Tommy Lucchese

Tommy Lucchese

Thomas Lucchese (1899-1967) was one of the most successful and powerful mafiosi ever to have lived. What were the relationships that made him who he was?

Tommy Lucchese spent his formative years in a neighborhood dominated by the Morello-Terranova gang of Corleone. At the height of his power, some of the men closest to him were Corleonesi, people who’d worked with Giuseppe Morello, and who Tommy had known and worked with since his teens.

He was born Gaetano Lucchese in the city of Palermo on the second of December, 1899. Multiple sources report that Tommy’s father was an honest laborer who hauled concrete. This is not supported by the vital records. Baldassare Lucchese was a barber in New York City—that is the occupation he reported in census records, and he was a barber back in Palermo. Baldassare’s father, Vincenzo Lucchese, was a barber as well, and the son of a gardener. In Palermo, a gardener was someone who held a position of responsibility in the citrus groves. Gardeners were more like managers than laborers, and worked closely with the Mafia, who dominated the lucrative and fickle citrus industry around Palermo. Barbers were small business owners whose clientele needed to maintain their appearance: in other words, everyone worth knowing.

Gaetano was the second oldest of his parents’ surviving children, and the oldest son, when they emigrated to the United States together in 1911. The year before they arrived, Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo went to prison for counterfeiting. While the Lo Monte brothers initially ran Morello’s gang on his behalf, one of Morello’s captains, Gaetano Reina, split off from them and started his own Family in the Bronx, with Tommy Gagliano as his underboss.

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(Another nitpicking point to make here is that Gagliano was born “Tommaso” and Lucchese was born “Gaetano.” “Tommy” was a common nickname for Gaetano because the Sicilian nickname was “Tanu,” which sounds a lot like “Tommy” to the English speaker.)

At nineteen, Tommy Lucchese was working in a munitions shop where a workplace accident took his thumb and forefinger; after that, he could no longer work, but continued to appear on census records as a machinist until he married. Prohibition was enacted the following year. Joe “The Boss” Masseria hired “Lucky” Luciano, a promising young criminal who had already made some of the associations that would be a part of his story to the end, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. Luciano would go on to mentor some of the most powerful gangsters in New York, and Tommy Lucchese, just two years younger than Lucky, was among them. 

Luciano recruited Lucchese to a burglary ring. As Masseria’s soldier, Lucchese killed an estimated thirty people, using his reputation to intimidate witnesses. Two arrests for homicide would later come to haunt him, when the Mafia endured the scrutiny of federal and state investigating committees. He was caught stealing a car in 1921, sentenced at Riverhead, on Long Island. He served two years, eight months at Sing Sing. Upon his release at the end of 1924, he got right back into business with Luciano and Costello, working for Arnold Rothstein as rum runners. 

He married Concetta Vassallo in Queens in 1927. His parents appear to have followed him there; his father died in Queens in 1936. Thomas and Concetta had two children, a daughter, Frances, born in 1932 and a son, born in 1929, who was named Baldassare after Tommy’s father, as is traditional, but who went by Bobby and later was known as Robert. Frances attended Vassar, and Robert went to the US Military Academy and became an officer in the Air Force.

When he was still living in East Harlem and enjoying the protection of Gaetano Reina’s 107th Street gang, Tommy ran one of his first rackets. His window cleaning business had an aggressive sales tactic: if you didn’t engage them, your windows would be smashed. After his prison stint, he created a live poultry cartel. He controlled every aspect of the business from the suppliers to the slaughterers through a trade group reminiscent of Gagliano’s “information service” on plasterers in the Bronx, or commercial trash hauling throughout New York City for decades. In July 1928, Lucchese was arrested in connection with the murder of Louis Cerasulo.

Joe Masseria began making greater demands on Gaetano Reina, who switched his allegiance to the competing Salvatore Maranzano. Masseria told Luciano to kill Reina, and after some delay, he gave the job to Vito Genovese, who carried it out in February 1930 as Reina left his girlfriend’s place. Tommy Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese were Reina’s top lieutenants and Gagliano, who was sixteen years older than Lucchese, was expected to take over the Reina Family. (Amoruso disagrees and says Lucchese was Reina’s underboss before he was Gagliano’s.) However, Masseria installed his own man, Joseph Pinzolo, who was rejected by most of Reina’s men. Masseria was threatened by Luciano’s power and wanted him gone. He thought he was leading Luciano into a trap, but it was Luciano, with Gagliano and Lucchese, who orchestrated the surprise attack on Joe “The Boss” in April.

