"The Ralph Natale I knew hated rats, hated rats with a passion," Seccio said recently. Seccio knew it was over. He had violated a code she strongly believed in.
"I'd rather die than rat," she said. "I believed in 'death before dishonor' long before I met Ralph."
Seccio was devastated. She screamed and cried and pulled her hair out. She took shower after shower because she felt dirty and violated. She slept between mattresses to try to keep the world out. She couldn't eat or sleep. She threw up. She shook uncontrollably.
"Our relationship was fabulous until the newspaper hit the door," Seccio said recently. "I didn't see it coming at all. I feel like I'm left here to clean up the mess.
"When he made enemies, he made them for me, too. I wasn't with him when he decided to rat. That was his choice," she said, her green eyes pleading for understanding. "I had no choice.
"Look at me, I'm a walking bull's-eye."
Ruthann Seccio, a woman of conflicted feelings, is caught in a Mafia firestorm.
Her brusque style did not endear her to the mobsters with whom she clashed. Nor did Natale's orders that they look after her before and after he went to prison.
Now, she fears for her life.
The FBI confirmed her fears a couple of weeks after Natale's cooperation became public. Natale is expected to testify against his onetime underboss, Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, now acting mob boss, and Merlino's associates.
If he testifies about unsolved mob-related murders and attempted murders, Natale testimony could take the Merlino family down.
During a 10-minute visit to the FBI, agents told Seccio they had learned through telephone surveillance that underworld figures were plotting to get to Natale by killing her.
"They told me my life was in danger and to watch everything I did. Then, they offered to put me in the Witness Protection Program."
"No, thank you," she told them, and then gave the agents a message for Natale: "Tell him he's a piece of s---."
Seccio also has a message for the mob:
"I just want them to know I was more devastated than they are," she said, her foot nervously jiggling. "I wish I could go to their houses and ask if I can do something. What he's doing to their families, their children, it's not right.
"He's hurting all these people who were nice to us, just to get his old ass out of jail.
"If I ran into him now, what would I do? Rip his face off!
"I feel like killing him myself . . . Maybe I could get a knife. Not metal, maybe plastic, so I could get past the metal detector. I'd file down a plastic knife and kill him.
"This is how I think every day: how I would get him," she said, "He don't have to worry about them, he has to worry about me."
Seccio is adamant that at no time did Natale ask her to go into the Witness Protection Program.
"Absolutely not," she said. "I wouldn't do that. He knows the way I grew up."
RUTHIE FROM B&S
SINCE CHILDHOOD, RUTHANN has lived by a dictum of the street: "All you need is your heart and your balls."
Her family moved a lot. Her bartender father walked out on the family. She was left to fend for herself at 13.
She slept in abandoned cars, vacant houses and friends' homes. She went from foster homes to relatives to a home for girls, then back to the street.
"When you're walking the streets all night, there's no time for your Barbie. There's no time to cry," she said.
After three years in 9th grade at Thomas Junior High, she dropped out. She hung out at Broad and Snyder, becoming one of only six girls in the tough B&S gang.
"I've been shot, stabbed and ironed," she said.
She was not above "shanking people, [but] only if they stabbed me first," she said.
At 15, her jealous boyfriend became enraged when she waved hello to a family friend, and shot her in the arm with a .22.
"I was crying and he was telling me how sorry he was, and he took the bullet out of my arm," she said. "We didn't have medical insurance, not even a dollar for a hot chocolate. We figured we'd go to the hospital if it got infected."
The ironing incident happened at 16. She fell asleep and her drugged-out boyfriend "waited for the iron to get hot and ironed my left leg," she said. "I woke up screaming."
Her favorite targets as a gang member were students from St. Maria Goretti High School, where she might have gone had she completed Annunciation School at 12th and Wharton streets. She didn't get past the third grade at Annunciation and ended up attending public school.
"I fought Goretti girls for just walking by because I couldn't get into Goretti," said Seccio. Ironically, today three of her best friends are Goretti grads.
With her background, she said, "Your beliefs and values all come from the street. That's how come I took [Natale's ratting] so hard."
She knew she was tough, but didn't know how bad her reputation was until years later when she was standing in line at a McDonald's with a nephew. Three girls behind her were talking about how bad they were going to be, shanking people like "Ruthie from B&S."
"Do you know who they're talking about?" her nephew asked.
"You," he said.
RALPH COMES HOME FROM JAIL AT 17, SHE DECIDED to turn her life around.
"I was tired of getting hit by men and doing drugs," she said. "I just got tired of that life."
Once she cleaned herself up, she tried to get her friends off drugs. "If you don't want it, it doesn't work," said Seccio, drug-free for 14 years.
By 18, she found a steady job at a dry-cleaner, a steady boyfriend and a place to call home. She lived with her boyfriend and his mother until she could afford her own apartment. Over the next 10 years, Seccio underwent a complete makeover. She frosted her brown hair and wore it short and straight with the waif look of a Vogue model.
