Born in New York City on October 27th, 1940, John Joseph Gotti Jr. was an American gangster, also known as “The Dapper Don” for his expensive clothes and his attitude in front of the cameras. Gotti belonged to the Gambino crime family, one of the most prominent Mafia families in New York City. Growing up in a poor family, Gotti was involved in acts of truancy and with street gangs from an early age. He left school at sixteen and went to work for the Fulton-Rockaway Boys gang, which had ties to the Mafia. After his marriage in 1962, Gotti tried to work legal jobs, but couldn’t stay away from a life of crime. By 1966, he had already been jailed twice.
Gotti started out his Mafia career by doing truck hijackings at JFK airport (then called Idlewild Airport) for his mentor, Carmine Fatico, a capo in the Gambino family. His fellow mobster had nicknamed him “Black John” and “Crazy Horse”. In 1968, Gotti was arrested for a third time for stealing while already out on bail and was sentenced in 1969 to three years in prison. He was paroled in 1972 and immediately returned to work under Fatico at The Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, a Gambino family hangout. Although he was not a made man in the Mafia (meaning a fully initiated member,) Fatico still made him an acting capo. In this position, Gotti frequently traveled to Gambino underboss Aniello “Neil” Dellacroce’s headquarters at the Ravenite Social Club. The two quickly became close due to their similar personalities, with Gotti becoming Dellacroce’s protégé.
In 1974, Gotti was arrested following a failed attempt at kidnapping and subsequent murder of gangster James McBratney, who was prime suspect in the killing of a family member of the Gambino’s boss. He was sentenced to four years in prison, but was released after just serving for two years. After Paul Castellano was appointed as head of the Gambino family, Gotti became a made man under his command and also took Fatico’s place as capo of the Bergin crew. In 1978, Gotti helped in the Lufthansa Heist at JFK, known as the largest cash robbery in history. Under his leadership, the Bergin crew became underboss Dellacroce’s biggest earners. It is reported that Gotti ran a loan shark business and even drug deal operations during this time.
In 1984, Gotti was named as acting boss alongside Thomas Bilotti by Castellano, since the latter was facing life imprisonment due to his criminal acts. Gotti, however, had been plotting with other Mafia bosses to overthrow Castellano, for whom he had a deep dislike and didn’t agree with his leadership. In December 1985, under Gotti’s command, Castellano and his underboss were ambushed and murdered, while Gotti watched from a car. The following year, Gotti was made the boss of the Gambino family. It had been common knowledge that he was the one who orchestrated Castellano’s murder and he who would become the successor.
At the time he rose to become head of the Gambino family, the organization was regarded as the most powerful American Mafia family. Gotti rose to prominence after this, while facing a racketeering case, and thanks to television cameras during his audiences, he rose in esteem amongst the general public. In 1987, Gotti was acquitted of charges, including murder, loansharking, armed hijackings and illegal gambling. The acquittal earned him the nickname of “The Teflon Don,” because charges didn’t seem to “stick.” It was later revealed that the trial had been compromised due to juror misconduct and intimidation of witnesses.
As the head of the Gambino family, Gotti became one of the most powerful and dangerous organized crime bosses in the U.S. In 1990, he avoided another round of assault and conspiracy charges, as he was later acquitted. It also surfaces that he had planned to tamper with the jury. A second racketeerring case —which included the charges for five murders including Castellano’s, murder conspiracies, bribery obstruction of justice, and tax evasion— was brought up against Gotti, his underboss Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano and consigliere Frank Locascio. Thanks to Gravano’s declarations against his boss on the stand, a jury found Gotti guilty of the charges against him in April 1992. The judge then sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole. Gotti spent the remainder of his days incarcerated, where he died of throat cancer at the age of sixty-one on June 10th, 2002.