Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan, a former organized crime hit man suspected of carrying out more than 20 killings and the only inmate to escape from New York's Attica prison, has died, officials said Friday.
The 78-year-old convicted mob contract killer died of natural causes June 9 at Fishkill Correctional Facility in the Hudson Valley, 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of New York City, according to prison officials and the Dutchess County medical examiner. The specific cause of death hasn't been determined, Chief Medical Examiner Dennis Chute said.
Sullivan, a New York City native and son of a city police officer, was serving 87 years to life in prison after being convicted of three murders, including two on Long Island and the shooting of a Teamsters leader outside a suburban Rochester restaurant in 1981. Chute said Sullivan had been admitted to the prison's long-term care hospice before he died.
Sullivan was the only inmate to escape from Attica, a maximum-security prison in western New York, where he was serving time for killing a father of eight children during a bar fight in Queens in 1965, prison officials said.
In April 1971, he buried himself beneath a pile of empty flour bags in the back of a truck leaving the prison. He was caught six weeks later in Manhattan and was returned to prison.
After being paroled in 1975, he headed downstate, where he built a reputation as a professional hit man. Authorities suspected he carried out between 20 and 30 contact killings for organized crime in the New York City area.
"He was an old-school tough guy," crime author T.J. English, who had interviewed Sullivan in prison, told the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester. "He had a gravelly voice. He sounded like something out of an old Jimmy Cagney movie."
In December 1981, authorities say, Sullivan was hired by two organized crime figures embroiled in the Rochester area's mob wars at the time. Sullivan allegedly used a shotgun to kill John Fiorino, a Teamsters vice president with ties to the local mob, as he pulled into a restaurant parking lot.
When then-Irondequoit Police Officer Michael DiGiovanni came upon Sullivan's car after it had run a red light and swerved off the road, the hit man emerged and opened fire, narrowly missing the cop.
"I kicked open my car door and as I came out he was firing at me," DiGiovanni, now a lieutenant, told the Rochester newspaper.
DiGiovanni returned fire and wounded Sullivan, who fled on foot and managed to elude police.
Sullivan was captured two months later at a suburban Rochester motel when he returned to the area to get the remainder of his payment for the killing, authorities say. He was convicted of the Fiorino slaying and two others in Suffolk County, and was sent to prison in November 1982.