In the 1930 census, Tommy Lucchese’s family lived in Corona, Queens, and he claimed to be the manager of a plumbing business. He had rackets in the garment district in Manhattan, which he developed by lending money to business owners and selling them high-end liquor for entertaining their clients. When his borrowers couldn’t repay him, Lucchese became their partner. 

Another of his businesses, in partnership with Joseph Pinzolo, was California Dry Fruit Importers on Broadway. The company imported “wine bricks,” which were dried grapes that could be used to produce wine. Joseph Pinzolo was found dead in a room leased by the import business on 5 September 1930. Critchley suggests that Lucchese set Pinzolo up to be killed; Hunt says Lucchese and Gagliano appear to have worked together to carry out the assassination; YouTuber Jeff Canarsie says Lucchese carried it out himself.

Salvatore Maranzano was pressing forward with his ambition to control the entire Mafia throughout the United States. Lucchese pretended to be disaffected with Luciano and ingratiated himself with Maranzano. He learned Maranzano had set hit man Vincent Coll on the job of killing Luciano, to whom Lucchese was personally loyal because of the help he’d offered, particularly when he got out of prison. He also knew that Maranzano was expecting his own import-export business to be investigated by the IRS. On 10 September 1931, Jewish gangsters entered Maranzano’s offices posing as IRS agents and assassinated the boss, ending the Castellammarese War.

Although Luciano generally gets the lion’s share of the credit for taking down both Masseria and Maranzano, Hortis says that Gagliano and Lucchese immediately began plotting revenge for Reina’s murder, and led the effort to kill Maranzano. They went regularly to his offices on Broadway and were in the waiting room outside to prevent interruption by Maranzano’s men while their assassins, disguised as the IRS, were inside.

Lucchese continued to be Gagliano’s second under the new Commission structure. In those days before street bosses took the heat off leadership, it was underbosses like Lucchese who ran daily operations for their Mafia gangs. Gagliano was the first boss of his Family to serve on the Commission. He held the position for twenty years. The Gagliano Family was considered one of the more conservative of the Five Families because their upper ranks were almost entirely Sicilian. However, they were closely allied to Luciano, who was famously progressive in his willingness to work with gangsters of all ethnicities.

Lucchese’s appearance and demeanor were cultivated to fit the mold of a legitimate and successful businessman. He was the vice president of Braunel Ltd., a garment manufacturer. He had his rackets in workers’ unions, police corruption, the garment district, poultry, night life, sports betting, and “window cleaning,” but the real money maker was narcotics. Mariano Marsalisi, a Corleonese, was moving heroin into New York for the Gagliano Family as early as the 1930s. Another Family member, Joseph Rao, trafficked drugs through the prison in which he was incarcerated. After World War II ended, there was a resurgence in narcotics sales in the United States. Most of the country bought their illegal drugs wholesale from the Mafia in New York City.

In the 1940 census, the Lucchese family lived in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a short walk from the last place Giuseppe Morello lived. (Masseria’s consigliere at the end of his life, Morello was killed in 1930.) When he registered for the draft, he gave his occupation as secretary of the Fordham Hoisting Equipment Company of the Bronx. Critchley writes that Lucchese partnered with Nunzio Pomilla, a construction and lathing investor and partner in several Bronx businesses with Tommy Gagliano, who was married to Nunzio’s sister.

Lucchese attracted business-savvy gangsters who, like himself, didn’t shy away from using violence. As he had been groomed by Luciano and Gagliano, Lucchese in his turn cultivated Johnny Dioguardi, Vincent Rao, and Antonio Corallo. He made close friends among politicians in the mode of his close associate, Frank Costello, and in this way managed to expunge his youthful record for robbery and gambling. This cleared the way for his naturalization petition to be granted early in 1943. What Lucchese didn’t know was that he’d attracted the attention of federal law enforcement. 

In 1945, Lucchese promoted Vincent Impellitteri for New York City Council president, positioning him to succeed Mayor O’Dwyer when he resigned in 1950. This set Lucchese against the powers of Tammany Hall, which rejected the incompetent Impellitteri in favor of Judge Ferdinand Pecora. The following year, Lucchese secretly supported Impellitteri in his anti-Mafia campaign against Pecora, who was backed openly by Costello. The ruse was discovered soon after Impellitteri’s win. Impellitteri didn’t last long, and when he was gone in 1954, the direct line between the Mafia and City Hall was apparently severed.

