James "Jimmy The Clam" Eppolito Sr. (Unknown - October 1st 1979) was a New York-based mobster and a caporegime in the Gambino Crime Family. He was infamously murdered, along with his son James "Jim-Jim" Eppolito Jr., by Gambino capo Anthony Gaggi and soldier Roy DeMeo. He was the uncle of Louis Eppolito, an NYPD officer who, along with his partner Stephen Caracappa, committed murders for the Lucchese crime family in the '80s and '90s. Little is known about James Eppolito Sr.'s early life; he is thought to have been born in Brooklyn, and his date of birth remains unknown.
Career in the Gambino crime family
Eppolito joined the Gambino Crime Family sometime in the 1950's. He was appointed to the role of caporegime by boss Carlo Gambino in the 1960's, and was at one point a powerful capo primarily involved in bookmaking. During the late 1970's, when Paul Castellano became boss following the death of previous boss Carlo Gambino, his power declined. He worked in partnership with Anthony Gaggi in a bookmaking operation in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. This relationship turned sour when Gaggi's soldier, Roy DeMeo, cheated his son James "Jim-Jim" Eppolito Jr. of $7,000 in a cocaine deal.
Eppolito and his son were involved in a children's charity scam that had been supported by First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Senator Edward Kennedy, among others. The charity was set up by James Eppolito and the money was supposed to go to a worthy cause, but was ultimately pocketed by Eppolito Sr.
When the scam was exposed on an episode of the television show 60 Minutes, one of the photographs showed Jimmy Jr. and the wife of the president, Rosalynn Carter, posing together. Castellano was concerned that Eppolito had brought heat on the Gambino's, and that President Carter's embarrassment might cause him to seek retaliation on the Gambino Crime Family.
In late 1979, Eppolito informed boss Paul Castellano that Capo Anthony Gaggi and Soldier Roy DeMeo were involved in drug trafficking. Eppolito claimed that DeMeo had cheated Eppolito's son, a Gambino soldier, in a cocaine drug deal. Eppolito Jr. was $7,000 out of pocket after the deal. In addition, Eppolito accused Gaggi of being a police informant and infringing on Eppolitto's territory. Eppolito asked Castellano for permission to murder Gaggi and DeMeo. However, Castellano broke his own rules and sided with Gaggi and DeMeo. He then gave them permission to murder both Eppolito and his son. At this point, Eppolito believed he was still a powerful capo and that Castellano would side with him in the dispute, however, he didn't realize how close Gaggi and Castellano were, and this stacked the odds in Gaggi's favour.
On October 1st, 1979, James Eppolito and his son were driving their 1978 Ford Thunderbird when they pulled over and gave Anthony Gaggi and Roy DeMeo a lift. They decided to drive to the Gemini Lounge to resolve their dispute. Gaggi sat in front with James, Jr., while DeMeo and the senior Eppolito sat in the back. During the journey, the elder Eppolito knew that he was going to be whacked and decided he had to get out of the car. He told his son to stop the car so he could get out and go to the toilet. The car pulled over in Coney Island, Brooklyn, but before the Eppolitos could do anything Gaggi and DeMeo shot and killed them both. The crime did not go completely without a hitch as a witness alerted an off-duty policeman, who soon found Gaggi walking away from the crime scene. After a brief shootout, the policeman wounded Gaggi in the neck and arrested him. Although charged with the Eppolitos' murders and the attempted murder of the police officer, Gaggi was only convicted of assault. Gaggi was sentenced to 5-to-15 years in federal prison. DeMeo went in a different direction to Gaggi as they left the scene, and so he was not arrested or identified by the witness.
The crime scene was investigated by corrupt NYPD detective Louis Eppolito, and he describes what he saw in his autobiography:
"It was difficult, but I went over to the sheets they had spread over two bodies. I read the two toe tags. The first read 'James Eppolito, Jr.' When I pulled back the sheet, Jim-Jim's head was a mess. It was nothing I hadn't seen before in twelve years on the job. But all that blood, and Jim-Jim's brain blasted away, it really upset me."
"Then I went to the old man. I don't know how I managed to pull his sheet away, but I did. Uncle Jimmy's face was just absolutely destroyed. His jaw and bottom lip were totally gone, torn off, giving him this long, buck-toothed look."
"And he had tattoos - the gunpowder marks that are left when you're shot at close range - all over what was left of his head. I cleaned him as best I could, combing his hair and washing the blood off his face. But water kept pouring out of his eyes, like he was crying."