Angelo Bruno was a Philadelphia mob boss and one of the most notorious mobsters in American history. He is portrayed by Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman which will be available to stream on Netflix on November 27.
The Irishman follows the life of mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran as he climbs the ranks from truck driver to hitman for Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. In Sheeran’s deathbed confessions published in the book, I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa by Charles Brandt, Sheeran claimed to have carried out a hit or two for Bruno.
In the book, Sheeran recalls the first hit he carried out for Bruno where the mob boss told him “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
“You didn’t have to go down the street and enroll in some courses at the University of Pennsylvania to know what he meant. It was like when an officer would tell you to take a couple of German prisoners back behind the line and for you to ‘hurry back.’ You did what you had to do.” Sheeran said.
Bruno was born “Angelo Annaloro” in Sicily, Italy in 1910. He later changed his last name to Bruno as an homage to Philadelphia mobster “Joe Bruno” Dovi. He became involved in the criminal underworld in Philadelphia as a child and gradually rose through the ranks. In 1959, Dovi passed away and a number of other high-ranking mob bosses were arrested, leaving Bruno in charge of the Philadelphia crime family.
Bruno brought a businessman’s mindset to the mob and transformed the operation in Philadelphia into a highly profitable, more professional enterprise.
He reigned over the city until March 12, 1980 when the 69-year-old Bruno was shot in the head while sitting in a car outside of his South Philadelphia home. Bruno was so famous at the time that citizens lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the deceased mobster. He was survived by his wife Sue and their two children.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was Known As “The Gentle Don”
Angelo Bruno had a reputation for using his cunning and business skills to get what he wanted rather than relying on violence. His skill for reconciling disputes in a professional manner made the Philadelphia rackets much more profitable.
His approach to organized crime earned him the nickname “The Gentle Don”. He instituted order throughout the Philly mob, increased their power and influence, and connected his operation to more established families in New York City and New Jersey through La Cosa Nostra.
Rather than killing everybody in his way, he made friends with politicians, power brokers, and local cops and traded bribes and favors in order to get what he wanted. Bruno also owned several legitimate businesses that he ran alongside his criminal enterprise.
2. He Was a Suspect in the Assassination of JFK
Bruno was a major suspect for the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was arrested and brought in for questioning on Federal Conspiracy charges.
The east coast mob families were furious at Kennedy for leading the relentless pursuit of their criminal enterprises. The FBI at the time had penetrated the crime families and was wiretapping conversations between La Cosa Nostra figures. They had transcripts of phone conversations where Bruno mentioned wanting to have the president killed.
“With Kennedy, a guy should take a knife. Somebody should kill the [expletive deleted]. I mean it. Honest to God . . . Right in the White House.” Bruno said in a May 1963 phone conversation, “Somebody’s got to get rid of this [expletive deleted].”
The mob had a motive but the FBI couldn’t find any evidence connecting them to the crime.
3. He May Have Been Involved in the Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa
Angelo Bruno was never mentioned by Sheeran in his deathbed confession or by anybody else when it comes to the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa but it’s possible that he was involved.
Hoffa worked closely with the Philadelphia mob for years and eventually became the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He was good friends with Bruno and upstate Pennsylvania godfather Russell Bufalino who introduced him to Sheeran.
In 1964, Hoffa was tried and found guilty for bribing a juror in one of his criminal cases. He was later found guilty in a separate fraud case as well. He tried and failed to appeal the cases and finally reported to the Federal Correctional Institution in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on March 7, 1967. President Nixon commuted his 13-year sentence to time served on December 23, 1971 thanks to some alleged bribes and promises that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters would throw their support behind his candidacy.
After Hoffa got out, he tried to get re-elected as President of the Teamsters by challenging Frank Fitzsimmons in 1976 and grew increasingly erratic during the campaign. He accused Fitzsimmons of collaborating with the mob and threatened to release names and details of deals involving the criminal organization.
Russell Bufalino sat down with Hoffa and pleaded with him to wait until 1980 to make his comeback. Hoffa was defiant, he wanted his position back. Allegedly, Bufalino talked about the issue with Sheeran following dinner. “Some people have a serious problem with your friend,” Bufalino told him. “Talk to your friend. Tell him what it is.” Which is mob-speak for “kill him”.
While Bruno was never mentioned in Sheeran’s deathbed confession it’s likely he knew of the hit and gave the green light. As one of two major crime figures in Philadelphia, it seems unlikely that he would be unaware of such a major decision.
Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975 and was never seen again.
4. He Was Good Friends With Celebrities Including Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio
Angelo Bruno loved the spotlight. He was gifted at building relationships with powerful people and that included celebrities. He constantly indulged in the more glamorous aspects of his lifestyle.
Angelo’s daughter Jean Bruno told Philly Mag that Angelo came home one night and told her, “you’ll never guess who I just saw.”
“Who?” she asked.
“Frank Sinatra,” he said. “He showed up in the same bar I was in.”
“Oh, Daddy!” Jean responded. “Did you go up to him and say hello?”
“Because,” her father replied, “he came up and said hello to me.”
Jean Bruno also told another story of how she once saw her mother trying on expensive jewels. When she asked where they came from, Sue Bruno said that they were Marilyn Monroe’s. Apparently, Joe DiMaggio was depressed over the blonde actress and had given the jewels to his close friend Angelo Bruno. She later met Joe DiMaggio at the old Brighton Hotel in Atlantic City.
5. He Helped Build Atlantic City and Refused to Participate in the Drug Trade
In 1976, New Jersey legalized gambling and Angelo Bruno saw the business opportunity of a lifetime. He used his connections with several steel companies in Pittsburgh to profit off the construction of the casinos.
Bruno was a major contributor to the building and operation of the casinos which elevated the power and reputation of the Philadelphia family to new heights and made him rich.
During this time, Bruno refused to take part in the lucrative narcotics racket that had been making his New Jersey and New York counterparts a lot of money. His younger captains and soldiers became angry and resentful of his orders which they saw as unfair, especially as Bruno was getting rich off of the casinos.
His crew got even angrier with him when New Jersey changed their gambling laws, forcing Bruno to pull back and declare them open territory. He lost a significant amount of power and influence and appeared vulnerable.
A litany of legal issues for Bruno and other mobsters caused tensions in the Philadelphia mafia to reach an all-time high.
Bruno’s consigliere, Anthony Caponigro, conspired with the heads of the New York and New Jersey families to order and carry out the hit on Bruno.
Bruno’s murder created a power vacuum and started the most violent gang war Philadelphia has ever seen.