Not too long ago, I had the urge to watch The Sopranos again as it’s always been one of my favourite shows made. I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with the Mafia and once I finished the series again it only rekindled my intrigue. While powering through the show again, I received some well-timed news. The Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, would be released somewhere around the time I expected I would finish the show again. Though not a particularly great film, it did satisfy my need to watch more Mafia related shows, at least for one more night. Following that, I went down a Mafia rabbit hole for a while. I watched scores of movies and documentaries as well as read dozens of Wikipedia and other articles about famous gangsters. I even played through the first Mafia video game by 2K. I then dove into a book that revolved around the Gambino crime family’s most infamous crew called the DeMeo crew that operated in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Murder Machine: The True Story of Madness and the Mafia by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci is a must read for anyone with a curiosity of “that life” and explores the crew’s rise and fall in grisly detail.
Naturally, the book begins by looking at the upbringing of two key people that were heavily involved with the DeMeo crew but not direct members. The first is Anthony “Nino” Gaggi who eventually rose up to be a capo in the Gambino family and ultimately was responsible for handling the crew. Second is his nephew Dominick Montiglio who gets involved through minor errands for Nino as he grows up and how he eventually becomes an associate of Nino and other mobsters. Lastly the upbringing and rise of Roy DeMeo and some of his crew members is documented in detail as well.
There are three major highlights to what made the DeMeo crew so notorious. The tamest out of all of them was their extremely successful car theft ring. The efficiency and scale of their operations could not be matched in its prime. Numerous stolen cars per night, sophisticated methods of rebranding paperwork and VIN numbers,crew owned chop shops, and even connections to have the cars shipped as far as Kuwait had the crew making money hand over fist. In return Nino and the Gambino boss were kept flush with cash from the crew which resulted in tolerance of their activities outside of car thefts.
The second reason for their notoriety was something known as the Gemini Method. The crew was asked often to make someone disappear and they became good at it. The core of the crew, Roy DeMeo, Chris Rosenberg, Henry Borelli, Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter, mastered the process and were the ones primarily running this task. They would invite the victim to their hangout called the Gemini Lounge where the victim walked into the side door of the bar. Once inside they would be shot in the head with a silenced gun and a towel would be wrapped around their head. Then the crew would immediately stab the victim in the heart multiple times to stop it from pumping blood,then they would hang the body upside down for about an hour waiting for the blood to coagulate to create less of a mess during dismemberment. Lastly they would cut off the head, arms, legs,and individually package them in bags or boxes to be dropped off at a landfill. Almost no victims or body parts turned up after this method was used.
As grotesque as the Gemini Method was, the main reason the crew was famous in the underworld was their sheer ruthlessness and willingness to kill. Dismembering and disposing a body for the mob was a necessity to erase any evidence, but killing for the sheer fun of it was what made them feared. While they killed whenever the Mafia had asked them to, the crew also killed numerous people that simply got in their way. Typically these were people who may have threatened to informed police or someone else on their car theft ring and anyone who attempted to extort them somehow. But there are instances where someone simply insulted DeMeo and he shot them and drove off with the body, never to be seen again. Another time a target they lured showed up with an innocent accomplice, they also ended up disappearing with the intended target. The gang was also known to occasionally select the last person drinking in their bar to kill and dismember, simply to keep the crew’s skills “sharp”. While the actual number will never be known, the amount of victims linked to the crew seem to be estimated at a low of 75 with a possibility of up to 200. The bloodlust and brutalitywere big factors why Gambino boss Paul Castellano and future boss John Gotti kept their distance from the DeMeo crew. They both despised and feared the group of serial kills, but because they were bringing in so much money Castellano let them run things as they saw fit, so long as it didn’t bring too much heat on the family.
The book also follows key FBI agents and NYPD officers, such as Walter Mack, that were tasked with making dents in the Mafia and put together the pieces of evidence to link the bosses to major crimes. Through various investigations,connections began to form between numerous missing people involved with the Mafia and an epidemic of stolen cars in the Canarsie area of Brooklyn. The authorities also caught big breaks when they successfully got a couple of associates to flip, including Nino’s own nephew Dominick who had a clear account of the crew’s activities. A vivid picture began to emerge involving DeMeo, Nino, Castellano, and numerous underlings and the indictments began rolling out. The pressure from the FBI and NYPD became too much and the crew’s downfall was imminent.
I highly recommend this book for those with a curiosity for Mafia stories. It’s a captivating read from start to finish of the true story of arguable the most psychotic crew assembled. It’s also an insightful read into the crew’s activities due to information provided by Dominick given that he worked alongside the crew at times. In fact it’s so captivating I believe that I started and finished it in a week, which would be the fastest I’ve read a book of this length.