Aniello “Neil” Dellacroce was born in New York on March 15, 1914 to Italian American immigrants named Francesco and Antoinette Dellacroce. He had had one brother, Carmine and grew up in Little Italy, a section of Manhattan. As an adult he would sometimes wear a priest uniform to throw off law enforcement as he climbed the ladder to become the underboss of the Gambino crime family and mentor to the infamous John Gotti.
Dellacroce worked as a butcher assistant as a teenager but when work became scarce he resorted to a life of crime. As an adult he stood 5ft 10 inches tall with brood shoulders. In the 1930’s Dellacroce joined the Mangano crime family under Vincent Mangano and by the 1950’s became a capo under Albert Anastasia after he had Mangano killed. He bought the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy, which became a popular Gambino social club. As a fierce Anastasia follower, Dellacroce is thought to have participated in several murders at his request. However, as a traditional Cosa Nostra mobster, Dellacroce followed mafia tradition and remained quiet when Anastasia was murdered on October 25, 1957. Then underboss Carlo Gambino took over as boss of the family. The commission renamed the family to Gambino.
Dellacroce also preferred to keep a low profile in public. His nickname was “Neil”, an Americanization of “Aniello”. And due to his square-shaped face, some Gambino members nicknamed him “the Polack” but never used the term within ear shot.
He married Lucille Riccardi and had two sons, Armand and Ronald, and a daughter named Shannon. The family lived in Little Italy across from his social club but later moved to Grasmere, Staten Island. He was also the great uncle of John Ruggiero Jr., Angelo Ruggiero Jr. and Salvatore Ruggiero Jr., all three Gambino family associates.
Dellacroce chose to remain out of the spotlight and also allegedly used a body double for some public events. As a religious man he once murdered a man who was dressed as a priest. That murder earned him the nickname “Father O’Neil”. He later took up that act dressing as a priest, but it didn’t last. Everyone already knew who he was. In 1965 Dellacroce was promoted to underboss.
In 1966 Dellacroce was present during a meeting in Queens together with men such as JosephColombo, Carlo Gambino and Carlos Marcello to discuss the distribution of Thomas Lucchese’s rackets, who was dying from ill health. The police however disturbed the meeting and arrested 13 men, including Dellacroce. According to a police officer “they acted as gentlemen” and all had a large amount of money on them. The meeting was eventually dubbed “Little Apalachin”. NYPD detective Ralph Salerno said that the only mobsters whose eyes frightened him were Dellacroce and Carmine Galante.
Dellacroce was popular with Hollywood and still managed to stay out of law enforcement’s radar, but in 1971 after being summoned to appear before a grand jury, Dellacroce refused to answer any questions about the mafia. He was cited for contempt and received a one year prison sentence.
On May 2, 1972, Dellacroce was indicted on federal tax evasion charges after he accepted 22,500 shares of Yankee Plastics Company stock in return for peace with its labor force which he controlled. In 1973 he was sentenced to five years in prison.
On October 15, 1976 Gambino boss Carlo Gambino died. Following mafia tradition the boss o the family is to appoint a predecessor. It was widely presumed Dellacroce would become the new boss, however Gambino appointed his cousin Paul Castellano as the new boss shocking many in the family. Dellacroce remained a traditional mafioso and didn’t question Gambino’s decision. He remained the underboss of the Gambino family and inherited the control of traditional criminal activities, such as robbery, hijacking and extortion, in Manhattan; an order from Gambino to Castellano before his death.
Castellano was known as a businessman and not a gangster and this irritated members of the family. When he banned drug dealing within the family, several Dellacroce underlings became infuriated. One such underling was capo John Gotti, who made a considerable amount of money in drugs. Gotti idolized Dellacroce for being a traditional mafoso so when Dellacroce stood firm to Castalleno’s orders, Gotti listened to the old school mafioso.
In 1980 Dellacroce gave his okay to kill Bonanno family capo’s Alphonse Indelicato, Philip Giacolone and Dominick Trinchera who were fighting for the top spot after Bonanno boss Phillip Rastelli was jailed with a long sentence. The Gambino’s had developed a relationship with the Bonanno’s so the three capo’s causing the problems had to go. In popular culture this murder was played out in the hit movie Donnie Brasco.
In 1985 Dellacroce’s health had begun to fail. He and other leaders of the New York mob were indicted on March 28, 1985, as part of the Mafia Commission investigation. Dellacroce would never make it to court. He died on December 2, 1985 of lung cancer at the age of 71. He was buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens. Nearly the entire Gambino family and many others showed up for his funeral. One person in particular that did not show was Gambino boss Paul Castellano.
To Gotti, not showing up for the funeral was the last straw. He became enraged that Castellano didn’t show the respect
Dellacroce deserved. On December 16, 1985, just 14 days after Dellacroce’s death, Gotti gunmen assassinated Castellano and his new underboss and former driver Thomas Bilotti outside the Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. The next day, the FBI recorded several high ranking members of the New York mafia visiting Gotti at the Ravenite Social Club to congratulate him as the new boss of the Gambino crime family.