Anthony Russo (July 13, 1916 – April 26, 1979), aka Little Pussy, was an Italian-American Genovese crime family figure who was a reputed Boss of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Russo also had interests in Florida. He is the supposed inspiration behind the fictional character Big Pussy Bonpensiero on the HBO series "The Sopranos".
Russo was a skilled cat burglar which is how he earned the nickname "Little Pussy" short for "Little Pussycat", he was the younger brother of John Russo, a fellow Genovese family soldier who was known as "Big Pussy". He was a made man in the Newark, New Jersey faction of the Genovese crime family which was run by veteran genovese capo Richard Boiardo.
When it came to living the life, Russo was nothing if not a caricature of an old-fashioned mob boss. His hands covered with gaudy jewelry, he would drive around in a pink Cadillac convertible, radio blaring, reveling in the attention and intimidation he could provoke.
Russo first came to public attention at the end of the World War II, when he was caught selling counterfeit sugar ration coupons. He earned his nickname from Newark cops impressed with his ability to elude them after burglaries by scaling fences with the agility of a cat. His brother's nickname came from a similar talent. For years, Russo was a fixture in the Oranges, his hangout a West Orange drug store where the shiny Caddy would sit parked outside for hours while he ran his bookmaking and loansharking businesses. According to those who knew him, however, Russo's bombast masked the fact that he was nearly illiterate, a thug who made up in volume what he lacked in smarts. He wasn't particularly well-liked or even respected, though he displayed a gift for malapropisms that included boasting of putting his assets "into escarole". For a time, he served as a driver for Mafia czar Vito Genovese, the powerful mob "don" who lived in Atlantic Highlands and founded what would emerge as one of America's most powerful crime families.
Russo was known as "a big mouth". He was once picked up on FBI surveillance cautioning Angelo DeCarlo to stay away from Ruggiero Boiardo's mansion mentioning that many men had been taken there to be killed and that in the back of the Boiardo estate lied a furnace used to the destroy the bodies, stating that he himself had once dragged a victims dead body to the furnace by a chain tied around his throat to be disposed of.
Russo was shot to death in his apartment in Long Branch, New Jersey on April 26, 1979. He was shot three times in the head and was discovered sprawled among a collection of stuffed cats that served as mementos of his early days as a cat burglar, the career that earned him his curious nickname.
His killers were identified in reports as James Vito Montemarano, a soldier the Genovese family, Anthony Santoro, an enforcer in the Genovese family who controlled gambling and loansharking in parts of Essex County, and Joe "Joe Z" Zarro an alleged Genovese associate whose operation spread into Passaic County. It is believed that DePhillips and DeVingo visited Russo's lavish fourth-floor oceanfront apartment in Long Branch shortly after his return from a Florida trip. Neighbors later reported seeing two suspicious figures loitering in the hallway who fit the general description of the killers. Composite sketches were drawn from the descriptions, but were thought to be too vague to use in making a case.
They chatted briefly with Russo, who had donned his bathrobe for the night. When he turned to get a drink, they fired four shots. Three bullets from a .32-caliber gun struck him in the head, killing him instantly. A fourth bullet from a .38-caliber weapon was recovered near the sliding glass doors. The killers then slipped from the apartment, locking the door as they left.
The following morning, Russo's attorney, Jack Russell, reported his client failed to show for an appointment. A Russo associate, Louis "Killer Louie" Ferarro found the body.
"It was a typical mob contract", said one investigator familiar with the case. "It was obvious from the start it was someone he knew, someone he trusted." Federal authorities indicated they always suspected DeVingo but couldn't produce enough evidence to charge him. No weapons were ever recovered.