THE LIFE WE CHOSE
WILLIAM “BIG BILLY” D’ELIA AND THE LAST SECRETS OF AMERICA’S MOST POWERFUL MAFIA FAMILYBY MATT BIRKBECK ‧ RELEASE DATE: JULY 11, 2023
A fresh tale of “mafia royalty.”
Even readers well versed in true-crime tales may not have heard of the Bufalino family, headed for decades by Russell Bufalino (1903-1994), “arguably the most powerful and important organized crime figure of the twentieth century.” Bufalino was known as a fixer, the guy who would broker a truce between warring factions or persuade a recalcitrant manufacturer why he should break with the Teamsters. As veteran investigative journalist Birkbeck writes, Bufalino and lieutenant and surrogate son Billy D’Elia were strongly implicated in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, and Billy had tales to tell—not that he told them, at least not to the feds. There were plenty of things to talk about, many full of tangles: Russell was an initial protector of Hoffa, though he warned him that it was a mistake, after a jail term for jury tampering, to try to regain leadership of the union after having made a deal with federal prosecutors to the contrary. On the dirtier side of things, mobster pariah Joey Gallo may have run afoul of Russell just ahead of having his head blown off in a Little Italy restaurant, about which Billy mildly remarks, “Russell? He never said anything about Gallo being killed. Nothing. And I didn’t ask him.” Throughout, the quotidian details of mob life are fascinating. Regarding the so-called poultry wars of the 1980s, for instance, there was a good reason why a leading manufacturer ran an ad proclaiming, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” Even more intriguing is how Russell, the quiet don, became a central inspiration for Mario Puzo and then Marlon Brando’s Godfather, while D’Elia, putatively a waste-management consultant, was an obvious model for Tony Soprano.
An eye-opening look at the ordinary—and nasty and lethal—business of organized crime.
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