The Lucchese Family
Tommy Lucchese was an anomaly among his peers. Five-foot-two with a slight build, he was no stranger to violence. As Carl Sifakis points out, he may have been Lucky Luciano's "favorite killer," and may have also been involved in some 30 murders. This would have been high praise coming from Luciano, who at one time had Albert "Lord High Executioner" Anastasia, among other heavy hitters, in his stable. Lucchese lost a finger in 1915, which earned him the nickname "Three-Finger Brown" after a popular baseball player at the time. As a young man, he racked up a long list of arrests, including ones for homicide, but he managed to avoid conviction in every case except for a single grand larceny charge in the early 1920s.
Lucchese had served loyally as underboss to Tom Gagliano for 22 years. Like Gagliano, he set ego aside and concentrated on core Mafia values—making money and not getting caught. Having lived under the tyrannical reigns of the "Mustache Petes," Lucchese showed more care for the welfare of his men when it was his turn to become boss. Popular and well-liked by his soldiers, he took his family into new rackets in Manhattan's garment district and in the related trucking industry. According to mob expert Jerry Capeci, Lucchese's successful infiltration into these businesses would indicate his control over "key Teamsters and Ladies Garment Workers locals as well as trade associations."
Lucchese was a modern gangster in the Luciano mold who branched out into new areas while maintaining the bread-and-butter rackets that have always been the foundation of the Mafia's money-making machine—gambling, construction, loan-sharking, and drugs. Along with Gagliano, he pioneered rackets at the newly opened Idelwild Airport (later renamed Kennedy Airport), corrupting unions there to facilitate trucking monopolies, warehouse theft, and hijacking.
But Lucchese also had a talent for making friends in high places and using those friendships to his advantage. Among his good friends was Armand Chankalian, administrative assistant to the United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York. Chankalian introduced him to U.S. Attorney Myles Lane. In 1945, Lucchese applied to the New York State Parole Board for a certificate of good conduct, and Chankalian served as a character witness for him. The certificate was granted.
Lucchese also counted Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Murphy among his friends. Murphy is best known for prosecuting accused Communist spy Alger Hiss for perjury in 1949. Murphy was named police commissioner of the city of New York when Mayor Vincent Impellitteri won re-election in 1950. Tommy Lucchese was among Impellitteri's staunchest supporters and had been a frequent guest at Murphy's home. The commissioner claimed total ignorance of Lucchese's criminal record until that year.
As mob bosses go, Lucchese was a worthy namesake for the family he led. He maintained his criminal lifestyle for 44 years without a conviction, a major feat in itself. Toward the end of his life he suffered from heart disease and underwent surgery for a brain tumor, from which he never fully recovered. He died on July 13, 1967. Over 1,000 people attended his funeral, including many high-ranking mobsters who knew that police and FBI surveillance teams would be watching. Tommy Lucchese was so well-respected, nothing would keep them away.
Carmine Trumunti succeeded Lucchese as boss, but his term was relatively short and undistinguished. He was convicted of sanctioning narcotics trafficking and sentenced to life in prison. The next boss followed more closely in the footsteps of "Three-Finger Brown."