The 1972 Murder Of Mob Boss Tommy Eboli Explained

It was a couple of New York Police officers on routine patrol in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, who discovered the body after a passerby flagged them down. It was around 1 a.m. on July 17, 1972, and the 61-year-old victim was face down on the sidewalk with five bullet wounds in his face and neck, according to The New York Times. The dead man was the owner of the Burger Village, a Manhattan eatery — or at least that was his cover story, according to the FBI.

He'd once gone by the name Tommy Ryan and had been a boxing promoter until he was banned from the sport for beating a referee at Madison Square Garden after his boxer lost a fight. In truth, the victim's name was Tommy Eboli, and he was the head of the Genovese crime family. He was also at least the 16th person with Mafia ties to die in little more than a year amid a gang war involving competing underworld factions, including the Gambinos. While Eboli's murder is officially unsolved, there are some theories about who ordered his killing.

Rising to the top

Thomas "Tommy" Eboli was born in Italy in 1911 and moved to New York City with his parents when he was a child. He became a U.S. citizen in 1960. Eboli grew up in Greenwich Village and knew Vito Genovese — the boss of the crime family that bore his name — from the neighborhood. By the 1930s, Eboli had become a personal bodyguard for Genovese, per "Manhattan Mafia Guide: Hits, Homes & Headquarters."

Eboli slowly moved up the ranks in the Genovese organization thanks to his dogged commitment to Vito and his lack of scruples when it came to murdering whomever his boss asked him to — perhaps as many as 20 people, according to "The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes." By the time Vito Genovese went to federal prison for drug trafficking in 1959, Eboli had become the de facto head of the crime family sharing power with Gerardo Catena. Genovese still made the real decisions from his prison cell until his death from a heart attack a decade later. After Catena went to prison in 1970, Eboli became the top dog.

A bad investment

Tommy Eboli was a flashy dresser who wore lots of jewelry and a trademark gray straw fedora. He was also a hothead with few loyal supporters in his own organization or the other New York Mafia families, according to "The Mafia Encyclopedia." And then he went and made a really bad investment with borrowed money. At the top of the list of Eboli's potential killers was Carlo Gambino, who was then in the midst of consolidating power over New York's underworld.

Eboli borrowed $4 million from Gambino and other underworld figures to lay the groundwork for a new narcotics distribution network with a big-time dealer named Louis Cirillo. But when federal agents busted Cirillo, the plan went up in smoke, as did the money. Eboli refused to refund Gambino and the others and paid with his life. Another possibility of why someone whacked Eboli is also the strangest. Some believe other members of the Mafia had Eboli, along with his brother, Pasquale Eboli, murdered because of their connections to "The Godfather" film, per author and journalist Ed Scarpo's Cosa Nostra News. Pasquale had allegedly hosted a dinner party for the cast, and the other families didn't approve.