Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lucchese Family

Blood and Gravy

On the night of February 26, 1930, Gaetano "Tom" Reina, the first boss of what would eventually become known as the Lucchese crime family, shrugged into his overcoat in the foyer of his aunt's home.   It was a Wednesday, and Reina spent every Wednesday with his aunt.  He always looked forward to her home-style Sicilian cooking, and she never disappointed him.  This evening was no exception.  The aroma of her "gravy," as the newly arrived immigrants called their marinara sauce in English, lingered throughout the house. 

As Reina stood by the door, his aunt touched his cheek and pulled his collar closed around his neck.  It was the dead of winter, and she worried about him.  The fact that he was forty years old and the leader of a criminal organization that controlled rackets in the Bronx and ice distribution all throughout New York City made no difference to her.  He still needed looking after.

She studied his face, looking for signs of illness or worry, but he immediately broke into a big smile and kissed her cheeks, thanking her for dinner and telling her to be well.   But he couldn't fool her.  She had seen the worry in his expression—it had been there all night—but Reina wasn't about to burden his elderly aunt with his troubles.  She was right—something was bothering him, and it had been eating at him for a long time.  His boss, Giuseppe Masseria, had become much too demanding.  Masseria was the Mafia boss of all of New York, and he ruled with an iron fist, insisted that everyone call him "Joe the Boss."  The greedy bastard now wanted an even bigger slice of the pie, and from Reina's point of view it was undeserved.   

Joseph Masseria
Joseph Masseria

For months, Reina had been thinking very seriously about switching his allegiance to Masseria's rival, Salvatore Maranzano, a relative newcomer to New York who had arrived in America from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, just a few years earlier. Maranzano was now gaining strength and giving Masseria a run for his money.  Reina hadn't totally made up his mind yet, but with every fat envelope that passed from his hands to Masseria's arrogant emissaries, he came that much closer to making his decision.

Reina's aunt caressed his cheek with the palm of her hand and startled him out of his simmering anger.   He flashed a quick smile to assure her that everything was all right as he reached for the doorknob and bid her goodbye.

Charles Lucky Luciano
Charles "Lucky" Luciano

As Reina walked down the front steps toward the sidewalk, he noticed a familiar face.  Vito Genovese, then 33, who would later become the namesake of the largest crime family in New York, stood under a streetlight, waiting for him.  At the time, Genovese was an associate of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who was "Joe the Boss" Masseria's top lieutenant.  Reina started to wave to Genovese, but "as he did," Carl Sifakis writes in The Mafia Encyclopedia, "Vito blew his head off."  Genovese left Reina's body where it fell, in front of his aunt's house on Sheridan Avenue.

Vito Genovese
Vito Genovese

Tom Reina became the first victim in the bloody struggle for control of the Sicilian Mafia in America called the Castellammarese War, named after the town in Sicily where many of the participants were born.  But why kill Reina? many people wondered.   Lucky Luciano had been chafing under Masseria's harsh grip himself, and he knew that Reina was thinking about joining forces with the newcomer Maranzano.  Why rub out someone who could have been a powerful ally in ousting "Joe the Boss"?   

The ingenious Luciano had his reasons.

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