Fred Aldrich, a mob associate who was targeted in one of the most notorious attempted gangland hits in Philadelphia history, died Monday, seconds before crashing his car into a Subway sandwich shop in Glenolden.
Aldrich, 64, apparently suffered a massive heart attack while pulling into the parking lot off Chester Pike around 12:30 p.m., his son, Fred Jr., said yesterday.
Eric Marrero, 28, manager of a neighboring furniture-leasing store, said he saw a gray Lincoln sedan crash into the front of the sandwich shop.
Marrero said rescuers dragged a heavyset man from the car and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but to no avail. Aldrich was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. There were no other injuries.
Aldrich, who lived in Folsom, was a decorated Marine Corps veteran who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He had been living in Delaware County for several years and was no longer active in the underworld, according to law enforcement sources.
In the mid-1990s, however, he was a top associate of mobster Ron Previte and frequently was the driver for then-mob boss John Stanfa.
Aldrich was driving Stanfa and his son, Joseph, to work on the morning of Aug. 31, 1993, when their car was ambushed in a drive-by shooting during rush hour on the Schuylkill Expressway.
An unmarked van with portholes cut into the side panel pulled up alongside the silver-gray Cadillac Seville that Aldrich was driving, according to police reports. Two gunmen inside the van began strafing the side of the Cadillac with 9mm machine pistols. John Stanfa, a passenger in the front seat, ducked. His son, riding in the back, was hit in the face.
Aldrich, according to underworld and law enforcement sources, reacted instinctively, ramming the side of the van and forcing it off the highway at Vare Avenue. He then gunned the engine of his car and, with a rear tire shot out and deflated, sped a half mile to the University Avenue exit. He then pulled the car up in front of a luncheonette owned by the Stanfas.
The younger Stanfa was transferred to another vehicle and driven to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was admitted in critical condition.
Joseph Stanfa survived the hit, which came amid a bloody mob war that pitted the Stanfa organization against a rival group headed by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.
No one has been convicted in the shooting, but authorities have attributed the ambush to the Merlino faction of the mob.
Aldrich left the area for a time after John Stanfa and his top associates were jailed in 1994, and the Merlino faction took control of the organization.
Previte remained active, however, while secretly working for the FBI, recording hundreds of conversations that were used to convict Merlino and his associates.
Aldrich was living on medical disability, according to his son, who said his father had several serious medical problems.
He once had owned an auto-body shop in the Fernwood section of the city and occasionally, when able, worked in a shop where his son is currently employed.
But by his own admission, he and Previte earned a living as outlaws.
Long before their association with the mob, they were independent underworld operatives engaging in loan-sharking, gambling, extortion, drug dealing, and prostitution, among other ventures, he once said.
"He was an enigmatic character, to say the least," his son said.
For several years, the younger Aldrich said, his father had been talking about writing a book about his experiences during the war in Vietnam and during his life in the underworld.
He said he wanted to call it From Saigon to South Philly, the son said.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.
In addition to his son, Aldrich is survived by a daughter, Melanie Peterson; a grandson; and a granddaughter.