Castellammarese War

Castellammarese War
Date February, 1930 – April 15, 1931
Location New York City
Causes Crime syndicate control dispute
Result Maranzano's faction victory
Parties to the civil conflict
Masseria Faction
Maranzano Faction
Lead figures

The Castellammarese War was a bloody power struggle for control of the Italian-American Mafia between partisans of Joe "The Boss" Masseria and those of Salvatore Maranzano. It was so called because Maranzano was based in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily.[1] Maranzano's faction won, and he declared himself capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"), the undisputed leader of the entire Mafia. However, he was soon murdered in turn by a faction of young upstarts led by Lucky Luciano, who established a power-sharing arrangement called "The Commission," a group of five Mafia families of equal stature, to avoid such wars in the future.


Mafia operations in the United States in the 1920s were controlled by Giuseppe "Joe The Boss" Masseria, whose faction consisted mainly of gangsters from Sicily, and the Calabria and Campania regions of Southern Italy. Masseria's faction included Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Alfred Mineo, Willie Moretti, Joe Adonis, and Frank Costello.

Powerful Sicilian mafioso Don Vito Ferro decided to make a bid for control of Mafia operations in the United States.[2] From his base in Castellammare del Golfo, he sent Salvatore Maranzano to seize control. The Castellammarese faction in the U.S. included Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Stefano "The Undertaker" Magaddino, Joseph Profaci, and Joe Aiello.[3]

Outwardly, the Castellammarese War was between the forces of Masseria and Maranzano.[4] Underneath, however, there was also a generational conflict between the old guard Sicilian leadership, known as the "Mustache Petes" for their long mustaches and old-world ways, and the "Young Turks", a younger and more diverse Italian group who were more forward thinking and willing to work more with non-Italians. Tensions between the Maranzano and Masseria factions were evident as far back as 1928, with one side frequently hijacking the other's alcohol trucks (alcohol production was then illegal in the United States due to Prohibition). However, both factions were fluid, with many mobsters switching sides or killing their own allies during this war.[5][6]

Hostilities begin

According to Bonanno, in February 1930, Masseria supposedly ordered the death of Gaspar Milazzo, a Castellemmarese native who was the president of Detroit's chapter of Unione Siciliane. Masseria had reportedly been humiliated by Milazzo's refusal to support him in a Unione Siciliane dispute involving the Chicago Outfit and Al Capone.[7]

However, according to most sources, the opening salvo in the war was fired within the Masseria faction. On February 26, 1930 Masseria ordered the murder of an ally, Gaetano Reina.[8] Masseria gave the job to a young Vito Genovese, who killed Reina with a shotgun.[9] Masseria's intent was to protect his secret allies Tommy Gagliano, Tommy Lucchese, and Dominick "The Gap" Petrilli. Later his treachery would come back to haunt him, as the Reina family then threw its support to Maranzano.

Trading blows

On August 15, 1930, Castellammerese loyalists executed a key Masseria enforcer, Giuseppe Morello, at Morello's East Harlem office (a visitor, Giuseppe Pariano, was also killed).[10] Two weeks later, Masseria suffered another blow. After Reina's murder, Masseria had appointed Joseph Pinzolo to take over the ice-distribution racket.[8] However, on September 9, the Reina family shot and killed Pinzolo at a Times Square office rented by Lucchese. After these two murders, the Reina crew formally joined forces with the Castellammarese.[11]

Masseria soon struck back. On October 23, 1930, Castellammarese ally Joe Aiello, president of the Chicago Unione Siciliane, was murdered in Chicago.[7] At the time, it was widely assumed that Capone, another Castellammarese ally, had killed Aiello as part of a bitter power struggle in Chicago. However, Luciano later admitted that Masseria ordered the Aiello hit, which was performed by Masseria ally Alfred Mineo.

The tide turns

Following the murder of Aiello, the tide of war rapidly turned in favor of the Castellammarese. On November 5, 1930 Mineo and a key member of Masseria's gang, Steve Ferrigno, were murdered.[12] At this point, members of Masseria's gang began defecting to Maranzano, rendering the original battle lines of the conflict (Castellammarese versus non-Castellammarese) meaningless. On February 3, 1931, another important Masseria lieutenant, Joseph Catania, was gunned down, dying two days later.[13]

Given the worsened situation, Masseria allies Luciano and Genovese started communicating with Castellammarese leader Maranzano. The two men agreed to betray Masseria if Maranzano would end the war. On April 15, 1931 Masseria was killed while eating dinner at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant in Brooklyn. The hitters were reputedly Anastasia, Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel;[14] Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver's seat by Siegel.[15][16]

