Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano

'What Could I Do?'

While researching a story on John A. Junior Gotti the son of the former Dapper/Teflon Don, currently known as the imprisoned for life Don journalist Howard Blum asked his interviewees to reach out to the Bull, Id like to talk to him. Blums wish came true and he was soon contacted by Salvatore Sammy the Bull Gravano.

Sammy Gravano
Sammy "The Bull" Gravano (AP)

In a late night phone call Gravano told Blum that he was forced out of the Witness Protection Program by a woman who was stalking him after she learned his true identity while living in Colorado. Blum and Gravano arranged a meeting in a restaurant, some place west of the Mississippi. During the interview Gravano did his usual crying on the shoulder routine stating, Sometimes I question how I got to be the way I am. I had a great mother and father. I dont know how I got to be the way I am. No emotion. No feeling. Like fuckin ice.

Gravano talked freely about the murders he committed. There has always been some confusion regarding Gravanos role in the 19 murders he admitted to. Based on his confessions he pulled the trigger in only one of those killings. While not to diminish his role in the deaths of those individuals, Gravano is not a serial killer as his detractors have labeled him. Gravano acted as the wheelman in some murders and was at the scene in several others. In one killing he was merely involved in the discussion of it. Perhaps his own ego led people to believe he played a larger role. He told Blum, I never killed in a fit of anger. Im controlled. A professional. I killed because of my oath.

These dont seem like the words of a man who had done the actual dirty work in only one murder. But that seems to be the pattern Gravano followed, saying and letting people believe one thing, while in reality doing just the opposite. Gravano would have everyone believe that he was being a dedicated soldier in a society that had honor at the center of it. He did his job, whether he liked it or not, because those were the rules of his society the society called La Cosa Nostra, which many still refer to as the Mafia.

In 1997 Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravanos Story of Life in the Mafia was published. Peter Maas wrote the book with Gravanos help. Gravano is given a golden opportunity to describe his life in the terms he chooses. What the reader needs to understand is that nowhere in the book is Gravanos word challenged. He is allowed to present his own opinions on all the people he dealt with, on both sides of the law. Only Gravanos side of every issue and every murder is discussed.

One of the recurring themes in the book is Gravano crying, What could I do? Gravano allows his young brother-in-law to be murdered and all thats left to be buried is a hand. Gravano responds, What else could I do? He talks about how heartbroken he was when his parents had to sell the home they loved to help out his sister while Sammy has plenty of money. So what can I do? he pleads. When ordered to kill a Philadelphia mobster, Gravano spends several hours with the man and learns to respect him. He then orders a subordinate to shoot him in the back of the head. There was nothing else I could do, claims Gravano in justifying his action. Even when the wife of one of his crewmembers seeks Gravanos help because of her husbands drug problems, Sammy responds by having the man murdered. But theres nothing I can do about (it). This was the life.

However, when Gravano finds himself cornered and facing trial and a long prison sentence, the honor, the respect and the oath he took as a made member of La Cosa Nostra suddenly become secondary to whats best for Sammy. Gravano quickly figures out the answer to What could I do?

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