THE GAMBINO FAMILY
The Lord High Executioner
After the murders of Masseria and Maranzano, one old-school Mafioso managed to survive the purge and thrive among the young Turks: Vincent Mangano. Though he was included in Lucky Luciano's plans to remodel organized crime in America, he still retained many of his old-world ways. He was tolerated because of his close association with Emil Camarda, vice-president of the International Longshoremen's Association, which gave Mangano tight control of rackets on the docks. Mangano and Camarda established the City Democratic Club, which promoted bedrock American values in the front room, while illegal activities were hatched in the backroom. It became a regular meeting place for the members of Murder, Inc., the infamous gang of assassins who were mostly Jewish and who, for a price, did the bidding of the Italian mobsters. Mangano's cutthroat brother Philip frequented the club as did Albert Anastasia, the brutal, hot-headed mobster who was also knows at the "Mad Hatter," "Il Terremoto" (the Earthquake), and the "Lord High Executioner" of Murder, Inc. Of all the killers in that elite group, Anastasia was the most feared, and for good reason.
Anastasia had been "close to some thirty assassinations with gun and ice pick and strangling rope, either in person or by direction," write Burton B. Turkus and Sid Feder in Murder, Inc. "The killings claimed by the torpedoes of the troop he commanded ran well into three figures." Though formally aligned with the Mangano family, Anastasia preferred the company of gangsters from other families, particularly Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Louis Lepke, which didn't sit well with Vincent Mangano. Over the years, Anastasia's relationship with his boss deteriorated to the point where they nearly came to blows on several occasions and had to be physically separated.
Amazingly the two men coexisted within the same criminal organization for almost 20 years before the Lord High Executioner finally had enough. Anastasia's first move was against Vincent's vicious brother, Philip, who was shot symmetrically in each cheek and the back of the head. On April 19, 1951, Philip's body was found in the wetlands of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, fully dressed except for his pants. At about the same time, Vincent Mangano was reported missing. He was never found, and it was just assumed that he had met a fate similar to his brother's.
It was assumed Anastasia was behind the rubout of the Mangano brothers, and he was called on the carpet by the other New York bosses. Anastasia never admitted to having any part of the murders, but he did tell the bosses that Vince Mangano had put out a contract on his head before he disappeared, which was confirmed by Anastasia's pal Frank Costello. Anastasia, who was already running the Mangano organization as his own, was too powerful—and too crazy—to be denied. The New York bosses formally agreed that he should be the new boss of the Mangano family.
Anastasia now had control of a large portion of the Brooklyn waterfront. Besides having his family's "muscle" behind him, he was also one of the overseers of Murder Inc., the new national crime syndicate's lethal enforcement squad. Made up of seasoned killers from various ethnic gangs, Murder Inc.'s mandate was to carry out hits strictly for "business" reasons since making money was the syndicate's sole purpose. But with kill-crazy Anastasia at the helm, rival gangsters were usually careful not to offend him on any level.
Anastasia was such a powerful force that Frank Costello crossed family lines and formed an alliance with the Mad Hatter to provide protection. Costello, who was running the Luciano (later called the Genovese) Family while Lucky was in prison and later deported, was known as the Prime Minister of the Underworld for his unique ability to broker lucrative deals. He was an executive gangster who had initially depended on New Jersey mobster Willie Moretti to back him up with a force of over 50 loyal soldiers. But when an untreated syphilis infection began to take Moretti's mind, Vito Genovese, who was angling to take over the Luciano Family, proposed to the commission that Moretti be taken out of his misery before he inadvertently started revealing mob secrets. Three, possibly four, gunmen shot down Moretti on October 4, 1951, in a New Jersey restaurant. Without Moretti's services at his disposal, Costello turned to Anastasia and his troops to back him up. Anastasia, who had always liked Costello, obliged.
Anastasia's violent temper often got the better of him. While watching television one night in 1952, he saw an interview with a Brooklyn man named Arnold Schuster who described his experiences as a prosecution witness against famed bank robber Willie Sutton. Anastasia became enraged and shouted at the television set. "I can't stand squealers!" he yelled and immediately arranged for a hit team to kill Schuster. Oddly, Anastasia had no connection with Willie Sutton whatsoever. He just hated "squealers."
Schuster's murder was a serious violation of syndicate rules. Killing civilians was strictly off limits, and the ambitious Vito Genovese leapt on this breech, declaring to the Mafia commission that Anastasia was seriously unbalanced and thus a threat to the syndicate. He knew that if Anastasia could be eliminated, Costello would lose his muscle, and he would be free to take over the Luciano family. And if the commission refused his request, Genovese had another ace up his sleeve. Anastasia had no idea that his own underboss, the wily Carlo Gambino, had secretly sided with Genovese and brought crime boss Joe Profaci (of what would eventually become known as the Colombo Family) into the plot.
The pieces were in motion. On May 2, 1957, Costello walked into his apartment building on Central Park West. He didn't notice the black Cadillac pulling up to the curb outside. A 300-pound man lumbered out of the car, rushed into the lobby, and ducked behind a pillar as he pulled out a gun. "This is for you, Frank," he shouted. Costello turned toward the fat man as the gun went off. The bullet grazed Costello's scalp above the ear. The fat man ran back to the Cadillac, leaving the job unfinished. The wound was minor and Costello survived, but the incident got him to think about retirement. (The rotund shooter, who was never arrested, is reputed to be Vincent "Chin" Gigante who would lose weight and go on to become boss of the Genovese family in the late 1980s.)
On the morning of October 25, six months after the attempt on Costello's life, Albert Anastasia sat in a barber's chair in the Park Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue, getting a trim. Two men in suits and fedoras with scarves covering their faces walked briskly into the barbershop, holding handguns down at their sides. One of them shoved Anastasia's barber out of the way, and they both started shooting. Anastasia took several bullets but managed to get to his feet, enraged that anyone would have the audacity to try to take out the Lord High Executioner. He lunged at his attackers, but in his confusion he actually lunged at their reflections in the large mirror that covered one wall. The killers then finished him off. Anastasia lay sprawled on the floor, his blood mingling with the fallen hair clippings. The identities of the two killers were never established, but it is known that they were members of the Profaci Family. Carlo Gambino had given the contract to Joe Profaci who passed the assignment along to "Crazy Joe" Gallo and his two brothers.
With Anastasia in the grave, the way was clear for the ascendance of the namesake of the Gambino Family, the real Godfather.