Home>Articles>The murder of an Assemblyman: A Prostitute, a Pimp, and a guy from Hoboken

The murder of an Assemblyman: A Prostitute, a Pimp, and a guy from Hoboken

By David Wildstein, February 18 2018 1:52 pm

Here’s a classic story about Hudson County politics:  it involves a prostitute, a pimp, a Hoboken politician, and murder.

Silvio Failla was a first-term Assemblyman when he was murdered by a prostitute and her pimp outside a bar in Neptune.  He was a 62-year-old undertaker who spent two decades as the executive director of the New Jersey Funeral Home Directors Association, eleven years on the Hoboken Board of Education, and for six weeks in 1965 as the Mayor of Hoboken.

He was elected to the State Assembly in 1971. On his first day in Trenton, he was one of the three Hudson County Democrats to stick with his part and back S. Howard Woodson for Speaker.  The rest of the delegation voted for Republican Tom Kean, who had made a deal with Jersey City Assemblyman David Friedland.

On Thursday, September 16, 1972, Failla decided to spend the night at his summer home on the Jersey shore.  He stopped for a drink at Big Bill’s Bar in Neptune.  That’s where he met Deborah Dell, a prostitute from New York City. Around 10:50 PM, an area resident heard what she believed to be firecracker noises, followed by the cries that may have been Failla’s last words: “Help me.”

Failla was still alive when Neptune police arrived.  He had been shot four times with a small-caliber handgun.  Police followed blood stains and found Failla a few feet away alongside a metal fence.  He was conscious when they found him but died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  Police identified him when they found his black Cadillac, with Assembly license plates and the gold state seal.

Robbery was considered the motive: Failla had a reputation for carrying large amounts of cash, although a diamond ring he was wearing was not taken.  Police formed a 30-member task force to solve the Failla murder, and on October 11, after a stakeout of a Harlem apartment, they arrested Deborah Dell, a 22-year-old prostitute, and Theophus King Webster, the 26-year-old pimp.  Both were sentenced to life in prison; Webster was paroled in 1991 and Dell in 1997.

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