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FBI mugshot, July 14, 1981
|Born||Roy Albert DeMeo
September 7, 1942
Brooklyn, New York, USA
|Died||January 10, 1983
Brooklyn, New York, USA
|Other names||Roy DiMare, John Holland|
Roy Albert DeMeo (September 7, 1942 – January 10, 1983) was a member of the Gambino crime family. He is infamous for heading the DeMeo crew, a gang suspected by the FBI of murdering as many as 100 people (although some estimates have put the number as high as 200) between 1973 and 1983. The vast majority of their victim's bodies were disposed of so thoroughly that they were never found. The crew also gained notoriety due to their use of dismemberment as a method of disposing of their victims.
Roy Albert DeMeo was born in 1942 in Bath Beach, Brooklyn 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 from James Madison High School in 1959. He began working in a criminal enterprise while maintaining legitimate business practices. He married shortly after high school and fathered three children. He worked his way up the criminal career ladder through a continued loansharking operation.
Gambino associate Anthony Gaggi took notice of DeMeo and told him that he could make even more money with his successful business, if he came to work directly for the Gambino family. Through the late 1960s, DeMeo's organized crime prospects increased on two fronts. He continued in the loansharking business with Gaggi, and began developing a crew of young men involved in car theft. 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 Chris Rosenberg, who met DeMeo in 1966 at the age of 16.
Rosenberg was dealing marijuana at a Canarsie gas station, and DeMeo helped him increase his business and profits by loaning Chris money so that he could deal in larger amounts. By 1972, Chris had introduced his friends to DeMeo and they began working for him as well. The members of the crew included Joseph "Dracula" Guglielmo (DeMeo's cousin), Joseph Testa, Anthony Senter and Joseph's younger brother Patrick Testa.
DeMeo joined the Boro of Brooklyn Credit Union that same year, gaining a position on the board of directors shortly afterward. He utilized his position to launder money earned through his 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. DeMeo also 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.
In late 1974, a conflict that had erupted between the DeMeo crew and a young automotive bodyshop owner who was partners with DeMeo in a stolen car ring, named Andrei Katz, had continued to escalate. In May 1975, DeMeo was informed by a police officer that, as a result of this conflict, Katz 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 1976.
This was the first known murder committed by the DeMeo crew, and for years was thought to have been the first occasion where DeMeo 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.
In 2011, former Gambino associate Greg Bucceroni alleged that back in the late 1970s and early 1980's, Roy DeMeo utilized his associate Richard Kuklinski on behalf of Robert "DB" DiBernardo and the Gambino crime family's pornography establishments in NYC, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Kuklinski would traffic illegal pornography and debt collection and murder for hire services.
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As the 1970s continued, DeMeo 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 DeMeo and crew to ensure that victims would be dispatched quickly and then made to disappear. The style 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 in the back portion of the building. At this point, a crew member (almost always 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 to stanch 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 to prevent more blood from pumping out of the gunshot wound. By then the victim would be dead, at which point the body would be stripped of clothing and dragged into the bathroom, where the remaining blood drained out 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 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.
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. There were also 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.
Further criminal career
In the latter half of 1975, DeMeo 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. DeMeo 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 DeMeo's involvement in such taboo films, he ordered DeMeo to stop under the threat of death. DeMeo 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 DeMeo continued to provide copiously for his boss the violation of his order was never addressed.
Another forbidden subject between DeMeo 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 Families banned drug dealing in 1950s.
As 1975 drew to a close, DeMeo 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 colleagues' plundering of its finances. As a result DeMeo quit the Credit Union, avoiding law enforcement attention that increased as the Union was merged into another one. Despite this, DeMeo 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.
DeMeo's sources of income, as well as his crew, continued to grow. By July 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 Danny Grillo, a hijacker who had just been released from prison.
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, with Aniello Dellacroce retaining the position of Underboss. The implications of this were twofold for DeMeo. His superior, Nino was elevated to the position of Capo; taking over the crew of men Castellano headed. This promotion was beneficial for DeMeo, 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.
