Ernest "the Hawk" Rupolo (1908 – August 27, 1964) was a low-level New York mobster and hitman for the Genovese crime family. Rupolo would later turn informant and testify against family boss Vito Genovese.
When Rupolo was just a kid, he had got into an argument with another young tough, who had settled their dispute by shooting out his right eye, and the bullet was still in there, somewhere, which earned him his nickname "The Hawk" and also because when out robbing, he never missed anything of value to steal.
During the 1930s, Vito Genovese frequently used Rupolo for murder contracts. In 1934, Genovese ordered Rupolo to kill gambler Ferdinand "The Shadow" Boccia. Boccia had collaborated with Genovese in setting up a rigged card game to cheat a prominent businessman. After the scam was completed, Boccia demanded a third of the profits. Genovese refused Boccia's demand and hired Willie Gallo and Rupolo to murder him. On September 19, 1934, Gallo and Rupolo shot Boccia to death in Brooklyn. The body would be recovered from the Hudson River in 1937.
Several years after the Boccia murder, Rupolo was arrested for the attempted murder of another mobster. Assured by his crime family that the victim would withdraw the charges, Rupolo turned himself in to the police. When the victim did not drop the charges, Rupolo felt betrayed by the family. Wanting to avoid 48 years in prison, Rupolo confessed to the Boccia murder and implicated Genovese in it. However, when the case came to trial, the court ruled that Rupolo's testimony was unreliable. In 1937, Genovese was forced to flee to Italy to avoid trial on this case. Rupolo was given nine years in prison for the Boccia murder. In 1944, Rupolo named mobster Peter LaTempa as a corroborating witness to Boccia's murder. Prosecutors now had a good witness to use against Genovese when they caught him.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, Italy deported Genovese back to the U.S. and he was immediately jailed in New York. However, within a week of Genovese's arrival, key witness LaTempa was poisoned in his cell while in police protective custody. Without LaTempa's testimony, Rupolo's testimony was useless; the prosecution case for the Boccia murder collapsed, Genovese was acquitted, and then released. Soon after the Genovese trial, Rupolo petitioned the court for early release from prison. Despite warnings by authorities advising he remain in custody, Rupolo wanted to leave prison.
After his release, Rupolo tried in vain to keep a low profile and fade out of sight. A newspaper article weighed his chances: "All concerned in the release, including the 'Hawk' himself agreed that he is now marked for murder and cannot be expected to survive long. Rupolo will make a desperate effort to disappear completely."
Genovese did not take revenge immediately on Rupolo; reportedly, Genovese wanted Rupolo to live his life in terror. In 1959, Genovese was sent to prison on an unrelated charge. At that point, Genovese finally ordered a hit on Rupolo. This decision might have been prompted by the recent testimony of government informant Joe Valachi on national Television. In early August 1964, Rupolo disappeared.
On August 27, 1964, the mutilated body of Ernest Rupolo was found on a Breezy Point beach in the Jamaica Bay section of Queens by Nicky Caputo and Butch Spyliopolous. The coroner determined the cause of death to be bullet wounds to the head, brain, neck and spine and stab wounds to the chest, lungs, heart and abdomen. His remains were identified by his brother Willie, a mob associate and part-time bookie; 'It was just-like a skeleton with some stuff on it,' he said in describing his brothers corpse.
Ernest had a scar on his stomach, a relic from a hernia operation he had when young and the remains of the man was also lacking his right eye. Willie also identified the clothes on the body as his own. His brother Ernie, had been so broke before he died that Willie had loaned him a shirt, a pair of pants and even some shoes.
On November 2nd, 1967, the trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the men accused of the murder of Ernest Rupolo, began in the Queens County courthouse. It was the first time in twenty years that a murder trial involving the Mafia had come before the courts in New York. Among the defendants was John Franzese, a powerful Colombo crime family capo that was linked to Rupolo's murder. However, after a 4 week trial, Franzese and the other defendants were acquitted of the murder charge.