In 1950, Thomas Lucchese and his wife had returned to Queens: this time, across Flushing Bay in Malba. Gagliano died early in 1951 at his Long Island home, and Lucchese succeeded him. He made Vincent Rao his consigliere and Stefano LaSalle his underboss. Both men were born in Corleone (Vincent is of no relation to the trafficker, Joseph Rao) and had histories with the old Morello-Terranova Family that Luciano took over. LaSalle left with Reina and took over Giosue Gallucci’s East Harlem rackets when the camorrista was killed in 1915. When Rao, who controlled the plastering cartel put together by Gagliano, retired to Florida in the 1960s, Mariano Macaluso, another Corleonese, replaced him as consigliere. Mariano’s father, Marco, was one of the first officers in Morello’s Ignatz Florio building cooperative.

Tommy Lucchese

With Gagliano gone, Lucchese found himself in the crosshairs of federal investigators and newspaper journalists. The Kefauver hearings exposed him as a leader of the criminal underworld, and the successor to Costello as a kingmaker in New York. His private testimony was read into the public record at a hearing of the New York State Crime Commission. Immediately, Attorney General James P. McGranery moved to have Lucchese denaturalized and deported to Italy. Lucchese had been admitted as a US citizen in 1943, McGranery charged, by not reporting his arrests for murder—in 1928 for Cerasulo, and in 1930 for Pinzolo.

After Luciano was deported in 1946, the balance of power shifted to the more progressive Mafia Families in New York. Lucchese’s crime family was not the largest or most powerful in New York. He made concessions when it benefitted him—he quietly backed Genovese’s 1957 power play to put himself and Carlo Gambino in leadership—but he didn’t forget the hatred Joe Profaci inspired with his greed, and took a different tack, which won the loyalty of his own captains.

In 1962, Tommy Lucchese’s daughter, Frances, married Tommy Gambino, son of Carlo. Lucchese cut Gambino into one of his most lucrative rackets, hijacking freight from Idlewild Airport (renamed JFK in 1963) by controlling the freight handlers’ union.

In the summer of 1965, Lucchese went into the hospital and remained there for more than a year. He had heart trouble and more seriously, a brain tumor which would cause his death. In September 1966, a meeting nicknamed “Little Apalachin” was held at La Stella Restaurant in Queens to discuss the division of his rackets.

Lucchese went home to Lido Beach in April 1967 and died on 13 July 1967. He was 67. He was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens. His wife and son both died in the early Aughties and are interred with him.

Sources

A&E. (2020, December 27). Mobsters: Tommy Lucchese and The Mafia [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRiiWSonP0s 

Amoruso, D. (2001). Profile: Lucchese crime family boss Gaetano Lucchese. Gangsters, Inc. [Website]. https://gangstersinc.org/profiles/blogs/lucchese-boss-gaetano-lucchese 

Atto di nascita, Vincenzo Lucchese. (1828, August 8). Palermo (Sezione Oreto) (oggi Palermo). Record no. 103. https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/ark:/12657/an_ua592935/LezeGMW  Image 107

Cipollini, C. (2017, July 13). Don’t dare call him ‘Three Finger Brown.’ The Mob Museum [Website]. https://themobmuseum.org/blog/lucchese-three-finger-brown-death-anniversary/ 

Critchley, D. (2009). The origin of organized crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge.

Hortis, C. A. (2014). The mob and the city: The hidden history of how the Mafia captured New York. Prometheus Books.

Hunt, T. (2007). White-collar mafioso: Tommy Lucchese (1899-1967). The American Mafia [Website]. https://mafiahistory.us/a010/f_tommylucchese.html

The Jeff Canarsie Podcast Network (MTR-TOTNHP). (2022, October 25). MTR, The Lucchese crime family history parts 1-3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP0wFg4YBsI 

M’Granery acts to deport Luchese to his native Italy. (1952, November 18). The New York Times. Pp. 1+ https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1952/11/18/92676362.html 

Maas, P. (1968) The Valachi Papers. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Marzlock, R. (2011, November 23). Tommy Lucchese, the quiet don in Malba. Queens Chronicle.

https://www.qchron.com/qboro/i_have_often_walked/tommy-lucchese-the-quiet-don-in-malba/article_35483f16-cd56-5fe1-be03-340aa3ccfc45.html

Raab, S. (2005). Five families: The rise, decline, and resurgence of America’s most powerful mafia empires. New York: St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books).

