||New York| Roy DeMeo
Birth: September 7, 1940
Death: January 10, 1983
Roy Albert DeMeo was a ranking member of the Gambino crime family, formerly one of the largest and most feared crime families in New York. He is most infamous for heading a crew of car thieves, drug dealers and murderers suspected by the FBI of somewhere between 75-200 murders from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The crew also gained notoriety due to their affinity for dismemberment as a method of disposing of their victims.
Early life and criminal career
Roy Albert DeMeo was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York into a working class Italian immigrant family. As a teen, he began a small loansharking operation which turned into a full time job by the age of 17. DeMeo graduated High School in 1959 and began working seriously in criminal enterprise while maintaining legitimate business practices. He married shortly after high school and would eventually father three children. In the meantime, he worked his way up the criminal career ladder, initially through a continued loansharking operation. By the early 1960s DeMeo had quit his legitimate job at a Banner Dairy Supermarket to focus solely on loansharking and any other opportunities for income that presented themselves. He conducted most of his business at a neighborhood bar by the name of Phil's Lounge. In 1965 he became a silent partner in the ownership of the bar, now renamed the Gemini Lounge. The Lounge would serve as the DeMeo crew's primary headquarters for the next several years, with an apartment building directly behind the bar being the site of dozens of murders and subsequent dismemberments committed by the crew.
Although in the early 1960s DeMeo had minor connections to members and associates of the Lucchese Family, it was not until he met Anthony 'Nino' Gaggi in 1966 that he would begin a criminal career that eventually led to becoming an official member of Cosa Nostra. At the time, Nino was a well-respected soldier in the Gambino Family, prospering from a large and varied assortment of loanshark customers as well as silent partner positions in a number of legitimate businesses. DeMeo reportedly saw a future with the Luccheses as a drab prospect and quickly put his full attention toward cultivating a working relationship with Gaggi, their first piece of business together being a co-loan to a used car dealership.
Through the late 1960s, DeMeo's organized crime prospects increased on two fronts. He continued in the loansharking business with Anthony Gaggi, and also began developing a crew of young men involved primarily in car theft and drug trafficking. It was this collective of criminals that would become known both in the underworld and in law enforcement circles as the DeMeo Crew. The first member of the crew was Harvey 'Chris' Rosenberg, who met DeMeo in 1966 at the age of 16. Rosenberg was dealing drugs at a Canarsie gas station, and Roy helped him increase his business and profits by loaning Chris money so that he could deal the narcotics in larger amounts. By 1972, Chris had introduced his friends to Roy and they began working for him as well. These early members of the crew included Joseph "Dracula" Guglielmo (Roy's cousin), Joseph Testa, Anthony Senter and Joseph's younger brother Patrick Testa.
Roy joined the Boro of Brooklyn Credit Union that same year, gaining a position on the board of directors shortly afterwards. He utilized his newfound position to launder money he had earned through his various illegal ventures. He also introduced colleagues at the Credit Union to a lucrative side-business laundering the money of drug dealers he had become acquainted with. Finally, Roy also further built up his loansharking business with funds stolen from credit union reserves. His collection of loanshark customers, while still primarily those in the car industry, soon included other businesses such as a dentist's office, an abortion clinic, restaurants and flea markets. He was also listed as an employee for a Brooklyn company named S & C Sportswear Corporation, and frequently told his neighbors he worked in construction, food retailing and the used car business.
According to the book Murder Machine by Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustaine, DeMeo committed his first murder in July of 1973 at the age of 32, shooting to death Paul Rothenberg, the proprietor of a pornography film lab in which Roy was a silent partner. After Rothenberg's lab had been raided by police and he was arrested, DeMeo's mentor Anthony Gaggi (also a silent partner in Rothenberg's business) began to suspect that he would fold under police pressure to cooperate. This suspicion was rightly held, as immediately after the arrest he had already begun the process of official cooperation with authorities, informing the police that both DeMeo and 'a man named Nino' were extorting him. He had yet to sign an official agreement however, and more than one meeting with law enforcement was set up and then called off, with the last one canceled being on Friday, July 27, 1973. That same day, DeMeo contacted Rothenberg and set up a meeting at a local diner scheduled for Sunday, July 29. When Rothenberg showed up for the meeting, DeMeo ordered him out of his car and into an alleyway at gunpoint, then shooting him in the head two times with a silencer-equipped pistol. Although law enforcement suspected DeMeo played a role in the slaying, and even tailed DeMeo to a meeting with Rothenberg's official partner in the pornography lab shortly after the murder, the case was never resolved and DeMeo was never charged. It is widely believed that this was the first murder committed by DeMeo and served to permanently solidify his relationship with Anthony Gaggi, putting him on the path to becoming an official, or made, member of the Gambino crime family.
