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In the Godfather Garden

The Long Life and Times of Richie "the Boot" Boiardo

Richard Linnett

Publication Year: 2013

In the Godfather Garden is the true story of the life of Richie “the Boot” Boiardo, one of the most powerful and feared men in the New Jersey underworld. The Boot cut his teeth battling the Jewish gang lord Abner Longy Zwillman on the streets of Newark during Prohibition and endured to become one of the East Coast’s top mobsters, his reign lasting six decades.

To the press and the police, this secretive Don insisted he was nothing more than a simple man who enjoyed puttering about in his beloved vegetable garden on his Livingston, New Jersey, estate. In reality, the Boot was a confidante and kingmaker of politicians, a friend of such celebrities as Joe DiMaggio and George Raft, an acquaintance of Joseph Valachi—who informed on the Boot in 1963—and a sworn enemy of J. Edgar Hoover.

The Boot prospered for more than half a century, remaining an active boss until the day he died at the age of ninety-three. Although he operated in the shadow of bigger Mafia names across the Hudson River (think Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, a cofounder of the Mafia killer squad Murder Inc. with Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro), the Boot was equally as brutal and efficient. In fact, there was a mysterious place in the gloomy woods behind his lovely garden—a furnace where many thought the Boot took certain people who were never seen again.

Richard Linnett provides an intimate look inside the Boot’s once-powerful Mafia crew, based on the recollections of a grandson of the Boot himself and complemented by never-before-published family photos. Chronicled here are the Prohibition gang wars in New Jersey as well as the murder of Dutch Schultz, a Mafia conspiracy to assassinate Newark mayor Kenneth Gibson, and the mob connections to several prominent state politicians.

Although the Boot never saw the 1972 release of The Godfather, he appreciated the similarities between the character of Vito Corleone and himself, so much so that he hung a sign in his beloved vegetable garden that read “The Godfather Garden.” There’s no doubt he would have relished David Chase’s admission that his muse in creating the HBO series The Sopranos was none other than “Newark’s erstwhile Boiardo crew.”

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Rivergate Regionals Collection

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-5


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pp. vii-viii

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The Garden

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pp. ix-x

The garden was terraced, with the first tier on top of a three- foot- high brownstone wall and with a stone stairway leading to the second level above that. The Boot raked and turned the soil in the spring; he painted tomato poles and planted the best seeds and seedlings from the previous year’s harvest. He experimented with fertilizers. His favorite was rabbit manure; he ...


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pp. xi-11

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Prologue. The got me, Joe

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pp. 1-10

The car was a five-passenger, four-door Lincoln dual-cowl Sport Phaeton, a jet-black sedan with running boards, twin side-mount spare tires, and bulletproof glass. It bolted down the south side of Broad Street at four o’clock in the morning in downtown Newark. The sedan suddenly jerked across the wide, empty boulevard and into the opposing lane, pulling to ...

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Chapter 1. Diamond Ritche

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pp. 11-25

Ruggiero Boiardo was born in 1890 in Naples, according to his birth certificate, and was raised in the town of Marigliano in the province of Naples. His recorded birthdate is December 8, which may not be accurate, as it is also the date of the Feast of Immaculate Conception. The Boot was placed in an orphanage as a child; Catholic orphanages often assigned the dates of ...

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Chapter 2. The Longy War

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pp. 26-44

The press and the public speculated long and hard on the identity of the party responsible for the attempted assassination of the Boot. “None of Ritchie’s gang is above suspicion of planning the murder of their leader,” the Newark Evening News reported. “There are also said to be men who would like to see Ritchie out of the way because of certain women who ...

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Chapter 3. I'm No Crybaby

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pp. 45-56

When the Boot’s thirty-eight- caliber revolver fell to the hospital floor, after the attempt on his life, prosecutors had a case against him. It was an unusual one that appeared to be putting the victim of a crime on trial, rather than the perpetrators; the men who tried to assassinate the Boot were never found, at least by the authorities. The police were convinced ...

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Chapter 4. Fortunate Son

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pp. 57-64

Tony Boy Boiardo was baptized Ruggiero Anthony Boiardo; so that he wouldn’t be confused with his father, he went by his middle name. His friends and associates took to calling him Tony Boy and “the kid,” and throughout his life he lived up to the child- like monikers. He seemed always smiling and youthful, even in middle age. The New York Times described ...

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Chapter 5. Jerry

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pp. 65-84

Jerry Catena was an enemy, a friend, and a colleague of the Boot; beneath the surface, the blood between them ran cold. He was the right- hand man of Longy Zwillman and led the assault on the Boot’s soldiers during the Longy War. He brokered the peace and later was the best man at Tony Boy’s wedding and an honored guest at the Boot’s estate. He was a partner ...

