HUNTER: Murdered Toronto mobster had potential for a different life

Sun reader puts Gaetano Panepinto in different light

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Gaetano Panepinto’s name was highlighted in yellow.

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Det.-Sgt. Stephen Smith, of the Toronto Police cold case unit, had marked his unsolved Oct. 3, 2000 slaying as linked to organized crime.

The 41-year-old discount casket king was killed when gunmen sprayed his Cadillac with bullets on Bloor St. W. Cops said Panepinto was a Mob enforcer with links to the Montreal and Buffalo underworlds.

His reputed mistress, Patricia Real, 46, was gunned down on July 17, 2000 when a killer on a bicycle shot her twice in the head.

Last weekend, I wrote about unsolved Mob murders in Toronto and both were on the list. About two days later, I received an email from a reader who painted a different portrait of Panepinto.

The reader — who asked that his name not be used, for obvious reasons, so we’ll call him “Johnny”  — met Panepinto in 1998.

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“My brother in P.E.I. was considering getting into the funeral business and was asking me if I could set up some meetings with potential business partners,” Johnny said. “I knew nothing about that business, I was in the stock market.”

He did notice a business called Casket Royale on St. Clair Ave. W. He decided to give the owner a call and the man agreed to meet.

“Gaetano greeted us as we walked in. He was a huge, imposing guy with a wide, disarming smile,” Johnny said, adding that the mobster sent out an assistant to fetch cappuccinos from a little store a few doors down.

Patricia Real was murdered on July 17, 2000.
Patricia Real was murdered on July 17, 2000. Photo by Supplied photo /Toronto Sun

“He was a super salesman, tons of charm and he knew the industry and all the players from manufacturers to competitors inside out.”

There would be no “franchise fee,” it would simply supply “boxes.” Johnny’s brother would have the exclusive P.E.I. territory and maybe if things went well, the entire Maritimes.

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“He gave us a grand tour of the place and mentioned that urns and the like presented a great upselling opportunity, but unlike the competitors he didn’t believe in gouging families in their grief,” Johnny said.

His brother gave up on the casket idea but it wouldn’t be the last Johnny heard of Gaetano Panepinto.

“In the fall of 2000 I’m on a business trip to Halifax when my wife calls me to tell me about a shooting at the top of our street,” Johnny said. “I get home the next day and I read the Sun and realized it’s the funeral guy, Gaetano.”

Fast forward: In 2003, Johnny’s son starts Grade 1 and one day they ride their bikes to school.

“He speeds up and says, ‘Dad, come on, I want you to meet my friend,’” Johnny said. “So I bike over and my son is beaming as he introduces me to his friend. ‘He’s a Johnny too, dad,’ my kid says. Johnny Panepinto. My kid and Johnny Panepinto remained friends over the years up to high school.”

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Johnny asked his son if he ever saw the Panepinto boy, who also had an older sister and brother.

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“He said he did. Kid was normal. Didn’t get in trouble. Didn’t draw attention to himself,” he said.

“Everyone’s view of someone, I guess, is to some degree formed on if you have chance to meet them or not,” he said. “I knew nothing of Gaetano’s background in crime. As far as I was concerned he was a charming character — but if you did business with him to be careful.”

He added: “You know I worked with a lot of nitwits and losers on Bay Street over the years and I used to think that a guy like Gaetano, if he were in the business, would be hugely successful. The question is: Where did he make a wrong turn?

“Many wouldn’t have much sympathy for him but I always thought how tough it was on those kids with no dad. And I suspect he was a good dad.
He had that vibe.

“I spent a decade taking my kids to ball diamonds, hockey rinks, camping trips and March break vacations. Those kids didn’t get that chance.”

bhunter@postmedia.com

@HunterTOSun

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