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/ 

What happened to Frank Borgia?

What happened to Frank Borgia?

Los Angeles sugar man Frank Borgia died as he lived.

Borgia was a tough subject for Mafia Genealogy, considering he has no death certificate, and I couldn’t find a record of his birth. My interest is in the relationships among mafiosi, which often explain why they do what they do. Joe Ardizzone (1881-1931) and Frank Borgia (c. 1893-1951), both active in Jack Dragna’s (1891-1956) Los Angeles Mafia, were said to be cousins with roots in Piana dei Greci. Frank Borgia claimed to have been born in Gela (today, called Terranova). His parents, known from Frank’s marriage and migration records, were from Piana dei Greci (today, Piana degli Albanesi).

Los Angeles gangsters Frank Borgia and Joe Ardizzone are first cousins, once removed.

There is no death record for Borgia because he disappeared: what they call a “lupara bianca” in Sicily. By most accounts, Mafia associate and vineyardist Frank Borgia was last seen early in December 1951. Judith Moore says it happened six months later, after a wedding the following June. I found one fleck of shaky evidence, written long after the fact, which said Borgia came home to his wife a few days after he was reported missing in December (Blackstock, 2015). Based on this, it looked as though he went missing, came home, and then disappeared for good. However, his return was falsely reported in contemporary sources, and later ruled out by police. I emailed Joe Blackstock about his 2015 reporting and he graciously responded:

“Unfortunately, shortly after that column was published I learned that the information about the reappearance of Borgia was incorrect. A hint that he had returned was later concluded by police to be false information.” (Personal communication, 18 April 2022.)

The marriage of Frank Borgia and Pauline Enna. The license (top portion) is witnessed by Jack Dragna and Frances Rizzotto.

Joe Ardizzone and Frank Borgia are first cousins, once removed. It was likely Joe’s brother, Stefano, who Frank Borgia called his uncle and destination contact when he emigrated in 1914 (Manifest of the Caserta). Borgia and Jack Dragna were also very close, though they were of no relation. In 1922, Frank Borgia and Jack Dragna married a week apart. Jack and his future wife were the witnesses at Frank’s marriage to Pauline Enna (Marriage of Frank Borgia and Pauline Enna, 1922).

Frank Baumgarteker, wife Mary, and son Herbert, in a 1924 passport application.

In November 1929, wealthy Austrian-born vineyardist and trucking contractor Frank Baumgarteker (1886-1929) disappeared (Frank Baumgarteker passport application, 1924; Missing man in purple car, 1929; Baumgarteker’s wife asks grand jury, 1930). He was a close friend of Frank Borgia’s; both owned property in Cucamonga. (Upland, Ontario, and Rancho Cucamonga are all within three miles of one another.) Police believed Baumgarteker was “taken for a ride” and buried in the desert. His body was never found. Borgia and Ardizzone were suspected in the wealthy man’s disappearance.

Map showing locations of Sunland (where Joe Ardizzone once lived), Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, an hour from Sunland; the Mojave Desert, and at the bottom of the screen, San Diego and Tijuana. (c) OpenStreetMaps contributors.

Bootlegger Tony Buccola (c. 1888-1930) made enemies among his Italian colleagues, who ran him out of town for years. When they let him return to Los Angeles, out of sympathy for his sick mother, Frank Borgia made a show of forgiving Buccola, befriending him, and giving him a job. Tony’s brother George said that Borgia, Ardizzone, and Dragna, the same men who had run him out of town, had taken Tony out just a few nights before he disappeared, in May 1930. George blamed the three powerful mafiosi for his brother’s disappearance (Moore, 1997).

The year after Buccola went missing, Joe Ardizzone survived two attempts on his life, one of them in a hospital, then vanished in October. He’d been on his way to Joe Cuccia’s ranch to pick up his cousin, Nick Borgia, who’d just come from Italy and was staying at Cuccia’s. This time, Jack Dragna and Frank Borgia were suspected in the Iron Man’s disappearance. Joe’s brother Frank Ardizzone told one investigating officer, “Don’t bother looking for any enemies. It’ll be one of his friends that did it” (L.A. cellar searched for bones of Ontario vintner, 1949).

“Don’t bother looking for any enemies. It’ll be one of his friends that did it.” —Frank Ardizzone

Borgia managed a wholesale grocery for George Niotta (1889-1955). According to Dragna and Niotta descendant J. Michael Niotta, Borgia tricked Big George, who could not read or write, into signing over the grocery to him. Serendipitously for Niotta, this resulted in Borgia being the only one indicted for bootlegging, despite both being involved.

Through his wholesale business, Borgia was a “sugar man,” supplying brewing ingredients to moonshiners during Prohibition: the crime for which he was arrested in December 1931 (Frank Borgia posts bond for rum trial, 1931; Niotta, 2017, p. 54). By the time he was convicted and went to prison in 1935, Prohibition was over. He served not quite two years and was released in November 1937 (Washington, McNeil Island prison records).

