was ever the same again, but it is said that when Bruno’s Consigliere of many years, Joe Rugnetta, passed away in 1977, “Mr. Mig” felt secure enough to suggest himself as Rugnetta’s replacement, to which Bruno was said to have politely declined.

Now, here’s where I’ll do my best to separate fact from fiction. This story, while certainly legendary and cinematic, is not exactly what I was able to find in my research. Believe me, I dug and dug and reviewed old FBI documents for more hours than I care to admit, and while it was clear to me that something happened between Bruno and Pollina that led to the changing of the guard—allegedly a personal dispute and maybe even orders to murder—my findings indicated that the switch was more politically-motivated and related to Pollina bad-mouthing Bruno.

And here’s where I’m going to thank Jeff Canarsie of Mob Talk Radio whose opinion I respect tremendously, as he put me onto the idea that the politics of the change, in addition to helping Gambino and Lucchese gain the majority vote on the Commission could also have possibly been linked to their interest in gaining a major stake in Atlantic City, which was considered Philadelphia territory. Now I’d considered that point, but hadn’t yet put all the pieces together until Jeff answered my question on his show.

Don’t get me wrong, Atlantic City became a huge part of what the Philadelphia family did once the casinos got up and running in the late 1970’s, but it shows the foresight that Gambino and pals likely had even this early on.

Now again I’ll emphasize, I was not able to locate a single resource that confirmed that Pollina ever personally ordered a hit on Bruno. Not saying it didn’t happen, but it’s just one of those classic cases of where I expect to find one thing when I do my research, but instead find another. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but it’s not something where I found direct evidence, only innuendos in various reports and stories.

Instead what I found were stories after the fact and transcribed conversations that all most definitely mentioned things like Pollina “doing some evil” to Bruno being “broken-hearted” with Pollina, but never quite rising to the level of planning a murder (though it’s still possible, even probably likely and very plausible that that’s what happened).

In short, I found no smoking gun, but here was the best summation of the events surrounding all the documents I was able to read. This summation comes from a 1966 FBI Criminal Intelligence Digest that was submitted to field offices:

“One source reported that immediately after Ida left, his ‘Underboss,’ Dominick Oliveto, took over. If so, the arrangement was a temporary one, for loan shark Joseph Rugnetta was soon named ‘Boss’ and ruled until a ‘family’ meeting could be called on September 26, 1959, at which time Oliveto was stripped of all authority, Rugnetta was demoted to ‘Underboss,’ and another loan shark, Antonio (Mr. Migo) Pollina was elected ‘Boss.’

Pollina has since claimed that he had the backing of Ida for his promotion, but the bickering within the ‘family’ eventually became so great that the ‘Commission’ refused to confirm his appointment. Instead, Bruno–whom Pollina had raised to the rank of caporegima (or captain) and around whom most of the bickering seemed to have settled–was summoned to New York City and ordered to effect a reconciliation. The attempt was a failure, however, because Pollina had become too distrustful of his young subordinate and had launched a smear campaign against him among other members of the ‘family.’ As the tension mounted, and the two opponents expressed private fears of being murdered by the other, an arguinamenda (or ‘arguing body’) was convened at Wildwood, New Jersey, by the ‘Commission.’

Although one source advises that the hostility stemmed from a fit of jealousy and a question of personal popularity, whereas another maintains that Bruno was withholding money he had collected, Pollina made the mistake of trying to deny that a dispute existed and all. Faced with this impasse, Ignzaio (‘Inyots’) Denaro stepped forward to contradict Pollina and absolve Bruno of all blame. When the ‘Commission’ settled the dispute by appointing Bruno ‘Boss,’ Angelo quickly reciprocated and named Denaro his ‘Underboss.’

No informant has even pinpointed the precise date of the Wildwood affair, but by November 1960, Bruno was overheard calling himself the Rappresentante Ufficiale (Official Representative) of the ‘Commission’ in the Philadelphia area and telling Pollina that the latter should consider himself fortunate to have been relieved of his responsibilities.

As might be guessed from Bruno’s remarks, his main conflicts since his promotion have been internal rather than external. To begin with, Angelo is Sicilian and–though he boasts that he does not judge a man by the province of his birth–a number of sources have advised that the Calabrians have been conspiring for years to overthrow the ‘Sidgies’ in the Philadelphia hierarchy and oust Bruno from power.

Another major cause of dissension at first was Angelo’s youth and his relatively brief membership in La Cosa Nostra at the time of his election to the ‘Commission.’ When resentment began to reach a dangerous stage the early part of 1962, Bruno called a meeting of the older members of the organization and warned them that if they continued to resist his ‘administration,’ then they had better not come to him for help later in a time of need.

The biggest difficulty, however, is the allegation that Bruno is a ‘tightwad’ and that–having made his own fortune–he no longer cares about the welfare of those under him. Partly because of this, and partly because of Angelo’s tendency to use his friend Phil Testa as a confidant and an informal aide-de-camp, he has completely alienated his ‘Underboss,’ the man who made his rise to power possible by denouncing Pollina in 1960.”

Now, I’m not saying that the well-known story about the Pollina murder plot isn’t true. In fact, it very well could be true as I couldn’t find anything to suggest what was actually said in the Wildwood incident (which very well could have been threats or actual orders to murder). Either way, it wasn’t good, and it was so bad in fact that the Commission stepped in.

What I’m saying is that I simply couldn’t find the documentation to prove that the actual plot existed, and I did find some documentation that indicated things happening behind the scenes that may have been more along the lines of political maneuvering and the Pollina-Bruno issue could have been used as an excuse to make a change, which as we know benefitted the Gambinos greatly over the course of the next 20 to 30 years.

