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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Kuklinski’

          On most nights when the traffic subsides on Flatlands Avenue and the buses float down the street mostly empty, you might look up in the sky over the little storefront church with the white walls and maroon awning with the cross on it, and if you let your imagination run riot, you might see the ghosts of all those wise guys who were murdered there and chopped up in what used to be a bar called the Gemini Lounge that also doubled as a killing factory for a local mobster named Roy DeMeo and his crew.

          Roy was a homegrown boy who was born in Flatlands but sowed his wild oats not far from the bar just fifteen minutes down the road in Canarsie, a reputed stronghold of the Lucchese crime family and home of the Bamboo Lounge that was featured in the movie Goodfellas. Canarsie doesn’t look much different now than it did when Roy hung out there: Holy Family is still the anchor of the Catholics in the community and it still rings its bell on Sundays, though the parishioners who now flock there are mostly West Indian.

           But there’ s still a pocket of Canarsie’s old Italian stock living around the main drag on Rockaway Parkway near the fire station, and according to at least one account, they still have clout. The woman with the flaming red hair who was once a bartender at the Bamboo Lounge lived in Canarsie up until a few years ago and she had stories to tell. (One was that she was offered a mink coat by one of the henchmen in the Lufthansa airport heist portrayed in the movie, which she refused: good thing, because he was later bumped off for being too ostentatious with his end of the loot and so were the wives and girlfriends.) She told a more recent story that her West Indian neighbors were partying a little too hard once and tossing their beer bottles and cans over the fence into her yard and terrorizing her elderly mother. So she told them nice, she said, but they wouldn’t stop; so she told them nice again, and now they cursed her out. So she did what she had to do. And one day an armada of mobster battle wagons, Denalis and Escalades with butterscotch leather seats blaring their battle cry of Sinatra and Bon Jovi, climbed the sidewalk and crashed right through the neighbor’s fence and pinned the revelers who couldn’t run fast enough against the walls of the house. And that’s how the partying stopped, and her neighbors moved out in a hurry, and the neighborhood got as quiet as before and became, she says, a “family” kind of place again.    

          According to the Philip Carlo book about prolific gangland hitman Richard Kuklinski, The Ice Man, Roy aspired to run with the fast crowd in Canarsie, but he was a portly kid who always got picked on, particularly after his older brother and protector went off to Vietnam and got killed. So Roy had to man-up for himself, and he started working as a butcher at the local supermarket to build beef, while he lifted weights with a vengeance to build muscle, which he started throwing around plenty. He also started lending out the money he made at the supermarket, no doubt at usurious rates, and when his customers didn’t pay him back fast enough, he was only too glad to beat them up. Roy was out of Central Casting for a mobster: loud and swaggering and lethal.

          Maybe too loud. The conservative men who ran the family (through “legitimate” businesses in Canarsie like the local junkyards and chop shops) thought he was too loud and took the longest time to finally induct him. But he made them money all along, and he made himself very useful when he used his skills as a supermarket butcher to dispose of the bodies.

          He had a system he called “disassembling.” You cut the body into six pieces—the head, the arms, the legs, the torso—and then you dumped it in various places: the head in a garbage bin (to shock some poor garbage man for life–or maybe not if they worked in Brooklyn), the arms in the Atlantic Ocean just off the Belt Parkway in one direction, and the legs just off the Belt Parkway in the other direction, most often at the mountainous garbage dump just across the highway from the housing complex in Starrett City.

          And Roy did his job so well that he formed his own “disassembly” line of butchers, one of whom was a cousin and was known as Dracula. They would lure the unsuspecting victim (or suspecting, who wouldn’t dare say no to the summons) to the Gemini Lounge and maybe wine and dine him before they delivered the fatal blow. And then they would put the poor schmo through the assembly line, and he would come out the other end neatly bundled in brown butcher paper and stocked in garbage bags that would leave the bar like clockwork. A neighborhood kid who once lived nearby remembers seeing garbage bags leaving the bar all the time. Reportedly, hundreds of wise guys never left the bar at all, unless you count the garbage pickup.

          One visitor to the Gemini in its heyday was Richard Kuklinski, the contract killer, who became a close working associate of Roy—that’s after DeMeo almost killed him.

          Kuklinski was behind on some payments of his own and DeMeo came to collect. Kuklinski told him he’d get his money soon.

          “Yeah, and when’s that?” Roy demanded.

