Saturday, May 21, 2011

Graves of the Mob Bosses

Mob boss Angelo Bruno's grave
As I said in a previous blog, I feel a bit like a peeping tom when I get ideas from the pages of Facebook friends. I originally conceived of this blog as a memoir of sorts, but occasionally I get new ideas from Facebook, so thanks to you all. A month or so ago I happened on a page of photographs called "Grave Sites of Gangsters," by J. David Perry. Got me thinking about the grave sites of Philly mobsters.

In my 14 years of cemetery travel, I only remember one instance when I actually looked up where certain people were buried, in order to visit their graves. This was during a trip to Hollywood and the surrounding areas. Back in the early 2000s, I visited Marilyn Monroe’s crypt, a few of the Marx Brothers, Rudolph Valentino, The Lone Ranger, Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, and so on. Some day I’ll come across the photos from those cemeteries.

So if I ever find a notable tombstone or monument, it’s strictly by chance. It's been fortuitous to stumble upon the graves of John Barrymore, John Wilkes Booth, and Grover Cleveland, but I'm mainly shooting with blinders on. Think of all the interesting things I must be missing! What can I say, other than it’s taken a number of years for my interests in cemeteries to mature. Back then it was all about angels.

That’s where my focus was in the early days. Shot angels all over the U.S. for six years or more before I ever read a headstone inscription! I guess I just wasn’t prepared to take it all in. I wouldn’t even go into a cemetery if I couldn’t see angels from the road! Only after I kind of exhausted the obvious angelic possibilities, did I begin paying attention to other things. That led to an ever-expanding interest in cemeteries-- reading books, seeing what non-angelic cemeteries had to offer, appreciating other types of memorial architecture, talking with people who worked in cemeteries, and even dating them!

Gravesites of Gangsters

So I kind of surprised myself when I saw the “Grave Sites of Gangsters,” page. It occurred to me that, hey, Philly used to be rife with organized crime – I wonder where all those mobsters are buried? About 5 minutes of Internet searching brought me to the odd finding that the most notorious ones are buried in the very same cemetery where I began my cemetery photography in the late 1990s, right under those very angelic noses! In fact, this is one of the very first angel photographs I ever made, on the very first roll of film, in Holy Cross Cemetery in 1997.

Holy Cross Cemetery 

Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA is about 2 miles from where I used to live in Delaware County − the southwestern suburbs of Philadelphia. It’s one of Philadelphia’s most unsung cemeteries. Why? It has more statues, monuments, and mausoleums than most cemeteries in the area. Although it’s of late Victorian age (est. 1890), it isn’t landscaped with the typical rolling hills and arboreal splendor. It’s all rather flat. None of the Catholic cemeteries in the area promote themselves as tourist destinations, so Holy Cross gets no publicity. However, it is kept up extremely well by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and is a lovely place in which to wander. It was very convenient to my house – whenever a gathering storm arose, I would jump in the car with my cameras and head over there. For me it was wonderful − the place has so many angel statues you can’t swing a cat without hitting one (as Mark Twain would say).

It’s ironic that a Catholic cemetery would allow known criminals to be buried within its grounds. And then care for the graves, perpetually. No more hypocritical than Italian-American  mobsters being faux religious, I suppose, you know, all Catholic and god-fearing on the surface. (There have been a few, however, who have been denied a church funeral −John Gotti, Paul Castellano, Carmine Galante and Frank DeCicco.)

Googling Mobsters’ Graves 

My search began by Googling Angelo Bruno’s and The Chicken Man’s graves. Both had just been whacked when I first moved to Philly in the early 80s, and the city was still abuzz with the news. Specifically, I Googled “Angelo Bruno grave.”

The Websearch itself was rather interesting. “” is typically what comes up first when you search for a specific person’s grave. The site boasts “61 million grave records!” For each burial, the site gives a short bio with the specific location within the cemetery where the person’s buried. As I alluded to, both Bruno and the Chicken Man are noted as being buried at Holy Cross. Here’s Bruno’s data from the site:

Burial: Angelo Bruno
Holy Cross Cemetery
Delaware County
Pennsylvania, USA
Plot: Section 23, Range 2, Grave 16

FindAGrave even includes a map of the cemetery so you can find the section. Most cemeteries mark their sections with a small stone at the edge of the road border. The range and grave number is fairly easy to figure out, the range being the number of rows in (but you have to figure out from what side), and the grave number being the count from the end of the row (but you don’t know which end). Navigating around section 23 with the help of these coordinates and a bit of dead reckoning (pun intended), I came upon Angelo Bruno’s grave without too much trouble. The only thing notable was a tarnished 1959 penny on the stone. Makes you wonder if it was a family member who placed it there or what might happen to you if you snitched it.

