In an interview with award-winning FoxPhilly29 investigative reporter Dave Schratwieser this week to promote his new memoir, former Philadelphia mob boss Ralph Natale discusses three gangland murders from the 1990s (view here). Natale, 82, was the boss of the Bruno-Scarfo crime family from the fall of 1994 until he entered the Witness Protection Program in the autumn of 1999.

Talking with Schratwieser by phone, the lightning rod of a one-time Godfather commented on the slayings of wiseguys Michael (Dutchie) Avicolli, Tony Turra and Ronnie Turchi. Avicolli and Turra were killed under Natale’s watch. Turchi was killed reportedly as a message to an incarcerated Natale in the weeks after he flipped. He had been Natale’s consigliere.

Natale testified to his knowledge of several murders at a high-profile South Philly mob trial in the summer of 2001, but his testimony failed to convict anybody of any homicides and he did 13 years in prison, longer than anyone he pointed the finger at on the stand. His former underboss, mafia protégé and successor as don, Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino, the headlining defendant in the case, did 12 years as a guest of the government. Merlino, 55, is back on the street, awaiting trial under a freshly-drafted federal racketeering indictment out of New York and alleged by authorities to be in charge of mob activity in Philadelphia from his bond-restricted perch inside his luxury Boca Raton, Florida condo.

Last month, Natale released a book titled The Last Don Standing, penned by New York Daily News scribe Larry McShane (Chin: The Life & Crimes of Vincent Gigante) and television producer Dan Pearson (I Married a Mobster) buy a copy here. There’s said to be a movie in the works too starring The Purge: Anarchy’s Frank Grillo. Natale, the notorious labor-union fixer and hitman in the Philly mob’s 1970s Angelo Bruno regime, climbed to the apex of power in his mentor’s beloved crime family from behind bars on arson and drug-trafficking charges years later, using Merlino and his crew of fearless, able-bodied loyalists to fight and win a shooting war on the street against Sicilian don John Stanfa, one of those believed responsible for Bruno’s March 1980 assassination.

Ronnie Turchi was a member of Stanfa’s camp during the conflict – overseeing Stanfa’s policy bank –, however, following Stanfa’s imprisonment and Natale’s walking free in 1994, he jumped sides and was tapped as Natale’s consigliere and official advisor. Within two years, Turchi would be demoted to the rank of soldier in the wake of a parole violation for meeting with Natale and Merlino. When Natale was violated and locked up for a similar infraction in the summer of 1998, his former No. 3 in charge was left unprotected and Merlino maneuvered to grab control of the entire Philadelphia mafia for himself.

Turchi, 61, popped up dead on October 26, 1999, found hogtied, tortured and shot in the back of the head inside the trunk of his wife’s on 7th Street and Federal in South Philly. Feeling abandoned and betrayed by Merlino, Natale had cut his deal with the feds the month before.

Roger Vella, Merlino’s former driver and gopher, is believed to have been the set-up man in the Turchi hit. Vella joined Team USA shortly thereafter. Merlino’s acting boss Joseph (Uncle Joe) Ligambi allegedly admitted playing a role in the Turchi murder in a statement to his then-North Jersey capo Peter (Pete the Crumb) Caprio in early 2000 – “We dimed out Ronnie to send a message to Ralph,” Ligambi is said to have uttered. Caprio followed Natale into the witness box.

“They (Merlino & his crew) were afraid of Ronnie Turchi, he was a very dangerous guy,” Natale told Schratwieser in Monday night’s FoxPhilly29 broadcast. “And same with Tony Turra, he was caught on tape (an FBI wire) saying he wanted to kill Joey (Merlino).”

Turra, an independent mobster, policy boss and drug dealer, was gunned down as he left for court on March 18, 1998 to hear his verdict in his racketeering and attempted murder trial, felled in a wheelchair with two shots point-blank to the eye and forehead by a ski-mask wearing assailant toting a silencer-equipped weapon. Merlino had feuded with Turra’s son Louie in years prior (Louie Turra committed suicide in federal custody). The elder Turra, a 62-year old contemporary of Natale’s, was heard on federal surveillance contemplating if he should bomb Merlino’s home with Merlino, Merlino’s wife and his baby daughter inside.

Dutchie Avicolli belonged to Merlino’s inner circle and is alleged to have met his demise over affairs of the heart. Avicolli got behind the wheel of his Buick and left his South Philly residence on the morning of April 3, 1996 and was never seen again. Multiple sources tell Gangster Report, Avicolli was in a beef with Merlino’s right-hand man and underboss Steven (Handsome Stevie) Mazzone over the fact that Avicolli was having a romance with Mazzone’s wife and Mazzone had retaliated by seducing Avicolli’s niece.

“They took Dutchie for a ride up to North Jersey and he never came home,” said Natale of the Avicolli hit to Schratwieser in the interview.

According to FBI informants, Avicolli, 52, was shot in the head and buried on farm property in New Jersey by Mazzone, Merlino and others. The Avicolli, Turra and Turchi homicides are getting a new looksee by investigators in an ongoing racketeering and murder probe centered around modern-day Philadelphia mob activity per Schratwieser’s report this week.

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