“It Was So Fascinating! Here They Were, in My Little House in the Suburbs, Trying to Plan a Murder!”

Mob wife Brenda Colletti, still yakking after all these years

OVER LUNCH, BRENDA takes a break from her saga to describe the exact circumstances under which she moved, in October of 1997, to this not-so-fair city. And I wish I could relay them as she did, for it is a fitting continuation of her twisty tale. There’s at least one reason she’s perfect for Nashville: Her life sounds like a country and western song, a mournful ballad of wildness and destruction and regret, something really preposterous and over-the-top. Especially her love life — at one point, I when Philip was held in prison and Brenda had just escaped from the Witness Protection Program, she unwisely had a brief fling and then confessed it to her husband. At which point he left telephone messages threatening to have her paramour killed — a common enough response by  husbands of faithless wives, but one that was taken a little more seriously than usual in this case. And things haven’t gotten any duller. Only Brenda has made me promise not to be any more specific — not that Brenda isn’t aching for full disclosure. I can’t even tell why I can’t tell, except that even getting into it a little would probably place several lives in jeopardy.

"I thought I would have a normal life again when I moved down here," she says. "I have a house and a cat. I’m doing what everybody else does. I go to work and pay my bills. But I’m so unhappy. Philip used to say to me, ‘Brenda, to you the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.’ And when I get there — it’s burnt!"

Anyway, back to her epic. Unbeknownst to Brenda, her husband’s pals were in the middle of a nasty factional dispute, part of the larger civil war that started back in I980 when Angelo Bruno was murdered and the previously stable Philadelphia Mafia went crazy. Bruno’s driver on the night of his death was John Stanfa, who by I990 had risen to the somewhat dubious position of "don," which simply made him target number one of the feds as well as of his younger rival, "Skinny Joey" Merlino. At the bar on the evening Brenda described, Philip learned that his life was in danger because of his ties to the Stanfa crew. He was told he could either walk away and take his chances or join Stanfa’s team in their effort to kill Merlino and his lieutenants. Philip chose the latter. In return, Stanfa assigned him to a small band of would-be executioners.

"They used to call it hunting " Brenda says. "All they’d do was roam around Philly in their cars, trying to track down the guys from the other crew. His friends would come over to our house at maybe seven or eight o’clock. Sometimes I’d cook for them — raviolis, usually. I’d put out the cheese and pepperoni and bread and a jug of wine — dago red. Or I’d get out the blender and make frozen drinks. They’d sit around and talk about sports or their kids or the old neighborhood. Just four or five suburban guys in jeans and sneakers watching TV in the family room."     

At some point, though, they begin talking business. At first, Brenda would take their son into another room when the serious strategizing began. Then her curiosity got the better of her, and she would eavesdrop. "It was so fascinating!" she says. "Here they were in my little house in the suburbs, trying to plan murder! That’s when I realized how idiotic some of their plans were. I mean, these guys really hated to think. They just wanted to find the other guys, pull our their guns, and start blasting. One night they were talking about killing some guy, and Philip’s friend Sal Brunetti says, ‘We should just hide under the front steps of his apartment building, and the second the front door opens, we start shooting.’ This time, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.