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CHapter 6. The Club Fremont Incident

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pp. 85-99

Pasquale “Smudgy” Antonelli entered the Club Fremont on Friday, Sep-tember 23, 1960, at ten o’clock in the morning. He was summoned by Tony Boy Boiardo, who used the Fremont for meetings and as a clearing-house for his numbers operations.1 The Fremont was basically a bar and grill, open for lunch, never for breakfast. A morning meeting meant Tony ...

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Chapter 7. Castle Cruel

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pp. 100-112

In the summer of 1939, the Boot bought twenty- nine acres on Rikers Hill in Livingston, about fifteen miles from Newark, with views facing west, away from the city toward farmland that rolled gently toward the distant Delaware River. The property sat on a geographical and social divide Using materials salvaged from Boiardo Construction demolition jobs in ...

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Chapter 8. Loose Lips

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pp. 113-123

When the cat was let out of the bag, and the tapes were released, it prob-ably came as no surprise to anyone, especially the Boot, that his soldier Little Pussy was caught talking behind his back, telling tales about a furnace on the farm. Pussy had a character flaw that was as big as the pink Cadillac convertible that he liked to cruise around in, top down, radio blast-...

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Chapter 9. That Old Gang of Mine

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pp. 124-133

The Boot was a habitual early riser, even at an age when most men would prefer to sleep in. Every morning as the first rays of the sun touched the highest spires and gargoyles of the big house on his Livingston estate, the seventy-seven-year-old don slid behind the wheel of a shiny black Plymouth, drove down a private five- hundred- foot roadway past two sets of ...

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Chapter 10. Cause for Incident

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pp. 134-141

Tony Boy Boiardo lived in a comfortable split- level home in Essex Fells, a leafy suburb. He was a family man, father of two daughters and a son, and a prosperous executive at Valentine Electric, one of the state’s largest building contractors. Tony Boy’s declared income in 1966 was $264,053, and his firm raked in $11 million from work for the municipal housing ...

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Chapter 11. The Italian Way

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pp. 142-153

Kenneth A. Gibson decisively beat Hugh Addonizio in a hard- fought runoff election and became the first black mayor of a major American city on June 16, 1970. Addonizio was under indictment along with Tony Boy Boiardo for corruption, and not surprisingly he lost the election. It was a long, racially explosive contest with Italians from Newark’s North ...

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Chapter 12. On the Jolly Trolley

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pp. 154-161

The Jolly Trolley Casino was a Las Vegas grind joint located in a dreary shopping mall on the northwest corner of the Strip and Sahara. The casino was built in a former butcher shop, and it incorporated an old meat cooler that greeted patrons when they walked in the front door with steak loins hanging behind glass doors. In a city that specialized ...

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Chapter 13. The Mafia Exists

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pp. 162-170

It was as if the ghost of Little Pussy had come back to haunt his killers. On May 25, 1979, one month after Little Pussy’s body was found in a heap among his collection of stuffed cats, State Attorney General John J. Degnan announced the arrest of eight reputed New Jersey mobsters on a twenty-four-count indictment alleging they had created a nationwide criminal ...

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Chapter 14. The thing of Theirs

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pp. 171-181

“That’s where the barbecue used to be, way up in the back there,” says Roger Hanos, pointing at a development of sprawling suburban homes on land that was once part of the Boot’s thirty-acre estate in Livingston.1 The barbecue he refers to was a large outdoor grill about eight feet square with six-to-ten-foot walls made of the same stone that the Boot’s mansion was ...

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Epilogue. The Curse

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pp. 182-190

“Body in Rug Believed to be Grandson of Mobster”
The headline in the Star-Ledger of November 22, 2006, was an anachronism, a throwback to the sixties, when the paper was called the Newark Star-Ledger and grisly Mafia hits in New Jersey and New York were commonplace. Michael Balestro, forty years old, was identified as the body in...


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pp. 191-194

Cast of Characters

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pp. 195-201


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pp. 213-228


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pp. 202-225


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pp. 226-229


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pp. 230-243

About the Author

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pp. 244-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780813560625
E-ISBN-10: 0813560624
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813560618

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 42 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Rivergate Regionals Collection

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Subject Headings

  • Boiardo, Richie (Richard), 1890-1984.
  • Criminals -- New Jersey -- Case studies.
  • Mafia -- New Jersey -- Case studies.
  • Organized crime -- New Jersey -- Case studies.
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