On this day in 1905 Joe Bonanno was born in Castellammare del Golfo, which is a small town in Sicily where Salvatore Maranzano was also born. Bonanno would go on to lead his own crime family, living until the age of 97 years old.
Like many inhabitants of Sicily during the early 1900’s, Bonanno and his family moved to the United States, but only spent 10 years in Brooklyn before returning back to their homeland. However Bonanno managed to sneak back into the country by 1924 and into the peak of the Prohibition era and joined up with the Maranzano outfit.
Not many people know this but Bonanno, to his closest allies was nicknamed “Don Peppino”; however the media nicknamed him “Joe Bananas” which angered him. So essentially you were safer to call him Don Peppino.
Apparently, whilst he was in Italy, Bonanno had already been introduced to a life of organized crime and worked for the Italian Mafia.
After a few years of working under Maranzano the Castellammarese War has broken out between Joe The Boss and Maranzano, in what would become a struggle of power on who controlled certain parts of the city and what rackets were being run.
Bonanno was currently Maranzano’s underboss, and three other notable figures in the Maranzano camp were Tommy Lucchese, Stefano Magaddino and Joseph Magliocco.
After years of constant battles the war came to an end when Lucky and Genovese planned to reorganize the mob by taking out the two old bosses, and bringing a new, business-like era to the Mafia.
The Bonanno Family
At the young age of 26, and after the Castellammarese War had passed, Bonanno took control of what once was Maranzano’s Crime Family. At this young age he was in fact the youngest ever mob boss.
The new Bonanno crime family was one of the smaller families operating in New York at the time, and Joe appointed two underbosses who were Frank Garofalo and John Bonventre.
In terms of income and what the family dabbled in, their rackets extended from loan sharking, bookmaking, numbers running, prostitution, and other minor activities to keep the money rolling in. Bear in mind that during this phase, Bonanno was pretty much an illegal immigrant has he crept back into the country in 1924. Therefore, in 1938 he decided to once again leave the US and the re-enter legally so that he could apply for citizenship, this was granted some time later in 1945 by which time he was a multi-millionaire.
However, the day did catch up with him eventually but not through any fault of his own. The Apalachin meeting of 1957 was a disaster and was the first time that the mob became part of the national newspapers. The meeting was setup by Vito Genovese and police noticed that very expensive cars were coming through the quiet town, all going to the same house. The police ended up raiding the building and making several high profile arrests, Joe Bonanno was one of the lucky ones to avoid being arrested but it did draw the attention of the FBI.
Joe Bonanno’s Later Years
In April 1983 Joe Bonanno and his son Bill appeared on a CBS News TV program called 60 Minutes to be interviewed by correspondent Mike Wallace. In this interview Joe retold his parts of his life as a mob boss.
A brave move also came in 1983 when he decided to write a book called “A Man of Honor” which was an autobiography of his life. I imagine that many police departments bought this book to see if they could get any more information on mob activities and for Joe to explain more about how The Commission worked.
Joe didn’t actually break the code of Omertà as he didn’t give away any secrets and refused to answer any questions to the government or police, but by releasing such a book the current mob bosses felt that he had betrayed the Mafia.
Joe Massino who was the Bonanno Crime boss in 1983 was so taken back by this that he took it upon himself to rename the family to the Massino Crime Family, except this was never really used as he ended up as a government informant not long after.
Bonanno died of heart failure at the impressive age of 97, in 2002. He had an illustrious career that spanned many decades and was the last Mustache Pete.