On the evening of Aug. 19, 1991, well-known Mahoning Valley Mafia figure Joseph N. “Little Joey” Naples Jr. was gunned down while he was checking out the house he was having built in Beaver Township.
The murder has not been solved.
Naples, owner of Youngs-town United Music Co. on Wilson Avenue and a capo in the Pittsburgh organized crime family, was found shortly after 8 p.m. lying next to a late model Ford Mustang parked in the driveway of his new house. The car doors were locked, and he was shot from behind.
The gunman or gunmen appeared to have been standing in a cornfield across the street from the 3240 Lynn Road address. Over the years, the headline-grabbing story has taken on the appearance of a movie script.
One version says the mob hit was approved by the then Godfather of the Gambino crime family in New York City, John “Dapper Don” Gotti, and that a sniper armed with a high-powered rifle was sent in from the East Coast to kill Naples.
On the day following the shooting, The Vindicator ran a front-page story with this headline: “Bushwhacker shoots racketeer to death.” The story was written by then Vindicator Reporter Mark Niquette (he now works for Bloomberg News) and this writer.
“It looks like someone was waiting for him in the cornfield,” said Michael Waldner, resident agent in charge of the FBI’s Youngstown office. “We’re still trying to piece everything together.”
Neighbors reported hearing two gunshots, followed by up to six more shots, but they reported seeing no vehicles leaving the scene.
Investigators found several bullet casings in the cornfield. There were broken cornstalks and depressions in a row.
The following comment from then Beaver Township Police Chief David Thoresen turned out to be prescient: “We have no theories other than what we have been able to develop so far.”
Twenty-five years later, the public still isn’t any closer to knowing the identity of the shooter or shooters, the person who ordered the killing and the reason for such a brazen act. After all, Naples was a Made Man in the Mafia.
For years, it was believed that Valley mob boss Lenine Strollo had sought the hit, just as he had on another local racketeer, Ernie Biondillo.
Strollo became a government snitch in 1999 after being indicted in December 1997 on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations violations of aggravated murder, casino-style gambling and numbers lottery. He was arrested at his Canfield home and remained in protective custody until he reached a plea agreement and became a government witness.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and participated in countless interviews with FBI agents and federal prosecutors, and testified at several organized crime and government-corruption trials.
Strollo admitted to having Biondillo killed – he is reported to have said that the murder was just business – and also putting out a contract in 1996 on the life of then Mahoning County Prosecutor-elect Paul Gains. Gains was shot while he was in the kitchen of his Boardman home. He survived and has been county prosecutor since January 1997.
With Strollo’s willingness to do whatever was necessary to stay on top, it was reasonable to assume that he had something to do with Naples’ murder. After all, the boss of the Valley criminal enterprise tied to the Pittsburgh organized crime family long considered Naples a threat. In 1990 Strollo pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 months in prison for operating the All-American Club in Campbell.
The FBI contended it was the largest illegal casino in the country and generated $20 million a year for the Pittsburgh mob.
A confidential informant told the feds that Strollo feared Naples would seize total control of the rackets while he was in prison, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Within a year of Strollo being imprisoned, Naples was dead.
The fact that no one has been charged in the murder has given rise to all kinds of speculation about Strollo’s relationship with federal prosecutors.
He didn’t have to serve the entire 12 years in the federal penitentiary, and was permitted to keep his Canfield home and all the ill-gotten gains he accumulated during his life of crime.
Strollo, who is 85, needs to cleanse his soul before he meets his maker. He should get in touch with this writer for a videotaped conversation about his life.
There would be an understanding that the videos would be kept confidential while he is alive.
After his death, the true confessions of the Valley’s infamous Mafia boss would be shared with the public.
Lenine Strollo is the last of the main characters in the long, sordid history of organized crime in the Mahoning Valley. His first-person story deserves to be memorialized.