Salvatore Maranzano – The Boss of Bosses


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Sal Maranzano

Maranzano was born in Sicily in 1886 and came to the US from his home town of Castellammare del Golfo around 1918 (the exact date is uncertain). Had the immigration authorities who welcomed him to the states at Ellis island realized what he would become, they would have put him on the first eastbound ship back across the Atlantic! For Maranzano was the founder of the modern US Mafia and became the one and only ‘Boss of Bosses’.

He had been educated in a seminary and his parents had wanted him to become a priest. But Salvatore had other ideas. He was a Mafia man, a follower of Don Vito Cascioferro – the most powerful Mafia leader in sicily. The Don had visited the US and had seen the opportunities the country could afford the Mafia. He saw himself as the head of the organisation – capo de tutti capi or boss of all bosses. It was Ferro who sent Maranzano to the States, to start organising the American crime families, even non – Italian ones, into one big ‘family’.

Don Vito Cascioferro

Don Vito Cascioferro

Unfortunately before Ferro could sail to the States to claim his place at the head of the table, he was arrested by Fascists and sent to prison for the rest of his life. With Ferro in jail, Maranzano took over the mantle of would-be capo de tutti capi, head of a criminal organization all of whose members owed him absolute allegiance. But standing in his way were mobsters who were too ensconced in the old ways to listen to him. Maranzano refered to these mobsters as `Moustache Petes` and set about converting them to his way of seeing things. At first he played kept a relatively low profile, dabbling in Manhattan’s bootlegging and gambling rackets. But as the 1920s roared along, more and more immigrant Italians were recruited to the Maranzano mob and by 1928 he was becoming so powerful that the foremost Mafia boss in New York, Guiseppe Masseria or `Joe the Boss`, started to realize Maranzano was a threat to his operations.

Guiseppe Masseria

Guiseppe Masseria

For his part, the Sicilian regarded Masseria as one of the Moustache Petes he loathed so much and when `Joe the Boss` began to move in on the rackets that Maranzano’s henchmen were running in Brooklyn, he decided to act. He knew that other Mafia mobs in New York resented the tributes that Masseria demanded off them and started to cultivate this resentment. He promised them that in return for their allegiance he would give them a much fairer share of their proceeds of their crimes. Among men he tried to lure from Masseria’s mob was Lucky Luciano who was one of `the Bosses` most trusted lieutenants – but Luciano had plans of his own and stayed loyal to Masseria.

Lucky Luciano

Lucky Luciano

By the end of 1928, Masseria had had enough and declared war, confident that with more guns at his command he would soon cut the upstart Sicilian down to size, For two years the Castellammarese War raged with more than fifty men from both sides being shot. The exact number was impossible for the police to establish. The NYPD had little way of knowing if a bullet-smashed body found in a back alley had been a Masseria mobster or one of Maranzano’s men, or just another gangster caught in the crossfire of the war between other bootlegging gangs raging all over the underworld. As the war blazed, a new factor came into play.

Lucky Luciano, still ostensibly one of Masseria’s most trusted lieutenants, had been spending time and effort cultivating young gangsters on both sides, intending eventually to ally the Italian mobsters from both gangs with Jewish criminals into a syndicate that would make not just for a bigger cake but also a large slice for all involved. Key to his plan was Meyer Lansky, one of the great criminal minds of the twentieth century. All but a few of the Jewish gangs with whom he had contact liked the idea of forming a National Crime Syndicate in alliance with the Mafia. New York mobsters were impressed with Luciano, whose tentacles stretched high up into the NYPD and into the upper reaches of the political world. And Luciano, with his contacts in both Maranzano’s and The Bosses organizations, knew what the two were up to.

Meyer Lansky

Meyer Lansky

Lansky and Luciano decided to play a waiting game, letting the two gangs slug it out on the streets of New York and inevitably weakening each other until one perished and one was seemingly victorious. Then, and only then, would Luciano and Lansky strike. But as the months passed, Masseria and Maranzano’s guns were still blazing, with the Sicilian giving better than he was getting. In 1931, fearful that Maranzano’s seemingly impending victory would attract so many supporters that he would be in an unassailable position, Luciano decided to speed the game up. He invited Masseria to lunch in a Coney Island diner on April 15th, luring him there with the promise of a high-stake poker game after the meal.

As the others in the restaurant gradually drifted off, the cards were shuffled and dealt and the game got underway. After a hand or two, Luciano excused himself and made for the mens room. While he was there, some of his men including Albert Anastasia, Bugsy Siegel and Joe Adonis burst into the restaurant, guns ablaze. By the time Luciano strolled out of the mens room. Masseria was dead hit by six bullets and lying face down in a pool of his own blood. Back on Manhattan, Luciano declared the war over. A seemingly grateful Maranzano made Luciano his chief. Later, he rented a large hall on Washington Street in the Bronx and called a meeting of the city’s top mobsters. Five hundred of the old rivals who a few months before had been shooting at each other now rubbed shoulders.

