Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

Early Life

John Joseph Gotti, Jr. was born on October 27, 1940. He was the fifth child of John J. Gotti, Sr. and his wife, Fannie. The family grew to eleven children - seven boys and four girls. Due to poor medical care some of his siblings died during childhood. Gotti's father was described in early writings as a hardworking immigrant from the Neapolitan section of Italy. Years later, Gotti would tell a very different story about his father to Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano (the Gambino Family underboss who would become the most infamous mob rat in America):

"These fuckin' bums that write books," Gotti complained, "they're worse than us. My fuckin' father was born in New Jersey. He ain't never been in Italy his whole fuckin' life. My mother neither. The guy never worked a fuckin' day in his life. He was a rolling stone; he never provided for the family. He never did nothin'. He never earned nothin'. And we never had nothin'."

While this description of his father's work habits was overblown, the family was raised in a dirt-poor, poverty-ridden section of the South Bronx. By the time Gotti was ten, his father had saved enough money to move the family to the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn. This proved to be a definite step up from their four-room flat in the South Bronx. A year later, another move placed the family in an area of Brooklyn known as East New York.

At any early age, young "Johnny Boy" learned to use his fists. He had a quick temper and a burning anger as he looked on in disdain at those who had a better life. Instead of aspiring to become a businessman or doctor, his goal was to be one of the wiseguys he saw on a daily basis hanging around the Brooklyn street corners. Thus, Gotti had barely turned twelve before he was caught up in the street activity of the local mobsters. Along with brothers Peter and Richard, Gotti became part of a gang that ran errands for the wiseguys. While Gotti was getting a street education, he seldom had time for a formal one. A habitual truant, when he was in school his teachers considered him a disturbing distraction. Because he was a class bully and a routine discipline problem, they showed little concern over his absence.

In 1954, Gotti was injured while participating in a robbery for some local hoods. He and some other kids were in the process of stealing a portable cement mixer from a construction site when the mixer tipped over landing on Gotti's toes, crushing them. After spending most of the summer of his fourteenth year in the hospital, Gotti was back on the street with a new gait that would last him for life.

By the time he was sixteen Gotti quit school for good and became a member of the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, a teenage gang named for an intersection in Brooklyn. Gotti rose rapidly to leadership. The Fulton-Rockaway Boys differed from other "turf-minded" teen gangs in that they were into a higher level of criminality. Gang members stole automobiles, fenced stolen goods and rolled drunks.

Also, with brothers Peter and Richard, Gotti teamed up with two other young men who would become life-long friends. The first was Angelo Ruggiero, a hulking youth whose penchant for non-stop chatter earned him the nickname "Quack-Quack." The second was Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson, an amateur boxer whose father was of American Indian descent. Johnson was constantly teased and degraded about his roots, and because of it, he could never become a "made" member of the Mafia because of it.

Between 1957 and 1961, while a member of the Fulton-Rockaway Boys, Gotti was arrested five times. Each time the charges were dismissed or reduced to a probationary sentence.


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