"The protection that clears a killer of murder in New York cannot get Mr. Milquetoast out of a traffic ticket in Kansas City. But Lucky had the key to transform local crime into a national menace that would make the Borgias look like Sunday-school teachers and the Medicis angels of mercy. And this key was syndication." ( Sid Feder and Joachim Joesten, The Luciano Story )
By 1922, Giusseppe Masseria had become the head of the Mafia in New York City. Riding high on the fruits of the liquor rackets, "Joe the Boss" had ruthlessly murdered his rivals and consolidated his power by assembling a crack team of bloodthirsty killers. Masseria, who had stepped in to fill the shoes of Ignazio "Lupo the Wolf" Saietta, was a stumpy, stern-faced killer who had been patient enough to wait until his army was strong enough to withstand an all-out gang war before making his move to replace Lupo. But Masseria was also a "Mustache Pete" — an old-school Mafioso — who did not have a vision for the future and believed that Sicilians should only do bsusiness with Sicilians.
Not all of Masseria's lieutenants supported their boss's view of things, however. Men like Lucky Luciano, Lepke Buchalter, and Joe (Joey A.) Adonis had been talking of a cartel of sorts to keep bloodshed between gangs to a minimum and to ensure that supply of liquor did not exceed demand.
Joe the Boss's chief lieutenant was Charles "Lucky" Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania) and he had a plan. Like Lupo, Joe the Boss and Sal Maranzano, Lucky believed that New York needed a single boss to keep the rackets moving smoothly and to halt the internecine warfare between the various clans. And Lucky knew that one day, he would be that boss.
As the Roaring 20's ended, the various gangs came together in a liquor cooperative they called "The Big Seven": Masseria's mafiosi were represented by Lucky, with Joey Adonis and Johnny Torrio for help; Irving Bitz and Salvatore Spitale — who later played a role in the Underworld's fruitless search for the Lindbergh baby — represented the New York independents; Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky were members, as were Longy Zwillman of Newark and King Solomon, Danny Walsh and Cy Nathanson.
Together, the Big Seven controlled all rumrunning on the Eastern Seaboard. The group had its own ships and trucks, set up offshore loading bases in the Bahamas and had an extensive radio communications network. Everything, including the price of booze and the bottles that would be used were controlled by the Big Seven. And Lucky was the nominal head of the group.
This monopoly was a far cry from the national Syndicate which would control all aspects of organized crime in later years, but for bright guys like Lepke, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, it was clear that they were on to something. Cooperation, not conflict, was the way to go.
But Joe the Boss didn't see the advantage of working in cooperation with these other gangs and his ignorance sealed his fate. His credo was "An organization works on its own and knocks off anyone who gets in its way," wrote Sid Feder and Joachim Joesten in The Luciano Story. Joe would have to die and it was up to Lucky to take action.
After a traditional Italian dinner at Masseria's favorite hangout and a couple of games of cards, Lucky excused himself from the table and went to the bathroom. While he was in washing his hands, three gunmen, reportedly Joey A., Bugsy Siegel and Albert Anastasia, walked into Scarpato's restaurant and opened fire on Joe the Boss. More than 20 bullets were fired by the three men, five of which found their mark.
When Lucky emerged from the bathroom, he found Masseria slumped over the card table, his outstretched hand still gripping the ace of diamonds like he was ready to make a play. But Lucky wasn't boss yet.
While it was clear to most that the younger faction of the mob was taking over, there were still several Mustache Petes — especially Sal Maranzano — who had to go. Maranzano and Masseria had been at each other's throats in what came to be known as the Castellamarese War — named for Maranzano's backwater home village in the mountains of Sicily. With Masseria dead, Lucky assumed control of the Mafia and made "peace" with Sal. The peace didn't last long and just five months after Masseria died, Bo Weinberg and four other gunsels from the Bug and Meyer mob entered Maranzano's real estate office in New York City and eliminated the elderly Sicilian. Now, Lucky was boss.