Showing posts with label Vito Genovese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vito Genovese. 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


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