Picture of Bruce Locklin

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Herb Gross in hiding during the early 1970s. WIDE WORLD PHOTO

Herbie Redux

I keep asking people why Herb Gross went bad. Maybe his own answer, vanity, is too broad, such a pervasive motivation that it explains everything and nothing. “He did it for the money,” says Dion Feltri, a plainclothes cop who knows Gross well. Dion’s wrap-around sunglasses fit with his street-smart demeanor. He prefers short answers, not essays. Herb Gross in hiding during the early 1970s. WIDE WORLD PHOTO Ed Houston has his own theory: “Herbie liked being around gangsters. He thought they were glamorous. I think he was infatuated with them.” The underworld holds no glamour for Houston. He knows it too well as an insider. He’s a huge black man who came to be trusted by many Italian mobsters, not as an adopted relative, more like a large, friendly dog who could perform useful services. Houston was a bit player in Gross’s story, a participating observer. Gross doesn’t accept either Houston’s or Feltri’s analysis, but there’s probably some truth in both. Gross always looked for money angles, still does, in fact. Now he dreams

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Frank "Butch" Miceli BERGEN RECORD PHOTO

My Favorite Mobster

I was asleep and the phone was ringing. That was wrong to begin with. Unless there’s a special reason, my wife and I turn off our bedroom phone most nights. We go to bed earlier than the world expects us to, I guess, because if the phone’s on, it often rings. I must have forgotten to disconnect, because it was ringing now. I grumbled a hello and my friend Herbie came on full steam, blurting a non-greeting: “Didn’t I tell you never to trust them! Now do you believe me?” “What happened Herbie, what are you talking about?” “Didn’t you hear the news? They killed some reporter out in Arizona. Now will you listen to me?” For months Herbie had been warning me that I was in danger. I was working on an unusual investigative project–unusual because the key source was a mobster. Herbie didn’t know the guy, but he didn’t like the setup: “They don’t talk to reporters. It’s a cardinal rule. Something funny is going on and you better be careful.” I’m always

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Herbie Gross and his Violin

Herbie’s Decision

I don’t trust any generalizations about organized crime, not even my own. It’s a subject that inspires extravagant overstatement. People discussing the mob become like blind men describing an elephant, giving the big picture when they’ve only felt part of the beast. Some examples: I have a friend who spent a chunk of his life investigating organized crime for a federal force that never officially existed. He’s convinced that the new boss of bosses is a low-profile hood in Brooklyn who was given the title by a ruling council in Sicily. I know a retired Scotland Yard detective who has become an expert on American mobsters. He says that anyone can see that Jews are the real bosses, and he names five men who run everything. But financial power seems to be the sole credential needed to make his list. Then there’s a scholar whose writings on organized crime seem to be gaining in influence. He says the Mafia is a myth and mobsters are simply entrepreneurs who deal in the illicit. I had lunch

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