NEW YORK -- Mourners of godfather Paul 'Big Paul' Castellano slipped off to his secret and hasty burial after the Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to allow a public funeral for the slain 'boss of bosses.'
Castellano, 70, the head of the largest and most powerful La Cosa Nostra group in the nation, was buried Thursday at the Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island three days after he was killed, police said.
The Cusimano and Russo Funeral Home in Brooklyn had said the godfather would be buried Friday, an apparent ruse to prevent press coverage of the funeral.
'Even we didn't know it was today,' FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette said.
Cardinal John O'Connor refused to allow a public funeral mass for Castellano.But The Rev. Peter Finn, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, said the decision to bury Castellano in a nonsectarian cemetery was a decision of the family, not a result of the cardinal's ruling.
A spokesman said the cardinal made his decision 'out of deference to hundreds of thousands people who could assume the church condones, or is apathetic to (organized crime)' if such a mass was held.
Castellano was gunned down with his heir apparent by three triggermen in trenchcoats Monday outside a Manhattan restaurant.
Castellano had been on trial on charges he was involved in a murderous auto-theft ring. Castellano was also under a federal racketeering indictment for his role in the Mafia 'commission.'
Hundreds of elegantly attired mourners paid respects to Castellano at a wake Wednesday in the funeral home where his body was laid out in an open casket.
But John Gotti, a 45-year-old reputed 'capo' in the Gambino crime family believed to the leading candidate to succeed Castellano, was conspicuously absent.
The New York Post reported in a copyright story Thursday law enforcement and underworld figures believe Gotti and a renegade faction of the gang rubbed out Castellano to save their own skins.
The newspaper quoted one unidentified law enforcement offical as saying, 'John Gotti knew that he had to move or be eliminated.'
Police said they know where Gotti is but have not questioned him.
The Post said a long-time feud between the Castellano and Gotti's groups did not erupt into violence sooner because of the peacemaking efforts of the late Gambino underboss Aniello 'Mr. O'Neill' Dellacroce, who died of natural causes Dec. 2.
'Neil kept everything in balance,' the Post quoted an unnamed underworld source as saying. 'You know it's young Turks. This never would have happened before right near the holidays (otherwise).'
Castellano and his heir apparent Thomas Bilotti, 47, were killed Monday as they left their limousine a Manhattan steak house. Three gunmen in trenchcoats pulled out semi-automatic weapons and riddled the mobsters with bullets.
The New York Daily News reported the street may have been blocked off just seconds before the shooting.
Witnesses told police three men were milling around the restaurant 15 minutes before the slaying and one of them was muttering, 'Where the hell are they? They were supposed to be here by now,' the News said.
Ronald Goldstock said Castellano was probably killed by other gangsters because a series of criminal trials had paralyzed his ability to lead the mob.