Anthony Comello, a 24-year-old Staten Island man who is a sometime construction worker, was identified as the suspect in custody in one of New York’s biggest homicide cases: The murder of Frank Cali, the reputed boss of the powerful Gambino crime family.
It was the first slaying of a New York crime family boss since 1985, when Paul Castellano was assassinated on the orders of the dapper don, John Gotti, in an intra-family power struggle. However, multiple news reports now say that New York police think it’s possible the murder was not related to the mob. In some ways, the slaying never bore the hallmarks of a mob hit. Mobsters generally don’t murder other mobsters near family, as happened here, and there’s usually more than one assassin.
The suspect showed up for court with the words “MAGA forever” and references to the right-wing conspiracy movement QAnon on his hand. The New York Post is reporting that he also ran an anti-Trump right-wing Instagram page that was described as “unhinged.” He was acting erratically in the weeks before the murder, once showing up outside the mayor’s mansion, saying he wanted to make a citizen’s arrest of him, The New York Post reported.
The suspect was taken into custody in New Jersey. Cosa Nostra News reported through sources that Comello may have heard voices that night “to the extent that he ‘asked’ President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for permission to kill the Gambino acting boss.” Authorities have not confirmed that account. Instead, the NYPD stressed that the investigation has just started.
“We do not believe this was a random act,” Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said.
A police source was more succinct to the New York Post, alleging: “Anthony Comello will go down in the record books as being one of the dumbest killers in New York City history, if not in the US and the world. Not to mention that the victim was the head of the Gambino Crime Family.”
NBC New York reported that authorities are exploring a theory that the suspect “wanted to date one of the mob boss’s relatives and Cali told him to back off.” Daily Beast also reported that the murder “could have been the result of a personal spat involving a woman.” The New York Times reported that investigators were looking into whether the shooter had been instructed not to date Cali’s daughter, but stressed the investigation was in the early stages when it comes to definitively ruling out a mob tie. Daily Beast said the woman was Cali’s niece.
However, police said March 16 that the motive is not clear, and they don’t yet know whether Comello allegedly acted alone or at someone else’s behest.
“Everything is on the table at this point,” the chief of detectives said.
Anthony Comello was described as a 24-year-old Staten Island resident.
Cali’s roots in the Mafia ran very deep. He was married to a woman with a powerful Sicilian Mafia pedigree. Cali’s wife, Rosaria Inzerillo, has ties to one of the most powerful mob clans in Palermo history. As such, authorities believed, he became a powerful figure on both sides of the pond.
New York police have confirmed that Franky Boy Cali was shot 10 times outside his home on Staten Island in the late evening hours. The hit was particularly brazen because, according to TMZ, Frank Cali’s wife and kids were inside the family home when he was slain.
After John Gotti went to prison, Frank Cali purportedly took over the family in 2015. If you weren’t familiar with Frank Cali’s name, that was the point. Gotti brought too much federal attention on the mob family, which opted for a lower profile among its leaders after the Mafioso’s downfall. The Gambinos are one of the infamous Five Families of New York.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Comello Lived With His Parents & Had Limited Previous Contact With Police
On that page, Comello refers to himself as single and says that he is a native of Staten Island. Online records give Comello’s last known address as being around 7 miles south of where Cali lived with his family. At the time of the homicide, Comello lived with his parents, The New York Post reports.
Indeed, according to the Post, he left his blue Chevy Silvarado pickup – which authorities say was used in the crime – in his parents’ driveway. “One time he helped fix my car. He plows the snow out for us too. I know he likes fireworks. Sometimes at around midnight, he shoots off fireworks and I have to tell him my kid is sleeping. That’s really it,” a neighbor told The Post.
Police said they expect Anthony Comello to be charged in Cali’s murder. The New York Post called him “a Staten Island knucklehead with a personal beef.”
“Was he acting alone? Was he acting for other people? What was the motive? I simply, standing here in front of you, do not have all of the answers,” said Shea, chief of detectives. “These are all the questions we will pursue to make sure working with the prosecutors we have anyone responsible for this incident held to justice.”
Shea said police think Comello is the shooter but the investigation is far from over.
Comello was described as having limited previous contact with the NYPD, Shea said, but he would not be specific. Comello once exhibited strange behavior in a federal courthouse that prompted law enforcement to check him out, The New York Times reported without providing specifics.
He did receive a parking ticket in New York the day of the murder, according to Shea. Comello was arrested at the Jersey Shore.
