Most Notorious Mobsters
"Don" Carlo Gambino was born on August 24, 1902 in Caccamo, a province of Palermo Sicily. He had two brothers, Gaspare who was never involved in the Mafia, and Paolo who would eventually work alongside his brother in the American Mafia.
In Italy, Gambino's family belonged to the Honored Society, an Italian version of the Black Hand in the United States. The Black Hand was a less organised version of Italian gangsters, most of which immigrated to the United States.
In 1921 Gambino illegally boarded a ship headed for the United States. It's been said he ate nothing but anchovies and wine during the month-long trip. Once in the United States he joined his cousins, the Castellano's in New York City. The Castellano's were already affiliated with the D'Aquila gang, and quickly introduced Gambino as a new member. By the end of 1921 at the age of 19, Carlo Gambino became and "made man" of the American Mafia.
Around the same time Gambino also became close with an Italian and Jewish gang called the "Young Turks" in New York. The gang included notables such as, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Frank Scalise, Settimo Accardi, Tommy Lucchese, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Mickey Cohen. The Turks were led by Charles "Lucky" Luciano, the future creator of the mafia Commission.
After several years of fighting for territory among the different gangs in and around New York, two men emerged holding the most power. Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano a Palermo bore mafioso who recently arrived in the United States. Maranzano quickly inserted himself in extortion and gambling operations that directly competed with Masseria. On October 10, 1928 Masseria had rival Toto D'Aquila, once the most powerful mobster in New York, murdered clearing the way for him to become the "Boss of Bosses". However, Maranzano and the Castellammarese Clan he brought with him from Palermo, stood in his way.
In 1930, Masseria flexed his muscle and went after Marranzano's then boss, Nicola "Cola" Schiro demanding a $10,000 tribute. Schiro, fearing for his life against the more powerful Masseria paid the tribute, and fled New York leaving Maranzano as the gang's new leader. It was this move that set the wheels in motion for the start of one of the largest gangland wars in history; the Castellammarese War.
By 1931, Masseria had begun to eliminate Maranzano's Castellammarese Clan. His goal was to weaken Maranzano and take over New York. However, Maranzano would not go down without a fight and declared war on Masseria and anyone else who aligned themselves with him.
Gambino and Alfred Mineo the new leader of the D'Aquila gang aligned with Masseria. Half of the Young Turks joined as well, with the others aligning with Maranzano. The Castellammarese Clan included Joe Bonanno, Stefano Magaddino, and the Profaci crime family, which included Joseph Profaci and Joseph Magliocco. Former Masseria allies Gaetano Reina, boss of the Reina family and Tommy Lucchese also joined the Castellammarese and Maranzano.
The war went on between these two factions for nearly 4 years. It was the height of prohibition where profits were large; however the war almost completely destroyed many of the New York family rackets. Luciano and members of the Young Turks from both sides began to realise the war needed to stop and stop soon or much of what they took so long to build in New York City would be lost. During the war many of the Jewish and Irish crime families became the dominant families in New York. Meyer Lansky, a Jewish mobster and close confidant of Luciano felt that Masseria and Maranzano were old-school mafioso who were too greedy to see the riches that could be had by working with non-Italians. Gambino and the Young Turks agreed and decided to end the war and form a national syndicate led by Charles Luciano.
On April 15, 1931 Masseria was murdered by Luciano associates Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, and Bugsy Siegel while dining at Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant in Coney Island. With Masseria out of the way, Marranzano declared himself the Boss of Bosses and with the help of Luciano's vision, re-organized the New York gangs into five Mafia families. Vincent Mangano was promoted and took over Masseria's Mineo family. Young Turk, Albert Anastasia became his underboss and Gambino was promoted to Capo.
On September 10, 1931 Maranzano was murdered by Luciano gunmen ending his reign as Boss of Bosses. With Maranzano gone Luciano called a meeting of all the bosses in New York and the United States. During this meeting many of the bosses including Al Capone of the Chicago Outfit expected Luciano to declare himself Boss of Bosses. However, Luciano had another idea and during the meeting laid out his plan to create The Commission, a ruling panel of crime family leaders which would mediate conflicts between the families. The leaders nominated Luciano, Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano, and Vincent Mangano as its inaugural members.
