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31 March 1956|
September 14, 1984 (aged 28)|
|Cause of death||Gunshot|
|Other names||Salvie, The Crowned Prince of the Philadelphia Mob, Brownie|
Salvatore "Salvie" Testa (March 31, 1956 - September 14, 1984), nicknamed The Crowned Prince of the Philadelphia Mob, was a Philadelphia gangster who served as a hitman for the Philadelphia crime family during a period of internal gang conflict. The son of former Philadelphia boss Philip, Testa was a rising star in the mob until he was killed on orders from Nicky Scarfo Sr.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Family mob relations
- 3 Relationship with father Phil
- 4 Alcohol Control Board problems
- 5 Criminal behavior
- 6 Made into the crime family
- 7 Inherited criminal empire
- 8 Friendship with Eugene Milano
- 9 Salvatore's Relationship with Frank Narducci Sr.'s sons
- 10 Murder of Coco Cifelli
- 11 Riccobene-Scarfo war
- 12 Italian Market shooting
- 13 Courtship with Maria Merlino
- 14 Taking up the sport of tennis
- 15 Another failed hit
- 16 Encounter with Enrico Riccobene
- 17 Tension with Scarfo
- 18 Being given the kiss of death
- 19 Death
- 20 Aftermath
- 21 References
- 22 External links
Born on March 31, 1956 in Southwest Philadelphia, Testa was the son of Alfia Arcidiacono (1926–1980) and Philip "Chicken Man" Testa (1924–1981), a member of the Philadelphia family that served under Angelo Bruno. In 1974 he graduated from Saint John Neumann High School (Pennsylvania) and he attended Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a year, and then went into the real estate business. Testa had one sister, Maria, born in 1954 who managed a Center City, Philadelphia nightclub and restaurant. Maria married Scarfo mob associate and 'front man' Robert Sheeran who was listed as the officer of ETTENAJ Corporation which held the liquor license for Phil's restaurant, Virgilio's, along with Frank Narducci Sr.'s sister-in-law Jeanette Hearn. In 1978, Maria became the sole corporate officer. Seven months following the murder of Phil, the liquor license was sold. Their father Philip was promoted to underboss after Ignazio Danaro died of old age. In turn Phil promoted drug trafficker Peter Casella to fill his role as underboss. He had an office in the back of the restaurant out of which he operated his legitimate and illegitimate business enterprises. Testa's mother Alfia died of natural causes in 1980. In March of that same year, longtime family boss Angelo Bruno was murdered and Testa's father became boss by unanimous decision from the National Crime Syndicate and by the support of the crime family itself in 1981. The death of his father's predecessor, Angelo Bruno, triggered a violent civil war in the family between factions loyal to Harry Riccobene and Nicodemo Scarfo, who controlled the family's Atlantic City, New Jersey operations.
He was a ruggedly handsome 210-pound man who stood 6 feet tall with hazel eyes, long lashes, and dimpled cheeks. He has a close physical resemblance to the actor Peter DeLuise. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Susan Caba said that Salvatore had a narrow, solemn face like that of his sister Maria. He wore his wavy hair out over his ears in typical 1970s fashion and was known to wear track suits and double breasted suits. He enjoyed wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat and leather pants.
Family mob relations
Salvatore, his grandfather and namesake, was born around 1891 in Messina and died of natural causes in 1950. His father Bruno crime family underboss Phil Testa and his mother Alfia were Catholic. They chose to have Nicky Scarfo and his second wife 'Domenica' as Salvatore's godparents with the ceremony held at St. Paul's Catholic Church. Salvatore would become a close childhood friend of future Scarfo crime family made man Joseph (Joe Pung) Pungitore Jr., the younger brother of Anthony (Anthony Pung) Pungitore Jr. who would both follow Testa into a life of organized crime and serve under his father, Phil, and later Nicky Scarfo. Growing up in South Philadelphia, Salvatore also became friends with future crime family underboss Salvatore (Chuckie) Merlino, Scarfo's nephew and future underboss Phil Leonetti, brothers Joseph and Salvatore Grande, and Salvatore (Torry) Scafidi, the son of John Scafidi, a capo who served under his father Phil.