“Mr. Comello is currently being held in jail in New Jersey pending court appearances,” said Shea, who added, “This remains a very active investigation… We are not yet three days into this incident. While we believe we have the shooter in custody…the investigation is far from over.”
“We are well aware of Mr. Cali’s past,” he added. “That will be part of this investigation as we determine the motive… there are multiple angles we are still exploring…The priority was getting the individual responsible for the murder off the street.”
He added: “Let me reiterate, this is far from over.”
“Mr. Comello has crossed paths in some limited circumstances with the NYPD,” he said. “I won’t get into anything as to whether he has a prior record or not…The day of the incident, his truck received a parking summons in Staten Island, which is of note.” He said that Comello has residences in multiple places, including Staten Island.
2. Anthony Comello Was Described as a Conspiracy Theorist & ‘Nut’
Police sources didn’t paint a positive picture of the suspect, saying he was a nut and conspiracy theorist.
NBC New York quoted police sources as describing the suspect as a “conspiracy theory type” and “a bit off.”
Another source described Comello as a “complete nut” to The Daily Beast.
The New York Post reported that authorities encountered Comello at the federal courthouse saying he wanted to stage a citizen’s arrest of top Democratic officials. His social media account is filled with screens against Democrats and conspiracy theories.
In the press conference, though, Shea did not give any descriptive details of the suspect.
He said police had “multiple discussions initially with the individual,” but he now has a lawyer. “Often times the first story is not the final story,” said the chief of detectives.
Asked whether Comello has organized crime ties, he said, “I do not have any information to substantiate that as I stand here today.”
The murder occurred at a home in the name of Rosaria Inzerillo.
Rosaria Inzerillo is Frank Cali’s wife, according to multiple published reports. Daily News reports that she is related to the infamous Inzerillo crime family of Sicily. For decades, the Inzerillo family was one of the most powerful Mafia clans in Sicily. However, that changed when they lost a war with the Corleones.
The Inzerillo mob clan was later referred to as exiles and runaways after they were allowed to leave Sicily to come to the United States by a Corleone mob boss who prevailed in a bloody war with them. They were told to never return to Sicily, Time Magazine reports.
According to La Repubblica, Rosaria’s family hails from Passo di Rigano, where they serve “plates of pasta…on the tables of Nino’s Restaurant.” The site reports that various members of the Inzerillo family have settled back in Palermo over the years, returning there from the United States, as members from the old mob wars die.
Frank Cali was considered powerful on both sides of the ocean. Furthermore, Carlo Gambino was an Inzerillo cousin, which fortified the clan’s ties to the Gambinos in New York. According to Staten Island Live, in 1997, an FBI agent “notified Italian police of Cali’s distinctive standing as a member of crime families on both sides of the ocean, after he was ‘combined’ into the Gambino family.” This was unique and stemmed from his marriage to the daughter of the powerful Palermo Mafia family.
Some of the Inzerillos have also met violent ends. One, Pietro Inzerillo, was beheaded in New Jersey in 1981, according to The New York Times.
Daily Beast reports that Frank Cali’s wife “is the niece of Gambino capo John Gambino, and his brother Joseph and brother-in-law Peter Inzerillo are well-known Gambino soldiers.” Cali was initially a capo in the Gambino family before he climbed the ranks.
3. Frank Cali Shook Hands With His Killer, Who Struck Cali’s Parked SUV, Perhaps to Lure Him Outside
The shooting took place outside Cali’s family home in Staten Island near his SUV, which was parked outside of the dwelling. The killer struck Cali’s car, and when Cali came outside, a conversation ignited, followed by the murder. It’s possible, authorities believe, that the shooter struck Cali’s car to lure him outside where he would be vulnerable.
Shea said that police “have extensive video recovered from the house where it occurred. We had the individual come up. There is an altercation with the vehicle up front. We still don’t know whether that was a ploy or an accident.” He added that Cali “was shot 10 times. We will work with the victim’s family to get the justice they deserve.”
He said authorities had recovered the shooter’s vehicle but not the firearm. “On the victim’s car… we believe we have fingerprints recovered from that vehicle as well as other places,” Shea said.
Cali’s shooter picked up a license plate that fell off the car after shaking hands with Cali. He handed the plate to Cali and “then pulls a gun and shoots as Cali puts the license in his own car,” according to NBC New York, which cited law enforcement sources for the information.
The New York Times reported that the gunman rang Cali’s doorbell after striking his car.
