Nick Name: Sonny
Birthday: February 6, 1917
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: John Sonny Franzese Sr.
Born in: Naples
Notorious As: Crime Boss
Spouse/Ex-: Cristina Capobianco-Franzese (m. 1957–2012)
father: Carmine Franzese
mother: Maria Corvola
children: John Franzese Jr., Lorraine Franzese, Michael Franzese
place of death: Naples
John "Sonny" Franzese, Sr. is a notorious Italian–American crime lord, hitman, mass-murderer, mobster, extortionist, racketeer, and businessman. He serves as the underboss of the Colombo crime family that is involved in organized crime activities in New York City, US. An old-timer of the Colombo crime family, Franzese has been associated with organized crime for over 6 decades. His criminal activities include racketeering, robbery, loansharking, narcotics trafficking, fraud, conspiracy, extortion, alleged rape, and mass murder. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison for masterminding several bank robberies. He was released on parole and returned to jail for parole violations on several occasions. He faced an 8-year prison sentence for crimes including extortion and loansharking at 93 and was finally released in June 2017. By then, he had become the only centenarian in federal custody and the oldest federal prisoner in the US. Currently, Franzese is the oldest-living gangster across the globe and plausibly the oldest-living member of the American mafia. He helped in financing the films ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ and ‘Deep Throat’ and was the associate producer of the film ‘This Thing of Ours.’
Childhood & Early Life
John "Sonny" Franzese, Sr. was born in Naples, Italy, to Carmine "The Lion" Franzese and Maria Corvola. There is some confusion regarding his birth year. While the federal prison records mention his date of birth as February 6, 1917, according to his son, Michael Franzese, the crime lord was born in 1919.
Franzese was raised along with his three brothers. His family relocated to New York City when he was quite young.
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Franzese worked in the gang run by Joseph Profaci in the late 1930s. It was recognized as the Profaci crime family back then and later became famous as the Colombo crime family. In 1938, Franzese faced his first arrest, for assault.
In 1942, during the Second World War, the ‘United States Army’ discharged Franzese for showing "homicidal tendencies.” A few years later, in 1947, court papers accused him of committing rape. However, he was not arrested for the crime.
A regular at the New York City nightclub ‘Copacabana,’ Franzese ran his criminal activities from New York City and New Jersey. The mafia initiation ritual of Franzese happened in 1949. He initially served in the crew of Sebastian "Buster" Aloi, as a soldier for the Colombo crime family, and then became the “caporegime,” or captain, during the mid-1950s. Joseph Colombo promoted Franzese to the post of the underboss in 1964.
Franzese was accused of murdering low-level New York mobster and hitman Ernest Rupolo, who worked for the Genovese crime family and later turned an informant testifying against the then-capo and future boss Vito Genovese.
It was generally assumed that Genovese had ordered Rupolo’s murder and Franzese executed it in 1964 as a favor to Genovese. Rupolo was shot and stabbed several times. Two concrete blocks were attached to his legs, and his hands were tied before being thrown into the water. During the trial, records produced by the prosecution claimed that Franzese had killed around 30 to 50 people.
The ‘FBI,’ in a 1965 report, described him as the most noticeable and burgeoning loan shark in the Greater New York area, who through his “shylocking enterprise,” was gradually acquiring the night clubs of New York. Franzese and the former acting boss of the Genovese crime family, Matthew Ianniello, were said to be long-standing partners in the adult entertainment business until the latter was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1988. Franzese also financed the 1972 American pornographic film ‘Deep Throat’ and the 1974 American horror film ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.’ He was credited as the associate producer of the 2003 crime drama ‘This Thing of Ours.’
In 1967, he developed a financial interest in the American record label ‘Buddah Records’ that was formed the same year in New York City. The label that recorded hits for artists such as Curtis Mayfield and Melanie Safka, was used by Franzese for bribing disc jockeys with payola and laundering illegal mob earnings.
Franzese was finally netted in March 1967, when he was found guilty of masterminding several bank robberies. In 1970, federal judge Jacob Mishler sentenced him to 50 years in prison. According to his son, Michael, after hearing about his sentence, Franzese had declared, "You watch. I'm gonna do the whole 50.” He was released on parole several times since then, beginning in 1978. However, he was sent back to prison for parole violations.
While in prison, he remained the acting underboss of the Colombo crime family, from 1983 to 1987. He became the new underboss after the incarceration of John "Jackie" DeRoss in 2005. Franzese still serves as the underboss. He was not charged of any other crime until June 2008, when he was indicted on several charges such as participating in murders during the Colombo Wars of the 1990s, conspiracy, loansharking, narcotics trafficking, extortion, and racketeering. He was released from the ‘Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center’ on December 24, 2008.
He was sentenced to 8 years in prison on January 14, 2011, at 93 years of age. Charges against him included loansharking and extortion. On June 23, 2017, Franzese, who was a centenarian by then, was released from the ‘Federal Medical Center’ in Devens, Massachusetts. His 50-year term for the bank robbery that he had committed years back also ended with this.
Murder Techniques of Franzese
Colombo associate-turned-government informant Gaetano "Guy" Fatato recorded one of his conversations with Franzese. Franzese was unaware of Gaetano’s role as a government informer and discussed mob murder techniques with him. During their conversation, Franzese said that he had killed several persons and would apply nail polish on his fingertips before the murders, so that his fingerprints were not found at the crime scene.
Franzese also said that wearing a hairnet during a murder would prevent hair from falling at the crime scene and would thus save the murderer from DNA analysis of hair strands. He said that proper handling of the corpse was important and talked about the procedure he followed. He mentioned that he would dismember the dead bodies in a kiddie pool and then put the severed parts of the body in a microwave oven to dry them before disposing them of through a commercial-grade garbage disposal.
Family & Personal Life
Franzese married Cristina Capobianco-Franzese in 1957. Cristina succumbed to cancer in 2012, while serving a prison term. Franzese has eight children. As of June 2016, he has 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
His son, Michael, is a former New York mobster and “caporegime” from the Colombo crime family, who operated Franzese’s rackets while Franzese was in prison during the 1980s. Michael was also associated with the gasoline tax rackets in the 1980s. Later, he publicly renounced organized crime and turned into a devoted Christian and a motivational speaker. He also launched a foundation for helping the youth.
Another son of Franzese, John, Jr, was also a Colombo family associate and later turned into an ‘FBI’ informer.
Franzese has now been released from prison and lives in his home.