The last big mob hit of the 20th century was one for the ages.
The Dec. 16, 1985 execution of Gambino family boss “Big Paul” Castellano and driver Tommy Bilotti in a fusillade of Mafia gunfire marked the demise of organized crime’s old guard and the arrival of the new: John Gotti.
The scene outside Sparks Steak House on E. 46th St was surreal, with the two dead bodies splayed across the Midtown block where holiday tourists and Christmas shoppers bustled past just minutes earlier. Castellano, shot first, was lying dead on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.
His trusted associate Bilotti was left dead in the street, where rivulets of blood ran from his body.
When the NYPD and FBI descended on the crime scene, it was quickly lit up with portable lighting that made the whole thing look like macabre movie set – except it was all too real.
From the start, it was clear this was not your usual homicide.
Word of the cruel changing of the mob guard reached newsrooms around the city by fax, a simple one-page sheet from the NYPD reporting two white males were shot and killed at the location near their black Lincoln Town Car.
The identity of the victims spread quickly. The details of the murder took longer to emerge – but they did.
Castellano, who lived in Staten Island, was in Manhattan to mingle business with pleasure. After a visit with his attorney James LaRossa, Bilotti drove the powerful mob boss to the East Side for dinner with five friends and fellow gangsters.
But Big Paul, a fan of the eatery’s prime rib, had already eaten his last meal.
Four killers decked out in matching pale trench coats with black Russian fur hats were waiting for a call from future underboss Sammy (The Bull) Gravano, who sat with Gotti inside a parked car just a half-block away.
Castellano’s Lincoln was actually stopped at a red light, directly alongside the plotters of his demise, only minutes before the murder. Gravano used a walkie-talkie to send word: Big Paul was on his way.
As Bilotti ignored a ” PARKING” sign and pulled to the curb outside the restaurant, the four shooters sprung into action. The hawk-nosed Castellano was unarmed, carrying nothing more than $3,000 cash, and helpless against the onslaught.
The boss was shot first, with Bilotti killed as he stared in disbelief at Castellano’s murder.
Gravano, who would later flip and testify against Gotti, recalled the bizarre aftermath.
First, he and the Teflon Don cruised slowly past the murder scene to survey the lethal work of their shooters.
And then Gotti loyalist Frank DeCicco – who set Castellano up – ran into the boss’ nephew Thomas Gambino as he left the steakhouse.
“And Frankie told him, ‘Your uncle just got shot, just go back to your car and leave,'” Gravano recalled.