Thomas Pitera (//; born December 2, 1954) is a former Mafia hitman in the Bonanno crime family. Pitera, reputedly a vicious and sadistic killer who enjoyed murdering people, was suspected by law enforcement of as many as sixty murders. Pitera was well known for his use of karate and other martial arts when fighting, a skill he had learned at a young age; it earned him the nickname "Tommy Karate".
Thomas Pitera grew up in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York to parents Joseph (Joe) and Catherine Pitera. Thomas attended the David A. Boody Junior High School in Gravesend, where he left little impression with his teachers and was bullied by his peers..
As a child, Pitera had been a huge fan of the 1966 The Green Hornet television show and actor Bruce Lee, triggering his lifelong interest in martial arts. After winning an arduous kumite competition in Sheepshead Bay, Pitera spent 27 months in Japan training assiduously under the revered Hiroshi Masumi. He was trained to use the tonfa, nunchucks and katanas. While in Japan, he grew his hair down to his shoulders to adopt the Bruce Lee image. After his scholarship ended, he sought work in a chopsticks factory to underwrite his stay and earn more money. This led him to acquire the nickname "Tommy Karate" by friends and fellow mobsters.
Upon returning to Brooklyn, Pitera joined the Bonanno crime family and quickly became one of their most feared soldiers. He belonged to a Bonnano faction headed by caporegimes Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Frank Lino, Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone. This group opposed the current leadership under boss Philip Rastelli and his leading capos Joseph Massino and Dominick Napolitano. In 1981, Massino and Napolitano set up the murders of the three rival capos in a Gravesend club co-owned by Sammy Gravano. After their deaths, Massino made peace with the rest of the leaderless faction, including Pitera. During the 1980s, Pitera became a "made man" of the Bonanno family and was assigned to Lino's crew by Bonnano consigliere Anthony Spero.
On August 29, 1988, Pitera allegedly ambushed and murdered Wilfred "Willie Boy" Johnson as he walked ahead to their car. Johnson had been a longtime associate and driver for Gambino family boss John Gotti. The hit was reportedly delegated to Pitera and fellow gunman Vincent "Kojak" Giattino after Gotti had discovered that Johnson had been a government informant since 1966. Pitera was charged with the Johnson murder but acquitted at trial.
Pitera was close to Spero, whose Bath Beach crew were involved in extortion, loan sharking, drug dealing and murder, as well as robbing drug dealers and then reselling their product. Pitera's associates, Lloyd Modell and Frank Martini, murdered two Colombian dealers and stole sixteen kilograms of cocaine. The killers intended to drive their car to Staten Island to bury the bodies, but as they could not drive a stick shift, they left the car – with the bodies inside the trunk – in a Brooklyn parking garage. Modell used one of Pitera's guns in the murder and threw it in the harbor, angering him.
Pitera killed Tala Siksik, a Middle Eastern drug supplier, in his Brooklyn apartment. Pitera shot Siksik four times in the back, chopped the body up into six pieces, and then buried it at a secret dumping ground. Investigators eventually found six of Pitera's victims in a mob graveyard in Staten Island near the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. Pitera had decapitated the bodies and buried the heads separately to impede their identification using dental records.
Pitera's approach to murder and body disposal was cold-hearted and clinical. He used the Staten Island graveyard because he believed that the damp soil would accelerate decomposition and the wildlife refuge would ensure the bodies were not discovered during construction projects. Pitera studied books on dissection and carried a special tool kit for cutting up bodies. He always insisted on burying corpses deep enough so that police dogs could not locate their scents. Before burying body parts, he either wrapped them in plastic or placed them in suitcases. Pitera's weakness was that he enjoyed keeping jewelry and other souvenirs of his work. This went beyond Mafia culture and was classic serial killer behavior.
On June 4, 1990, Pitera was indicted for heading a drug dealing crew and for his involvement in seven murders, including the 1988 Johnson murder. Investigators alleged that Pitera had been involved in as many as sixty murders. Pitera's crew sold about 220 pounds of cocaine per year, multiple kilos of heroin and hundreds of pounds of marijuana. FBI agents discovered more than sixty automatic weapons, knives, swords, and literature such as The Hitman's Handbook and Kill or Be Killed, which dealt primarily with assassination techniques as well as torture and the dismemberment of cadavers, in Pitera's apartment in Gravesend.
