Altamura, Thomas (1913-1967)

Born New York, Nov. 3, 1913.
Killed North Bay Village, FL, Oct. 31, 1967

Altamura, sometimes called "the Enforcer," was a lifelong criminal who became supervisor of Gambino Crime Family loan sharking in the south Florida area. He was murdered as a result of a turf war with Anthony "Big Tony" Esperti, linked with the Bonanno Crime Family.[1]

Altamura was a native of New York City, the second of nine children born to immigrant parents. His father, Vincent, from Taranto in the southern Italian mainland, worked as a tailor. His mother, Rose, was from Sicily. He grew up in the borough of Queens. His formal education ended shortly after he reached high school. He worked for a time at his father's tailor shop and briefly held truck driving and sales jobs as he moved full time into a career on the wrong side of the law.[2]

His criminal record in New York dated back to 1931. As a minor, he was acquitted following an automobile theft arrest and sentenced to probation unlawful entry after the burglary of a Bronx speakeasy. He later served three long terms in Sing Sing Prison.[3]

He was sentenced in Queens County in April 1932 to serve three to six years on a robbery conviction. (Then eighteen, Altamura of Corona, Queens, also known as Thomas Melba, and accomplice Peter Nastasi, nineteen, of the Bronx, were initially charged with first degree robbery, petit larceny and second degree assault after holding up the owner of a Roulston Grocery store in Corona. They pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery.) Soon after his release from that term, he was convicted of a robbery in the Bronx and sentenced to ten to twenty years.[4]

While on parole in the summer of 1944, he was charged with attempted robbery of a tavern in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.[5] He and two other men entered the tavern on 37th Avenue after hours. During the attempted robbery, the men became frightened and fled. Altamura reportedly dropped his wallet on the way out of the tavern.[6]

In the 1960s, Altamura was involved in Gambino Crime Family loan sharking rackets in south Florida. In this period, authorities noted his ownership of Sonny's Restaurant in Miami Beach and his close working relationship with Tampa-area Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.[7]

At two o'clock in the morning on October 31, 1967, fifty-three-year-old Altamura entered the Harbor Lounge, attached to the Place for Steak restaurant, on the 79th Street Causeway in North Bay Village, Florida. He was immediately struck by bullets. Two .38-caliber slugs hit him in the back of the head and three others penetrated his back and his side as he turned. There were about a half dozen witnesses to the shooting in the well-lit establishment. As Altamura fell to the floor dead, his killer and a woman companion left the lounge. The woman, Audrey Fowler, girlfriend of underworld-connected former boxer Anthony "Big Tony" Esperti, left her purse behind at the bar.[8]

Police found $800 in cash and a $10,000 cashier's check in Altamura's possession. Hours later, thirty-seven-year-old Esperti surrendered to police after hearing that he was wanted for first-degree murder. He claimed to know nothing of the Altamura killing. Esperti, originally from Brownsville, Brooklyn, was at the time free on bond awaiting his appeal of an extortion conviction.[9]

Esperti was indicted in mid-January, 1968, for the Altamura murder.[10] His first trial, in Miami, resulted in a March 1968 hung jury.[11] He once again came to trial in autumn 1971, this time at Bartow, Florida. Esperti was already serving his extortion sentence in Atlanta Federal Prison.

Witnesses stated that they saw Esperti shoot Altamura.[12] A prison cellmate of Esperti, Joseph Delino, testified that Esperti told him about killing Altamura. According to Delino, the two gangsters had quarreled about rackets territories and Altamura warned Esperti to stay away from the 79th Street Causeway, a busy thoroughfare connecting the city of Miami with North Bay Village. (Informant William Dara told the FBI that other Mafiosi attempted to mediate the quarrel between Altamura and Esperti. During this time, Altamura threatened to kill Esperti if he ever saw him at the 79th Street Causeway.) Esperti responded to the warning by murdering Altamura.[13] That second trial resulted in Esperti's conviction.[14]

Discussed in:

  1.  Doerner, Fred W. Jr., "La Cosa Nostra Miami Division," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-2110, NARA no. 124-10293-10346, Sept. 11, 1967, p. 21.
  2.  Sing Sing Prison Admission Register, Inmate no. 85935, received April 18, 1932; Sing Sing Prison Admission Register, Inmate no. 92799, received Dec. 11, 1936; New York State Census of 1925, Queens County, Assembly District 3, Election District 33.
  3.  "2 youths given Sing Sing terms on robbery pleas," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 16, 1932, p. 4; "Mobster slain in Miami; suspect surrenders," New York Daily News, Nov. 1, 1967, p. 3.
  4.  Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers; "2 youths given Sing Sing terms on robbery pleas"; "Dropped wallet nets parolee as thief foiled in tavern raid," Brooklyn Eagle, June 19, 1944, p. 11.
  5.  "Tavern stickup suspect is held," New York Daily News, July 2, 1944, p. B3.
  6.  "Dropped wallet nets parolee as thief foiled in tavern raid."
  7.  "High exposes Miami hoods," Miami News, Aug. 7, 1963, p. 1; "Tampa detective describes how Trafficante tied in," Tampa Tribune, Oct. 16, 1963, p. 13.
  8.  Florida Death Index, Dade County, October 1967; U.S. Social Security Death Index, 081-20-1222, October 1967; "Mobster slain in Miami; suspect surrenders"; Roderus, Frank, "Retrial elements bizarre," Tampa Tribune, Sept. 6, 1971, p. B1.
  9.  "Mobster slain in Miami; suspect surrenders."
  10.  "Esperti indicted in killing," Miami News, Jan. 17, 1968, p. 3.
  11.  Sosin, Milt, "Esperti asks murder charge be dismissed," Miami News, Oct. 30, 1970, p. 5.
  12.  "Two testify they saw Altamura gunned down," Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 14, 1971, p. B1.
  13.  "Second Esperti trial will go to jury today," Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 15, 1971, p. B1; SAC Miami, "La Cosa Nostra AR-Conspiracy," FBI Airtel, file no. 92-6054-2178, NARA no. 124-10289-10186, Nov. 14, 1967, p. 2.
  14.  "Esperti attorney seek new trial," Orlando Sentinel, Nov. 9, 1971, p. 6.