Greenwich Village in the 1970s did not have a shortage of local eccentrics, but one was particularly notorious. Wandering at random, clad in a dirty bathrobe and slippers and adorned with several days’ stubble, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante certainly appeared to be unwell. Yet even when he was on one of many stays in mental hospitals, Gigante was a shot-caller of the first order, the head of the Mafia’s Genovese family. Chin is the story of his mob career and the ruse that kept him out of prison for four decades.
With material this juicy, author Larry McShane could stand to ease off the hard-boiled hyperbole a bit: He describes John Gotti as landing in Chin’s lap “like a frothing pit bull and linger(ing) like a chronic disease,” and a lawyer who “preened like a peacock, but stung like a scorpion,” without elaborating on these qualities. Several chapters are titled after songs in an apparent nod to Martin Scorsese’s films, but the facts alone are sufficient in this jaw-dropping tale.
Gigante managed to feign mental illness so effectively other mafiosi tried to copy him, but he warned them off, laying claim to his hustle. When the feds began to circle, he simply checked himself into the hospital for a “tune-up,” and came home when the coast was clear. When police came to question him his wife let them in (eventually), where they found him standing naked in the shower, holding an umbrella.
During one court appearance, someone pointed out that the tremor in Gigante’s leg was on the wrong side; he switched them without missing a beat. Considering he had two families to support, with a wife and mistress both named Olympia, perhaps the oversight can be forgiven. The Chin was a killer, but like many of his peers in the mafia he was also a larger than life character, successfully feigning dementia while his inner circle knew he was crazy like a fox.