Showing posts with label Lucky Luciano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lucky Luciano. Show all posts

2 May 2024

Giuseppe Morello - gangster

Sicilian established first New York crime ‘family’

Morello was known as 'the claw' because of a deformed right hand
Morello was known as 'the claw'
because of a deformed right hand
The Mafia boss Giuseppe Morello, who is credited with building the first of the New York gangs to be known as a crime ‘family’, was born on this day in 1867 in the notorious Sicilian crime stronghold of Corleone, a small town in a mountainous area 50km (31 miles) inland from the island’s capital, Palermo.

Morello had a deformed right hand with a single finger that was always bent, on account of which he became known as Joe l’artiglio - Joe ‘the claw’.

Along with three half-brothers, Morello established the 107th Street Mob in the East Harlem district of Manhattan in the late 1890s, a time when it had a substantial Italian population. The gang is recognised as the organisation that would eventually evolve into the Genovese crime family, the oldest of the New York Mafia’s so-called Five Families.

Also known as Piddu, a Sicilian diminutive of Giuseppe, and sometimes Peter among other names, Morello is thought to have been brought up among the criminal underworld in Sicily on account of his widowed mother, Angelina, marrying Bernardo Terranova, a prominent member of the Corleonesi Mafia.

Giuseppe was only six years old at the time but when he reached maturity, he and his half-brothers, Vincenzo, Ciro and Nicolò, began to take part in Mafia activity.

The young Morello is thought to have emigrated to the United States in around 1892 to escape imprisonment in Sicily after a counterfeiting operation he was running had been exposed. He was also suspected of killing a witness to a murder in Corleone.

He settled initially in the south, taking labourer’s work on sugar cane plantations in Louisiana and cotton plantations in Texas, where he was later joined by other members of his family, including his mother and stepfather, his Sicilian wife, Rosa, and their son, Calogero.

East Harlem in the early 1900s was an area of New York with a large Italian community
East Harlem in the early 1900s was an area of
New York with a large Italian community
In 1897 Morello moved to New York, accompanied at first by Vincenzo, Ciro and Nicolò. Known as the East 107th Street Mob, they began extorting money from local businesses.

They established links with other criminals, notably another Corleonesi, Ignazio ‘the Wolf’ Lupo, the Mafia boss in Little Italy, Manhattan, who would later marry Morello's half sister, Salvatrice, and Vito Cascio Ferro, a Sicilian with connections to the notorious Black Hand gangsters who terrorised the Little Italy neighbourhood.

As the Morello crime family grew, their rackets extended to loan sharking, fake Italian lottery tickets and robbery and their territory expanded to other parts of Manhattan and The Bronx. They were the first criminal organisation in New York to develop sophisticated money laundering methods through legitimate businesses such as stores and restaurants. 

They also introduced the practice of extorting small amounts of money each week from business owners in exchange for "protection" rather than taking large sums that would put them out of business. 

The Morello gang maintained their grip by dealing ruthlessly with anyone who crossed them or tried to stand up to them. Lupo, his main enforcer, was said to be responsible for more than 60 murders in a 10-year period, often disposing of victims by forcing their dismembered corpses in large wooden barrels, which would then be dumped the sea, left on street corners or in back alleys, or shipped to other cities with labels carrying addresses that did not exist.

Ignazio Lupo was Morello's ruthless enforcer
Ignazio Lupo was Morello's
ruthless enforcer
In 1903, the group began a major counterfeiting ring. Cascio Ferro, known as Don Vito, printed $5 bills in Sicily and smuggled them into the United States.  By 1905, Morello had created the largest, most influential Sicilian crime family in New York City and was recognised as capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses) by other Mafia leaders.

It was Vito Cascio Ferro who is thought to have murdered the New York police detective Joe Petrosino in Palermo in 1909, in revenge for an investigation that ultimately saw Morello and Lupo jailed. 

Morello and Lupo were both released after serving only nine years of their sentences but emerged to find the New York crime scene dominated by conflicts between rival gangs.

Nicolò, the youngest of his three-half brothers, had taken control of Morello activities but in 1916 was killed by the Neapolitan boss in Brooklyn, Pellegrino Morano, as part of the Mafia-Camorra War.

Morello found himself under threat from Salvatore D’Aquila, his former lieutenant, who was now a boss himself and ordered Morello killed.

Morello fled to Sicily, where - thanks to his chief ally, Giuseppe Masseria - he foiled a plot to kill him in Sicily and returned to New York, becoming consigliere to Masseria, with whom he enjoyed some prosperity throughout the Prohibition years of the 1920s.

However, during the so-called Castellammarese War, between 1930 and 1931, in which Masseria and Morello fought against a rival group based in Brooklyn, led by Salvatore Maranzano and Joseph Bonanno, Morello was killed on August 15, 1930, while collecting cash receipts in his East Harlem office, his murderer almost certainly acting on the orders of Maranzano.

Masseria himself was killed the following year, shot dead in a restaurant in Brooklyn, the victim of a plot by some ambitious mobsters he had recruited himself but who now turned against him, including Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia, all of whom would go on to become powerful Mafia figures in their own right. Luciano took control of Morello-Masseria operations and the organisation was known as the Luciano family from 1931 until 1957, when power shifted to Genovese.

The church of San Domenico in one of the most
historic Corleone streets, Via XXIV Maggio

Travel tip:

Corleone, a town of around 12,000 inhabitants in the province of Palermo, was once dominated by Arabs before falling into the hands of the Normans.  Its strategic position overlooking the main routes between Palermo and Agrigento meant it was on the frontline in many wars.  At one time the town had two castles and was encircled by a defensive wall.  Its association with the Mafia began in the 1960s following the outbreak of violence that followed the killing of clan boss Michele Navarra. The link was solidified when author Mario Puzo decided his main character in The Godfather would be known as Vito Corleone after a United States immigration official processing the arrival of Vito Andolini mistook his place of origin for his surname. In fact, several real life Mafia bosses, including Tommy Gagliano, Gaetano Reina, Jack Dragna, Luciano Leggio, Leoluca Bagarella, Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, came from Corleone and the Corleonesi clan dominated the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s and 1990s, when they were seen as the most violent and ruthless group ever to take control.

