DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here's the scene. A mob boss, the head of the Gambino crime family, is gunned down outside his house, then run over by a pickup truck. His family surrounds his body, crying. This happened yesterday. It is not from a movie, though it was just down the block from the compound on Staten Island used in the film "The Godfather." The man killed was Frank Cali, supposedly the leader of the Gambino crime family. It's believed to be the first murder of a crime boss in New York City since 1985. And we have former crime reporter and author George Anastasia on the line.
GEORGE ANASTASIA: Good morning. How are you, David?
GREENE: I'm good. Thanks for talking to us about this. This is amazing. It feels like a throwback to an earlier era, does it not?
ANASTASIA: Yeah, it does. I mean, you mentioned the 1985 murder of Paul Castellano, and this kind of hearkens back to that. And the other thing is - and this is the case whenever this kind of thing happens - six bullets were fired. Twelve bullets were fired. Six hit the victim - probably as many theories about why as there were bullets fired.
GREENE: Is that normally the case in a mob killing like this?
ANASTASIA: Well, I - and when the - especially when you take out the boss of a crime family, I mean, the first thing you're going to look for is who's going to benefit from this, and are they behind what happened? But there - you know, that's one theory. There's a lot of other theories floating around. And I think it's going to be a while before anybody really knows the why that this went down like this.
GREENE: So who was Frank Cali?
ANASTASIA: He was a - you know, conflicting reports - either the boss or the underboss of the Gambino crime family. He's 53 years old. He's a younger guy. But in a lot of ways, he's a throwback. He's old-school. He's - you know, he is, you know, of the philosophy, make money not headlines. Don't call attention to yourself - kind of the antithesis of John Gotti, celebrity gangster.
And in that way, it is back to the '40s and '50s. The old-time Sicilian mob bosses, nobody needed to know who they were. They knew who they were. They were comfortable in their skin, and everything else was what it was. And I think Cali was of that mind. And that's the way he approached things. He - you know, I talked to people yesterday who said he's a very nice guy. Unless, you know, I guess, you cross him. And he had a foot, I think, in both camps.
The Gambino crime family has always had a Sicilian faction. And I think even though he was born in America, I think his parents emigrated from Palermo and he had a lot of connections in Sicily. And there was at least one theory that, you know, you've got two factions within the organization. And this is the emergent faction making a move against the Sicilians. I don't know if that's true.
ANASTASIA: I think this has got to play out over the next - the next two, three weeks. We'll probably be hearing more about where it's all...
GREENE: I mean, I'm just listening to you describe, like, ties to Sicily, the American faction, the Sicilian faction - like, I was taking comfort in a show like "The Sopranos" being kind of fictional. Like, what - does this tell us something about New York City at this moment?
ANASTASIA: Well, I think - you know, I think it tells you a lot about the American Mafia at this moment. The American Mafia has undergone a - kind of a sea change. It's no longer the monolithic organization it was. And there's a lot of reasons for that. But I think the Sicilian - somebody once said to me - I think it's true. To understand the Mafia, you've got to understand Sicily and the culture of Sicily and where - you know, Sicilians were always oppressed. And the Mafia grew out of that. And it's, you know, take care of your own problems and don't trust authority, that kind of stuff.
GREENE: So are we going to see more of this, more people like crime bosses...
GREENE: ...Shot in front of their houses?
ANASTASIA: I don't - this was kind of audacious in the way it went down, separate and apart from the theories of why. The way it went down - and the other thing - I was talking to somebody yesterday. I don't ever remember a mob hit being carried out from a pickup truck.
ANASTASIA: I don't know if that's symbolic of anything or means anything. But I don't know. I think everybody's waiting to see now, you've got a boss killed.
ANASTASIA: Is there retribution? You know, and if so, who pays the price?
GREENE: All right, we'll see. George Anastasia, former crime reporter and author, thanks a lot.
ANASTASIA: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.