After prison, Frank Borgia worked in manufacturing, bought property, and became wealthy and influential. He was once again a big rancher, and now also an industry representative and business community leader (OPA drops wine grape ceilings, 1944; CC directors elected at meet, 1951).

In March 1951 the Kefauver hearings were televised. Late that year, Frank sold his winery in Cucamonga for $125,000 (Dragna pal, 1951). According to his wife, it was some grape acreage that he sold (Long-missing, 1951). Either way, this windfall prompted an extortion attempt, planned by Jack Dragna and executed through a secret partner, Gaspare Matranga (1898-1971), a San Diego mafioso from Piana dei Greci (Gaspare Matranga 73 dies, 1971). (There is a thicket of relationships among US Mafia families from Piana dei Greci.) Borgia complained strenuously to Dragna about Matranga’s demands for $25,000 from the sale of his vineyard (Valin, n.d.; May, 2009).

Several sources report that his Cadillac was found abandoned in Tijuana, an hour’s drive south of San Diego (Dragna pal, 1951; Niotta, 2017, p. 61). The car was reported to San Diego police by Tijuana authorities on 14 December, and the SDP notified Mrs. Borgia, who arranged for the car to be recovered (Missing vintner, 1951).

Judith Moore wrote about Borgia’s end in the San Diego Reader and a book about San Diego Mafia boss Frank Bompensiero, titled A Bad, Bad Boy. According to Moore, Borgia went to the wedding of a family friend’s daughter in San Diego, driving himself in his black Buick Roadmaster (Moore, 1999). (The 1950 Cadillac coupe de ville and 1950 Buick Roadmaster are similar in appearance.) He checked into a room in the U.S. Grant and drove to the wedding venue, St. Joseph’s Cathedral. There are photos of the guests throwing rice and smiling, the author tells us, and Borgia identifiable among them (Moore, 1999). She doesn’t reproduce the photograph or tell us what other evidence she has besides Demaris’ book.

In her account, after the wedding he went back to his hotel and parked in the hotel garage. Early that evening in June 1952, Tony Mirabile, who was Frank Borgia’s best friend, picked him up from his hotel and took him to Joe Adamo’s house. There, Frank Bompensiero and Jimmy Fratianno were waiting with a rope with which they strangled Borgia to death. His body was never found. His car was retrieved from the parking garage when a hotel employee notified the San Diego police (Moore, 1999).

Moore’s story comes partly from Ovid Demaris’ novel, The Last Mafioso, which was written using interviews of Jimmy Fratianno, some 25 years after the events described. The murder in Joseph Adamo’s house, and the shakedown by Dragna and Matranga, both appear in Allan May’s account. He dates the plans to murder Borgia vaguely to the early 1950s, and doesn’t mention the wedding (May, 2009). Sifakis (2006) confirms the extortion and involvement of Dragna, Matranga, Bompensiero, and Fratianno.

In newspaper coverage of Frank Borgia’s disappearance, and mentions of it in news of his estate, it’s consistently reported that Frank Borgia left home on the second of December 1951 and had not been seen since (Missing vintner not in Hanford, 1951; Trustee is asked, 1952; Moonshine king’s widow, 1952). 

Pauline Borgia, Frank’s wife, was evidently used to her husband’s long absences, assumed he’d left home on a business trip, and further assumed he’d gone to Hanford, north of Bakersfield, when she received checks he’d written from their bank. (For those unfamiliar with 20th Century banking practices, a paper check with the bearer’s signature on the reverse was presented to the bank for funds, and following the exchange, the endorsed check was returned to the writer by mail.) The checks, it was later discovered, had been left by Borgia on an earlier trip in anticipation of buying some grapes (Missing vintner, 1951). 

Whether she feigned ignorance or practiced it regularly in her marriage, Pauline was not much help in determining her husband’s whereabouts. The most reliable testimony is the one given by Jimmy Fratianno. He is the only witness who has spoken about the murder. 

There might be some truth in Moore’s version, but she offers no evidence of it in her book. The details she provides beyond what Demaris published are unprovable (who is the friend’s daughter who married?) or contradicted by a preponderance of evidence (the type of car Borgia drove and where it was recovered, the month and year he disappeared). The author has passed away, so we cannot ask her. In April I emailed the Wylie Agency, which represents the late author’s estate, hoping to access notes on her investigation into Frank Borgia’s disappearance, but I’ve had no response. 

What we know about Frank Borgia is that he evidently died as he lived: betrayed by his friends, and then gone without a trace. 

