Fact Check

Helpful Mafia Neighbor

Mafia neighbor helps burglary victims by effecting the return of their stolen goods?

Published Apr 20, 2009

Claim:   Mafia neighbor helps burglary victims by effecting the return of their stolen goods.


Example:   [Brunvand, 1999]

An upwardly-mobile couple moved into an expensive suburb of a big eastern city next door to a quiet family who were rumored to have ties to the Mafia. One Sunday night, returning from a weekend away from home, the couple were shocked to find that their home had been burglarized. After assessing the damage, the couple told their neighbors what had happened, asking if they had observed anything suspicious over the weekend.

The neighbors, puzzlingly, told them just to go to bed for now and not to notify the police right away. They would make a few phone calls and see what could be done.

The couple woke up the next morning to find all of their missing property piled neatly on the front porch.


Origins:   Folklorist Jan Brunvand wrote about this legend in 1986, having by then collected numerous variations of it, so it is clear that even by the mid-1980s, the tale was a well-traveled one. In some tellings, it is the couple's car that has

Mafia wiseguy

been stolen, in others their home has been burglarized. Likewise, sometimes the helpful Mafioso lives next door to them, sometimes he lives a few blocks away.

In each of the tellings, the couple is not unaware of the mobster's identity: They are either flat-out certain that he is in the Mob, or they have heard rumors to that effect. In no case, however, do they turn up on his doorstep lacking an inkling of the nature of the person they are talking to. As for the wiseguy's potential motivation (other than ordinary helpfulness) for assisting folks relatively unknown to him, versions of the legend often stress his reluctance to have police called into his neighborhood.

In a related tale, a Mobbed-up patient or client offers to pay his doctor or lawyer in services (of the 'terminating a problem' variety) rather than specie. The offer might be flatly declined or jokingly accepted in a "Aw, just break his legs" way by the healthcare or legal professional, but nevertheless the sawbones or shark is subsequently floored to hear that the assault has been carried out.

As to what to make of the returned car or household goods yarn, the most common possible interpretation positions the mobster as having acted purely out of his sense of compassion for the couple that had been robbed. Under this construct, the "Helpful Mafia Neighbor" legend trumpets a message of there being good to be found in everyone, including the horrifically bad. However, in light of that message, it's worth noting the mobster's altruistic act is accomplished by his uncorking his intrinsic evil upon someone else — the purloined vehicle

or household goods reappear via the expedient of his tracking down their takers and intimidating them into surrendering the items. Even when he tries to do good, in other words, he can't help but do bad.

Less common is the view that the mobbed-up guy acted only because he wanted to keep police from snooping around his neighborhood and questioning folks who live near him. Unadulterated self-interest guides his hand, not any momentary impulse of kindness.

The second interpretation is borne out by the related tale in which the wiseguy settles his legal or medical bill with a violent act committed upon one of the professional man's enemies rather than by paying cash — he substitutes something of little cost to him (harm visited upon another) for something of value he does hold dear (money).

Barbara "guardian angles" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In an episode of the television series The Sopranos ("46 Long," original air date 17 January 1999), Tony orders some of his crew to locate a car stolen from his son's science teacher and return it to him. (The vehicle, alas, has already been chopped, so a suitable replacement was stolen and substituted for the teacher's car.)

Last updated:   8 May 2009


    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Mexican Pet.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.   ISBN 0-393-30542-2   (p. 147).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good to Be True.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (p. 305).

    Cohen, Daniel.   The Beheaded Freshman and Other Nasty Rumors.

    New York: Avon Books, 1993.   ISBN 0-380-77020-2   (pp. 21-25).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.

    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 147).

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