When Burton Kaplan and NYPD detective Stephen Caracappa met, they followed a protocol designed to prevent detection. If Kaplan, the envoy of Lucchese crime family underboss Anthony Casso, wanted to meet Caracappa, he pulled up outside Caracappa’s mother’s house on Kramer Street in the Grasmere section of Staten Island and beeped his horn. Kaplan would then proceed down Kramer Street to a cemetery there that was nearly always empty. Surrounded by a chain-link fence, the headstones in the graveyard were modest, the surnames mostly Italian. Kaplan would get out of his car and wait for Caracappa. The two men would walk and talk along the pathways between the graves. The cemetery rolled into a small rise overlooking the neighborhood and affording a view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. It is the place where Caracappa received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for orchestrating—along with his partner, detective Louis Eppolito—eight gangland murders between 1986 and 1990. The infamous “Mafia Cops” were convicted in 2006 and died in federal prison.
The graveyard where Kaplan and Caracappa met for their late-night criminal rendezvous was St. Mary’s Cemetery, one of the oldest Catholic cemeteries on Staten Island. The Roman Catholic parish of St. Mary’s was established in 1852 in Rosebank by Father John Lewis. In 1862 Father Lewis purchased seven acres of land located on the former Leonard Parkinson estate, about two miles southwest from St. Mary’s Church at Rosebank, and laid it out as a cemetery. This hilltop parcel is bounded by today’s Parkinson Avenue and Kramer Street. In 1905 St. Mary’s Cemetery expanded with the purchase of a separate three-and-a-half-acre parcel nearby on Parkinson Avenue and Old Town Road (now Reid Avenue). St. Mary’s parish closed in 2015 and merged with St. Joseph’s of Rosebank; St. Mary’s Cemetery is now managed by the parish of St. Joseph and Mary Immaculate.
During their grim exchanges at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Kaplan and Caracappa passed by the graves of some 20,000 Catholic locals laid to rest here. Among them are Pvt. Thomas B. Wall, who died of battle wounds received in the Philippines and was buried at St. Mary’s with military honors in 1900; Rev. James F. Mee, pastor of St. Mary’s parish from 1889 to 1908, whose monument marks the apex of a central knoll in the old cemetery; and Vietnam war hero Nick Lia, killed in action in 1968. Marine Lt. Lia has a Staten Island park named in his honor and and a memorial scultpure of him stands at Wagner College, where he was a football star.
Sources: Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Richmond, Pl 14; Annals of Staten Island (Clute 1877), 299-300; “Soldier Buried With Honor,” The Sun, Apr 9, 1900; [Notice], Richmond County Advance, June 17, 1905; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 150; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006), 154-156; Italian Staten Island (Mele 2010), 86-87; The Brotherhoods:The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia (Lawson & Oldham 2006); United States v. Eppolito, 436 F. Supp. 2D 532 (E.D.N.Y 2006)