Sources

Baumgarteker’s wife asks grand jury inquiry of disappearance of mate; asserts police inactive. (1930, April 27). The Sun (San Bernardino, CA). Vol. 66 No. 58. P. 7. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19300427.1.7&srpos=18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Baumgarteker——-1

Blackstock, J. (2015, June 1). Vintner’s disappearance still a mystery despite plenty of ‘clews.’ Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/06/01/vintners-disappearance-still-a-mystery-despite-plenty-of-clews/ 

CC directors elected at meet. (1951, November 15). The Cucamonga Times (Cucamonga, CA). P. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/image/747935010/ 

Dragna pal, long missing, feared slain. (1951, December 26). Daily News (Los Angeles, CA). P. 8. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DNLA19511226.1.8&srpos=18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Borgia——-1 

Frank Baumgarteker passport application. (1924). “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-99DQ-KRV?cc=2185145&wc=3XC5-82Q%3A1056306501%2C1056394301 : 22 December 2014), (M1490) Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925 > Roll 2459, 1924 Apr, certificate no 386850-387349 > image 696 of 761; citing NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)

Frank Borgia posts bond for rum trial. (1931, December 25). San Pedro News Pilot. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SPNP19311225.2.66&srpos=3&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Borgia——-1 

Gaspare Matranga, 73, dies; Mafia tie recalled. (1971, July 6). The Sun (San Bernardino, CA). P. C-3. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19710706.1.21&srpos=1&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Gaspare+Matranga——-1 

Long-missing Cucamonga man’s friend vanishes. (1951, December 27). The Sun (San Bernardino, CA). P. 16. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19511227.1.16&srpos=8&e=——195-en–20-SBS-1–txt-txIN-Borgia——-1 

Manifest of the Caserta. (1914, December 5). Line 12. https://heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger-details/czoxMjoiMTAwNTM4MDMwMTA5Ijs=/czo4OiJtYW5pZmVzdCI7

Marriage of Frank Borgia and Pauline Enna. (1922, April 23). “California, County Marriages, 1850-1952,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8F1-LYX : 9 March 2021); citing Los Angeles, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 2,074,277.

May, Allan. (2009, October 14). Frank Bompensiero San Diego hit man, boss, and FBI informant. http://www.crimemagazine.com/frank-bompensiero-san-diego-hit-man-boss-and-fbi-informant 

Missing man in purple car. (1929, November 29). San Pedro News Pilot. Vol. 2. No. 230. P. 7. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SPNP19291129.2.79&srpos=11&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Baumgarteker——-1

Missing vintner not in Hanford. (1951, December 28). San Bernardino Sun. P. 1. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SBS19511228.1.1&srpos=3&e=——195-en–20-SBS-1–txt-txIN-Borgia——-1

Moonshine king’s widow named estate trustee. (1952, August 29). Daily News (Los Angeles, CA). P. 41. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DNLA19520829.1.41&srpos=4&e=——195-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Borgia—-1952—1 

Moore, J. (1997, January 9). San Diego mafia in the 1950s used slayings to enforce rules. San Diego Reader. https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1997/jan/09/cover-honest-to-god-crooks-with-blood-on-their-han/

Moore, J. (1999, February 11). How Frank Bompensiero met his fate in Pacific Beach. San Diego Reader. Retrieved from https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1999/feb/11/concert-shot-dark/ 

Moore, J. (2009). A bad, bad boy. Reader Books.

Niotta, J. M. (2017). The Los Angeles sugar ring: Inside the world of old money, bootleggers, & gambling barons. The History Press.

OPA drops wine grape ceilings. (1944, July 22). San Pedro News Pilot. https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SPNP19440722.2.70&srpos=11&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Frank+Borgia——-1 

Sifakis, C. (2006). The mafia encyclopedia. Infobase Publishing. P. 211.

Trustee is asked for Frank Borgia’s $500,000 estate. (1952, August 8). Daily News (Los Angeles, CA). P. 15. Retrieved from https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DNLA19520808.1.15&srpos=5&e=——195-en–20–1–txt-txIN-Borgia—-1952—1 

Valin, E. (n.d.) Salvatore Piscopo. The man who betrayed Johnny Roselli. The American Mafia. Retrieved from https://mafiahistory.us/rattrap/salvatorepiscopo.html 

Washington, U.S., U.S. Penitentiary McNeil Island, Photos and Records of Prisoners Received, 1887-1939 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.

Want to know more about how I find records and histories that illuminate the lives of Mafia members and their associates? I break down the search for Frank Borgia’s records for my biggest fans in a post on Patreon.

Northampton, MA: Nerd Nite Noho presentation on the origins of the Mafia in Springfield on 8/13/18

Northampton, MA: Nerd Nite Noho presentation on the origins of the Mafia in Springfield on 8/13/18

If and only if you’re near the Pioneer Valley, plan to hang out with nerds on Monday night. I’ll be there!

