This case involves one of those rather rare instances in which murder charges were brought and convictions attained when the victim’s remains had not been found. It is also somewhat unique in that the victim was a powerful organized crime figure. William “Wild Bill” Cutolo was the underboss of New York City’s Colombo crime family. His disappearance and presumed murder in 1999 caused his son to turn from a life of crime to become a cooperating government witness, whose work with law enforcement helped to bring about the arrests and convictions of his father’s killers in 2007.
In the following paragraphs Billy Cutolo, Jr. talks about his father, the day he went missing, and the ensuing years.
"My name is William P. Cutolo Jr. I have also been known as Billy, Junior, and Bones. But the best one is Rat. That latter name is one I despise.
"My father was William P. Cutolo. By some he was called Wild Bill or Billy Fingers. And the latter name he despised. He was the number two guy in the Colombo crime family out of Brooklyn, New York. For those who do not know the details of such a despicable life…Mafia, Mob, organized crime…the second slot meant he was the 'Underboss' of the family. He was second in command to Carmine 'The Snake' Persico, who occupied the number one slot.
"My father was a man larger than the life. He was an extremely smart man and had the brains to be whatever in life he wanted to be. He dressed in custom made suits and hand painted ties. If you saw him on the street in the morning and did not know any better, the average person would have thought he was just some white collar guy on the way to his job in New York City. One of the reasons for his success was that he was a man of his word and the other four crime families in New York knew it. He was a guy who demanded respect and it came easy to him.
"My father had survived numerous attempts on his life throughout his many years on the streets. And he lived through a gangland civil war between two factions of the Colombo family in which over a dozen men were killed and numerous others went to jail with lengthy prison terms. He almost seemed invincible.
"But that all changed on May twenty-sixth, 1999. On the fateful day he was called to a high level meeting with the boss of the family and the number three guy in the chain of command, the consigliere. He never returned.
"On that day, I and a close friend of my father's and me were doing our usual Wednesday routine of haircuts, manicures and then off to our social club in Brooklyn. When my father never arrived there I immediately started asking who may have seen him. I received nothing but, 'No Bill, we haven’t seen him.'
"I tried to think of a legitimate reason for him to not be around. Maybe he was with someone and he couldn’t get back to me. Or, if he was at a high level meeting [where only high ranking members of organized crime were present] all beepers and cell phones had to be checked at the door so to speak. The reason being anything that could be considered a listening device had to be out of the room. Even so, whenever I paged him and added a 'nine eleven' after the phone number he knew it was an emergency and always got back to me within minutes. But not that day.
"As the night grew on as I sat and played cards with friends, an unusual question was whispered in my ear.' Have you spoken to your Pop today?' That’s when it really hit me. That's when I knew he wasn’t coming back. I bided my time the rest of that night and showed little reaction. But the next morning I set things into action that allowed me to be alive today to tell the story.
"I knew that my father had good rapport with the other families. I did my homework and by the morning after I knew who was responsible for my father's disappearance and murder, but I didn’t know exactly why they wanted him dead. My father and thirteen others had been charged with multiple crimes after the so-called Colombo war. They were locked up for thirteen months before being acquitted on all charges. All was said to have been forgiven within the family after he was released from jail. But I found out that wasn't true. And that’s what provided the motive and set the wheels in motion leading to my father's murder.
"My dad called a spade a spade. If he thought a guy was a rat, including a boss, he didn’t bite his tongue about it, he said it like it was. Being outspoken doesn't set well with some people. And the powers that be were afraid of his power and his strong support. He was a true tough guy, and whatever he touched turned to gold. He was the true meaning of an 'earner' in the life. And that in itself can get you killed. Jealousy and envy have led to a lot of deaths in the world of organized crime.
"As the next couple of days passed all his crew came to me one at a time to express their sympathy for my loss. Not too long after, just days in fact, a guy who was supposed to be father’s best friend came to my mother’s home in Staten Island and asked her where my father kept his financial ledgers and his stash of money. He even tapped on walls and floors thinking the money was hidden behind or under them. He came up empty. I have to say it was bitter sweet moment seeing the look on his face when I told him there was no ledger or money. It was priceless.
"He didn't know it, but my mother had been told by my father years earlier that if anything ever happened to him she was to give them [his criminal associates] nothing. That’s exactly what we did… gave them nothing. It was a victory, but it didn't bring my father home or his killers to justice.
"I love my family. But let's face it, when it came to my father's disappearance, what were they gonna do about it? They were scared. They didn’t know what to do. None of them did. They were all in shock. They weren’t in the streets every day like me. I wanted to save them. I wanted to be the one that brought my father home. Home to have a proper burial like he and our family deserved. But most of all for him. I mean dogs, cats and even birds all get buried by their loved ones. Granted they're pets, but I hope you get my point. I knew I was the only person in a position to do anything. My knowledge of the players and how the game is played gave me the means to catch the girls [a derogatory reference regarding the manhood of the killers] responsible for my father’s death. So I vowed I would not rest until he was found.
"Literally two days later I received a visit at my father’s home from two law enforcement officials. I wasn't under any obligation to report my father's disappearance to the FBI or the police, so I ignored them at first. They left business cards from both the FBI and the NYPD.
"But after a while I reached out to a detective and an agent I knew. I'd been in the company of the detective before, even though we were on opposite sides. I'd also gotten to know the agent over the years and he was a straight shooter. They knew my father was missing and presumed he was dead. They offered their condolences and warned me about the possible repercussions if I took vengeance on my own. After that they asked me, 'Do you want to know what happened to your father? Would you like to aid in the investigation?'
