Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Behind Closed Doors

In an episode of the hit television series The Sopranos the fictional mob boss Tony Soprano scrambles to collect all the cash he has at home. He grabs a ladder and goes to his hiding place in the house, pulling thick packets of money from behind the ceiling panels. His long-suffering but ever-loyal wife, Carmela, holds a plastic garbage bag open as he drops his stash into it. At no point does she ever ask where all this money came from, nor does she seem surprised that its there. Like all good Mafia wivesthe real ones includedCarmela doesnt wanna know nothin. A mob wifes operating principle is simple: As long as her husband can bring in enough income to support his family and maintain a respectable lifestyle, the wife doesnt care to know where it all came from. And if shes smart, she wont ask.

Edie Falco, who plays Carmela Soprano (AP)
Edie Falco, who plays
Carmela Soprano

Most mafia wives exist in a unique state of denial. To the outside world, these women swear that their husbands are not thieves and killers. Theyre businessmen and independent contractors harassed by law enforcement because they happen to be of Italian descent and are therefore unfairly tarred with the Mafia brush. But among themselves, Mafia wives exhibit a different kind of denial. Generally they all know what their husbands do for a living, even if they arent always privy to the specific scams. But even with each other, these women rarely acknowledge the obvious. They might socialize together, shop together, discuss their kids and share their personal problems, but they rarely discuss mob business.

Karen Hill, wife of Lucchese family associate Henry Hill, who was the subject of the best-selling book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi, recalled her first encounter with other mob wives on a visit to their husbands in prison: They knew the good prisons and the bad ones. They never talked about what their husbands had done to get sent to jail. That just wasnt ever a part of the conversation. What they discussed was how the prosecutors and the cops lied. How people picked on their husbands. How their husbands had done something everybody was doing but had just had the bad luck to get caught.

Like their husbands who must abide by the rules of omerta, the Mafia code of silence, in order to survive and prosper, Mafia wives follow their own code of silence. Large houses, luxury cars, expensive clothes, lavish restaurant meals and generous amounts of spending money ensure that their lips remain sealed. As long as the goodies keep coming, the wives dont ask and they dont tell.

Every member of law enforcement interviewed for this story declined to go on the record with their opinions and observations about the mates of Mafiosi, but they all agreed that Mafia wives are not as innocent of their husbands doings as they often claim. These officers intimate knowledge of life inside a wiseguys home mostly comes from telephone wiretaps. An investigation of a given mobster can generate hundreds of hours of secretly taped telephone conversations, and the officers and prosecutors who monitor these tapes learn a lot about domestic life inside a mobsters family. However, only material pertinent to the charges brought against the accused can be used in a court of law and thus released to the public. Everything else is sealed. So when it comes to the details of Mafia wives, law enforcement knows but cannot say.



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