The Cowboy Chronicles: Though Free After Three Decades, Martorano Still Top Suspect In Philadelphia Greek Godfather’s Murder

Recently-freed former Philadelphia mafia figure George (Cowboy) Martorano remains a prime suspect in the 1981 gangland slaying of Greek mobster Steve Bouras and his girlfriend, a murder allegedly ordered by then City of Brotherly Love don Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo and arranged by Cowboy Martorano’s hoodlum father, according to sources in Pennsylvania law enforcement. The 65-year old Cowboy Martorano was released last week after spending 32 years behind bars on drug charges. He had been the longest-serving non-violent offender in the U.S. prison system prior to him walking out of a minimum-security federal correctional facility in Florida on October 5.

Philadelphia’s Greek Godfather, Bouras, 53, ran a small crime syndicate in the northeastern part of the city and angered the sociopathic Little Nicky Scarfo by refusing to yield to extortion demands, trying to hoard in on too much of the region’s crystal meth narcotics racket and investing in real estate and criminal activity in Atlantic City, the newly-resurrected shoreline casino-gambling mecca, mob territory that belonged singularly to Scarfo’s South Philly Italian mob. Bouras and his girlfriend, Jeanette Curro, were killed on the evening of May 27, 1981 by a pair of gunmen as they ate dinner at a favorite Bouras-haunt, The Meletis Greek Restaurant, in South Philadelphia.

One gunman was wearing a ski mask, the other was hiding his face with a thick wool scarf. Entering the crowded eatery at around 8:00 pm, the two assailants walked straight up to where Bouras and Curro were sitting and blew them away at point-blank range.

Eating alongside the victims at their table that warm spring night were Scarfo crime-family soldier and narcotics lieutenant Raymond (Long John) Martorano and his wife, cop-turned-drug dealer Joe Inadi and well-known local radio disc jockey and longtime mob associate, Jerry Blavat. Curro, 54, was the aunt of future Philadelphia mafia consigliere Joseph (Joe Crutch) Curro.

Martorano’s presence at the scene of the crime was no coincidence. Authorities speculate he set the whole thing up to start with.

According to FBI records related to the double homicide investigation and sources with intimate knowledge of Philly mob politics of the day, Scarfo assigned the responsibility of coordinating the Bouras hit to Long John Martorano, a Bouras associate, and Long John tasked his son, fledgling drug kingpin and aspiring “made man” Cowboy Martorano, and his bodyguard, Frank (The Suit of Armor) Vadino, with carrying the contract out. Long John Martorano would meet an identical fate as Steve Bouras and was killed gangland style 21 years later. He was soon jailed for drug trafficking and an unrelated murder in the months after the Bouras slaying. Vadino and the younger Martorano both wound up behind bars shortly thereafter on unrelated convictions, too.

Handsome, ambitious and articulate, Cowboy Martorano was busted in 1982 and subsequently pled guilty to running a 75-million dollar-a-year marijuana, meth, heroin and cocaine ring. Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the fall of 1983, Martorano was released last week as a part of President Obama’s drive to reform sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug felons.

The lumbering, notoriously-loyal and barrel-chested Vadino had previously worked as a driver and bodyguard for Ralph Natale, a future Philly mob don sent to prison in 1979 on drug and extortion charges, but back at that point in time acted as an organized-labor lieutenant to Angelo Bruno, the then-boss of the crime family. Bruno was heinously shot-gunned to death in front of his house in March 1980 by his own consigliere, Antonio (Tony Bananas) Caponigro. Vadino went down in the same indictment that imprisoned Long John Martorano, however, unlike Long John, was just nailed on drug charges and avoided being convicted in the 1980 murder of roofers’ labor-union leader and Irish mobster John McCullough.

Bruno’s assassination created a domino effect sending the once-relatively serene syndicate careening into a decade of blood, betrayal and brutality the area hadn’t seen since Prohibition. By March of 1981, Bruno’s successor, Phil (The Chicken Man) Testa, was assassinated by a nail bomb planted underneath his front porch and the maniacal and power-hungry Little Nicky Scarfo had assumed the boss’ seat, with the support of the Five Families in New York City.

Little Nicky began gobbling up territory immediately, reaching into corridors of the underworld and pockets of gangland figures that in the past Bruno hadn’t, including taking an aggressive stance towards Atlantic City and imposing a region-wide street tax, violently eliminating anyone attempting to get in his way – Scarfo ordered over two dozen murders in his reign, which lasted until the end of the decade. Old arrangements were no longer being honored in the Wild West-like Scarfo regime. Diminutive-sized, yet eternally-ferocious and fearless, Little Nicky, wanted the whole city, to pay him rent in order to operate.

The first piece of gangland real estate Scarfo set his sights on conquering was Steve Bouras’ Greek mafia, specifically Bouras’ highly-profitable crystal meth manufacturing and distribution business, per federal court records related to the Scarfo era. Long John Martorano, the mob’s meth king for years, wasn’t complaining. When Bouras balked at paying Little Nicky his requested shakedown cash, Scarfo used it as an excuse to stage a siege on his rackets, which also featured a fairly-lucrative gambling and loansharking portfolio.

