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Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno

Salvatore Vincent "Bill" Bonanno (November 5, 1932 – January 1, 2008) was the son of Cosa Nostra boss Joe Bonanno. Although his father never intended for him to be the underboss of the Bonanno crime family, his appointment to high positions in the syndicate precipitated a "mob war" which led to the Bonanno family's exile to Arizona. Later in life, he became a writer and produced films for television about his family.

Early life

Salvatore Bonanno was the first child of Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Bonanno and his wife Fay Bonanno (née Labruzzo). Bill first attended school in Brooklyn. In 1938, after his father purchased property in Hempstead, Long Island, he next attended school there after the family relocated. At age 10, Bill developed a severe mastoid ear infection. To aid in treating this ailment, his parents enrolled him in a Catholic boarding school in the dry climate of Tucson, Arizona.

When he was 15, Bill led a group of students (who were supposed to be visiting a museum) to see the controversial 1947 film Forever Amber, a movie banned by the Catholic Church. When school administrators learned about the outing, they expelled Bill from the dormitory. Bill was allowed to continue attending the school, but he was forced to live alone in a motel. At some point in time, Bill also attended Tucson High.

Between 1950 and 1952, Bill studied agriculture at the University of Arizona, but never graduated. On August 18, 1956, Bill married Rosalie Profaci, niece of Profaci crime family boss Joseph Profaci. Designed to cement an alliance between the two crime families, the sumptuous wedding had 3,000 guests. DeCavalcante crime family boss Sam DeCavalcante later remarked on Bill's poor treatment of Rosalie: "It's a shame; the girl wanted to commit suicide because of the way he treated her". Bill and Rosalie eventually had four children; Charles, Joseph, Salvatore, and Felippa ("Gigi"); Charles was adopted by Bonanno and his wife in 1958.

Involvement with the Cosa Nostra

Bill's first ambition (after a try at law school) was to manage the legitimate end of Joseph's farms, factories, and the real estate empire. At some time after 1952, Bill was inducted as a "made man" into the Bonanno family. In later years, Joseph appointed him as family consigliere. However, many family members felt that Bill lacked experience and was too intellectual to lead effectively. These tensions only worsened when Bill advised his father against involving the family in the illegal narcotics trade.

In 1963, Joseph conspired with Profaci family boss Joseph Magliocco to assassinate their three bitter rivals on the Mafia Commission: Gambino crime family boss Carlo Gambino, Lucchese crime family boss Gaetano Lucchese, and Buffalo crime family boss and cousin, Stefano Magaddino. However, Profaci capo Joseph Colombo betrayed Joseph to the Commission, which then summoned Joseph to explain the assassination plot. In 1964, soon after the commission summons, Joseph was kidnapped off the streets of New York, allegedly by Magaddino's men. Many people considered this kidnapping to be a ruse meant to protect Joseph from the Commission's wrath.

Bananas Wars

Salvatore Bonanno in 1965

During Joseph's two year absence, Bonanno mobster Gaspare DiGregorio took advantage of family discontent over Bill's role to claim family leadership. Supported by the Mafia Commission, DiGregorio revolt led to four years of strife in the Bonanno family, labeled by the media as the "Bananas Wars".

In early 1966, Gaspare DiGregorio allegedly contacted Bill about having a peace meeting. Bill agreed and suggested his grand-uncle's house on Troutman Street in Brooklyn as a meeting site. On January 26, 1966, as Bill and his loyalists approached the house, they were fired on by people inside. A fierce, but short gunfight took place. No one was wounded during this confrontation, which led many observers to conclude that it never happened.

In 1968, after a heart attack, Joseph Bonanno ended the family warfare by agreeing to retire as boss and move to Arizona. As part of this peace agreement, Bill also resigned as consigliere and moved out of New York with his father. In later years, Bill made the following observation about this period:

"I always say I had only one goal in the '60s - actually two goals. When I got up in the morning, my goal was to live to sunset. And when sunset came, my second goal was to live to sunrise."

Exile in California and Arizona

In the late 70s, Bill and his brother, Joe Jr., brought high heat in Northern California after getting involved with Lou Peters, a Cadillac-Oldsmobile dealer, in the San Jose, Lodi and Stockton, California areas. The Bonannos were looking to buy him out for $2 million. But Peters instead became an undercover agent for the FBI. He became close friends with Bill's father, Joseph Bonanno, even staying at Joe Bonanno's Tucson home. Though he was not arrested for this, this was one of the closest indictments in Joe Bonanno's career.

On January 23, 1981, Bill was indicted in Oakland, California on 21 counts of grand theft for defrauding senior citizens in California for home improvements that were never completed. In 1985, Bill was convicted of conspiracy and theft. Salvatore even had contacts with Seattle crime family boss, Frank Colacurcio to form a business relationship.

Contribution to JFK conspiracy theories

In his memoir, Bill theorized that Cuban exiles and the Cosa Nostra murdered President John F. Kennedy. He stated that several Cosa Nostra families shared close ties with members of the Cuban exile movement dating back to the mob casinos in Havana before the Cuban Revolution. According to Bill, both the Cubans and the Cosa Nostra hated Kennedy enough to kill him. Many exiled Cubans blamed Kennedy for the failure of 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba. The Cosa Nostra felt betrayed when Kennedy's brother and Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, opened a strong legal assault on the mob, despite the mob's alleged support for Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election. Bonanno said that he realized the degree of Cosa Nostra involvement in the assassination when he witnessed on television Jack Ruby, an associate of Chicago Outfit mobster Sam Giancana, killing alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald while in police custody.

As an author and producer

Bill worked occasionally as a television producer (primarily on mini-series and films related to his family's criminal past), and collaborated with author Gay Talese on the book Honor Thy Father, a history of the Bonanno crime family. Both Bill and Rosalie Bonanno published memoirs later in life. Bill's autobiography, Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story, was published in 1999. Bill was also a writer and executive producer for the 1999 TV movie Bonanno: A Godfather's Story.

Bill also co-wrote the novel "The Good Guys" with former undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone and scriptwriter David Fisher.


Bill Bonanno died of a heart attack on the morning of January 1, 2008. He was interred near his father in Holy Hope Cemetery and Mausoleum in Tucson, Arizona.

In popular culture

Bill Bonanno was the main character in the 1971 non-fiction book Honor Thy Father. In the television miniseries based on the book, Bill was portrayed by actor Joseph Bologna. Actor Tony Nardi depicted the adult Joseph Bonanno in Bonanno: A Godfather's Story; Eric Roberts portrayed him in the 1993 made-for-TV movie, "Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage".