Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Myth of Mob Gallantry

The Tragic Death of Janice Drake

Anthony Carfano was a stone-cold killer who had been there at the beginning of the syndicate and was tight with Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano. He was a lieutenant in Don Vito's organization, although he and Genovese didn't get along too well. Carfano, more commonly known by his nickname Li'l Augie Pisano, was also a lady's man. He was married several times, including once to the sister of a Florida cop.

Perhaps not as handsome as Benny "Bugsy" Siegel, Augie was still a stylish dresser and big spender. A New York Daily News photograph of Little Augie in custody shows a nattily dressed older man, perhaps 50, with brightly shining shoes, a white felt fedora with black silk band and a suit that probably would cost the average New Yorker six months pay. A sparkling ring adorns his right little finger. In the photograph, Augie sits nonchalantly in the police station as casual as if he were waiting for a bus. The details of the bust that brought Little Augie to police headquarters have been lost to history, but whatever it was certainly didn't faze him.

Lepke Buchalter, mugshot
Lepke Buchalter, mugshot
Chances are, however, that it had something to do with New York's garment district, because Augie, along with the fearsome Lepke Buchalter, controlled that part of the city. He was rumored to have his hands in a number of other rackets, as well, including gambling, girls and narcotics. With Lepke, Augie controlled the labor unions and with Frank Costello, Augie fixed city elections. He had been arrested and charged with six different murders but never took the rap for any. When Lepke went to the chair in Sing Sing after Abe Reles started talking to the law about Murder, Inc., Augie managed to skate away untouched.

Janice Drake, victim
Janice Drake, victim
The next time Augie appeared in the pages of the New York Daily News was not so flattering. In fact, he was dead. The News photographer took a series of pictures at the Jamaica, Queens, murder site. In one, a very pretty woman is sitting still, her blue eyes staring out through the car's windshield at something. It takes a moment to notice that she has a bullet hole in the center of her forehead, and that she is dead. It takes a bit little longer to realize that there is a second person in the car, someone in the driver's seat. The man is slumped over, just as dead, lying in the woman's lap. It is Augie.

Drake with Augie Carfano's body
Drake with Augie Carfano's body
 

Initially, the police figured the dead woman, Janice Drake, was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Augie had been at war with his boss, Vito Genovese, and had pretty much been a marked man, because of his close ties to Frank Costello and Charlie Luciano. Shortly before Augie was gunned down, Vito had ordered one of his up-and-coming gunmen, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, to kill Frank Costello as part of Genovese's drive to become the top boss in New York. When Gigante missed Costello, Genovese ordered all of his lieutenants to report to his headquarters as a show of solidarity. Every one of them showed up — except Augie, whose absence sent a strong message to Genovese about where Augie's loyalties lay.

Albert Anastasia, mugshot
Albert Anastasia, mugshot
After an investigation, some curious facts began to emerge about the beautiful and very married Janice Drake. The wife of comedian Alan Drake, Janice moved in some very unusual circles and had a very open marriage. She was also apparently bad luck. Janice had been Albert Anastasia's dinner companion the night before he was whacked in the Park Sheraton barbershop, and prior to that had figured in the investigation of the death of a garment district powerbroker named Nat Nelson, with whom she dined the night he died. The Queensdistrict attorney called her a "top flight" courier, and said she was frequently used as a go-between for gangland leaders.

Tony Bender
Tony Bender
Although the killings were never formally solved, police assumed that by the way the bodies were found and the fact that the Cadillac Augie was driving had crashed into the curb rather than been parked neatly, the victims knew their killers and were probably on friendly terms. Later, it came to light that Augie's close friend, Tony Bender, was responsible for the murders. He had been at dinner with Janice and Augie, and never one to let friendship stand in the way of advancement, either did the killing himself or arranged to have some of his boys lay in wait for the pair. Bender was questioned in connection with the murders but it was the mob that eventually meted out justice to Tony Bender. He learned that those who kill friends get killed by friends.

Janice's duties with the mob probably didn't extend much beyond being eye candy and passing along meeting times and places among her male friends. But she might have known too much — doubtless she knew the identities of Augie's assassins — and her time had run out. In the end, the bad luck she had bestowed on men like Albert A. and Nat Nelson had finally been paid back in spades.

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