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       Irving Belkowitz was born in a small village outside of Rome, New York where his father was a full colonel in the United States Air Force at the Griffiss Sac Command Base. His father, Israel Belkowitz was the rare Jewish pilot flying jets until that sad day when he had spacial disorientation flying out of a cloud, went down instead of up and careened into the ground at 2000 miles an hour. When the corpsmen were sent to retrieve his remains, all that was found was a large hole with dirt and a few pieces of bones. Fortunately, they also found a single silver eagle, his insignia, and could therefore say they had definitively found the colonel. His few remains were placed in a casket and he was buried with military honors, flag draped over the coffin which contained very little of his earthly being, mainly earth.

Twelve years old Irving and his 42 years old mother, Israel’s second wife, Bella Vespucci Belkowitz were the only family members present.  She received a folded flag and after the ceremony mother and son returned to their home to begin life without a head of the house.  Bella, a Catholic, Sicilian had married her Jewish husband much to the grief of both his and her parents. Both families had deserted these wayward children who had married outside their faith. To make matters worse, three years later Bella developed breast cancer and died within two years with metastases to the bones and brain.

          Irving was alone without either family taking him in, and he was sent initially to a homeless shelter and then to an orphanage. Within six months, 17 years old Irving, now six feet tall, wiry, and street smart, ran away from the shelter and made his way to New York City. He changed his name to Louis Vespucci and melted into the sinister backstreets of Brooklyn where he soon began earning money by simple thievery and odd jobs. With his new name and minimal education, he was soon discovered by a local mafia chief and within a year his old life, Jewish/Catholic heritage and the Belkowitz name were forgotten.

          Over the next five years he rose in the wise guy organization achieving financial success and a major position in his new borgata or “family”, progressing from enforcer to messagero and eventually achieving the title of caporegime. By the age of twenty-six he had a home on Long Island and married Mary Castellano, daughter of the boss of bosses, thereby securing his place in the Mafioso society.  Within six years he had three children and a reputation as a rough, no-nonsense man respected and feared by everyone. Unlike many of his goomba friends, who were often conservative and staying out of the limelight, Louis, or Louis the Leopard as he was now known, was into lavish displays of wealth and expenditure for his jewel encrusted wife and expensive toys for his spoiled children. He remembered the poverty of his earlier days and reacted by forever putting his past in his past.

          On July 4, amidst the fireworks, some loyal American decided to celebrate the country’s birthday by “hoisting” Louis on his own petard, using a real petard. Louis was totally discombobulated! Mary was devastated and stood silently by the flower draped coffin at the wake, gazing in at the crispy remains of her husband. She wanted to jump into the casket with him and was restrained by friends and the grasping arms of her children.

          “I want my Louie”, she cried. “I can’t live without him.!”

          It was at that juncture that she was approached by a man in a pin-striped suit. Theodore Kropotnik had the perfect solution for her.

          “You never need to be alone,” he told her. “We can have Louis cremated and his ashes can be made into a diamond which you can wear as a ring or a necklace. He will always be with you. As we all know: Diamonds are forever! Just choose the size and the color.”

So, rough-cut mobster Louie was cooked and his ashes were converted into a princess cut, seven carat blue diamond which now hangs around Mary’s neck for her eternity.

          There has arisen a new industry in the world of the deceased. For millennia, men and women have passed into the great beyond only to have their bodies preserved and entombed in pyramids, buried six feet under, sent to Davy Jones’ Locker, left to decay on a battlefield, or cremated, having their ashes buried or thrown to the wind or into a lake or ocean. We have truly come into the modern era with the advent of such companies as Life Gem, Ashes to Diamonds, Algordanza, Cremation Solutions, Memorial Diamonds and perhaps more esthetically Phoenix Diamonds; I suppose they advertise that you rise from the flames of death like the fabled mythological bird. A fitting ending for Louis the leopard.

                              He became not a diamond in the rough, but a rough in the diamond!