by Allan May
To most organized crime followers John Gotti is the most popular underworld figure of the past 15 years. His meteoric and bloody rise to prominence, his bravado, and his seemingly carefree attitude in beating the justice system during the late 1980s gave him the type of cult-like following that outlaws such as Jesse James, Al Capone, and John Dillinger enjoyed.
Many individuals involved with Gotti’s rise and fall have remained in the public’s mind also – Paul Castellano, Sammy Gravano, and Bruce Cutler, to name a few. Each of their backgrounds and the roles they played in Gotti’s life are well known. However, the life of one man who would have a significant impact on Gotti’s rise to power remains relatively unknown. His name became a footnote to the mob boss’s bloody climb to the top.
We all have seen the picture. You know the one. The man lying spread eagle on the floor of Snoope’s bar wearing white shoes and black socks. His plaid pants wide open at the zipper as if he had been shot while relieving himself. The shirt and tee shirt pulled up revealing a hairy beer belly. Not a pretty memory for the family and friends of Jimmy McBratney to remember him.
When Gotti was convicted on April 2, 1992, the Staten Island Advance interviewed members of McBratney’s family. "My father’s claim to fame is that Gotti earned his bones by killing (him). Trying to live with that is the hardest thing to do," said Joseph McBratney, one of two sons interviewed.
After Gotti’s racketeering conviction, McBratney’s son placed a memorial note in the Advance declaring, "Dad, you can rest in peace now. There is a God. Love, your son Joseph."
Although Joseph knows his father fell in with the wrong crowd and committed serious crimes, he holds onto the fact that McBratney never killed anyone. "He was well-liked and would give you the last dollar in his pocket. He taught me how to drive and he loved his kids," states Joseph.
When McBratney was advised to leave town after the word was out that mobsters were looking for him, he refused to run, telling friends he couldn’t desert his family.
Joseph McBratney recalls that his mother hid the newspapers from her children at the time of their father’s murder, but it wasn’t long before they found out from classmates how their father died. "This verdict is a final chapter. This should mark the end of it so my family can go on living," Joseph said.
We’ve been led to believe that McBratney was murdered by Gotti, Angelo Ruggiero, and Ralph Galione as a favor to Carlo Gambino for the killing of his nephew Emmanuel "Manny" Gambino. Please note it was the nephew, not the son, as Ernest Volkman writes in his book, Goombata. In John H. Davis’s Mafia Dynasty, Davis incorrectly states that a $100,000 ransom was paid to McBratney for the Gambino nephew.
In the early 1970s there was a series of kidnappings of wiseguys that took place in New York City. In Tough Guy: The True Story of "Crazy" Eddie Maloney, co-authors William Hoffman and Maloney discuss in detail the kidnappings Maloney and his gang were involved in. Maloney also discusses his friendship with McBratney.
The two men met when both were incarcerated at Greenhaven State Prison in New York. They quickly became close friends. Maloney describes McBratney as a devoted family man who stood six-foot, three-inches tall and weighed in at 250 pounds. A weight lifter, McBratney could bench-press 400 pounds. Maloney continues:
"Jimmy McBratney was locked up for armed robbery. He was quiet, a listener and learner, and soon we were discussing heists we might do together. He knew about guns and wanted to become a collector, but closest to his heart were his wife and two small children and their house on Staten Island, and his goal of saving enough to own a nightclub. I learned Jimmy was very loyal to his wife, and that all the talk in the yard about "broads" upset him. His wife visited regularly and wrote every day."
In October 1972, Maloney became part of a kidnapping ring with McBratney that was the brainchild of two wiseguys from the Gambino Crime Family — Flippo and Ronnie Miano. Claiming they only wanted 10 percent of the ransoms, Flippo told Maloney that his motive for the kidnappings was revenge. "The guys I’m setting up have fucked me and my people on business deals in the past. It’ll give me pleasure to see those greedy fucks suffer."
