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)

Looking for Steve LaSalle

Looking for Steve LaSalle

I almost wrote this post about a different man.

There are three first cousins from Corleone who immigrated to New York around the same time, and had the same name: Stefano la Sala. One was born in 1881, another in 1888, and the third in 1892. One would become known as Steve LaSalle, a high-ranking member of the Lucchese crime family for half a century.

In Corleone, it’s not unusual for a boy to have the same name, first and last, as his cousins. If the boy is the oldest in his family, and he has five paternal uncles, he can expect to have up to five first cousins with exactly the same name as his own. Like himself, the oldest sons of his father’s brothers would be named after their paternal grandfather. The tradition of naming the first born boy and girl after their paternal grandparents is followed by practically every family in Corleone.

When I mentioned Steve LaSalle in this blog a couple weeks ago, I’d only discovered two of the three Stefano la Salas from Corleone. Not only that, I’d found so many clues connecting the oldest cousin to Morello’s crime family, that I was sure he was LaSalle. He is not, but he has his own Mafia connections. I’ll come back to him next week.

Of the three cousins, the youngest, son of Simone la Sala, is the one I found last, and know the least about. When he registered for the WWI draft in 1917, this Stefano la Sala, born in 1892, was living in East Harlem with his mother. He worked in the piano manufacturing business, for Strauch Bros., at 13th St. & 10th Ave in Manhattan. Little as I know of him, I can be sure he is not Steve LaSalle, either: he’s too young to be mistaken for a man born in November 1888 or 1889, as he’s described in Critchley’s “Organized Crime in America.”

The middle cousin, born seven years later, is the son of Biagio la Sala, a baker. Biagio and his older brother, Francesco, the father of the oldest Stefano, immigrated to New York together, with their wives and children, in the mid 1890s. Both families settled in the Bronx.

Based on his reported birth date (Critchley), the year he immigrated, 1897, from Richard Wagner and his co-authors, and the names of his brothers, it is the middle cousin, born in 1888, who was Steve LaSalle. His baptismal record from Corleone confirms  Stefano la Sala was born 5 November 1888. This does not match the date of birth reported on LaSalle’s WWI draft card, which says he was born on the eighth. However, his home address is a match for the census, where he lives with so many family members there is no question as to his identity, and so is his profession as a plasterer.

A 1972 feature on the Mafia in LIFE Magazine says “The old man, Steve LaSalle, the underboss of New York’s Luchese [sic] family, was himself born into a Mafia family.” I have not found any evidence so far of the La Sala family’s involvement in the Fratuzzi, the Mafia in Corleone. On Steve’s mother’s side, the Liggio men were successful millers. On his father’s, the baker’s paternal grandmother was from a family of merchants who immigrated to Corleone from the Papal States in the early 19th century. The LaSalles are of no relation to Luciano Leggio or the other Leggio family members who are defendants at the 1969 Mafia trial in Bari. However, they are related to the Moscato family, by marriage and godparenthood. The Moscato family in Corleone are all descendants of a man from Siculiana, in Agrigento province. They have organized criminal ties going back to Rapanzino’s gang, in the 1830s, and continue to appear in Italian records of mafia activity into the 1960s. Francesco Moscato, Steve LaSalle’s first cousin, was in the Morello gang. It appears that at least one and possibly two of Steve’s brothers were also involved.

The Morello gang’s bread and butter was counterfeiting. According to Bill Feather, Steve had a criminal record from 1909 for counterfeiting, as well as murder and grand larceny. Steve and his brother, Vito, ran a numbers racket that was one of the largest in New York around 1930, according to The Valachi Papers. Another brother, Calogero, is mentioned in lists of known mafiosi, though I haven’t been able to find out anything in particular. It appears that he was active in the Morello gang, but that after the Mafia-Camorra War, he was no longer connected with organized crime.