She bought her own furniture and chose clothes with a model's eye. She hired a professional trainer to help her achieve the body she has today.
She was working three jobs - two tending bar and one at a dry cleaners - to pay for it all when she met Natale. While working as a waitress at the Saloon, an upscale Italian restaurant at 7th and Fitzwater streets, she befriended Natale's daughter, Vanessa, and Deborah Wells, who would become the wife of reputed acting mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.
For five years, she and Vanessa were best friends. Seccio spent time at Vanessa's home at the Cooper River Plaza apartments in Pennsauken, N.J., where she met her mother, Lucy, ate breakfast with them and stopped by for Sunday macaroni.
When Vanessa talked about her 60-year-old father getting out of prison in 1994, Seccio didn't realize who he was.
"I just turned 26 when her father came home. Then I realized, this was the man my father worked for," she recalled. "I knew him as a little girl. My father worked for him as a bartender at the Rickshaw Inn and Cherry Hill Inn."
That summer, Vanessa and Seccio sunned themselves in their bikinis by the Cooper River Plaza pool under Natale's watchful eye.
One day, while Seccio was alone, Vanessa's short, stocky father, three inches shorter and 34 years older, approached the tall, slender blonde and asked her out.
She told him she didn't go out with married men, especially the father of her best friend.
After five months of "coming after me," she said "it kept getting harder and harder to say 'no.'"
"I had never gone out with a guy with money, an older man or a married man," said Seccio.
Natale appeared to her to be a powerful man who knew everyone from his days as a bartenders' union official. He had served his time, kept his mouth shut and won admiration for being a standup guy.
"He was loved by everyone," she said. "The Ralph I thought I knew was a concerned, giving person who would give his shirt off his back."
She finally agreed to date him, but kept their rendezvous secret for several months. Eventually the pair became openly affectionate - from New York to Voorhees to Margate and South Philly.
By then, Seccio had re-established a relationship with her own mother, who voiced concern about the big difference in the couple's ages. To assure Seccio's family of his intentions, Natale asked to have a sitdown at the now-closed Quincy's at 15th Street and Oregon Avenue.
Natale promised Seccio's mother and sister that "my whole life was going to change," recalled Seccio.
"He said he knew I had a rough life and he was going to do everything in the world to make it up to me. He said I deserved some happiness and he was going to make sure I got it," she said.
There was nothing he could do about the age difference, Natale told them, but he professed his love for Seccio.
"My mother believed him," she said.
Seccio talked about wanting to learn how to box. Natale found a gym in Fishtown that trained women boxers, but then nixed the idea, saying it might scar her face.
Although Natale was careful not to conduct business around Seccio, she soon realized who he was.
"At the time, I was in love with him. Things were too fresh, you don't want to see anything. If you ask those questions, you don't want to hear the answers, then you've got to leave him," she said.
"They don't tell you when they're wining and dining you. 'Oh, by the way, you don't mind if your life might be threatened one day, do you?'" she said.
VOORHEES LOVE NEST
ALTHOUGH STILL MARRIED, Natale asked Seccio to live with him in New Jersey since he couldn't visit Philadelphia without his parole officer's permission.
Through a third party, Natale rented a two-story condo with a cathedral ceiling, fireplace, two bedrooms and two baths on Main Street, an exclusive apartment and commercial complex in Voorhees, about 10 miles from Pennsauken.
Natale lived a split life at work and at home.
By day, he was permitted to work as a fish salesman, stopping by the city's best restaurants, or hanging out at Garden State racetrack.
By night, he tried to keep two women content. He'd leave Seccio at 3 a.m., return to his wife, get up at 6, go jogging and later return to Seccio.
"I'd be sleeping and sometimes I didn't even know he left when I got up," she said.
"Whatever he gave me, he gave me without asking, which wasn't much," she said. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not a taking-advantage kind of girl. I didn't say, 'I want to go to Interior Concepts,'" a stylish South Philadelphia furniture store.
"I had peach-colored leather furniture he didn't like. One of his friends was getting rid of furniture and he moved it to the apartment - black leather living-room furniture and a lacquer dining- room set," she said.
She drove a 1994 Cadillac not registered in her name.
He bought her a camel coat to wear to the Striped Bass, Le Bec-Fin and Cutillo's. A couple of nice dresses. An S-linked bracelet with "real cheap diamonds."
"I didn't even want it," she said.
"I did my own clothes-shopping with my own money at fine, fabulous places on Passyunk Avenue" in South Philadelphia.
"I never asked for anything," she added.
* Like many cheating husbands, Natale lived on the edge. One day he took Seccio to his Cooper River Plaza penthouse while his wife was in Sea Isle City.
Because Seccio violated her own moral code to be with Natale, she did not recognize her betrayal of his wife and daughter until recently. "I made a huge, big mistake," she acknowledged.
There was no explosion, no harsh words with Vanessa and her mother. The calls between them became less frequent. Then just icy silence.
"I never asked him to leave his wife," she said. "This was the first married man I ever was with."
