Updated: Aug 23

1931 The Year of the New American Underworld

By Christian Cipollini

A short lived, yet bloody war (dubbed the Castellammarese War) between two rival Mafia

bosses in New York from 1930-1931 culminated in the eventual overthrow of both men by

younger and more progressive underlings in direct opposition of what they viewed as ‘old

school’ mafia mentality.

“Don Vincenzo, tell your compare Maranzano that we have killed Masseria - not to serve

him, but for our own personal reasons. Tell him that if he should touch even the hair of

even a personal enemy of ours, we will wage war to the end.” - Lucky Luciano’s message

for Maranzano via liaison Vincenzo Troia, as recounted by Nicola Gentile.

1963 | Joe Valachi with Mafia Chart

At approximately 3:30 pm on April 15, 1931, Joe the Boss felt the piercing trauma of multiple

calibre slugs entering his large frame from an unknown number of shooters. Twenty plus

rounds were wildly fired about the establishment; five hit the mark, penetrating the head,

shoulders and back. Masseria clutched the tablecloth as his bloody, bullet-battered body fell

lifeless to the floor. The killers swiftly exited to awaiting getaway cars. Police arrived on scene,

collected a couple weapons, two sawn off shotguns among them, and articles of clothing

believed to have belonged to the assassins. Newspaper reporters, armed with cameras, soon

descended upon the gory scene inside the eatery – one of whom cleverly placed an Ace of

Spades card in the dead man’s hand before snapping a photo. The death of Masseria instantly

made Salvatore Maranzano the undisputed (or so he thought) king.

Castellammare War | Victims Steven Ferringno Manfredi Mineo

“Out of respect for you (Maranzano) and what you represent, you will be given

$2000 a week, but...,” Al Capone conceded, with a caveat - “You are to mind your own

business and not interfere with our affairs.”

At some point in late summer, Maranzano purportedly told his men they would be ‘going back to

the mattresses,’ which in mob lingo meant ‘war.’ Maranzano called for a meeting with Lucky

Luciano and Vito Genovese. A proposed ‘hit list’ Maranzano handed to his men also made its

way into Lucky Luciano’s possession prior to the scheduled meeting, and read like a veritable

who’s who of friends. Among others marked for death were Al Capone, Vincent Mangano, Joe

Adonis, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, and Dutch Schultz. Although it’s not confirmed, the

largely accepted belief is that Tommy Lucchese or Joe Biondo provided the inside tip to Lucky

Luciano and Vito Genovese.

The Luciano faction employed a Jewish faction helmed by Meyer Lansky and Benjamin ‘Bugsy’

Siegel to survey Maranzano’s office for weeks prior to the scheduled meeting day. Maranzano

was not familiar with many of the Jewish mobsters and therefore the plan was set to use a few

of the Bug and Meyer Mob’s top hitmen to pose as law enforcement officers in order to gain

entrance at Maranzano’s office. Additionally, Maranzano had been under investigation for an

immigration racket, which made sending killers dressed as government agents even more

suitable to fool the cautious boss.

On the afternoon of September 10 th , 1931, a group of between four and six men (witness and

informant accounts vary) entered the office building at 230 PARK AVENUE. They ascended to

the ninth floor office suite of Eagle Building Corporation, the headquarters of Salvatore

Maranzano. The assassins entered the waiting area, brandished badges to the secretary, and

forced the nine other waiting room guests against a wall. Upon entering Maranzano’s office a

melee ensued. Maranzano allegedly attempted to retrieve a pistol from his desk, which incited

further physical altercation that eventually ended with Maranzano’s throat slashed and body

riddled with bullets.

“(Police Commissioner Mulrooney) declared Maranzano was a rival of Lucciano

(sic) to head the gang left leaderless when Joe the Boss Masseria was killed in Coney

Island early this summer.” - Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 11, 1931

Of mob-centric things, of course people who were privy to such insight knew of the existence

and possibly even the family dynamics, but the general pubic (and many law enforcement and

government entities) had very little understanding of the scope and design of the American mob.

How the greater public learned of the Castellammarese War and the nefarious Five Families

began from multiple sources, but ultimately reached a national level in the early 1960s,

culminated by one individual’s damning testimony - the revelations of Joe Valachi cast across

television screens in 1963.