Steve is named as a participant in the Mafia-Camorra War, on the Morello-Terranova side. On 24 June 1916, he attended a meeting of the Morello gang with the Navy Street and Coney Island gangs, where he argued—by some accounts with Nick Terranova—for the assassination of Joe DeMarco. On 20 July, Steve joined “Louis the Wop,” Nick Sassi, and Ciro Terranova in recruiting Lefty Esposito to help them kill Joe DeMarco. Other than the Terranova brothers, the key targets of the Camorra included Steve LaSalle, Eugenio Ubriaco, and possibly Joseph Verrazano: more evidence that LaSalle was highly placed in the organization.

Steve LaSalle was arrested on 4 September 1916, and still in custody three days later when Nick Terranova and Ubriaco were assassinated, by Camorra member Alessandro Vollero. (At least one source calls the other victim Nick’s bodyguard.) No doubt, Steve’s arrest saved his life.

The price was a stay at Sing Sing Prison, where Steve registered for the draft for WWI the following summer. Steve worked as a plasterer in prison. Several of the sons of Francesco and Biagio la Sala, including the two cousins born 1881 and 1888, worked in construction trades. Francesco and the oldest Stefano la Sala, his son, started a stone and brick masonry company in 1908. Steve LaSalle and his brother, Charlie (born Calogero) were both plasterers. Their brother Victor (born Vito) la Sala was later a bricklayer, but at this time owned a garage, where he employed another brother, Dominick.

Following his release from prison, Steve was affiliated with Tommy Reina’s gang, and would remain so until his retirement. (Reina, who was a captain in Morello’s organization, formed his own Bronx-based gang around the time of the Mafia-Camorra War.) Steve, Victor, Dominick, and Charlie lived with their parents in the Bronx in 1920, along with three sisters. Three of the brothers were in construction but Dominick, no longer employed by his brother’s garage, was now in ladies’ hats. (The garment industry was a popular racket, and one closely associated with LaSalle.)

Their father died in 1924, and their mother, in 1930. Based on his children’s ages, Victor married by 1926 to Margaret, from Nebraska. They had two children, a girl and a boy. Neither Steve nor any other member of the LaSalle family appear in the 1930 federal census at their previous Bronx address.

Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, who had avoided the Mafia-Camorra War that fragmented the Morello gang, was killed in 1930, in the Castellammarese War. His operations were taken over by Tommy Gagliano, who ran the family until his death in 1951. Gagliano and Reina, both from Corleone, are distantly related by marriage: Gagliano’s second cousin, once removed, was Reina’s wife. Gagliano and Reina are each related to LaSalle, though even more distantly.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, Bill Feather reports that LaSalle lived in the Bronx, ran a large numbers operation, and became a power player in the garment industry. At the same time, he maintained a relatively low profile. His home is described as a “modest, two-family house” by the retired police officer interviewed in Pileggi’s 1972 article. Census and military records point to LaSalle living in New Jersey in 1940-42.

Today’s maps show a small, brick condominium, built in 1927, at LaSalle’s Cliffside Park address. In the 1940 federal census (the most recent publicly available) Steve, unmarried and living alone in Bergen County, calls himself a plasterer. Between 1940-42, his brother, Victor, moved his family from Fairfield, CT to Englewood Cliffs, NJ, five miles from Steve’s address. In his WWII draft registration, Steve named his brother, Victor, as his contact person. (Victor named his wife.)

Critchley writes, “LaSalle would become an influential member of the post Gaetano Reina organized crime Family under its various titles, reaching the post of consiglieri.” Other sources say he was made the underboss of the Lucchese family around 1951, under Gaetano “Tommy” Lucchese. LaSalle and Lucchese may have attended the Apalachin Summit together in 1957. He continued to serve under Lucchese’s successors: “Eddie” Coco and Carmine Tramunti.

LaSalle retired from the Lucchese family around 1972. According to the LIFE article published that year in March, his income came from ownership of a small garment factory. He was reportedly making $20,000 a year , an income equivalent to $110K today. He married and had a son.

Pileggi wrote early in 1972 that “Today, LaSalle, who is 83 and almost blind, is still being watched.” Although at least one source reports his death in 1974, an SSDI record that matches his name and date of birth tells us that Steve died at the age of 87, in November 1975. According to the record of his death, his last address was in Queens.

 

Sources

“The Apalachin Meeting.” Tutti Mafiosi. http://la-mafia.wikidot.com/the-apalachin-meeting Accessed 5 March 2017.

