Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Myth of Mob Gallantry


Image and reputation are everything to mobsters. Wiseguys carefully cultivate the media-driven images of Robin Hood-like gentleman bandits who carefully separate business and pleasure. Over time, they have learned that the perception of being violent is just as effective as violence itself. The public was also sold a bill of goods by Hollywood (an industry thoroughly infiltrated by the mob) that mobsters resorted to violence on a limited scale, operated under a "code of honor" that demanded loyalty, and expected members to treat women with respect. A man who crossed the mob could expect retribution, but his woman was off-limits.

But perception and reality as far as the mob is concerned are light-years apart. Tough legal sanctions and increased backstabbing have pushed the code aside in favor of an "every man for himself" mentality, and a wiseguy knows that his friends in the rackets are just as likely as his enemies to be the ones who take him down. The same applies to the way women of the mob are treated. The hands-off policy is gone and a woman who is perceived as a threat because of what she knows is just as likely as her lover to end up dead.

Dion O'Banion
Dion O'Banion

It's true that there were and still are a number of prudish men in organized crime. Some old-timers are more interested in the rackets than they are in the idea of mistresses and nightclubs. Others take their marriage vows seriously and don't need to look outside the home for female companionship. Still others view promiscuous women with contempt and want nothing to do with them. In the early days of Prohibition and organized crime, men like Johnny Torrio and Dion O'Banion were known for their disdain of the molls who have always been attracted to mobsters. Torrio ran the prostitution racket in Chicago for years, but was widely known not to partake of the fare himself. O'Banion was a one-woman man whose flower shop and home life were just as important as his bootlegging business.

Willie Moretti
Willie Moretti

Other mobsters took the opposite view. Both Willie Moretti and Al Capone were rendered near imbeciles by the ravages of untreated syphilis, caught from the myriad prostitutes who serviced them. Lucky Luciano, whose connection to the New York prostitution racket was widely overblown by Thomas Dewey in his no-holds-barred prosecution of the capo di tutti capi, claimed he deliberately caught (and received treatment for) a venereal disease from a hooker to get out of the draft for World War I.

Still others lived privately one way and acted differently in public. Sam Giancana carried on with Judith Campbell Exner and Phyllis Maguire, but killed a man for dishonoring his daughter. Moretti sent a telegram to his friend, Frank Sinatra, when he learned the singer was dating Ava Gardner and planning a divorce from his wife. Moretti's message to Frank was that he was saddened to learn of Sinatra's philandering and he urged him to remember his "darling wife and children."

But even these old-fashioned types know that sometimes a mob wife or girlfriend is dangerous and needs to be permanently silenced. It's always been that way and as long as there is organized crime, it always will be that way.

Nino Gaggi, mugshot
Nino Gaggi, mugshot

One of the most blatant examples of the way women are treated by mobsters is the story of 19-year-old Cherie Golden, a New York woman who made the mistake of working a little too closely with her car thief boyfriend, John Quinn. They both ended up dead after crossing the bloodthirsty and ruthless Roy DeMeo and Nino Gaggi, who objected to Quinn's success in competing with their own stolen car ring. In Gaggi's 1985 murder and racketeering trial, star prosecution witness Dominick Montiglio and seven other witnesses testified about how Quinn was marked for death by the Gaggi faction of the Gambino family after he was summoned before a Long Island grand jury.

Convicted car thief Joseph Bennett testified that he was contacted about a week before July 20, 1977, the day Quinn's body was found in a desolate part of Staten Island. The Gaggi crew wanted Bennett to help them take out his cousin.

The price for setting up Quinn would be $20,000, he testified that he was told, if he could lure Golden as well. When asked by prosecutors why the pair had to die, Bennett explained in a matter-of-fact way that there was reason to suspect Quinn was cooperating with authorities.

"John had gone before a Nassau County grand jury and wasn't in jail," said Bennett. "The rule of thumb is that if you weren't in jail you had talked."

Quinn and Golden were shot dead and while Quinn was found dumped near the Fresh Kills landfill, dressed in pajamas with his hands tied behind his back, Golden's half-nude body was found jammed underneath the dashboard of a stolen Lincoln Continental near Coney Island in Brooklyn. She had not been sexually assaulted, but testimony revealed that she had been stripped after death to make police think it had been a sexual homicide and thus not likely to be mob connected.

Montiglio testified that Golden's murder had disturbed Gambino family boss Paul Castellano.

"My uncle [Nino Gaggi] was a little perturbed about the girl getting killed," Montiglio said. "Mr. Castellano asked my uncle why this girl Cherie was killed. My uncle told him she was part of the operation with Quinn and something about him going to the law and he had to be taken care of."

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