Gaetano Lucchese was born on December 1, 1899 in Palermo Sicily and immigrated with his parents Giuseppe and Maria in 1911. They settled in East Harlem, an Italian neighborhood of Manhattan where Lucchese’s father worked as a laborer hauling cement. Lucchese worked in a machine shop to help this family earn money until an accident amputated his right thumb and forefinger in 1915.
When Lucchese turned 18 years old he started a window cleaning company which dubbed as an extortion racket for the 107th St. gang to which he was a member. Any business that refused to use his service had their windows broken. His closest friends Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky were also a part of the gang and specialized in burglarizing stores, stealing wallets, and smalltime gambling. Though they form the gang themselves they operated under the protection of Bronx-East Harlem boss Gaetano “Tom” Reina, a well-established gangster.
In 1920 Lucchese was arrested for auto theft. The arresting police officer compared Lucchese’s deformed hand with that of professional baseball pitcher Mordecai “Three- Finger” Brown. The police officer nicknamed Lucchese “Three-Finger Brown” and cited the name as a Lucchese alias. Despite his disdain for the nickname, it stuck for the rest of his life, however most of his associates called him, “Brown” for short.
In January 1921 Lucchese was convicted of the auto theft and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. He served 13 months at Sing Sing Correctional Facility before being paroled. It was Lucchese’s first and only conviction of his life. After his release from prison in 1923 he returned to his old friends Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky, who had become friends with another Jewish gangster named Arnold Rothstein.
In late 1927 Lucchese was arrested under the alias of “Thomas Arra,” and charged with receiving stolen goods. Law enforcement released him pending trial but he never returned. On July 18, 1928 he was arrested along with his brother-in-law Joseph Rosato for the murder of Louise Cerasulo a smalltime hood. The charges were dropped six days later.
The beginning of the 1930s brought about the Castellammarese war between two rival crime bosses in New York, Giuseppe “Joe the boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. The Reina gang aligned themselves with Masseria, however Reina secretly changed his allegiance to Maranzano because Masseria demanded large tributes of Reina’s rackets. Reina’s second in command, Tommaso “Tommy” Gagliano found out about the change in allegiance and told Masseria about Reina’s betrayal. On February 26, 1930 a Masseria gunman named Vito Genovese shot and killed Reina outside his girlfriend’s apartment. Masseria then made his ally Joseph Pinzolo boss of the Reina gang, ignoring Gagliano’s good deed.
Gagliano, furious about not being promoted boss of the Reina family and formed a splinter group within the gang. Luciano, Stefano Rondelli, Domincik Petrilli, and Joseph Valachi joined Gagliano in their hatred for Pinzolo.
Seven months after Reina’s murder, Pinzolo was lured to a Manhattan office he shared with Lucchese at 1457 Broadway. (The two men were partners in a “wind break” business known as California Dried Fruit Importers, which skirted the prohibition law. Wind breaks were blocks of crushed grapes that could be reconstituted by setting them in water. Fermentation would then yield wine.) Upon entering his office Pinzolo was shot and killed by Girolamo Santucci or Dominck Petrilli. Masseria then appointed Gagliano as the new gang boss.Law enforcement suspected Lucchese as being involved in the murder and issued a warrant for his arrest. On September 8, 1930 he turned himself into the police but grand jury failed to indict him on the murder charge citing lack of evidence. (Joe Valachi later testified that “Bobby Doyle” Santucci killed Pinzolo.)
By this time Charles Luciano had grown in strength and secretly plan to end the Castellammarese war. He began negotiating with Maranzano to end the war with Masseria and persuaded Gagliano and Lucchese to secretly switch sides to Maranzano.
Before Maranzano and Luciano could eliminate Masseria, they needed to get rid of powerful Masseria-allied, “Manfredi family” (later called the Gambino family) boss Alfred “Al Mineo” Manfredi. On November 5, 1930 Manfredi and his underboss Steve Ferrigno were murdered in the Bronx by Gagliano and Maranzano gunmen.
Maranzano then declared himself as “Capo di tutti capi” or boss of bosses. He placed Luciano as his second-in-command and divided the gangs into five separate families. The former Reina gang became one of the five crime families in New York City, with Gagliano as its boss and Lucchese as the underboss.
In September 1931 Luciano completed his mission in ending the Castellammarese war and sent a hit squad comprised of Jewish hitmen dressed as policemen and Federal Internal Revenue Service agents to Maranzano’s office where he was murdered. After Maranzano’s death, Luciano created the national Mafia Commission hosting leaders of all the crime families in the United States. Their primary objective was to settle family disputes and prevent organized crime wars.
On January 25, 1943 Lucchese was naturalized an American citizen. It took an additional seven years to secure a certificate of good conduct from the New York State parole Board. A few years later he would attend the mob Havana Conference in Cuba as Gagliano’s representative.
By the early 1950s Lucchese appeared to be a successful vice president of garment factory on E. 9th St., but behind-the-scenes he controlled established Garment workers unions, Longshoremen unions, and Truckers unions. He also influenced several New York City government officials and the local entertainment industry. As part owner of Casino de Paris, Music Hall he could be seen dining with Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.
Lucchese had established himself as a powerful businessman, entrepreneur, controller of unions, and friend of the entertainment industry. He was one of the most powerful mafioso in the country and soon would become even more powerful.
During a July 1958 Senate hearing Lucchese stated that Gagliano died on February 16, 1951 however historians believe Gagliano actually died on February 16, 1953. It’s been speculated that Gagliano retired in 1951 and turned leadership over to Lucchese, but the family kept it secret to prevent law enforcement or media scrutiny. Whether it was 1951 or 1953 Lucchese was now boss of the Gagliano’s and with approval of the commission the family was renamed the Lucchese crime family.