Black, Jon. “The Struggle for Control.” http://www.gangrule.com/events/struggle-for-control-1914-1918 Accessed 7 March 2017.

Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge: New York, 2009.

“Guests at the Mafia Bar-B-Que”. http://www.greaterowego.com/apalachin/guests.html Accessed 5 March 2017.

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

Pileggi, Nicholas. “The Decline and Fall of the Mafia.” LIFE, 3 March 1972.

Tuohy, John William. “Joe Petrosino’s War on the Mafia.” http://mywriterssite.blogspot.com/2016/12/joe-petrosinos-war-on-mafia.html Accessed 7 March 2017.

Francesco Macaluso and American Fascism

Francesco Macaluso and American Fascism

Before and during World War I, Giuseppe Morello was fighting his own war in New York, while in Africa, Captain Angelo di Carlo was fighting an aggressive war of colonial expansion in Libya, which Italy had recently wrested from the Turks. Angelo found himself on the other side when the Fascists rose to power in 1922, as it soon declared a war on the mafia in Sicily, nearly wiping them out, and forcing di Carlo to flee. Meanwhile, his future associate in the United States, an Italian Fascist propagandist, was making a name for himself in the United States.

Francesco Macaluso was born in Casteltermini (in Agrigento province) on 18 November 1886. (A poet and lawyer by the same name, born in the same province the previous year, was a socialist, and ardent opponent of fascism.) Francesco and his wife immigrated to New York in 1914, joining his sister there briefly before moving on to Boston, where their first two children were born. Francesco and his wife, Esmeralda, named their first child Ferdinando Antonio Americo Macaluso. It’s hard not to see the Macalusos as making a declaration of confidence in their new home, giving their first born son the name “Americo.” What can be more difficult to resolve is the simultaneous regard Macaluso held for fascism and for the United States.

Fascism was not only a European phenomenon. The ideas of eugenics, social darwinism, and “Nordicism,” a set of myths about the aggressive, colonizing nature of Aryan people, were in powerful circulation in the US, from at least the 1890s, the same time it was galvanizing Europe. The Fascist League of North America had an active chapter in Boston by the late 1910s, with Macaluso at its head. As part of his political organizing, he published a monthly journal, called “Giovinezza,” the first openly fascist publication in the US.

While World War I raged in Europe, Giuseppe Morello, one of the original bosses of the Sicilian Mafia in New York, was fighting the Mafia-Camorra War against a Neapolitan gang based in Brooklyn. In 1906, Morello’s former captain, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, married a woman from Corleone, Angelina Oliveri, whose mother was a Streva. Angelina is a second cousin of Paolino Streva, the captain under which Giuseppe Morello worked in Corleone as a cattle thief, in the 1890s.

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Masseria and Maranzano. by Schreibwerkzeug.

Reina formed his own family, and managed to avoid the conflict, enjoying the protection of Joseph Masseria, who would figure prominently in the next mafia war, the Castellammarese. Tommy and Angelina’s daughter, Carmela “Millie” Reina, would marry Joe Valachi, a Lucchese gangster, at that war’s conclusion in what is described as a “union of underworld convenience,” in 1932. (Valachi famously turns pentiti before the US Senate in 1963, and brings down the crime family his father-in-law originated.)

Italy entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23 May 1915, in order to annex two historically contested regions, the Austrian Littoral (Trentino) and Dalmatia (South Tyrol). However, at the end of the war, Italy did not receive the territories, a “mutilated victory” that would become an important part of Italian Fascist propaganda.

The US finally entered WWI by declaring war on Germany in 1917. The following year, large numbers of American troops deployed to Europe. Doctor of Italian law Francesco Macaluso, an Italian national, working for the Italian bank, Banco Stabile, in Boston at this time, requested an exemption from the US draft, because he was supporting a family. By this time, he and Esmeralda also had a daughter, Rose.

The end of WWI saw the beginning of another worldwide catastrophe, a flu pandemic that killed between three and five percent of the total population. Previously healthy young adults were its main victims. The US experienced a mild economic recession during the pandemic, followed by a more severe one that began in 1920. By that year, Francesco Macaluso and his family had returned to New York, where their third child, Armand, was born.