Mafia nerds, rejoice and be refreshed! I’ll be speaking Monday evening, August 13th, at Nerd Nite Noho, a monthly gathering at the World War II Club in Northampton, Massachusetts. Join us! I’ll be in a double header: the other half of the evening will be on feminist comics. So much cool, they turn off the A/C. (Just kidding. It’s very comfortable. And there’s a bar!)

Nerd Nite Noho

13 August 2018

7-9 PM

Event on Facebook

Al Bruno Adolfos Springfield FB page
“Big Al” Bruno

Be there and be square!

The WWII Club is at 50 Conz St., Northampton. Admission to Nerd Nite Noho is $5. See the Facebook event page for more information.

Omerta in Utica

Omerta in Utica

Nothing could tear apart these early Mafia families in Utica, New York. Not even murder.

Pietro Lima and his brother-in-law, Dominick Aiello, were in a hurry the night they were killed, summoned by a late night phone call. It was November, and the men left home in such a rush that neither was fully dressed; they’d thrown coats over slippers and pajamas. The men were found dead in their car in the morning, evidently shot at close range by someone sitting in the back seat. In other words, they were executed by someone they trusted. Though never charged, it’s widely believed that the powerful Falcone brothers were behind their deaths.

 

Pietro Lima
Pietro Lima

The Falcones were long time associates of Pietro Lima and his extended family, who had been running and distilling illicit alcohol in Utica since the start of Prohibition. Even after its repeal in 1933, the families continued to dodge taxes with their unlicensed stills. They were also part of a network of criminals that spanned the United States. Despite indictments for conspiracy in the early 1940s, the Falcones were not identified by federal investigators as Mafia bosses until their arrest at the famous 1957 gathering in Apalachin, New York.

 

The elder of the two murder victims, Pietro Lima, was born in 1869 or 1870 in Bagheria, a few miles from the city of Palermo. He immigrated around the turn of the century with his wife, Providenza Aiello, and their oldest child, Grace. They settled first in Brooklyn, where the rest of Pietro and Providenza’s children were born. By 1920, the family had moved, with several of their extended relations, to Utica, in Oneida County, New York, about 75 miles east of Lake Ontario. Across the water was Prince Edward Island, in Canada. It was a good location for transporting alcohol into the US during Prohibition, an activity Pietro was involved in with the husband of his niece, Rosario Gambino. The two were stopped together in 1924 in a car full of Canadian ale, but they were able to overturn their conviction the following year on the grounds the police did not have a search warrant.

Joseph Lima 1928 Utica
Joseph Lima

In 1928, Pietro and Rosario were both prosperous business owners in Utica, and the fathers of large families. Rosario, formerly a longshoreman, owned a gas station. Pietro, a grocer, owned his home next door to his eldest daughter, Grace, and her husband. His son, Joseph, was most likely being groomed to take over the family business. He had been married for four years to Nellie Caputo, whom he’d vigorously courted in her family’s Brooklyn bake shop, and they had one child, a son.

Based on interviews the police conducted with family members, Nellie sparked the fateful argument that November by remarking on how Joseph had let “some Italian girl” wreck his car. The fight escalated and Nellie left the house with their son, going to the home of Rosario Gambino, a couple blocks away.

The Lima, Aiello, Gambino, and Falcone families, all of whom moved to Utica in the years leading up to Prohibition, were related by marriage, as well as through their criminal activities. All recent immigrants from Palermo and Bagheria, they also shared a connection in Brooklyn, having spent time there, upon their arrivals in the US, living in the same Cobble Hill neighborhood. A Falcone stood as godfather to Joseph Lima, in 1901 in Brooklyn, and the Caputo family bakery where Joseph wooed Nellie is still operated by the original owner’s descendants.

It’s not clear why Nellie went to the Gambino home after her argument with her husband. Perhaps she spent a lot of time with Angelina Gambino, making it a natural choice. She may have come to know the Gambinos well in Brooklyn and sought them out as old friends after her marriage brought her to Utica. But she could not have been ignorant of the power play she was about to make.

At around ten o’clock that night, Joseph Lima and his father, who’d both been drinking, decided it was time to bring Nellie back home. They got one of Joseph’s brothers, Charlie, and Grace’s husband, Lawrence, to go with them to the Gambino home to retrieve her. But Nellie refused to leave with them, and Rosario Gambino backed her up, increasing the stakes for the Lima men. He said she could stay the night if she wanted.

Peter Gambino Utica 1928
Peter Gambino

Eventually, Joseph and the other young men left, but Pietro Lima remained in his onetime partner’s driveway, drunk and yelling insults at the house. Close to midnight, Rosario came outside again with his eighteen year old son, Peter, and told Pietro to go home. Pietro refused. Rosario then told his son to move their car, and as Peter started to comply, he saw Lima reach for a gun. Peter leaped in front of his father to protect him. A gun fired, and Peter went down, hit in the chest.