Relationship with father Phil
Salvatore had a close relationship with his father and became involved with him in the rackets of drug trafficking, loansharking and extortion. Mob informant Nicholas Caramandi said, "Salvie was all for 'this thing'. Knew it inside out. Knew it better than guys who were sixty years old and who'd been in it for forty years. Because of his father. He'd been a good teacher. Salvie had nerve and he didn't care who [sic] he killed. Sometimes we used to go [on a contract] and we'd come back and tell him, 'Well, the kids were in the car, the family's in the car.' 'I don't care who's in the car', he'd say. 'Everybody goes.' That's the kind of guy he was. One Thanksgiving Day he wanted us to go into Sonny [Mario] Riccobene's house where Robert Riccobene was havin' dinner with his family. 'Shoot everybody in the house'. But he and Charlie [Iannece] and Faffy [Francis Ianarella] made up some story that he didn't show up. Just to appease Salvie. 'Cause we didn't go for killing kids. It was something we drew a line with, but he (Testa) was just so full of venom that he didn't care. He was a guy made for 'this thing.' He loved it. He lived it. And he was very bitter about what happened to his father (Philip), about the way his father got killed, blown up with nails in him."
Despite the close relationship with his father, Salvatore sister's Maria would later tell the Philadelphia Inquirer that it was she, and not Salvatore who made the funeral arrangements for their father after he was murdered, as she had with their mother Alfia and later, her brother in 1984.
Alcohol Control Board problems
In 1977 the New Jersey Alcohol Control Board found that Testa and Frank Narducci Jr. did not have the independent resources to finance a $250,000 purchase of the license, business and property of Le Bistro at 2201 Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City and were acting as fronts for their fathers, Frank Narducci Sr. and Phil Testa, who were both precluded from having any interest in a liquor license because of their criminal history.
After Salvatore murdered Frank (Chickie) Narducci Sr., the mobster who orchestrated his father's death and headed the coup of the Scarfo crime family, Nick Caramandi said, "Salvie used to say to me, 'I wish that motherfucker was alive so I could kill him again.' This is how much he hated this man. He had no mercy on anybody. Business was business, and killing to him was business".
George Anastasia wrote, "Salvatore Testa loved it all, the stalkings, the murders, even the Enrico Riccobene suicide. He was the South Philadelphia equivalent of a Main Line blue blood. He was born to be a wiseguy."
During the Philadelphia Mob War, Caramandi said, "He'd never ask you to do something he wouldn't do himself. He was right out there with you (on murder contracts)."
Made into the crime family
On June 8, 1980 Phil Testa held a Cosa Nostra initiation ceremony at the South Philadelphia home of mob captain John Cappello. At the ceremony, Phil inducted Scarfo's nephew Phil Leonetti, Salvatore (Chuckie) Merlino, Robert (Bobby) Lumio, Anthony (Blonde Babe) Pungitore Sr., the father of future Scarfo soldiers Michael and Anthony, Salvatore (Wayne) Grande, Frank (Little Frankie) Narducci Jr., Anthony (Tony) Casella, the brother of drug trafficker Peter Casella and Phil's only son, Salvatore. In January 1982, at the same induction ceremony of Tommy DelGiorno, Francis Ianarella, Pasquale Spirito, Felix (Little Felix) Bocchino, Joseph (Joey Pung) Pungitore, Eugene (Gino) Milano, Albert (Reds) Pontani, Michael (Micky) Ricciardi, Gerald (Jerry) Fusella, Joseph Sodano and Happy Bellina, his son Salvatore was promoted to captain by Nicky Scarfo.
