Gregory Scarpa Sr., the Colombo enforcer who did double-duty as an FBI informant, suggests that the mob was behind the 1971 hit on his boss Joe Colombo according to the Bureau's recently-released file on the Grim Reaper.
Colombo was shot by Jerome Johnson, a black wannabe mobster, during the June 28, 1971 rally for the Italian American Civil Rights League which served as a public relations front for the mob boss. The investigation into the Colombo hit was little more than perfunctory, and law enforcement quickly concluded Johnson was a lone madman. However, Scarpa said that Johnson was not a "kook" but a regular fixture in the social clubs who would "'do anything' for a price."
On June 29 – the day after the Colombo shooting – Scarpa told G-men the following:
Informant continued that he has learned that JOHNSON was "a would be Black wise guy" and hung out in Greenwich Village. Informant said JOHNSON never had the reputation of being a militant or a "kook" and that JOHNSON had often visited social clubs and after hours joints in Brooklyn, NY. Informant said he heard that JOHNSON once befriended never forgets this and was the type of person who if approached correctly would "do anything" for a price.
Among those who wanted Colombo dead were Joe Gallo who was engaged in a long-running rebellion against his nominal boss which had reached a fever pitch in June 1971, and Carlo Gambino who finally had enough with Colombo's public crusade against the FBI.
Just weeks before Colombo was gunned down the mob boss told Scarpa that his home had been cased by an apparent crew of black gangsters, and on June 10 Scarpa recounted that conversation to the FBI:
On 6/10/71, informant advised that he had recently met with Joe Colombo at which time COLOMBO confided that during the previous week he had been told that a car containing a number of Negro individuals was observed circling his block many times in the early AM hours. COLOMBO stated it is well known that GALLO had become friendly with Negro hoodlums while incarcerated and also believes it is possible that GALLO has enlisted their aid at the present time. COLOMBO concluded however that it is his personal feeling at present that GALLO is merely trying to "intimidate and shake me up" by having such an obvious play utilized. COLOMBO stated he is continuing to press for massive turnout on 6/28/71.
Of course, while Colombo was pushing "for massive turnout" at his upcoming rally, Carlo Gambino was engaged in a counter-campaign to squelch participation. For example, on 6/15/71 Scarpa told the FBI that "it was now official that not only will CARLO GAMBINO discontinue his support of COLOMBO but is now withdrawing any of his previous support," and all "groups who are loyal to the GAMBINOs" were "being instructed not to attend the Columbus Day rally."
Carlo Gambino was not alone in his growing frustration with Joe Colombo's personal battle against the FBI. Indeed, Colombo's own associates were distancing themselves from the mob boss according to Scarpa. For example, on 6/15/71, Scarpa recounted for the FBI a conversation he had with pornographer Nicholas Bianco who was severing his ties with Colombo to ally with the Patriarcas:
On 6/15/71, informant advised that on the previous day he had had a long conversation with NICHOLAS BIANCO at which time BIANCO expressed great disgust with COLOMBO who BIANCO characterized as "crazy." BIANCO made clear to informant that he intended to "pull away" from COLOMBO and in this regard had purchased a home in Providence and will make a gradual "withdrawal." Informant said BIANCO stated that "we are all going to be arrested, it is inevitable, there is no way out," obviously referring to the fact that COLOMBO was "putting heat" on everyone who is close to him.
Based upon the information provided by Scarpa and others, the New York Field Office advised the Bureau Director in a June 16, 1971 memo that Gallo "is planning to begin hostilities against COLOMBO" and Colombo "has fallen out of favor with his greatest supporters."
Colombo had told Gambino that the Civil Rights League rally would be his "swan song" according to Scarpa but little did Colombo know at the time how prophetic his words would become. The day after the Colombo hit Scarpa told the FBI:
Informant continued that approximately thirty minutes prior to the time COLOMBO was shot he had a discussion with him during which time COLOMBO advised that although GAMBINO was not furnishing him any support for this rally that he had assured GAMBINO that this would be his "swan song" and that in the future he would take a back seat to all the IACRL activities devoting himself to humanitarian causes such as boys camps, hospitals and the like and would refrain from fighting the FBI. COLOMBO stated that they should therefore not be too disappointed if the rally was not a huge success that they had hoped for.
The June 28 rally certainly was a sucess for those who wanted Colombo to quit the game.
Johnson clearly didn't act alone in whacking Colombo. Indeed, he had been supplied with press credentials from the Civil Rights League and was accompanied by a black female assistant which shows sophisticated planning, and no doubt the hit was orchestrated by the mob with Johnson as the patsy. Indeed, at the time of the Colombo hit Johnson was attempting to become involved with the porn rackets through Gambino associate and gay bar operator Mike Umbers, and perhaps was told that the price of admission was the murder of Colombo.
Johnson isn't spilling any secrets: he was shot and killed at the assassination scene by a presumed Colombo bodyguard who immediately fled. Scarpa identifies for the FBI the man he heard had killed Johnson but the name is redacted in the FBI documents which indicates he still is alive.
Further reading that may be of interest: