Phil Testa

Philip Carlo Testa (April 21, 1924 – March 15, 1981), also known as "The Chicken Man" or "The Julius Cesar of the Philadelphia Mob" or "Philly", was a Sicilian-born American Mafia figure known for his brief leadership of the Scarfo crime family. Testa became boss after popular former boss Angelo Bruno was murdered by his own consigliere Antonio Caponigro who, in turn, was ordered killed by The Commission for acting without permission. About a year after Bruno's death, Testa was killed by the blast of a nail bomb allegedly ordered by his underboss Peter Casella. According to the Philadelphia press that event marked the beginning of the four-year Philadelphia Mafia War that led to 30 mobsters being killed. Testa's nickname came from his involvement in a poultry business.

Early life and family life

Testa was born in Mistretta, Sicily and emigrated to New York City, eventually settling in South Philadelphia with his family in his teenage years. In South Philadelphia he met and befriended future mob boss Angelo Bruno. He later married an attractive woman named Alfia Arcidiacono (records show her family owned a farm in Salem County, NJ). In early police dossiers on Testa, he was identified by law enforcement as not having a legitimate source of income and was solely dependent from winnings as a "common gambler". He saw himself as a Roman general and statesman like Julius Caesar in the world of organized crime. He occasionally worked in the construction business in arranging contractors for repairs and renovations in South Philadelphia.

In his native Mistretta, Testa was a Mandamento and was rumored to have belonged to the Sicilian Mafia Commission before traveling to America.

He was a dour-looking man with a pockmarked face that stood at 5 foot 8 inches and weighed 183 pounds with brown hair and eyes, and was well built. He reportedly had dark emotionless eyes and gave off the appearance of a great white shark with a bulbous nose and scowl that made press photographers back away from him. His pockmarked face is thought to be one of the reasons behind his nickname, as the pockmarks are believed to have been caused by a horrible case of chicken pox with the scars never fully healing. Testa sported a thick mustache despite Mafia code stating that members could not sport mustaches. He wore blue-collar clothing, giving off the appearance of a "badly dressed plumber than an old world don", as one associate would describe him. He fathered a daughter, Maria.

At the age of 32, Testa became a father to his only son, Salvatore Testa born in 1956 in Bella Vista. He was a staunch Roman Catholic and raised his son in the same fashion. He remained loyal to his wife and did not have a mistress, like many other mobsters and did not drink heavily. Out of his two children he remained very close to Salvatore, even when he became older and moved out on his own.

His son Salvatore Testa was described by associates and the press as better looking than his father Testa, crime reporter George Anastasia describes his son Salvatore as, "a ruggedly handsome 210-pound man who stood 6 feet tall with hazel eyes and real long lashes and dimpled cheeks. He wore his wavy hair out over his ears in typical 1970s fashion and was known to wear track suits and double breasted suits."

Members Testa inducted into family

On June 8th, 1980 Phil Testa held a La Cosa Nostra initiation ceremony at the South Philadelphia home of mob captain John Cappello. At the ceremony, Testa inducted Scarfo's nephew Phil Leonetti, Lawrence (Yogi) Merlino, Salvatore Merlino, Robert (Bobby) Lumio, Anthony (Blonde Babe) Pungitore Sr., Salvatore (Wayne) Grande, Anthony (Tony) Testa,Jr., Frank (Little Frankie) Narducci Jr.,and his son, Salvatore Testa.

Criminal headquarters

Sal and Phil Testa

Testa had an office in the back of what was the Bank Street Restaurant until he changed the name in 1979 or 1980 to 'Virgilio's' in Old City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania managed by his daughter Maria of which Salvatore was a part owner of the lease. Virgil (The Blade) Mariutti, who was a close friend of Salvatore Testa’s, managed Philip Testa’s restaurant during part of the time that Testa owned it. Testa named the restaurant after Mariutti. Frank Monte, a fellow capo in the Scarfo family worked as a bartender at the restaurant. It was out of this restaurant that he operated his legitimate and illegitimate business enterprises. Testa chose to have Nicodemo Scarfo and his second wife Domencia as his son's godparents shortly after he was born at St. Paul's Catholic Church, the same church he would later have his funeral and later where Salvatore himself would be interred. He schooled his son in the 'old ways of the mob' with traditions of the Sicilian Mafia embraced in Sicily that he taught his son Salvatore to embrace.

Relationship with Salvatore

His son Salvatore Testa had a close relationship with his father and became involved with him in the rackets of drug trafficking, loansharking and extortion.

Salvie was all for 'this thing'. Knew it inside out. Knew it better than guys who were sixty years old and who'd been in it for forty years. Because of his father. He'd been a good teacher. Salvie had nerve and he didn't care who he killed. Sometimes we used to go [on a contract] and we'd come back and tell him, "Well, the kids were in the car, the family's in the car.' "I don't care whose in the car', he'd say. 'Everybody goes.' That's the kind of guy he was. One Thanksgiving Day he wanted us to go into Sonny [Mario] Riccobene's house where Robert Riccobene was havin' dinner with his family. 'Shoot everybody in the house'. But he and Charlie Iannece and Faffy [Francis Ianarella] made up some story that he didn't show up. Just to appease Salvie. 'Cause we didn't go for killing kids. It was something we drew a line with, but he (Testa) was just so full of venom that he didn't care. He was a guy made for 'this thing.' He loved it. He lived it. And he was very bitter about what happened to his father (Philip), about the way his father got killed, blown up with nails in him.