Inherited criminal empire
In March 1981, when Testa was twenty-five years old, his father Phil was killed by a nail bomb consisting of six sticks of TNT that was remotely detonated as he unlocked the front door of his house. The explosion was so powerful that it blew Testa's father through the front door of his home. After the murder of his father, Testa became a protege of Nicky Scarfo and was thought of as a son to Scarfo and a brother to Phil Leonetti. Testa "inherited" most of his father's business, including a loan-sharking operation in South Philadelphia. He also developed a lucrative financial arrangement with several local drug dealers including the Black Mafia that supplied parts of North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia. Testa maintained a residence at the shore near Atlantic City and kept a boat in Ventnor, New Jersey. His legitimate and illegitimate businesses made him a millionaire. Testa's father had left him an estate worth $800,000 that included a run-down bar in Ducktown, Atlantic City on a site where casino developer Donald Trump decided to build the Trump Plaza (Atlantic City) in 1984 at 2500 Boardwalk. Trump paid Testa $1.1 million -- "twice the market value"—for the right to tear the bar down.
Friendship with Eugene Milano
Eugene (Gino) Milano was introduced to the Scarfo organization by Salvatore. Gino is the older brother of Scarfo crime family associate Nicholas (Nicky the Whip) Milano who followed Gino into a life of organized crime with Testa. Reporter George Anastasia wrote, "Milano's loyalty was to Testa rather than to the organization (the Scarfo crime family). He really didn't know Scarfo, Leonetti or most of the other leaders in the family. He was Testa's friend as well as his "associate". Eugene worked as a bouncer at a Center City, Philadelphia restaurant where Salvatore had some connections. Milano's real job was to stay close to Salvatore, who at the time was avenging his father's murder". Milano, along with Testa, was later involved in the murders of Frank (Chickie) Narducci Sr. and Frank (Frankie Flowers) D'Alfonso.
Salvatore's Relationship with Frank Narducci Sr.'s sons
In January 7, 1982, 50-year-old South Philadelphia resident Francis "Chickie" Narducci Sr., a long-time capo under Angelo Bruno, was murdered by Salvie Testa and Testa's crew. Narducci had an adopted son and namesake Frank Narducci Jr. who was adopted by Narducci Sr. when he was just a year old with his wife Arlin, and younger biological son Philip. Fellow mobsters Joseph Pungitore, and Joseph Grande were assigned as 'blockers', with Charles 'Charlie White' Iannucci, Salvatore Testa and Eugene 'Gino' Milano as the shooters, and Nicholas (The Crow) Caramandi as the getaway driver. Narducci Sr. was shot ten times point blank in the face, neck and chest outside their Broad Street home in South Philadelphia West. Mobster turned informant Nicholas Caramandi later said that Scarfo had no problem recruiting Narducci's sons on behalf of Testa because he did not hold them responsible for what he called "their father's sins", helping set up Philip Testa to be murdered and Nick Caramandi said, "He (Scarfo) felt these kids were just victims of circumstances. They wasn't part of no plots. So Nicky made a speech that he would not hold any sons responsible for their father's actions. They probably knew what had happened but they'll never bring it up. They want to be gangsters too much." Frank (Frankie Jr) Narducci Jr. and Philip later served as enforcers in the crew of Salvatore Testa, the very person who ordered the death of their father.
Murder of Coco Cifelli
In 1979 Testa, Salvatore (Chuckie) Merlino and Robert (Bobby) Lumio murdered 31-year-old drug dealer Michael (Coco) Cifelli. He was murdered for selling drugs to the son of Frank Monte, a capo from Cinnaminson Township, New Jersey. Frank served under Phil Testa and later Nicky Scarfo. He oversaw illegal gambling operations in Atlantic City and New Jersey for the crime family. Michael Cifelli was gunned down by Testa and Salvatore (Chuckie) Merlino as he was talking on the phone in a telephone booth just inside a bar, Priori's, at 10th and Wolf Streets in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia. Monte was later promoted to be consigliere in 1981 by Nicky Scarfo.
An extremely violent individual, Testa committed 15 of the 28 murders attributed to the Riccobene-Scarfo war. Two murders were that of Frank (Chickie) Narducci Sr. on January 7, 1982 and that of low level mob associate and Peter (Fat Pete) Casella's chauffeur and bodyguard Rocco Marinucci on March 15, 1982. Rocco was the man who detonated the nail bomb that murdered Testa's father in 1981 at their family home. Exactly one year after the bombing, Marinucci's body was found in a parking lot on Federal Street in Southwark, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with bullet wounds to the neck, chest, and head. His mouth was stuffed with three large, unexploded cherry bombs. It was the work of Testa.