“Mr. Cali was struck several times by gunfire. In trying to elude additional gunfire, [he] fled to the rear area of his private vehicle,” Shea said.
The killer used a 9mm handgun, and “held it with two hands — as if he was trained,” reported ABC 7.
New York police released a statement confirming that Frank Cali was shot to death in a homicide. They referred to him by his given name of Francesco Cali. According to CBS, police said they responded to a 911 call of an assault in progress in front of 25 Hilltop Terrace and found Cali with “multiple gunshot wounds to the torso.” EMS responded and Cali was transported to Staten Island University North where he was pronounced deceased.
The New York Daily News initially reported that the mobster “was gunned down and run over Wednesday night in a gory mob hit.” However, the second part of that claim was not confirmed by authorities and the news site later hedged that account and said that a family member reported that Cali was run down but police were still investigating that detail.
The New York Times reported that Cali was shot at least six times. Other news sites have also reported that Cali was run over.
Mob hits aren’t supposed to invade a Mafioso’s family sphere, which was perhaps a clue from the start that the murder wasn’t linked to the Mafia. The most infamous violation of this supposed mob code on screen came when Tony Soprano was eating with his family when the ending of that show came. In real life, the murder of Frank Cali is alleged to have occurred when “Cali was home having dinner with his family when this truck pulled up. He was shot outside the home,” Daily Mail reported through sources.
According to the New York Post, the hit against Cali was deemed particularly disrespectful because his wife and children were inside the family home when it occurred. One family member ran out shouting “papa! papa!” said the Post. A woman shouted, the Post reported, “Why doesn’t the ambulance come? He’s not breathing!”
Pix11 reports that the New York Fire Department received the call around 9:18 p.m. and responded to a home listed under the name of Rosaria Inzerillo “in the upscale Todt Hill section of Staten Island.”
The New York Post reports that, although a 911 caller heard six to seven shots, it was unclear how many times Cali was struck. Cali was “whacked,” the Post reported.
A witness told the Daily News: “The man was on the ground face-up. His head was by his SUV, and the truck was open.” A neighbor told the New York Times that it sounded like all of the gunfire came from one weapon.
The suspect was described as being “taken into custody in New Jersey by the police and the FBI’s organized crime squad.”
4. Comello Worked Odd Construction Jobs & Frank Didn’t Want Him Dating His Niece, Reports Say
Frank Cali didn’t think Comello was the kind of person he wanted around the women in the family, Cosa Nostra News alleged. The site described Comello as someone who “worked odd construction jobs” and may have had a drug addiction. Police have not confirmed the latter allegation, and they said they weren’t sure what Comello did for a living.
The site alleged that Comello was dating Cali’s niece until Cali personally intervened and put a stop to the relationship.
However, when asked about the possibility of a domestic angle to the shooting, Shea said only, “Everything is on the table at this point. Less than 12 hours we have had him in our custody. The investigation continues, and these are questions we will find the answers to.”
On Facebook, Comello shared photos of family, dogs, and a T-shirt that read “ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.” He shared tribute bracelets to a high school friend and football player who died of suspected prescription painkiller use. “Miss you buddy and love you,” Comello wrote on Facebook.
Cali isn’t a person you’d want to mess with, to put it mildly.
A profile on Frank Cali’s ascent in Mafia world by La Repubblica, states that his parents are Augusto Cesare and Agata Cali.
The profile describes Cali’s dad as a Palermo native who ran a store in that city “selling household goods and electrical materials.” After moving to New York, he opened a video store called “Arcobaleno Italano Inc.”
The parents still live in Palermo for a couple months every year, and Cali’s father doesn’t have a criminal history although he has been questioned before by the FBI. According to the Italian news site, Frank Cali was “the invisible boss who wanted to have Palermo back.”
5. Some Criticized the News Media for Bringing Gene Gotti’s Name Into It
The last time a Gambino boss (Castellano) was killed, it was by a Gotti (John). Thus, some New York media ramped up speculation against Gene Gotti, the brother of John, who was released from prison shortly before Cali was murdered.
“A Gotti Was Just Released From Prison, Then the Gambino Boss Was Killed: Is There a Connection?” a headline in The New York Times blared.
The Times reported that Gene Gotti, John’s younger brother, represented the “old guard” in the family and had expressed a desire to retake control. He was convicted of heroin trafficking and served a long stint in prison. He was released from prison in 2018.
However, as noted, authorities are investigating all motives. They’ve only accused Anthony Comello in connection with the crime.