More shots were fired—both Pietro and Rosario were armed with handguns—and the two men managed to seriously injure one another. Rosario was shot in the stomach, and Pietro was struck at least twice, in the leg and the scrotum.

Pietro’s sons and son-in-law returned to the scene, and Charlie and Lawrence took Rosario Gambino, who was evidently the most seriously injured, to the hospital in their car. Meanwhile Pietro and the young Peter Gambino limped off together to find a doctor for themselves. They made it a few blocks before the older man collapsed. His gun was dropped into a sewer, and later retrieved from its catch basin as evidence.

Police arrived at the Gambino home, and the women inside would not let them in, so officers broke in and began searching for evidence. They quickly found Rosario’s gun, hidden in a warming oven. Joseph Lima arrived and claimed to be there to visit his wife, who had been ill. He demanded to know what was going on.

On the street corner where Pietro Lima collapsed was a cafeteria from which an ambulance was called to take the two injured men to the same hospital as Rosario. All three men were operated upon. Peter Gambino had been struck in the collarbone, but was expected to survive.

By the following morning, Rosario was dead. He left a widow and ten children, the youngest under two. A collection was taken at the viewing, to pay for his burial. The following day Peter, still in the hospital, was finally informed of his father’s death. Nearby, Pietro Lima was recovering from his own injuries, and expecting to face manslaughter charges upon his release.

Following news of Rosario’s death, it was reported in the newspaper in Utica that Nellie’s relatives were coming from Brooklyn to take her home with them. Police found Pietro’s discarded gun, as well as those stashed in the Gambino home, and learned that Peter Gambino’s injury came not from Pietro Lima, but from the gun of his late father. A suit was filed by the dead man’s estate against Pietro Lima, to support the widow and children.

As bad as it seemed, immediately after the shooting, it appears that the families worked things out. The manslaughter case against Pietro would be hard to press without the cooperation of the Gambinos. Peter was the only witness to his father’s shooting. In the end, Pietro was charged only with having an unregistered gun, and even in this, his niece, whom he had widowed, pleaded with the judge for a lenient sentence. The practical reasons are clear: better that Pietro was free and earning to support both their families, than for him to be imprisoned. Pietro Lima pleaded guilty to the gun charge and got a suspended sentence and a fine, on the understanding he wouldn’t be prosecuted in Rosario Gambino’s death.

Six years later, when it was Pietro and Dominick who were killed, money and family ties once again kept the victims’ families silent. Four years after her husband’s murder, Paolina Aiello was discovered to possess a high volume, state of the art “super still” in her home. After massive arrests in an alcohol conspiracy netted the Falcone brothers, reporters came around to Mrs. Aiello’s little grocery, which she had run from the family’s garage since the early years of her marriage. She had nothing but good things to say about Mr. Falcone, whom she had known for twenty years and whose son, a lawyer, was married to Mrs. Aiello’s daughter. It was Mrs. Aiello whose real estate holdings financed Salvatore Falcone’s $20,000 bail.

 

The Piranio brothers of Dallas

The Piranio brothers of Dallas

The Piranio brothers of Corleone founded the Dallas Mafia.

The Dallas crime family was founded around 1921 by brothers Carlo and Joseph Piranio from Corleone. The Piranio brothers were part of a network of immigrants from this town, related through blood and marriage, active in the Mafia in Corleone and in American cities including New York, New Orleans, Dallas, and Los Angeles, in the first half of the 20th century. Along with Giuseppe Morello, Leoluca “Mr. Luke” Trumbatore, and Ignacio “Jack” Dragna, Carlo and Joe Piranio are among the first Mafia bosses in the United States. All were born in Corleone.

Carlo Piranio source Viralnova
Billed as Carlo Piranio, this photo may actually be of Civello (Source: Viralnova; h/t Fabien Rossat

Carlo was born Calogero Piranio on 21 May 1875, the son of Arcangelo Piranio and Orsola Trumbatore. He was named after his paternal grandfather, as is traditional in Corleone for the first born son. The surname “Piranio” is sometimes misspelled “Pirano” when referring to Carlo and Joseph in Dallas. In Corleone, the original spelling of their family’s name is “Praino,” seen more often in older records.

Carlo’s brother, Joseph, was born Giuseppe on 11 August 1878, named after his maternal grandfather. Arcangelo died the following year, at just 32 years old. Orsola remarried within the year, to Leoluca Cascio. Orsola and Leoluca had at least four more children, the last known born in 1896.

