Arts & Entertainment, Music

Hamilton: city of vice

When Johnny “Pops” Papalia, Godfather of the Hamilton Mafia, was shot on May 31, 1997, he left behind a power vacuum in organized crime in Ontario that would eventually become a revolution.

As the head of the Hamilton Mafia, Johnny Pops had just one rule: his people could not deal with bikers. After his death and the subsequent passing of Carmen Barillaro, Papalia’s right hand man, control of the Hamilton Mafia passed to Dominic and Antonio Musitano, the same brothers who had hired Kenny Murdock, the shooter behind both Barillaro and Papalia’s murders. When Murdock turned into an informant, both he and the Musitano brothers landed behind bars. In less than a year, faced with leaders who were either dead or in jail, and with other families under such heavy police surveillance that they might as well have been, the Hamilton Mafia ceased to exist.

But the province’s biker gangs were still around. And with the drug, prostitution, and vice markets in Ontario hanging in the balance, the subsequent street war between the Outlaws and the Hells Angels—Canada’s most violent biker gangs—was especially bloody.

“It’s hard for people to understand now just how powerful Johnny Pops was,” says Jerry Langton, author of the recently released Showdown, which tells the inside story of the war between the Outlaws and the Hells Angels, and the bestselling Fallen Angel: The Unlikely Rise of Walter Stadnick in the Canadian Hells Angels. “He was basically the only Canadian mafia figure who could sit at the table with the top guys in New York. He was part of the French connection; he ruled a big swath of Canada, particularly Southern Ontario, for a very long time. After the Mafia imploded in less than a year, there was no one to oppose the bikers and they came rushing in.”

Showdown begins, as the shift in organized crime did, with Johnny Pops’ murder, and tells the story of the resulting struggle for control over Ontario in a world where the Hells Angels and Walter Stadnick ruled the rest of Canada. But the origins of Showdown are almost as interesting as the story itself. Langton was initially contacted by former Outlaws leader Mario “The Wop” Parente to write his biography.

“[Parente] approached me originally to write his life story as he saw it, but I couldn’t do that,” Langton says. “I had to investigate things for myself.

“He got angry at me a couple of times, because he came into the process with certain things in mind that he wanted to get accomplished,” Langton continued. “He wanted me to tell the story as he saw it, and when I didn’t agree with that, he got angry at me, but was nothing short of gentlemanly and was very polite. I would have liked to have worked with him, but I couldn’t do what he wanted me to do.”

Drawing on interviews with bikers, police, and informants, Langton gives readers a look into both the history and the world of organized crime. With a level of detail reminiscent of FBI-agent-slash-Mafia-infiltrator Joseph Pistone’s The Way of the Wiseguy, and a conversational, engaging tone, Showdown is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of biker gangs in Canada.

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