JOHN VEASEY WAS raised in the public-housing projects at 5th and Washington, part of the only white family around. He was three years old when his father, Walter Veasey, a violent alcoholic, was found dead in a hotel in 1970. Veasey’s mother, Sophia Maria Cuticchia, a native of Sicily, was left to raise five kids on her own. “John-John” was the youngest.
“We were just a poor family. We’d sit in the welfare office all day to get food stamps,” Veasey tells me. His clothes, usually “three times too big,” came from the charity box at a local Catholic church. Billy, the eldest child, became a surrogate father to John, though he was only five years older.
“We started fighting very young,” John says. The Veasey brothers were protective of their single mom, who worked as a bartender. John remembers her as a five-foot-tall beauty with black hair, dark olive skin, and a knockout figure that featured a pair of 44 double D’s. “I became her little warrior,” John says. That meant shooing away the garbage men who hung around waiting to see Mom in a tube top. John remembers that when he was nine, Billy, then 14, woke him up one night and handed him a stick, so the brothers could club into submission a boyfriend who had smacked their mother around.
Billy and John-John worked out at the Goodfellas Gym, at 16th and Passyunk. Billy was so good, he sparred with pros, including Bennie Briscoe. The Veasey brothers were also premier street fighters. Billy, four inches taller, always got the best of John. The power punch for both Veaseys was their left hook.
“I had over 1,500 fights,” John Veasey says. “I used to fight two and three times a day. That’s all I did. There ain’t nobody who walked the streets of South Philly who can say they kicked my ass.”
Nobody except Billy Veasey. But John discovered one thing he could do better than his brother: weight lifting. John could power-lift 365 pounds; his biceps swelled to 19 inches.
But John was a poor student, classified as learning disabled. He cried when he couldn’t spell “any” at a spelling bee. People told him he was stupid. So John found other outlets for his energy. He was 11 years old when he started smoking marijuana. He was 14 when an uncle who was a drug addict gave him his first injection of meth.
At 15, John-John was arrested for aggravated assault and making terroristic threats after he pulled a knife on a teacher at Furness Junior High. In 1983, at 16, he was committed to St. Gabriel’s Home for Boys after his 41-year-old mother died of a heart attack. John became a drug addict, turning to crime to support a cocaine habit that escalated to $600 a day. He would rob anybody, leveling a sawed-off shotgun at drug dealers and mobsters. “This is a robbery,” he would say. “Don’t make it a homicide.” His drug use got him into trouble with brother Billy, who beat John up whenever he caught him getting high. Billy also beat up the neighborhood drug dealers who sold to his kid brother.
In 1990, 24-year-old John Veasey was arrested after he beat the ex-husband of his common-law wife, Lorraine, so badly that the guy died a couple hours later. While the death was ruled a drug overdose, Veasey pleaded guilty to related charges and served about two years before being paroled in 1993. While in jail, he quit drugs cold turkey.