Natale told her he had stayed with his wife of 42 years out of loyalty and because she was sick.
"He told me that his wife was on a heart monitor, had bad hearing, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and she would die anyway. He said he didn't love her. The only reason I believed him was he was with me 24 and seven.
"His wife wasn't sick. He lied to me," said Seccio.
"His wife had to know he was like this," she said. "I was not his first girlfriend, and not his last."
CONVERSION TO KING RAT NATALE'S DOUBLE LIFE caught up to him on June 12, 1998.
His parole officer testified that he met with mobsters at the restaurants where he was supposed to sell fish. He was cited for parole violations that returned him to jail for 16 months.
For the next 14 months, Natale would call Seccio every morning from prison. "What are you doing?" he asked Seccio as she awoke.
Accustomed to getting calls "every five minutes," sometimes as many as 15 a day, she thought the abrupt end to their conversations early in August 1999 was because Natale was being moved to another prison.
Natale had pledged that he'd look after Seccio, and instructed his longtime friend, Anthony Viesti, to do so.
Viesti "promised he would check on me every day. His wife was going to teach me how to make gravy," recalled Seccio.
Viesti "called me twice to ask sarcastic questions. Once to check out a rumor on the street I didn't know. And a year later, to ask 'How's my man?'"
The tables have turned on Viesti, arrested last June 28 with Natale in a New Jersey-based methamphetamine ring.
"Here Ralph's telling me how much he hated drugs and he's out there selling them," Seccio said.
"I must have been deaf, dumb and blind."
But then, so was Viesti. King Rat is expected to testify against him.
NO BREAST IMPLANTS IN HER RAGE AT Natale's betrayal of her and his friends, Seccio destroyed just about everything of his in their apartment.
"I was ripping and burning his clothes, his toothbrush . . . I wanted everything out. This wasn't the person I knew.
"I have some of the furniture, and the rest was sold so I can live. Some was sold before Ralph ratted," she explained, because as she learned about one mob myth, "they really don't take care of you" when they go to prison.
After a serious auto accident last March and losing 30 pounds in the aftermath of the "King Rat" headline, she's been unable to exercise daily, as she had done at Reed Street Gym in South Philadelphia.
About three months ago, Natale, via a third party, sent Seccio a response to her FBI message to him.
"He wants nothing to do with me. I never meant anything to him anyway and I could go and kill myself," she said.
The only good thing she got out of their relationship, she says, was a longhair Himalayan cat, named Dusty.
Seccio still cannot utter the word "mobsters." She refers to the wiseguys who once were around Natale as "business associates" or "people" or "a bunch of nice guys."
She said she has cried so much that the tears don't flow anymore. Now she tries to deal with her plight with occasional flashes of humor.
She is offended by cruel remarks and lies about her in the media. Rumors that she wanted to be a mob member. That she had breast-enlargement surgery for Natale. That she got a tattoo on her breasts for him.
She feels a need to clear the record.
"Did I go to the paper and make up anything about them, like breast implants? I understand their privacy, their family, their friends. I wouldn't want to go and hurt them.
"They should have respected me right there and then for not going into the Witness Protection Program," she said.
"No, I don't want to be a mob member. They couldn't pay me enough," she said. "They don't have any loyal people in there."
Natale's former associates and a former boss, cite her attitude, easy offense at perceived slights and desire to become a boxer.
She believes these people misunderstood her manner. In fact, her macho attitude mirrors their attitude.
"I'm a 'take no sh--' kind of person," she admits.
Dressed in a sleek ensemble of turtleneck, black slacks and black platform shoes, Seccio said Natale never paid for her to have breast implants.
"If I had," she said looking down at her modest chest, "then I picked the wrong size."
"I do have the tattoo," she admitted, but it's not on her breasts.
"He asked me to get it for Christmas one year. Then, he went away. I felt bad, so I got it," she said.
Etched in blue ink, the tattoo is on her left hip. It reads "Natale's," with a red rose above it.
"My bathing suit covers it," she said. "I tried to scrub it off . . . if anyone wants to help me get it off, I'd really appreciate it.
Alone and fearing for her safety, Seccio is trying to piece her life together. "The only thing I could do is go back to work and be a normal person," she said. "I have no money.
Many of her longtime friends have abandoned her. She talks of getting her high school diploma. And she wants to work through her anger.
"It will be a long time before I trust anybody," she added. "If I ever go out with a guy again, I want to see his W-2 form, because I don't want to see no illegal money."
Still, she fluctuates between bravado and fear of the mob.
"They never went after a girl before. A woman's never been hurt before. They have to know I'm living with my own torture with this."
"If they do kill me, I'll just meet them in hell. I'm not afraid of dying," she said. "I just think it will be for the wrong reason.
"I guess they don't have a Mafia Women Support Group," she added. "That's what I'll start in the future for us misfits.
"I'm a good person. I'd do anything for anybody. If he did love me, how could he leave me a walking bull's-eye?"
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