Convinced that the kidnappings could be pulled off without the victim’s family or fellow mobsters notifying police, the gang believed they could get $100,000 for each wiseguy they snatched. If they got caught, they knew they would have to deal with mob vengeance: the punishment would amount to more than just a bullet in the back of the head.
The kidnapping gang consisted of, in addition to Maloney and McBratney, Tommy Genovese, a distant relative of Vito’s, Warren "Chief" Schurman, and Richie Chaisson. With the home addresses supplied by the Miano brothers, the plan called for a two-team approach. The first team, pretending to be police officers and using a stolen badge, would kidnap the wiseguy victim from his home and hold him in a secure location. The second team would pick up the ransom money.
The first kidnapping was of a Gambino capo called "Frank the Wop". The escapade went off without a hitch and the gang got away with $150,000. Over the next two months the gang completed three more successful body snatches. However, on Dec. 28, 1972 their luck changed. McBratney outlined the plan to grab a Gambino loanshark named "Junior." Late on this bitter cold afternoon, Maloney stuck a gun in Junior’s stomach and ordered him into a car. When the victim put up a fight, Maloney hit him over the head a couple times with his gun before shoving him into the back seat and taking off. Two young witnesses to the crime followed them for a while before they were scared off, but not before the license number was recorded and turned over to one of the kid’s uncles who had mob connections.
Next, a friend of Maloney’s, whose apartment they were holding Junior in, and through whose mother they had rented the abduction car, spilled his guts to the wiseguys after some hoods showed up at his mother’s house asking questions. McBratney was in a panic when he realized the mob had his name as well as Maloney and Schurman’s. After a relatively small ransom, $21,000, was paid, McBratney arrived at the apartment to pick up Schurman and return the victim. Schurman was supposed to tape Junior’s eyes before covering them with sunglasses, something the slow-witted hood failed to accomplish.
After driving a few blocks McBratney became enraged when he realized Junior’s eyes weren’t taped. He brought the car to a screeching halt. Junior bolted out of the back seat and started running for his life as McBratney fired several shots at him. Meanwhile Schurman jumped out of the car and retreated to Maloney’s automobile, which had been following McBratney. Schurman was sure McBratney would kill him if he ever saw him again, a fact Maloney readily confirmed.
Maloney had suggested to McBratney that he leave the city. McBratney declined the advice and instead kept a machine gun in his car at all times. Just before Maloney was sent back to prison on a parole violation, he and Schurman were drinking in a bar one night when two guys he described as "stone killers" came in looking for the two. The bar manager, a friend of Maloney’s, told the visitors he had not seen Maloney and Schurman in a while. Not long after he was sent to prison, Maloney heard that his friend McBratney had been murdered at Snoope’s, a Staten Island bar on May 22, 1973. Months later Maloney saw a newspaper article about the arrest of McBratney’s killers with the pictures of John Gotti and Angelo Ruggiero in it. He realized that they were the two "stone killers" who had been looking for him that night in the bar. Maloney stated in his book:
McBratney’s death saddened me as nothing else in my life had. He’s been a good friend, and he wasn’t a hardened hoodlum like some of us. He intended to get out of the life – and I believe he would have – soon as he accumulated that nestegg. I felt bad for Jimmy’s wife, also. She had been as loyal to him as he to her. On a personal level, Jimmy would have risked his life for me – and I for him – and a person doesn’t make friends like that."
Maloney confessed that in his own effort to get a "pass" from the underworld for his kidnapping capers that he "decided to lay the weight on McBratney. It didn’t matter to Jimmy anymore, and (it) might save our lives."
In his book, Maloney never mentions the kidnapping and killing of Manny Gambino, the murder McBratney allegedly paid for with his life.
So what really happened to Manny Gambino?
In the book Brick Agent, former FBI agent Anthony Villano talks in detail about the kidnapping. Villano was tipped off that Manny Gambino, the son of Carlo’s brother Joseph, had been kidnapped. The first attempt by the family to deliver a ransom payment failed when family members arrived at the wrong restaurant in New Jersey to make the drop. Villano’s attempts to help the family were at first rebuffed. A few days later, an attorney for the family called him and asked the FBI to get involved.
