ROCCO MANISCALCO had reason to wear a bulletproof vest. Two reasons, actually.
The South Philly auto-body-shop owner was a bookie on the side, and he was tangling with a trio of drug dealers who refused to pay on a $60,000 sports bet, according to his family. They were threatening violence if he didn't back off.
And the mob was trying to shake him down for "protection money" that he didn't intend to pay, his sister says.
For five months beginning in late 2009, Maniscalco, 38, stayed close to his Wolf Street home, donning the bulletproof vest and cloaking himself in hoodies when he ventured out - or sometimes sleeping elsewhere to throw off spies he'd seen watching him.
But as the weather warmed, his vigilance waned.
" 'If they're gonna get me, they're gonna get me,' " he told his wife, Danielle Romanoff-Maniscalco, abandoning the bulky vest.
Someone got him on a balmy June night, after he left the Wolf Street Cafe, on Wolf near 17th, about a block from his home, one year ago today. Thirteen shots in the back, heart, abdomen, sides and legs.
"The hit, it was professional," said his sister Maria Maniscalco.
But who was the triggerman? The list of potential enemies is long.
"My brother had a lot of people after him," she said. "He was definitely set up."
Philadelphia Homicide Capt. James Clark said this week that the case remains "wide open" and that detectives have no suspects.
"We don't really have anything on that," he said, adding that all scenarios remain in play. "Nothing's been ruled out."
Maniscalco's family has doubled the reward for information about his killer. They suspect that "Rocky" was shot either by the bettors who refused to pay, or by an associate of the South Philly wiseguys.
Maria Maniscalco told the Daily News that mob musclemen were growing increasingly insistent that her brother pay up.
"I know [George] Borgesi [imprisoned nephew of reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi] had people come to my brother and threaten him," she said. "He was leaning on my brother from jail and trying to extort money from him.
The feds last month arrested Ligambi, 71, and a dozen other alleged mobsters and associates in a wide-ranging gambling, loan-sharking and extortion indictment.
None was charged with violent offenses. But Maniscalco's family hopes that if the mob was involved in his death - or knows who was - that one of the defendants might start yapping to federal authorities in exchange for leniency.
Defense attorneys think that federal prosecutors are using the recent indictment as a tool to solve more serious crimes.
"They probably want information about something far more serious than this [indictment]. This case is nonsense," said Jack McMahon, attorney for indicted accused mobster Marty Angelina. "It seems to me that their motivation is to squeeze them. I mean, video-poker machines? This can't be the endgame."
Friends and relatives say that Maniscalco, who ran the New Era Collision auto-body shop and towing company at 25th and Wharton streets, was a lifelong friend of Carl Bradley, whom organized-crime investigators have identified as a mob associate. Bradley was a fixture at the shop, according to Maniscalco's family. He could not be reached for comment.
Maniscalco, a nephew of the late notorious mobster Harry "The Hunchback" Riccobene, also was known to lend money, his family said.
Angelo Lutz, a mobster-turned-restaurateur who was convicted of racketeering and other charges in 2001, said that Maniscalco gave him a job at New Era Collision after he was released from prison. He doesn't think that Maniscalco's slaying was mob-related.
"It's a shame the kid's dead, but all I know is what I did in the body shop," Lutz said from his restaurant, the Kitchen Consigliere Cafe, in Collingswood, N.J. "I don't know what he did outside the body shop.
"Obviously," Lutz added, "I'm not a suspect."
Robbery does not appear to be a motive for the slaying, because Maniscalco had $1,800 in his pocket when he was gunned down.
After a beef-and-beer benefit last month, the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maniscalco's killer is now up to $10,000. His family is working with Mothers In Charge, an advocacy and support group for families affected by violence, to get two billboards erected with details about the slaying and the reward.
They planned to mark the anniversary of his death with a vigil last night into this morning by lining Wolf Street near Colorado - the block where he was gunned down - with luminaria, and saying a prayer at 12:54 a.m., the minute he was shot.
"I grieve every day," Maria Maniscalco said. "Regardless of what my brother was into, he was there for all of us. He was loyal, and he was a great father. [His killers] were nothing but cowards, the way they did it. I want justice for my brother."
His widow, Romanoff-Maniscalco, agreed.
"When I go to sleep, sometimes I still have dreams that he's still here," she said. "It's like I'm still not over that he's not here, even though it's been a year.
"I want to face the person [who killed him]. I want to look at him in the face and just ask him, 'Why?' "