With a seat on the Commission, the Mangano family set out to become one of the most powerful mafia families in the country. Gambino quickly became one of the family's top earners and controlled several illegal rackets including loansharking, illegal gambling, and protection.
Vincent Mangano had a 20 year reign as the Mangano crime family boss. Until that point in history no other crime boss controlled a family for as long as he did. He was successful, feared, and envied by gangsters all across the country.
If Mangano was the brains of the family, his underboss, Albert Anastasia was the muscle. Though the two rarely agreed on the direction of the family, but Mangano allowed Anastasia to run wild as the "Lord High Executioner" of the syndicate's most notorious death squad, Murder, Inc. Anastasia and his murderous crew were used as commission henchmen when a member of the families got out of line. They killed hundreds of men.
Since childhood Anastasia held a tight friendship with Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello. Luciano is responsible for creating the commission and was the most powerful mafioso in the country. Costello had a significant amount of power as well working in the Luciano crime family. Together the men used Anastasia and Murder, Inc. without the permission of Mangano to settle disputes and increase their territory. Mangano and his brother, Phil, confronted Anastasia several times about his relationship with the Luciano family. They attempted to discourage Anastasia from working with the competition, however Anastasia disagreed. As tension increased Anastasia stopped asking permission for "every little thing," further angering the Mangano's.
The disagreement came to an end on April 19, 1951 when Philip Mangano was found murdered and Vincent Mangano disappeared and was never found. Anastasia lobbied the heads of the other crime families claiming Mangano and his brother were plotting to have him killed. Frank Costello, the acting boss of the Luciano crime family after Lucky's incarceration, backed up Anastasia story. The commission agreed, and Anastasia became the new boss of the family, with Carlo Gambino as his underboss. Gambino who remained neutral throughout the disagreement was now just one notch away from being the most powerful mobster in the country, with a crew making profit of extortion, illegal gambling, hijacking, bootlegging and murder. He controlled more businesses and territory than several families combined.
With Anastasia at the helm, the renamed Anastasia family was profitable and dangerous. It wasn't long before several up-and-coming mobsters began to question Anastasia's policies. Vito Genovese brought his concerns to the incarcerated Luciano and Luciano family acting boss Frank Costello who assured him Anastasia could be trusted. Genovese didn't think so and in 1952 his doubts were magnified when Anastasia ordered the murder of a Brooklyn tailor's assistant named Arnold Schuster who had witnessed a bank robbery at the hands of Willie Sutton.
Anastasia's brazen murder violated a cardinal Mafia rule against killing outsiders and brought unnecessary public scrutiny on Mafia business. Luciano and Costello were dumbfounded at Anastasia's decision to have the man killed, but couldn't risk losing Anastasia's allegiance to the Luciano crime family. Not only was Genovese maneuvering to take over the Anastasia family, but was also positioning himself to take over several profitable Luciano rackets. They needed Anastasia to keep control of the commission and out of Genovese's hands.
In 1957 Vito Genovese convinced Carlo Gambino to side with him against Anastasia, Costello, and Luciano. Genovese devised a plan to convince Anastasia that they were not making enough money from the casinos in Cuba. He used Gambino to deliver the message to Anastasia that Meyer Lansky, the man in control of the casinos in Cuba, was holding out on them. When Anastasia confronted Lansky about the missing money, Lansky threw his support to Genovese and Gambino.
A short time later, Genovese hired Vincent Gigante to assassinate Frank Costello. Though Gigante's attempt failed, Costello, who was no longer a young man, asked the commission for permission to retire. His request was granted and Genovese took over the Luciano family and renamed it the Genovese crime family. As this happened, Lucky Luciano had been deported from the United States and lost nearly all power. He was in no position to fight back against the more powerful Genovese.
With his power growing Genovese moved against Anastasia. On October 25, 1957 in a small barbershop on the first floor of the Park Sheraton hotel in New York City, Genovese gunmen assassinated Albert Anastasia. With his death Gambino became the boss of the Anastasia crime family which was renamed the Gambino crime family.
Genovese was now the most powerful mobster in the country and had positioned himself to control the mafia commission. He put in motion a meeting in Apalachin, New York where the heads of all the families would meet to formally crown him the "boss of bosses."