One of Pitera's crew members, Frank Gangi, the nephew of Genovese family capo Rosario Gangi, decided to testify against Pitera. Frank had been arrested for driving under the influence and allegedly started reliving Pitera's worst atrocities in his mind while sitting in the holding cell. Frank confessed to all the murders he was involved in with Pitera, and provided information on other Pitera murders. He described how Pitera matter-of-factly assassinated Gangi's girlfriend Phyllis Burdi while she was passed out in bed after sharing cocaine and sex with Gangi. Pitera then cut Burdi's corpse into six pieces in the bathroom. Gangi also testified that during a fight with a drug dealer named Marek Kucharsky, Pitera pulled a knife and repeatedly stabbed Kucharsky and finally cut his throat. Also, author Philip Carlo writes that Shlomo Mendelsohn an Israeli drug dealer said the bodies were buried on Staten Island or New Jersey.
In Pitera's trial, the chief prosecutor, David W. Shapiro, demanded the death sentence for the "heinous, cruel and depraved" murders committed by Pitera. He called Pitera a "heartless and ruthless killer," explaining in detail how Pitera tortured one victim by slowly, deliberately shooting him seven times in various parts of the body, in one of a series of murders carried out in a deliberately barbaric manner. The prosecution also produced a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who testified to digging up graves containing the dismembered bodies of some of Pitera's victims.
Pitera's defense lawyer, David A. Ruhnke, urged the jury to reject the death penalty on the grounds that Pitera had no prior criminal record and that other participants in the murders were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges. Moreover, only two of the murder victims, Richard Leone and Solomon Stern, were killed on March 15, 1989, after the Federal death penalty law went into effect. The four other murders took place earlier, so those counts carried maximum sentences of life in prison. Pitera's aunt, sister-in-law and two cousins testified on Pitera's defense that he was a loving and caring family member.
On June 25, 1992, Pitera was convicted of murdering six people and supervising a massive drug dealing operation in Brooklyn. However, Pitera was acquitted in the 1988 Johnson murder. During the deliberation on sentencing, the jury rejected the death penalty for Pitera. In October 1992, alluding to evidence that Pitera brutally killed his victims and dismembered their bodies, Judge Reena Raggi sentenced him to life in prison, saying, "Mr. Pitera, nobody deserves to die as these people died." 
After the verdict was read, Pitera smiled and gave a thumbs up to reporters sitting in the Brooklyn courtroom; he had avoided the death penalty. However, Pitera was irritated that Gangi was petitioning Judge Raggi for a reduction of his 10-year prison sentence. As Pitera later remarked,
Gangi said he was sorry about killing five people and that he became an informer because he wanted to start a new life. He gets 10 years, a good deal, and he goes whimpering and weeping to the judge looking for a break. If you're really sorry for killing five people, you take your punishment like a man.
Later in 1992, Judge Raggi again refused a motion to reduce Gangi's sentence. On April 3, 2012, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied Pitera's motion for DNA testing of the guns and other evidence in three of Pitera's murders. As of April 2017, Pitera is serving a life sentence at the United States Penitentiary, McCreary near Pine Knot, Kentucky. Pitera's inmate number is 29465-053.
- Philip Carlo (2010). The Butcher: Anatomy of a Mafia Psychopath. New York: Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-174466-2.
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- Lubasch, Arnold H. (July 2, 1992). "Federal Jurors Considering Death Penalty for Mobster". New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Thomas, Pitera (June 26, 1992). "Reputed Mobster Guilty In Six Narcotics Murders". New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Lubasch, Arnold H (July 3, 1992). "Jurors Reject Death Penalty for Mobster". New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- "Life Prison Term in 6 Drug-Case Murders". New York Times. October 25, 1992. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Capeci, Jerry (April 4, 1995). "FISH MART RAP'S A FLUKE, HE SEZ". New York Daily News. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Golding, Bruce (April 3, 2012). "Appeals court denies DNA testing sought by Mafia killer Thomas "Tommy Karate" Pitera". New York Post. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- "Thomas Pitera". Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Wilfred “Willie Boy” Johnson: Part Two - Source Wahoo – Out Sourced by Allan May
- Reppetto, Thomas Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia., Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0-8050-7802-9