A former member of the Pagans tells how an attack against the South Philly mob helped create a biker legend.
Little Nicky considered this an insult, and he ordered his enforcers to teach these rude cycle-bums a lesson they would not soon forget. But Scarfo's stooges wanted no part of the chain-wielding Pagans.
They told Scarfo that these guys were even crazier than the Mulignanes and that there was no telling how they might retaliate. So nothing was done; the dispute settled into a stalemate, with Little Nicky seething in his warehouse and the Pagans doing pretty much whatever they wanted all over Philadelphia.
Relations between the Pagans and the mob festered like a swollen abscess, which finally burst on a spring night in 1984, when Little Nicky's hard-drinking underboss, Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino, staggered out of a restaurant in South Philadelphia and saw a Pagan sitting on a motorcycle.
Fortified with the kind of courage that comes out of a bottle, Scarfo's drunken underboss rammed his car into the bike and sent the Pagan sprawling into the street. While he was lying in a hospital bed, the Pagan was visited by his bike-riding brethren. One of them found an accident report lying on the table next to the bed where the police had left it. When he picked it up, the name Salvatore Merlino jumped up in his face. Underneath Merlino's name was a South Philadelphia address.
"Look at this," he said, as he began stabbing the paper with his finger right under the address. He then passed it around the room, and his bearded brethren all began grinning as they read it.
The next night a band of Pagans pulled up at the address of the house on the accident report and shot more than 200 rounds of ammunition through the walls, windows and doors, while Merlino's terrified mother crouched on the floor, peeing herself under a shower of lead and glass.
As Detective Friel later put it: "The incident went unavenged. This brazen insult to the majesty of the Men of Honor was never punished. The Mafia bullies had been bullied by the bike-riding bullies and backed down."
In fact, Scarfo's people ultimately coughed up $5,000 for bike repairs and hospital bills.
Years later I met the Pagan who orchestrated the attack on Merlino's home. It was a fluke encounter. I was working as a bartender. He walked in and ordered a drink. We recognized each other's tattoos, and we both asked the same question: "Who the hell are you?"
He was a leader of the Pagans during the Philadelphia mob wars in the early '80s. I went by the name "Stoop" and ran the New York club back in the late '60s.
He told me about the war with the Dwarf Don and about the attack on Merlino's home. Actually it wasn't really Merlino's home, the guy told me. It was his mother's. The guy had put her address on his driver's license to confuse the cops, but he had confused the Pagans instead.
"'Who's a-dare? Who's a-dare!' we heard her screaming right before we started firing." We both laughed.
Then I told him that I had been the leader of the New York Pagans from 1967 to 1969. He was as interested in my story as I was in his.
"I always really regretted that I wasn't a member back in those days," he said. "You guys back in the '60s were crazy. I missed all that. But those were the days when you guys did the shit that the Legend was hatched from. In fact, it was the shit you guys did back then that helped guys like me scare the shit out of those greaseballs later on."
We talked some more about gang wars and about the '60s. Then the place closed. He left, and I began to clean up. I thought about what he said.
Actually I thought it was all pretty routine stuff back then.
Sure, we got into some shootings and serious shit. But most of it was just good clean fun, like drinking beer all night and standing up on the seat of your motorcycle, drunk and without a helmet, at 3 in the morning, while you blew every red light in sight.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
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