Mafioso Bonanno Tells
Who Shot JFK In His
New Biography
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO - Bill Bonanno says his life as a Mafia boss was not so different from that of most working stiffs, except that he came to know who really shot the Kennedys, where Jimmy Hoffa's body is, and why America fought the Vietnam War.
"I don't have to be a conspiracy buff because I know what the facts are," the 66-year-old grandfather proclaimed.
Near the end of his new book, "Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story" (St. Martin's Press), Bonanno recounts how Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli once told him that he fired the fatal shot that killed President John Kennedy from a storm drain, acting on orders from mob kingpin Sam Giancana.
Roselli, who told his story to Bonanno and fellow mobsters in prison a few years later, was angry that a promised getaway car was not there and said he and his co-conspirators nearly got caught. All but Lee Harvey Oswald, the "patsy" set up to take the blame, escaped Dallas and Roselli said he later hid his own rifle on a farm in upstate New York.
"I was sitting in a yard in federal prison and a man told me this story," Bonanno said, referring to Roselli. "Knowing this individual, I choose to believe him because I know who he was and because I knew the relationship he had with me and the rest of the people there. There is no doubt in my mind that man did what he said he did, period."
Challenging the impassioned Bonanno, who often makes points with forefinger and pinky ring extended, seems inadvisable.
Bonanno also strongly suspects that former Teamsters union boss Hoffa was crushed along with the car he was kidnapped in and was recycled into car parts: "He's part of a car bumper."
And he says Robert Kennedy's murder was another mob hit, sparked by irritation with the attorney general's legal crusade against the Mafia, which felt betrayed after delivering on its pledge to his father Joseph Kennedy to help John win in 1960.
In the book's rich epilogue, Bonanno airs his insider's opinion that the U.S. government fought the Vietnam war to preserve its lucrative cut of Southeast Asian heroin traffic. He writes that profits were shipped to what is now Kennedy Airport in New York " cash that was skimmed by a Mafia crew.
"Because of the position I was in I came to know things," said Bonanno, the subject along with his father Joe of author Gay Talese's 1971 book, "Honor Thy Father."
While beginning his own book with the words, "People in my world usually don't write autobiographies," Bonanno insists that divulging what he knows does not violate the Mafia's oath of silence because he has not "fingered" anyone.
He is critical of "Americanized" Mafioso such as imprisoned Mafia boss John Gotti who he says ignore principles of loyalty, respect and honor by boasting about their wealth, their violent ways and their defiance of the law.
Bonanno said the political assassinations and the Mafia infighting of the 1960s went against the credo of accommodation held by Mafia traditionalists personified by his father. He blames the infighting on the corrupting influence of money and on divisiveness over whether to participate in the lucrative illegal drug trade opposed by the Bonannos.
The Sicilian-born elder Bonanno, who is still delivering "pearls of wisdom" to his son at age 94, was known as the "Angel of Peace" for forming the "Commission," Mafia leaders who maintained order and profits by settling arguments and vetoing reckless plans to murder officials and each other.
"It had something to do with charisma, of course, but the administrative style, the leadership style, was not one of fear and it was not one of intimidation. He was able to allow people to be themselves as long as they worked within the parameters that he laid down," the younger Bonanno explained.
He becomes upset at what he says are unrealistic portrayals of Mafioso as trigger-happy, hard-drinking philanderers in the news media and in genre books and movies such as "Goodfellas." He says his own appointment book was not, as some might think, sprinkled with dates for kneecappings, beatings and murders.
"What people don't realize is that when I get up in the morning I got the same problems you do: I got the mortgage to pay, the car payments to make, clothes for the children, food on the table. I worked for it. That's the point I'm trying to make," he said.
"I may have made a little bit more than the next guy down the street. I had good vehicles, my family was well-provided for. I don't know what you mean by millions," said Bonanno, who describes himself as a devoted family man with four children and 12 grandchildren.
He says he is involved in television, movie production and book publishing and delivers the occasional college lecture.
"I have a feeling you see in your mind's eye this giant organization that presses levers and controls everything," he said. "It just doesn't work that way."
Just how it did work is not clear in Bonanno's rather unfocused personal memoir of the American Mafia's declining years. In it he describes preparations for the Bonanno family's "war" against other Mafia elements and recounts his Family's legal entanglements for which he served several prison terms.