Video by Jessica Leibowitz

The Hole, ten blocks that time and New York City forgot, draws two types of people attracted to its isolation: those who don't want to be found, and those with something to bury. Wedged between East New York and Howard Beach, straddling the Brooklyn-Queens Border, the Hole is like nowhere else in the city. Pickups rumble down crude dirt roads. Sprawling bodies of standing water slake the thirst of roaming, droopy-eyed dogs. Stray cats creep through the tangled weeds that dominate the Hole's many vacant lots. They're probably the only living beings who truly know what else is in there.

"If you closed your eyes here and opened them in the Hole, you wouldn't think you were in New York anymore," said a police officer, gesturing to the surrounding bustle of nearby Linden Boulevard. "You'd think you were in Louisiana."

The rough boundaries are Conduit Avenue, Ruby Street and Linden Boulevard, but when you enter the Hole, you know it: The ground tilts downward into a dust-covered crater, a depression that local lore measures at between 12 and 30 feet below sea level. (The Department of Environmental Protection puts it at eight.) Its haphazardly laid macadam and relative isolation make it a great place to dump a body.

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It's unclear when the mob first began employing the Hole as its personal mass graveyard, though the first known victim surfaced in 1981, after a couple of kids came across the corpse of Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, a member of the Bonanno crime family who found himself on the wrong side of a civil war. It's best known, though, as a preferred cadaver receptacle for the notorious John Gotti, who assumed leadership of the Gambino crime family in 1985. 

Residents of the Hole will casually point out where bodies have been exhumed from the muck. One man named Angel, a taxi dispatcher who moved to the Hole in an effort to "not be found," waved a hand around his yard, where a cluster of chickens congregated under a dilapidated car to consider some slices of watermelon.

"They found several bodies in this yard, they found seven across the street, four on the corner, about 13 over here in that mall...they stopped that project last summer because they found bones," he said.

Angel chose the Hole because he's got a bad history, and he'd prefer not to run into old associates from his past. "Those kinds of things, they scare me," he said. He continued, unprompted.

"You got grimy people down here. They'll fucking throw a rock at you from around the corner or some shit. People down here are treacherous like that," he said. "Not too many people would come down here. And if you were to come down here you gotta have a lot of guts and balls."

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It's not entirely true that no one comes down into the Hole. The area piqued public interest in 2004, when the bodies of Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera and Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone were found languishing in the Hole's damp earth. Since then, several journalists and documentarians have made the unholy pilgrimage to this mobbed-up Gehenna, eager to see for themselves this unloved parcel of land that's been described as a Wild West border town, not only for the nearby horse stables maintained by the Federation of Black Cowboys, but for its isolation and its lawlessness. Gotti is gone now, but he'd still feel right at home here.

Angel is 42, but claims to have known Gotti back in the day. "The life that I lived, you'd meet people like that," he said, though Gotti was "on a different level." Gotti's department was racketeering and extortion; Angel mostly stuck to dealing drugs and robbing drug dealers, though he quickly added that he's over that now, that he's a grandfather and has cleaned up his life. 

The two first met at Lenny's Clam Bar and Italian Restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard, one of Gotti's favorite haunts.

"He wasn’t the scary type,” Angel said. “He would let you see him, and he’d see you. He'd walk around and give people money and stuff like that. "He just had a...you could say he had a rich lifestyle, you know?"

Angel pointed down the street, where he said we could find a green house frequented by Gotti that was reportedly bugged by the FBI. "That's how they caught him," he insisted. After leaving Angel's, we went down the street to look, but were unable to find any building that could be described as "green." The houses in the Hole all seem to have been drained of their color, and are uniformly the shade of ashen putty.

Angel said the Hole has gotten safer, but perhaps that's not saying much. Across from his property, a charred late-model SUV sat on the side of the road. Its windows were shattered, the remaining fragments of glass curled into a menacing sneer. It smelled like a barbecue, and liquid dripped from its undercarriage onto the dusty street.