After murdered Frank (Chickie) Narducci Sr., the mobster that orchestrated his father's death and headed the coup of the Scarfo crime family, Nicholas Caramandi said, "Salvie used to say to me, 'I wish that motherfucker was alive so I could kill him again.' This is how much he hated this man. He had no mercy on anybody. Business was business, and killing to him was business." Philadelphia Inquirer reporter George Anastasia wrote, "Salvatore Testa loved it all, the stalkings, the murders, even the Enrico Riccobene suicide. He was the South Philadelphia equivalent of a Main Line blue blood. He was born to be a wiseguy." Mobster-turned-informant Nicholas Caramandi spoke about Salvatore's upbringing by his father and his son Salvatore's brief courtship of Maria Merlino, the daughter of Salvatore Merlino, Nicky Scarfo's underboss and Testa's godfather,

He (Salvatore) gets into a beef with Maria. She's telling him, "My father (Merlino) bought me all this jewelry", stuff like that… While they were waiting to get married, Maria's having the fucking house redone with French toilets and Jacuzzis. And even though it was sort an old fashioned, that's the way Salvie wanted to live. He wanted to live in his father's footsteps. He didn't like all this fancy stuff."

When Philip was murdered Salvatore Testa was very angered and personally hunted down and sought to seek out revenge on his father's murderers. Exactly one year after his father's bombing, Rocco Marinucci, the man who waited outside their household and detonated the bomb, was found in a parking lot in South Philadelphia, with cherry bombs from Salvatore stuffed down his throat and shot to death. He also wanted to personally shoot Frank Narducci Sr. for his involvement and waited so that he could see Narducci's expression on his face, before pulling the trigger. Philip's wife of over twenty-five years Alfia died of natural causes in 1980, in that same year, in March, longtime family boss Angelo Bruno would be murdered, and Testa's father became boss of the family. He was known to wear, on occasion, ten-gallon cowboy hats and cowboy boots, which his son Salvatore would later adopt into his own fashion wardrobe. His son and apparent successor to his criminal empire was Salvatore Testa was twenty-five years old when Philip was murdered in a bomb blast at his family's home located at 2117 Porter Street in South Philadelphia. When Philip died he left his son an estate worth $800,000 that included a run-down bar in Atlantic City on a site where Donald Trump decided to build the Trump Plaza (Atlantic City). Trump paid Testa $1.1 million for the right to tear the bar down.


Philip Testa crime scene photo March 15th 1981.

One month before Testa was murdered, he, Frank Narducci Sr., Harry and Mario Riccobene, Pasquale Spirito, Joseph Ciancaglini, and several associates were indicted in a federal racketeering case that centred on gambling and loansharking operations run by the mob. The case was based on an investigation called Operation Gangplank and was one of the first built on the RICO Act by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia. On March 15, 1981, Testa returned to his home in South Philadelphia that was across the street from the scenic Stephen Girard Park. As he was opening the door to his row house, a nail bomb exploded under his front porch. The house was ravaged and witnesses claimed that pieces of Testa's body were scattered blocks away. Phil Testa was often considered a mindless brute by law enforcement, but saw himself as the next 'Julius Caesar of the Mob'. He was rushed to St. Agnes Medical Centre in Point Breeze, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but died of internal bleeding.

On the night of Testa's wake, Nicodemo Scarfo and Salvatore Merlino were summoned to a meeting at the Buckeye Club, a private social club in South Philadelphia where consigliere Peter Casella and Frank Narducci Sr. based their operations out of following the murder of Testa. He had one daughter who managed a Center City, Philadelphia nightclub and restaurant. Their father was promoted to underboss after Ignazio Denaro, died of old age, in turn Phil promoted drug trafficker Peter Casella to fill his role as underboss. Bruno's death triggered a violent civil war in the family between factions loyal to Harry Riccobene and Nicodemo Scarfo, who controlled the family's Atlantic City, New Jersey operations. Testa's killing spawned a string of intra-family wars that lasted until 1995. Testa's son, Salvatore Testa, became a rising star in the Philadelphia family. A few months after Testa's death, Scarfo made Salvatore a caporegime. Three years later Salvatore was murdered by close friend Joey Pungitore on orders from Nicodemo Scarfo. Scarfo, despite being Salvatore's godfather at birth, began to feel threatened by the young capo's popularity in the family and was jealous of an article in the Wall Street Journal that noted Salvatore as a rich, young rising star within the Cosa Nostra underworld.

In popular culture

Testa's violent death inspired the first line of musician Bruce Springsteen's US hit song, "Atlantic City". The song opens with the following line,

"Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night/Now they blew up his house too".

The song depicts a young couple's romantic escape to the New Jersey city Atlantic City, but it also wrestles with the inevitability of death, as the man in the relationship intends to take a job in organized crime upon arriving in the city. The song also evokes the widespread uncertainty regarding gambling during its early years in Atlantic City and its promises to resurrect the city. This uncertainty and the man's uncertainty about taking the less-than-savory job are echoed in the lyrics "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back."

"Puppets on the Road", a bonus feature on one of the Homestar Runner DVD releases, has one of the characters visit Philadelphia and refer to it as the "home of the Chicken Man".

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