Martorano was the natural choice for Scarfo to have run point on the Bouras murder, considering not only  was he tight with Bouras, Long John was the crime family’s representative with all of Philadelphia’s other underworld factions, anchored by his strong ties to the city’s Greek, Irish and Black mobs, as well as pivotal relationships within the area’s unruly outlaw motorcycle gang culture, the labor unions and the independent drug world. Sources once close to Scarfo, say Martorano nominated his son and Frank Vadino as the shooters in the hit as a means of getting them their button, or official initiation into the Philly mafia. Neither would go on to achieve “made” status, though.

Less than a month prior to Bouras’ killing, according to FBI informant files, Long John had tried contracting the job out to Irish wiseguy Willard (Junior) Moran, however, Moran, who would be convicted with Martorano in the McCullough slaying and eventually flipped, dragged his feet, so instead he used it as an opportunity to allow for Cowboy and the so-called Suit of Armor, nicknamed for his relentless approach to his body-guarding duties to, “make their bones.” Bouras’ de-facto Greek mob consigliere Harry Peetros was found dead in the trunk of his gold-plated Cadillac the day before Bouras got bumped off after disappearing over the previous weekend.

Small-time Philly drug dealer Neil Ferber was convicted of the Bouras-Curro double homicide and put on death row prior to his conviction being tossed and getting awarded $5 million dollars in compensatory damages from a civil lawsuit against the government. Ferber died of a heart attack in 2008.

Vadino passed away in 2011 of natural causes. He had served six years in the can on his drug case. Those with knowledge of the Bouras cold-case file say Cowboy Martorano doesn’t appear to be in danger of being charged in the Bouras hit anytime in the near future.

Witnesses told investigators that the moment the two gunmen came into the Meletis looking to kill the Greek crime lord, one fired a warning shot into the air to get people’s attention, while the other stalked directly up to Bouras’ table where he was sitting facing the door, motioned for Long John, sitting across from him, to move out of the way and then unloaded his weapon on Bouras and Curro. The staccato of gunfire sent patrons ducking for cover and both victims’ flying backwards in their chairs.

The Greek mafia Family in Philadelphia no longer exists. The Scarfo syndicate raided the organization’s drug, gambling and juice loan rackets in the aftermath of Bouras’ dispatching 34 years ago.

Little Nicky Scarfo was convicted of a massive murder and racketeering conspiracy in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison, where he still resides today at 86 years old. Ralph Natale, Vadino’s former boss and Angelo Bruno’s former union enforcer and Teamsters fixer, emerged from prison in 1994 and grabbed the reins of the Philly mob following captaining and winning a half-decade long war for power in the Borgata from his prison cell against Sicilian-born John Stanfa, Little Nicky’s successor and Bruno’s driver and bodyguard, who joined Tony Bananas Caponigro unsuccessful palace coup in 1980.

Stanfa was the man who set the Philly don up for the kill (lowering the window in the car so Caponigro could stick his double-barrel shotgun into the vehicle behind Bruno’s head and pull the trigger). Tony Bananas was called to answer for his actions in NYC and died in grisly fashion. Convicted of murder under the federal RICO statute in 1995, Stanfa is serving out the remainder of his life sentence.

Natale’s frontline soldiers in his war versus the old school, out-of-touch Stanfa was the flashbulb-friendly Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino crew. Merlino was Natale’s young, cocksure and savvy underboss. Upon Natale, 80, joining Team USA in 1999, Merlino, 53, became boss of the Philadelphia mafia, a position he’s alleged to still hold into 2015. Relinquishing the job to his now-consigliere Joseph (Uncle Joe) Ligambi on an acting basis during the 2000s when he was away serving a 12-year prison sentence for racketeering, it was allegedly Ligambi that ordered Long John Martorano wacked in early 2002.

Long John’s murder conviction in the McCullough case was overturned in the late 1990s and by the dawning of the New Millennium, the elder Martorano was home and trying to finagle his way back into the upper echelons of the Philadelphia mafia. His finagling failed. Rising tensions between Ligambi and 75-year old Long John reached a boiling point in January 2002 and saw Martorano shot full of bullets behind the wheel of his car on his way to a doctor’s appointment (he’d die from injuries sustained in the ambush the next month). Nobody’s ever been charged in the Long John Martorano murder.

Joe “Crutch” Curro, Bouras’ girlfriend’s nephew, rose to be Uncle Joe Ligambi’s consigliere in the first half of his tenure calling shots at the top of the Philly mob. He died of complications from diabetes at the age of 60 in 2004. Hidden away in the Federal Witness Protection Program, Natale is penning a book expected to be out in 2016. These days, Skinny Joey Merlino is reputed to run the Family from Florida and is reportedly once again under investigation by the FBI for alleged racketeering activity.

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