According to his answers on future census records, Carlo had emigrated by this time. He lived first in Shreveport, Louisiana, where his brother, Joseph, joined him around the turn of the century. Thomas Hunt writes that Carlo developed a paralysis of the right arm around 1899, a few years before his brother arrived in Louisiana. The paralysis may have been related to Carlo’s ultimate cause of death.

Carlo and Joseph are distantly related to “Mr. Luke” Trumbatore, who led the New Orleans Mafia (which operated throughout the state). Trumbatore is a closer cousin of Giuseppe Morello, another distant cousin of the Piranios. Morello operated primarily in New York with his half-brothers, the Terranovas. Trumbatore initially emigrated to New York before relocating to New Orleans.

Giuseppe Morello mug shot
Giuseppe Morello

Like the Piranio brothers, Morello was born in Corleone, lost his father while he was still young, and was raised by a stepfather. The Morello-Terranova family spent some of the years between 1892-1903 in the American South, in both Louisiana and Texas. Giuseppe’s stepfather, Bernardo Terranova, was known to be active in the Mafia in Corleone. Leoluca Cascio, the Piranio brothers’ stepfather, was the son of a cab driver: one of the rural entrepreneurial professions associated with Mafia activity in Corleone.

Carlo married Clemenza Grimaldi, also from Corleone, and they had their first child, Angelo, in 1904 in Shreveport. Joseph also married around this time, to Lena la Rocca, who was born in New Orleans of Italian parents.

The brothers moved their young families to Dallas, Texas, by the 1910 census, when they shared a household on Main Street. Carlo was reportedly a grocery storekeeper at this time, and Joe a grocery salesman. When Carlo’s third child was born in 1917, the family lived on Dawson Street, and Carlo reported his profession as real estate agent. In 1919, Carl was charged with receiving thousands of dollars worth of stolen war bonds.

Prohibition began in 1920. That year’s census reports that Carlo was still a real estate agent. His brother owned a tobacco shop, the J.T. Piranio Company, wholesale cigar dealers at 603 Harwood St. near Cadiz. Joe’s brother-in-law, Frank Aloi, lived with him in that year’s census. Aloi owned a grocery store.

Joseph Civello was an associate of the Dallas Mafia who also brought his family to Texas from Louisiana. His family operated groceries in Dallas that were also fronts for illegal activities for at least two generations, beginning during Prohibition.

In 1928, Civello was assigned to kill Joe DeCarlo, a bootlegger and druggist who had stopped making tributary payments to Carlo Piranio. Civello met DeCarlo in a pharmacy while carrying a shotgun, which discharged, hitting DeCarlo in the abdomen. The gunshot was ruled an accident, in large part on the assertions of DeCarlo, himself, made before he died.

Carlo Piranio died early in 1930, at age 54, from a tumor of the spine. Upon Carlo’s death, Joe took over leadership of the Dallas Mafia from his brother and remained the boss until his death in 1956.

According to his biography on Find A Grave, Joe owned a number of bars and a construction business, as well as gambling operations and a construction labor racket. In the 1930 census, Joe is called a builder for a contractor. By this time, Joe’s parents in law had also joined them in Dallas, and lived a couple doors down from Joe and Lena. Living between Joe and his in-laws were the families of one of his capos, Frank Ianni, and of Louis Cascio, both merchants.

Joe’s daughter, Ursula, married Joseph Lisotta in 1932. Joseph’s father was born in Corleone. Originally trained as a civil engineer in university, and employed in this profession by the city of Dallas, Lisotta bought a tavern shortly after Prohibition’s repeal, in 1933. The tavern was a popular gathering place: according to one anecdote in his obituary, Joseph Lisotta would host “special customers” for after-hours spaghetti dinners. Lisotta’s Tavern shut its doors for good in 1956, when the district voted to become “dry.”

The same year the Tavern closed, Ursula’s parents both died: first her mother in February, and then her father, eight months later, by suicide. Joe Piranio, the boss of the Dallas Mafia until his death, was 78 years old. Joseph Civello took over leadership, which he held until his death in 1970.

Sources

Arther, Azure. “Tales From the Speakeasy: Who Is the Dallas Crime Family?” Published 24 December 2016. http://cw33.com/2016/12/24/tales-from-the-speakeasy-who-is-the-dallas-crime-family/ Accessed 4 September 2017.

Carlo T. Piranio on Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=30428215 Accessed 4 September 2017.

“Dallas crime family.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_crime_family Accessed 4 September 2017.

Hunt, Thomas. “The Mafia of Dallas: 1910-1970.” Published July 2010 in Informer Journal. Pp. 16+.

Renfrow, David. “Joseph Lisotta Owned Oak Cliff Tavern.” Dallas Morning News. 19 January 2006. Metro:12B.