Bruno is perhaps the best known Philly mobster of recent times, having been the boss of the city’s organized crime family from 1959 to 1980. Bruno was murdered with a shotgun blast to the head while sitting in his car in front of his house. The Bruno killing sparked years of family infighting with dozens of slayings. A year later, Bruno’s successor, Philip 'Chicken Man' Testa was blown up by a nail bomb at his home.

Angelo Bruno's house in South Philadelphia
Bruno’s house was up for sale in 2010. His daughter still lived there and wanted to move to Jersey (where all the Goodfellas seem to end up). Since his house is only about a mile from mine, I thought I’d stop by and snap a photo. People assume mobsters live in fancy homes or estates like the bosses on the  Sopranos. Bruno’s house was a very plain end-of-row, as you can see in the photo. John Stanfa, Bruno’s driver at the time of the killing, did the brick work on the front (in case you were wondering).

(Map link to Bruno's house – note that it is located on “E. Snyder Avenue!”)

Philip 'Chicken Man' Testa 

Though Phil Testa was only a mob boss for a year, he’s more famous in pop culture than Bruno. Bruce Springsteen opens his song “Atlantic City" with the line:
“Well they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night, now they blew up his house too….”
Philip "Chicken Man" Testa's house (r.) in South Philly
Testa, whose nickname came from his involvement in a poultry business, was killed when a nail bomb was exploded on his front porch as he was entering his house in South Philly (21st and Porter Streets). I took this photo a few days ago. The house is still there. His was the one on the right side of this twin. Obviously some remodeling has been done since the blast in 1981.Unlike the very commercial Snyder Avenue area where Bruno lived, Testa seemed to prefer the residential tree-lined streets across from Steven Girard Park.

Finding Testa’s grave was a bit more challenging. It probably took me 15 minutes to locate Bruno’s headstone, but it didn’t seem like Testa’s was there, at least according to the directions on You figure it would be relatively easy, since they show you a photo of the actual stone.  So I gave up and re-checked the site. It was supposed to be in Section 27, but it didn’t seem to be there. I started thinking all these cloak-and-dagger thoughts like they must have moved the grave because rival crime families were desecrating it. Turned out FindAGrave had the wrong information. (I went back to the site today to send an email correction to the site author, but found all the specific location information for Testa’s grave removed.)

I visited the record keeper at Holy Cross and asked if she could tell me where Testa’s grave was located. That was a bold move on my part – I wasn’t sure they would give me any information at all, or they might want an explanation of why I wanted to know. Turned out not to be the case. No questions asked, the woman looked it up and gave me a map. Section 21, not 27. Strange how we often assume everything we read is factual (like Wikipedia, for instance).

Additional information I was given was the exact location and depth of Testa's coffin relative to the family stone and the other family members buried there. This kinda weirded me out, like, who would need to know that...? You’ll also notice Salvatore Testa’s name on the stone. Salvie was Phil Testa’s son. According to Wikipedia, “Three years later Salvatore was murdered on orders from Nicky Scarfo. Scarfo, despite being Salvatore's godfather at birth, began to feel threatened by the young capo's popularity in the family and was jealous of an article in the Wall Street Journal that noted Salvatore as a rich, young rising star within the Cosa Nostra underworld."

I was rather surprised to also find this mausoleum at Holy Cross. Michael Maggio was an old-time Mafia Don who sponsored Angelo Bruno for membership into the Philadelphia Family in the 1930s. A lot of people glorify such criminals, treat them like movie stars or folk heroes. One hopes that the line from Springsteen’s Atlantic City, “everything that dies someday comes back, “ does not apply to their kind. In closing, it amused me to see this notation with the Sad Pansy at the bottom of all the mobster’s pages on the FindAGrave site:

The Virtual Flowers feature has been turned off for this memorial because it was being continually misused.

References and Further Reading:

Italian Catholics against mobster church funerals
Canadian Catholics rationalize mobster church funerals
Angelo Bruno's House for Sale Angelo Bruno Philip Testa Michael Maggio

Chicken Man Video:  Mob Scene w/George Anastasia
Angelo Bruno Video:  Mob Scene w/George Anastasia
Archdiocese of Philadelphia Cemeteries


  1. Great post. As for Find A Grave, the entries are only vetted by other readers, if at all. Like most internet sources, it can be useful but must be taken with a grain of salt.