Serpico sets the record straight, Part 8Baltimore Post-Examiner

Serpico sets the record straight, Part 8

Editor’s Note: Read the complete series on Frank Serpico under Special Reports.

Star and Crescent

I lived in Greenwich Village. The night I got shot, I needed something to distract me. I had all this crap I was going through in my head. I went into a little shop in the Village. They had earrings and stuff and I bought myself a pair of gold star earrings. They weren’t gold, they might have been, I don’t know, they weren’t expensive. They were stars, a little star and I had one in each ear okay. Around my neck I had a gold teddy bear with movable arms that a friend had given me in Sweden. I also had a star and crescent around my neck. Nobody ever pointed this out, but if you watch close on some of the posters and in the movie, Pacino had it, he wore a star and crescent around his neck. You know, star and crescent, the Muslim thing.

So now, when I got shot, I was laying there in a gurney. The nurse said, hey look somebody lost an earring. In fact, I write about it in my book, it was a tiny star.  A star has fallen, that’s how I end the chapter. Maas, he didn’t write it as a star. To him it had to be a plain gold circlet. This is what happens when history gets distorted.  

Frank what’s the story behind the star and crescent?

Winnie the Pooh (Wikipedia)

I always traveled. I had been to Africa and met this family that I got on a bus with. I was the only white person on the bus and I sat down next to them. I had some dried fruit and stuff and we became friends. They would write to me, and advocate their religion, the religion of Islam. They had sent me a copy of the Holy Quran inscribed for my edification. I was always interested in anything new. I had this star and crescent necklace and I wore it around my neck. I was working undercover and I said hey, it was part of my thing that I was doing. It was a charm. I also had a gold Winnie-the Pooh Bear with movable arms and legs.  

I felt deserted

The doctor who saved my life, his name was Zeki Igar. He was a Turkish doctor at the Jewish Hospital. That hospital was in the 80th Precinct, the same precinct that my brother had the problem with the cops who were shaking him down.

One day, I was on my way to the operating room to get my jaw wired. They wanted to wire my jaw shut. They said it was necessary for my jaw to heal properly.  It was a big lie. I don’t know if I would have come out of that alive. As much as I could resist, I called for Doctor Igar. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move. I had drainage from my cerebral membrane.  omehow, I got one of the nurses.

My nurses were all black. They used to sing to me at night. They called me Sadu. They said Sadu was the holy man in their village. They would come to me at night and ask me if I needed anything.  They treated me like gold. 

So now the nurse went to get Doctor Igar. He went out to get some lunch. He comes running and turns the gurney around and told them that I didn’t need an operation.  The doctor who wanted to wire my jaw shut, I later found out that his son was a cop.  

The thing is this. I believe they tried to kill me while I was in the hospital. Somebody tried, a guy in scrubs was going to give me a needle I wasn’t supposed to get.  I was hooked up and this guy was nervously fumbling with my arm. I looked up and it was a black guy in scrubs. I had a piece of the fragment of the bullet inside the hinge of my jaw. I could hardly open my mouth. I said what are you doing and he ran out the door. Doctor Igar told me I wasn’t supposed to get any medication that morning.  So that’s how I know there was some foul play going on. 

I wanted one of my guns in the hospital, my life was in danger. Nobody would bring it to me. I felt deserted. 

One cop wanted to come in and talk to me. I think this was in the book or the movie. The guard said to him, don’t go in there, he’s no good. The guy came in anyway. He was a good guy. He said he tried to do something and they went after him to. You know, there were good cops.

A Swedish journalist had visited me while I was in the hospital and took a picture of me posing with a toy gun and a toy detective shield that he had brought. The caption says Serpico and props. The picture is in the documentary.

While I was in the hospital, The New York Magazine called Robert Daley and said Serpico just got shot, write a story about it [Portrait of an Honest Cop, Target for Attack].  He’s in the documentary.  He had nothing but good things to say.  He became deputy police commissioner in charge of public relations.  He later wrote Target Blue and Prince of the City.  

You’re busting my chops

Here’s another story that was never told. I was living in Switzerland in an 1802 Coldwater chalet. I have a visitor, a good man, deputy commissioner of investigations. His name was Dave Dorsen, he was a neighbor in the village. He came to visit me on unrelated business when my phone rings. I had a wall phone in the chalet. It’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I thought, how does the FBI get my phone number in an 1802 Coldwater chalet.  

They want me to come back to New York to testify. I said to the guy, is this the same FBI that I so admired in my youth? Oh yeah, yeah, he said.  Let me tell you Mr.  Serpico, I really admire you. I said, I’m trying to get my life together and you’re busting my chops. You know what you can do, don’t you?  He said it’s only fair to tell you that we have a subpoena out for you and if you don’t respond you can be held in contempt and be subject to arrest.

Frank Serpico

Frank, what did they want you to testify about?

Interstate corruption with the plainclothes units. I asked him, how many witnesses do you have?  Oh, you see, you’re my main witness, he said.  I said, you know what you can do don’t you, and I hung up.

