Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Christian Cipollini exclusively for MobCity Productions
Manfredi ‘Al’ Mineo
“…and this is gonna be a Cosa Nostra til I die.” - John Gotti, January 1990, FBI bug
recording of meeting in apartment above the Ravenite Social Club.
Some have described it as the biggest and most powerful of the five New York crime families.
The Gambino organization also produced one of, if not the most infamous of twentieth century
mafia dons - John Gotti. The family’s roots can be traced back to 1931 when Lucky Luciano’s
grand reformation unfolded, thus creating the governing mob commission and five family system
in New York City. The five original families consisted of Luciano, Gagliano, Bonanno, Profaci
and Mangano. Two brothers, Vincent and Philip, were at the helm of the Mangano faction,
though Vincent has been widely considered the top boss of the family. Like the other four
families, Mangano’s pulled revenue from the usual sources of vice. One of their most profitable
businesses centered on the docks and Mangano’s second in command, Albert Anastasia, ensured the family had a strong grip on Brooklyn’s waterfront rackets.
Philip Mangano’s body was discovered on April 19, 1950 in a marshy area of Bergen Beach
Brooklyn. He had been shot three times in the head and neck regions.
Many known gangsters were questioned, but in typical fashion - no conclusions and no prosecution. Also, Philip’s brother Vincent had gone missing… and presumed dead (though his body has never been found). With the absence of two leading Manano’s the top position duties shifted to Albert Anastasia (who is largely considered responsible for the deaths of both Manganos).
Underworld lore tells of the devious two-pronged plot for hostile takeover of both the Mangano
Family and the Luciano family. The purported co-conspirators - Vito Genovese and Carlo
Gambino - needed to depose Anastasia, who was not only running the Mangano family (what
Carlo wanted), but also a fearsome, loyal ally to the head of the Luciano family (what Vito
wanted). Leading the Luciano organization (as Lucky was in exile in Italy) was Frank Costello -
he would be the first target. Genovese sent minion Vincent Gigante to take out Costello, but the
hit proved both a failure and a success.
Gigante’s bullet grazed Costello’s head on May 2, 1957.
Costello never revealed the identity of the shooter, but a doorman did describe him. Gigante was acquitted the following year and, allegedly, thanked Costello for not cooperating with investigators.
Vito Genovese’s success in all this was that Costello basically took the hint and
went into retirement.
Control of the Mangano family remained with Anastasia until October 1957. He was shot dead while receiving a shave and a haircut on October 25. The hit on Anastasia may have even been approved (or not overly disputed) by some of his old pals, but it’s still up for debate. Some theorize that Anastasia’s temper was in question, he was a loose cannon, especially after ordering a hit on a civilian, Arnold Schuster, in 1952 because the guy ratted out another infamous criminal - Willie Sutton.
Carlo Gambino took over the family but his, Genovese’s and a slew of other mob heavyweights had their celebrations cut short that November. A raid on the home of Joseph Barbara in Apalachin New York served a dose of embarrassment and unwanted media notoriety to the gangsters present. After the fiasco, Gambino remained very low key while building the
organization into one of biggest and most powerful of the five. However, during Joe Valachi’s
testimony in 1963, Gambino was revealed as a very potent and influential boss. The Feds
considered his and Genovese’s organizations the most powerful at the time.
Aniello Dellacroce and Carmine (Lillo) Galente emerged yesterday as the leading
contenders for the rulers’ mantles in the New York City and nationwide organized crime
famili es left leaderless by the death of Carlo Gambino. - Newsday, October 17,1976
Gambino maintained a low key, grandfatherly image up through to his death in 1976.
At the time, investigators weren’t positive who would be the successor. Some speculated the
Underboss Anellio Dellacroce, naturally. Others suggested Carmine Galante or Joe Gallo (no
relation to Crazy Joe Gallo). It would take another several years however before authorities
understood that the reigns had been passed to Gambino’s relative (by marriage) - Paul
Castellano. Dellacroce had been in prison at the time of Gambino’s death and couldn’t
challenge the boss’s dying decision, but more than a few capos and soldiers were dismayed
‘Big’ Paul didn’t have full support of his troops. He ran the family more akin to a white collar
company and was viewed as such - no grit. The deadly turning point for Castellano’s reign came
as the perfect storm of variables collided at once. First, Castellano’s most violent henchmen -
Roy Demeo - was out of the picture in 1983. Demeo’s crew had a gore-filled history of murder and dismemberment. He was, at least according to lore, the one person even Gotti felt was too dangerous, hence nothing could be done to Paul as long as Demeo’s crew was around.
Demeo’s murder didn’t have anything to do with Gotti’s crew, nor were they involved, but it left
Castellano more exposed. Big Paul also faced legal woes. During this period he found out one
of other the crews in the family got wired-tapped talking about drug dealing. That crew was run
by John Gotti and overseen by Dellacroce. Big Paul had a zero tolerance policy for dope, which
meant death sentence to any member caught dealing. Gotti and Dellacroce stalled Castellano’s
insistence they turn over the damning tapes. That kind of effort however only lasts for so long
and Castellano was able to get the tapes - because they were also being used in the case
against him. Also, Dellacroce - Gotti’s mentor and the only one standing between him and Big
Paul’s wrath - passed away. Once all this happened, Gotti and company had limited options in
averting the impending doom they faced. So, the plot ensued to gather allies for one of the most
brazen mob hits of the latter twentieth century.
Paul Castellano and body guard/underboss Tommy Bilotti were gunned down on December 2,
1985 in front of Sparks Steakhouse and lots of holiday shopping bystanders. Nobody had any
doubts as to whom would be taking over the Gambino family.
“He lives on a neat Queens street with manicured lawns and homes adorned with statues
of saints and Santas, but authorities describe John Gotti, the heir apparent to slain mob
chief Paul Castellano, as a throwback to the crime czars of the Roaring Twenties.” - NY
Daily News, December 18, 1985
Gotti became a media sensation. This publicity was not appreciated by the other family heads,
nor was Gotti’s overthrow of a sitting boss, of course. The other heads wanted Gotti whacked,
and an attempt was made, but failed to get Gotti, instead killing his underboss. Interestingly,
having so much media attention actually worked to Gotti’s favor in the sense it made any would-
be attempts on his life much more difficult. The government was another story. They made
major efforts to remove Gotti from the streets. That however made the boss even more of a
media darling - The Dapper Don - and after several acquittals - he was dubbed The Teflon Don.
The government finally got something to stick in 1992; Gotti was sentenced to life in prison. Still,
he had a son and brothers in the mix and running the show, at least for a while.
This raises an interesting question. So here’s a parting shot - why didn’t John Gotti, perhaps the
most bold of modern day mobsters, not change the organization’s name to his own? Or, did he
try? We asked former FBI agent Joaquin ‘Jack’ Garcia his thoughts on that query.
“Great question open for all kind of theories.” Says Garcia, “we all know Gotti’s ego.” He tells us Gotti may have pondered changing the family name, being he installed so many members of his
blood family into leadership positions, but maybe - “it just didn’t catch on.” Garcia also tapped an
old source for insight on the question, who said - “Gotti never thought about it.”
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