BONVENTRE, Cesare (1956-1984): Zip, or young Sicilian
Of all the Zips, or young Sicilian mafiosi, brought
into the United States by the likes of Carlo Gambino
and Carmine Galante, no one was more hated or
feared than Cesare Bonventre, who killed his way up
to underboss of the Zips and their faction within the
Colombo family. Many American mobsters viewed
the Zips as imported "crazies," who were not to be
trusted, Cesare least of all. Nonetheless, the Zips
became the key factors in the so-called Pizza Connec-
tion, importing millions of dollars of heroin into the
The Colombo family boss Galante, recently
released from prison, ran the operation. He wanted
total control of the heroin trade in America and ulti-
mately meant to take over all five of the New York
families. For that he needed the Zips and the unques
tioning loyalty of the swaggering Cesare Bonventre,
at 28 one of the youngest of the weird bunch.
Galante felt he could trust the Zips; he was making
them rich and powerful. What more could they
Trusting no one else in the Mafia, Galante kept
only a small group of Zips around him, with Cesare
always at his side. He used the Zips for all kinds of
murderous work and for handling junk deals. Then
in 1979 three masked gunmen shot Galante to death
in a Brooklyn restaurant. With him at the time as
"bodyguards" were Cesare and his cousin Baldo
Amato. Both fled after the shooting. It was clear the
assassins had no interest in shooting them.
Inside both mob and law enforcement circles there
was little doubt that Bonventre was in on the hit. The
other crime families in New York and elsewhere had
grown so frightened of Galante that they decided he
had to die. They followed an old Mafia custom of
involving some of the victim's closest associates in
the plot. Cesare Bonventre fit the bill perfectly. He
probably didn't even consider it an act of betrayal.
He could see how the odds had suddenly swung
against his mentor. Farewell, Carmine.
As a reward Cesare became a capo within the
Bonanno family, honored if hardly trusted.
Cesare's own downfall was a bare five years off.
The Pizza Connection plot, funneling heroin deals
through pizza parlors all over Brooklyn and else-
where, was unraveling. Higher-ups probably blamed
Bonventre for at least part of the chaos. And if
Cesare had betrayed Galante, might he not also
betray them to the authorities?
As arrests were made in the pizza case, Bonventre
and Amato disappeared. Amato later turned up alive
and was convicted with many others. Cesare Bonven-
tre was not so fortunate. His body was found hacked
in two and stuffed into two glue drums in a ware-
house in New Jersey. The body had been located
through a tip from an unidentified source who knew
where the drums were stored pending shipment to
the Midwest. It took weeks to identify the corroded
and decomposed remains as Cesare. The task was
accomplished using dental records and a gaudy gold
chain the victim always wore around his neck and
bragged was "indestructible."
No arrests ever resulted even though an informant
stated that one of the killers was one Cosmo Aiello,
who also turned up dead about five weeks after the
discovery of Bonventre's body.
Perhaps Bonventre's murder had been ordered by
his Zip superior, Sal Catalano, but there were other
suspects. Certain forces in Philadelphia hated
Cesare for having cheated them with diluted heroin.
And there was an endless number of Bonventre's
associates who had long chaffed under his rough
Cesare made a very popular corpse.