Palermo's majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary has many architectural influences
Palermo's majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of
the Virgin Mary has many architectural elements
Travel tip:

Although Palermo’s reputation has suffered at times because of the Mafia’s presence, visitors to Sicily’s capital these days would normally witness nothing to suggest that the criminal underworld exerts any influence on daily life.  Situated on the northern coast of the island, Palermo is a vibrant city with a wealth of beautiful architecture bearing testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof, while the city’s majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements. Palermo’s opera house, the Teatro Massimo, is the largest in Italy and the third biggest in Europe.

Also on this day:

1660: The birth of Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti

1894: The birth of architect Michele Busiri Vici

1913: The birth of car designer Pietro Frua

1930: The birth of campaigning politician Marco Pannella


22 November 2021

Joe Adonis - Mafia boss

Boy from mountainous Campania who became powerful New York mobster

The mug shots of Joe Adonis held in the files of the New York police department in the 1930s
The mug shots of Joe Adonis held in the files of
the New York police department in the 1930s
The Mafia criminal Joe Adonis, who at one time was effectively America’s senior gangster as chairman of the so-called ‘Commission’, was born Giuseppe Antonio Doto on this day in 1902 at Montemarano, a small town in mountainous Campania.

Doto became a friend and associate of the powerful Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, who would head one of the New York Mafia’s powerful Five Families.  As Adonis, Doto would emerge as a powerful figure in his own right in Brooklyn and Manhattan and later New Jersey.

Accounts of his arrival in the United States as a child vary. Many suppose that he travelled with his family among thousands of migrants from Italy who left for a new life in America in the 1900s, their names recorded at the immigrant inspection station on Ellis Island in 1909.

Others suggest that he arrived in 1915, having travelled as a stowaway on a liner from Naples. Either way, he appears to have settled in Brooklyn, where he quickly turned to crime, making money through stealing and picking pockets. 

It was in partnership with Luciano and two up-and-coming figures in the Jewish-American underworld, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, that he became involved in bootlegging soon after the National Prohibition Act made the sale of alcohol illegal. Doto, who had a natural charm, found numerous clients among the actors, writers and producers that frequented the Broadway theatre scene.

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Rome in the  1940s, was a close friend of Adonis during his heyday
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Rome in the 
1940s, was a close friend of Adonis during his heyday
It is thought that it was around this time that Doto, who was something of a lothario and notoriously vain, changed his name to Joe Adonis, which was supposedly a nickname given to him by a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies he was dating at the time.

Seeking to advance their careers as the Italian and Jewish gangs expanded their reach in the New York crime scene, Adonis became an enforcer for Frankie Yale, a Brooklyn racketeer, while Luciano took on a similar role working for Giuseppe Masseria.

Masseria became embroiled in a bloody battle for power with Salvatore Maranzano known as the Castellammarese War. By this time Adonis was working for Masseria. When ultimately, it became clear that Maranzano would prevail, Luciano secretly offered his services to Maranzano.

Word of this betrayal reached Masseria, whose immediate reaction was to want Luciano dead. He made the mistake, however, of asking Adonis to arrange the killing. Loyal to Luciano, Adonis warned his friend, who came up with a counter plot to eliminate Masseria.

This involved arranging a meeting with Masseria at a restaurant on Coney Island on 15 April, 1931, at one point in which Luciano excused himself to go to the bathroom. In his absence, Adonis, Siegel and two others - Vito Genovese and Alberto Anastasia - entered the restaurant and simultaneously opened fire on Masseria.

Salvatore Maranzano was ultimately killed by the ruthless Luciano
Salvatore Maranzano was ultimately
killed by the ruthless Luciano
With Masseria gone, Maranzano decided that to avoid future wars, the New York gangs should agree on territorial boundaries, from which agreement the Five Families were born. But his decision to anoint himself as the overall boss - the capo di tutti capi - irked Luciano, who did not disguise his dissatisfaction. 

Now Maranzano wanted Luciano out of the way but again Luciano was tipped off and instead, on 10 September, 1931, it was Maranzano who was killed, gunned down in his office in Manhattan by Luciano loyalists.

Adonis and Luciano presided over a lucrative bootlegging operation in Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan, Adonis also moving into car sales and buying vending machines which he filled with stolen cigarettes. Luciano built on Masseria’s ideas for organising the New York crime scene by setting up a national committee, known as the 'Commission' or the 'Syndicate', as an umbrella organisation for gang activity across the whole of North America. 

Meanwhile, Adonis helped protect himself and Luciano from attention by bribing politicians and high-ranking police officers. 

Not everyone could be bought, however, and their luck ran out in 1936 when Thomas E Dewey, a state prosecutor, secured a conviction against Luciano on charges relating to his prostitution rackets that put him in jail for 30 years.

Genovese briefly took control of the Luciano family but fled to Italy to avoid prosecution in 1937, leaving Frank Costello as the new Luciano family capo, with Adonis at the head of the 'Syndicate'.

Luciano was released from prison in 1946 after helping the United States military plan their invasion of Sicily in 1943, but only on condition he was deported to Italy. Nonetheless, Luciano tried to hang on to his operations in New York and met with Adonis and other crime bosses in Havana, Cuba in 1946, with the intention of using the island as his base. Within less than a year, however, he was sent back to Italy after US authorities put pressure on the Cuban government to expel him.

Adonis pictured around the time he was deported to Italy
Adonis pictured around the
time he was deported to Italy
Meanwhile, Adonis, whose operations had now shifted largely to New Jersey, after New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's crackdown on illegal gambling, found himself summoned to appear before a US Senate commission on organised crime, chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver. He refused to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment privileges against self-incrimination, but the exposure in televised hearings brought his activity in New Jersey into the spotlight.

Convicted in 1951 on charges of operating three illegal gambling rooms in New Jersey, he was handed a two-to-three year jail sentence, during which it was established that he had never obtained American citizenship and was deported as an illegal alien, eventually leaving after his last appeal against the deportation order was thrown out in 1956.

He managed to move enough money to bank accounts in Italy to live out the next decade or so in comfort, with an apartment in Milan and a villa outside Naples. Although Luciano also lived in the Naples area, they never met. Adonis did attend his former associate’s funeral in 1962, however.

Adonis himself died in 1971. Arrested by Italian police as part of a general round-up of Mafia suspects, he was moved to Serra de' Conti, a small town near the Adriatic, along with more than 100 other mobsters for questioning over the murder of Pietro Scaglione, the public prosecutor in Palermo, Sicily. Under interrogation, Adonis suffered a heart attack and died in hospital in nearby Ancona.