Andrei Katz murder
For more details on this topic, see Andrei Katz. In late 1974, a conflict that had erupted between the Roy's crew and a young bodyshop owner named Andrei Katz had continued to escalate. In May of 1975, Roy was informed by a police officer that, as a result of this conflict, Andrei was cooperating with authorities. In June he was lured to a place where he could be confronted. After being abducted, he was stabbed to death and then dismembered. An accomplice who helped bait Katz confessed her role and Joseph Testa and Henry Borelli were both arrested. They would secure an acquittal at trial in January of 1976.
This was the first known murder committed by the DeMeo crew, and for years was thought to have been the first occasion where Roy or members of his crew had dismembered a body for disposal. In 2003 however, new information was provided to the FBI by Bonanno Underboss Salvatore Vitale, who claimed that in 1974 he was ordered to deliver the corpse of a man who had just been murdered to a garage in Queens so that it could be disposed of. When he arrived at the location, Vitale claims, Roy DeMeo was present along with several other men who may have been early members of the DeMeo Crew. Vitale also claims that Roy had with him a knife, presumably to dismember the corpse. This information suggests that DeMeo and his followers may have been involved in murder and dismemberment earlier than previously thought by law enforcement.
As the 1970s continued, Roy cultivated his followers into a crew experienced with the process of murdering and dismembering victims. With the exception of killings intended to send a message to any who would hinder their criminal activities, or murders that presented no other alternative, a set method of execution was established by Roy and crew to ensure that victims would be dispatched quickly and then made to disappear. The method of execution was dubbed the Gemini Method, named after the Gemini Lounge, the primary hangout of the DeMeo crew as well as the site where most of the crew's victims were killed. The exact process of the Gemini Method, revealed by multiple crew members and associates who became government witness in the early 1980s, was as follows: Typically, the victim would be lured through the side door of the Lounge, and into the apartment that made up the back portion of the building. At this point, a crew member (almost always Roy DeMeo according to crew member turned government witness Frederick DiNome) would approach with a silenced pistol in one hand and a towel in the other, shooting the victim in the head then wrapping the towel around the victim's head wound like a turban in order to staunch the blood flow. Immediately after, another member of the crew (originally Chris Rosenberg up until his 1979 murder, according to government witness testimony) would stab the victim in the heart in order to prevent any more blood from pumping out of the gunshot wound. By then the victim would usually be dead, at which point the body would be stripped of its clothing and dragged into the bathroom where it was left while the remaining blood drained out and/or congealed within the body. This was to eliminate the messiness of the next step, when crew members would place the body onto plastic tarps laid out in the main room and proceed to dismember it, cutting off the arms, legs and head. The body parts would then be put into bags, placed in cardboard boxes and sent off to the Fountain Avenue Dump in Brooklyn, where so many tons of garbage were dropped each day that it was a near impossibility for the bodies to ever be discovered. During the initial stages of an early 1980s Federal/State task force targeting the DeMeo Crew, a plan by authorities to excavate sections of the dump in order to locate remains of victims was aborted when it was deemed too costly and likely to fail at locating any meaningful evidence.
Although this Gemini method was the most common method the crew practiced, some victims would be killed in other ways for varying reasons. At times, suspected informants or those who committed an act of disrespect against a member of the crew or their superiors had their bodies left in the streets of New York to serve as a message and warning. As well, there were occasions where it would not be possible to lure the intended victim into the Gemini Lounge, in which case other locations would have to be used. A yacht owned by one of DeMeo's men was used on at least one occasion to dispose of bodies as well.
