John Gotti went from being a relatively obscure captain in New York's Gambino crime family to being the "godfather" of that organization within a few weeks of the assasination of "Big" Paul Castellano, the long-reigning, reclusive head of the Gambino crime clan.
Prior to Castellano's public slaying in front of Spark's Steakhouse in mid-town Manhattan on a cold, wintry night in December 1985, Gotti was the head of a small band of Gambino thugs operating out of Queens, many of whom had gotten into trouble with "Big" Paul over drug dealing.
Although John Gotti was never tied directly to drugs or drug dealing, many of his closest associates, as well as his brother Gene, were ensnared in a heroin ring that, ultimately, led to lengthy prison convictions for all involved.
This displeased Paul Castellano immensely, for he had laid down a short, terse edict about drug dealing upon his ascencion as boss: you deal, you die!
Castellano believed that drug dealing brought too much law enforcement heat, and that the stiff penalties for drug-related crimes would lead many "goodfellas" into the arms of law enforcement as rats and government informants in exchange for lighter sentences.
The involvement of a large part of Gotti's Bergin crew in the drug dealing business put Gotti in a tough spot: as Bergin leader, he had to have known what his crew was up to, and therefore, supported it; and if he was unawares, then he lacked the proper leadership ability as a crew chief.
Either way, Paul Castellano informed John Gotti of his intent to break up the Bergin crew, to assign its members to different crews, and to strip Gotti of his role as captain and demote him to a soldier.
And besides the demotion, there existed the very real possibility that Paul Castellano would kill all those involved, quite possibly even John Gotti himself.
Therefore, this was a tense time for the Gambino family, and the Bergin crew felt the need to act before the furious Castellano could strike.
And in a bit of holiday luck for Gotti and company, word came via the mob grapevine that Big Paul had scheduled a meeting with several top mob associates, including one close to Gotti, to take place at Sparks Steakhouse.
The meeting was arranged to discuss further the Bergin crew's heroin troubles in addition to the potential leadership change of the family if Castellano, who was under federal indictment, got convicted and sent to prison.
In John Gotti's 1992 murder and racketeering trial, his underboss, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, testified that Gotti selected five shooters to ambush Castellano and his driver, Thomas Billotti, as they arrived in front of Sparks.
According to Gravano, both he and Gotti were in a car parked down the street from Sparks and communicated via walkie-talkie to the shooters.
As Castellano and Billotti drove past Gotti and Gravano's car, Gravano alerted the shooters to get ready.
Billotti pulled the Lincoln up to the curb in front of Spark's, and Castellano, eager to get inside, started to exit the passenger side.
Just then, several gunmen, all dressed alike in matching overcoats and Russian-style fur hats, opened fire on Castellano as he stepped from the car.
Billotti, startled, jumped out of the car and was shot from behind as he peered through the driver's side window watching his boss get shot.
In a matter of seconds, the most powerful mafia boss in New York was no more.
And several weeks after the killing, as members of both law enforcement and the New York mob speculated as to who would now lead the leaderless Gambino clan, a telltale sign of a new boss emerged.
A flashy, relatively young (45) capo from Queens named John Gotti was seen being accorded the respect and adulation befitting a mafia ruler.
Soldies and captains within the Gambino family were surveilled by law enforcement descending on Gotti's social club, the Bergin Club, on a regular basis, fawning and preening over Gotti like never before.
And it wasn't long until Gotti, always a spiffy dresser, began strutting around New York City in Brioni suits, his perfectly coiffed hair and diamond pinkie ring rounding out his fashion ensemble.
John Gotti was the new boss of the Gambino crime family. But he would soon realize that his flamboyant posturing and his "catch me if you can" attitude towards law enforcement would backfire!