June 15, 2020 – The Philadelphia mob held the first of more than a half-dozen making rituals to replenish the crime family’s stagnating rank and file 40 years ago this week. Three months after longtime don Angelo Bruno was assassinated, new boss Phil (The Chicken Man) Testa initiated 8 soldiers at a ceremony held at the home of South Philly capo John Cappello. According to FBI records, it was the first making ceremony in at least six years and only the second in over a decade.
Fearing exposure to law enforcement, Bruno had, for all intents and purposes, closed the books on entrance into the Family in the final half of his two-decade reign, which came to a shockingly brutal end when he was shotgunned to death smoking a cigarette outside his South Philly row house on March 21, 1980. The men who had perpetrated the unsanctioned hit, were summoned to New York and murdered by the Commission. That left, Testa, Bruno’s underboss, as the next Godfather and he decided he wanted to rebuild the organization with an injection of much-needed fresh blood.
On June 8, 1980, Testa inducted his son, Salvie, his consigliere Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo’s nephew and surrogate son, Philip (Crazy Phil) Leonetti, his underboss Pete Casella brother’s Tony Casella, Scarfo’s best friend Salvatore (Chucky) Merlino, Anthony (The Blonde Babe) Pungitore, Salvatore (Wayne) Grande, Frank (Frankie Windows) Narducci, Jr. and Bobby Lumio. Both Grande and Narducci’s dads were made members of the crime family. Cappello was the Casella’s brother-in-law and ran the J&A Food Market.
“Chicken Man” Testa was killed less than a year later, famously blown up by a nail bomb on his front porch in an assassination memorialized by the Bruce Springsteen song “Atlantic City,” referencing the ongoing battle for the AC casino rackets and building contracts. The Casellas were kicked out of town when they were discovered to have been part of the plot to overthrow Testa.
Little Nicky Scarfo took over the crime family in 1981, naming Chuckie Merlino his underboss and promoting Salvie Testa and Phil Leonetti to capo spots. Leonetti eventually replaced Merlino as his uncle’s No. 2 man in 1986 after Scarfo demoted Merlino for his drinking problem. Little Nicky’s time at the helm was unhinged and target-rich, resulting in an era of blood-ridden instability and growing dissent in the ranks. Things wouldn’t calm down until years after Scarfo was swept off the street by the feds.
The younger Testa was slain in a South Philly candy store in 1984, having fallen out of favor with Scarfo because of his rising popularity. Leonetti flipped in 1989, following him, Scarfo and Merlino being convicted in a giant racketeering and murder case. Wayne Grande, known for being one of Scarfo’s most trusted hit men and nicknamed after iconic tough-guy actor John Wayne for his cowboy behavior, also wound up entering the Witness Protection Program.
Scarfo died in prison of heart failure in 2017. Chuckie Merlino passed from cancer in 2012. Merlino’s son, Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino, is the boss of the Philadelphia mafia today. Grande’s son, Domenic (Baby Dom) Grande is alleged to be one of Merlino’s capos.