Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

"What're You Gonna Do Now, Tough Guy?"

Johnny Cokes

The three mobsters started to laugh, and Coppola looked at Ricciardi in surprise.  Oh, you know that story, Coppola said.

Ricciardi had indeed heard the story, from Taccetta.  A select group of other wiseguys had heard it as well.  In fact while Coppola was away serving his sentence, the questionWhatre you gonna do now, tough guy?had become a popular catch phrase within a small circle of Jersey mobsters.  Like the tag lines Show me the money! from the movie Jerry McGuire and Clint Eastwoods Go ahead, make my day from Sudden Impact, Whatre you gonna do now, tough guy? had taken on a life of its own and came to signify the kind of balls, defiance, and bravado that wiseguys consider the cornerstones of mob manhood.  According to court records, Whatre you gonna do now, tough guy? were the last words uttered by mobster John Johnny Cokes Lardiere just moments before he was shot to death.  The way Tommy Ricciardi had heard the story, Johnny Cokes had said those words to the man who killed him, Michael Coppola.   Ricciardi would hear that story again, in greater detail, from Coppola himself that day, perhaps as a lesson in work from an old hand to a newcomer.

Six years earlier, in 1977, Johnny Cokes Lardiere, a soldier in the Genovese crime familywho had gotten his nickname because as a kid he had lived around the corner from a Coca-Cola bottling plantwas being held at the Clinton Reformatory, a facility for women that at the time had accommodations for a limited number of male inmates.  Lardiere had been convicted of contempt of court for refusing to testify before the State Commission of Investigation, regarding organized crime activities in the Garden State.  He was not the only wiseguy cooling his heels for repeatedly taking the Fifth before the commission.  Several other ranking mobstersincluding Ralph Blackie Napoli, a capo in Philadelphias Bruno familyhad refused to talk to the commission and earned themselves an extended stay at the reformatory.  But as their incarceration dragged on and weeks turned into months, their mob solidarity began to crumble, and tempers grew short.  Lardiere had been irritating the others all along with his big mouth and in-your-face personality.  The way Ricciardi had heard it, Lardiere and Blackie Napoli had gotten into a heated argument one day, the culmination of a festering animosity between the two men.  The confrontation escalated and turned ugly.   By showing this kind of extreme disrespect for Napoli, Lardiere sealed his own fate.    

On Sunday, April 10, 1977, Lardiere was granted a twenty-six-hour furlough to observe the Easter holiday.  At around 2:30 a.m. on Easter morning, Lardiere checked into the Red Bull Inn on Route 22 in Bridgewater, New Jersey.  After registering at the front desk, he got into his car and moved it closer to his room.  He parked outside room #235, shut off the engine, and retrieved his suitcase from the trunk.  Suddenly a man wearing a cap came out of the shadows and called out to Lardiere.  According to Ricciardi, when Lardiere looked up, he saw Michael Coppola standing there, holding a .22 semi-automatic pistol fitted with a silencer.  Coppola raised the gun, took aim at Lardiere, and squeezed the trigger.  But the gun didnt fire.  

Coppola pulled the trigger again, but it still wouldnt fire.  The gun was jammed.

Lardieres initial shock quickly turned to contempt.  He laughed in Coppolas face.  Coppola had come to a hit with a half-assed weapon.  What the hell kind of hitman was he supposed to be?  Thats when Lardiere stared Coppola down and said the mocking words that would make him famous: Whatre you gonna do now, tough guy?  As he said this, he reached out toward Coppola, apparently intending to go after his attacker.

But Johnny Cokes had underestimated Michael Coppola.  The hitman discarded the .22, rolled up his pant leg, and pulled out a .38 revolver from an ankle holster.  He pointed the backup gun at his target and started firing, hitting Lardiere several times.  Johnny Cokes collapsed and died on the spot.  Someone at the motel heard the shots and called the police.  A Bridgewater patrolman who happened to be parked nearby rushed to the scene and found Lardieres body sprawled on the pavement.  The key to room #235 was clutched in his lifeless hand.

 

 

Copyright 2001, Anthony Bruno.  All Rights Reserved

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