March 25, 2021 – Philadelphia mob don Phil (The Chicken Man) Testa was assassinated 40 years ago this month, killed in a nail-bomb attack on his front porch in the early hours of March 15, 1981. Less than a month later, the gangland murder was immortalized in pop culture forever with the penning of the poignant song Atlantic City by The Boss himself, iconic New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen.
“Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night. Now, they blew up his house, too,” Springsteen wrote and then sang in the opening line to Atlantic City about the Philly mob wars ripping through the A.C. casino gambling industry at the time. The song was included in Springsteen’s critically-lauded, low-fi classic, the 1982 Nebraska album.
The 56-year old Chicken Man Testa was killed on orders of his own underboss Pete Casella. The palace coup launched by Casella, an old-time heroin dealer and loanshark, ultimately failed and he was banished to retirement in Florida. Casella was only spared death because he was juiced in with influencers in New York’s Five Families.
Casella’s co-conspirators weren’t as lucky; Philly mafia capo Frank (Chickie) Narducci and Casella’s driver Rocco Marinucci were both shot dead in cold blood by Testa’s revenge-happy son, Salvy, in the coming months. Marinucci’s mouth was stuffed with firecrackers because he was the person who planted and detonated the nail-bomb that blew the famously pockmarked-faced Testa to pieces. Casella and Narducci reportedly decided on a nail-bomb as their kill method to try to place the blame for the murder on a roofers union crew ran by the city’s Irish mob, a group Testa had been bumping heads with in the time leading up to his murder.
Testa’s reign as boss was short. He had taken over in March 1980 following the assassination of his predecessor Angelo Bruno by the Philly mob’s New Jersey faction in the fight for Atlantic City. Bruno was shot gunned to death as he sat in the passenger’s seat of a car smoking a cigarette outside his South Philly row house. A decade earlier, Bruno had tapped Testa as his underboss.
Testa was nicknamed The Chicken Man for his poultry business and was under federal indictment with Chickie Narducci when he was slain (in the Operation Gangplank racketeering case). His final words were, “It didn’t hurt,” to responding medical personnel. Salvy Testa was gunned down three years later having risen to skipper and unofficial Sergeant At Arms status in the Philly crime family.
The violent deaths of quiet, understated Godfathers Bruno and Testa laid the foundation for two decades of wanton bloodshed, dysfunction and instability in the ranks with multiple loud, in-your-face Philly mob bosses, almost more obsessed with headlines, fanfare and camera flash bulbs the job brought than the money and power. Despite being viewed as a highly functional, non-violent borgata in the days before the sensationalized Bruno and Testa hits, the crime family suffered infighting at its highest levels. FBI records from the 1970s reflect confidential informants telling agents that Chicken Man Testa had tried to rally support for an assassination of Bruno in the years prior to it being carried out without his involvement.
Salvy Testa was killed on a contract issued by his own dad’s successor and best friend, Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo, who felt the popular, capable and handsome Testa was a threat to his regime. Scarfo, a true mob cowboy and paranoiac, ordered the young Testa’s own crew to whack him out. Testa, 28, was Scarfo’s godson.
Police found Testa’s dead body dumped in a ditch on the side of the road in Gloucester, New Jersey on September 14, 1984. He had been shot twice in the back of the head, his body trussed and wrapped in a tarp. Little Nicky Scarfo was taken off the streets in the spring of 1987 on a racketeering and murder case and served the remainder of his life behind bars.