New York City is not just the setting for our story — it’s a major character. Whether it be a quick archival shot of some nocturnal Midtown busyness or profiling former Colombo captain, Michael Franzese, in front of the iconic visage of the Brooklyn Bridge, we made a conscious decision to always be reminding the viewer that these are New York characters living in a New York world. But despite the fact that it is the nucleus of the American Mafia and where (almost) all the action takes place, New York is not the only hotbed of organized crime. In the 1970’s and 1980’s it spread to many areas throughout the whole country and, not to go undistinguished among the crowd, really caught fire in Philadelphia.
Which brings us to the third, and arguably bloodiest episode of our series, New York-Philly War. I’ll leave it to one of our Philly expert interviewees, prosecutor Lou Pichini, to give the proper historical context: “Scarfo’s violence was different because he enjoyed taking human lives and he reveled in the fear that it created … because with Scarfo every dispute was solved with a barrel of a gun. What he did was to transform the Philadelphia mob business into a killing machine and it was a very good killing machine.” Pichini gives such a riveting, first-hand account of going after Scarfo et al, and was extremely helpful in providing a lot of the gruesome stills we deployed to help tell our story. And you should see some of the photos we weren’t allowed to show — they’re not very brotherly.
But it’s the haunting story of the shadowed Phil Leonetti that drives this episode. At its heart, this is a series about dangerous men who disregard the rule of law and wreak havoc on normal society. They cheat, steal, and kill with reckless abandon. They do things that even if you did them in a dream you’d wake up and feel worried about it. But take a step back for a second and consider a guy like Leonetti. He tells that heartbreaking story about riding in a truck with his uncle Nicky totally unaware that, even as a little boy, he’s serving as a decoy to help cover up a murder. It’s “innocence lost” to the extreme. Imagine if that was your childhood, and Nick Scarfo was your uncle who first showed you how the world works. I’m not excusing him for the life he ultimately chose to live, but our goal with this show is to really dig deep into this world and these characters, and to sketch the full view of why and who they are.
By Keith Malone, Associate Producer, Inside the American Mob