Is there an honourable/dishonourable way to be killed by the mafia? (Casino Spoilers)

Still watching older movies, this time Casino. I’ve seen this perhaps 20 times.

A staple of gangsters movies are people getting whacked. The classic of course is shot in the back of the head.

It did get me wondering. Is there a hierarchy of honour to be the method of being killed?

In other words, are there certain killings that are meant to be respectful/disrespectful.

Like, Nicky gets beaten half to death with a baseball bat and buried alive. Yikes. Another guy gets stabbed in the neck and has a plastic bag put over his face. And, of course, Sam is almost blown up.

I don’t think I need an answer fast.

In Goodfellas, Henry Hill explains in voiceover that Tommy DeVito (also played by Joe Pesci) is shot through the face specifically so his mother can’t give him an open casket funeral. The real gangster (Tommy DeSimone) that the character was a stand-in for was disappeared and was presumed killed, which is also a way of showing disrespect. But in general, there isn’t really any kind of noblesse oblige in organized crime.

“Now I’m gonna have to turn my back on you.”


Yeah, I was thinking about that scene as well.

It does make sense that not leaving a body to be buried would be a way to be disrespectful.

And certainly being half to death before being buried alive seems like a way to express… displeasure.

I’m not saying the scenes in the movies happened of course. I know that Hollywood does what Hollywood does for dramatic effect.

And what about a Chicago overcoat?

That seems like a lot of work. And likely get you caught out by a wandering vigilante.


In The Sopranos, Vito had a pool cue shoved in his anus showing his death was because of his homosexuality. I don’t know if that is based on real mafia traditions.

In the Valachi Papers a gangster is held down on a table and castrated, then given a revolver and left alone with it so he can then shot himself.

Some disrespectful ones:

The corpse of Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano was found with its hands chopped off because he was so close to FBI agent Joe “Donnie Brasco” Pistone and because Sonny had introduced Pistone to mob bosses.

Some of Angelo Bruno’s capos whacked him and later were themselves whacked by the Commission for the unsanctioned hit on the Philadelphia boss and were found with money stuffed in their mouths as a way to show they were killed for getting too greedy.

Bruno Facciola, a capo in the Lucchese family, had a canary stuffed in his mouth to indicate he was an informant singing to the authorities.

These little disrespectful touches are like emojis for mobsters.

Interesting! Thanks :slight_smile:

My family had quite a few mafia connections back in the day*. One of the stories my dad used to tell me is about someone he knew that was killed by a car bomb. His [the victim’s] cousin almost met a similar death but a mechanic found “20 sticks of dynamite” under the hood that never detonated. I’ve been hearing that story since I was a kid in the 80’s, so it was interesting to read a lot more detail about it when someone did a huge newspaper article about it not too long ago.

Joe “Donnie Brasco” Pistone made an appearance in this car bombing story as well.

*I like to joke that “My name is in a book about the mafia”, which it is, but for obvious reasons [my age], it’s referencing my grandfather, not me.

Surely the Mob wouldn’t leave it at that, though? “OK, good job, you caught the attempt to kill you, we’re even now.” If he found the dynamite, wouldn’t they just kill him some other way?

Most mob hits are business decisions divorced of any passion. If you want to send a message, just “disappear” your victim and let your rivals imagine the worst kinds of disrespectful mutilation.

Are they, though? My experience of the mob is pretty minimal, outside of movies and books, but my impression is that these are emotional touchy people. Or, to quote the Godfather “It’s always personal.”

Hell I’ve know legitimate law abiding businessmen who got pretty angry, though they knew violence would be a horrible mistake.

He went back to prison ‘for his own protection’.

The morning of Aug. 17, 1977, Vince tried to start his car but could tell something was wrong. The accelerator was so stiff he couldn’t push it down to the floor. He drove 15 to 20 mph – as fast as it would go – from the north side halfway house where he was staying to the East Side.

After a brief stop he went to his mechanic, who opened the hood and immediately spotted a package with wires coming out of it. “I’m going to call police,” he told a shaken Vince. “It looks like a bomb.”

Vince ran for cover and was picked up by the FBI agents who’d been following him. They took him to an agent’s house, where he had a stiff drink and told investigators he had no idea who would want him dead. Soon afterward, federal officials sent Vince back to prison for his own protection.

Members of the Milwaukee Police Department bomb squad found a taped-up gray package placed near the engine on the driver’s side of Vince’s car, jammed near the accelerator and wired to the ignition with alligator clips. The bomb had 20 sticks of dynamite and a booster but luckily failed to detonate, possibly due to faulty wiring.

A police report described the device as an “overkill bomb” designed to “destroy all traces of possible evidence that could connect anyone” with the crime.

This is what filmmakers want us to think, but less sensationalized accounts show us that mobsters tend to take every slight as betrayal or disrespect, and a lot of hits are retribution for that. This includes wars over territory and income shares. Those are business concerns, true, but a big part of that motivation is feeling cheated or disrespected.

To answer the OP’s question, I’m not aware of any “honorable” mob hits. All of them are a message of some sort. Sometimes a strong message, sometimes a weak message, but seldom if ever a message of respect or honor toward the deceased.

A killing is highly likely to draw retribution, so the message sent by a killing can never show weakness or hesitation. That message has to be either menace: “don’t fuck with us, we’re very serious”, or strategic vagueness: “it may or may not have been us, but things happen when you cross us”. There’s no strategic value in “we regret having to do this, so we’ll do it honorably, please don’t be too mad”. It reveals vulnerability and invites a counterattack.

This is characteristic of cultures of honour.

In that sense the word “honour” may or may not mean what we normally mean when we use the word.

The defining characteristic is the requirement for an out of proportion response to any insult or slight that could damage the victim’s reputation.

Cultures of honour typically arise where law enforcement is weak. Either because it doesn’t exist in a jusrisdiction or because a subculture is “outside the law”. If a drug dealer gets ripped off, they can’t call the police because that will only expose their own crimes. They either get a reputation as someone you can rip off or they “deal with it” on their own or by allying with a more powerful organization.

A shot through the eye, or the “Moe Greene special” is a “message job” meaning “we’re watching you.”

That story is familiar. There was a Law and order Criminal Intent episode (Unchained) where there is an attempted assassination of a mobster with a car bomb that fails to explode. Later they send the (incorrect, unfortunately) killer to the bottom of the ocean tied to heavy chain. More of a steel overcoat.

I was watching some Mafia documentary the other day and it made the point that being killed at your own house was considered an insult (as it meant your family would be the first ones to find the body), and reserved for suspected informants.

None of that is related to the OP question of whether certain forms of execution are more respectful or less respectful.

Mob culture is an “honor culture” in that they will mess you up in the worst imaginable way to protect their own honor. That’s why there’s nothing we could call an honorable means of execution in the mobworld. Killings are about taking all the honor away from the victim and re-attaching it to the killer, preferably in a way that sends a detailed message as to how and why it was done.