In the latter half of 1975, Roy became a silent partner in a peep show/prostitution establishment in New Jersey after the owner of the business became unable to pay his loansharking debts. Roy also began dealing in pornography, including bestiality, which he sold to his New Jersey establishment as well as connections he had in Rhode Island. When his superior Nino Gaggi found out about Roy's involvement in such taboo films, he ordered Roy to stop on threat of death. Roy did not stop however, and Gaggi continued to accept his weekly payments. Gaggi's nephew Dominick Montiglio claimed that the subject was simply never mentioned between the two men after the initial confrontation, and as long as Roy continued to provide copiously for his boss the violation of his order was never addressed.
Another forbidden subject between Roy and his boss Nino was narcotics. In the Gambino Family, as most of the other Mafia Families in the country, drug-dealing was an act punishable by death for any members caught being involved. The reason why is because the sentences imposed on those involved with the narcotics business are usually more severe than other crimes. It was feared by the administrations of the Mafia Families that those facing such harsh penalties would be more likely to flip, or become cooperators for the government. Gaggi and DeMeo, like many others however, continued to deal in narcotics despite the warning due to the massive amounts of profits earned. By this time, Roy's drug operations had expanded greatly from his initial operations in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had recently started selling cocaine out of the Gemini Lounge and was also the financer of a large marijuana operation that imported the drug from Colombia in 25-pound bales. The marijuana would be delivered from offshore freighters and sold out of a Canarsie bodyshop. Roy's weekly tributes to Nino continued to increase from his drug operations and Nino continued to feign ignorance as to the source of the money.
As 1975 drew to a close, Roy was almost indicted due to IRS investigations into his income. Months earlier, the Boro of Brooklyn Credit Union had been pushed into insolvency as a result of DeMeo and his colleague's plundering of its finances. As a result Roy quit the Credit Union, avoiding law enforcement attention that increased as the Union was merged into another one. Despite this, Roy's had already gained the attention of the IRS earlier in the year. Before an indictment could be handed down against him however, he utilized false affidavits from businesses owned by friends and acquaintances claiming that he was on their payrolls as an employee. These affidavits served to account for some of his income and he and the IRS reached a settlement.
In May of 1976, another murder was committed by the DeMeo crew. Joseph Brocchini, a made member in another of New York's Five Families, was involved in an argument with Roy related to a pornography business both were involved in. The argument turned into a physical altercation when Brocchini punched DeMeo in the face, giving him a black eye. Mafia protocol prevented DeMeo, still only an associate of the Gambino Family, from retaliating in any way against Brocchini or he would be killed. DeMeo went to his boss Nino and explained the situation. Dominick Montiglio, Nino's nephew who was now fully working for his uncle, claimed to have been present at this meeting, where DeMeo allegedly swore revenge regardless of the rules. Nino responded that they would never be given permission but reportedly agreed with Roy's intentions, merely advising him to ensure that the murder could not be traced back to them. On May 20, 1976, Roy and Henry Borelli shot Brocchini five times in the back of the head in the office of a used-car dealership he owned. The office was ransacked and the other employees were blindfolded and handcuffed prior to the shooting in order to give the illusion that the murder was the result of an armed robbery gone bad.
In the following month Vincent Governara, a young man with no organized crime ties, was shot down by Roy and Anthony Gaggi. Gaggi had held a long-standing feud with Governara and had told his nephew Dominick Montiglio to keep a lookout for him. One night Dominick spotted Governara's car outside of a building hosting a craps game in the New York neighborhood of Bensonhurst. Once informed of his nephew's discovery, Nino, along with Roy and Dominick, excused themselves from a birthday party being held at the time for Dominick's wife and drove back to the location where Governara's car had been seen. There, the trio waited until Governara left the game and approached his car, at which point Nino and Roy shot him several times. Governara died in the hospital a week later.
One month later in July, Roy flew to Florida and murdered George Byrum, another man targeted for revenge by Nino Gaggi. Byrum had provided information to robbers that led to Nino's Florida home being robbed. Roy lured Byrum to a a hotel under the pretenses of a business deal. As soon as Byrum walked into the room he was shot to death by DeMeo. Roy, Nino and a Gambino soldier operating out of Florida originally planned to dismember the corpse in the hotel room and transport it out in suitcases. This plan was quickly abandoned due to the presence of construction workers near the hotel room and the body was found shortly thereafter laying in the hotel's bathtub with its head halfway sawed off.
