The Godfather’s Daughter

As the child of South Philadelphia’s legendary crime boss, Jean Bruno was afforded all the luxuries of a mob princess: fancy clothes, lavish ­parties, ritzy vacations — until the day Angelo Bruno had his head blown off.

For Jean Bruno, the moment innocence turned to suspicion came on the day of her First Holy Communion, when she was seven years old. She was standing outside her house with her cousin Marie, who didn’t usually wear dresses. When young Jean commented on this, Marie took it as an insult. She pointed to a nearby police car. “Maybe,” she shot back, “they’re going to arrest your father.”

It was the first time Jean wondered what her father did for a living. So she went inside and asked her mother. “He’s a broker,” Sue Bruno replied airily.
“There was always a free-floating anxiety around the house,” Jean says today. “I always had the sense that something was wrong. I remember in our first home, on Broad Street, some of the windows were painted black. I thought it was normal, but later I realized it was because he was running numbers.”

The Florida trips seemed normal, too, and it was only in later years that she realized all of the sudden family vacations were connected to her father’s “business.” Angelo Bruno endeavored to keep the truth of his life a secret from his only daughter for as long as he could, taking her for drives and serenading her with songs like “Bluebird of Happiness” as she perched giddily in the passenger seat. Sometimes, when he arrived home late at night with fellow gang members, he’d wake her. “Jeannie,” he’d say, “do you want to come downstairs and eat with the boys?”

She’d sit on his lap as he fed her macaroni. Then she’d scramble upstairs to bed and lie awake listening to the men’s conversations waft through the narrow halls. I may not understand what they’re talking about now, she’d think to herself, but someday I will.

She came to realize his power. “Honey,” he said one night when he came home, “you’ll never guess who I just saw.”

“Who?” she asked.

“Frank Sinatra,” he said. “He showed up in the same bar I was in.”

“Oh, Daddy!” Jean responded. “Did you go up to him and say hello?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” her father replied, “he came up and said hello to me.”

But growing up in a house filled with secrets, as Jean Bruno did, leaves a mark. For the children of career criminals, “There is an understandable wish to not let in the heinous details,” says Frederic Reamer, a professor at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work in Providence who has studied thousands of inmates and their families, including members of organized crime. “The challenge is in reconciling all of the inherent contradictions. ‘My father was so loving toward me, but what was he when he left the house?’”

According to Reamer, the parent’s dual life can often lead a child to seek out a lover with whom he or she can play out the same dynamic of secret-keeping. Jean Bruno did. Ralph Puppo, her husband, preferred sex with men, and died of complications from AIDS.

When I ask her about this, Jean visibly stiffens and tries to change the subject. But later, she will tell me Puppo waited a year to kiss her, and that he declined to have sex on their wedding night. “I was naive,” she says. “My parents were very protective.”

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