Then I said to Dave, I can’t stay here tonight, I think they’re going to come for me.  I said take me down to Lausanne, I’m going to rent a car, wire for some money, and leave first thing in the morning. I stayed at my friend’s chalet at the mountain. Five o’clock in the morning my friend’s phone rang and Dorsen said, Paco, they just left here, they were looking for you.  So, I got in the car and left.

May I shake your hand         

I had picked up my money at the American Express office in Lausanne and headed to Germany. At the Westfalia Volkswagon factory I bought an orange camper right off the line. I drove around Europe and ended up in Holland, renting a place on the Spaarne Canal in Haarlem. One sunny afternoon I’m out in the garden, the garden is right on the canal. I heard a scream and looked down the canal, and saw some kids and something flopping in the water. I go down and get this little girl out of the water. A crowd starts forming. I hear police sirens, and I figure I should get my ass out of there before the cops get here. I figure I don’t need any accolades, like I said, when you do a good deed, that’s your reward right there.

Now, I’m telling this story in the new documentary and I don’t know how anybody is going to understand, because I say, hell, there goes Holland. They left out what happened in Switzerland, part of what happened.  

A couple of nights later, on the same canal, my dog Alfie is barking by the window. Some guy is breaking into a boat. They say once a cop, I call the cops. I said somebody’s breaking into a boat. Then I said come on Alfie.  You go over the bridge to get to the other side, and the police were right in front of my door. I had my bike there, that’s how I got to the little girl right away. The cops get the guy.  He’s got his arms filled with the booty. They treated him like a human being and I thought, wow how civil. One of the cops said to me, what’s your name? I heard myself say I don’t want to get involved. How many times have I heard that before, right. I said my name is Frank Serpico, I’m a retired New York City police detective. He writes it in his pad.    

The next morning two detectives come to my door. They don’t say nothing, they put me in a car and they take me to police headquarters. That’s when I said, hell, here goes Holland. I was thinking about what happened in Switzerland.     

So, we go in and we pass through the cells and they were like stainless steel and I thought, you can eat off the floors in the place. The Raymond Street jail in New York City was like a dungeon, with a shithole in the corner. They take me up one flight of stairs, two flights of stairs and I’m saying, what are they doing. I was like in The Twilight Zone. They don’t tell me anything.

We come to this door, glass panel, it says, Commissaris, commissioner. They knock on the door, someone says, come in. We walk in and this gray-haired man snaps to, comes towards me with his hand outstretched and he said, sir, sir, may I shake your hand. I’m like, what. I said to him, sir, it is always a pleasure to shake the hand of a police officer that wants to shake my hand.  On his desk, he’s got a copy of the book Serpico and he asked me to sign it, and that’s what I wrote in the book.

“Some may say I am full of it, but my life has been like a serendipitous dream, one scene after another.”

Frank Serpico today

What I’m getting at is who would ever guess this commissioner’s name to be Eindelijk, which translates into English meaning “finally.” I thought, I finally met a police commissioner that wants to shake my hand.  Not like Patrick Murphy in New York who bad mouthed me in his book.     

He said he wanted to show the film, Serpico, to his brass and would I come and say a few words. I said under one condition. He said what’s that. I want all their wives present. He said sure, may I ask why.  I said sure, but I’m not going to tell you until the night of the film. 

So, they showed the film and I said, well ladies and gentlemen what did you think. Ah, can’t believe it, can’t believe police officers would do such a thing, they said.  I said well, that’s very noble, but unfortunately that’s very good, but it is also very bad, because if you don’t believe it I said, it will happen. I told the wives and girlfriends, if your husbands or boyfriends come home with a mink coat, it didn’t fall off the truck; They got the message.   

A year later, Commissioner Eindelijk called me up and he said can I talk to you Paco, he heard my friends call me Paco. He said Paco, you were right, it happened. They had a big narcotics scandal in Amsterdam. Yes, there are stranger things in the heavens that you can imagine.


About the author

Doug Poppa

Doug Poppa is a US Army Military Police Veteran, former law enforcement officer, criminal investigator and private sector security and investigations management professional with 40 years of experience. In 1986 Mr. Poppa was awarded “Criminal Investigator of the Year” by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia for his undercover work in narcotics enforcement. He was also re-assigned to the Northern Virginia Regional Narcotics Enforcement Task Force for 18 months. In 1991 and again in 1992 Mr. Poppa’s testimony under oath in court led to the discovery that exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense by the prosecutor and sheriff’s office officials during the 1988 trial of a man accused of attempted murder of his wife that led to his conviction. As a result of his testimony the man was ordered released from prison, given a new trial in 1992 and found not guilty. Mr. Poppa became the subject of local and national news media attention as a result of his testimony which led to the demise of his 12-year police career. After losing his job, at the request of the FBI, Mr. Poppa infiltrated in an undercover capacity a group of men who were plotting the kidnapping of a Dupont Chemical fortune heir and his wife in 1992. His stories have been featured on Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and CBS News’ Street Stories with Ed Bradley. Contact the author.
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