Roy's sources of income, as well as his crew, continued to grow. By July of 1976 he added an automobile firm by the name of Team Auto Wholesalers to his loanshark customers. The owner of Team Auto, Matthew Rega, also purchased stolen vehicles from the crew and sold them off at a New Jersey car lot that he owned. He also involved himself with hijacking, targeting trucks that were delivering or receiving shipments from the John F. Kennedy International Airport. His crew now included Edward 'Danny' Grillo, a hijacker who had just been released from prison. Roy also allegedly added to his body count according to various sources, including an FBI informant who reported that Roy DeMeo was a "ruthless killer" who had killed at least one dozen people and dismembered their bodies to make them disappear. Nino Gaggi's nephew Dominick Montiglio, who sometimes drove Roy on errands, also claims that during one trip around this time Roy had pointed to a recently built gas station and stated that he and his crew had buried the bodies of two victims under its foundation.
In the fall of 1976, the Gambino Family went through a massive change when its boss Carlo Gambino died of natural causes. Paul Castellano was named the boss of the Gambino Family, with Aniello Dellacroce retaining the position of Underboss. The implications of this were two-fold for Roy. His superior, Nino was elevated to the position of Capo, taking over the crew of men Paul headed before becoming boss. This promotion was beneficial for Roy, whose mentor was now even closer to the ruling Gambino hierarchy. Another advantage was that now that Carlo Gambino had died, new associates would be eligible for membership into the Family. Paul did not immediately "open the books" for new members however, opting instead to promote existing members and change around leadership of the crews he now presided over. He also reportedly told Gaggi he was against the idea of Roy ever being made for a number of reasons. Castellano's illegal activities focused more on white-collar crime, and it was said by both law enforcement as well as other mafioso that he looked at himself as more of a businessman than a gangster. He looked down on the more street crimes men such as Roy were involved with such as auto theft and hijacking. Additionally, Paul felt Roy in particular was unpredictable and did not feel he could be controlled. Nino's attempts at persuading Paul to consider inducting Roy were continually rejected because of this.
Despite the considerable contributions Roy had already made to the Gambino Family, not least of which were his tens of thousands of dollars worth of weekly payments to Nino Gaggi, by Spring of 1977 DeMeo was still not a made, or official, member. Reportedly distraught at his situation, Roy continued to look for more opportunities to bring in larger amounts of profit to his superiors.
The Westies alliance
DeMeo found what he needed to ensure that he would be officially inducted into the Gambino Family when he formed an alliance with a gang of Irish-American criminals soon to be headed by James Coonan. Coonan's only obstacle to assuming control of the gang was Mickey Spillane, the reigning boss for many years. In May of 1977, Roy and crew member Danny Grillo murdered Spillane at the behest of Coonan, who then took over as Westies boss. Roy, sensing an opportunity to create a vast source of income for his superiors, informed Nino Gaggi of the possibilities of a partnership between the Westies and the Gambino Family. Shortly afterwards, Coonan and his second in command Mickey Featherstone were called to a meeting with Paul Castellano, becoming a de-facto arm of the Gambino crime family and agreeing to share 10-percent of all profits. In exchange, the Westies would be privy to several lucrative union deals and take on murder contracts for the Italians.
It was his pivotal role in the Westie/Gambino alliance that reportedly convinced Paul Castellano to give Roy his "button", or formally induct him into the crime family. DeMeo was made in mid-1977, being put in charge of handling all Family business with the Westies. He was also ordered to get permission before committing any murders, and to avoid drug-dealing. Despite this warning, DeMeo's crew continued to sell large amounts of cocaine, marijuana, and a variety of narcotic pills, a violation many members of all Five Families continued to commit through the late 1970s and early 1980s due to the tremendous profits gained.
Although he had been ordered by his superiors that he had to get permission before any murders, DeMeo continued to commit unsanctioned killings. In July of 1977 Roy and his men committed a double homicide, shooting to death Johnathan Quinn, a successful car thief suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, and Cherie Golden, Quinn's 19-year old girlfriend. DeMeo and his men dumped the bodies in locations where they would be discovered to serve as a warning against cooperation with authorities. When questioned by his superiors as to the motive of killing a young woman, Roy claimed she was a risk and may have cooperated had the police pressured her.