Villano reports that the kidnappers asked for $200,000 and the Gambino family claimed they could only come up with $50,000. The agent figured either the Joe Gambino side of the family was poor, or that having $200,000 in cash on hand might arouse the attention of the IRS.
After receiving new ransom orders, Tommy Gambino, Manny’s brother, was told where to drive to pick up the next set of instructions. Villano and a business partner of Tommy Gambino went along. Villano lay on the floor of the partner’s Cadillac El Dorado. The first stop was a telephone booth at 82nd and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. From there the instructions were to cross the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey and wait at a well-lit gas station on the Palisades Parkway next to a set of pay phones.
The kidnappers called with instructions for the money to be dropped over a metal railing about a mile down the road. The drop was made before agents tailing Villano could get into position to observe it. However, the license number of a van that was seen in the area was recorded by one of the agents.
The group went back to the Gambino home only to be disappointed when Manny was not returned by the promised hour. Over the next several weeks and months, Villano continued investigating. Through another contact, Villano found out the following:
"Manny had fallen in love with a show-biz blonde. He wanted to leave his family because the girl refused to have anything more to do with him unless he gave up his wife and went full-time with her. Manny was advised by his betters in the clan to grow up and forget the blonde. In his circles it was okay to have a mistress but it was bad form to leave your wife, particularly if you were a nephew of Carlo Gambino."
Villano also found out that Manny had a few financial problems, most likely due to trying to maintain two households. Heavy into loansharking operations, many in the family felt that Manny had too much money on the street during this time. One of the people who was into Manny for a large sum was gambler Robert Sentner. Villano, upon hearing the name, realized that the van that was spotted the night the ransom was paid had been rented to a Robert Senter. Villano then reveals the following:
"It took five interviews with him (Sentner) over a period of months before we finally reconstructed the entire venture. The snatch began as a hoax. Manny Gambino worked out the scenario with his debtor Sentner, a friend of Sentner’s, and two others. Midway through the plot, Gambino’s accomplices began to have their doubts. They could see that if things went sour Manny Gambino would give them up, either on a contract to LCN friends or to the law. There was an argument in Gambino’s Cadillac and Sentner settled the dispute with a bullet in the back of Manny’s head."
Manny Gambino’s car was found at the Newark Airport. Villano reports that before his body could reach the burial site, rigor mortis had set in. His body was found buried in the sitting position in a New Jersey dump near the Earle Naval Ammunition Depot. Robert Sentner was arrested and charged with the murder. On June 1,1973, he pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Despite his detailed account of the incident, Jimmy McBratney’s name is never mentioned in Villano’s book.
Was McBratney involved in the death of Manny Gambino?
According to organized crime expert Jerry Capeci, in his book, Mob Star he reports:
"McBratney…was not part of the Gambino kidnap scheme, though some people may have believed it. He was a large, ruddy man who belonged to another gang…whose members cut across ethnic lines. (They) had recently kidnapped a Staten Island loan shark and gotten $21,000. But some neighborhood kids saw the snatch and passed along a license-plate number to neighborhood Family members."
Jimmy McBratney, in all likelihood, was identified as a member of the kidnapping team when Junior was abducted and was subsequently murdered as a result of that involvement. McBratney was obviously not an innocent law-abiding citizen. He had committed armed robbery, kidnapping, possessed illegal weapons, and – if his aim had been better – may have wounded or killed the Staten Island loan shark. However, it is for certain he did not kidnap and murder the nephew of Carlo Gambino. Thus the fabled notion that Gotti won the favor of the mighty Gambino by taking vengeance on the hood that had killed the don’s nephew is just so much misplaced lore. This event, like so many others involving John Gotti, has been twisted to fit the romanticized image of this popular mob icon.