Despite having declared him an alien, the US government acceded to requests from Adonis’s family, who had remained in New Jersey, to have his body flown back to America and, after a small funeral attended only by immediate family, he was buried at Madonna Cemetery in Fort Lee, New Jersey, under the name of Joseph Anthony Doto.

A view of the town of Montemarano, situated in the hills of inland Campania, near Avellino
A view of the town of Montemarano, situated in
the hills of inland Campania, near Avellino
Travel tip:

Giuseppe Antonio Doto’s home town of Montemarano, situated about 30km (19 miles) east of the city of Avellino by road, is a good example of a typical town in Irpinia, the inland area of Campania that clings to ancient traditions. The area produces famous Campania wines such as Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, and Taurasi and among several festivals taking place annually in Montemarano is the Festa del Vino. Another is the Festa del Bosco, dedicated to woodlands produce such as chestnuts, mushrooms, and truffles. The annual Carnevale di Montemarano features the tarantella montemaranese, the town’s own version of the traditional southern Italian folk dance.

A view over the largely rebuilt city of Avellino, which suffered war and earthquake damage
A view over the largely rebuilt city of Avellino,
which suffered war and earthquake damage
Travel tip:

The city of Avellino has its origins in the ancient Roman settlement, Abellinum, although the present city was founded by the Lombards and ruled at different times by the Byzantines, Normans, Swabians, Angevin, Aragonese, the Viceroy of Spain, the Austrians and the Bourbons.  Heavily bombed during World War Two by Allied planes attempting to cut off the retreat of German panzer units, it suffered further massive damage in the huge earthquake that affected the area in 1980. Nonetheless, it has a cathedral, dedicated to the Madonna dell 'Assunta, that was built in the 12th century and has a neoclassical facade redone in 1891.

Also on this day:

1533: The birth of Alfonso II d’Este, the last Duke of Ferrara

1710: The death of Baroque composer Bernardo Pasquini

1947: The birth of football coach Nevio Scala

1949: The birth of businessman Rocco Commisso 

1954: The birth of former prime minister Paolo Gentiloni 


27 January 2020

Frank Nitti - mobster

Barber who became Al Capone’s henchman

Frank Nitti grew up in the Capone family's  neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York
Frank Nitti grew up in the Capone family's
neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York
The mobster who achieved notoriety as Frank Nitti was born Francesco Raffaele Nitto it is thought on this day in 1881, although some accounts put the year of his birth as 1886. 

Nitti, who was raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he and Al Capone - his cousin - grew up, would eventually become Capone’s most trusted henchman in the Chicago mob he controlled.  After Capone was jailed for 11 years for tax evasion, Nitti was ostensibly in charge of operations.

Unlike many of the American Mafia bosses in the early part of the 20th century, Nitti was not a Sicilian.  His roots were in the heart of Camorra territory in the shadow of Vesuvius, his birthplace the town of Angri, 8km (5 miles) from nearby Pompei.  Angri was also the hometown of Capone’s parents.

Young Francesco’s father died when he still a small child. His mother, Rosina, married again within a year to Francesco Dolengo, who emigrated to the United States in 1890.  Nitti, his mother and his sister, Giovannina, left Italy to join him in 1893, settling in Navy Street, Brooklyn.

He was enrolled in a local school but left at around age 13, taking a job as a pinsetter in a bowling alley before becoming a barber. By this time he was well acquainted with criminal activities through the Navy Street Gang, of which a number of Capone’s brothers were members.  He is said to have left home after falling out with his step-father.

Nitti worked for many years as the chief henchman to Chicago boss Capone
Nitti worked for many years as the chief
henchman to Chicago boss Capone
The story of Nitti’s early adulthood is not clear but at some stage, possibly in 1913, he left Brooklyn and next surfaced in Chicago, again working as a barber, supplementing his income through crime after meeting mobsters Alex Louis Greenberg and Dion O'Banion. He kept a low profile but marriage records show that at some point he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he married his first wife, Rosa, in 1917.  Accounts suggest he became involved with a Galveston crime syndicate but fled back to Chicago after stealing a large amount of money from two associates.

Nitti renewed contacts with Greenberg and O’Banion and supported himself as a jewel thief, liquor smuggler and fence. Through his smuggling activities, Nitti came into contact with Chicago crime boss Johnny "Papa Johnny" Torrio and his lieutenant, Al Capone, who had been sent to assist Torrio by New York mobster Frankie Yale.

Capone, several years younger than Nitti, took over after Torrio survived an assassination attempt.  Thanks to their family connections, Capone saw Nitti as someone he could trust and placed him in charge of his growing smuggling and distribution operation. With prohibition in place, Nitti imported whisky from Canada and sold it through a network of so-called speakeasies around Chicago.

His stock remained sufficiently high that when Capone was briefly imprisoned in 1929 he ran the organisation. He acquired the nickname “The Enforcer” but is thought to have shied away from violence himself, preferring to leave the dirty work to others.

In 1931, by then married for a second time to Anna after his first marriage ended in divorce, Nitti was sent to jail along with his boss on tax evasion charges.  But where Nitti’s sentence was for 18 months, Capone was sent away for 11 years. It meant that Nitti was again in charge of the Chicago underworld.

Fearful of going to jail, Nitti killed himself in  a railway yard close to his home in 1943
Fearful of going to jail, Nitti killed himself in
a railway yard close to his home in 1943
As the boss, Nitti’s position was not as strong as it appeared.  Under his command, the upcoming Paul "The Waiter" Ricca became increasingly powerful, to the extent that when the New York mobsters Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky set about organising the National Crime Syndicate to co-ordinate mob activity across the United States, they dealt directly with Ricca, rather than Nitti.

An attempt to remove Nitti was revealed in the aftermath of a police raid on his office by a team of Chicago police, headed by detectives Harry Lang and Harry Miller, during which Lang shot Nitti three times in the back and neck. He claimed he was acting in self defence and Nitti, who survived, was charged with attempted murder. During the trial, however. Miller testified that Lang had been given $15,000 to kill Nitti.

The end for Nitti came in 1943, when he and other leading figures in the so-called Chicago Outfit, including Ricca, were indicted on charges of extorting money from Hollywood movie studios, including Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, RKO Pictures and 20th Century Fox, with the threat that they would face problems from the unions if they did not comply.

