AL DeMeo last saw his father Roy when he went to identify his body in the mortuary.
The police had prised open the boot of his father's maroon-coloured Cadillac and found a bullet-ridden corpse. It was one day after Al's 17th birthday in 1983. His father had been "whacked" by his own Mafia "crew" on the orders of the Gambino family godfather, Paul Castellano.
Now aged 36, Al deMeo has risked the wrath of the Made Men still working in the much-reduced ranks of the city's Five Families by publishing 'For The Sins of My Father'. After years of fearing for his life, living behind locked doors with a loaded gun in his belt, he has broken cover to talk publicly.
He is sitting in an espresso bar in Little Italy in New York. "If someone shoots me in the head right now, so be it," he says. "The truth is that the shiny Cadillac is the myth, and the body in the back is the reality." His memories of family life in the affluent suburbs of Long Island in the 1970s confirm the legends of the bloodsoaked gangster returning home to cuddle his children, honour his wife and mother, and spend his fortune in pursuit of the American Dream.
By the time he was six, Al deMeo was learning how to handle a gun, riding shotgun in his father's car - always a Cadillac - as he drove around collecting envelopes full of money, and fretting at night as he waited for his beloved father to arrive safely home.
But the true extent of the horror only dawned on him when he read a book called 'Murder Machine', based on the testimony of a Mafia 'rat' from the old DeMeo crew, and published in 1992. It revealed that his father had not just killed the odd opponent for "business", but had been feared as a vicious assassin, a sadist with the blood of at least 200 people on his hands.
"I grew up in a very normal household. Now I read this about my Dad, and it really upsets me. This was cathartic. I went into this book with noble intentions, but I realise now that I can't fix my father's image. He did kill, I know those things. I can't fool myself. But I can show that there was another side to him: a father who took care of his family," he says.
The story has uncanny echoes of 'The Sopranos', the latest version of the Mafia myth hailed as a dramatic masterpiece and breaking ratings records with its fourth season now running on American television. Roy deMeo killed as easily as the television boss, spent as much money and effort building his suburban dream home, and tried to steer his children away from "the life".
DeMeo's story, however, matches known facts and court records.
The Sopranos' shocking method of getting rid of their victims appears to have been copied from deMeo's "murder machine": It was Al deMeo's father who introduced the 'Gemini Method' to the Mob, named after the bar he bought in Brooklyn. Roy had trained as a butcher; the technique he developed for getting rid of unwanted bodies consisted of bleeding the victim dry in the shower before carving him scientifically into small pieces for easy, anonymous disposal.
Sometimes, the head was mashed down the waste-disposal system.
"The bar didn't have much furniture, but was regularly repainted. I remember that. It's a store-front church now: I've got no idea if the congregation knows what went on there," says deMeo. The memories deMeo had to retrieve to write his book brought him to a nervous breakdown. His psychiatrist diagnosed him with post traumatic stress disorder, describing him as a "boy soldier" who had seen too much.
DeMeo was steadily sucked into "the life", although his father managed to protect his two sisters from the truth.
One is now a doctor - and both live Mafia-free lives.
(Daily Telegraph, London)