In one of the first scenes of the 1974 film, “The Great Gatsby,” set in 1922, Nick Carraway arrives at his cousin, Daisy’s rich estate on Long Island, and her boorish husband, Tom Buchanan, is spewing classic “Nordicism”: white supremacy, and its allied fascist mythology of world domination. It comes up three times in the film: everyone remembers the glasses on the billboard across the street from the filling station, but fascism is as essential to “Gatsby” as the Charleston. While white America was dancing to the new sound, jazz, Black Americans in the 1920s were being brutally repressed by their government, and through extralegal violence. The KKK was at the height of its power in 1925, when 400,000 members marched on Washington. It is no exaggeration to say that the Holocaust is descended from Jim Crow. Nazi Germany modeled its discrimination and segregation laws on America’s.

mussolini_a_hitler_-_berlin_1937
Mussolini e Hitler in Berlim (Hungarian name of the book (Felvidékünk – Honvédségünk / Trianontól-Kassáig), publishers (Vitézi rend Zrinyi csoportjuának kiadása, Budapest, 1939) [Public domain].
In Italy, Fascist Benito Mussolini took power through use of the Blackshirts, paramilitary squads of First World War veterans and ex-socialists. He marched them on Rome in October 1922, and the king appointed Mussolini Prime Minister during their march, turning a military invasion into a victory parade. Under Mussolini’s orders to eradicate the Mafia in Sicily, Cesare Mori, Prefect of Palermo, arrested over 11,000 people between November 1925 and June 1929, and a countless number died in mysterious circumstances or simply disappeared while in police custody. Hundreds fled to America to avoid the purge, including “Capitano” Angelo di Carlo.

Angelo arrived in the United States for the first time in 1926, age 35. Although married, he traveled alone, arriving in New York on July 16, 1926. The manifest lists his occupation as Captain. Several of those traveling with him are stamped “Diplomat.” Angelo met his uncle Giovanni di Miceli, a banker living at 241 East 108th St, New York. One of Angelo’s brothers was staying with him, already.

Not much is known of Francesco Macaluso during the 1920s. Based on the census records, he lived near his sister in New York, and worked as a lawyer. It’s possible that he traveled back to Italy in 1928, calling himself a journalist at this time: a manifest matching his name, age, and birthplace is likely Macaluso. Evidence indicates he remained active in the American fascist movement: in the 1930s, his propaganda would shift from print to film, in partnership with the di Carlo brothers.

By the late Twenties, there was already notable tension between the two factions who would fight the Castellammarese War, the gangs of Joe Masseria (the future Genovese family) and Salvatore Maranzano (the future Bonanno family). Maranzano, born in Castellammare, Sicily, was sent by Don Vito Cascio Ferro (a Palermitan who lived for a time in Corleone) to take over Masseria’s operations in New York.

Tommy Reina had become successful under Masseria’s protection, but now the boss began demanding a portion of Reina’s profits, prompting him to consider defecting to Maranzano. Masseria, learning of this, arranged with Reina lieutenant Tommy Gagliano to have Reina killed. (Gagliano and Reina are related through Reina’s wife: they are second cousins, once removed.) On February 26, 1930, Vito Genovese murdered Reina, on Masseria’s order. The hit is widely considered the opening salvo in the Castellammarese War between the exported mafias of Corleone and Castellamare del Golfo: the “Mustache Petes” of the Old Country and the “Young Turks” of the New World. That August, Giuseppe Morello, the first mafia boss of New York, was killed.

Feature Image: Still from “The Great Gatsby” (1974)

The First Great Wars

The First Great Wars

The story of Captain Angelo di Carlo’s life takes us through a turbulent period in world history, and in the history of the Sicilian Mafia: through two world wars, and two more for domination of New York City by competing mafia organizations. In his lifetime, Italy would fight its old enemy, Austria-Hungary, in World War I, but before doing so, would fight a colonial war in Libya against the Ottoman Empire. The rise of fascism in Italy nearly destroyed the Sicilian Mafia before the end of WWII, but due to the political blunders of the Allies following Operation Husky, the Mafia was able to reform itself under their protection. Angelo di Carlo is considered one of the architects of this renaissance.

