Angelo Bruno transformed the Philadelphia mob into a booming criminal operation, but did he also have a hand in the mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa?
In Martin Scorsese’s new film The Irishman, infamous mobsters from American history are in abundance. One of the most notorious, however, is Angelo Bruno, the reputed boss of Philadelphia who will be played by Harvey Keitel.
Bruno ruled over the Philadelphia mob for two decades and transformed an underworld of chaos and violence into one of order and, most importantly, profit. He was loved by many, and often rubbed elbows with American Mafia heavyweights such as Russell Bufalino and his right-hand man Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, whose deathbed confessions inspired The Irishman.
Most significantly, though, Bruno was known for his non-violent stance. So how did he become mixed up with the infamous disappearance — and, most likely, murder — of union leader Jimmy Hoffa and what exactly was his relationship with the known hitman Frank Sheeran?
Angelo Bruno, “The Gentle Don”
Born Angelo Annaloro in Sicily in 1910, the future boss’s family soon emigrated to the United States where they settled in Philadelphia. There, his father established a grocery store and a young Bruno often picked up shifts in the shop.
Bruno got involved with the Philadelphia mob at a young age, committing criminal acts to earn extra cash. This is when he changed his name from Annaloro to Bruno as an homage to Philadelphia mobster “Joe Bruno” Dovi.
As he got older, Bruno married his childhood sweetheart Sue Maranca and had two children, but still stayed heavily involved with the criminal underworld in Philadelphia. In 1959, Dovi died and many other high-ranking mobsters were arrested, leaving Bruno in charge of the Philadelphia Mafia while he ran a few of his own legitimate businesses.
Bruno took this chance to transform the mob into a more legitimate business. Unlike his fellow mobsters, Bruno approached his criminal acts with the mindset of a businessman which meant less gang violence and more profit.
This approach garnered Bruno the name “The Gentle Don.” He became known as a cunning and shrewd crime lord and one who didn’t rely on violence to get what he wanted. As a result, the Philadelphia rackets were never more profitable than when Angelo Bruno was in charge.
During his reign, Angelo Bruno formed connections with powerful politicians and power brokers. This kept him out of trouble with the authorities — for the most part.
That all changed, however, after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 when Bruno became a major suspect in the investigation. The FBI kept a file on the mobster, which included transcripts of conversations in which Bruno mentions wanting the president killed.
Fortunately for Bruno, he was never convicted for the crime.
A Family Man
Bruno and his wife stayed together for their entire lives and the crime lord was extremely dedicated to his family.
While this family man lifestyle may have been informed by his disdain for unnecessary violence, his children were still aware that their father was no ordinary businessman.
“I always had the sense that something was wrong,” Jean Bruno later said in an interview. “I remember in our first home, on Broad Street, some of the windows were painted black. I thought it was normal, but later I realized it was because he was running numbers.”
Angelo Bruno was also quick to indulge in the more glamorous parts of his lifestyle. When Jean Bruno saw Frank Sinatra at a bar, she asked her father if he’d said hello to the musician, but Bruno coolly replied, “No … He came up and said hello to me.”
Meanwhile, Jean Bruno once saw her mother trying on expensive jewels. When she asked where she got them, her mother Sue Bruno responded that they were Marilyn Monroe’s. Apparently, Joe DiMaggio was heartsick over the blonde bombshell and had given the jewels to his close friend Angelo Bruno.
Despite the dirty money, Jean is quick to uphold her father’s image. “He was never convicted of a murder,” she said. “And he was the most investigated man in the United States.”
Bruno’s Role In Hoffa’s Disappearance
Even if Angelo Bruno didn’t commit any murders himself, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t involved in the planning of one.
Like upstate Pennsylvania godfather Russell Bufalino, Bruno was close with a man named Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. In the Philadelphia mafia, Sheeran was known as a hitman. In the Irishman’s deathbed confessions, published in I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, he claimed to have carried out a hit or two for Bruno.
Sheeran — whose story has been widely called into question — recalled his first assignment with the crime lord in which Bruno simply told him, “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
The hitman later said, “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 had also carried out hits for union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had worked with the Philadelphia mob to become the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The pair remained close friends and associates — as Hoffa did with other prominent mobsters such as Bufalino and even Bruno — until Hoffa was arrested on racketeering charges. The mob was quick to find a replacement, and they soon forgot about the old Teamster.
However, when Hoffa was released from prison in 1972, he was eager to get back to his post. The mafia had other ideas. When he was rejected by the Bufalino crime family, he came looking for support from Bruno. They met at the Rickshaw Inn, where Bruno told him that he would never and could never return to his presidency.
Hoffa disappeared not long later.
According to Sheeran’s confessions, Bufalino hired him to kill Hoffa. The mob boss reportedly arranged for Sheeran to pick up Hoffa in a car and take him to an empty house in Detroit, where he put two bullets in the back of his head.
While Sheeran did not include Angelo Bruno in this confession, it remains likely that the Pennsylvania don was involved.
However, neither this nor any of Sheeran’s confession have been proven. Apart from a few unidentified blood splatters found in a house in Detroit, there is nothing to say that Sheeran or any of the Philadelphia mafia were involved in Hoffa’s disappearance or death, which remains unsolved to this day.
The Violent End and Lasting Legacy of Angelo Bruno
Murderer or not, Angelo Bruno’s life eventually ended in gruesome violence.
On March 21, 1980, 69-year-old Bruno was shot in the head while sitting in a car outside of his South Philadelphia rowhouse. His driver, John Stanfa, was injured but survived.
It is still unknown who exactly pulled the trigger or why, but many believe it was due to Bruno’s dislike of the narcotics industry and his strict limitations on the drug trade in Philadelphia.
People lined the street to get a glimpse of the infamous mobster, still sitting upright in the passenger seat.
This murder set in motion Philadelphia’s most violent gang war yet with several different factions of the mob fighting against one another. Mobsters were left dead on the streets and the organized crime of the area met its brutal end.
As the Philadelphia Daily News later reported, “If Bruno didn’t do things to make law enforcement notice him, I doubt that Philadelphia would have been one of the first organized-crime law enforcement units with a ‘strike force’ in the country.”
Still, by everyone who knew him, Angelo Bruno will always be considered “The Gentle Don.”
Now that you know about the notoriously “gentle” crime boss Angelo Bruno, check out these photos of some of the most infamous mob hits in history. Then read about Carlo Gambino, the gangster that outsmarted the FBI.