By 1978, Roy was heard bragging to associates that he had murdered one hundred people. It was also during this year that he put out word among not just the Gambino Family but the other New York Cosa Nostra families as well that he and his crew were available for murder contracts. In at least one case, the crew charged a relatively paltry fee of $5,000. Other murders were committed for free, Roy describing them to crew members as "professional favors". He added to his crew Frederick DiNome, who served as his chaffeur but also became involved in the Crew's various illegal activities. DiNome was reportedly fiercely loyal to Roy, who had befriended him when the two were teenagers.
In November 1978 DeMeo and his crew murdered one of their own members, Edward 'Danny' Grillo. Grillo, who had fallen into heavy debt with DeMeo, was killed after Roy and Nino Gaggi felt that he was becoming susceptible to police coercion to cooperate against the crew. Grillo, who was dismembered and disposed of like many of the crew's murder victims, was the first occurrence of intra-crew discipline.
The next crew member who was murdered by Roy and the others was Chris Rosenberg, Roy's second-in-command within the group and reportedly his most loyal ally. Rosenberg had set up a drug deal with a Cuban man living in Florida and then murdered him and his associates when they traveled to New York to complete the sale. The Cuban had connections with a Colombian drug cartel and violence was threatened between the Colombians and the Gambino Family unless Rosenberg was murdered. Roy was ordered to kill Chris but stalled for weeks. During this period of time Roy committed his most public murder, the victim being a college student with no criminal ties named Dominick Ragucci who was paying for his tuition by being a door-to-door salesman. DeMeo saw Ragucci parked outside his house and assumed it was an assassin. After a car chase, Ragucci was shot to death by Roy when his car became too damaged to continue driving. Roy, convinced it was an assassin from the drug cartel, returned home and gathered his family. He drove them out of New York and left them at a hotel for a short time.
In the meantime his murder of the college student had infuriated his superior Nino Gaggi, who ordered him again to kill Chris Rosenberg before there were any other innocent victims. In May of 1979 Rosenberg, who reportedly had no knowledge of the Colombian situation, arrived a meeting of the DeMeo Crew and was shot in the head by Roy. Crew member Anthony Senter then finished Chris off when he managed to get up after Roy shot him. Unlike Grillo, Rosenberg's body was not dismembered or made to disappear. The Colombians had demanded that his murder make the papers otherwise they would not believe it had actually occurred. Roy's men placed Rosenberg's body in his car and left it on the side of a Brooklyn road to be found. Roy's son Albert DeMeo would later write a book in which he stated that Chris's murder affected his father deeply. Likewise, testimony from Frederick DiNome and Vito Arena claims that Roy expressed his regret at having to kill Chris and at times even appeared depressed over it.
Empire Boulevard Operation
As 1979 continued Roy DeMeo began to expand his business activities, in particular his auto theft operation, which would soon become the largest in New York City's history. Dubbed the Empire Boulevard Operation by FBI agents, the operation consisted of hundreds of stolen cars being shipped from ports in New Jersey to Kuwait and Puerto Rico. Roy put together a group of five active partners in the operation, all of whom earned approximately $30,000 a week each in profit. Aside from the active partners, other associates and crew members performed the actual stealing of the automobiles off the streets of New York. Among these assocites was Vito Arena, a long-time car thief and armed robber who began working for Roy in 1978 after murdering his old partner. Like DiNome, Arena would become closely involved with the DeMeo Crew by the end of the 1970s. In 1979, the scheme was nearly stopped by a legitimate car dealer who threatened to inform the police. He was murdered along with an uninvolved acquaintance before he could provide the proper authorities with information.