The Turbulent 1890s

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Captain Angelo di Carlo

Angelo was born in February 1891 in Corleone,the eighth of thirteen children. According to the family historian, Angelo’s nephew and godson, Vincent di Carlo, their family was distinguished in Corleone by its very tall, fair, and beautiful members. Vincent reports that DNA evidence shows the family is descended from Normans, part of the Lombard resettlement of Corleone beginning in the 11th century.

The month after his birth, eleven men, most of them Sicilian immigrants, would be killed in a New Orleans prison in the largest mass lynching incident in American history.

The decade of Angelo di Carlo’s birth would see an Italian banking crisis unseat its prime minister, and the birth of a powerful worker’s movement, the Fasci Siciliani, with one of its most notable leaders, Bernardino Verro, organizing in their native Corleone. Verro would join the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, in 1893, and die at their hands in 1915. In 1930, when Angelo di Carlo lives in New York, Morello and Ferro battled for dominance over the gambling dens of Manhattan, in a war that would take Morello’s life.

In the late 1880s, Giuseppe Morello made a name for himself as a vicious cattle rustler, working with Paolino Streva, under the protection of Fratuzzi boss Giuseppe Battaglia. Morello and Gioachino Lima both fled the country in 1892, following a series of murders, including that of the Sylvan Guard, Giovanni Vella, who was investigating Morello’s crimes. The Morello-Terranova family would spend most of the next decade as agricultural laborers in the American South.

In Sicily, Angelo di Carlo received a good education: a total of ten years in public school and gymnasium, the European equivalent of American high school, followed by a year in lyceum (college), and one year in officer military school. He graduated from military academy and became an officer in the Italian Army. As an adult, Angelo was tall and strongly built, distinguished and yet physically imposing. His military rank of “Capitano” became a lifelong nickname.

Living Space

Like Germany, Italy saw itself as a natural heir of the Roman Empire. In the years leading up to Angelo’s military service, the Italian elite embraced a philosophy termed “Unredeemed Italy” (“Italia Irredenta”) that dovetailed with a fascist belief in Aryan expansionism, called “Lebensraum” in German and “spazio vitale” in Italian. Not unlike the American myth of “Manifest Destiny,” fascist doctrine included the notion that man was a species continually at war. All three movements put varying degrees of emphasis on the primacy of Nordic people, and traced their political lineage to ancient Rome. To avoid stagnation, fascists argued that Italy would once again have to expand its borders, through reclamation of lands historically occupied by culturally Italian people, and through colonization. The “Spazio vitale” effort was particularly concentrated in the Mediterranean and in Africa.

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Italian troops entrenched behind the Tripoli zone, in the Italo-Turkish War (circa 1911). (Public domain)
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Ataturk commanding Libyan fighters against Italian occupation, 1911 (Public domain)

It was in pursuit of this nationalist effort that Italy declared war in 1911 on the Ottoman Empire, and Angelo di Carlo saw military service as an artillery captain in the 3rd mobile battalion of the 40th infantry, in the Italo-Turkish War, in Libya. The Italians took Libya, held at that time by the Turks, in response to losing their own territory in Eritrea. Angelo would remain in active service until 1915, just before Italian entrance into World War I, and in the reserves until 1932.

The Mafia-Camorra War

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Giuseppe Morello

In the early years of the Great War in Europe, Italian mafias in New York were beginning to fight one another for dominance. Following the New York Stock Exchange crash of 1901, Giuseppe Morello returned north to the city, where he remarried to another Corleone native, and began a counterfeiting operation. One of Morello’s captains, Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, eventually left Morello’s organization to form his own. While Reina’s family built a reputably peaceful ice trade empire in the Bronx, the Morello organization was drawn into a bloody war for dominance over gambling in Manhattan. The Sicilians, clustered around Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, and the Napolitani Camorra, based in Brooklyn, both wanted the monopoly. This prudent neutrality would benefit Reina right up to the eve of the second great mafia war, which began with his assassination in 1930.