That said, I do believe the story that got Bruno his reputation as the ‘Gentle Don’ to be true, and there were some records indicating that he gave his word to Pollina that no harm would come to him (take that for what it’s worth).

Either way, I’ll let you decide what you choose to believe.

To reinforce the power of the connections that Bruno had in his new position, a few years after becoming Boss of Philadelphia, an informant dubbed T-5 would relay the following story.

Apparently, in May of 1962 and again Angelo Bruno’s Underboss Ignazio Denaro, ignoring the established chain of command as well as Commission rules, went to the Commission in New York behind Bruno’s back to have a “sit down” where he’d lodge a complaint against his Boss and allegedly attempted to have him removed.

Denaro would speak to Carlo Gambino and another person named Joe, which could have either been Joe Bonanno, Joe Colombo, or Joe Magliocco about cutting himself in on a card game (imagine going to the Commission over that?!?). Denaro was advised to return to Philadelphia, “sit down” with Bruno, and resolve their differences.

As you would expect, this sort of back-dooring of his authority would greatly upset Bruno. Months after the dispute between Bruno and Denaro, it’s alleged that Bruno related the following to informant T-5:

“Bruno stated that as soon as Denaro went to New York, he, Bruno, was contacted and advised. Bruno stated that Denaro was the sorriest man that ever did what he did, that is, going to the Commission. Bruno stated that he, Denaro, was told by Carlo Gambino: ‘I want you to know Angelo is with me even if he is not here, he is sitting right there just the same, just like we represent Angelo.’ This statement was interpreted by informant to mean that Gambino respects Bruno as an equal because Bruno, too, is a member of the Commission.”

Now that’s power, and that’s the value of such a friendship in this life—one that would be the lynchpin of Bruno’s authority in the underworld for years to come. The two men through their friendship would use each other over the years to propel themselves forward.

Gambino would leverage his friendship with Bruno to essentially control the majority on the Commission through Philadelphia’s proxy vote, which went to the Gambino’s.

Bruno would have the backing of Gambino to solidify his own power and authority in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey, and this would ultimately keep him protected. However, as you may already know this relationship would ultimately provide the basis for Bruno’s downfall. But we’ll get to that in Part Two.

And to illustrate Bruno’s thinking as it regarding Philadelphia’s relationship with the Commission, he would allegedly relate the following in February 1962 to an informant:

“We respect the Commission. Do you understand? And we couldn’t do nothing without New York.”

If you ever read the book ‘Mafia Prince: Inside America’s Most Violent Crime Family and the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra‘ by Scott Burnstein and Philip Leonetti (which I highly recommend), you’ll know that the family’s sentiments and relationship with New York would continue to be important in settling family disputes and making leadership changes all the way into the 1990’s.

So, in Philadelphia, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, a new and, all things considered, harmonious era in the underworld would begin.

It’s worth noting that Philadelphia papers did not note the shift in the leadership of the family, and wouldn’t start referring to Bruno as Philadelphia’s top “kingpin” until at least 1961, and wouldn’t be referred to by the media as the “head” or “boss” of the family until 1963 according to the research I found. So Bruno was able to remain fairly under the radar in terms of the public about his new status in the underworld for a time.

And despite his faults, I think many would probably admit in hindsight that these years would constitute a golden age for the Philadelphia mob. Sure there would have to be killings from time to time, and sure there were periods where the heat from the government would seem like murder, but by and large things were as peaceful as one can reasonably ask for in the underworld.

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but in the bloody time period that would follow Bruno’s ultimate demise, I’m sure many probably yearned for the good old days under Angelo Bruno when things were calm and the organization was more measured in its approach.

But that’s a story for another day.

Final Thoughts & Closing

Okay, that’s it for this episode! Again, it was another beast, but I sincerely hope that you maybe learned something you didn’t know before. I know I found out plenty of new information (at least to me) as I was going through the research process.

Coming up next, as promised, I’m going to do an episode on the Cerrito family, to be followed by Part Two on Angelo Bruno where I cover his reign, his fall, and of course his ultimate assassination, which is one of the most infamous and enduring events in the history of Cosa Nostra in this country.

After those episodes, I’m considering working on either the Castellammarese War or digging into some fun anecdotal wiretap conversations I came across during the 1960’s relating to the increased scrutiny coming from the Kennedy administration.

Of course, I’m also looking to do more interviews. But not just any interview. I’m specifically looking for people who have stories of running up against the mob either as a result of being in that life, but more likely from people that have no affiliation with the life whatsoever. Like I said last episode, it won’t be your typical talking heads. So if you think you’re one of those people, email me at membersonlypodcastshow@gmail.com.

Also, before you go, please don’t forget to Subscribe so that you can continue to enjoy my content as it’s released and if you have any thoughts please leave them in the comments on YouTube or write us a review on Apple. Lastly, feel free to check out our website at www.membersonlypodcast.com, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

I’m still a relatively small channel and could use all the help I can get to grow.

But until next time, gratzie!

Online Sources

Books & Other Sources

  • Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia: From Accordo to Zwillman. Checkmark Books. Third Edition. 2005. ISBN 978-0-8160-5695-1.

Jacob Stoops, the host of The Gangland History Podcast

Jacob Stoops

Host of the Gangland History Podcast

This podcast sits at the intersection of my life-long love for history, my love of mob movies, my now decades-long fascination with the Mafia, as well as my passion for content creation.