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March 15, 1914|
New York City, New York, United States
December 2, 1985 (aged 71)|
New York City, New York, United States
|Cause of death||Brain cancer|
|Other names||Mr. Neil, Father O'Neil, The Tall Guy|
|Children||Armond, Ronald, Shannon and Sean|
|Criminal penalty||Five years|
Aniello John "Neil" Dellacroce (March 15, 1914 – December 2, 1985), also known as "Mr. Neil," "Father O'Neil" and "The Tall Guy", was an Italian-American gangster and underboss of the Gambino crime family. He rose to the position of underboss when Carlo Gambino moved Joseph Biondo aside. Dellacroce was a mentor to Gambino boss John Gotti.
Dellacroce was born in New York City to Francesco and Antoinette Dellacroce, first generation immigrants from Italy. He grew up in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. Dellacroce was a tall, broad-shouldered man who was usually chomping on a cigar. His nickname was "Neil", an Americanization of "Aniello". Due to his square-shaped face, some Gambino members nicknamed him "the Polack", a nickname never used within his earshot.
Dellacroce had one brother, Carmine, and married Lucille Riccardi. The couple had a son, Armand, and a daughter, Nanny. He had a grandson, AJ, whom he raised. He had a son, Ronald, from a relationship with Elizabeth Main, and later married Rosemary Connelly, who had two sons, Skipper and Seann Connelly, and a daughter, Shannon. Dellacroce was also the great uncle of John Ruggiero Jr., Angelo Ruggiero Jr. and Salvatore Ruggiero Jr. Dellacroce and his family originally lived in an apartment across the street from his social club in Little Italy. In later years, they lived in Grasmere, Staten Island.
As a teenager, Dellacroce became a butcher's assistant, but work was scarce and he took to crime. He was jailed once for petty theft. Dellacroce sometimes walked around Manhattan dressed as a priest and called himself "Father O'Neil" to confuse both the police and rival mobsters. Dellacroce allegedly committed a murder dressed as a priest. He also allegedly used a body double for some public events. Dellacroce preferred to keep a low profile and was said to have a menacing stare. Once described as "the archangel of death", a federal agent said of Dellacroce, "He likes to peer into a victim's face, like some kind of dark angel, at the moment of death."
"His eyes had no color...as if his soul was transparent", is how a news reporter characterized Dellacroce. Joseph Coffey, a former New York mob investigator, reflected: "Dellacroce was one of the scariest individuals I've ever met in my life. Dellacroce's eyes were, like, he didn't have any eyes. Did you ever see Children of the Damned? His eyes were so blue that they weren't even there. It was like looking right through him." Ralph Salerno, a former New York Police Department detective, said of Dellacroce: "When Carlo Gambino died, if I'd been asked to place a ten-dollar wager as to who would be his successor, I would've put the ten dollars on the man who was his under-boss, Aniello Dellacroce, a tough man. Of all the gangsters that I've met personally, and I've met dozens of them in all of my years, there were only two who, when I looked them straight in the eye, I decided I wouldn't want them to be really personally mad at me. Aniello Dellacroce was one and Carmine Galante was the other. They had bad eyes, I mean, they had the eyes of killers. You looked at Dellacroce's eyes and you could see how frightening they were, the frigid glare of a killer."
In the late 1930s, Dellacroce joined the Mangano crime family, forerunner of the Gambino family. He soon became a protégé of underboss Albert Anastasia. After the disappearance and presumed murder of longtime boss Vincent Mangano, Anastasia became family boss and promoted Dellacroce to capo. Dellacroce bought the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, which soon became a popular Gambino social club and Dellacroce's headquarters. On October 25, 1957, gunmen murdered Anastasia in a Manhattan hotel barbershop. Underboss Carlo Gambino took over the family.
Gambino was suspected of plotting Anastasia's murder with Lucchese crime family boss Tommy Lucchese and Luciano crime family caporegime Vito Genovese. Dellacroce was a strong Anastasia supporter. However, he was an old-school mobster who believed in loyalty to the family and its boss, and chose to pledge loyalty to Gambino. In 1965, Gambino removed the aging Joseph Biondo from his underboss position and appointed Dellacroce to replace him.[better source needed]
On May 2, 1972, Dellacroce was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. In return for peace with its labor force, the Yankee Plastics Company of New York gave Dellacroce 22,500 stock shares worth $112,500. He was indicted on a failure to pay federal income tax on these stocks. In March 1973, Dellacroce was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to five years in prison.
It was widely presumed that Dellacroce was Gambino's heir apparent. However, on his deathbed in 1976, Gambino announced to the family that his cousin and brother-in-law, Paul Castellano, would be the new family boss. Dellacroce and many of his supporters were angered with Gambino's choice; although Castellano had been a major earner for the family for many years, Dellacroce and others saw him as a businessman rather than a gangster. To appease Dellacroce, Gambino persuaded Castellano to agree to keep Dellacroce as underboss.
In 1976, Gambino died and Castellano became boss. Always the loyal family man, Dellacroce pledged his loyalty to Castellano. In return, Castellano gave Dellacroce control of the traditional criminal activities, such as robbery, hijacking and extortion, in Manhattan. Castellano continued to enforce Gambino's ban on drug dealing in the family. This ban created a dispute within the family when members of caporegime John Gotti's crew were indicted on conspiracy to distribute heroin. However, Dellacroce refused to even consider a move against Castellano, and his underlings did not rebel until Dellacroce's death out of respect; despite Castellano's intention to have these offending members killed.
In early 1985, Dellacroce was indicted along with the leaders of the other New York Cosa Nostra – "Five Families" as part of the Mafia Commission investigation. On March 28, 1985, Dellacroce was indicted on federal racketeering charges regarding the activities of two crews in New York and Long Island over the previous 18 years. However, by this time Dellacroce was already very sick and would not live to attend either trial. After the death of Dellacroce, John Gotti and Sammy Gravano worked out the details and executed the boss of the Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano. At that time, the Gambino crime family was the nation's largest Cosa Nostra family, earning around $1 million a day from illegal activities. The hit took place just two weeks after the death of Neil Dellacroce. The unsanctioned assassination of Castellano by John Gotti would spark years of animosity between the Gambinos and the other New York crime families.
After Dellacroce's death, Gotti and his supporters no longer felt constrained against attacking Castellano. In addition, Castellano's refusal to visit Dellacroce when he was dying, or attend his funeral, reportedly enraged Gotti. On December 16, 1985, just two weeks after Dellacroce's death, gunmen assassinated Castellano and his new underboss Thomas Bilotti outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. Gotti then took over as boss of the Gambino family.
In April 1988, Dellacroce's son, Armond, died while hiding in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He had been convicted of racketeering and had failed to appear for sentencing in March. The cause of death was listed as cirrhosis and a cocaine overdose.
| Gambino crime family
1965–1985 (shared with Paul Castellano 1974–1976)