Italian Market shooting
In June 1982, following an attempt on the life of Harry Riccobene by Salvatore Grande, Testa was attacked. He was sitting outside Lorenzo's Pizza in the Italian Market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Dean Heiser, finishing a dish of steamed clams when a big Ford sedan slowed down opposite him. From the passenger side window a sawn-off shotgun poked out, and there was a thudding explosion. Testa was caught full in the side with a load of buck shot that ripped into his legs and stomach and nearly severed his left arm.
The Ford raced away down Ninth Street, swerving around cars and scattering shoppers the length of the market. A police car that had been behind it gave chase and the two cars careered through the narrow streets at seventy miles an hour, until finally the Ford hit a lamppost, skidded onto the sidewalk and flipped over. Vincent DeLuca and Joseph Pedulla, the two Riccobene soldiers who had killed Frank Monte, were pulled from the wreck and arrested.
They were released later that same day but went into hiding. After a few days of hiding from Testa, who they learned had survived, they turned themselves into the police for protective custody. After they were tried and convicted of the attempted murder of Testa, they offered to become government witnesses.
Courtship with Maria Merlino
Maria Merlino, the daughter of Salvatore Merlino, sister of Joey Merlino and niece of Lawrence Merlino had nursed the nearly dead Testa back to health after the Italian Market shooting, and they had been inseparable afterward. Nicky Scarfo drew on his contractor friends to rebuild the Testa home, vacant since the explosion that had killed Testa's father, Philip, as a wedding gift for the newlyweds. Testa saw the match as a way to gain more power in the family. After being an underboss's son for twenty-five years he was used to being close to the top.
Testa and Merlino were soon engaged, but they had decided to wait for Nicky Scarfo to come out of jail before they married. By that time Testa fell in love with someone else who lived in an apartment at Ninth and Christian at the Italian Market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and he did not want to marry Merlino. He thought when Nicky was released from prison that Nicky would take the brunt of his not marrying Salvatore's daughter because of what a good job Testa had done during the Riccobene war.
The wedding was all planned and scheduled to be held in April 1984. They had bought gowns and had the church. They even bought special tablecloths. There were going to be over seven hundred guests. The wedding ceremony was to be held at The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Center City, Philadelphia. Merlino's father bought her a lot of jewelry, and she was redoing the house with French toilets and jacuzzis. Testa was old-fashioned and wanted to live in his father's footsteps. He did not like these types of fancy possessions. This led to an argument between the two. Testa canceled the wedding two months before its scheduled date.
Salvatore Merlino, Maria's father, allegedly told Nicholas Carramandi over a dinner following their separation, "You know, I'm not mad because he didn't marry my daughter. If he would just take himself down and start all over again, he would be forgiven. You know, this thing comes first. If he didn't want to marry my daughter ... he coulda did it in a different way." Merlino had wanted Testa to relinquish his title as capo and become a mob soldier again but he did not.
Taking up the sport of tennis
Testa had an athletic build from regularly playing racquetball and tennis at the Pier 30 Tennis Club in Penn's Landing where he was a member. He joined about eighteen months before his murder. Ray Mirra, manager of Pier 30 described Testa as personable and well liked by the tennis professionals and other members. He frequently attended staff birthday parties and contributed money for gifts. Although he sometimes joked about his organized crime connections, Testa seemed the opposite of his flashy mobster image; he wore understated tennis whites and bought a $135 racket, not an expensive model. Testa wore no jewelry and drove to the club in a nondescript car. Testa took tennis seriously; he joined the club as a beginner and rapidly progressed to an advanced intermediate level of play. In April of that year, the club's pros awarded Testa a trophy for being the "most improved" player. He said that it was his first trophy he had ever won for anything. It was the best he had done in any sport.
Another failed hit
On December 10, 1982, four days after the murder of Harry Riccobene's brother, Robert, Testa was driving through South Philadelphia with three bodyguards. At 11th and Catherine Streets, another car swerved into his path, blocking him. Four Riccobene soldiers leaped from the car and opened fire. Testa and his men returned fire, and for several minutes the intersection was a combat zone. By the time the police arrived, the Riccobene men had driven off. No one had been hit. Testa and his bodyguards were questioned and released.