"Up until then my only friend was a silent one. It was a friend without a conscience. It held fifteen in a clip and one in the chamber. And I wanted the blood of the men who killed my father so bad. I wanted their families to feel the pain of losing a father, a grandfather and a husband like we had to endure. For me, killing those responsible would have been easy. Refraining from killing them would be much harder. But I forced myself to think. My father had warned me that if you kill one, two come at you. You put two down and four are coming, and so on. I knew he was right. And I had a wife and a son of my own to worry about. So I decided to break the cycle. To save spilling their blood and hit them another way.
"And so I did. In the next few seconds my whole life changed. I became a member of the guys in the white hats and was no longer an outlaw in black. Now my anger was channeled and fueled with fire. I hit them and hit them hard. For almost two years I secretly aided in the investigation. I caused havoc amongst the hierarchy of the Colombo family. The men I knew were responsible for my father sent for me on numerous occasions and I ignored them. When they sent two morons to threaten me if I didn’t go where they wanted to take me I introduced them to my silent friend and his sixteen buddies. They quickly left saying only, 'Okay, Billy. We brought you the message.' I told them not to come back unless they thought they could carry me out. That if they were really my friends they wouldn't have come with the message they did.
"At that point I had no time in my schedule for mutts like them. I considered myself a man's man as I'd been taught by my father. At one time nobody had more respect for the life than I did. But that went away with my father. Now my only loyalty was to him and the promise I'd made to him."
“Each time I went out to get information for the investigation it was a rush and the cockier I got. I was daring them to do something to me. But it never came. Call it what you will, but I say my father was looking down on me and kept me safe. He had fed me the paranoia that still lives in me today. He always told me, 'Paranoia is good. It keeps you sharp.' It worked for me. My mind remained keen and I stayed alive.
"Right to this day some people are still mad at me for not going out with guns blazing. That doesn't bother me though. I'd do it all over again if I had to. My only regret is that I couldn't tell my family what I was doing. I wanted to, but I was warned that it wouldn't be a good idea. So I had to keep them in the dark.
"I delivered for the law too. Even without finding his body, after eight years the government charged and convicted two men for my father's murder. So my cooperation and a few years in Witness Protection paid off.
"And then in early October of two thousand eight…nine years after he went missing…I was out eating at Emeril’s restaurant when the news came across the AP wire. It was not yet confirmed, but the authorities were pretty sure they had found the location of my father's remains. I rushed out to get to a computer to monitor the news sites. I had mixed emotions. Was it really going to be over after all those years?
"It was. An examination confirmed that the remains were his. Many times I had given up on God and law enforcement bringing that closure. Because one of the men convicted for the murder was an avid sailor I figured they might have dumped his body at sea. So my confidence in anybody ever finding him was slim to none.
"My father's burial site was on Long Island in a small town called Farmingdale. The morons that killed him were too lazy to get rid of the body. They buried him fifteen minutes from the private home of the family's new street boss. He was wrapped neatly in a tarp with a single gunshot wound to the back of his head. The scars on his right arm and dental records confirmed that the corpse was indeed my father. My family was relieved at that moment and they were able to move on. But I was not. I still am not the same person I was before my father's murder and I never will be.
"The difference between me and other people involved in my father’s life is that I finished what I started. I had the means to an end. I never had to actually take the stand against his killers. However, I did get to sit in the court room about fifteen feet from two of them. I sneered at them and they wouldn’t look at me. There wasn’t even a jury present and they were afraid to look at me. I remember saying to them before the judge came in and only the lawyers were present, 'What’s the matter, you ain't got nothin’ to say? You two bastards don’t even have the balls to look me in the eye?'
"When court was over the judge thanked me for all my work and dedication. And most importantly for not falling through the cracks of society. On my way out of the courtroom I made sure I waved to them.
"Today I am active in the wars against organized crime and domestic violence. And I try to help solve cold cases whenever I can. I think that's important because if we all walked around with our heads in the sand nobody's disappearance would ever get solved. I love being an activist in this crazy world. I love to know that I can and do make a difference. I instill that idea in my children and I am greatly rewarded for that each day when I open my eyes and put both feet on the floor. I know that's what my father would have wanted. I still miss him so. And I speak with him daily in my thoughts and prayers.
"Looking back on it I know I could have hurt a lot of other guys, but I didn’t. Many of my father's crew and associates loved him and I knew who they were. Anybody that got caught in the crosshairs of my cooperation with the law has only himself to blame. If they want to know why they're in jail they only have to look in the mirror. I was taught at a young age that any moron can hurt someone. But it takes a man to extend his hand and help that person back up. And that’s the way I see myself today.
"Closure is a very fickle word. It has different meanings to other families and individuals. It doesn’t bring a loved one back. But it puts your heart and mind at ease knowing that the person you cared so much for has been laid to rest. Knowing my father's murderers will die in prison helps too. It doesn't take away the hurt though. I wish I could say it did for me, but that would be a lie. The pain will always be there.
"I do have to say after all the years we went without knowing for sure where he was, I now take nothing for granted. I stop and smell the roses and appreciate human life for all that it is. I am happy with the choices I made then. I was not in any legal trouble and I wasn't facing jail time. I did what I did because I was tired of the life and it was the right thing to do. I want to be remembered for that.
"Today I'm the boss of a family. It's a family that consists of my wife and children. And they don't call me capo or the don. In my family they call me Dad."