On the national scene at this time, Woodrow Wilson, presiding over a small, unready military, remained publicly committed to American neutrality. German submarines sank the Lusitania, a passenger vessel, killing more than a hundred American citizens, but failed to lure America into the conflict.

Reina’s former associate Nicolo’ Terranova, Giuseppe Morello’s half-brother, was killed in the Mafia-Camorra War against the Napolitani, in 1916. That year Steve LaSalle, born Stefano la Sala, was with the Terranova brothers in a plot to kill Joseph DeMarco, one of the Camorra, in retaliation for Nick’s murder. LaSalle turns up later in support of Angelo di Carlo’s release from internment during WWII.

One of the last efforts of the Camorra, when assassinations proved ineffective, was to go after Ciro Terranova’s legitimate business interests, including artichokes (Ciro’s nickname was “the Artichoke King”) and coal. These were not successful, either. Participants in the murders turned informant, including Rocco Valenti and Ralph Daniello, the latter murdered after his release from prison in 1925. Mafia-Camorra War trials continued through the 1920s for Frank Fevrola and Antonio Paretti, with the latter executed at Sing Sing in 1927.

Fasci Siciliani

Meanwhile in Sicily, Bernardino Verro, the first Socialist mayor of Corleone, was increasingly at odds with the mafia’s primary clients, the large landowners, through his organization of peasant labor. Verro was killed by his fellow Fratuzzi in 1915 and replaced with another Socialist, Antonino lo Cascio. His worker’s movement, the Fasci Siciliani, would be subverted by right-wing nationalists who would become known as the Fascists.

The following year Angelo di Carlo, recently retired from active service and still living in Italy, married his first cousin, Luisa Castro.

In the years following the Mafia-Camorra War, the US would enter WWI and help bring about a victory for the Allies on the Western Front. Turbulence—economic, political, and social—would rock both sides of the Atlantic through the 1920s, and persecution by the Fascists would send suspected mafiosi to the US in the hundreds, among them, one reserve Italian Army captain by the name of Angelo di Carlo, pursued by charges of killing a Fascist in Palermo.

Feature image credit: Italian marine troops landing on Tripoli. (Public domain)

Killer Queens

Killer Queens

Are Toto Riina and Tommy Reina related?

A few days ago, I discovered that I confused the histories of two different gangsters from Corleone, Toto Riina (b. 1930- ) and Luciano Leggio (1925-1993), in this blog, a couple of weeks ago. I wrote that Leggio’s father was killed in an explosion that was, in fact, based on a story about Toto Riina’s father. Born five years apart, Riina succeeded Leggio as the head of the mafia in Corleone, when the latter finally went to prison in 1974 for ordering the assassination of his predecessor, Dr. Navarra.

This week, I’m exploring whether Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the “Beast” of Corleone, and Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, also from Corleone, and the founder of the Lucchese crime family in New York, are related.

From studying the vital records, I know there are not separate “Reina” and “Riina” families in Corleone, only two spellings of the same name. Although in both Italian and Latin, the word for queen is “regina” (“riggina” in Sicilian), in Spanish and French, the word drops the middle “g” sound and is spelled “reina” or “reine.” The latter two cultures ruled Sicily in the medieval period, when family surnames were coming into regular use.

Because Corleone is a relatively small town with excellent records, I felt confident that I could trace both Toto and Tommy’s ancestry, and that there was a good chance they were related. I began with clues from one of the most frequently cited sources on the subject of the Five Families, David Critchley’s The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. (Routledge: New York, 2009). In his book, Critchley provides Tommy Reina’s hometown, birth month and year, and names his parents. With such a wealth of information, it should have been easy for me to find Tommy’s baptismal record, and yet there was none that matched Critchley’s dates.

I tried reverse-engineering his research. He cites a newspaper, the New York Tribune, dated 18 August 1921. That issue is indexed on The Library of Congress website, Chronicling America, but there is no article about Tommy Reina on or around that date. Wider searches on Chronicling America and on Fulton History yielded some obituaries about the murdered ice box magnate (I mention Tommy’s brother-in-law in my post on the ice trade), on 26 February 1930, but no mentions of Giacomo and Carmela, Tommy’s parents. The stone marking his grave in New York gives his birth year only, as 1889.

