Five Families – Origins

After the death of Giuseppe Masseria in the Casellammarese War, the organization of the “Families” was initiated in 1931 by Salvatore Maranzano.  Maranzano is also credited for creating the familiar Mafia hierarchy of the boss (capofamiliglia), underboss (sotto capo), advisor (consigliere), captain (caporegime), soldier (soldato) and associates.  Maranzano placed himself at the top of the hierarchy, declaring himself as the capo di tutti capi or “boss of all bosses”.


The succession of Maranzano by Charles “Lucky” Luciano ushered in management by a Board of Directors known as “The Commission” which was made up of the Five New York Families  plus the Chicago Outfit and Buffalo family.  Lucky Luciano was anointed Chairman of the Commission.  The original members of the Commission were of course bosses at the time.



Valachi testifying before the McClellan Commission

The public acknowledgement of the “Five Families” was actually introduced in 1963 at the Valachi hearings.  At that time the families were identified as Gambino, Genovese, Profaci, Lucchese and Bonanno.  Subsequently the Profaci family was renamed Columbo family in deference to alleged boss Joseph Columbo.


The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas, 1972

The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas, 1972

Joseph Valachi’s “disclosure’s” were written down in minute detail in an extensive 1,100 plus page manuscript entitled The Real Thing.  This included the history of the mob, its structure and leadership of the Five Families at the time.  Author Peter Maas had the task of editing the original manuscript and interviewing Valachi in his cell.  In opposition to the publication of the book the American Italian Anti-Defamation League promoted a national campaign against the book on the grounds that it would reinforce negative ethnic stereotypes.  Eventually Maas was allowed to publish a third person account based on his interviews with Valachi.   The Valachi Papers was published in 1968 and made into a film starring Charles Bronson in 1972.



Ralph Capone – Big Brother to Al “Scarface” Capone

Ralph Capone Sr. was born on January 12, 1894 in Angri, Italy. He was one of nine siblings born to Gabriel and Teresa Capone, and the older brother to Al “Scarface” Capone, future boss of the Chicago outfit.

Ralph, his brother Vincenzo, and his mother arrived in the United States at Ellis Island on June 18, 1895. His father arrived several months earlier and established a home near the Navy yards in Brooklyn, New York. As his father worked in a nearby barbershop, Teresa stayed busy with their growing family. Four years after they moved to Brooklyn Ralph’s mother gave birth to Alphonse Capone. In 1910 the family moved from their home near the Navy yards to 38 Garfield Pl. in Park slope, Brooklyn.

Ralph married Filomena Muscato on September 24, 1915. He was 21 years old and she just 17. They had one child, a son named Ralph Gabriel Capone on April 17, 1917. They divorced in 1921.

During the time Ralph was establishing a family his younger brother Al was being groomed by a well-known Brooklyn gangster named Johnny Torrio. After Al married in 1918, Torrio beckoned him to Chicago in anticipation of the start of prohibition. Ralph accompanied his brother Al to Chicago taking his son, but leaving his wife behind.

In Chicago Ralph was placed in charge of the bottling plants for the Chicago version of the mafia formally called the Outfit. Torrio was attempting to monopolize nonalcoholic beverages that were commonly used in mixed drinks during the time the sale of alcohol was outlawed. The family became successful in their endeavors taking large profits for the Outfit. They even became the second largest soft drink vendor during the 1933 World’s Fair.

By 1930 his brother Al had complete control of the Chicago Outfit and nearly all of the illegal alcohol flowing in and out of Chicago. In April, 1930 Al was named as public enemy number one by the Chicago Crime Commission. Ralph was number three. Less than a year later his brother would be tried and convicted for tax evasion and sent to prison on an eleven year stretch. Frank Nitti was picked to be the new boss of the Chicago Outfit. Brother Ralph remained with the crime family and placed in charge Chicago’s Cotton Club, a front for syndicate gambling.

Though Ralph was the older brother of Al, he never held a position of power within the Outfit. He was a trusted front man and good earner, but stayed clear of the dirty side of the business choosing to earn money from legitimate business fronts. In 1932 Ralph, like his brother, was also convicted of tax evasion. He served three years.

