E.W. Count is the author of Cop Talk: True Detective Stories from the NYPD (Pocket Books), and is the moderator of Prodigy’s online interest group, Cops & Crime. She is working on her third book about NYPD detectives.
When I met retired Mafia Detective Roland Cadieux, I couldn’t tell a Gambino from a Genovese. Along with a few other NYPD mob mavens I interviewed, Cadieux made the names, the families, spring to life, in all their rich, scheming brutality.
The mob does business in every borough of New York City, of course, and Cadieux chased them all over, but Brooklyn — full of mob flavor and history — seems the quintessential venue. Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, for instance — about as far south as you can get in Brooklyn, short of Coney Island — are neighborhoods full of warmth, color, and streets kept clean and safe by fear. Don’t mess with the neighborhood, or you’ll hear from mob neighbors, cozy in their private houses.
Brooklyn-born Ron Cadieux, whose French-Canadian name can seem to the casual observer the most complicated thing about him, worked his first organized crime case in Brooklyn’s 10th Homicide in 1972. With his partner, Kenny McCabe, Cadieux put the cuffs on the Gambino godfather, “Big Paul” Castellano, in March, 1984. Both partners know the silk socks set inside out.
Unfortunately, while Cadieux and McCabe, and the rest of the federal/city strike force that took down the godfather, were looking forward to getting him in front of a judge and jury, Gotti’s black coat guys finished off Big Paul instead. Pop pop pop pop pop — the hit of the century happened outside Spark’s steak house, in the midst of the evening rush hour.
The money that mobsters live for never has proved bulletproof, not even for a godfather — a ‘capo’. In the Mafia, according to Cadieux, ruling hands come with sweaty palms. Once the strike force had amassed their evidence against Big Paul, they arranged a quiet, gentleman’s arrest at his attorney’s midtown Manhattan office. When Ron and Kenny cuffed him, the capo’s palms had been soaking wet.
Cadieux’s career full of quality collars notwithstanding, arresting Big Paul was the high point for the detective, and he retired after twenty-three years on the job. By then, he could tell you enough tales of Mafia blood and betrayal to put Scheherezade to shame.
Despite the trenchcoat, Cadieux, a private investigator now, is hard to stereotype. Tall and polished, he could have been working Wall Street white-collar crime in the NYPD as easily as murders and mobsters. Practically speaking, though, he has the kind of investigative background that La Cosa Nostra lawyers love to hire. Many respectable PIs accept mob lawyers’ fat fees; Cadieux politely declines. He has enough mob stories, surely — and plenty of work. He can even take a time-consuming case for next to nothing, if a good family needs his help.
When Cadieux met a grieving father named Gerald Vasquez in mid-1989, the PI felt for him. And, Cadieux was intrigued. A pretty daughter, a bad guy, a greedy scheme with a familiar whiff of the mob. Cadieux was the second PI to confront the baffling case. The pretty thirty-year-old daughter, Rosemary Vasquez, was missing, and so was her mother, Rose Santoro. Were they murder victims? The official NYPD position — missing. Since when? Tuesday, September 14, 1988, according to one of a handful of clues.
The first time I met him, Cadieux regaled me for hours with Mafia tales full of money and murder. We were winding down when he spoke of the startling, sensational find awhile back, in a South Brooklyn parking lot: a Cadillac with two women’s mummified bodies in the trunk. Corpses in the trunks of cars are a mob signature, but this discovery of two murdered women was bizarre, even for Brooklyn; I remembered the media splash.
Cadieux reviewed the reports of a PI who had already worked the case, and he gumshoed his way over the same territory. An NYPD insider, Cadieux had an advantage over the first PI — his colleagues of the Detective Bureau willingly shared whatever they knew. Unofficially, the detectives agreed with Ron Cadieux and his client: the women had died violently, at the hands of a likely suspect. But opinions, even those of seasoned detectives, have never been accepted as evidence by a DA, much less in court.
Lacking any hard evidence at all, Cadieux took an unorthodox step — he called a reporter. News coverage might jolt someone or something out of the woodwork, that would help nail the suspected murderer.