Ralph "Whitey" Tropiano (killed June 1980) was a soldier in the Colombo crime family and the boss of the New, Haven Conneticut faction.
Tropiano was a New Haven native who'd moved to Brooklyn as a boy and was rumored to have been a hit man for the notorious "Murder, Inc." hit squad of the late 1930s.
In the late 1940s, Tropiano was arrested for two murders in New York City, but the charges were mysteriously dropped.
Years later, an FBI informant said that Tropiano and his crew of freelance gangsters had been caught robbing Mob gambling operations. He was given a choice: Kill your crew or be killed. Over the next 18 months, a dozen members of his crew turned up dead on the streets of Brooklyn. The killings made banner headlines and confounded local cops. An investigating judge said the murder spree "makes Murder, Inc. look like a penny-ante racket." Tropiano got off, the informant said, by paying a homicide detective $20,000 to kill a witness.
The Mob needed one more thing. Willie Moretti, boss of the Genovese crime family's New Jersey faction, was suffering from syphilis and saying dangerous things during his testimony before the Kefauver Commission. He needed to go.
On Oct. 4, 1951, four men met Moretti for lunch and shot him dead. Tropiano was widely believed within the mafia to have been one of the trigger men, informants told the FBI. His reward, word within the mob went: New Haven.
Boss of New Haven
For the next 30 years, Tropiano, a member of New York's Colombo crime family, shared New Haven with Salvatore Annunziato, a member of the Genovese family, in spite of a mutual hatred. While Annunziato ran the unions, Tropiano took care of the numbers and shook down bookies. Tropiano kept a low profile, but Annunziato didn't. He was arrested on an almost monthly basis for everything from public drunkenness to disorderly conduct to assault. In the mid 1950s, he and his thugs wrecked two restaurants in a suspected scheme to force the owners to sell at rock-bottom prices. One of the brawls, at a Milford restaurant, got so out of control that the police called in the fire department for reinforcements.
When the FBI began cracking down on the mob in the late 1950s, both Annunziato and Tropiano were targeted.
In 1960, the federal government won a conviction of Annunziato in the bribing of an I-95 contractor. It was the beginning of a long decline for the rotund mobster, exacerbated by the death of his 15-year-old son, who was accidentally struck and killed by a car. Not long after his release from prison, Annunziato disappeared, presumably murdered.
Tropiano was suspected in one of the Elm City's most brutal underworld murders. In 1962, a small-time tough named Thomas "Pinocchio" Rispoli punched Tropiano in a gambling dispute.
Less than two weeks later, Rispoli's battered, bullet-riddled body was discovered in a shallow grave in the dirt basement of an abandoned Branford home.
Tropiano was later convicted of trying to bribe police officers to protect a gambling operation and then of trying to monopolize the region's trash-hauling industry. William Grasso, known as the "Wild Guy", had been Tropiano's protégé for years. Grasso would later become a member of the Patriarca crime family of Providence.
Tropiano, meanwhile, had not done well in prison. In 1972, he decided to talk to the FBI, identifying 21 living and dead Mafia members, including the bosses of the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury factions. He blamed Grasso for his incarceration and expressed disillusionment with the Mob, even while denying membership.
When the FBI tried to talk to him again in later years, he refused.
Finally out of prison in the late 1970s, Tropiano settled on a comeback that brought him into conflict with Grasso. In June 1980, the 68-year-old was walking on a Brooklyn street with a relative when two men got out of a car and shot him dead. The case, like so many Mob-related deaths, remains unsolved.