Feature Image: Elm St at Night, Dallas, TX. Wikimedia Commons

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)

Gay Liberation and the Mafia

Gay Liberation and the Mafia

Lucky Luciano built the Genovese monopoly on gay nightlife in New York City in the 1930s. The Stonewall Inn was the site of a violent protest against police raids—and against mafia involvement in gay bars. Ed “The Skull” Murphy (top right) was working the door of the Stonewall Inn the night of the famous riot.

Of the Five Families of New York, Lucky Luciano’s was the one we now call the Genovese crime family. Originally the Morello gang, when Luciano took it over in 1931 it had been most recently run by Joe Masseria, Maranzano’s challenger in the Castellammarese War. Until 1957, when Vito Genovese went to prison for trafficking heroin through his gay bars, it was called the Luciano crime family.

Luciano had long experience in running brothels, bars, prostitution rings, and even drug smuggling. To support his speakeasies during Prohibition, Luciano had mafia-backed vendors for liquor, cigarette vending machines, pool tables, and most importantly, police protection. Investing in “fairy places” or “fag bars” was part of a diverse portfolio of organized crime, and an area in which the Luciano family excelled. Their monopoly on gay nightlife in New York City would not be broken for fifty years.

By the mid-1800s, New York had recognizable gay community in several neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village. In George Chauncey’s “Gay New York,” he writes that at least three different locations in Little Italy had young male prostitutes working in them in 1908. Phillip Crawford Jr, in his book, “The Mafia and the Gays,” writes that before Prohibition began in 1920, the LGBT community in the city enjoyed some degree of social acceptance in these gay enclaves.

Yet in 1923, the law in New York City prohibited loitering to solicit gay sex. When Prohibition was lifted, eleven years later, the new State Liquor Authority considered any establishment that served alcohol to gay customers to be “disorderly houses” or places where “unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public.”

A wider group of Americans, including homosexuals, enjoyed a brief period of greater social acceptance during WWII, when everyone was needed in the war effort, whether in the service or as a civilian. When the war ended, large numbers of queer people in the military ended their service, and chose to remain in the cities where there was community. Gay spaces became even more coveted as LGBT people faced increasing discrimination in the Cold War years.

Although decriminalized after 1950, sodomy was still a misdemeanor, and various kinds of discrimination were still legally applied to the LGBT community. Apartment owners and employers did not have to rent to, or employ, people they knew or suspected were queer. A bar could lose its license not only by permitting same-sex kissing, touching, or dancing in their establishment, but simply by allowing gay people to congregate. In his book, Crawford offers an example in the 1965 investigation that shut down the Julius Restaurant: police descriptions of mincing gaits, tight clothes, and men who called one another “honey,” were the legal grounds on which the restaurant’s license was suspended.

The businesses that served the LGBT community, were those that paid off the police. And that meant gay bars were run by the mafia. Historians have connected all five of the families to gay bars in New York, with the majority belonging to the Genovese.

People who would today identify as members of the LGBT community, lived marginalized or hidden lives in the 1950s and 60s. “The down low” was the only option for virtually everyone who patronized gay establishments in those days. For transgender people, the options were extremely limited. “Butches,” “queens,” and other gender transgressors lived in danger roughly proportionate to their visible queerness. The more privileged members of the LGBT community, who could pass as heteronormative and cisgender, were by necessity closeted in most aspects of their lives. They, too, needed public spaces to meet their own kind in relative safety.

At the same time that tourists poured into Anna Genovese’s well-produced drag shows, vice squads enforced antiquated “sumptuary laws” that dictated the number of articles of clothing (some sources say three, others five) corresponding to one’s biological sex, which had to be worn at all times in public, or risk arrest for impersonation of the opposite sex.

In transgender activist Leslie Feinberg’s fictionalized autobiography, “Stone Butch Blues,” Feinberg’s alter ego, Jess, identifies as a butch and dresses as many transgender men do today, binding her chest and wearing a packer in her briefs. Jess and her butch friends work in factories, where they trade the relative freedom to be openly butch, for being the lowest-status workers, whatever their seniority.  When an older member of the community dies, her family buries her in a dress, a humiliation her friends also suffer, in order to be allowed to attend the funeral.

The gendered names, pronouns, clothes, and roles that queer people embraced, fifty years ago, are not the same ones used today by the majority of LGBT people. Choices were more limited, and both mainstream and queer cultures change over time. Feinberg’s book, which also depicts police violence in a bar raid, offers a window on a life that was not much documented, and was often purposely erased by family histories.

Being queer in the 1960s and early 70s was not just grounds for “black sheep” status in the family. Insurance companies would not bond anyone in the financial industry who had an arrest record, whether for “impersonation,” “lewd acts,” “solicitation,” or any of the other crimes under which gay life was categorized. To be publicly, noticeably (to straights) lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender was illegal, which meant accepting as a fact of life, socializing in spaces where illegal activity was protected and flourished. Mafia-managed bars ran the rackets that had always accompanied the gay bar trade, since at least the beginning of the century: prostitution of both sexes, including minors, pornography sale and production, drug trafficking, blackmail, and extortion.