Castellano 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 reportedly told Gaggi he was against the idea of DeMeo 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 and other mafiosi that he looked at himself as more of a businessman than a gangster. He looked down on the street guys, such as DeMeo, who were involved in things like auto theft and hijacking. Additionally, Castellano felt DeMeo was unpredictable and did not feel he could be controlled. Nino's attempts at persuading Castellano to consider inducting DeMeo were continually rejected.
Despite the considerable contributions DeMeo had already made to the Gambinos, not least of which were thousands of dollars worth of payments to Nino Gaggi, by Spring of 1977 DeMeo was still not a made member. Reportedly distraught at the situation, DeMeo continued to look for more opportunities to bring in larger amounts of profit to his superiors.
The Westies alliance and Rosenberg
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 known as the Westies soon to be headed by James Coonan. Coonan's only obstacle to assuming control of the westside and its lucrative money making enterprise was Mickey Spillane. Mickey Spillane was the top gangster on the westside and the leader of the Westies and a mainstay of criminal activities in the area for 20 years.
In May 1977, someone murdered Spillane. No one was ever caught or indicted. Jimmy Coonan was next in line for the top spot among the group. DeMeo, 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 per cent 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 Castellano to give DeMeo 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 1977 DeMeo 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 the cooperation with authorities. When questioned by his superiors as to the motive of killing a young woman, DeMeo claimed she was a risk and may have cooperated with the police if pressure was put on her.
By 1978, DeMeo was heard bragging to associates that he had murdered 100 people. It was also during this year supposedly 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, DeMeo describing them to crew members as "professional favors".
He added to his crew Frederick DiNome, who served as his chauffeur but also became involved in the crew's various illegal activities. DiNome was reportedly fiercely loyal to DeMeo, who had befriended him when the two were teenagers. DiNome credited DeMeo for saving his life after a car crash at a drag race, in which the burning car exploded just as he was saved by DeMeo from the wreckage. DeMeo used a knife to cut the seat belt.
In November 1978 DeMeo and his crew murdered one of their own members, Danny Grillo. Grillo, who had fallen into heavy debt with DeMeo, was killed after DeMeo 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 known occurrence of internal crew discipline.
The next member who was murdered by DeMeo and the crew was Chris Rosenberg, DeMeo'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. DeMeo was ordered to kill Rosenberg but stalled for weeks.
During this period of time DeMeo 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 he was a Cuban assassin. After a car chase, which consisted of Roy being at the wheel with Joseph Guglielmo on the passenger seat reloading a pistol which during the whole excitement shot holes in the car's floorboards. Ragucci was shot to death by DeMeo when his car became too damaged to continue driving. DeMeo, 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.
DeMeo's son Albert wrote in his book, For The Sins of My Father, that DeMeo started crying when he discovered he had killed an innocent boy. In the meantime, the 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. On May 11, 1979, Rosenberg, who had reportedly no knowledge of the Colombian situation, arrived at a meeting of the DeMeo Crew and was shot in the head by Roy. When Chris rose from the first shot to one knee Roy, full of emotions, could not finish the job and had Anthony Senter do so by putting four shots in the back of Chris's head.
Albert DeMeo's book also points out discrepancies and falsehoods in the book Murder Machine. He does admit his father was a killer, but challenges some of the book's claims regarding the number of people killed and the involvement of some accomplices.
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. DeMeo's men placed Rosenberg's body in his car and left it on the side of Cross Bay Boulevard (near Gateway National Wildlife Refuge) to be found. Albert DeMeo wrote in his book that Rosenberg's murder affected his father deeply, and that when DeMeo came home after the murder, he went into his study room and didn't come out for two days. Likewise, testimony from Freddy DiNome and Vito Arena claims that DeMeo expressed regret at having to kill Chris and at times appeared depressed over it.
