Salvatore Maranzano, and the Castellamarese War

The great Salvatore Maranzano was born on July 31, 1886 in Sicily. Little is known about Maranzano while he lived in Italy; however he was once rumored to have wanted to become a priest as a young kid, and even studied to become one; he became associated with the mob instead. Maranzano built a following in Italy. He was a large man who was feared by many of his underworld peers.

In 1925 he immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn where he started a real estate business. Using his Italian ties Maranzano built a successful bootleg business on the side distributing alcohol through New York and Jersey. He used his money and influence to bring together smaller gangs who united under with him to take over New York, and to dethrone the powerful “boss of bosses” Joseph “Joe the boss” Masseria. One of the smaller gangs was led by an up and coming Italian American named Lucky Luciano. Luciano ran with a childhood Jewish friend Meyer Lansky. Although the two men had a trusting relationship with Masseria, both could see Maranzano would eventually win the Castellamarese War. Not wanting to be on the end of a losing fight, Luciano plotted with Maranzano to set up Masseria in what became as one of the most well known hits in American Mafia history. On April 15, 1931 while dining with Masseria Luciano excused himself to the rest room. While he was gone, armed men entered the restaurant and fired on Masseria while he ate.

With Masseria out of the way, Maranzano became the “boss of bosses” and re organized the gangs below him into “families”. He called together several hundred of the top mafioso in the country for a meeting in an undisclosed location. There, Maranzano created the “five families” of New York. He assigned the position of “boss” to five of the most powerful gang leaders in New York.  For his loyalty Lucky Luciano was given his own family named the Luciano family and a place at the head table beside Maranzano.

As boss of bosses, Maranzano mistreated his subordinates, including Luciano. His fondness for comparing his organization to the Roman Empire did not sit well with Luciano and his friends. For example, Maranzano forbid Luciano from working alongside his Jewish friend Meyer Lansky. Maranzano believed they didn’t have a place in this “thing of ours.” In a short period of time, Luciano began to believe that Maranzano was more power hungry than Masseria had been, and although they worked with Maranzano to take down Masseria, it was Luciano who planned on taking the top spot. Within a few months of Maranzano taking over, Luciano and his crew began plotting Maranzano’s death.

Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll 1931

In early September 1931 Maranzano learned of Luciano’s plot to take over as boss of bosses. Trying to get the upper hand Maranzano hired a hitman named Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll to murder Luciano and Vito Genovese who had aligned himself with Luciano. However, aided by Lansky, Luciano found out about the plot against him and made his own move.

On September 10, 1931 three mafioso hired by Lansky entered Maranzano’s office building on the 9th floor of The Helmsley Building. Inside they disarmed Maranzano’s guards and stabbed and shot Maranzano to death. Upon leaving the building the men ran into Coll who was running up the stairs and warned him there had been a raid. Coll, who was only 23 years old, fled. He was assassinated February 8, 1932 by unknown assailants after a $50,000 contract was offered for his murder.

After Maranzano’s death, Luciano called a meeting of all the bosses

Salvatore Maranzano lay dead in his office. The police photos during the investigation of his murder are the only photos of Maranzano known to exist.

from each family across the United States. The bosses expected to hear Luciano declare himself as the boss of bosses.Instead, he did away with the title and created a mafia commission to rule in its place. The commission consists of the bosses of the five families and the Chicago Outfit, along with several smaller family bosses across the U.S. Joseph Bonanno was awarded Maranzano’s family where it was renamed the Bonanno family.

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