Encounter with Enrico Riccobene
Enrico Riccobene, the 28-year-old son of Mario Riccobene, the brother of Harold, owned a jewelry store in Jewelers' Row, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sansom Street. Since the start of the battle between the Riccobene and Scarfo faction he never went to work without being armed and an escort of three or four bodyguards. On December 14, 1983, ten days before Christmas, Enrico opened the store accompanied by his bodyguards. A few minutes later he glanced out and saw Testa, Phil Leonetti and Lawrence (Yogi) Merlino walk slowly by. Testa paused, tapped on the glass and smiled at him. After the months of murders and weeks of fear, the sight of the three men was too much for Enrico. He had lost several of his uncles (Robert Riccobene) and his own father (Mario Riccobene) in the power struggle. He went into the back of the shop and shot himself in the head. Testa, after hearing of the suicide, said, "I don't have to kill people anymore ... I just show up, and they do the job themselves."
Tension with Scarfo
In April 1984, he was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal in an article by journalist James Bovard that described him as the "fastest rising star" in the Scarfo organization. Scarfo was jealous and worried that Testa was becoming too powerful within the family. Additionally, Testa's breaking off of his engagement to Maria insulted Salvatore Merlino. After the end of internal conflict with Riccobene, Scarfo decided that he could afford to eliminate Testa. Thomas DelGiorno, Charles Iannece and Francis Ianarella went to Testa's ex-father-in-law, underboss Salvatore Merlino and Nicky Scarfo started to spread rumours that Testa was going to start his own gang and also that he was starting to take drugs.
During a benefit dinner for a local charity at Palumbo's Restaurant in South Philadelphia in April, around the same time The Wall Street Journal did the article on Testa's rising success. Nicky Scarfo took a table for himself and his top associates but when Testa arrived, he was told to sit elsewhere. Following the charity event, Testa was also not invited to a trip to Puerto Rico.
Nicholas Carramandi said, "Salvie was very cautious. He just felt bad vibes. Every time you shook his hand, he'd bring you in close with his right hand and just pat you down with his left hand from behind to see if you were carrying a gun… He was the type of guy who, if he knew for sure, would have sought retribution from Salvatore Merlino or Nicodermo Scarfo and try to kill them. This kid would have gone down in a blaze of glory. But he wasn't sure. He was aware. He was alert. But he wasn't sure." Nicholas Caramandi said that the only way Salvatore could have saved himself at that point was to take off and disappear. But that, apparently wasn't in the kid's makeup. "Me and Charlie used to talk about it. We don't know why this fuckin' guy don't take off. We woulda loved to have told him, but we couldn't tell him..."
Being given the kiss of death
Salvatore's lifelong friend and fellow made man in the Scarfo crime family Joseph Pungitore's aunt had died. Nicholas Caramandi said,
- "Joe Pungitore was Salvie Testa's best friend out of all the fellas. He's also a made guy and was one of Salvie's top guys. So there's no way Salvie's not going to come to the (Carto Funeral Home at Broad Street (Philadelphia)). But Salvie knows about funeral parlors (being used as a hit location), because it was used in one of the many botched attempts on Mario Riccobene's life. As Nicholas Caramandi explains what happened at the funeral parlor, "Nicky (Nicky Scarfo), Chucky (Salvatore Merlino) and Philip (Phil Leonetti) are ten feet away from me. I'm looking directly at them. Chuckie's standing there and I motion to Chuckie with my head, up and down, like, let's do it right now. But he waves me off. So when he does that, I go to the lounge and sit down. We were all tense and I couldn't understand what happened. I was right behind him (Salvatore Testa), ready to shoot him, he's talking to a guy at the bar. All I hadda do is go bing, right in the back of his head. Then about ten minutes later, Tommy (Andrew Thomas DelGiorno) and Faffy (Francis Ianarella) come over, and they tell me there's too much law outside. Too many cops... When we leave the funeral parlor, we all go downstairs outside and we're saying goodbye to everybody, members and nonmembers. I'm standing with Nicky, Chuckie, Philip, Tommy, Faffy and Charlie. Now when Salvie says goodbye, he shakes hands with all of us. Chuckie Merlino shakes his hand, grabs his head and kisses him on the lips... for like ten seconds. Tommy, Charlie, Faffy and me, we look at one another. We said, 'What the fuck. This guy's nuts. Salvie's gotta know now.' It was the kiss of death. 'We looked at the expression on Salvie. He was sorta stunned. He just couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on. But this is how crazy they (Salvatore Merlino and Nicky Scarfo) were. I mean, they wanted him to know."
