Former hitman, Attica prison escapee "Mad Dog" Sullivan dies

Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan, a notorious mob hit man who once escaped from the maximum security prison at Attica, died in a New York prison last week.

A notorious mob hit man who once escaped from the maximum security prison at Attica has died in a New York Prison.

Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan was 78 and well known to law enforcement officials and the FBI in Rochester.

Sullivan was once hired to perform a murder-for-hire during the mob turf wars in Rochester where he also gave a jail house interview to Channel 13.

"I'm a nice Irish kid. I went to Catholic schools just the same as anyone else," he said in that interview in 1981.

At the time he was suspected of ten murders around the state including one in Irondequoit. The list would later grow.

Lt. Mike DiGiovanni of the Irondequoit Police Department recalls the night of December 17, 1981 when as a rookie, he became engaged in a shoot-out with Sullivan.

"The first round he shot, he shot high and he took the light out on the top of the patrol car," DiGiovanni told 13 WHAM's Jane Flasch.

An officer at the time, he was on routine patrol when he came upon a black Cadillac driving erratically on Empire Boulevard with its lights out.

"Something didn't feel right when I saw that car come at me and I said I'm going to see where this goes," he recalled.

During the chase on snowy roads, Lt. DiGiovanni says the Caddy spun out of control and the driver took off on foot.

The passenger, John "Mad Dog" Sullivan stood his ground.

"He gets out and he starts leveling the gun at me and I remember thinking 'you're going to get me? Well I'm going to take you with me,'" said DiGiovanni. "I just kicked open the door of the car and drew my weapon."

He says Sullivan fired three shots. The first one took out the red light on top of the patrol car. The others were lower and bounced off the hood and into the windshield.

Sullivan and his accomplice were fleeing from a mob-style execution at the Blue Gardenia Restaurant on Empire.

They had been hired to kill John Fiorino, a suspected figure in the mob turf wars that pitted the "A-team' against the "B-team."

In an hour-long interview in the Monroe County Jail, Sullivan would deny his crime and have some choice words for his accomplice who later became an informant for police and had agreed to testify.

"This isn't even a stool pigeon," Sullivan said. "This is the lowest form of life in my eyes. It isn't even a rat who knows something."

The NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has confirmed that Sullivan, 78, was pronounced dead from unknown causes on June 9th at Fishkill Correctional Facility.

He was serving three life sentences and is also the only inmate ever known to escape from Attica where he was being held in 1971.

He did so by hiding in a truck delivering flour to the prison kitchen.

"Once the truck was empty and no one was around, he climbed in and buried himself under the empty bags. The truck was waived out and off he went," said Democrat and Chronicle reporter Gary Craig.

Craig has researched the escape for his book "Seven Million."

He says another Irish prisoner who was also a well-known musician created a diversion by playing his guitar in the courtyard.

"The other inmate distracted the guards while Sullivan snuck into the truck," said Craig.

Before his death, Sullivan would be a suspect in 20 murders. Yet he called the mob presence in Rochester non-existent.

"Mafioso- have you ever heard anything more ridiculous in your life?" he said. "You've got people out there chocking on their linguini in hysterical laughter reading this crap."

Lt. DiGiovanni says the bullet holes in his patrol car suggest otherwise.

"There were holes where my head would have been If I didn't see him coming and got out of the car," he said.

Asked if he thought Sullivan was trying to kill him, the Lt. replied "Absolutely."

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