Before Sammy "the Bull" Gravano turned informer, one of the most important mob turncoats was Luigi Ronsisvalle, a slit-eyes mob hit man who boasted of 13 killings—five in Sicily and eight in the United States. He was characterized as a "diabolically funny mob hit man." In a field where murderers were a dime a dozen, he cut out a unique niche for himself.
Ronsisvalle insisted to investigators that he was a "hit man of honor," one who considered himself as more moral than other killer imported by the Bonanno crime family and certainly more upstanding than his new bosses.
He always claimed to have the finest motives for his killings, such as loyalty to the family and so on. Indeed, he could have been a model for some of the mob killers fashioned by Mario Puzo in The Godfather. Since that book appeared just about the time of Ronsisvalle's arrival in America in 1966, it might well have been that Ronsisvalle copied his persona from the novel.
At first Ronsisvalle never dreamed of violating omerta, the code of silence. When he first came to America at the age of 26, his father gave him some sage advice: "When you see something, shut your mouth. If you see something you don't like, run around. If you hear things that don't belong to you, don't hear them. Mind your business. That's most of the rules."
Ronsisvalle honed the persona of an honorable hit man and considered many of his killings most ethical. Some examples include:
- A gambler who could not cover his last bet in a poker game and desperately put up his wife. He lost the hand and took the other two card players home to enjoy the sexual favors of his wife. Later she tearfully complained to her brother, who took up a collection to buy a murder contract on the husband for $2,000. Ronsisvalle thought it a most moral endeavor and waited outside the man's house until he emerged early one morning to go fishing. He whacked him out with several shots. Ronsisvalle was annoyed when asked the name of the victim. "I don't know his name," he said simply.
- In a hit that would have done the fictional Don Corleone proud, a man came to the Mafia to complain that a cook who worked in a Brooklyn restaurant had raped his 14-year-old niece. Ronsisvalle cornered the cook in his kitchen and put him down permanently with five shots.
It saddened him that the rest of the mob did not match his highmindedness. There was no honor among them, he found. Once Ronsisvalle helped a fence and three associates from the Gambino family rob a diamond dealer on New York's West 47th Street. The associates stiffed Ronsisvalle out of most of his share.
When he complained, the fence tried to set him up with a woman in a hotel room and murder him. Ronsisvalle threatened violence and the loot was divided at a high-level sit-down involving the Bonanno and Gambino families. Ronsisvalle still felt he had not gotten all he was entitled to. Gambino boss Castellano walked away from the meeting with a $10,000 diamond in tribute for himself.
The high-minded hit man was further disillusioned about the honor in the mob. Michele Sindona, a notorious Italian banker with close ties to the Mafia in both Italy and the United States, tried to recruit Ronsisvalle to murder the government attorney in New York who was prosecuting him. Sindona offered $100,000 for the job. The offer frightened the hit man because he knew that unlike the custom in Sicily, the mobs in America never killed law enforcement people.
Sindona's plot fell through. Shortly thereafter Ronsisvalle was arrested for a petty crime and contacted Sindona for bail money. The rogue banker felt Ronsisvalle was seeking to extort blackmail and would simply keep the bond money, so he refused the demand.
Ronsisvalle, however, was not bluffing and was consumed by a feeling that the bail money refusal was an "affront" to old country Mafia rules. Thus the incident became the catalyst for him to flip and admit all to the authorities, including his record of 13 murders. Ronsisvalle was simply done with the Mafia's so-called ethics.
He said he was tired of the rackets, especially of drug dealing. He proved a key government witness, one of the most valued underworld turncoats since Joe Valachi about two decades earlier. Ronsisvalle eventually went into the witness protection program.