Not too long ago, Angel said, a neighbor saw a man grab a little girl off the street, pulling her into a bush. The woman called 911, but it was too late—the police apparently found her dead. I was unable to find any news reports of this, but a neighbor walking by corroborated Angel's story.

"Raped and everything, just around the corner," Angel said. "And it was fuckin' broad daylight."

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Even for people like Angel, who came here to escape their old lives, the Hole's isolation is double-edged. On the one hand, its remoteness means residents are generally left alone when they want to be. On the other, it means they have to fend for themselves. Sanitation collects trash, but the whole place runs on septic tanks—one of just a handful of spots in the entire city that isn't hooked up to the sewage system. 

The lack of drainage means a permanent, fetid lake has been allowed to form in the intersection of 76th Street and Dumont Avenue. For a sense of its depth, let's just say that when a large junkyard dog wades into it, the water reaches midway up to its knees.

According the DEP, Douglaston Manor in northeast Queens and portions of the Staten Island's South Shore are also on septic. A spokesperson said the agency is pushing to extend the sewer system out to the those areas, but the Hole isn't on the priority list. Sewer systems rely on gravity to function, so until the Hole is raised to sea level, it's going to remain as it is—which is to say, partially submerged in dirt water.

Filling the Hole would be a DOT project, though when asked about the last time it was paved and whether there was any plan to raise it, the agency sent a single line response: "DOT is actively working with DEP to seek funding to address the conditions in the area." This seems dubious—a 2009 photo essay by photographer Nathan Kensinger reveals that the Hole looks exactly as battered today as it did six years ago.

Requests for more information—a timeline, a tentative plan—were met with silence. The DOT refused even to comment on the last time streets were paved in the area, though a passing glance at the narrow strip of cracked concrete that snakes in broken stretches throughout the neighborhood quickly reveals the answer.

If improvement does come, it will likely be as the accidental byproduct of a project to rezone East New York. New York City real estate is, after all, an increasingly precious commodity, and the days of Angel's free-roaming chickens seem inevitably numbered.

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Residents of the Hole have become adept at taking care of themselves, having long since learned that no one else is going to.

"We call the city, we call 311, we call everybody to come down, and it’s always the same thing with them," said Angel's neighbor, Zeenan. "The same answer we get—­'we'll send somebody over there.' Then they come over, they look, and they do nothing."

The day we spoke to him was Zeenan's 60th birthday, and he worries that the inaccessibility of the Hole would be a big problem if he ever needs an ambulance, particularly in the winter, when the Hole's neighborhood lake becomes its neighborhood ice puddle, and when snow drifts grow unabated.

"How can the ambulance get in here? They’re not gonna walk all the way down here with a stretcher to carry you out," he said.

"We called everybody—the city, everybody," said one decade-long resident whose home is puddle-adjacent. "They haven’t done anything. Every time it rains it gets worse."

A Department of Sanitation spokesperson told Gothamist that the agency salts and plows critical roadways first, so that they're clear for emergency vehicles. Heavily traveled roads are next, followed by tertiary streets. "Ruby Street is categorized as a tertiary street which are predominately side and dead end streets," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

In other words, the Hole isn't getting plowed.

"They don’t give a shit," Angel said. "I’ve got snowblowers and shit. We've got machinery. I’ve got a Bobcat also, so when it gets bad like that, I just jump in the Bobcat and we just go around the blocks."

But residents of the Hole take obvious pride in their self-sufficiency. They couldn't live here if they couldn't fend for themselves, and they wouldn't live here if there weren't benefits to being off the grid. They'd like things to be better—basic first-world sanitation would be a start—but that doesn't mean they think they've got it bad. For people like Zeenan, the Hole's rural feel and tight-knit sense of community make the hassle worth it.

"It’s a nice area, the neighbors are good. All my neighbors are good people," he said. He describes a fig tree he's got in his yard, and adds that his neighbor has three of them.

"It's better than over there," said a woman as she walked her dog, gesturing to the projects looming in the distance. "Less pollution."