Critchley provides another clue to Tommy Reina’s origins. Bernarda Reina, wife of Giuseppe Morello’s half-brother Vincent Terranova, is called the daughter of Giacomo. Were Bernarda and Tommy Reina sister and brother? Tommy was a long-time captain in the Morello gang. It would fit mafia marriage patterns, for his sister to marry one of his criminal associates. But the records available for Bernarda do not suggest she is Tommy’s sister.

There are three vital records available online that give Bernarda’s parents names: those of her baptism, marriage, and death. These all agree that her parents were Giacomo Riina and Giuseppa di Miceli. There are a few spelling variations—Reina is usually spelled “Riina” in the original Church records from Corleone, and in the civil records, too. (There’s another Bernarda Riina, of unknown relation, in this 1895 index of births.) By the time Bernarda dies in New York, she is known by her nickname, “Bessie,” and her mother is called “Josephine di Miceli” in the American record of Bernarda’s death. (Josephine is the English form of Josepha, the Latin form of Giuseppa.)

After failing to find him in the records for September 1889, I started looking for Gaetano Riina, son of Giacomo, in the Corleone baptismal records, moving in widening circles. The only one that came close was born the following year, in September of 1890. (The next closest births of a child by this name in Corleone are thirteen years in either direction, in 1877 and in 1904.) The boy born in 1890 is the first born son of Bernardo Riina and Giuseppa Zabbia, who married the previous year.

Bernarda Reina is from a well-connected family. One of her great-grandfathers on her father’s side, Giuseppe Fratello, was a gabelloto, and her mother’s first cousin was Bernardo di Miceli, a known member of the mafia in Corleone, and the godfather of Dr. Navarra. Another cousin of theirs, also named Bernardo di Miceli, was a broker by trade, and married Caterina Riina, Bernarda’s sister.

Toto Riina, whose father really did kill himself, one of his children, and a mule by detonating a German WWII bomb he intended to dismantle for the gunpowder inside, was born Salvatore Riina in 1930. Like virtually all firstborn sons in Corleone, he was named after his paternal grandfather. And like most boys named Salvatore, he was called “Toto” from childhood.

Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, who was killed in New York the same year Toto was born, was also named after his paternal grandfather. Like other Sicilian boys named Gaetano, he was probably called “Tanu” growing up, and this may be the source of his American nickname. Some names don’t translate well—Calogero is another one, frequently converted to “Charles” in the US. Gaetano is a distinctly Italian name, with no English equivalent.

Both being gangsters, and born in Corleone, with forms of the same surname, I had to wonder:  Were Toto Riina and Tommy Reina related? It’s not an idle question: Genealogical relationships are valuable clues to the genealogy of the mafia itself. The mafia is rooted in traditions that privilege family ties and the loyalty they engender. The criminal organization relies upon these relationships both to reinforce ties among its members, and to maintain a traditional, positive image outside the mafia, among the Sicilian diaspora. In recent years Toto Riina’s daughter, Lucia, has provided the mafia such a PR boost, when she expressed pride in her family name, and devotion to her incarcerated father.

Tommy Reina, forming the Lucchese family in New York, and Giuseppe Morello, father of the Genovese crime family, were the first generation of the Corleonesi mafia abroad. What are the implications in the next generation, following World War II? To understand the spread of the mafia, and its global network of relationships, requires knowledge of the kinships among its members. To learn the connection between the Lucchese family in New York and “the Beast of Corleone,” I would have to untangle Toto’s roots from the clues in mafia scholarship, as I had with Tommy’s.

In the 1969 mafia trial in Bari, Toto Riina is named, along with his birthdate and the names of his parents, Giovanni Riina and Maria Concetta Rizzo. Attilio Bolzoni and Giuseppe d’Avanzo, in their book, “The Boss of Bosses,” describe Toto’s father, Giovanni, as a member of the “class of 1897.” There’s one Giovanni Riina born that year, on the first of January. Giovanni’s godfather is Francesco Zito, who is named among mafia leadership around this time, by Dino Paternostro, in a 2004 article, “‘Fratuzzi’, antenati di Liggio e Riina.”

