FELIX BOCCHICCHIO was born in Pennsylvania on August 31, 1906. He is best remembered today as boxer Jersey Joe Walcott's manager during and after his rise to the heavyweight championship in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had a long and colorful career prior to and after the Walcott era in a variety of activities, both legal and on the other side of the law.
April 1930 found him incarcerated in the Northumberland County PA jail when the Federal Census was taken. When released he apparently made his way to New Jersey, and was residing on Clifton Avenue in West Berlin when picked up for questioning in the murder of Camden police detective William Feitz. In 1935 Felix Bocchicchio was again active in Lancaster County PA. Tried and acquitted for a tavern robbery in 1935, he came to the Camden area. By the summer of 1936 Felix Bocchicchio had moved to Mount Ephraim NJ. He was known locally as "Man 'o War", apparently after the famous race horse. Involved in gambling, he was already well known to police when picked up in Camden NJ in August of 1936 by Officer John V. Wilkie for involvement with pinball machines, which were considered illegal gaming devices at the time. By this point he already had a long record of arrests on a variety of charges including suspicion of murder, jailbreak, and larceny.
Jersey Joe Walcott's career had stalled in the mid-1940s. He was fighting on small-time cards in the Camden areas when he came to the attention of Felix Bocchicchio. He saw in Walcott what so many others overlooked - a rugged jaw and iron fists. Sportswriter wrote that Bocchicchio "knew as much about boxing as the Mona Lisa did about swatting flies, but he decided to learn. He was seldom seen without a fight promoter, trainer or prizefighter in his company. He learned from them the mannerisms of the fight game."
Felix Bocchicchio offered to manage him Jersey Joe Walcott. At first Walcott refused, saying, "Fighting never got me nothin' before, and all I want now is a steady job so my wife and kids can eat regular. I'm over 30 and just plain tired of it all." But Bocchicchio bought food for the Walcott family, put coal in the bin, and got Joe's boxing license renewed. Jersey Joe went on the comeback trail and in 1945 he had nine bouts, winning eight. More importantly, he beat three Top Ten ranked fighters; Joe Baski, Lee O. Murray, and Curtis Sheppard.
This was the start of a journey that would take him to the pinnacle of the boxing world in 1951, when Walcott knocked out Ezzard Charles to take the heavyweight title. During these years Felix Bocchicchio and Walcott were regularly mentioned names in the sports pages of America, as Jersey Joe climbed the ladder towards his title shot. Also during this period Bocchicchio employed Angelo Malandra as his and Walcott's lawyer. Angelo Malandra would go on to a long and distinguished career in Camden political and legal circles, served as a judge, and was for many years a community leader in the Fairview section of the city.
Jersey Joe Walcott held his title for only fourteen months, before being knocked out by Rocky Marciano. Felix Bocchicchio was quoted in LOOK magazine on the subject of Marciano in January of 1953, saying "Marciano must be made of iron." Bocchicchio suffered a heart attack on January 16, 1953 in New York, but recovered. Walcott fought a rematch on May 15, 1953 against Marciano, but was knocked out in the first round, after which he retired from boxing. The two men maintained their business relationship for several years thereafter.
Felix Bocchicchio spent his last years as a resident of Mount Ephraim NJ. He died on June 17, 1975.
FBI File on Felix Bocchicchio
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Shade Progress - July 28, 1949
Gambling Joint Raided By State Police
Maple Shade's so-called "plumbing warehouse" proved to be just what residents suspected it to be- an elaborate gambling establishment.
New Jersey state troopers from North Jersey smashed their way into the thriving gambling house early Thursday morning at Fellowship road and State Highway Route S-41, arrested 187 men, and confiscated more then $40,000 in cash.
Two revolvers and a clip of ten loaded cartridges for a carbine were seized in the surprise swoop.
About twenty of those arrested were taken into custody when they arrived at the jam packed establishment unaware that the police had moved in.
Thirty men were questioned as suspected operators, lookouts, card dealers and dice "stick men," and 19 of them were eventually held as "principals."
All the others were given a prompt hearing before a judge in Maple Shade, and were released after depositing $25 cash bail. Most of them said they were from Camden or Philadelphia.
The raid, described by its leaders as one of the biggest ever staged in South Jersey was executed at 12:50 a.m. by eight uniformed troopers and nine plain clothesmen acting under special orders from Colonel Charles H. Schaeffel, head of the state police. Eight additional uniformed men were called in later from barracks at Columbus, Berlin, and Riverton.
Maple Shade Police and township officials were not notified of the raid until after it had taken place.
It was one of the biggest gambling raids ever staged in New Jersey. The target was a one-story cinder brick structure, resembling a garage or warehouse, nestled in a clearing surrounded by thick woods not far from intersections of Route S-41 and Fellowship road. A narrow country lane, located about 150 feet off Fellowship road, served as the entrance.
Police said that many patrons had been taken to the gambling house by "luggers" operating limousine service from Philadelphia, and from other places within a radius of about 60 miles.
The ground for the building was sold to Domenic Iacovelli at public sale by the Maple Shade Township Committee on April 26 with Thomas Vogdes, Main Street real estate agent, acting as agent for Iacovelli. On July 12, Iacovelli bought another piece of land adjoining the first parcel from the township. An investigation today revealed that the township has no record of Iacovelli's address although it is believed he resides in Camden.
It is reported that the building was erected in 17 days with workmen working 24 hours a day. Some local men worked on the erection of the building.