Having discovered during his first confinement that he suffered from severe claustrophobia, Nitti dreaded the idea of going to jail again, yet he was under pressure from Ricca to go before the grand jury and shoulder the blame himself rather than allow the Outfit to be broken up.

The day before his scheduled appearance, Nitti took his own life. He waited for his latest wife, Annette, to leave their home in the Chicago suburb of Riverside for church before downing several large drinks and walking five blocks to a railway yard, where he first tried to throw himself in front of a moving train but could not go through with it, and then, at the third attempt, shot himself in the head.

Nitti is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, another urban village, about 24km (15 miles) west of downtown Chicago. His grave can be found left of the main gain, to the right pf which is the family plot containing the grave of Capone. The cemetery contains the graves of several other Chicago mobsters.         

The Castello Doria in Angri is an unusual structure with two concentric towers, built by the Doria family
The Castello Doria in Angri is an unusual structure with
two concentric towers, built by the Doria family
Travel tip:

Nitti’s hometown of Angri, situated where the urban sprawl that fans out around Vesuvius meets the Lattari mountains at the beginning of the Sorrentine Peninsula, is rich in history. It was the scene of the battle marked the victory of the Eastern Roman Empire over the Goths in 552 and became an important town under Bourbon rule and in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century.  The Castello Doria, notable for its two concentric towers, is an example of the town’s rich architectural heritage, dating back to the period between the 17th and 18th centuries in which Angri was controlled by the Doria family of Genova.

The impressive Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed  Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei
The impressive Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed
 Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei
Travel tip:

A few kilometres from Angri in the direction of the Bay of Naples is Pompei, the town about 25km (15 miles) south of Naples built close to the ruins of the former Roman city. Like Angri, it is not without impressive achitecture, notably the Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei, its towering cathedral. The cathedral was built from a dilapidated former church by Bartolo Longo, a lawyer who had returned to the Christian faith after a period following alternative beliefs, over a 28-year period between 1873 and 1901. The statue of the Virgin of the Rosary that sits atop the façade was carved from a single block of Carrara marble by Gaetano Chiaromonte.

More reading:

Frankie Yale: gang boss who employed the young Al Capone

How Lucky Luciano brought order to warring clans

The real life 'Godfather' - Carlo Gambino

Also on this day:

98AD: The Roman Emperor Trajan begins his reign

1901: The death of composer Giuseppe Verdi

1927: The birth of writer Giovanni Arpino

1962: The birth of composer Roberto Paci Dalò


2 October 2018

Joe Profaci - Mafia boss

Sicilian who influenced profile of Mario Puzo’s Godfather

Giuseppe 'Joe' Profaci hid his criminal empire behind his 'front' as an olive oil importer
Giuseppe 'Joe' Profaci hid his criminal empire
behind his 'front' as an olive oil importer
The Mafia boss Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Profaci, one of the real-life gangsters who influenced the author Mario Puzo as he created the character of his fictional mob boss Vito Corleone in The Godfather, was born in Villabate in Sicily on this day in 1897.

It was after studying Profaci’s crime career that he decided that Corleone, who is thought to have been based largely on one of Profaci's fellow mob bosses, Carlo Gambino, should hide his criminal activities behind his ‘legitimate’ identity as an olive oil importer, mirroring what Profaci did in real life in New York.

Profaci is believed to have started importing olive oil before he became heavily involved in crime but chose to keep the business going as one of a network of legitimate companies, so that he could mask the proceeds of his crime empire and satisfy the authorities that he was paying his taxes.

In fact, the olive oil business became a hugely lucrative concern, particularly when shortages in the Second World War enabled him to sell the product at premium prices. The irony of Profaci’s criminal life was that his legitimate companies, of which he had as many as 20, actually provided work for hundreds of New Yorkers.

Little is known about Profaci’s early life in Sicily, although he was at one time convicted on theft charges and spent perhaps a year in prison. He emigrated to the United States in 1921, undertaking a 17-day journey across the Atlantic, a month before his 24th birthday.

Vincent Mangano helped Profaci become established
Vincent Mangano helped
Profaci become established
Initially he settled in Chicago, where he ran a grocery store, before moving to New York in 1925 to begin his olive oil business, based on Long Island.

Becoming involved with organised crime was always his intention, however, and in 1927 he used his relationship with Vincent Mangano, who had been on the same ship that took him from Palermo to the United States in 1921, to get a foot on the ladder. Mangano, who would go on to be head of the Gambino crime family, had arrived in New York from Sicily on the same boat as Profaci.

Although Profaci at that stage had no experience of organised crime, it is thought his family contacts in Sicily helped him become established in the New York underworld, where his extortion, bootlegging and counterfeiting rackets grew rapidly. He was recognised as one of the city’s most important crime bosses at a meeting in Cleveland in 1928, attended by Chicago mob boss Al Capone, where he was given control of crime operations in Brooklyn following the murder of Salvatore D’Aquila during the Castellammarese War.

By 1931 he was one of the most powerful figures in the New York crime scene, involved in prostitution, drug trafficking, loan sharking and illegal bookmaking. The Profaci family was one of New York’s original Five Families and Joe Profaci had a seat on the Commission, the ‘governing body’ set up by Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano to foster communication and avoid damaging wars between the different Cosa Nostra families in New York, Chicago and Buffalo.

Mobsters' cars outside the meeting in Apalachin, New York State, where Profaci was arrested in 1957
Mobsters' cars outside the meeting in Apalachin, New York
State, where Profaci was arrested in 1957
More than once, the authorities tried to find a way to jail Profaci. He was arrested on charges of drug trafficking after 90 hollowed out Sicilian oranges containing heroin were discovered being unloaded at the docks in New York but police did not have enough evidence to link the crime directly to him.

A move to revoke his US citizenship on account of his failure to declare his jail sentence in Sicily was overturned on appeal, while a bill for $1.5 million dollars in overdue taxes simply went unpaid.

He was also arrested during the famous police swoop on the so-called 'Apalachin Conference', a national mob meeting that took place in 1957 at the farm of mobster Joseph Barbara in Apalachin, in upstate New York. Profaci was convicted with 21 others on conspiracy charges but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Joseph Colombo eventually took over Profaci's Brooklyn crime family
Joseph Colombo eventually took over
Profaci's Brooklyn crime family
At the height of his power, in addition to houses in Brooklyn and Miami Beach, Florida, Profaci acquired a 328-acre estate near Hightstown, New Jersey, that previously belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt. The estate had its own airstrip and Profaci added a chapel with an altar that was a copy of one in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

A devout Catholic, Profaci made generous cash donations to Catholic charities but it was his rather less generous treatment of family employees that ultimately led to his downfall.

