Joseph Rico, an alleged nickel-and-dime mobster also known as Joey Gavel,
went on trial yesterday in Common Pleas Court in a murder that occurred on a freezing night in January 1983. Rico is accused of shooting, strangling and stabbing a marijuana dealer named Robert Hornickel in an alley near 8th and Bainbridge streets.
The killing wasn't easy, according to April Woltemate, who spent about two hours on the stand testifying about the murder that occurred during her years as a mob moll.
She said that Rico, 44, with the help of her former husband, Ronald ''Cuddles" DiCaprio, had to strangle and stab Hornickel after shooting him
because he still wasn't dead. Eventually, she said, they stuffed him in his own car trunk - still containing some Christmas presents - and abandoned the car at 6th and Bainbridge, she said.
"But they were worried that someone might hear him, because he was still alive at that point," said Woltemate.
The men thought killing Hornickel would make them "made," or full-fledged members of the mob, she said.
Woltemate spoke in a voice so whispery that Judge Carolyn Temin repeatedly asked her to speak up. Her shoulders heaved as she took repeated deep breaths.
"They (Rico and DiCaprio) said if I ever testified against them, they would kill me, my mother and my father and my two kids," she said.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Campolongo said in his opening argument that Hornickel had arranged to buy a shipment of marijuana from Rico and DiCaprio. He paid them $14,000, but the men never gave him the drugs and Hornickel began calling Rico and DiCaprio at a South Philadelphia candy store where the men often congregated, demanding his drugs, Campolongo said.
Campolongo said Hornickel was so naive in his dealings with the mob that he brought a can of Mace and $7,000 in cash to his fatal, back-alley meeting with Rico and DiCaprio. He believed they had the drugs and thought he could buy some extra, Campolongo said.
Woltemate testified that Rico and DiCaprio got permission to kill Hornickel
from Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, a member of the organized crime family headed by Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo. Both Scarfo and Ciancaglini are serving lengthy prison sentences for racketeering.
Woltemate said DiCaprio, who was just her boyfriend at that point, came back to her house after the murder, his clothes still wet with blood. She washed them in the basement while he stood next to her wearing her father's old robe, telling her about the murder, she said.
A few hours later they were joined by Rico, and they talked for hours about the murder, she said. The men said they found the $7,000 in cash on Hornickel and kept it, she said.
Hornickel's body was found 10 days later.
"Joe Rico was real excited that he had committed a murder," she said. ''He was bragging. He said, 'This is my in. Now I'm going to be one of the guys.' "
Woltemate later said DiCaprio forced her to marry him so she couldn't testify against him.
Woltemate divorced DiCaprio and testified against him in a federal racketeering trial that ended in DiCaprio's conviction in 1987. She married an FBI agent she met that year.
WHO'S WHO IN TRIAL
* JOSEPH RICO: Mob hood from Cherry Hill, also known as Joey Gavel. Previously convicted in New Jersey of selling stolen luxury cars. Now in prison in lieu of bail as he faces trial in murder, robbery and conspiracy.
* RONALD "Cuddles" DiCAPRIO: Mobster serving prison sentence for racketeering charges related to his role in the murder of Hornickel.
* JOSEPH "Chickie" CIANCAGLINI: Mob captain serving 45 years in prison for a string of crimes ranging from murder and extortion to drug trafficking.
* NICODEMO "Little Nicky" SCARFO: Former head of Atlantic City- Philadelphia mob family serving lengthy prison sentence for racketeering.
* ROBERT HORNICKEL: 30-year-old drug dealer from Maple Shade, N.J. Brought can of Mace to his fatal meeting with Rico and DiCaprio.
* APRIL RUBINO-DiCAPRIO-WOLTEMATE: Former mob wife from South Philadelphia now married to FBI agent she met in 1987. In federal witness protection program.