The raiding party was led by Captain Arthur Keaton and Emerson Tschupp, deputy director of the New Jersey Alchoholic Beverage Control Commission.
The magnitude of the raid was such that it was more then eight hours after the troopers struck the gambling joint at 1 a.m. until the last of those seized had been booked at the Maple Shade police station.
Fourteen of those arrested were held in $5,000 bail each as principals by Municipal Judge Bowers of Cinnaminson township; four were held in bail of $1,000 each as material witnesses and one held in $2,000 bail as a material witness.
The 14 men booked as principals on charges of aiding, abetting and assisting in the operation of a gambling establishment were:
Levi Cicero, 715 Second street, Florence.
Pasquale Beato, 2820 North Twenty-third street, Philadelphia.
Thomas Girgenti, 1208 Haddon avenue, Camden.
Henry Duncan, 600 Holmes street, Burlington.
Gardon C. Gober, Cedar lane, Florence.
Christie Scittina, 1207 Callahan street, Yeadon, Pa.
Dominick Di Mattia, 16 South Forklanding road, Maple Shade.
Joseph Putek, Fulton street, Delaware township.
Anthony Meloni, 5302 Sherwood Terrace, Pennsauken.
Manuel Gattabrio, 312 South Twenty-seventh street, Camden.
Harry Donaphy, 3901 Lawndale avenue, Philadelphia.
Frank Pollastrelli, 723 Monmouth street, Trenton.
Bail was posted for Girgenti by N. Morton Rigg, a Burlington attorney. Complaints against the suspects were signed by State Police Lt. Clinton J. Campbell, Columbus barracks.
The other 166 seized were booked as disorderly persons and were released in $25 cash bail each for a hearing August 17.
Captain Keaton, who led state troopers last Tuesday in raiding the national headquarters of a $50,000,000 lottery ring in New York, said he recognized henchmen of Marco Reginelli among men seized.
After undergoing questioning in the gambling establishment for more then three hours, the patrons were transported in one of Fred Olt's buses to the Maple Shade police station. The station became so crowded it was necessary to use the auditorium of the municipal building to book the men.
Lookouts Sound Alarm
The raiding party, in addition to Captain Keaton and Tschupp, included eight uninformed troopers in charge of Lt. Albert G. Varrelman, and nine in plain clothes.
They reached the place at exactly 1 a.m.
Lookouts stationed in a cupola-like arrangement in front of the building, immediately detected them and alarm buzzers were heard sounding inside the 100-foot long building.
Previous inspection of the exterior of the building, it was learned from the troopers, indicated there were only two exits, the four-foot wide door in front and another the same size at the rear.
As they pulled into the ground one trooper drove his car to the rear and blocked the door.
Others, carrying 20-pound sledge hammers, attacked the front door, later found to be lined with armor plate, but could not batter it down.
Spotlights on the troopers' cars were turned on the front of the building and revealed a window, about six by 12 inches, to one side. Working from the top of one of the cars, the troopers smashed away at this until a hole was made large enough for one of them to crawl through.
Sgt. Thomas Degaetano was then lifted through the opening and as he dropped to the floor inside, he drew his revolver and ordered everybody inside to the rear end of the room.
Degaetano was followed by Sgt. Hugo Stockburger, who, on getting inside, unlocked a door leading to the entrance hallway and then removed the steel bars barricading the front entrance and admitted the main body of raiders.
As he led his men in Capt. Keaton found the place a shambles from efforts of the operators to destroy all gambling evidence possible.
Four slot machines that had occupied a table to one side of the main room, had been carried into an office whose door also was lined with bullet-proof armor.
Three expensive dice tables, each large enough to accommodate 35 to 40 players, and a black-jack table, almost as large, were found with their felt lining partly ripped off.
None of the men in the room offered any resistance, largely Keaton said he believed, because he and the rest of the troopers came in "with guns swinging."
Keaton then divided the patrons and the staff operating the place into two groups and ordered themto opposite sides at the rear of the building.
He and other officers among the troopers began questioning the men while waiting for a squad of eight more troopers from the headquarters identification bureau at Trenton.
When these troopers arrived they took over the formal questioning. They directed each man to give his name and occupation and show identification cards. Then they fingerprinted everyone in the building.
Any of the patrons who had less then $400 cash or who was not recognized as a police character was listed as an inmate of a gambling establishment.
Most of the money confiscated was found on those listed as principals. One of these had a $13,000 bankroll. Two more had $12,000 each; another had $10,000, and a fifth man had $8,000.
Across one side of the room was a large sign that read: "Open every day and night including Sunday."
Elaborate arrangements for handling bets on horse races included blackboards listing each race at Monmouth Park, Arlington Park, Chicago and Saratoga, N. Y., and Suffolk Downs, East Boston, Mass,
Another sign advised the minimum bet accepted was $2 and the limit paid on straight bets was 25 to 1, was 10 to 1, place, and 5 to 1. (next sentence omitted- very hard to read on copy- payoffs on "ifs and reverse")
The payoff on daily doubles, still another sign read, was 5 to 1.
The setup also included counters made of plywood, some where bets were accepted and others used in paying off winners. These counters were large enough, Keaton said, to accommodate from 20 to 30 players at a time.
The only windows in the building were about 18 inches by 10 inches, and were located almost at the top of the walls, about 12 feet high.
Ventilation was furnished by two huge electric fans which played on a continuous flow of water in a trough-like arrangement of tin and the air was forced into the room through two six foot tunnels made of plywood.
1955 Yellow Pages Ad for the Bo-Bet Motel
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