Sing Sing Receiving Blotter, Thomas Luckese. (1922). No. 73617. New York State Archives; Albany, NY, USA; Sing Sing Prison, 1852-1938; Box: 32; Volume: 75 Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers, 1865-1939 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

10 year index of births, 1896-1905 Palermo. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSMZ-Y931-8?i=615 

10 year index of marriages, 1886-1895 Palermo. https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/ark:/12657/an_ua877206/0Mx1nqv Image 323

Underworld king dies. (1967, July 14). The Express (Lock Haven, PA). P. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/5797503/ 

Three “tells” of Mafia families

Three “tells” of Mafia families

The extended family of brothers Ciro and Vincent Terranova and their nephews, Jimmy and Joe “Baker” Catania, have three distinctive “tells” of Mafia families.

The Artichoke King was the most successful of the Morello-Terranova brothers. One measure of his success was that he was the only one of his brothers to die in bed. At the peak of his power, he could afford to be generous to his relatives. He raised the three orphaned children of his brother, Vincenzo, and gave a house to his sister and her husband, the mafioso Ignazio Lupo. When his nephew, Giuseppe “Joe the Baker” Catania was killed by Maranzano’s soldiers in 1931, Ciro paid for a lavish funeral, including a Depression-defying procession of limousines, floral arrangements, and a golden casket fit for a king.

Giuseppe “Joe Baker” Catania. Joe and his older brother, Calogero/Jimmy emigrated as infants from Palermo with their mother to join their father, a baker, in New York City.

While the story of Joe Catania and his brothers is usually relegated to a sentence or two in someone else’s story, the marriages between the Terranova and Catania families point to a deep level of involvement. The “tells” of Mafia families in vital records—of business ownership, unexplained wealth, and marriages arranged to preserve power—put the Catania family at the center of an extended organized crime family. 

The Catanias emigrated from Mezzomonreale, a district of the city of Palermo. Brothers Frank and Tony Catania and their brother-in-law, Rosario La Scala, emigrated to New York and worked as bakers. The Catania brothers had a bakery in Little Italy, then began working out of the Reliable Bronx Italian Bakers. Rosario La Scala worked for a different bakery in the same cooperative. 

According to the paint on the building, still visible on Google Maps, they were established in 1918. The original location was at 2383 Hoffman St.

In the second generation, Tony’s sons Calogero and Giuseppe Catania inherited the family business from their father, and followed their uncle Ciro Terranova into organized crime. Jimmy, as Calogero was called, went to prison for robbery in 1925. The younger brother, called Joe the Baker, was an alleged loan shark and bookmaker. In 1934, Jimmy was arrested with Ignazio Lupo for extortion. Joe was arrested for vagrancy after an armed robbery at a Tepecano Democratic Club-sponsored dinner honoring Magistrate Vitale, part of a NYPD policy of harassing known criminals. Ciro Terranova was routinely harassed by police with the same charge, in the latter years of his career. 

Donato “Danny” Iamascia was another Terranova associate who rated a “glittering pageant” of a funeral when he was killed in 1931.

Joe Catania’s death was said by police to be the result of a war over “brick grapes,” desiccated California wine grapes sold during Prohibition with detailed instructions on how not to make wine from them. In fact, his death came during a short but deadly war between Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano for total dominance of New York’s criminal underworld.

Immediately after Morello and Lupo’s release from prison for counterfeiting, Ciro requested permission to travel to his native Corleone, in Sicily. This is his passport application photograph from 1921, requested for this trip.

Terranova and his nephews were under Masseria’s leadership when Maranzano soldiers mortally assaulted Joe Catania in front of a candy store near his home on Belmont Avenue, in the heart of Bronx’s Little Italy, on 3 February 1931. His uncle Ciro, whose power was at its apex, was hit hard by the death of his nephew and trusted aide. Terranova’s reputation began to weaken. He died in 1938 following a stroke.

Rosario La Scala, the maternal uncle of the Catania brothers, diversified in the 1920s and 30s, operating a live poultry market in East Harlem, and a bakery in the Bronx. Rosario was married to Rosalia Catania, a sister of Ciro Terranova’s wife, Tessie Catania. Their son, Salvatore, married Angelina Terranova, daughter of the late Vincenzo “The Tiger “ Terranova.

In 1930, Jimmy and Joe Catania’s younger brother, Ciro, was in a reformatory. When Joe was killed, he left a wife and two daughters. Ciro married his brother’s widow in 1935. The year before they married, Ciro took a trip to Cuba with his cousin, Salvatore La Scala. In 1940, Ciro appeared in the census twice, once as a candy store owner living with his father, and again with his wife and their children, as the manager of a garage.

