A Mafia hitman reveals his code for killings
Ken Murdock’s voice is surprisingly polite when he discusses the dos-and-don’ts of being a hitman for the mob.
Murdock, 47, refrains from using words like “etiquette” or “ethics” while revealing the personal code of conduct he followed while carrying out murders for the Hamilton mob.
One strict rule was to kill his victims away from their wives and children. “You don’t do that sort of stuff in front of the wife and kids,” he said in a telephone interview from a British Columbia halfway house.
Having served 10 years of a life sentence for three gangland hits, he will be eligible for full parole in December next year.
He points out that before he gunned down Niagara Falls mobster Carmen Barillaro on July 23, 1997, he surveyed the target’s upscale house for hours, waiting patiently for Barillaro’s wife and children to go on a shopping trip.
“I sat down the street with binoculars, waited for the kids to leave. Waited for the wife to leave. I didn’t want anybody in the house. A lot of guys wouldn’t care.”
Murdock later learned they had gone to buy presents for Barillaro because the next day was his 53rd birthday.
The execution of Hamilton mob boss John Papalia on May 31, 1997 sparked criticism in the underworld about Murdock’s methods. He dismisses the comments made about the fact that he shot Papalia in the back of the head in the parking lot of the vending machine company Papalia ran in downtown Hamilton.
The Catholic Church denied Papalia a full funeral mass because of his criminal lifestyle, which included convictions for drug trafficking. Since Papalia was shot in the back of the head, he didn’t have an instant to make his peace with God before dying.
But Murdock stresses that he was a hitman, not a theologian, and that Papalia would have been fighting, not praying, if he had been shot from the front.
“Making peace with God? I don’t think that would be the first thing on his mind,” Murdock says.
Murdock says he shot Barillaro and Papalia up close with a pistol to ensure there were no innocent bystanders between him and his target. It also meant there was little chance of missing his victims.
Pasquale (Pat) Musitano, 42, of Hamilton was originally charged with ordering the murder of Papalia, his godfather. Musitano confessed to plotting the Barillaro murder, but denied any involvement in the Papalia killing in his plea bargain with the Crown.
Musitano and his brother Angelo were each freed in October 2007 after serving less than seven years of 10-year terms after pleading guilty to conspiracy to murder Barillaro.
He continues that he eschewed the use of bombs, noting that shrapnel from a bomb in a biker hit in Montreal accidentally killed an 11-year-old boy in 1995. “I don’t believe in bombs, no. I just don’t like it. That’s not the way to do things.”
Murdock said he had no ill feelings toward Papalia. However he adds that Barillaro and Papalia were active, longtime members of the underworld. The inference is that they likely would have approved of his technique, if not his targets.
Author Antonio Nicaso says Murdock fits the North American profile of a hitman, where outsiders are contracted to do a dirty job. In Italy, such jobs are only given to reliable members of the Mafia, said Nicaso, who has written several books on organized crime.
“It’s part of the job, traditionally,” Nicaso said of the Italian Mafia’s use of in-family killers. “They are all people with the organization, made members.”
The North American practice of paying men like Murdock to commit murders often backfires by breeding informers and mistrust within an organization, Nicaso says.
“They don’t trust these people that they pay,” Nicaso said.
Murdock says his personal code of conduct for gangland hits was something he thought up himself. It certainly wasn’t a job requirement. To order a murder, a senior mobster would simply say someone “has got to go,” and leave the rest up to him.
Murdock says he never wanted to emulate the false friendship of some old-school hitmen, like the ones who set up former Hamilton and Toronto resident Paolo Violi by inviting him to play cards in a Montreal social club in 1978. A hitman from the Rizzuto crime family was waiting in the background to shoot Violi. “To me that’s sleazy. You think you’re among friends. (But) nobody likes you. Next thing you know you’re dead.”
Just before he pulled the trigger on Papalia, Murdock said he lied to the elderly mobster, saying that he was about to take action against Pat Musitano because he was owed money. “He asked if it was going to be a good thing,” Murdock recalled. “I said, ‘No, it’s going to be a very bad thing.’ ”
“He said, ‘Do what you want to do. I’m not going to involve myself.’ Basically he gave me a green light to shoot Pat.”
Murdock says Papalia was targeted for murder because he had loaned $250,000 to cover another mobster’s bookmaking debts, after a bad run setting the betting line on NFL games.
It was cheaper to pay Murdock $3,000 and some cocaine to murder Papalia rather than honour the debt, he adds.
Murdock turned on the Musitanos after hearing that he had become a murder target by them himself.
Murdock’s regular job during his hitman days was as a bouncer at Hamilton strip clubs. He also paid the bills with extortion and armed robbery.
He said that Pat Musitano was emboldened by his tightening ties to Vito Rizzuto, Montreal’s mob boss, and Toronto mobsters, who wanted to push into Hamilton.
His first hit was in 1985 when the target was Stelco janitor Salvatore Alaimo, 53, who owed gambling debts to mobster Pat Musitano’s father, Dominic.? Once the family had decided Alaimo wasn’t going to pay up, the decision was to kill him to send a message to other unlucky gamblers. “That’s a good incentive for them to pay,” Murdock says.
?But that murder contract didn’t sit well with him, so he dawdled. Once, he sat with a loaded machine gun in a car outside a downtown Hamilton social club the janitor frequented. When Alaimo finally walked by the car, Murdock couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger.
The next time he was dispatched to kill Alaimo, Murdock was accompanied by two other men, including a getaway driver.? This time he couldn’t just slough off the job.
His attempt at a drive-by shooting went horribly wrong, he said.? He notes that the Sten machine gun he carried was notoriously inaccurate.? “I actually wasn’t trying to shoot him. I was trying to shoot all around him. . . . When the thing goes off, it has a mind of its own.”
Murdock says he worked for Pat Musitano because of a promise he made to Pat’s father Dominic, after Dominic learned he had life-threatening heart problems. “I promised to take care of his kids. That was the dumbest mistake I ever made.”
“I was always willing to step in front of somebody for a friend to solve a problem. Not anymore. That was part of my problem back then.”
Back in his hitman days, Murdock says long lines of cocaine helped him cope with job stress. Nowadays, Murdock consoles himself with thoughts of the half-dozen killings he was ordered to do, but didn’t carry out.
Among the targets he says he spared were:
• A Woodbridge businessman with a lengthy criminal record.
• Former professional wrestler Ion (Johnny K-9) Croituro.
• Four family members and in-laws of the late Giacomo Luppino, a force in the Hamilton underworld in the 1960s and 1970s. Luppino died at 87 of natural causes in 1987.
Murdock said he was able to get a pardon for the businessman by telling someone else in Woodbridge of the murder plot. “He said, ‘If you could relax off of this, we’ll try to fix this.’ ”
The plan for the Luppino relatives was to burst into a coffee house near Barton and Sherman St. in Hamilton where they met on Thursday mornings then machine gun them all, he says.
He didn’t say no to the plot but didn’t carry it out either, and eventually the scheme lost steam.
Nicaso says he’s suspicious of Murdock’s claim that he declined to carry out some killings, out of conscience. Nicaso says it’s typical for hired killers in high-profile cases to later suffer a letdown, when they feel cut off from the world and crave attention.
“At this point, he (Murdock) can say anything,” Nicaso says.
Murdock said he is still haunted by the sights and sounds of the murders he carried out, although he reminds himself that some of his victims had taken lives themselves.
Still, memories of the slayings often come back to him at night. “Things are right up close, personal. The image doesn’t leave you.”
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