After his release from prison, Capone moved to Mercer, Wisconsin where he purchased a home and eventually a hotel named “The Red Hotel” and attached tavern named “Billy’s Bar”. During his time in Wisconsin he still had ties to the Outfit as members of the crime family were frequent visitors of his hotel; a safe place to lay low. He died on November 22, 1974 of natural causes in Hurley, Wisconsin.

Lucky Luciano – Organizes The Commission

The 1930’s were a prosperous time for Luciano. With control of the commission he was able to increase his reach in illegal gambling, bootlegging, loan-sharking, and labor rackets. His reign was short lived however and in 1936 he was charged with prostitution after special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey led a raid on 80 New York brothels where hundreds of women were arrested. Matters became worse when many of the women were offered a plea deal to testify against Luciano in exchange for no prison time. Luciano was convicted and sentenced to 30 – 50 years in prison. During his incarceration evidence was uncovered that implied Luciano profited from the ring, but did not play an active role in the business. Several madams stepped forward acknowledging they never had contact with Luciano and were unaware he was involved having worked with only low-level Mafioso.

Luciano continued to rule the family from prison. He placed his second in command Vito Genovese in charge on the street, but he fled to Italy after being indicted on murder charges. Luciano placed his consigliere Frank Costello as the new acting boss after Genovese’s departure.

The 1940’s provided relief for Luciano as the United States just entered World War II and the mafia still controlled the importing and exporting on the eastern sea board. The government feared German U boats and reportedly approached Luciano for help in securing the harbor in exchange for a lighter sentence. They also knew Luciano had strong ties in Italy, and with his help, could keep the United States Navel Intelligence abreast of any threats. In 1946 Luciano was finally released from prison and immediately deported to Italy. He would never set foot on U.S. soil again.

Later that same year, Lucky secretly left Italy and moved his operations to Cuba where long time friend Meyer Lansky was setting up casino and hotel operations. After Luciano’s arrival, Lansky called the bosses of the five families to a conference in Cuba where Luciano could discuss important issues. One of the main topics was whether or not to kill Bugsy Siegel who was placed in charge of building a casino in Las Vegas. Many of the bosses wanted him dead citing it was taking too long to complete the casino and receive their profit, but Lanksy convinced the others and Luciano to postpone the killing in hopes Siegel would complete the casino and deliver on their profits.

Lucky Luciano on the street in New York

Feeling the pressure of his investors, Siegal opened the casino while it was still under construction. It failed miserably and had to close two weeks later after losing thousands of dollars. Once again the men met to discuss Siegal’s fate, and once again Lansky convinced them to hold off until construction was completed. In June 1947 after two more attempts to turn a profit, Siegal’s fate was sealed and he was murdered at his home.

After the death of Siegal, Luciano was rewarded the title of Capo Di Tutti i Capi. All of the bosses agreed to the title but one. Vito Genovese wanted the title to himself. In an act of sabotage, it’s believed that Genovese betrayed Luciano and leaked his location to the United States government, who subsequently threatened Cuba’s government to hold medical drug shipments until Luciano moved back to Italy. Not wanting to jeopardize Lansky’s hotel and casino business, Luciano moved back to Italy in 1948.

Luciano maintained his Capo Di Tutti i Capi title but due to his deportation was not in position to fight for leadership of the Luciano family. Vito Genovese believed he should be the next boss of the family, however Luciano promoted Frank Costello. In 1957 Costello narrowly escaped a hit ordered by Genovese and subsequently stepped down as boss of the family leaving the position open to Genovese who renamed the family. 

On January 26, 1962 Lucky Luciano died of a heart attack in the Naples airport on his way to meet with a movie producer who was interested in doing a movie about his life. Although he was never allowed on American sole after deportation, he was allowed back after death. His funeral was held in Queens where over 2000 mourners attended.

