For more than 30 years, Greg "The Grim Reaper" Scarpa lived a charmed triple life: Mafia hitman, loving father and husband, and secret FBI informant—until a fatal disease weakened the infamous criminal. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Scarpa followed his brother into the mob life, becoming a vicious enforcer and prolific earner. The charming womanizer also had a fruitful home life, and after a bust for hijacking, betrayed his oath to the mafia to become a closed informant for the FBI. Scarpa balanced his multiple roles for a number of years, until he contracted the AIDS virus during a blood transfusion and died, on June 4, 1994, in a medical prison in Minnesota.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 8, 1928, Gregory Scarpa was the second of five children born to Italian immigrants. At the young age of 7, he was forced into working with his father as a coal deliveryman. The hard labor gave Greg an itch for a better life for him and his family—a life he saw being lived by the local mobsters.
Greg's older brother, Sal, was the first Scarpa to hook up with mob associated, and Greg followed his coattails. By the age of 17, he was strong and street-smart, and he was noticed by local mobster Charlie LoCicero of the Profaci crime family.
Before long, Greg Scarpa was taking part in the mob rackets, loansharking, bookmaking and extortion, in turn earning a vicious reputation for brutally enforcing any unpaid debts. In the early 1950s, Scarpa took the final step to become a made man—he "made his bones" by killing an anonymous mark on a Brooklyn street.
A 'Made Man' and FBI Informant
After becoming a "made man," Scarpa brought in cash by the truckload—literally. He was a prime truck hijacker for the Profaci family. But the racket hit a speedbump when the feds busted a heist. Known by this time by such nicknames as "The Grim Reaper" and "The Mad Hatter," Scarpa faced years in prison, and made an unprecedented decision: He would flip, informing the FBI on mob activities in exchange for money.
With cash flowing in from the government and his hijackings, Scarpa wooed 17-year-old Linda Diana. While Scarpa was stuck in a previous marriage, he set Linda up in a Bensonhurst apartment, and the couple quickly had a child, a girl they called "Little Linda," and a boy named Joey.
In 1963, Scarpa was sent on a mission for the FBI. He went down to Mississippi to track down the bodies of three civil rights workers who had disappeared, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. In the "Mississippi Burning" case, Scarpa was given free reign to torture Ku Klux Klan member Lawrence Byrd until he gave up the location of bodies—they were found soon after.
As the 1960s unfolded into the '70s, Scarpa lived a charmed life: loving family at home, mob business on the streets, and a relationship with the FBI. But by the early 1980s, Scarpa had developed an ulcer from taking too much aspirin. He needed a blood transfusion, but in the transfer, Scarpa would contract the HIV virus.
Greg Scarpa found out about his disease just as his mob family, the newly named Colombo Family, was thrown into chaos. Leader Carmine "The Snake" Persico had been thrown into jail in the Commission Trial, and street boss Vic Orena wanted to take over. A bloody battle for control ensued, with Scarpa as one of the lead hitmen for Persico's faction.
After years on the streets, even Scarpa's FBI connections couldn't stop him from being charged with multiple counts of murder. In May 1993, weak from the AIDS virus, Scarpa pleaded guilty to his crimes. He was given a lenient sentence in his fragile state, and on June 4, 1994, died in a medical prison in Rochester, Minnesota.
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