          “Hard to say,” said Kuklinski. “You know how it is.”

          “You think you’re cute?” said Roy.

          “I think I don’t like you coming around and trying to put the squeeze on me.”

          “We’ll see,” said Roy.

          “Yeah, we’ll see,” said Kuklinkski.

          Kuklinski had already killed plenty, and he didn’t think much of Roy DeMeo: because he didn’t know him yet. He was rudely informed around the time that DeMeo came storming back with his murderous crew in tow and they put an arsenal of guns to Kuklinski’s head.

          “So, tough guy, you wanna die?” said Roy.

          Kuklinski knew better and played possum and they beat him up so bad he could barely recognize himself in the mirror afterwards. He had to go to sleep that night at his mother-in-law’s so he didn’t go home and shock his wife and kids (yes, he was a wonderful family man). And then he took stock of the situation and decided as a practical businessman in murder he better make peace with Roy DeMeo before Roy DeMeo murdered him (and he could plot his own murder of DeMeo later).

          So he drove to Brooklyn to the Gemini to make peace with the fat man.

          “I tell you, big guy, you got balls,” DeMeo told him admiringly and  initiating Kuklinski by driving him to the city and asking him to pop the nearest bystander in cold blood—which Kuklinski did, some poor guy walking his dog. “You play straight with me and we’ll make money—a lotta money.”

          Roy then drove Kuklinski to the local Italian salumeria and loaded him up on Italian cheese and salami.

          “They make the mozzarella fresh,” he told Kuklinski. “You bring this stuff home to your wife.”

          “Thanks, Roy,” said Kuklinski, goombas in life, and now in the business of death.

          The two became so tight (after many subsequent contract killings), that Kuklinski was even trusted to come over to the bar for supper. And once he had to use the john, so he walked into the bathroom, where he wondered about the smell. So he looked behind the shower curtain “…and there, hanging over the tub, was a dead man. His throat had been cut and there was a black-handled butcher knife sticking out of his chest. His blood, rubbery and thick, was slowly draining into the tub. They were bleeding him.

          “You see the guy taking a shower,” Roy laughed with the boys when Kuklinski emerged from the bathroom.

          And then they sat down and had a wonderful meal.

          It was a marriage made in heaven, or hell, and the wise guys who went to hell through the Gemini became a steady stream over the years.

          Until that cold morning in January.

          A maroon Cadillac was found in the parking lot of the Varnas Boat Club in Sheepshead Bay just ten minutes from the Gemini. According to Katherine Ramsland in the truTV Crime Library, the car had been sitting there for over a week and the cops had checked it out already once, but decided it wasn’t stolen. Now they came back again to investigate a missing person report filed by a wife on her husband. This time they peeked into the car and found dark stains on the seat. And one of the cops jumped on the bumper and decided there was something in the trunk. So they towed the car to the police garage and they popped the trunk.

          They found a chandelier inside. And under the chandelier they found a body. It belonged to a heavyset man frozen in rigor mortis around the spare tire in a pool of his own frozen blood and he wore a leather jacket wrapped around his head like a turban. He had a bullet hole through one hand and a bullet hole behind each ear: execution gangland-style. He was identified as Roy DeMeo and his wife had reported him missing after he failed to show up for his daughter’s birthday party. He never missed such things, because he was a dutiful father, and his son was upset at the pathetic indignity of his father’s demise.

          The man who later claimed to have executed Roy DeMeo was Richard Kuklinski, hired by the Mob to get rid of a liability (Roy had been murdering wise guys too indiscriminately) and Kuklinksi was glad to do the job, despite Roy loading him up once with all that salami and cheese he took home to his wife and with all those good meals he had savored at the Gemini, despite the smell in the bathroom.

          Roy’s old bar and “disassembly” plant eventually became a church, with whitewashed walls, and now every Sunday it hosts the spectacular parade of church ladies in their Sunday hats and gentlemen clutching their hymn books. It even hosts occasional revival meetings and sets up speakers in the street to broadcast to the faithful and offer a free concert of spirituals by the choir.

          It’s a far cry from the bad old days at the old bar. But when the street gets quiet again at night and the buses loaf on their run, and when the sky gets hazy from all those streetlights, you might look up and see the ghosts of all those wise guys floating over the site of their old bar, because they have nothing better to do now, and because Roy’s place was always a cozy retreat and he served up plenty of laughs and good food and booze, unless he was murdering you.

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