Carlo Gambino – The End

On July 13, 1967 Gaetano “Tommy” Lucchese developed a fatal brain tumor and died at his home in Long Island. Over 1000 mourners attended his funeral including several levels of Mafia associates, politicians, and placement. Gambino organized 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 Organizations 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 organized crime. It’s been passed around that crazy Joe Gallo organized 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 Cosa Nostra, but this theory has not been proven as Gambino had nothing to gain from Colombo’s death.

Charles "Lucky" Luciano

Charles “Lucky” Luciano

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 reorganize 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.

New Gambino family boss, Paul Castellano

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.

Colombo Family – The Youngest of the “Five Families”

The youngest of the “Five Families” and the creation of Joseph Profaci in 1928 is the Colombo crime family. Profaci was one of the longest serving mafia bosses in history and ruled virtually unchallenged from 1928 until the late 1950’s. Beginning in 1959 the Colombo family started an internal strife that lasted through three wars until 1983. The first war started in the late 1950’s when Mafioso Joe Gallo, pushed back against Profaci challenging his leadership. This first of three wars lasted until Gallo was imprisoned and Profaci died of cancer. Following Profaci’s death, Joseph Colombo became the new boss.

Crazy Joe Gallo

In 1971 Joe Gallo was released from prison and wasted little time vying for the top spot after the shooting of Colombo. Gallo would face a backlash after the shooting when Colombo supporters lead by Carmine Persico fought back against Gallo and his men. The second war would last four years before Gallo was finally pushed out being exiled to the Genovese family in 1975. After the win, Carmine Persico became the new boss of the Colombo family keeping the families name sake for his mentor. Persico would lead two decades of peace with the family.

In 1991, the third Colombo family war started when acting boss Victor Orena tried to take the family away from the imprisoned Persico. The made men and associates split with some sticking by Persico, and others taking the side of Orena. The war lasted two bloody years with 12 members dead, and Orena imprisoned leaving persico the winner. Persico continues to lead the family as boss in prison today, although there have been several “acting bosses”; Persico still makes the final decisions. Most observers believe as a result of the internal wars the Colombo crime family is the weakest of the five families today.

Early History

Joe Profaci arrived in New York City from Italy in September 1921 as an olive oil importer. He ran his own small gang

that operated mainly in Brooklyn but also spent a considerable amount of time importing olive oil utilizing his contacts from Sicily. As his business grew, he became a recognized name in Brooklyn, and in October 1928 after

Joe Profaci


the murder of Salvatore D’Aquila, a vacuum emerged for D’Aquilla’s territory. To prevent a war representative’s of the five most dominant gangs in Brooklyn were called to a meeting in Ohio to divide the territory. One of the five men was Profaci who came away from the meeting with his own family and a significant chunk of territory.

Not long after the D’Aquilla assassination, Joe Masseria proclaimed himself the boss of all bosses. Masseria had competition in the form of Salvatore Maranzano. Their push for the top spot started the Castellammarese War. Profaci kept neutral through the war but secretly sided with Masseria. The war ended when Lucky Luciano and his gang assassinated Masseria on April 15, 1931, and Maranzano on September 10, 1931. With both men gone, Luciano became the most powerful boss in the United States and created The Commission. With the creation of a commission, there would be five independent families in New York and twenty one additional families across the United States each with one seat at the head table.

Joseph Profaci may have been the olive oil and tomato paste king of American, but he was hardly popular with some of the made men in the family. His requests for tribute infuriated some of soldiers and in the late 1950’s, twenty-some years after he became boss, Profaci had his first real test of power. Frank “Frankie Shots” Abbatemarco who ran an illegal policy game began refusing to pay Profaci the monthly tribute he asked for. By the end of 1959 Abbatemarco owed Profaci more than $50,000. Profaci couldn’t allow this to continue so he asked Joe Gallo to murder Abbatemarco. In exchange for the hit, Profaci would hand over the policy racket to Gallo. What Profaci didn’t know was Gallo had been conspiring along with Abbatemarco to take down Profaci.