Joe The Boss Dead

Joe The Boss Dead

According to Joe Valachi, one of the mobsters present and who thirty one years later was to testify before the Congressional subcommittee into the Mafia, Maranzano sat on a throne beneath a huge cross and called for silence. He accused `Joe the Boss` of having started the Castellammarese war and said that now they were over things would be different. He announced that he was the capo de tutti capi and that new Families were to be established. Each Family was to have its own boss and an under-boss or chief lieutenant. Under him would be junior lieutenants or caporegimes. As he rambled on in grandiose fashion, he said the other members were to be the foot soldiers, each of whom was to be assigned to a lieutenant. Valachi said that during his speech Maranzano used the expression Cosa Nostra (`This thing of ours`) – the first time he had heard it. The FBI claim that it was they who originated the expression. It doesn’t matter who first coined the phrase. But the words refer to the US Mafia and were never meant to apply to their Sicilian cousins. Maranzano rambled on and on, outlining the rules. First, Loyalty was absolute: total obedience was demanded at all levels. The capo de tutti capi’s word was law right down the line. All breaches were punishable by death. Any Cosa Nostra member who had sex with another member’s wife would be shot. The same fate awaited anyone who publicized the Mafia initiation rites, anyone who discussed Mafia business with a non-member, even a wife, and anyone who sought vengeance for the events of the War.

Even if your own brother was killed, don’t try to find out who did it or get even. If you do, you will pay with your life.`

Listening to all this was Luciano and one of his most important allies, Vito Genovese, They both liked the idea of the family structure but they both felt that having rid gangland of one ruthless leader, they had replaced them with another. And, looking around him, Luciano realized that his endgame – his plan for the Italian-Jewish alliance – would be difficult to put into operation with Maranzano able to call the shots of the five hundred men in the hall, and no doubt countless others hanging out in the pool-halls and brothels of the city. They decided to eliminate the Sicilian. But Maranzano was no fool. He knew that Luciano had been negotiating terms with Meyer Lansky to create his own power base. He also knew that his fellow Sicilian commanded the loyalty of the top men in the new Cosa Nostra. He decided that Luciano, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Salvatore Moretti, Dutch Shultz, and, although not a Mafia member, Al Capone, who was now in Chicago, all posed strong enough threats to his security that they should die. He knew that eliminating the men on his death list would be no easy task. He devised a plan, hoping to have some of them killed before the other realized who was behind it and another all-out war erupted. He also decided to use non-Italian hit men so that he could hold his hands up in innocent horror. The first man he recruited was the gloriously named `Mad Dog` Coll, a young Irish Killer.

He told Coll to come to his Park Avenue office at a date and time when he would arrange for the first two victims – Luciano and Genovese – to be there. After the pair had been shot, Coll was to `lose`the bodies and move on to the next on the list before they realized what was afoot. The Irishman was given a down payment of $25,000 with the promise of the same again after the pair had been assassinated. But Luciano got wind of what was going on and hatched a plot of his own. He was tipped off by one of his men that he and Genovese were to be summoned to Maranzano’s office where they were to be gunned down.

The call came through on September 10th 1931. As soon as he got it, Luciano put his own plan into operation. A few minutes before he and Vito Genovese were scheduled to arrive, one of Maranzano’s henchmen Tommy Luchese, sauntered into his office. Maranzano had no idea that `Three Fingers` Luchese had switched loyalties and was now in Lucky Luciano’s pocket. Just after he went in to see Maranzano, Four policemen burst in, flashing their I’d badges and demanding to question the Sicilian. But they were no NY cops. Rather, they were four Jewish hitmen that Luciano borrowed from Meyer Lansky, knowing that Maranzano would not reconize them. He also knew that the four men would recognize Maranzano, but that they knew `Three Fingers`, which is why he was present. He had been told to stand close to Maranzano and away from any bodyguards so that the Jewish gunmen would know who to shoot at. The `Cops` showed their badges to Giraloma Santucci, who screened Maranzano’s visitors.

He called Maranzano from his office and when he emerged with `Three Fingers` at his side, the `Cops` drew their guns. But before they could pull the triggers, one of the men drew a knife and went for the self-proclaimed capo de tutti capi. Maranzano fended him off as best he could, but was stabbed six times. With blood gushing from the wounds, he somehow summoned the strength to dive at the others. But they pointed their guns at the bleeding Sicilian and emptied the chambers into him. They then turned their attention on Maranzano. One of the men pulled out a knife and stabbed him to death.

Sal Maranzano Dead

Sal Maranzano Dead

They had no orders regarding the bodyguards, and as the hit men ran from the office and headed for the emergency stairs, the terrified henchmen were just behind them. On the way down one of them bumped into `Mad Dog` Coll, on his way to keep his own appointment. When he found out what had been going on, the Irishman turned and joined the bodyguards on the way out. According to one of them Coll, $25,000 better off and with no one to shoot, whistled as he went. (He didn’t whistle for long. Five months later, he was shot down in a hail of gunfire when making a telephone call from a phone booth in a drug store on West 23rd Street.)

By the time the real New York police arrived on the scene all they found was Maranzano’s still-warm body. Everyone else had fled. By the time the police were back at their headquarters reports were coming in from other parts of the country of other gangland assassinations. Within a day or two, forty of Maranzano’s associates had been killed. Lucky Luciano had silenced all the Maranzano opposition in one brilliantly planned coup. Among the dead were James Marino, Sam Monaco and Louis Rosso who, although they had claimed to have switched sides to Luciano, were suspected of still being loyal to the dead Sicilian.

They were tortured, murdered and thrown into the river. Their mutilated bodies were found floating in Newark Bay to the south of Manhattan a few days after Maranzano’s assassination. The only capo de tutti capi in the history of the American Mafia was dead, and with him went the reign of the immigrant Italians, the Moustache Petes, whom Maranzano had despised but of which he was one, to the American Mobs. From now on, it was the American Mafia not the Sicilian one that ruled the roost in the United States. But the Maranzano legacy lived on. Lucky Luciano retained the family structure the Sicilian had ranted on about in the hall on Washington Street a few months before he was assassinated – the one and only Boss of Bosses.

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