MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. - For his first day at John P. McKenna Junior High School, Al DeMeo showed up in a suit. He wore his blond hair slicked back. He was quiet and serious for a seventh-grader.
Before the final bell, some eighth-grader hazed Al, knocking his books from his hand. Al pushed the upperclassman against the lockers and pummeled his face until he dropped limp to the floor. Al continued on to class without a word.
No one picked on Al DeMeo again.
Most of his classmates knew there was already a perfectly compelling reason not to pick on Al: His father was in the Mafia.
The DeMeos lived in a section of town called Bar Harbour, on a stretch of Whitewood Drive lined with waterfront homes with white columns, elaborate stonework and fancy cars in the driveways. Over the years, the area has been home to such mob bosses as Carlo Gambino and John Gotti Jr.
In his junior year at Massapequa High School, word circulated that Al's father had been found dead in the trunk of his car, but nobody really knew the details. Now, 19 years later, Al has filled in the blanks. He has written a book about growing up in Massapequa as the son of Roy DeMeo, one of the Mafia's most feared hit men.
For the Sins of My Father (Broadway Books, $24.95) offers a remarkable perspective on how a brutal mobster could lead a sweet home life as a suburban dad. It recounts a loving father-son relationship. But it tells how a devoted son got swept up in his father's criminal career and became hounded by mobsters, law enforcement officials and the legacy of a father who killed many men and was eventually murdered by his own mob associates.
DeMeo said that the book has helped him to finally exorcise demons that hounded him for years after his father's death.
"Writing the book helped me put that life behind me," he said. "It's like I've taken back control of that part of my life and given some closure to it."
Much of the book springs uncorroborated from DeMeo's memory. But important names and dates do correspond to official accounts of mob figures, deaths and prosecutions.
For Massapequans and residents of other Long Island communities where Mafiosi lived, the book provides startling revelations about an iceberg the neighbors only saw the tip of in places like Bar Harbour, one of several Long Island destinations for wiseguys with the money to leave the traditionally "mobbed-up" sections of Brooklyn for big, comfortable houses in anonymous suburban bedroom communities.
I grew up in Massapequa with Al DeMeo and saw him beat up that eighth-grader. I used to watch the DeMeos' parties from my back yard across the canal. I coveted their pool and Al's speedboat. The waterfront home of Carlo Gambino, the "boss of bosses," could also be seen from my family's house.
The mob presence didn't seem to make the neighbors nervous. Some said the Mafiosi in the neighborhood made it feel safer, both because of the mob security and the increased surveillance by law enforcement officers. Intimidation? My younger brother would stand in front of the DeMeo house, serenading Al's sister and dancing for the surveillance cameras that Roy DeMeo had installed to watch for potential assassins.
Still, people around town tended to whisper when they talked about the family. "That's Al DeMeo," they would say. "His father's in the Mafia." He would hear it in the school hallways or in line at the bagel store. And now that the book has been featured on national news programs, Massapequa is buzzing again about Al DeMeo, who still lives here. The whispers are back.
"I try not to go out too much around here," he said recently in an interview at the Massapequa Diner, where he and his father used to discuss strategy. The pay phone out front, now ripped out, was one of those where Al would wait for his dad's calls when Roy was in hiding.
The book describes Roy DeMeo's rise from teen-age loan shark in Brooklyn to capo in the Gambino crime family, leading a crew known as the DeMeo gang that did contract murders and ran one of the biggest auto theft rings in New York history. The crew's headquarters was the Gemini Club in Brooklyn, where they disposed of the bodies by draining them of blood in the shower and then slicing them into pieces, to put in garbage bags.
It became known as the "Gemini method" and appalled even seasoned mobsters, including Paul Castellano, who succeeded Gambino as boss of New York's largest crime family in 1976.
In 1983, Roy DeMeo began being investigated by federal prosecutors. He was killed that year, and law enforcement officials and Al DeMeo agree that the killers were members of Roy's own crew, who feared that Roy would cooperate with the feds.
Roy DeMeo had moved his family out to Massapequa from Brooklyn early on, to give them a better life, Al DeMeo said. The living was good at the new house on Whitewood Drive, with lavish cookouts and opulent Christmas and birthday gifts.