The Red Wings were a well-known and powerful Italian gang situated in East Harlem. Their turf was around Jefferson Park, 116th Avenue and Pleasant Ave. Some Red Wings attended near-by Benjamin Franklin High School. Originating in the late 1940s, the Red Wings appeared on the record until at least 1959.
There was a lot of acrimony between the Red Wings and Puerto Rican gangs from East Harlem like the Dragons and Viceroys. Puerto Ricans were moving into East Harlem at greater rates as the 1950s progressed. Because of this gang fights between the two groups became the norm. However, in this case below, the violence was actually with another white gang called the Fordham Baldies. And to make it more interesting, this gang fight happened far from East Harlem — it happened in the Bronx in Baldies turf at 189th Street and Belmont Ave.
Even today, in 2012, the Fordham Baldies still bring memories to many people I have talked to. The memories are all roughly the same, or close to it. It goes something like this: While at school, a rumour makes the rounds that the “Baldies are coming to the school (insert school name here).” Students are in an uproar and are on pins and needles, waiting for a Baldy invasion. But the thing is, there never is an invasion. The reputation of the Baldies name had preceded them and the mere mention of “Baldies,” was good enough to get everyone worried about an impending gang attack. For more information on the Baldies, please visit James Hannon’s website, Lantern-Media where he shares some of his research on the Fordham Baldies as well as another period gang called the “Ducky’s.” In the case I am talking about here, there are no school rumours about a Baldie invasion. This time it was a Red Wings invasion. It happened on a fateful late spring day in 1954. The ending was tragic and if one were keeping score on such a grim topic, the Red Wings came out on top.
On Tuesday, June 1, 1954 at around noon hour, six Red Wings arrived at Orchard Beach, the Bronx in a dark-coloured ’41 Cadillac, driven by Frank Giampetruzzi who was AWOL from Camp Dix. Everyone was ready to enjoy the wind, sun and surf. The Red Wings with Frank that June 1 were John Hall, Louis DePetris, Philip Bonnano, Jerry Santaniello and a girl only known as Bella. They parked the Caddy and settled in at Section 17 of Orchard Beach which at the time was divided into 27 sections (now it is divided into 13 sections).
However, when they got there, the Fordham Baldies who had been frequenting Orchard Beach on a regular basis, found out the Red Wings were hanging out on Section 17 of the beach. On that day the Baldies happened to be in Section 11 and when someone asked “for help,” they proceeded to Section 17 to inform the Red Wings that this was their area. For about ten minutes the two groups faced off against each other, calling each other names, threatening each other, and in the Baldies case, jeering Bella. The Baldies, who outnumbered the Red Wings eventually chased them off the beach.
Giampetruzzi, Bonano, Santanielli and the rest of the Red Wings high tailed it out of the Bronx back to East Harlem, seething over the insults and plotting revenge. When they got back to East Harlem, they dropped off Hall, Bella and DePetris, but picked up two new Red Wings, Frank Ciappetta and Vincent Gugliemelli. Both Frank and Vincent were packing fully loaded automatic pistols. They were going back to the Bronx to pay the Baldies a visit they would never forget. Jumping back in Giampettruzzi’s Cadillac, the five Red Wings headed back to Orchard Beach. By the time they got there, however, the Baldies had left for their regular hangout on Belmont Ave — a candy store called “Piggy’s,” hanging out and lolling about on the stoop.
Piggy’s Candy Store
At about 4:55 p.m. after asking around where the Baldies hung out, the Red Wings rolled up on Piggy’s Candy store, double parking in front. Bernard Caleo and Angelo DiVincenzo were seated on the stoop in front of the candy store, unaware of what was about to happen. Inside, sipping a soda, was Ernest Montuoro. One of the Red Wings yelled out, “Are you the Fordham Baldies?” At hearing this, Bernard, Angelo and Ernest approached the vehicle, standing about seven feet from the curb. Someone from the car said, “you called us punks.” Both pistols were then brought out and six shots rang out from both guns, brandished by Ciappetta and Gugliemelli. One of the bullets hit Montuoro, hitting him in the aorta, killing him. DiVincenzo’s elbow took another bullet, which passed through his arm. Caleo took another bullet just about the left buttock, near his belt line. The bullet penetrated his abodmen wall and because of the injury his leg became gangrenous and he had to have his right leg amputated several inches above the knee. DiVincenzo and Caleo were both members of the Baldies but had no criminal record. Montuoro, who was 25, was not in the Baldies but did have a criminal record for assault and robbery in 1947 and possession of a firearm in 1949. He left behind a wife and child.
Ballistics work being done on Piggy’s Candy Store
The police were able to trace the car to Giamppetruzzi and a week later had arrested all the defendants in the case. Everyone pleaded not-guilty and a trial proceeded the following year in April 1955. Ciappetta and Gugliemelli were charged with 2nd Degree Murder and the others with 1st Degree Manslaughter. All the defendants were found guilty and the shooters — Ciappetta and Gugliemelli — were sent to prison for twenty years.
This was not the end of the Red Wings gang, however. As mentioned above, they were a powerful gang and continued to make their presence known up to at least 1959, which by that time had killed two more times. I am currently researching these two killings — one in 1958 and the other in 1959 — and hope to write about them in more detail in the future.
Here is what Piggy’s Candy Store looks like today — now it appears to be an Islamic school. Gone is the cluttered window offerings of the candy store. I doubt anyone walking down the street knew that in 1954 Ernest was killed and Bernard and Angelo were severely injured in a gang war.
Trial Minutes (Two Parts – 380 pages)
*Click on Fullscreen to see the full trial minutes*
Trial Minutes Part 1
Trial Minutes Part 2
About ten months ago I received an email from the son of Mario Montuoro. Mario was Ernest’s brother but passed away a couple of days prior to his son emailing me in March 2012. He was able to shed some light on his father Mario and how he felt about Ernest’s death at the hands of the Red Wings. Apparently Mario and Ernest looked very much alike and although Mario didn’t discuss the death of his brother, it was something that Mario’s son always knew about. Mario felt partially responsible for his brother’s death and it was something that troubled him for his entire life.
Then, in a way that only the Internet can make happen, I received an email from another nephew of Ernest’s who was actually able to find Ernest’s unborn son at the time (when Ernest was killed he was married with a boy and his wife was 7 month’s pregnant with another son on the way). When this second son was born, Ernest’s widow moved to California leaving everyone and everything behind. Ernest’s son is now 58 years old and just now found out about his family’s history in New York City. Interestingly, this second nephew of Ernest’s that emailed me works just a few miles from where Ernest was shot and killed.
After I received this email, I received yet another email, this time from Ernest’s niece who has some stories to share about Ernest that her father shared with her. Click here to learn more about Ernest’s life as well as pictures of Ernie before he was killed.