In November 1959 Abbatemarco was shot and killed by two men. After a breakdown of communication, Profaci recalled the offer to hand over Abbatemarco’s racket to Gallo and thus started the first Colombo family war.

On one side, Profaci and his loyalists, and on the other is the Gallo brothers and the Garfield Boys led by Carmine Persico. After several murders and attempted murders, in 1961 Joe Gallo was sentenced to a long prison sentence and shortly after, Profaci died of cancer. This left Carmine Persico the last man standing who tried to position himself to take control of the Profaci family despite the raging war. It wasn’t mean to be. Within two years Persico escaped two assassination attempts; one car bomb in 1963, and a shooting on May 19, 1963.

Joseph Colombo

In 1963 Bonanno boss Joseph Bonanno and Joseph Magliocco the self proclaimed boss of the Profaci family hatched a plot to take down Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese, Stefano Magaddino of Buffalo, and Frank DeSimone, of Los Angeles. With the four men out of the way, Bonanno, and Magliocco could take over the commission. They gave the contract to Profaci family caporegime Joseph Colombo. Realizing he was in a bad position, Colombo reported the contract to The Commission. Both Bonanno and Magliocco had a choice. Retire, or be killed. Both men retired and The Commission handed the Profaci family over to Joseph Colombo and renamed it the Colombo family. Within a short time, Colombo ended the war.

In 1971 Joe Gallo was released from prison. After losing the first Profaci war to Carmine Profaci, Gallo did not intend on losing another. The Commission warned Gallo that a peace treaty was put in place to stop the first war, but Gallo insisted it did not apply to him because he was in prison. On July 28, 1971, Colombo, who started the Italian-American Civil Rights League, was preparing to speak in front of a large crowd when an African American man jumped from the crowd and shot Colombo three times in the back of the head. Colombo gunmen then open fired on the assassin killing him instantly. Colombo survived the attack but was paralyzed and died seven years later. The Colombo family blamed Joe Gallo for the hit, but it was never proven. Nonetheless, the attack set off the second Colombo war that would last from 1971-1975.

As retribution for the Colombo shooting, Joseph Yacovelli, the new acting boss ordered a hit on Joe Gallo. On April 7, 1972 four gunmen walked into Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy and shot Joe Gallo killing him in front of his family.

His murder touched off another attempted killing when Albert Gallo, one of two Gallo brothers’s sent men to a restaurant in Manhattan where Yacovelli and two other men were dining. The assassins didn’t recognize Yacovelli and shot four innocent diners instead, killing two of them. With an attempt on his life, Yacovelli left New York leaving the acting boss spot open to Carmine Persico.The war continued for several more years until The Commission stepped in 1975 and removed Albert Gallo and his followers from the Colombo family and placed them into the Genovese family. With that move, the second was over.

The Colombo family had a period of calm after the second war. Several acting bosses held the top spot through the seventies and eighties. Carmine Persico the boss of the family was in prison most of that time. He appointed acting bosses while he was gone and then took the family back over as he was released. In 1986 Persico and another man were sentenced on RICO charges and sentenced to 100 years in prison. Persico named Victor Orena as the new acting boss of the Colombo family to take his place.

In 1990 Orena petitioned Gambino Boss John Gotti and the rest of The Commission to declare him the official boss of the Colombo family. After all, Persico would die in prison. The Commission refused his request to try and stave off another Colombo war. It wouldn’t work. Persico heard about Orena’s petition and sent gunmen to Orena house to kill him. He escaped before they arrived. The third Colombo war had begun.

The Colombo war raged on for years. Over 80 associates and made members were sent to prison and

Carmine Persico

twelve people were killed including three civilians. As the war continued The Commission refused to let anyone from the Colombo family sit at the table. They considered dissolving the family and spreading their rackets to the other families too. In 2002 with help from Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino, the Commission allowed the Colombo’s to rejoin them and the war ended. Carmine Persico managed to keep the top spot. Over the next several years he appointed men to acting boss. Alphonse “Little Allie Boy” Persico son of Carmine Persico was the last person to be appointed acting boss. He is currently serving a life sentence.

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