It is estimated that Mirra murdered 30 to 40 people, although he was never convicted. By age 50, Mirra had spent more than half of his life in prison. Mirra had a reputation of being a ruthless killer with unpredictable mood swings and a very unpleasant demeanor, but was tolerated because he was good at making money.
Mirra was born to Albert Mirra and Millie Embaratto in Manhattan. He was the nephew of Bonanno family caporegime Alfred Embarrato and uncle to street soldier Joseph D'Amico. Mirra was a cousin of capo Richard Cantarella, capo Frank Cantarella, and Bonanno family capo Paul Cantarella.
Mirra was born in the poverty-stricken Lower East Side at Knickerbocker Village where he lived in the same apartment building as Embarrato, Richard Cantarella and D'Amico. Mirra was once a good friend of Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero; Mirra owned the Bus Stop Luncheonette in Little Italy, Manhattan not far from Ruggiero's bar. His relatives D'Amico, Embarrato and Cantarella became involved in major racketeering schemes at The New York Post distribution center behind their housing complex, but Mirra moved on to more successful and prosperous racketeering endeavours.
Mirra worked for Bonanno capo Michael Zaffarano, and was involved in extortion, gambling and drug trafficking. During the 1970s, Mirra confessed to the 1959 assassination of Anthony Carfano and comedian Alan Drake's wife, Janice Hansen Drake. He stood at 6'3" and weighed 230 pounds. The New York Times correspondent Ralph Blumenthal described Mirra's appearance as "Zorba-like". Mirra never drank alcohol, only ginger ale.
As a child and into his adolescence, he had never shown any interest in friendship or romantic relationships, and was bullied throughout his childhood by peers, which ended in violent fights and usually with the other person getting stabbed. Mirra displayed regularly that he was a womanizer who enjoyed group sex. Women became attracted to him, even though he treated them poorly. Mirra never married but had many girlfriends who ranged from "bimbos to movie stars". When he wasn't "hustling" them, he abused them physically and berated them with insults.
Mirra remained a recluse from his fellow mobsters including his own relatives including Richard Cantarella, and eventually even became estranged from his uncle Alfred. The only relative he was close to was his biological mother. Mirra would visit his mother regularly, every Sunday to drive her to Mass, Mother's Day and her birthday. On the day of his visits to his mother, he would not commit any crimes the day before, the day of, or the day after. Mirra was the first contact FBI agent Joseph Pistone made in his undercover operation, which led to his infiltration of the Bonanno family. Pistone was working as an associate for the Colombo family at the time. He introduced Pistone to "Lefty" Ruggiero and offered him a job handling his slot-machine route. Pistone went under the name "Donnie Brasco" and posed as a jewel thief.
Not long after their friendship sparked up in 1977, Mirra fled New York after being indicted for drug trafficking. The FBI caught up with him three months later and he was sent to federal prison again for eight and a half years. When Mirra got out of jail, Brasco had since become close with Ruggiero and was working under him. Mirra argued that Brasco belonged to him, not Ruggiero. Mirra took the issue right to the top and had several meetings over the situation. In the end, Ruggiero won.
After the sudden death of his capo Michael Zaffarano, Mirra took over the Bonanno family pornography empire and worked under the powerful Sicilian capo Cesare Bonventre. Mirra also muscled in on several Little Italy, Manhattan restaurants and bars. He was involved in a vending machine operation that dealt in slot machines, peanut vending machines, video arcade machines and pinball machines that were distributed all over New York City. He had them installed in stores, luncheonettes, social clubs and after-hours establishments.
The slot machines, since they were illegal, would be installed in the establishment's back room or basement. The coin collection route produced $2,000 a week, and he would open the machines with a key he carried and give the store owner his cut of the profits ($25 and up). Mirra was involved in "strong arm" schemes and extorted from several bars and restaurants. Each of the owners would pay him $5,000 a week in protection money and he would become angry if he did not receive the money.
