Exit the Dapper Don ? in a sharp suit, naturally

Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 16 June 2002 00:00
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The funeral cars were lined up beneath a slate-grey sky along a stretch of grand avenue that had been made temporarily fragrant by the mass of flowers the vehicles were carrying.

One of the tributes was in the shape of a racing horse and bore the words, "Always the winner in our hearts". Another was in the shape of a fat Cuban cigar, complete with an encircling Cohiba band.

The mobster John Gotti liked to do things in style – or at least that was what people said. He liked expensive clothes and expensive cars, and he was vain enough to have a barber come and attend him every day. And yesterday, as the head of the Gambino crime family was interred in a cemetery in Queens, New York, his friends and family did their best to perpetuate the image.

''You would not believe it. You had to see it for yourself,'' said Peter Borromeo, 65, outside Papavero Funeral Home in the Maspeth neighbourhood, where Gotti's body had lain since he died of throat cancer last Monday in a prison hospital. "He had beautiful suits, $2,000-$3,000.''

Much has been made of the "Dapper Don", the gangster who loved Brioni suits and $400 handmade ties, and who, when he ordered the killing of his boss, "Big Paul" Castellano, to take control of the Gambino family in 1985, insisted the four hitmen wore matching trench coats and Russian fur hats for full stylistic effect.

And so it was yesterday. Gotti's family revealed the Don was being buried in an $800 suit with a white shirt and a black silk tie.

''It was a really nice suit. One hundred per cent wool,'' said Tony Difede, who last week became the Don's dry-cleaner when he tended to Gotti's funeral suit. One hates to think what might have happened to Mr Difede had he not read the care instructions label properly. Would he have received a visit from one of the thickset men with slicked-back hair who were steadily arriving at the funeral home?

To be honest, it seemed as if everyone here was from Central Casting – the men in dark suits, the men in dark glasses and even the grieving daughter, Victoria, who had declared the night before that her father was "a great man with a generous heart''. Indeed it seemed as if most people had had their lines prepared for them by screenwriters. "He respected people, and they respected him,'' said one onlooker. Any second you expected the cast of The Sopranos to arrive to "show some respect''. Apparently they had been invited.

But what about Gotti the mobster? What about the killer who died in jail because he was convicted in 1992 on 13 counts of murder and racketeering? What about the man who ordered the "whacking'' of his neighbour John Favara, who happened to be driving the car involved in an accident in which Gotti's 12-year-old son was killed? ''That I don't know,'' said Mr Borromeo, when I asked him about Gotti's mob record. "I don't want to get into that. That was his business.''

It would be easy to be smug, to feign incredulity at this airbrushing of history, of the elevation to Robin Hood status of a ruthless killer, albeit a well-dressed one.

But we have seen all this before, and much closer to home. It was the same with the Krays, those East End villains who so loved their mum.

In fact with its low-rise buildings, second-hand car lots and rainy skies there was a touch of Bethnal Green to this part of Queens yesterday. And, as with the Krays, Gotti got the slow-drawn parade through his home streets on his way to be interred in the family plot at St John's Cemetery in nearby Howard Beach.

Before the car set off one woman stood admiring the floral tributes. "A lot of flowers,'' she remarked. "They would have done better giving them to the poor.''

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