Angelina Terranova’s younger brother, Vincent, lived with her and Salvatore for years. Another of Salvatore’s brothers-in-law, Frank Cina, drove a delivery truck for the La Scala bakery in the Bronx, then employed Vincent Terranova in a trucking company. Vincent and his sister Josephine married the children of a fruit dealer from East Harlem: first Josephine in 1934 to Salvatore Ciccone and then Vincent to his sister, Immacolata, known as Margie. 

Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, born in 1934, a captain in the Gambino crime family

Madonna Louise Ciccone traces her Italian roots to Pacentro, according to her Wikipedia biography

It’s been claimed without attribution in online biographies that Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone is the brother of Salvatore and Margie Ciccone. They have a brother named Anthony, but he is fifteen years older than the Gambino capo from Staten Island. The same sources on Sonny Ciccone that name his parents as Sebastiano Ciccone and Gelsomina Piccolo (or badly transcribed variations of these names) say the family is from Pacentro, in Abruzzo, suggesting a possible relationship to another famous Ciccone, Madonna Louise. Sebastiano and Gelsomina are from Brusciano, in Naples, and are of no known relationship to either the Material Girl or the mafioso who share their surname. Neither was I able to find a relationship to a third Ciccone, William, who tried to kill John Gotti in 1987 and whose body was subsequently found in the basement of a Staten Island confectioner. William Ciccone was from a family of longshoremen in Brooklyn who emigrated from Bagnara Calabra. Their different ancestral hometowns, in three distinct regions of Italy, tell us that the families are unlikely to be close kin.

Unlike the coincidences of the Ciccone surname repeating itself through New York Mafia history, alliance marriages among Mafia family members are deliberate. Just like the marriages among the Morello-Terranova siblings, the marriages of the La Scala cousins and the Catania sisters, between the well-connected Catanias and the powerful Terranovas, Vincent Terranova’s children and the Ciccones, and the marriages of Louisa Longo to two of the Catania brothers, were all designed to preserve, enhance, or reinforce power and influence. La famiglia is sacred throughout the Italian diaspora, but in the Mafia, it’s especially true as the family is the source of strength, the building block of organization, and the regenerative source of Mafia myth and manpower. Where the line between family and business is nonexistent, marriage is transactional: the mergers and acquisitions department of the family business.

The extended family tree of the Terranova brothers and their nephews, the “Baker” brothers

Feature image: John Savino, Daniel J. Iamascia and Joseph ‘the Baker’ Catania. Original photo from The Niagara Falls Gazette, 3 January 1930. P. 15. Savino, Iamascia, Catania, and Ciro Terranova were accused of orchestrating the armed robbery at the Roman Gardens.

Chicago Joe Aiello

Chicago Joe Aiello

While Al Capone’s Outfit was fighting its way to the top of Chicago’s underworld, one of his chief rivals was the mafioso Joe Aiello. Aiello was president of the Unione Siciliane, synonymous with the Mafia in Chicago. For this reason alone, he earned the title of “the boss of the Sicilian Mafia in Prohibition-Era Chicago.” Beyond the Windy City, Aiello had powerful friends in Detroit and New York City, where he affected the outcome of the 1930 Castellammarese War. 

Joe was born Giuseppe Aiello in Bagheria, a suburb of Palermo, in 1890. At seventeen, he sailed to New York, joining two older brothers, Nunzio and Andrea, upstate in Utica. A halfway point between Lake Ontario and Albany along the Mohawk River, Utica drew a large immigrant population to work in manufacturing and transport. Among them were Sicilian merchants, some of them associated through family and business ties with the nascent Mafia in Utica. Fruit wholesalers, in particular, were closely tied to one another and organized crime. It may have been while Aiello lived in Utica that he formed ties with the Maggadino Family in Buffalo. 

Joe Aiello and his partner in a Utica saloon, Sam La Fada, were charged in 1917 with firing upon Antonio Gagliano, a competing saloon owner. Aiello tried hiding from the police in the home of his father- and brother-in-law, who were charged with interfering with a police officer. Aiello was found in possession of a recently fired handgun, and a license to carry. La Fada was killed in Buffalo a few months later.

It’s often reported that Aiello left Utica after taking part in the 1917 shooting. Joe was married to Caterina Amara. Their daughter, Lena, was born late in 1918. Son Carlo was born in Utica in 1919. A news item about the scalding death of Joe’s daughter, in March 1921, shows the family still living on Bleecker Street in Utica. Two and a half year-old Lena Aiello ran into her mother and maternal grandmother, who had just boiled water for the family’s baths. She survived for five hours.

Joe moved his family to Chicago shortly after this tragedy. Their next child, Antonino, was born in Chicago in July 1922.