Joseph Pistone said that Mirra was the nastiest and most intimidating man he had met during his seven years undercover. Due to Mirra's irrational behavior, nobody could ever build a close relationship with him. He would never talk about anything that did not involve criminal activities. Pistone said that, "One day you might ask him, 'How's your mother, Tony?' He might say, 'Okay.' Another day you ask him, and he might answer, 'What the fuck you so nosy about?' "
He was known among fellow mobsters as a "knife man". It was a common practice for mobsters to carry knives, because they were routinely rousted by police officers and did not want to be caught with firearms. Mirra carried a folding knife with a long blade. Unlike Mirra, it was uncommon for mobsters to ever use their blade, preferring the use of a firearm. Pistone was warned by fellow mobsters that, "If you ever get into an argument with him, make sure you stay an arm's length apart, because he will stab you."
Although Mirra was despised, he was tolerated because he was a remarkably good moneymaker. Mirra was a hard worker who was out on the street every day, from 8am to 3pm, making around $5,000 a day for the family. He once bragged to Pistone that since he had been out of prison, he had made over $200,000. He had a reputation for either cheating people out of money or outright stealing, demanding that goods and services be provided to him "on the arm".
He was known to be violent with women, physically abusing his mistresses and threatening to murder one when she confessed that she was a lesbian. Ruggiero told Pistone that the problem with Mirra was that he was always abusing somebody. Mirra insulted everybody and was always in arguments. Mirra was so loathed by mobsters that when Donnie Brasco was revealed to be an undercover agent, he immediately went into hiding instead of attempting to negotiate for his own life, as he knew that countless mafiosi would be eager to take the opportunity to murder him.
In 1979 following the takeover of Philip Rastelli as leader of the Bonanno family, the family divided into two rival factions. The "Red" Team led by capos Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone and the "Black" Team led by Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano and Joseph Massino. The day before Giaccone, Trinchera and Indelicato were to be ambushed and executed, Mirra announced at the Toyland Social Club to Nicholas Marangello that he was joining the opposition.
On May 5, 1981, the day of the executions, Napolitano called Mirra's uncle, Albert Embarrato, and told him to come down to The Motion Lounge for a "sit down". At the sit down, Napolitano had two of his soldiers flank Embarrato on either side until Napolitano received confirmation that the executions were followed through. Napolitano would later tell Pistone, "When he (Albert) heard that, he turned ash white. He thought we were going to hit him too. But I just reamed at him about Tony, told him Tony was no good; and that he (Albert) better recognize that and act right himself." Embarrato agreed.
When Pistone was revealed as an FBI agent, "Sonny Black" Napolitano, "Lefty" Ruggiero, and Mirra were all on the firing line for initially allowing the infiltration. On February 18, 1982, Mirra's cousin Joseph D'Amico, lured him to a parking garage on North Moore Street and West Street in Lower Manhattan. Mirra, who had just recently been released from prison, was keeping a low profile and was not meeting with anybody. D'Amico was the only person Mirra trusted.
Mirra and D'Amico went to the parking garage, climbed into Mirra's car and drove up to a locked security gate. As Richard Cantarella and his uncle Alfred Embarrato kept watch outside, D'Amico repeatedly shot Mirra in the head at point blank range. "He took out his key, put it in the box, but he didn’t get a chance to turn the box. I shot him at close range several times on the side of his head", D'Amico said during court testimony.
Mirra was discovered hours later by a beat officer from the NYPD, who believed Mirra was a vagrant asleep in his car. Inspecting Mirra's right side revealed a stream of blood draining out of his head and into his jacket. So much blood had pooled inside of his clothing that when the coroner removed Mirra's clothes, his yellow boxer shorts at first appeared red.
Cantarella had been contracted to murder Mirra by Joseph Massino. The hit was in retaliation for the Donnie Brasco infiltration and rumors that he was an informant working for Brasco. After Massino had Napolitano murdered the year before, Mirra went into hiding, fearful he was next. Massino figured Mirra would trust members of his own family, which was why Massino gave Cantarella and Embarrato the assignment. "I was the only one who could get close to him", D'Amico later told investigators.