The murder, at first, seemed like a major mob hit out of 1980s New York: In a Staten Island neighborhood with mafia ties, the alleged head of the Gambino crime family gets gunned down outside his home on March 13, where he dies from multiple wounds. But as the story has developed, the details surrounding it have only grown to be increasingly bizarre and have yet to fit together in any totally logical way, convincingly suggesting that this shooting was no mob hit at all.
Below, here’s everything we know.
What exactly happened?
The night of March 13, the New York Times reports that alleged boss of the Gambino crime family, 53-year-old Francesco Cali, was fatally shot outside his house in Todt Hill, Staten Island. Per surveillance footage, a pickup truck rammed into a vehicle and knocked off its license plate outside of Cali’s home, which compelled him to come out of his house. The suspect and Cali then approached each other, where the former handed Cali the detached license plate and then shot him six times.
Who is the suspect?
His name is Anthony Comello, and he’s a 24-year-old Staten Island native who lived with his parents, and who law officials say has no mafia ties. On March 16, law enforcement identified Comello as the owner of the pickup truck in the surveillance video and arrested him in Brick, New Jersey, where he was hiding at a family house. Per Rolling Stone, Comello almost immediately confessed to the murder and is currently being held in New Jersey’s Ocean County Jail.
On March 26, Comello was formally charged with murder, assault, and criminal possession of a loaded firearm, to which his lawyer Robert Gottlieb says he plans to plead “unequivocally not guilty.”
Why would Comello kill Cali?
As of now, it’s unclear, but law enforcement doesn’t think it had anything to do with organized crime. In fact, the murder may have been a gruesome crime of passion, as investigators believe that Comello was romantically interested in Cali’s niece, whom the alleged boss had barred him from seeing. As for Cali, he reportedly didn’t have a proclivity for violence. “He was very, very, very low key,” a law-enforcement official told the Times, later describing him as a “ghost.”
As NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said at a news conference on on March 16, “The investigation is far from over.”
Is there anything else about the suspect worth knowing?
Here’s where the narrative becomes slightly more bizarre. At a March 18 extradition hearing in New Jersey, during which Comello agreed to be tried for the murder, he drew on the palm of his hand “MAGA Forever,” as well as a number of phrases relating to right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon: a “Q,” “United We Stand,” and “Patriots in Charge.” (QAnon, which is pro-Trump, popular with 4chan and 8chan users, and incredibly convoluted, posits that there’s a “deep state” trying to take down Trump. In an attempt to describe the right-wing conspiracy theory, the Guardian wrote, “imagine a volatile mix of Pizzagate, InfoWars and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.”)
On March 26, Gottlieb pointed to not only to “right-wing conspiracy websites,” but also hate speech coming from “politicians, including right at the White House” as being highly influential on his client.
“Those words … have an effect,” he said in court. “The truth and the reasons for whatever happened here will become so clear, and will be shown to be directly related to the hate that people are bombarded with every day on the internet and elsewhere.”
Does Comello’s apparent adherence to a right-wing conspiracy really have anything to do with his motivation to murder? Was he yet another QAnon follower who’s prone to violence? Also, another detail worth noting: Per NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller and other police sources, Comello has recently attempted to make a number of citizen’s arrests of politicians. On February 21, he showed up at a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, asking to make a citizen’s arrest of California Democratic representatives Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters; the next day, he tried to do the same with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Given the twists that this case has already taken, we can’t even imagine what’s next. But Selwyn Raab, author of Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires, has a prediction.
“Somebody’s going to try to get him,” Raab told AP News, pointing to “Mafia code,” which applies even those without mob ties. “He’ll be a marked man the rest of his life.”
This post will be updated as we learn more.