However, according to the New York Times, "[A]fter that, the police have been unable to learn definitely [what happened]". Reputedly Masseria was "seated at a table playing cards with two or three unknown men" when he was fired upon from behind. He died from gunshot wounds to his head, back, and chest.[13] Masseria's autopsy report shows that he died on an empty stomach.[17] No witnesses came forward, though "two or three" men were observed leaving the restaurant and getting into a stolen car.[18]

The new Mafia structure

With the death of Masseria, the war was over. The winners, at least on paper, were Maranzano and the traditional Castellammarese faction. Now Maranzano took some significant actions to avoid more bloody and self-destructive gang wars. Many of these changes are still in effect today.[19][20]

Except for New York City, the major urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest were organized into one family per city; due to the sheer size of organized crime in New York, it was organized into five separate families. The bosses of the Five Families of New York were to be Luciano (now the Genovese crime family), Profaci (now Colombo), Gagliano (now Lucchese), Maranzano (now Bonanno), and Vincent Mangano (now Gambino). All, however, would owe allegiance and tribute to Maranzano. The Castellammarese, such as Profaci and Bonanno, were divided among the New York crime families and ceased to exist as a separate faction. Maranzano set himself above, and apart from, all the U.S. crime families by creating an additional position for himself--capo di tutti capi or "boss of all bosses."[5][19]

Each crime family was to be headed by a boss, who was assisted by an underboss (the third-ranking position of consigliere, was added somewhat later). Below the underboss, the family was divided into crews, each headed by a caporegime, or capo, and staffed by soldiers (members or, as they later became known, "wise guys"). The soldiers would often be assisted by associates, who were not yet members. Associates might also include non-Italians who worked with the family, and would include Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, to name just two.[5] Like Lansky and Siegel, associates might be significant criminal figures with their own organisations.

Death of Maranzano

Maranzano's reign as capo di tutti capi was short-lived. On September 10, 1931, he was shot and stabbed to death in his Manhattan office by a team of Jewish triggermen (recruited by Lansky), which included Samuel "Red" Levine, Bo Weinberg, and Bugsy Siegel.[5][21]

In the aftermath of the Maranzano hit, there was believed to have been a massive purge of "old-timer" mafiosi, the so-called "Night of the Sicilian Vespers." These rumors were seemingly confirmed by the testimony of Joseph Valachi, but a later study found no signs of such massive violence occurring.[22][23]

In the end, both of the traditional factions in the New York Mafia lost the war. The real winners were the younger and more ruthless generation of mobsters, headed by Luciano. With their ascension to power, organized crime was poised to expand into a truly national and multi-ethnic combination.[19][24]

Popular culture

See also



  1. Critchley, David (2008). The Origin of Organized Crime in America. New York: Routledge. p. 165. ISBN 978-0415990301.
  2. Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Checkmark Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0816056958.
  3. Sifakis, (2005). pp. 56–57
  4. Critchley, (2008). p. 165
  5. 1 2 3 4 Raab, Selwyn (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 22–35. ISBN 978-0312361815.
  6. Sifakis, (2005). p. 323
  7. 1 2 Critchley, (2008). p. 172
  8. 1 2 Critchley, (2008). p. 175
  9. Sifakis, (2005). p. 277
  10. Dash, Mike (2010). The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 376. ISBN 978-0345523570.
  11. Critchley, (2008). p. 181
  12. Critchley, (2008). pp. 182–183
  13. 1 2 Critchley, (2008). p. 185
  14. Pollak, Michael (June 29, 2012). "Coney Island's Big Hit". New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  15. Sifakis, (2005). pp. 87–88
  16. Martin A. Gosch; Richard Hammer; Lucky Luciano (1975). The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano. Little, Brown. pp. 130–132. ISBN 978-0-316-32140-2.
  17. "Giuseppe Masseria". New York Mafia 1900-1920. GangRule. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  18. Critchley, (2008). p. 186
  19. 1 2 3 "A Chronicle of Bloodletting". Time Magazine. July 12, 1971. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  20. Dash, Mike (2010). The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 384–386. ISBN 978-0345523570.
  21. Dennis Eisenberg; Uri Dan; Eli Landau (1979). Meyer Lansky: mogul of the mob. Paddington Press : distributed Grosset & Dunlap. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-0-448-22206-6.
  22. Raab, (2005). p. 137
  23. Maas, Peter (1968). The Valachi Papers (1986 Pocket Books ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 83. ISBN 067163173X.
  24. Critchley, (2008). p. 197


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