One practice that provoked discontent among his criminal employees was his insistence that they should each pay him a monthly tithe, in line with an old Sicilian gang custom. The money generated by this practice was meant to support the families of jailed gang members, but Profaci pocketed much of the cash himself.

Ultimately, a Profaci bookmaker, Frank Abbatemarco, refused to pay, standing his ground despite numerous threats. Profaci eventually ordered him dead. He asked Joe Gallo, a family member, to carry out the killing, promising that he could take over Abbatemarco’s rackets as a reward, but then reneged on the deal.

It sparked an all-out conflict, in which there were several kidnappings and murders, known as the Profaci-Gallo war. Rival bosses Gambino and Tommy Lucchese pleaded with Profaci to end the war, which was not good for business, but Profaci trusted neither and refused.

The fighting ended only when Profaci, by then in the later stages of liver cancer, died in hospital in 1962. His brother-in-law and closest ally, Joseph Magliocco, assumed control of Profaci’s empire but the Commision decided to remove him, installing Joseph Colombo as Brooklyn boss, after which the Profaci family became the Colombo family.

The town of Villabate, which overlooks the Gulf of Palermo
The town of Villabate, which overlooks the Gulf of Palermo 
Travel tip:

The town of Villabate, which can be found about 10km (6 miles) southeast of Palermo, takes its name from the abbot of Santo Spirito di Palermo, Giovanni de Osca, who had a tower built there in the late 15th century, together with some houses and other buildings. Villabate used to be an agricultural town but in the 1960s the local economy suffered a huge blow as many hectares of orange trees were removed to make way for new houses, to provide permanent accommodation people still homeless after their original houses had been flattened by Allied bombers in the Second World War.

The Teatro Massimo in Palermo became a symbol of the city's fight back against the Mafia
The Teatro Massimo in Palermo became a symbol of the
city's fight back against the Mafia
Travel tip:

Palermo’s Renaissance-style Teatro Massimo, opened in 1897, has become a symbol of the city’s fight back against the grip of the Mafia. The largest opera house in Italy and the third biggest in Europe after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna, originally designed with an auditorium for 3,000 people, it was closed for supposedly minor refurbishments in 1974. But at a time when local government was at its most corrupt and when the Mafia controlled almost everything in the city there was little money in the public purse and the theatre, which once attracted all the great stars from the opera world, would remain dark for 23 years.

More reading:

Was Carlo Gambino the mobster who inspired The Godfather?

How Charles 'Lucky' Luciano brought order among warring crime gangs

The Castellammarese War and the emergence of the Five Families

Also on this day:

1538: The birth of Catholic reformer Saint Charles Borromeo

1950: The birth of corruption-busting magistrate Antonio di Pietro


31 July 2018

Salvatore Maranzano - crime boss

Sicilian ‘Little Caesar’ who established New York’s Five Families

Salvatore Maranzano had a  mission to kill rival boss
Salvatore Maranzano had a
mission to kill rival boss
The criminal boss Salvatore Maranzano, who became the head of organised crime in New York City after the so-called Castellammarese War of 1930-31, was born on this day in 1886 in Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily.

Maranzano’s position as ‘capo di tutti capi’ - boss of all bosses - in the city lasted only a few months before he was killed, but during that time he came up with the idea of organising criminal activity in New York along the lines of the military chain of command established in ancient Rome by his hero, Julius Caesar.

His fascination with and deep knowledge of the Roman general and politician led to him being nicknamed 'Little Caesar' by his Mafia contemporaries in New York.

Installing himself and four other survivors of the Castellammarese War as bosses, he established the principle of replacing the unstructured gang rivalry in New York with five areas of strictly demarcated territory to be controlled by criminal networks known as the Five Families.

Originally the Maranzano, Profaci, Mangano, Luciano and Gagliano families, they are now known by different names - Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese to be precise - but are essentially based on the same structure.

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured at the exclusive  Excelsior Hotel in Rome in 1948
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured at the exclusive
Excelsior Hotel in Rome in 1948
Maranzano, perversely, had originally set out to be a priest in his homeland and even undertook the necessary studies to become one. Somehow, his path changed and he found himself drawn into the criminal underworld and became a respected figure in the Sicilian Mafia.

He decided to emigrate to the United States shortly after the end of the First World War. He opened a business as a real estate broker in Brooklyn, while simultaneously growing a bootlegging business, eager to cash in on the restrictions of the Prohibition Era. In time, his activity extended to prostitution and the illegal smuggling of narcotics. He became acquainted with a young mobster called Joseph Bonanno, whom he groomed for power.

Maranzano’s true purpose in going to the United States, however, was not simply for his own personal gains. He had been despatched there by Don Vito Ferro, a powerful Sicilian mafioso who had designs on seizing control of Mafia operations in the US from Giuseppe ‘Joe the Boss’ Masseria, another Sicilian but one from the Agrigento province on the south coast of the island.

Joseph Bonanno was groomed  for high office in the Mafia
Joseph Bonanno was groomed
for high office in the Mafia
From his base in Castellammare del Golfo, not far from Palermo on the north coast, Ferro sent Maranzano specifically to eliminate Masseria, a mission he accomplished but only at the end of the 14 months of the Castellammarese War.

Masseria was shot dead in April 1931 while playing cards at a restaurant on Coney Island. The hit had been arranged by Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, the former Masseria lieutenant who had defected to Maranzano’s side along with Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and others on the understanding that Masseria’s death would result in Maranzano calling off the conflict, which was impacting heavily on gang profits.

Maranzano kept his side of the bargain and Luciano was rewarded with a position of power within the Five Families structure.

However, Luciano was uneasy about Maranzano declaring himself ‘boss of all bosses’ and it was not long before he concluded that his new boss was no more forward thinking about Mafia activity than his predecessor.  There were major ideological differences between the two. While Maranzano, like Masseria, trusted only fellow Sicilians, Luciano had partnerships with Jewish gangsters, of which Maranzano strongly disapproved.