Joe’s brothers moved to Chicago ahead of him, starting with the oldest, Nunzio, who married there in 1916. Andrea, also married, registered for the draft from a Near North Side address the following year. Nunzio’s address on Locust Street was in Little Sicily, also in Chicago’s Near North Side. 

In the years leading up to Prohibition, Chicago’s criminal underworld was still broken up into neighborhood territories. “Big Jim” Colosimo’s network of brothels was beginning to encroach on these boundaries, but there was not yet a monopoly on criminal power, and there was no overarching leadership: not among organized criminals, nor even among mafiosi in the city.

 The Genna brothers, from Marsala, Sicily, were one of the earliest Mafia families in Chicago. They were based in Little Italy, in the Near West Side. To the east of the Genna territory was Goose Island, where the Irish North Side Gang ruled. The Gennas controlled the Unione Siciliane and fought the Irish gang, led by Dean O’Banion. On the other side of Goose Island was Little Sicily, where a Corleonese Mafia family was dominant. The Nicolosi brothers ruled from their Gault Court saloon, a territory they inherited from their murdered father-in-law.

In Chicago, the Aiello family worked for the railroads, then became fruit dealers, and owned bakeries and at least one confectionery shop. Father Carlo Aiello, a fruit merchant, arrived from Bagheria in 1920 and died in Chicago three years later. 

Joe Aiello began his ascent to power by partnering with Antonio Lombardo of the Unione, but then alienated his patron when he made an alliance with Bugs Moran, who was O’Banion’s successor in the North Side Gang. The Gennas were killed by the Irish gang in 1925. Joe and his brothers took over the old Genna brothers’ territory: in particular, control of the Unione. Allied to the North Side, the Aiello gang became prominent targets for Al Capone’s Outfit. 

The Outfit was never part of the Sicilian Mafia. Its members were engaged in organized crime, and most of them were Italian or Italian-American, but they were not part of the same organization as the Genna, Nicolosi, and Aiello families, who all came from Sicily. Only after the Commission was formed, after the Castellammarese War, did the Outfit become part of an American Mafia, on equal footing with Sicilian American Mafia families.

By 1927, the tension between the Outfit and Joe Aiello’s family reached a breaking point. The Aiello family bakery in Little Sicily was riddled with bullets in a drive-by attack. Joe, who had already made multiple attempts on Capone’s life, was forced to leave Chicago. Regardless, he won the presidency of the Unione Siciliane the following year. In 1928, Aiello enjoyed the support of the Nicolosi brothers, but their representative at the Cleveland Conference, Sam Oliveri, lost a brother to Capone’s men, and was afterward suspected by police of brokering a new deal that cut out the Aiello family.

The power that emanated from New York City was felt everywhere by the Mafia. Al Capone and several of his closest associates in the Outfit were from New York. One of them was “Little Davey” Petillo, a native of New York City. As a young man, Petillo worked with Lucky Luciano as a hitman, narcotics trafficker, and pimp. After working for Joe Aiello in Chicago, Petillo rejoined his New York associates in the Outfit, and was Al Capone’s bodyguard at Aiello’s death in 1930.

Meanwhile in New York City, Joe “The Boss” Masseria’s power was growing and threatened to encompass all Mafia activity in the United States. Aiello had long been aligned with Salvatore Maranzano and the other mafiosi from Castellammare del Golfo, including Gaspar Milazzo in Detroit, and Maggadino in Buffalo: both Mafia bosses who’d started out in the Castellammarese stronghold of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Masseria came to openly support Capone’s bid for control over Chicago, widening the partisan divide throughout the Mafia in America, in the lead up to the Castellammarese War. Aiello financed Maranzano’s campaign against Masseria through the summer, before falling to Capone’s hitmen in October. Joe was forty.

Lucky Luciano turned on first Masseria, and then Maranzano, before assuming a consciously more modest position than either predecessor as a leader among equals in the new American Mafia. In Luciano’s Commission, Al Capone was the representative for the city he finally dominated, though not for long. In 1931, Capone was charged with tax evasion, and he spent the rest of his life in prison.

Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Genovese connection

Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Genovese connection

The story of Corleone’s influence on the Mafia extends to dozens of cities and towns throughout the United States.

Springfield, Massachusetts, has been controlled by the Genovese crime family for as long as there has been a mafia presence in New England. The marriages of Pasqualina Albano Siniscalchi Miranda, called the “Bootleg Queen” of Springfield’s Little Italy by the local newspapers of the time, may be among the earliest documented relationships between the crime families of New York and Springfield.