Valachi, a former soldier of Maranzano, later went to work for what would be known as the

Genovese family. In jail on drug charges, Valachi felt his life was in danger and requested to

speak with the government, a move that soon catapulted the country’s most secretive world into

households everywhere. Valachi went before the McClellan committee to disclose the Mafia’s

code of honor, how the Castellammarese War unfolded, and who the real winners were. Most

importantly, he explained the formation of the mob’s governing body - the commission - and the

creation of five major mafia families based in greater New York City. Some of Valachi’s

testimony was very detailed, while some was also a bit vague, but fundamentally it painted a

vivid picture of just how vast, complex and widespread this whole ‘mob’ thing really was -

including an Italian phrase that most of the status quo at the time had never heard… “Cosa


“Some of the witnesses whom we had good reason to believe could tell the Senate Crime

Committee about the Mafia, sought to shrug it off as a sort of fairytale or legend that

children hear.” - Senator Estes Kefauver, 1951

Although Valachi’s revelations received the most notoriety, other credible sources came along

that provided corroboration, expanded upon and, in some case, disputed or corrected the

almost-mythical tales of America’s gangland evolution. Incidentally, the subject of ‘mafia’ had

been investigated and televised more than a decade prior to Valachi’s testimony.

These were the 1951 Kefauver Hearings. But, for whatever reason (probably because most of the mob affiliated people called to testify were elusive or plead the fifth), the existence seemed to remain largely ignored or dismissed. Back to Valachi though, also released in 1963 -the published

memoirs of self-exiled mafioso Nicola Gentile, titled Vita di Capomafia. Excerpts translated from

Italian-language book soon appeared in a series of articles published by American newspapers.

Now, it should be noted - memoirs and diaries tend to be a little ‘self-serving’ and need taken

with a grain of salt, but the nuts and bolts of Gentile’s proved to outweigh the self-involved

aspects. Gentile, unlike Valachi, was high ranking and had decades of substantial inner circle

experience. Interestingly, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had acquired and translated an

original copy of the memoirs some years prior to the commercial release of the book.

The original version differs slightly from the commercially published book; it’s written with slightly

more poetic or melodramatic style (The ‘Sicilian Vespers’ passage is a prime example). Two

decades later, then-retired boss Joe Bonanno released his tell-all memoir which, again,

supported some of the more important elements of Valachi’s story.

Valachi’s televised testimony wasn’t the first tell-all from a mobster, nor was it the most

thorough, but obviously the first primetime sort of exposé to confirm the existence and reach of

the contemporary Mafia and larger Mob, Moreover, and most potentially catastrophic in the eyes

of the mob-as-a-whole, were the revelations of how deeply entrenched organized crime was in

sectors beyond vice. They were everywhere, including legitimate business. Valachi’s account of

‘how’ the modern mob came to be harkened back to that war and the outcome in 1931.

That birth consisted of the Five Families of New York City, plus others around the country, such as

Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, etc. During the Valachi Hearings the government utilized large

prints of hierarchal charts as visual aids. These charts were created from data and testimonies

gathered up to that time, and provided a great tool for their purposes and ostensibly of later

researchers and law enforcement.

Each of the major family trees featured current leaders, their predecessors, current members and their positions. The main five families identified in the 1963 hearings were as follows: Gambino, Bonanno, Magliocco, Lucchese and Genovese. These diagrams, while significant tools no doubt, are not entirely precise however. For that time, they were imperative and for contemporary purposes they maintain value. But, like most aspects of digging into history, there’s never a be-all-end-all and more information reveals itself over time.

* Postscript: The primary chart - depicting the Castellammarese War, its factions and the

evolution of ‘new’ families - has long been relied upon and essentially taken at its word. That

said, original diagrams provided a digestible (perhaps unintentionally abridged) overview and

likely was only as accurate as could be at the time with with the information available. Basically,

the ‘Gang War’ chart depicts Masseria and Maranzano as primary factions, with descending

lines drawn to the families formed from the remnants of either former leader. A team of

researchers presented an alternative breakdown in the May 2014 issue of Informer. Richard

Warner, Angelo Santino and Lennert Van’t Riet examined the histories of early Mafioso,

including Giuseppe Morello, aka The Clutch Hand and Ignazio Lupo aka Lupo the Wolf.

According to their findings, some of the accepted divisions and alliances of power in the early

1900s may also have been incomplete and incorrect (Morello, for example, may not have been

‘the boss of all bosses’ after all and conversely - Lupo may have actually been the top boss). To

that end, their research suggests that the formation of Five Families, in reality, wasn’t exactly a

direct lineage from only the presumed cliques of Masseria or Maranzano. Pre-Castellammarese

War loyalties and ruling parties are not so easily discernible. The power brokers and coalitions

leading up to the Castellammarese War period were principally based on genealogy, i.e. what

part of Italy/Sicily their bloodline hailed, e.g. Corleonesi, Castellammarese, Palermitani.

According to the new theory, and differing from the 1963 flow chart, the descendants of

(Corleonesi; once ruled by Morello) Masseria’s fallen kingdom were the Genovese and

Lucchese families. (Castellammaresi) Maranzano’s direct descendant was Bonanno, and the

Gambino and Magliocco families formed from (Palermitani; once ruled by Lupo) Salvatore

D’Aquila’s and Manfredi Mineo’s (who appears to have jumped across lines).

By Christian Cipollini

For Godfather Academy // www.godfatheracademy.com

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