Luciano decided that to leave Maranzano in charge would not be in the best interests of progress and began plotting his downfall almost immediately. In fact, Maranzano had been boss for only five months when four men, including Luciano’s Jewish associates Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel and Samuel ‘Red’ Levine, entered his office in what is now the Helmsley Building in Manhattan, posing as tax officials, and murdered him.

It left Luciano as the most powerful boss in New York City. He did nothing to change the Five Families structure Maranzano had established but, in a further measure aimed at reducing conflict between rival groups, not only in New York but across the United States, by establishing The Commission, a kind of board of directors of the American Mafia, consisting of the heads of the Five Families and the leaders of the Chicago and Buffalo crime families, who would oversee and coordinate Mafia activities across the US and mediate in disputes.

The attractive port area at Castellammare del Golfo
The attractive port area at Castellammare del Golfo
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo is a resort and fishing town overlooking a large bay in the northwest corner of Sicily, midway between Trapani and Palermo.  It has an attractive setting, guarding over a broad sweep of water and with steep lanes of houses climbing the hillside from the harbour towards the elevated Piazza Petrolo.  A popular backdrop for TV dramas, including some episodes of the Inspector Montalbano series, it has the remains of a castle probably built at the time of the ninth-century Arab occupation of the town, and a good selection of bars and restaurants. It is the birthplace of many American Mafia figures, including Sebastiano DiGaetano, Stefano Magaddino, Vito Bonventre, John Tartamella and Joseph Bonanno, as well as Maranzano.

The Tempio di Giunone in the Valley of the Temples
The Tempio di Giunone in the Valley of the Temples
Travel tip:

Agrigento, the home town of Maranzano’s rival boss Joe Masseria, is on the southern coast of Sicily and is built on the site of an ancient Greek city. Its most famous sight is the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) a large sacred area where seven monumental Greek temples were constructed during the sixth and fifth centuries BC. Situated on a ridge rather than in a valley, It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture anywhere and at 1,300 hectares the the largest archaeological site in the world.

More reading:

How Lucky Luciano brought order among warring Mafia clans

Was Carlo Gambino the model for The Godfather?

Joe Petrosino - the Italian immigrant who fought against the mob

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of sculptor Alessandro Algardi

1969: The birth of football coach Antonio Conte


12 June 2018

Nick Gentile - mafioso

Sicilian mobster defied code of silence by publishing memoirs

Nick Gentile was rarely photographed
Nick Gentile was
rarely photographed
The mafioso Nicola Gentile, known in the United States as Nick, who became notorious for publishing a book of memoirs that revealed the inner workings of the American Mafia as well as secrets of the Sicilian underworld, was born on this day in 1885 in Siculiana, a small town on the south coast of the Sicily, in the province of Agrigento.

Gentile’s book, Vita di Capomafia, which he wrote in conjunction with a journalist, was published in 1963 and provided much assistance to the American authorities in their fight against organized crime.

As a result Gentile was sentenced to death by the mafia council in Sicily for having broken the code of omertà, a vow of silence to which all mafiosi are expected to adhere to protect their criminal activities.  Siculiana, in fact, was a mafia stronghold, where the code was usually enforced with particular rigour.

Yet the mobsters from the city of Catania who were tasked with carrying out the sentence declined to do so, for reasons that have not been explained. In the event, Gentile died in Siculiana in 1966 of natural causes, having spent his last years as an old, sick man who appeared to have very little money and was kept alive by the kindliness of neighbours.

The file the American FBI kept on Gentile's  criminal activity and personal details
The file the American FBI kept on Gentile's
criminal activity and personal details
The book was also a source of embarrassment for the American government, revealing how US forces collaborated with criminals across Sicily to help facilitate the invasion of the island in 1943 and the subsequent push up the Italian peninsula, helping the Sicilian Mafia rebuild after the damage it suffered during the Fascist era.

Gentile - known in his home country as 'Zio' or 'Zu Cola' (Uncle Nicola) - went to America as an illegal immigrant at the age of 19, having been invited there by a small crime clan made up of Sicilians from Siculiana, acting in New York as well as Philadelphia and Kansas City.

He developed a reputation for being able to mediate in disagreements between rival Mafia families and subsequently travelled regularly from state to state as a peacemaker, while at the same time capitalising on the respect he gained from others by forming strategic alliances.

In the 1920s. Gentile was the head of criminal smuggling cartels plus the mafia families of Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Gentile returned frequently to Sicily, sometimes to visit relatives, at other times to escape his enemies and the law. Ultimately, his criminal activities in America were based in New York, where he became involved with narcotics operations headed by Charles 'Lucky' Luciano.

He returned to Sicily permanently after being arrested in New Orleans in 1937 on drug charges, fleeing the country on $15,000 bail.

Charles "Lucky" Luciano was an associate of Gentile both in the United States and in Sicily
Charles "Lucky" Luciano was an associate of Gentile
both in the United States and in Sicily
Gentile then rose to a top-level position in the Sicilian Mafia and was one of the mob figures who collaborated with the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, helping the military set up a new civil administration in return for being appointed to prominent positions in local government.

He became involved with a Sicilian separatist movement and claimed to have been approached by a US special agent to rally support for the monarchy in the referendum on June 2, 1946.

When Lucky Luciano was extradited to Italy in 1946, he also is said to have been a collaborator with the US military. In Sicily he was again able to team up with Gentile and questions have been raised since over how he and Gentile had the freedom to organise drug trafficking routes to the US.

Quite why, in 1963, Gentile decided to write his memoirs, with the help of Italian journalist Felice Chilanti, is not clear.  In describing the internal organization of the Mafia, or l'onorata società - the Honoured Society - as Gentile called it, he ignored the code of omertà in a way not seen until the pentito Tommaso Buscetta began to reveal secrets more than 20 years later.

Ultimately, the American law enforcement agencies used the detail in Gentile’s book to corroborate the evidence of another repentant mobster, Joe Valachi, who told them that Gentile’s descriptions were accurate.

The marina area at Siculiana is part of an unspoilt stretch of Sicilian coastline in the southeast of the island
The marina area at Siculiana is part of an unspoilt stretch
of Sicilian coastline in the southeast of the island
Travel tip:

Siculiana, a town thought to have Greek and Arab roots, is situated on the south-facing coast of the island, about 24km (15 miles) from Agrigento. The Chiaramonte family built a castle, parts of which are still visible, on the ruins of an Arab fortress that was destroyed in 1087 during the conquest of Sicily by the Normans. A 13km (8 miles) stretch of unspoilt coastline northwest of Siculiana is now a protected nature reserve.

