On March 18, 1980, 51-year-old John Favara was driving home from work when a dazzling ray of sunlight shone through his windscreen. It was a mundane occurrence that would have tragic and extraordinary repercussions. With his vision momentarily obscured, Favara failed to see the 12-year-old boy in the path of his vehicle. The ensuing impact was fatal. The boy died.
At the time, Favara was a manager at Castro Convertibles, a furniture outlet in New Hyde Park, New York. He had a wife, Janet, and two adopted children. And they all lived together in Howard Beach – a comfortable, residential neighborhood bordered by the Belt Parkway in southwest Queens.
Favara was a straight shooter, but he was also no stranger to the mob. As a child, he had been good buddies with the son of Ettore Zappi, a capo in the notorious Gambino crime family. And as an adult, one of his neighbors happened to be a particularly vicious rising star within the same organization – John Gotti.
Gotti would go on to become the boss of the entire Gambino crime family, but in 1980 he was still a capo. In fact, he headed the high-earning Bergin gang. His rackets included loan sharking and, according to allegations by FBI informants, drug dealing. He also played a role in the notorious Lufthansa Heist at Kennedy Airport in 1978 – the largest cash robbery in U.S. history at the time.
Gotti, his wife Victoria and their five children lived on the block behind the Favaras. Ostensibly, the two families seemed to be on friendly terms. Indeed, Favara’s adopted son Scott was quite close to Gotti’s eldest son John Junior. In fact, Scott sometimes slept over at the Gotti house.
But on March 18, 1980, John’s 12-year-old son Frank took a ride on a neighbor’s mini motorbike. He sped through the streets near his house, across a construction site and past a parked dumpster. On the other side of the dumpster, Favara was driving into a blind spot, blazing sunlight pouring through his windshield. And at that moment, Frank and Favara collided.
Police investigators determined that the crash was an accident, and Favara was never charged with any crime. However, the Gotti family apparently viewed things differently. And according to an article published in the New York Daily News in June 2011, Frank’s mother Victoria Gotti “demanded an eye for an eye.”
In fact, a couple of days after the crash, local police received an anonymous tip-off that Favara was going to be “eliminated.” Favara himself then started receiving menacing phone calls and messages. Somebody even painted the word “murderer” on his car. Favara apparently attempted to apologize to the grief-stricken Victoria, but she responded by assaulting him with a baseball bat.
At that point, Favara consulted one of his childhood friends who had links to the mob. Wisely, they advised him to dispose of his vehicle and get out of Howard Beach. So Favara sold his house. The transaction was scheduled for completion on July 31, 1980, after the paperwork was processed. But just three days before that, Favara was abducted.
On July 28, 1980, a gang of men seized Favara in the parking lot of a diner near his workplace. Some witnesses said he was clubbed with a baseball bat. According to others, he was shot. Favara was then bundled into a van and, according to investigators, probably driven to Brooklyn and killed.
The Gottis were in Florida at the time of the abduction and were unavailable for questioning until August 4. “I’m not sorry the guy’s missing,” John reportedly told two detectives. “I wouldn’t be sorry if the guy turned up dead.” His wife Victoria was similarly unconcerned. “I’m not disappointed he’s missing,” she said, echoing her husband’s sentiments. “He killed my boy.”
Meanwhile, a number of grizzly rumors began circulating about the fate of Favara’s body. Some said that Gotti had cut him to pieces with a chainsaw after returning from his Florida trip – and that Favara was alive when it happened. Others stated that he was put inside a barrel, set in concrete and thrown in the sea.
In fact, an evidence motion produced in 2009 for a federal racketeering case seemed to offer a different story. It claimed that mobster Charles Carneglia – allegedly then part of a seven-man crew appointed with taking out the Gambino family’s rivals – was ordered to assassinate Favara. He apparently shot him before dissolving his body in acid.
Meanwhile, in 1985, Gotti himself rose to the top of the mafia food chain after arranging the assassination of Gambino boss Paul Castellano. Gotti inherited a criminal empire that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits every year. And he also became something of a celebrity. In fact, the media dubbed him “The Dapper Don” on account of his extravagant style.
But what goes up must come down. In 1991 a Gambino underboss called Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano colluded with the FBI and ratted on Gotti. And a year later Gotti was sentenced to life in jail without parole. The charges included five murders, racketeering, extortion, tax evasion and several others. Suffering from throat cancer, he died on June 10, 2002.
Meanwhile, his daughter Victoria Gotti is a former reality TV celebrity and a published writer. In 2009 the New York Post published an excerpt from her memoir in which she asserted that Favara was drunk when he hit her brother and that he “dragged him some 200 feet before angry neighbors stopped the car.” She also claimed that he later goaded her mother by smirking at her.
However, in a 2009 article published on his personal blog, investigative journalist Gary Weiss debunked her claims. He pointed out that Favara was well aware that he had just killed a dangerous mobster’s son – so why would he smirk? Equally, no other written accounts of the incident state that Favara was drunk, let alone that he’d dragged the boy along the road for 200 feet.
More recently, actor John Travolta met with the Gottis on several occasions after being cast in the lead role in a movie about John Gotti’s life, which is due to be released in 2018. And his involvement hasn’t met with universal approval. Indeed, some people have expressed concern about Travolta’s relationship with the family, especially after he apparently bought them gifts.
Douglas Century, author of Takedown: Fall of the Last Mafia Empire was among their number. Century thought the friendliness between Travolta and the family inappropriate. “Travolta is going to essentially hang out with the Gotti family, form a bond – if not a friendship – and that sense of empathy will come through on screen,” he told Fox News in 2011. “With John Gotti’s murders, the wounds are still too fresh for so many of the victims.”
Indeed, John Favara’s son does not have a reality TV show. Nor does he have a book contract, less still a Hollywood connection. More importantly, Scott Favara does not have a grave by which to remember his father. And yet he continues to challenge the assertions of people like Victoria Gotti that John Favara somehow deserved to die. He told the Daily News in 2011, “He was a great man, more than anyone would ever know…”