The Gangster, Jersey Joe & The Bo-Bet

Man O'War, Felix Bocchicchio

This post is copied from, or based on, the writings of Rick Grenda in his Facebook Group, About South Jersey.

The history of a Mt Ephraim hotel reveals a story that could have been script for Hollywood movie staring James Cagney or Edward G Robinson.

Felix Bocchicchio was born in the coal mining region of Central Pennsylvania in 1906. His father, an Italian immigrant worked for the railroad. He was raised in a blue-collar neighborhood and had 7 brothers and sisters.

His life of crime began when he was 17, arrested for breaking and entering, and robbery. By the time he was 20 he had become a chauffeur for a local mob boss and was engaged in enforcement, prostitution, gambling, and alcohol smuggling.His nickname was “Man-O-War.”

In 1927 he was charged with Pandering (arranging prostitution), and initially escaped arrest by fleeing police in a gun battle. He was later arrested and sentenced to 5-10 years. He only served 1½, after successfully claiming that his sentence was excessive and promising to get married and settle down.

He returned to his rough and rowdy ways and was suspected in a string of armed robberies and shootings. He was then charged with a murder that resulted from an armed robbery but fled to South Jersey.

In 1931, his sister was living on the White Horse Pike in Stratford where she owned a gas station/diner (Stratford Diner). On an anonymous tip, Felix was arrested and sent to the Camden County jail to await extradition. He was sent back to Pennsylvania to await trial, but escaped from jail. According to newspaper reports he picked a lock, sawed through bars, and climbed a 12 ft wall! Authorities believed he had inside help.

He remained fugitive for 6 months, but was caught after being shot in the leg during a violent gun battle between rival gangs at house of prostitution near Washington DC. He was again tried, but prosecutors did not succeed in convicting him in the shooting, but he did get 1-2 years for his jailbreak. He served the time and after being released he settled on Clifton Ave in West Berlin.

He was then suspected in robberies and a killing of Camden bookmaker but never charged. He is however arrested for placing gambling devices (pinball machines that paid winners in cash) in several Camden establishments. He is also charged and convicted of operating a still and is sentenced to 2 years in a federal jail. (Atlanta).

In the late 1930’s he moves from violent crime to sports. He became the owner of the Camden Bears, a pro-football team of the Camden Suburban League. And in the 1940’s he becomes a Camden Boxing promoter. He moves to 200 Kings Hwy in Mt Ephraim living with his wife Elizabeth and a brother Patrick. Records also show an address at 16 Black Horse Pike, Mt Ephraim.

Felix was also a partner with his brother Anthony, owning City Liquors, which began on the corner of the Pike and Kings Hwy, but later moved to next door to the Bo-Bet, now Canals.

In 1945 he hooks up with Arnold Cream aka Jersey Joe Walcott. By that time Jersey Joe was over 30 years old had about hung up his boxing gloves and was working in the shipyard. He was living in a shack with his wife and kids and struggling to make ends meet. Then in December 1944 he was asked to box in an exhibition match to benefit servicemen. He did and was rewarded with a ton of coal to keep his family warm during the winter. His benefactor was Felix Bocchicchio. The following month he was coaxed out of retirement and signed with Bocchicchio. Felix was a novice promoter, but he had connections and for the first time in his life Jersey Joe got some top-notch professional training. He then had a string of victories which earned him title bouts. Jersey Joe eventually won the heavyweight title. After his association with Jersey Joe, Felix was able to stay out of trouble. In 1957 he was named Sportsman of the Year for his work as a boxing promoter and a supporter of youth sports activities.

Jersey Joe fought his last bout in 1953 and he and Felix retired from boxing. In 1954 Felix (Bo) & his wife Elizabeth (Bet) opened a motel on the Black Horse Pike in Mt Ephraim. Adjacent to the motel Jersey Joe and Felix opened an automatic car wash (still a very new thing) & service station.The Bo-Bet’s rooms featured air conditioning, TV & telephone, running ice water? room service, valet, and a coffee shop for breakfast and lunch. A very modern motel for its time. They later added a swimming pool. We used to call it the No-Tel Motel. I sure there was some pandering going on there.

Felix Bocchicchio died in 1975 at the age of 68. The Bo-Bet is now a Budget Inn.



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