Angelo Musitano shot dead: Mobster pursued a new path, but couldn't escape his past

1 / 2

Angelo Musitano shot dead: Mobster pursued a new path, but couldn't escape his past

Angelo Musitano shot dead: Mobster pursued a new path, but couldn't escape his past

Hours after notorious Hamilton mobster Angelo Musitano was gunned down in the driveway of his Waterdown home, a classic show of mob respect was unfolding just outside his mother's downtown house.

About 30 people gathered — mostly big, stocky men — standing around for hours, taking turns going inside and offering condolences for a man whose name was instantly recognizable throughout the city.

A scion of one of Hamilton's best-known crime families is gone.

A neighbour who lives nearby watched it all unfold.

"Honestly, it looked like a scene out of The Godfather," said the neighbour, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Everyone was going up kissing each other's cheeks, and then going inside."

Musitano was gunned down just before the 20-year anniversary of the famous hit on the fearsome Johnny (Pops) Papalia, to which he was forever linked.

But to hear some people tell it, there was more to Musitano than just crime and violence.

"He'd always bring the grandkids by on a Sunday after church," the neighbour said. "Seemed like a really nice guy to me and my housemates."

These then, were the two sides of Angelo Musitano: a man who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and who thrived in gangland life — but also a man who is being remembered by friends as finding God, and caring for his young family. In the end, one side couldn't erase the other, as all signs point to Musitano being undone by his past despite apparent efforts to forge a new future.

Finding God

In a new book of collected stories of faith called I Found Him, Musitano tells his own story.

"There are some who will know me by my name alone and will recall my past history," he wrote. "There are those who will sit in judgment of me because of my past, but these are the people who do not really know me.

"I was born into a family — not just any family but 'the family' — in other words, a family associated with organized crime."

In a three-page passage, Musitano talks about how meeting his wife, starting a family and finding religion changed him.

"During my formative years and while serving [a prison sentence], I saw firsthand the worst of the human condition — beatings, stabbings and murder — and it began to have a profound effect on me," he wrote. "I wanted to try to distance myself from my past but on my release it seemed there was only one life for an ex-con. Nobody seemed willing to take a chance on a man with a record."

Mike King met Musitano several years ago through a Christian men's group. He told CBC News that his friend was on the "right path," and was legitimately trying to be a better person for his family, and three young children.

"The Ang I knew, he loved his family, he loved his wife, he loved his kids," he said. "I wept when I found out. I couldn't even believe it was real.

"The Ang I knew tried to turn his back on that path."

Running from the past

But some things you can't turn your back on. On Tuesday afternoon, just shy of his 40th birthday, Musitano was shot to death by a gunman who had waited for him to arrive home and who walked up to his truck window as he pulled into his driveway. Musitano later died in hospital.

Organized crime expert James Dubro, who has written extensively about the Mafia in Ontario, says Musitano's supposed turn to God "doesn't mean much for gangsters."

"It's very hard to break away from that," he said.

"Found religion? Maybe. But it doesn't erase the past, if he did."

Brothers Angelo and Pat Musitano were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the brazen 1997 shooting of Hamilton crime boss Johnny (Pops) Papalia and one of his lieutenants, Carmen Barillaro.

The brothers reached a deal and pleaded to conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Barillaro. In turn, the charges against them in connection with Papalia's death were dropped.

They were sentenced to 10 years in jail. They got out in 2007, and Musitano had mostly flown under the radar ever since.

Who ended Musitano's life?

Dubro says the two were never involved in very "sophisticated crimes," and that they were "more feared than respected."

Pat was the more fearsome of the two, Debro says.

"He will, in time, be killed," he said. "There's no question about that."

Hamilton police did not immediately respond to interview requests to ask if they are watching Pat Musitano.

Dubro says it's difficult to determine the motive for the shooting — be it retribution for Papalia's death, or just someone with an axe to grind. He doesn't view it as any kind of power move by another organization.

"If it's a settling of accounts, it could be just one person," he said.

"To kill someone in organized crime, you don't need a lot of power. You just need a good gun, and good aim."

The Musitano crime family first came to Canada when Musitano's namesake great uncle, Angelo senior, left Calabria.

Alongside Musitano's father, Dominic, they built a criminal empire that was active for decades in the city.

But things have changed, Dubro says. The Mafia's influence has waned, he says, while Asian gangs and the Hells Angels have gained more power.

"It's a pale imitation of what it was in the '70s and '80s," he said.

As that power and influence waned, so too would Musitano's personal power. Dubro says that word would have gotten out that he had turned to religion, and was attempting to turn the page on his former life.

Now that Musitano is dead, King has a different worry — that his children will grow up, and read about their father and how he died, and it will forever scar them.

"That's not fair to his kids. Those kids need a chance," he said.

"I believe his desire was to run a legitimate business and do something his kids would be proud of."

King would not say what that legitimate business was.

adam.carter@cbc.ca