In addition to crime, poor conditions and sleazy business practices went along with black markets, and gay bars were no exception. The Stonewall Inn was re-opened in 1967 by Tony Lauria, the son of a mafioso, with Genovese family backing, as a bottle club, meaning it didn’t need a liquor license. The Stonewall’s claim to fame was that it was the only gay bar in town that permitted dancing. The missing amenities included an emergency exit and running water. In 1969, the Stonewall was responsible for transmitting hepatitis by serving drinks in dirty, used glasses.

The mafia has always preyed upon the most downtrodden of its own people. Despite the predatory relationship between them, the mafia and the LGBT community, they were not mutually exclusive in their membership. Vito Genovese’s wife, Anna, ran one of his gay nightclubs and was reputed to be lesbian. Figures including David Petillo, Ed Murphy, and John D’Amato, tell us that gay mafiosi existed, with varying degrees of acceptance by the mafia, and by the gay community. Matty “the Horse” Ianniello, acting boss of the Genovese family for ten years (between prison terms for racketeering), was widely acknowledged as “the Genovese capo who controlled much of New York’s gay nightlife.” He paid off the police to protect Lauria’s Stonewall.

Ed Murphy (1926-1989), born Edward Francis Murphy and nicknamed “The Skull,” was a former pro wrestler (not to be confused with another wrestler called Skull Murphy, who died in 1970). Ed was a mafioso, and in 1969, a closeted gay man. He ran prostitution rings, and worked as a bouncer in gay bars. The Skull was working the door of the Stonewall the night of the police raid that kicked off the riots. The police, according to David Carter and Lucian K. Truscott IV, were targeting mafia activities, not the clientele, but as Zagria points out, if that was their goal, they were failures, from planning to execution. If you’re really going after someone for blackmailing closeted patrons, do you raid the bar when it’s open for business and full of customers? And then do you let your target slip away into the crowd while arresting a paddy wagon full of trans patrons?

The predation of both the police and the mafia were the targets of the fury that was unleashed when police raided the Stonewall Inn in June, 1969. One of the goals shared by the Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front, two groups that came out of the Stonewall protests, was to get organized crime out of the gay bars. But with gay liberation, those same bars were now cash cows, and the mafia was less likely than ever to want to let go of them. It would be another generation before Giuliani’s aggressive targeting of organized crime in New York in the mid 1980s broke the monopoly on gay bars in the city. The anti-mafia part of the Stonewall story is virtually unknown in the LGBT community. Perhaps this is a sign of the mafia’s success in suppressing anti-mafia sentiment, and riding the coattails of the civil rights movement after Stonewall.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, as it was first called, commemorated the Stonewall uprising on its first anniversary, 28 June 1970, with a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Four years later the Stonewall’s old bouncer, Ed Murphy, convinced the committee to reverse the parade route to its present trajectory, so it ended on Christopher Street, where attendees could drink in the many Mafia-owned establishments. Murphy came out as gay in the late 70s, and rode in the parade with a sash calling him the Mayor of Christopher Street. He died of AIDS in 1989. Murphy’s obituary called him a gay-rights leader.

 

Sources:

“Stonewall Riots: A Gay Protest Against Mafia Bars.” On the blog “Friends of Ours: Mostly About Organized Crime.” (Written by the author of “The Mafia and the Gays,” Phillip Crawford Jr.) Published 7 June 2010. Accessed http://bitterqueen.typepad.com/friends_of_ours/2010/06/the-stonewall-riots-a-gay-protest-against-mafia-bars.html 13 April 2016.

“The Stonewall Inn” Published 27 June 2011 on “A Gender Variance Who’s Who” blog. Accessed  http://zagria.blogspot.com/2011/06/stonewall-inn.html 14 April 2016. (Quotes Carter, an historian who wrote a book on the subject in 2004, and Truscott, who covered the 1969 uprising for the Village Voice.)

Nianias, Helen. “How the Mafia Once Controlled the New York Gay Scene” Interview with Phillip Crawford Jr, author of The Mafia and the Gays. Published 30 July 2015. Accessed http://www.vice.com/read/how-the-mafia-once-controlled-the-new-york-gay-scene-616 13 April 2016.

“Edward Murphy, 63, A Gay-Rights Leader.” Published 2 March 1989. Accessed http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/02/obituaries/edward-murphy-63-a-gay-rights-leader.html

 

Image credits: Stonewall image is By Diana Davies, copyright owned by New York Public Library – Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4547643. Ed Murphy mugshot is from http://aelarsen.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/stonewall-strange-but-true/ . Lucky Luciano image is in the public domain.