Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE GAMBINO FAMILY

The Castellammarese War

Lucky Luciano
Lucky Luciano

On April 15, 1931, gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano invited his boss Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria to lunch at Nuova Villa Tammaro in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Masseria ate well that day, ordering veal, linguini, and red wine, and after the meal he and his trusted lieutenant whiled away the afternoon playing cards. It was a welcome break for Masseria from the tensions of what would become known as the Castellammarese War.

Giuseppe Masseria
Giuseppe Masseria

In 1913, Masseria had ruthlessly taken over the Morello Gang, New York 's first major Mafia family. Short, stocky, and cold-blooded, Masseria insisted that his underlings call him "Joe the Boss," but he was hardly a beloved leader. Like Nick Morello before him, he was an old-school "Mustache Pete," who ruled with an iron fist and always took the biggest piece of the pie for himself. But in the late 1920s, newly arrived immigrants from the Sicilian town Castellammare del Golfo challenged his control of the New York  rackets. Salvatore Maranzano emerged as the boss of these newcomers and thus became Masseria's arch foe. Maranzano's organization established its headquarters in Brooklyn and set up outposts in Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit.

In New York, gangsters were forced to take sides. Either they were with Masseria or Maranzano. Neutrality wasn't an option. Masseria had his "young Turks:" Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Willie Moretti, and Carlo Gambino. Maranzano could count on Joe Magliocco, Joe Bonanno, and Joe Profaci as well as "secret defectors" from Masseria's camp, Tommy Lucchese and Tommy Gagliano.

Maranzano was as much a stern "Mustache Pete" as Masseria, and privately the young Turks wished both bosses would go back to Italy. They felt handcuffed by the old-timers' insistence on tradition and impoverished by their bosses' greed. They watched jealously as their rival Irish and Jewish gangs grew fat on the spoils of their wide-ranging criminal activities. Finally fed up, the young Turks secretly formed a third faction, led by Lucky Luciano, who had been running his own rackets behind Masseria's back with Jewish hoodlums Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, both of whom the anti-Semitic Masseria despised.  

Salvatore Maranzano
Salvatore Maranzano

On that spring day at the Coney Island  restaurant, Masseria and Luciano played hand after hand. The usually suspicious Masseria relaxed and enjoyed himself. As the afternoon shadows grew longer along the boardwalk, Luciano put his cards face down on the table and excused himself. He had to go to the bathroom, he told his boss. Masseria watched him head toward the rear of the restaurant. As soon as Luciano was out of sight, four men came in through the front door—Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel. They each pulled out a gun and opened fire on the startled Masseria who took six shots and died on the spot. Luciano came out of the bathroom, looked down at the slain boss, and nodded approvingly to the hit team.

When word of Masseria's murder got out, Luciano brokered a truce with Salvatore Maranzano, who declared himself the Boss of Bosses. The Castellammarese War was over.

Mafia Dynasty
Mafia Dynasty

But Maranzano's reign was short. A few months after Masseria's death, Luciano struck again. According to John H. Davis in his book Mafia Dynasty, four hired guns from the Lansky-Siegel gang wearing treasury agent uniforms went to Maranzano's office where the boss was expecting a surprise audit from the IRS. As Tommy Lucchese, who was in on the plot, kept Maranzano busy in the inner office, the killers disarmed his bodyguards in the waiting room. Two of the hit men held the guards at gunpoint while "the other two burst into Maranzano's office and shot and stabbed him to death."

With the dominant "Mustache Petes" now out of the way, New York was ready to realize Luciano's dream, a new national syndicate that would encourage cooperation among gangs regardless of ethnic origin. Lucky Luciano would bring the Mafia into the modern age, putting the group into organized crime. Out of the ruins of the Masseria and Maranzano gangs would emerge the Five Families of New York. One of the most powerful would become known as the Gambino Family.

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