Empire Boulevard operation
As 1979 continued 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. DeMeo 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 associates was Vito Arena, a long-time car thief and armed robber who began working for DeMeo 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, DeMeo and Nino Gaggi became involved in a conflict with James Eppolito and James Eppolito Jr., two made Gambino members in Gaggi's crew. They were both respectively the paternal uncle and cousin of the corrupt former New York City Police Department detective, Louis Eppolito. Louis Eppolito's father, Ralph Eppolito, was James Eppolito's brother and also a made member of the Gambino family.
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 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 DeMeo 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 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 surveilling 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 1981 for their roles in the operation, but there was not enough evidence to arrest any of the other active partners. DeMeo 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 associate 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 Sammy Gravano, eventually the contract was given to Frank DeCicco, but Frank and his crew could not get to DeMeo either. DeCicco allegedly handed the job to DeMeo's own men.
DeMeo's son Albert wrote that in his final days, DeMeo was paranoid and knew that he would be killed soon. DeMeo considered faking his own death and leaving the country. However, instead he left the house one day and never returned. Albert DeMeo later found DeMeo's personal belongings such as his watch, wallet, and ring in his study room, and also a Catholic pamphlet indicating that DeMeo had gone to confession before his death.
According to the book Murder Machine, in his final days DeMeo was seen wearing a leather jacket, with a shotgun concealed underneath. On January 10, 1983, DeMeo went to crew member Patty Testa's house for a meeting with his men. A few days later, on January 20, he was found murdered in his abandoned car trunk. He had been shot multiple times in the head and 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 likely that crew members Joseph Testa and Anthony Senter were the actual shooters.
However according to turncoats in his own crew DeMeo was killed by Richard Kuklinski who was not charged with the crime, although he was charged with a number of other murders. According to Philip Carlo's 2008 biography of Richard Kuklinski, DeMeo was killed at Patrick Testa's East Flatbush home by Joseph Testa, Anthony Senter, and Rickard Nilsson following an agreement with Casso, who was given the contract by Gotti and DeCicco after they were unable to kill DeMeo during the fall of 1982. The Casso biography notes that DeMeo was seated, about to receive coffee, when Testa and Senter opened fire. Anthony Gaggi was not present.
In April 1984, Colombo crime family soldier Ralph Scopo was overheard explaining to an associate that DeMeo had been killed by his own family because they merely suspected that he would not be able to stand up to legal charges that resulted from his stolen car ring. The motive as suggested by Scopo is widely accepted by law enforcement and other sources. Another reason was that DeMeo was attracting too much attention from the FBI.
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 Frederick DiNome, Rickard Nilsson, and Dominick Montiglio. Paul Castellano was indicted for ordering the murder of DeMeo, as well as a host of other crimes, but was killed in December 1985, while 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 story of DeMeo and his crew have been featured in the books Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci and For the Sins of My Father written by his son Albert DeMeo. One who did not follow in his father's footsteps.
- Abadinsky, Howard. Organized Crime. 5th Edition, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1997.
- Gambino, Richard. Blood of my Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian American. NY: Doubleday, 1974.
- Harvey, Jeff. "'Real Life Soprano' DeMeo gives Glimpse into Mob," Old Gold and Black Reporter, Wake Forest University, 21 November 2002.
- O'Brien, Joseph. Boss of Bosses: The Fall of the Godfather: The FBI and Paul Castellano. NY: Dell, 1992.
- Pileggi, Nicholas, Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. New York: Pocket, 1985.
- DeStefano, Anthony. The Last Godfather: Joey Massino & the Fall of the Bonanno Crime Family. California: Citadel, 2006.
- Raab, Selwyn. The Five Families: The Rise, Decline & Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empire. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005.
- Roy DeMeo at Crime Library
- For the sins of my father Tiziano Thomas Dossena, L'Idea Magazine #23 Vol.II, NY 2005
- Roy DeMeo at Find A grave