A view across the port of Porto Empedocle, where Andrea Camilleri based his Montalbano novels
A view across the port of Porto Empedocle, where
Andrea Camilleri based his Montalbano novels
Travel tip:

Only 13km (8 miles) from Siculiana along the coast in the other direction, on the way to Agrigento, is Porto Empedocle, the birthplace of the author Andrea Camilleri and the port town on which he based Vigàta, the fictional home of his famous detective, Inspector Montalbano. Camilleri’s Montalbano books have become international best-sellers, with many of them turned into episodes of the crime drama TV series starring Luca Zingaretti as Montalbano. Many scenes from the TV series were filmed around Porto Empedocle, which has now changed its name to Porto Empedocle Vigàta to encourage Camilleri fans to visit the area.

More reading:

How Charles 'Lucky' Luciano became one of organised crime's most powerful figures

Andrea Camilleri - the creator of Inspector Montalbano

The story of anti-mafia crusader Giovanni Falcone

Also on this day:

1675: The death of Charles Emmanuel II, notorious Duke of Savoy

1922: The birth of astrophysicist Margherita Hack


10 October 2017

Stefano Magaddino - mafioso

Longest-ruling Mafia boss in US history

Stefano Magaddino ran the Buffalo crime  family for more than half a century
Stefano Magaddino ran the Buffalo crime
family for more than half a century
Stefano Magaddino, the Sicilian mafioso who went on to enjoy the longest period of power enjoyed by any crime boss in the history of the American Mafia, was born on this day in 1891 in Castellammare del Golfo.

Known as ‘The Undertaker’ or ‘Don Stefano’, Magaddino controlled a crime empire radiating outwards from Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State.  Geographically, it was a vast area, stretching from the eastern fringe of  New York State to its western outposts in Ohio and extending north-east almost as far as Montreal in Canada, its tentacles reaching across the Canadian border from Buffalo even into Toronto.

One of the original members of The Commission, the committee of seven crime bosses set up in 1931 to control Mafia activity across the whole of the United States, Magaddino was head of the Buffalo Family for more than half a century.

He died in 1974 at the age of 82, having survived all the other Commission members, including the founder Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Chicago boss Al Capone, with the exception of his cousin from Castellammare, Joseph Bonanno, who along with Luciano, headed one of the Five Families of the New York underworld.

Magaddino never knew any life other than crime.  The third of eight children born to Giovanni and Giuseppa Ciaravino Magaddino, he was born in the midst of a feud between his family and their rivals in Castellammare, the Buccellato family.

He had strong links with the Bonanno family in Sicily, joining forces with Joe’s father, Salvatore, in 1899 after the latter’s brothers, Stefano and Giuseppe, were killed on an order given by Felice Buccellato.

New York boss Charles 'Lucky' Luciano included Magaddino in The Commission
New York boss Charles 'Lucky' Luciano
included Magaddino in The Commission
Bonanno and Magaddino took their revenge by ordering the killing of two members from the Buccellato family. A peace was brokered in 1905, before Salvatore Bonanno emigrated to the United States, to be followed, in 1909, by Magaddino. They settled in a Castellammarese colony in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The feud followed Magaddino to New York, however, leading to the killing of his brother by Camillo Caiozzo, a member of the Buccellato clan, in an ambush outside a Brooklyn department store. Caiozzo was himself soon killed and in 1921 Magaddino was arrested in Avon, New Jersey on suspicion of his murder.

At the time Magaddino was an influential member of the increasingly powerful Castellammarese clan but when charges against him failed to stick he took the opportunity to relocate to the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area.

There he laid down the beginnings of his empire.  Behind the front of running a funeral home – the Magaddino Memorial Chapel – in Niagara Falls, he set up a profitable Prohibition era business bootlegging wines and spirits across the Niagara River to supply the proliferation of so-called speakeasies in Buffalo.

After Prohibition was ended, Magaddino and his associates moved into loan sharking, illegal gambling, narcotics, extortion, carjacking and labour racketeering, gaining control too of lucrative legitimate businesses such as taxi companies and the laundry and linen services essential to the area’s many hotels.

In the traditional manner of Sicilian Mafiosi, he gave the impression of living a relatively modest lifestyle, doing his utmost to stay in the background and draw as little attention as possible to his criminal activities.

Joseph Bonanno, with whom  Magaddino shared his roots
Joseph Bonanno, with whom
Magaddino shared his roots
He was admired by other gang bosses for the success he had in controlling such a large area, while the remoteness of his territory enabled him to remain untouched by the periodic squabbles between the New York families. He was at times called on to an arbitrate in disputes.

He survived a number of attempts on his life.  In 1936, his sister was killed by a bomb intended for him but placed in the wrong house and in 1957 a grenade was thrown through his kitchen window but failed to explode.  The second of those episodes was linked to the so-called Apalachin Conference, a meeting of Mafia bosses at a small town in New York State.

The meeting had been arranged by Magaddino and when it was raided by FBI agents, resulting in the arrest of several mobsters, there were suspicions that he had tipped them off himself as a way of eliminating a few of his rivals.

Later, the respect he enjoyed among his peers diminished when he and his son, Peter, were hauled in by police on charges of illegal bookmaking after a 1968 raid on his son’s home in Niagara Falls, which found around $500,000 in a suitcase.

This aroused more disquiet among senior figures in the Buffalo Family, suspecting him of skimming off profits, and rival groups began to emerge.  Within a year, Magaddino had been ousted as boss, replaced first by Salvatore Pieri and ultimately by Samuel Frangiamore, who had been joint leaders of a breakaway faction.

Magaddino managed to avoid significant spells in jail throughout his rule.  The illegal bookmaking charges, based on a six-year long wire-tapping operation at the funeral home in Niagara, were dropped after a judge ruled the evidence had been obtained illegally.

He was named in Rome in 1967 as the head of a narcotics smuggling ring that had trafficked about $150 million worth of heroin between Europe and the United States between 1950 and 1960 but was never extradited.  He died in 1974 following a heart attack. 