At the onset of Prohibition, in 1920, Vito Genovese went into bootlegging in New York with his childhood friend, “Lucky” Luciano, as well as Frank Costello, Gaetano “Three Finger Brown” “Tommy” Lucchese, Meyer Lansky, and “Bugsy” Siegel. Prohibition was a period of enormous growth for organized crime, and it was during this time period that the Sicilian Mafia became the most powerful force among the gangs of New York. Neapolitan immigrant Michele Miranda, also active in the Mafia in New York at this time, was an associate of both Tommy Lucchese and of Gaetano Reina’s crime family in the Bronx: Reina is from Corleone.

In western Massachusetts, Carlo Siniscalchi, an immigrant from Quindici, a small village in Naples, was about to become the Bootleg King of Springfield’s Little Italy. His 1912 marriage to Pasqualina Albano, who was born in the neighboring town of Bracigliano, calls him a saloon keeper from Brooklyn. The couple lived on the South Side and had five children. In Springfield, Carlo reportedly made and sold first candy, and then macaroni. On the eve of Prohibition, according to the federal census, Carlo owned a candy store. Within a year, he was killed by a fellow bootlegger, whose supply Siniscalchi had cut off. Indications are that his widow continued the business.

Carlo Siniscalchi birth announcement
Carlo was born Salvatore Carluccio Siniscalchi in Quindici

Two years into Prohibition, Costello, Luciano, and their closest Italian associates joined the Sicilian Mafia crime family led by Joe “the Boss” Masseria. Genovese’s work for Masseria would extend from bootlegging to extortion and murder. He and Frank Costello are both said to be associates of Pasqualina Albano’s second husband, Antonio Miranda, whom she married sometime between early 1923 and the fall of 1924. Antonio and Michele Miranda are brothers from San Giuseppe Vesuviano, in the same region of Naples as Quindici and Bracigliano, a hotbed of Camorra activity.

Mike Miranda obit NYT
From his obituary in The New York Times

Like Pasqualina’s first husband, Carlo, Antonio Miranda was from Italy by way of New York. Miranda’s travel records call him a carpenter or joiner. In January 1923, he appears on the manifest of the Conte Rosso, joining his brother Michele at an address on Broome Street, in Little Italy, Manhattan. A year later, Michele appears on the Conte Verde, rejoining Antonio half a block away on Mott Street. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics later reported that Michele traveled frequently to Italy, and the same appears to have been true of Antonio, who returned again from Naples in October 1924, this time to his new wife, Pasqualina, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The first week of February, 1930, Antonio Miranda died from septicemia. Local news reported the infection started on his foot, with the removal of a callus. A college student donated blood for a transfusion, in an unsuccessful attempt to save Miranda’s life. The certificate of his death reveals that the infection that killed Antonio was of a more intimate nature. A pelvic infection, and not a surgical site on his foot, was the origin of the blood infection that killed Antonio Miranda. Although the most common causes of such an infection are gonorrhea and syphilis, Miranda’s case was reportedly caused by a bout of the flu.

Non-Italians in Springfield had long regarded “the Italian colony” as a world apart from their own: a foreign, dirty, and dangerous place. Little was known of the wealthy real estate developer who had married the widowed “Bootleg Queen.” His funeral was lavish, on a scale not seen before in Springfield. Mourners arrived from distant cities, deflecting discreet inquiries from journalists. On the day Antonio Miranda was buried in St. Michaels Cemetery, flowers rained down upon the procession, delivered by an airplane rented for this purpose.

The same month Antonio died in Springfield, Joe Masseria, in New York, allegedly ordered two murders: Gaspar Milazzo in Detroit, and Gaetano Reina in the Bronx. These hits sparked the Castellammarese War, which would rage for a year and a half. Vito Genovese is said to have murdered Reina, whom Masseria suspected of helping his archrival, Salvatore Maranzano, in Brooklyn. Genovese and Michele Miranda, also known as Mike, became close near the end of the war. The two were arrested together on murder charges, on which they were acquitted.

Much of what’s known of Miranda’s personal life comes from a Federal Bureau of Narcotics profile. The birth date and relations in the FBN report have been mostly corroborated by census records and travel manifests. He married Lucia DiLaurenzo in 1926, and they had one child, a son. Michele and his wife can be seen traveling together on the same manifest with gangster Davide Petillo and his sister, in October 1932. (Petillo gets a mention in another post, Gay Liberation and the Mafia.)

