By Dan Bowens
NEW YORK - How can you know your neighborhood if you don't know its secrets? For one neighborhood in Brooklyn, a secret changed the course of New York City's organized crime in 1979.
It was a hot summer day in July. Gabe Pressman, one of Channel 5's reporters at the time, reported from outside of a little Italian café called Joe and Mary on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick.
"It was one of the major gangland executions of recent decades," Pressman reported. "And yet, most of the people around here didn't know who the big man was."
The big man. His name was Carmine Galante. He was head of the Bonanno crime family. Known as "The Cigar," Galante was widely feared for his cruelty.
His own assassination is the focus of our latest case featured in our true crime series The Tape Room. We dug into our archives for video footage of this infamous murder. It was a brutal killing.
The killers entered the café and shot Galante, 69, and two of his men as they ate lunch.
As Pressman reported, tomato salad and wine were still on the table after the hail of bullets. One struck Galante through the eye.
Pressman is a legendary New York newsman. He was among the first on-air local TV reporters in the city and spent most of his career at WNBC-TV. He worked at Channel 5 for only a brief stretch. He died in 2017 at the age of 93.
In Pressman's story that aired on Channel 5 that day, Galante's famed cigar was still clenched between his teeth as he lay on the ground.
"It is believed that the hit on Galante was a joint operation between a faction of the Bonannos and the Gambinos," Geoff Schumacher, the senior director of content at the Mob Museum, told us, referring to the Bonanno and Gambino crime families.
Back to the neighborhood—the same block where it all happened. 41 years later, so much has changed. The stretch of Knickerbocker Avenue is in the heart of Brooklyn—just a few minutes' walk from the L train. Now you're more likely to find a boutique pet shop here than old stories about mob wars.
"That's wild," said Kat, a bartender at 3 Diamond Door located just a few doors down to what was Joe and Mary café. It is a straightforward pub with many different beers on tap.
"There must be so many layers we don't think about or know about," she told us. "It's funny how that happened right next door and no one knows it."
One of the patrons in the bar when we visited was Wes Davis. We showed him footage of the story. In one clip, a woman hangs out of a window inside the building where it happened. Davis told us that he lives in that same apartment now
"It was a crazy time in New York City," he said. "People rushing in with guns, taking people out."
The neighborhood, once heavily Italian American, had already been changing when the assassination happened. It's now a reflection of modern city life.
"It's very mixed. It's Puerto Rican, black, white people, younger white people," Davis said.
As for the crime itself, Schumacher, the expert with the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, said Galante's murder was likely the result of his own ambitions.
"He saw himself as becoming the boss of bosses. He was not a well-liked individual," Schumacher said. "Not only did The Commission not want Galante to become head of family, they certainly didn't want him to become Boss of Bosses. So it was determined it was time for him to go."
The killing had a domino effect.
"The Galante murder really opens and accelerated federal efforts to go after this heroin smuggling ring," Schumacher. "Ultimately a couple of years later [it led to] a mass of arrests... individuals involved in the heroin ring."
This is a story from long ago in a city where just about every neighborhood has secrets.
Of the multiple people thought to have planned and carried out Galante's murder, only one was ever brought to justice, according to the Mob Museum.
Bruno Indelicato was convicted at the mafia commission trial in 1986. He served 19 years in prison. Today, he's back in prison on another Bonanno crime family murder.