The reputed boss of New York's Gambino crime family was gunned down outside his home, dying a virtual unknown compared with his swaggering 1980s-era predecessor, the custom-tailored tabloid regular John Gotti.
Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali, 53, was found with multiple gunshot wounds at his red-brick colonial-style house on Staten Island on Wednesday night and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Witnesses reported seeing a blue pickup truck speeding away, police said. No immediate arrests were made.Federal prosecutors had referred to Cali in court filings in recent years as the underboss of the Gambino organization.
News accounts since 2015 said he had ascended to the top spot. The Gambino family was once among the most powerful criminal organisations in the US, but federal prosecutions in the 1980s and 1990s sent Gotti and other top leaders to prison, diminishing its reach.
The last Mafia boss to be shot to death in New York City was Gambino don Paul Castellano, assassinated on Gotti's direction while getting out of a black limousine outside a high-end midtown Manhattan steakhouse in 1985.
Gotti then took over.
"We thought those days were over," Mayor Bill de Blasio said of Cali's death.
"Very surprising, but I guess old habits die hard."
Cali kept a much lower profile than Gotti and was killed in far less spectacular fashion than Castellano. Cali was shot in the chest at least six times on a tree-lined street in a quiet neighbourhood a short walk from ball fields, a country club and a day camp.
Gotti, with his expensive double-breasted suits and overcoats and silvery swept-back hair, became known as the Dapper Don, his smiling face all over the tabloids.
As prosecutors tried and failed to bring him down, he came to be called the Teflon Don.In 1992, Gotti was convicted in Castellano's murder and a multitude of other crimes.
He was sentenced to life in prison and died of cancer in 2002.
The Mafia's notoriety and influence have waned in New York City since then, but there have been flare-ups.On Wednesday, hours before Cali was killed, the reputed boss and consigliere of the Bonanno crime family were acquitted in a Brooklyn racketeering and extortion case.
In October, reputed Bonanno associate Sylvester Zottola was fatally shot while waiting for a cup of coffee at a McDonald's drive-thru in the Bronx.
Last week, the longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, 85-year-old Carmine "the Snake" Persico, died at a North Carolina hospital near the federal prison where he had been serving what was effectively a life sentence.
Persico was convicted in a 1986 case overseen by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani.Cali's only mob-related criminal conviction came a decade ago, when he pleaded guilty in an extortion scheme involving a failed attempt to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island.
He was sentenced to 16 months behind bars and was released in 2009.In that case, authorities intercepted conversations shedding light on his quiet underworld influence and popularity at home and abroad.
An Italian mobster said Cali was "everything over there" in New York and referred to him as "a friend of ours."
A prosecutor echoed those sentiments at a 2008 bail hearing, saying Cali was seen "as a man of influence and power by organised crime members in Italy."