On September 14, 1984, Scarfo commanded Testa's best friend, made-man Joey Pungitore, to lure Testa into an ambush in the back room of the 'Too Sweet' candy store in Southwark, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on East Passyunk Avenue. Originally Tommy DelGiorno and Faffy Iannarella were put in charge of the Testa murder; Nick Caramandi and Charlie Iannece were going to be the shooters. But it was difficult; Testa was a professional hit man and knew all the tricks of the trade. He was extremely cautious and checked everyone who hugged him for a gun. The job seemed almost impossible, and Little Nicky was getting restless. So Tommy and Faffy brought Salvatore "Wayne" Grande and Joseph "Joey Pung" Pungitore into the conspiracy. Pungitore was Testa's closest friend and would only go along with the job if he did not have to pull the trigger. Salvatore Grande on the other hand jumped at the opportunity to put a bullet in Testa. Joseph Pungitore arranged a meeting with Testa. At that meeting in the back of the candy store Salvie greeted Wayne who was sitting on a couch in the back room. Salvie then turned to talk with Joe Pung; Wayne took out a gun from under the cushions on the couch and shot Testa in the back of his head, Wayne stood up to shoot Testa once more. Nicky the Crow, Charlie Iannece and Joe Grande helped clean up the scene and get Testa's corpse out of the store. Salvie's hogtied remains were found at the side of a dirt road in Gloucester Township, New Jersey. Scarfo had requested that Testa be strangled to death, but with his size and considerable strength his killers considered this task too difficult. Scarfo and his nephew Leonetti split up his empire. The trigger man, Salvatore (Wayne) Grande, received 25% of Testa's business. Thomas DelGiorno and Francis Iannarella were named acting capos for his crew and were eventually promoted to capos themselves. Joseph Scafidi was given a $500-a-week job working as a numbers runner, and Charles White and Nicholas Caramandi were formally inducted into the Philadelphia mob.
Violent and insecure, Scarfo continued murdering Philadelphia crime family members whom he feared or envied. Since the 1980s, many of the made men who later became government informants, including Nicholas 'The Crow' Caramandi, Scarfo crime family underboss Phil Leonetti, and Polish-Italian capo Tommy DelGiorno, have confided that the murder of Testa marked the downfall of the Scarfo crime family regime over Philadelphia in many ways. Much of the family's trust with the Five Families was defeated, as Salvatore Testa, a respected member of the family and apparent successor, to lead the family, was killed for very little reason. Despite this, Nicholas Caramandi told in his autobiography how many associates, such as Phil Leonetti and Thomas DelGiorno, were enthusiastic about Testa's death, leading up to the time of his murder, because of their own increase of power in the family. In 1987, Scarfo was sent to prison for several murders, and died while still incarcerated at age 87 on January 13, 2017 at the Federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina.
Testa's funeral procession on September 20, 1984, nearly 300 mourners crowded St. Paul's Catholic Church in the city's Italian Market section, only a block from where Testa had survived an earlier assassination attempt that left him seriously wounded in 1982. He was interred with his father, Philip, and mother, Alfia, at the family plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.
- "How Close Was Donald Trump To The Mob?". Retrieved 2015-12-26.
- Anastasia, George,Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob - The Mafia's Most Violent Family (2004) ISBN 0-940159-86-4
- Caba, Susan The Slaying Of Testa, From A Sister's View May 3, 1988 Philadelphia Inquirer