Salvatore Testa, also known as ‘Salvie’, was born on March 31, 1956, in Southwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was born to Alfia Arcidiacono and Philip Testa, and had an older sister, Maria.
Salvie graduated from Saint John Neumann High School in 1974, which was a Roman Catholic school in South Philadelphia. He then attended Temple University in Philadelphia for just a year, then moved on to work in the real estate business.
During this time, Salvie’s father Philip ‘Chicken Man’ Testa had been working his way up the ranks of the Philadelphia crime family. Then, in March of 1980, the boss of the family, Angelo Bruno, was assassinated, and Philip Testa became boss.
Salvie was inducted into the family on June 8th, 1980, by his father at the home of capo John Cappello. Salvie was ‘made’ alongside Nicky Scarfo’s nephew, Phil Leonetti, and Salvatore ‘Chuckie’ Merlino, amongst others.
Salvie was becoming more and more involved with the Philadelphia family during a violent time. The murder of Angelo Bruno had sparked a family war between two different factions – those who were either loyal to Harry Riccobene and those loyal to Nicodemo ‘Little Nicky’ Scarfo. Riccobene was a high-ranking member of the family, and Scarfo controlled and ran the family’s operations in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Salvie’s father, Phil Testa was only able to keep his grip as head of the family for one year. On March 15, 1981 as he returned to his home at 2117 Porter Street, in South Philadelphia, a nail bomb exploded that had been placed under the front porch. The house was decimated, and Phil Testa was rushed to St. Agnes Medical Centre in Point Breeze, Philadelphia, but died of internal bleeding. Salvie was just 25 years old at the time of his father’s murder, and was enraged and bitter about the way his father was killed. He vowed to hunt down his father’s killers and seek revenge.
Philip Testa’s murder was allegedly ordered by his underboss Peter Casella and capo Frank Narducci Sr.
When Philip Testa died he left Salvie an $800,000 estate, which included a dilapidated bar in New Jersey, 2500 Boardwalk, Ducktown – right on the site where Donald Trump wanted to build the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. In 1984, Trump allegedly paid Salvie Testa $1.1 million for the right to tear the bar down. This was twice the market value.
Because of his father, Salvie knew the ins and outs of the business. They had maintained a close relationship, and Salvie became involved with him in the rackets, including drug trafficking, loansharking and extortion. Reporter and author George Anastasia once wrote, “Salvatore Testa loved it all, the stalkings, the murders, even the Enrico Riccobene suicide. He was the South Philadelphia equivalent of a Main Line blue blood. He was born to be a wiseguy.” Former mobster turned informant, Nicholas ‘Nick the Crow’ Caramandi once stated ‘’Salvie was all for ‘this thing’. Knew it inside out. Knew it better than guys who were sixty years old and who’d been in it for forty years. Because of his father. He’d been a good teacher. Salvie had nerve and he didn’t care who he killed. Sometimes we used to go (on a hit) and we’d come back and tell him, “Well, the kids were in the car, the family’s in the car.’ “I don’t care who’s in the car’, he’d say. ‘Everybody goes.’ That’s the kind of guy he was. One Thanksgiving Day he wanted us to go into Sonny [Mario] Riccobene’s house where Robert Riccobene was havin’ dinner with his family. ‘Shoot everybody in the house’. But he and Charlie Iannece and Faffy [Francis Ianarella] made up some story that he didn’t show up. Just to appease Salvie. ‘Cause we didn’t go for killing kids. It was something we drew a line with, but he (Testa) was just so full of venom that he didn’t care. He was a guy made for ‘this thing.’ He loved it. He lived it.’’
Following the death of Philip Testa, Nicky Scarfo took over as head of the family, and promoted Salvatore ‘Chuckie’ Merlino to the role of underboss. A few months later, Salvie was made a capo.
In January 7, 1982, 50-year-old Frank ‘Chickie’ Narducci Sr., a long-time capo under Angelo Bruno, was murdered by Salvie Testa and Testa’s crew. Then on March 15, 1982, Testa killed mob associate Rocco Marinucci – he was allegedly the one who had detonated the bomb that killed Salvie’s father. Marinucci’s body was found in a parking lot in Southwark, Philadelphia with several bullet wounds and a mouth full of cherry bombs. Pete Casella, the third person involved in Philip Testa’s killing was banished from the Mob and fled to Florida.
In July, 1982, Salvie was wounded in an attempt on his life whilst sitting outside Lorenzo’s Pizza in the Italian Market, Philadelphia. Two Riccobene soldiers were arrested following the shooting. Soon after, they became government witnesses.
Salvie became engaged to underboss Chuckie Merlino’s daughter, Maria, and the wedding was set to go ahead in April of 1984. For various reasons, Salvie cancelled the wedding two months before they were due to marry, by which time almost all the arrangements had been made, and it’s said that hundreds of guests had already been invited. Chuckie Merlino didn’t take the news very well, and asked Nicky Scarfo for permission to kill Salvie. Scarfo granted permission, but Merlino had a drinking problem and was soon demoted.
The Wall Street Journal printed an article on Salvie Testa and his success. Soon after this, he was shunned by Scarfo at a charity dinner and was apparently instructed to sit separately from Scarfo and his top men. Testa was also omitted from a trip to Puerto Rico. Nick Caramandi said, “Salvie was very cautious. He just felt bad vibes. Every time you shook his hand, he’d bring you in close with his right hand and just pat you down with his left hand from behind to see if you were carrying a gun… He was the type of guy who, if he knew for sure, would have sought retribution from Salvatore Merlino or Nicodermo Scarfo and try to kill them. This kid would have gone down in a blaze of glory. But he wasn’t sure. He was aware. He was alert. But he wasn’t sure.”
At some point soon after this, Scarfo ordered Salvie to be killed. Scarfo, despite being Salvatore’s godfather at birth, began to feel threatened by the young capo’s popularity in the family and was jealous of an article in the Wall Street Journal that portrayed Salvie as a rich, young rising star within the Cosa Nostra world. Salvie was murdered by his close friend Joey Pungitore on September 14, 1984. Testa was found shot to death at the side of a road in Gloucester Township, New Jersey. His body had been bound with rope and he had two gunshot wounds in the back of his head. He was 28 years old.
It’s estimated around 300 people attended Testa’s funeral procession on September 20, 1984, at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia. He was interred alongside his father, Philip, and mother, Alfia, at the family plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.
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