In late 1979, Roy and Nino Gaggi became involved in a conflict with James Eppolito and James Eppolito Jr., two made Gambino members in Gaggi's crew. Eppolito met with Paul Castellano and accused DeMeo and Gaggi of drug-dealing, which carried the penalty of death. Castellano, to whom Gaggi was a close ally, sided against Eppolito in the situation and gave Gaggi permission to do what he pleased. He and Roy DeMeo shot the two to death in Eppolito Jr.'s car en route to the Gemini Lounge on October 1, 1979. A witness driving by right as the shots were fired within the parked car managed to alert a nearby police officer, who arrested Gaggi after a shootout between the two that left Gaggi with a bullet wound in his neck. Because Roy had split up with Gaggi as they left the scene he was not arrested or identified by the witness. Gaggi would be charged with murder and the attempted murder of a police officer but through jury tampering was convicted only of assault and given a 5 to 15 year sentence in Federal Prison. DeMeo would murder the witness shortly after Gaggi's sentencing in March of 1980.
The Empire Boulevard Operation had continued to expand through 1979 and 1980 until the warehouse serving as its headquarters was raided by agents from the Newark branch of the FBI in the summer of 1980. The FBI had been surveiling the warehouse and some of the men unloading vehicles there and had shortly thereafter obtained a search warrant. Henry Borelli and Frederick DiNome were arrested in May of 1981 for their roles in the operation, but there was not enough evidence to arrest any of the other active partners. Roy ordered Borelli and DiNome to plead guilty to the charges in hopes that it would stop any further investigations into his activities by the FBI or other law enforcement agencies.
Downfall and Murder
By 1982, the FBI was investigating the enormous number of missing and murdered persons who were linked to DeMeo or who had last been seen entering the Gemini Lounge. It is around this time that an FBI bug in the home of Gambino Family soldier Angelo Ruggiero picked up a conversation between Angelo and Gene Gotti, a brother of John Gotti. In the conversation, it is discussed that Paul Castellano had put out a hit on DeMeo, but was having difficulty finding someone willing to do the job. Gene Gotti mentions that his brother John was wary of taking the contract, as DeMeo had an "army of killers" around him. It is also mentioned in this same secretly recorded conversation that, at that time, John had killed fewer than 10 people, while DeMeo had killed at least 38. According to mob turncoat Salvatore Gravano, eventually the contract was given to Frank Decicco, but Frank and his crew couldn't get to DeMeo either. Decicco allegedly handed the job to Roy's own men.
According to the book Murder Machine, in his final days Roy DeMeo was seen wearing a leather jacket, a shotgun concealed underneath. On January 10 of 1983, DeMeo went to crew member Patrick Testa's bodyshop for a meeting with his men. A few days later, on January 18, he was found murdered in his abandoned car's trunk. He had been shot multiple times in the head and also had a bullet wound in his hand, assumed by law enforcement as being from throwing his hand up to his face in a self-defense reflex when the shots were fired at him. Anthony Gaggi was suspected by law enforcement officials of being the one who personally killed DeMeo, although it is highly likely crew members Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter were present as well. Gaggi was not charged with this crime, although he was charged with a number of other murders. He died of a heart attack during his trial in 1988, aged 62. In the 2002 HBO doccumenary "Confessions of a Mafia Hitman," the "Iceman" Richard Kuklinski confesses to the murder of DeMeo
DeMeo's crew was soon rounded up and the core members Henry Borelli, Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter were imprisoned for life after two trials that saw them convicted of a collective total of 25 murders, in addition to extortion, car-theft and drug trafficking. The convictions were secured in large part by testimony of former members and associates of the crew including Vito Arena, Frederick DiNome and Dominick Montiglio.
Paul Castellano was indicted for ordering the murder of DeMeo, as well as a host of other crimes, but he was killed in December 1985 whilst out on bail in the middle of the first trial. The murder was ordered by John Gotti, who thus became the new Boss of the Gambino family.
The FBI and NYPD say that DeMeo and his Gemini Crew murdered at least 70 people between 1973 and 1983, but the true total could be as high as 200. The vast majority were disposed of so thoroughly that they were never found.
It was once widely believed that Richard Kuklinski, a convicted contract killer and the focus of three HBO Undercover programs, was a member of Roy DeMeo's crew as well. In fact, Kuklinski himself made this claim in the second of the three HBO documentaries. He also claimed that he was the one who murdered DeMeo. Both of these claims, as well as others included in the documentary interviews, have been confirmed by law enforcement authorities as being completely false.
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