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.
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.
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.