In 1959, Bruno succeeded Joseph Ida as boss of the Philadelphia family. Over the next 20 years, Bruno successfully avoided the intense media and law enforcement scrutiny and outbursts of violence that plagued other crime families. Bruno himself avoided lengthy prison terms despite several arrests; his longest term was two years for refusing to testify to a grand jury. Bruno did not allow family involvement in narcotics trafficking, preferring more traditional Cosa Nostra operations such as bookmaking and loansharking. However, Bruno did allow other gangs to distribute heroin in Philadelphia for a share of the proceeds. This arrangement angered some family members who wanted a share of the drug dealing profits.
Bruno preferred to operate through bribery rather than murder. For instance, he banished a violent soldier, Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, to the then-backwater of Atlantic City for being too violent.
Later in his tenure, Bruno had to deal with the New York crime families desire to operate in the increasingly lucrative Atlantic City gambling industry. The Five Families thought Atlantic City was far too lucrative for the Philadelphia family to get all of the action, even though Atlantic City had long been regarded as Philadelphia’s turf. While under Mafia rules, they couldn’t set up shop in Atlantic City without Bruno’s consent, Bruno knew better than to try to challenge the New York families. Each family was a lot stronger than his and any attempt to challenge them, could have led to Bruno’s death. Instead, he allowed them to operate in Atlantic City in exchange for a cut of their profits. This decision didn’t go over well with his underlings.
Several factions within the Philadelphia family began conspiring to betray the aging Bruno. On March 21, 1980, the 69 year-old Bruno was killed by a shotgun blast in the back of the head as he sat in his car in front of his home at the intersection of 10th Street and Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia. It is believed that the killing was ordered by Antonio Caponigro (aka Tony Bananas), Bruno’s consigliere. A few weeks later, Caponigro’s body was found stuffed in a body bag in the trunk of a car in New York City. About $300 in bills were jammed in his mouth and anus (to be interpreted as signs of greed). The Commission had reportedly ordered Caponigro’s murder because he assassinated Bruno without their sanction. Other Philadelphia family members involved in Bruno’s murder were tortured and killed.
After Caponigro’s murder, Philip ‘Chicken Man’ Testa led the family for one year until he was killed by a nail bomb at his home. Testa’s death resulted from an attempt by Peter Casella, Testa’s underboss, and Frank “Chickie” Narducci, a capo, to become the Philadelphia boss and underboss. After Testa’s death, Scarfo took over the Philadelphia family. In the ensuing years, the Philadelphia family would be decimated by government informants, more infighting, and the prosecutions of Scarfo and other mobsters.
- May, 21, 1910
- Villalba, Sicily, Italy
- March, 21, 1980
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cause of Death
- shotgun blast in the back of the head
- Holy Cross Cemetery
- Yeadon, Pennsylvania