AP file
Vincent Gigante, known to law enforcers as "The Chin," is shown in handcuffs on July 8, 1958, as he arrives at New York's Federal Courthouse for arraignment on narcotics conspiracy charges.
updated 12/19/2005 2:48:40 PM ET 2005-12-19T19:48:40

Mob boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, the powerful Mafioso who avoided jail for decades by wandering the streets in a ratty bathrobe and slippers, feigning mental illness, died Monday in prison, officials said. He was 77.

Gigante, who had suffered from heart disease, died at the federal prison in Springfield, Mo., said prison spokesman Al Quintero.

Gigante, head of the Genovese crime family, had scored a lengthy string of victories over prosecutors, but it ended with a July 1997 racketeering conviction.

After nearly a quarter-century of public craziness, he finally admitted his insanity ruse at an April 2003 federal hearing in which the man dubbed the “Oddfather” by tabloid newspapers calmly pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

At the height of his power, Gigante’s empire stretched from Little Italy to the docks of Miami.

Denying he was a gangster, Gigante would wander the streets of the Greenwich Village neighborhood in nightclothes, muttering incoherently. Relatives, including a brother was who a Roman Catholic priest, insisted Gigante suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Authorities charged it was a brazen act to avoid the law — although it wasn’t until 1997 that a jury agreed, and it took another six years for Gigante to concede his subterfuge.

Born in the Bronx in 1928, one of five sons of Italian immigrant parents, Gigante became a small-time boxer and drifted into the crime family founded in 1931 by legendary gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

In 1957, Gigante was the hitman in a botched attempt to assassinate then-boss Frank Costello. After refusing to name his attacker in court, the shaken Costello retired, making Gigante’s patron, Vito Genovese, kingpin of the family that still bears his name.

Over time, Gigante proved better at beating the law than John Gotti, the so-called “Teflon Don” who won two acquittals before tapes and turncoats sent him to prison for life. Gotti died in 2002 at age 61.

Before 1997, Gigante had served only a five-year heroin rap in 1959.

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