When most of the men were in attendance and before the meeting began, the police raided the conference and destroyed Genovese's rise to power. The blame for the disaster was put on Genovese's shoulders and with that momentum Gambino met with Costello, Luciano, and Lansky in Cuba to come up with a plan to get rid of Genovese.
In 1959 Genovese was arrested in Atlanta when he arrived to pick up a large shipment of heroin. He was convicted for distribution of a controlled substance and sentenced to 15 years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. With the support of Costello and Luciano, Gambino was named head of the commission in 1962. In prison Genovese heard of Gambino becoming the new "boss of bosses" and couldn't understand how a man who had kept a low profile still became the most powerful boss in the country.
Gambino wasted little time and quickly expanded his rackets all over the United States. No part of the country was out of his reach including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, and Boston. With the help of his caporegimes, Aniello Dellacroce, and brother-in-law Paul Castellano, Gambino took back control of Manhattan from the remaining Anastasia loyalists and Genovese crews.
In the 1960's at the height of his control Gambino controlled more than 90% of all New York City's ports including the New York Longshoreman Union. The Gambino family had as many as 800 soldiers spread out in 30 crews across the country. All combined the family made more than $500 million a year.
On July 13, 1967 Gaetano "Tommy" Lucchese developed a fatal brain tumour and died at his home in Long Island. Over 1000 mourners attended his funeral including several levels of Mafia associates, politicians, and placement. Gambino organised the funeral and hand-picked Carmine "Gribbs" Tramunti as Lucchese's successor.
On June 28, 1971 Joe Colombo boss of the Colombo crime family was set to speak at the second annual Congress of Italo-America Organisations rally, a division of his Italian-American Civil Rights League when he was shot by an African-American man who was subsequently shot and killed by Colombo security guards. Although shot in the head, Colombo didn't die of his wounds but stayed in a vegetative state until his death in 1977. Speculation around his assassination revolves around several factors, one being the American Mafia's distaste for Colombo and the spotlight he brought upon organised crime. It's been passed around that crazy Joe Gallo organised the hit using black gang relationships he developed while in prison. The increasing media attention by Colombo and his league was too much to bear and Gallo was looking for retribution from an earlier fight. The scenario could in fact be true as Joe Gallo was murdered not long after on April 7, 1972.
Another scenario puts Carlo Gambino as the person who ordered the hit and Colombo for bringing too much attention to La Cosa Nostra, but this theory has not been proven as Gambino had nothing to gain from Colombo's death.
On January 26, 1962 Charles "Lucky" Luciano died of a heart attack while walking through Naples international airport on his way to Germany. Although he was kicked out of the United States for life, in death he was allowed to be buried at St. John's Cemetery in 1972 more than 10 years after his death. Over 2000 mourners attended his funeral. Carlo Gambino, a friend and confidant of Luciano was the only boss of New York to attend his funeral.
By 1972 Gambino was under watch by the FBI, had dealt with family members kidnappings and death, and was growing increasingly upset by the actions of his underboss Neil Dellacroce and his protégé John Gotti. Until this point Gambino had managed to rise to the top of the American Mafia by keeping a low profile and managing his businesses quietly. However, with many of the men he grew up with now dead, and as the most powerful boss in the United States he was facing increased pressure and began to reorganise the Gambino crime family.
His first order of business was to restructure the hierarchy and put in place a second underboss below him. Neil Dellacroce, his longtime underboss and apparent air to the throne was already established having several men working under him. Gambino promoted his brother-in-law Paul Castellano as the second underboss, and where Dellacroce knew how to handle the up-and-coming mafioso and the dirty side of the business, Castellano was more of a businessman. Gambino put Castellano in charge of all the white-collar crimes through Brooklyn. He controlled the recycling, construction, unions, and wire fraud businesses that brought in millions each year to the Gambino crime family. The move to create a second underboss effectively split the family down the middle, one side being led by Dellacroce and the other by Castellano. It was effective and brilliant. It was also one of the last major decisions of the long time mafia boss.
On October 15, 1976 Gambino suffered a heart attack and died at his home. Before his death Gambino met with the hierarchy of his family and appointed his brother-in-law Paul Castellano as his successor, a blow to his longtime underboss Neil Delacroce and one that would spark one of the most public Mafia boss assassinations in history.