The Chicken Man. Big Paulie. The Pope. PC. The Beak. What do these names have in common? You are right; they are all nicknames used to refer to the once head of the Gambino family, Paul Castellano. He was big, feared, and commanded loads of respect from the entire mafia families in the United States.
When Paul Castellano’s murder news hit the headlines, the authorities feared a war would erupt across the mafia families. That’s how significant and influential the Mob was in the previous century. Here are some fascinating Paul Castellano facts to help you understand the man better.
1. Paul Castellano Dropped Out of School
Born on June 26, 1915, Paul Castellano’s father was a butcher running a con game casino. It’s safe to say that even though he was born in Brooklyn, New York City, his Italian immigrant couldn’t give him the childhood he wanted. Instead, he dropped out of 8th grade to help his father with his ventures.
Paul quickly learned the trade, and it wasn’t long before he was arrested for his first law-breaking act: stealing from a haberdasher in 1934. The stage was set for him.
2. He First Served as a Caporegime
After successfully operating as an underworld criminal, Paul Castellano finally earned an invitation to the notorious Apalachin. His first test came sooner than expected. In a meeting at the estate of Joseph Barbara in 1957, the police caught wind of it and raided it – they made several arrests.
Among those arrested was Paul Castellano. After several hours of questioning, he refused to talk to the authorities. Paul was ready to give up his neck, which the Mob’s higher-ups noted and awarded him points for. He quickly raised to the position of a caporegime before he made it to the top.
3. Then He Became the Boss of Bosses
By 1975, Gambino’s boss, Carlo Gambino, health rapidly deteriorated. It was time to choose his successor, so he picked Paul Castellano, which caused a massive divide in the organization. Most thought Paul’s relationship (he was his brother-in-law) with Carlo influenced the decision.
In 1976, Carlo Gambino died of natural causes, opening a can of worms in the family. Following Paul Castellano’s appointment, the members of the Mob split into two: one was pro-Castellano, while the other was opposed.
Underboss Aniello Dellacrose, who expected to take over from Carlo Gambino, and another mid-level capo, John Gotti, led the opposition.
4. He Liked To Be Considered a “Gentleman” First
Even though he ruled over several other mafia families, Paul Castellano chose a more conservative method of governance. He cared a lot about his face and the authorities’ thoughts. In fact, he had several legal ventures that he used to accumulate his wealth.
At some point, he banned members of the Gambino family from trading in drugs, another thing that John Gotti didn’t like about his leadership. Gotti ran a drug dealing business on the side. The hate was mutual, though, because when Castellano learned of Gotti’s dealings, he tried to stop him.
Even though Castellano’s business acumen taught him better than to engage in a civil war with John Gotti over his drug business, he knew a time would come when one would take out the other.
Police possessing recordings of Gotti and another soldier’s wiretapped conversations, which Castellano knew, didn’t help the situation much. While he maintained the face of a gentleman, Paul Castellano engaged in illegal activities such as loan sharking. He was not afraid of killing anyone that got in his way.
5. Paul Built a House Similar to the White House
People who knew Paul Castellano considered him a recluse. His style of governance involved staying away from anything that would taint his name, and his home was his safe haven. He thought the house at 177 Benedict Road in Staten Island, New York, an equivalent of the White House.
The mansion covered about 10,000 square feet and had countless rooms. If there was a building that genuinely resembled the White House at the time, this was it. Apart from keeping him away from the public, Paul’s house was the official dropping point for his share of his soldiers’ loot.
6. John Gotti Murdered Paul Castellano
It was not a secret that John Gotti did not like Castellano’s leadership. If anything, the only person that kept him from going for Castellano’s head sooner was advice from his friend, Aniello Dellacrose. Even though they were on the same side, Aniello advocated for tolerance and urged Gotti to play along.
However, when Aniello Dellacrose died, Paul Castellano skipped his wake, fearing that his involvement would taint his image. If anyone took a closer look, he would see Castellano’s decision not to show up was valid, given that the feds were hot on his trails then.
An anger-filled Gotti saw otherwise, though. He could not imagine that Castellano had abandoned the family at a time of grieving – he immediately set in motion the plans to eliminate the godfather.
Two weeks after the funeral, Castellano and his newly-appointed underboss, Thomas Billoti, were shot dead outside the Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. After the assassins sprayed their targets with bullets, John Gotti passed by in his car to confirm they were dead.
John Gotti took over the organization several weeks later.