Based on these clues, I was able to dig up the roots of each of their families, and to document them far enough back to find a common ancestor for all three. I have determined that Tommy and Bernarda Reina are second cousins to one another , and second cousins, once removed, from Toto Riina. All are descended from Gioachino Riina, who was born around 1788 in Corleone. Gioachino’s brother, Nicolo’, married a first cousin of Antonino Palumbo, one of the brothers in Rapanzino’s gang in the 1830s. Nicolo’ lived near his in-laws on the strada di Mannina in 1834. (This paragraph was substantially revised on 14 Feb 2017. -JC)

Toto married the sister of one of his captains and they have four children. Today, Toto Riina is an old man, living in prison. His predecessor, Leggio, having met the same fate, died there in 1993.

Mafia genealogy

Mafia genealogy

In legend, the mafia in Sicily dates to the Sicilian Vespers of 1282. Two of the Five Families of New York, the Lucchese and Genovese families, are Corleonesi in origin. Their founders, Gaetano Reina and Giuseppe Morello, immigrated from Corleone, in the heartland of Sicily, to New York City, around the turn of the twentieth century. They came with their families, and settled in East Harlem.

In 1900, two of my great-grandparents were teenagers in Corleone. They were about to lose their fathers, and consequently, their lives would be dramatically altered. After the deaths of their fathers, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano both immigrated to America, each with their mothers and siblings, and settled around 106th St, on the northeast corner of Central Park in New York City. The census reports that my twice-great aunts and uncles found work, and supported their widowed mothers.

I don’t know if Louis and Lucia knew each other in Corleone, or how their marriage was arranged. (It was almost certainly arranged.) According to family lore, after they married, my great-grandmother, Lucia Soldano, sold olive oil to the neighbors, produced and exported by one of Louis’ brothers-in-law back in Corleone. When I first heard this story, I didn’t realize how unlikely it was to be true.

Giuseppe Morello, aka “The Clutch Hand,” was a member of the mafia in Corleone, following in the footsteps of his stepfather, Bernardo Terranova. In New York, Gaetano Riina was one of Morello’s captains. Giuseppe’s half-brother, Vincenzo, married Gaetano Riina’s sister. Giuseppe’s cousin was married to my twice-great aunt Biagia Cascio, Louis’ sister: the one who stayed behind to marry the olive oil producer, while the rest of her family, her mother and all of her siblings, immigrated.

It’s the stories that yield themselves most grudgingly from the facts, that captivate me. Possibly this is because I am one of those people whose lives would have been lived entirely between the lines, if I’d been born in any other time and place in my family’s history. I realized a few years ago that I owed my good fortune to ancestors I didn’t know at all. So I started reading history: American, and Sicilian. I charted the histories of foreign domination and colonization, of feudalism and chattel slavery, and of two of the breadbaskets of a global economy.

And the juncture, where my Sicilian ancestors stepped into American history, coming with the first waves of the mafia: into New Orleans, Chicago, New York, into the coal mines of Pennsylvania and the strawberry fields of Louisiana. How Sicily built parts of the America we know. The intersection of cultures that made me, Atlantic City, and “Don Corleone.” A large part of the story of America’s Sicilian heritage, and my own, the myths and the reality, is about the mafia.

I don’t know for sure that Giuseppe Morello was helping his cousin,  but it seems likely. What’s not very probable, is that Biagia’s husband produced all of that olive oil, himself. Most farmers didn’t own any land, and those who did, had very small plots, enough to support only a handful of trees: not enough to start an export business.

I am documenting the relationships among known mafiosi from Corleone: to one another, to other powerful figures, and to my own family. The mafia of the twentieth century has been written about many times. Few have attempted to trace the connections, as I have been doing, from father to son, through the generations, going back to the revolutionary period of the early 1800s in Sicily, maybe farther.  Myths sometimes point to hidden truths. Myths tell us who we are. The story my great-uncle told was about how my family became American.

This blog is about the truth behind the myths.