Castellammare del Golfo enjoys a fine location on the coast of northwest Sicily
Castellammare del Golfo enjoys a fine location on the
coast of northwest Sicily
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo is a resort and fishing town situated on a large bay in the northwest corner of Sicily, midway between Trapani and Palermo.  It has an attractive setting, guarding over a broad sweep of water and with steep lanes of houses climbing the hillside from the harbour towards the elevated Piazza Petrolo.  A popular backdrop for TV dramas, including some episodes of the Inspector Montalbano series, it has the remains of a castle probably built at the time of the ninth-century Arab occupation of the town, and a good selection of bars and restaurants.

The Basilica of Maria SS Annunziata
The Basilica of Maria SS Annunziata
Travel tip:

Trapani is a city of some 70,000 inhabitants on a coastal plain around 100km (62 miles) west of Palermo, at the very western tip of the island. Renowned for its seafood, it has a nearby airport but is not well known among overseas tourists, yet offers an attractive base for visitors, with the impressive Basilica-Sanctuary of Maria Santissima Annunziata and a 14th-century cathedral among its attractions. The city is also famous for the Easter Processione dei Misteri di Trapani, a day-long celebration of the Passion.

24 November 2016

Lucky Luciano - Mafia boss

Sicilian who brought order among warring clans

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Italy in 1948, after he had been deported by the American authorities
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Italy in 1948, after
he had been deported by the American authorities
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, the mobster best known for shaping the structure of Italian-dominated organized crime in the United States, was born Salvatore Lucania on this day in 1897 in Lercara Friddi, a town about 70km (44 miles) south-east of the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

Raised in New York's Lower East Side after his family emigrated in 1906, it was Luciano who famously put the New York underworld into the control of the so-called Five Families and also set up The Commission, which served as a governing body for organized crime nationwide.

After he was jailed in 1936 on extortion and prostitution charges, Luciano is said to have struck a deal with the American authorities to use his criminal connections to help the Allies in their invasion of Sicily, a vital first step in driving the German forces and their supporters out of the Italian peninsula.

In return he was given parole and allowed to return to Sicily at the end of the Second World War.

Luciano, whose father, Antonio, had worked in a sulphur mine in Lercara Friddi, began his life in crime as a teenager, when he set up his own gang and became friends with Jewish gang members Meyer Lansky and his associate Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who would become two of his most important allies.

He grew powerful during the prohibition era of the 1920s, which created opportunities for criminals to make a lot of money. By 1925, he was grossing $12 million dollars a year and had met many of New York's future Mafia leaders, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello.  He had also begun working for another big hitter, the Lower Manhattan gang boss Joe Masseria.

Vito Genovese, an ally of Luciano
Vito Genovese, an ally of Luciano
Caught up in the Castellammarese war - so-called because it involved Mafia bosses from the Castellammare del Golfo area of Sicily - he assumed control of one of the Five Families by eliminating both main protagonists, Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, after both tried to have him killed.

In doing so he took his place alongside such infamous figures as Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Tommy Gagliano and Vincent Mangano - but it was Luciano whose 'family', later known as the Genovese family, had the greater reach.

Yet rather than seeking to make himself still more powerful, he was keen that the gangs stopped fighting among themselves and concentrated on maximising profits. To that end, Luciano sought to create a national organized-crime network to settle disputes and establish demarcation lines between the different operations.

He forged links with crime bosses in other cities, including Chicago's Al Capone, in what became known as The Commission.

Luciano's wealth enabled him to live at New York's luxurious Waldorf Towers, part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, under the name Charles Ross.

But his luck ran out in 1936 when he was convicted on extortion and prostitution charges, sentenced to 30 to 50 years in jail and sent to a correctional facility in New York State which was known as "Siberia" because of its remote location near the Canadian border.

His appeals against conviction were rejected and it seemed he was destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars, but then came the opportunity to use his influence in New York and Sicily to help the Allied war effort in Europe.

He was contacted by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, who used Meyer Lansky as an intermediary, for help in stopping German and Italian agents entering the United States through the New York waterfront, which the mobs controlled.

Then, as the Allies prepared for the 1943 invasion of Sicily, Luciano is also said to have provided the Americans with Sicilian Mafia contacts.  In return, he was given parole and deported back to Sicily.

Carlo Gambino, the gang boss who delivered the eulogy at Luciano's funeral in New York
Carlo Gambino, the gang boss who delivered
the eulogy at Luciano's funeral in New York
It was not the end of his career in crime.  Although he remained in Sicily in the immediate post-war months, he secretly moved to Havana in Cuba in 1946, meeting up again with Lansky and Siegel in the hope that he could resume control of his operations in New York from a base closer to the United States.

By 1947, however, his presence in Cuba had been discovered by U.S. agents, who alerted the Cuban government, after which he was sent back to Italy.

He was thereafter kept under close surveillance, although still maintaining his criminal activities in New York via his lieutenant, Frank Costello, eventually helping Carlo Gambino, a fellow Sicilian and a longtime friend, to become the most powerful gang boss in New York.

Luciano died in January 1962 at Naples Airport, suffering a heart attack shortly after meeting an American producer to discuss a film about his life.

After a relatively small funeral in Naples, Luciano's body was returned to the United States. After a second funeral, attended by 2,000 mourners, at which Gambino delivered the eulogy, he was buried in the family's vault at St. John's Cemetery in Queens, New York, under his birth name of Salvatore Lucania.

Travel tip:

Lercara Friddi, which features some remains of a Greek colony dating back to the eighth century BC, was once notable for its sulphur mine, the only one in the province of Palermo.  As well as being the home town of Salvatore Lucania, it was the birthplace five years earlier of Saverio Antonio Martino Sinatra, who emigrated to the United States in 1903 and married Natalie Garaventa, from Liguria.  They settled in New Jersey where, in 1915, Natalie gave birth to their only child, Francis Albert Sinatra.

Hotels in Palermo by

The harbour at Castellamare del Golfo
The harbour at Castellammare del Golfo
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo is a fishing town and tourist resort in the province of Trapani on the northern coast of Sicily, west of Palermo.  It is also noted for having been the birthplace of many American Mafia figures, including Salvatore Maranzano, Stefano Magaddino, Vito Bonventre, John Tartamella, and Joseph Bonanno.

More reading:

Carlo Gambino, the Sicilian mob boss thought to be the model for 'The Godfather' Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo's novel

Paolo di Lauro - Camorra boss captured in Carabinieri swoop

Joe Petrosino - Calabrian who became crime-fighting New York cop

Also on this day:

1826: Birth of Carlo Collodi, creator of Pinocchio