Two and a half years after Antonio’s death, and one month after Michele and Lucia returned to New York, Pasqualina was killed in a drive by shooting. She was in her car, parked across the street from the home of one of her employees in an illicit distillery operation. The attack came in the early hours of the morning, as Pasqualina sat with her “trusted lieutenant” in bootlegging, Michele Fiore. Fiore, described in the news at the time as having spent more of his time in America inside of prison than out, was a relative by marriage, the brother of Pasqualina’s sister’s husband. The following year, Fiore was killed in a barber shop. None of their attackers were ever identified.

Michele Miranda was respected among the gangsters in New York as a peace broker. He was a made member of the Genovese crime family, which had once been, in the years before Prohibition, the Morello-Terranova gang of East Harlem. Miranda was Vito Genovese’s consigliere from 1957 until his retirement, in 1972. He died the following year.

Featured Image: Detail of Water Street and the South Side, from View of Springfield, Mass. 1875.

The Castellammarese War

The Castellammarese War

At the end of Prohibition, the Young Turks fought a colonial war for the Sicilian Mafia in New York.

The Families of the Genovese and Lucchese trace their roots directly to two mafiosi from Corleone: boss Giuseppe Morello, and his captain, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina. During the first Mafia war in New York, between the Corleonesi and the Napolitani, Morello’s half-brother Nick Terranova was killed by one of the Camorra (the Neapolitan Mafia), and their brother Vincenzo took over the Morello-Terranova Family. Reina left and formed his own Family, which he put under the protection of Joe Masseria (originally from Menfi, a coastal town in Agrigento province) in the late 1920s.

Prohibition strengthened the Mafia, providing them the opportunity, according to Joe Valachi, to get into racketeering in a big way, on the level with other, non-Mafia criminal organizations operating in the US. In 1922, Masseria survived an assassination attempt. He made Morello his conisigliere. Increasingly, the Mafia in the US overcame its provincial prejudices enough to forge working relationships with Jewish, Irish, and African-American criminals, and for the first mixed gangs to form. Yet a long simmering antagonism between Sicilians from Corleone and those from Castellammare del Golfo flared once more at the end of Prohibition.

The Castellammarese War of 1930 in New York was a colonial war. On one side was Joe Masseria, the most powerful figure in organized crime, with a coalition of allies including the Corleonesi Giuseppe Morello, Lucky Luciano (from Lercara Friddi), and Al Capone (born in New York of Italian mainland parents). On the other side were Salvatore Maranzano and the Castellammarese, backed by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, one of the most powerful men in Sicily at the time. Cascio Ferro sent Salvatore Maranzano to New York to form a monopoly on criminal enterprise. When Joe Valachi got out of prison the first time, he emerged to learn of “trouble in the air” between Tom Gagliano and Ciro Terranova. This was the beginning of the war.

This war is often characterized as one between the “Young Turks” behind Masseria, and the “Mustache Petes” on Maranzano’s. Although Masseria was killed first, it was the Young Turks who ultimately won New York.

Cascio Ferro had lived for a few years in the US, in New York and in the South, like the Morello-Terranova family. He escaped prosecution for his participation in Morello’s counterfeiting racket, and returned to Sicily in 1904. His power there extended over several towns, including Corleone, where he temporarily eclipsed the native Fratuzzi. In 1909, he ordered the murder of the American policeman, Joe Petrosino, who pursued him on charges of killing Benedetto Madonia in New York, the famous “Barrel Murder.” Following his arrest in 1925, Ferro’s star began to fall. Mussolini’s prefect in Palermo, Cesare Mori, attempted to stamp out the Mafia entirely, from 1925-29. Ferro was imprisoned for life, beginning in 1930.

Before the Castellammarese War, Tommy Reina began paying tribute to Joe Masseria. Masseria put additional pressure on Reina, who may have switched to Maranzano’s side. Whether he did or not, the rumor of it reached Masseria, who ordered Reina’s murder. Masseria was killed in April 1931. Accounts of Masseria’s assassination vary and legends abound. It appears that the animosity came from his own men, who resented the war’s effects on their own profits.

Maranzano, the victor, held a meeting in which he laid out many of the structural details that would later form Lucky Luciano’s “Commission”: the rules that would permit the peaceful coexistence of New York’s Five Families, as well as Mafia families in other American cities. Despite these signs of progress, Maranzano was regarded by his lieutenants as another “Mustache Pete.” Besides his support from the clannish Castellammarese, there was his distrust of Luciano’s Jewish associates. The “Young Turks” struck again. Maranzano was killed five months after Masseria.

Featured Image: Vito Cascio Ferro (left), Joe Masseria (top right), Charles “Lucky Luciano” (bottom right)