Joe Masseria
Joe Masseria, mugshot of the New York Police Department
Joe Masseria, mugshot of the New York Police Department
Born Giuseppe Masseria
January 17, 1886
Menfi, Sicily
Died April 15, 1931 (aged 45)
Coney Island, New York, United States
Cause Gunshot
Alias(es) Joe the Boss
Occupation Enforcer

Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria (January 17, 1886 – April 15, 1931) was an early Mafia don in the United States. He was boss of what is now called the Genovese crime family, one of the New York Mafia's Five Families, from 1922 to 1931.

Early days[edit | edit source]

Masseria was born in Menfi, Sicily. His father Giuseppe Masseria Sr. was a tailor. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Marsala. After emigrating to the United States in 1903 to avoid murder charges in Sicily, Masseria became an enforcer for the Morello Gang in the Lower East Side of New York City.[citation needed]

After the death of Nick Morello in 1916, he became the leader of one of several splinter groups who fought a "civil war" for control of the gang. In this struggle Masseria is said to have had the backing of Salvatore D'Aquila, the leader of a Brooklyn-based crime family. (D'Aquila's group was the ancestor to the Gambino crime family). After the death of Nick Morello, D'Aquilla came to be regarded as "capo consigliere" or "senior adviser" among the New York Mafia families. This means that, because of his perceived wisdom, he was considered first among equals and consulted by the other leaders on important matters. However this does not mean that he had any direct control over the other gangs or that they had to pay him any financial tribute. Some later chroniclers have erroneously equated his position with that of "Capo di Tutti Capi", a title to which Joe Masseria was later to aspire.

"The Man Who Can Dodge Bullets"[edit | edit source]

On August 9, 1922, Masseria walked out of his apartment at 80 2nd Avenue, and was rushed by two men who drew fire on him. Masseria ducked into a store at 82 2nd Avenue with the gunmen in pursuit. They shot out the front window and shot up the inside of the store, but then ran out of bullets. The gunmen fled across 2nd Avenue to a getaway car idling just around the corner on E. 5th Street. The car was a Hudson Cruiser, which like many cars of the era had running boards along the sides. The gunmen jumped on the running boards and the car sped west on E. 5th Street towards the Bowery, guns blazing.

A Ladies Garment Industry Union meeting had just ended, and dozens of laborers were milling in the street. When they heard the shots and saw the speeding Cruiser coming down the street, they tried to stop them. The gunmen then plowed through the crowd and shot randomly at the blockade, hitting six and killing two (plus a horse).

Masseria survived the point-blank hit attempt unscathed and was found by police in his upstairs bedroom shell-shocked. He was sitting up in his bed dazed, his ears were ringing from the proximity of the weapon fire, and there were two bullet holes through his straw hat, which he was still wearing on his head.[1]

This incident gained Masseria new respect among superstitious Italian gangsters as "the man who can dodge bullets".

Morello leadership[edit | edit source]

The following month, Masseria arranged for a peace meeting with Umberto Valenti and former Morello leader Peter Morello, hinting that he was prepared to give up his aspirations to being the Boss. Valenti and three of his supporters arrived at the restaurant and were met by three of Masseria's men. The men chatted amiably for some time until Valenti realized that it was a set-up, Masseria was not coming, that Masseria and Morello had reached some sort of deal and he was the odd man out.

Everyone went for their guns and started shooting. Two of Valenti's men went down and he made a run for it. The Masseria men gave chase but their aim was poor, and the next casualties were a street cleaner and an eight-year-old girl. Valenti jumped onto the running board of a passing taxi and began to return fire. Seeing their quarry about to escape, one of the pursuers took careful aim and dropped Valenti dead in the street. This gunman was always rumored to be Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Masseria now became head of the Morello family with Peter Morello as his number two. This may have fit in well with Peter Morello's desire to avoid attracting undue police attention. He was safer taking on a secondary role as a form of consiglieri, or senior adviser, behind the overt leader.

One of the favorite Masseria family hangouts was Venezia Restaurant on East 116th Street in East Harlem, Manhattan.[2]

Joe the Boss[edit | edit source]

The death of Frankie Yale in July 1928 appears to have been the catalyst for Joe Masseria's ambition to become overall leader of all the Mafia gangs of New York.

In October 1928, Toto D'Aquilla, the Mafia leader in Brooklyn, was killed by Peter Morello and others. D'Aquilla was accosted in the street by three men after his regular visit to the doctor. The discussion became heated and one of the men drew a gun and shot D'Aquilla dead. There was known to be bad blood between D'Aquilla and the Morello gang, possibly arising out of resentment over D'Aquilla's rise to the position of "capo consigliere" within the New York Mafia, which had coincided with the decline in the fortunes of the Morello family. Alfred Mineo and his enforcer Steve Ferrigno, allies of Joe Masseria, then took over leadership of the D'Aquilla family.

In June 1929, Ciro Terranova was questioned in connection with the murder of Frankie Marlow. Marlow was last seen having dinner with Terranova the night he was shot to death. As a fellow Sicilian, Marlow may have been approached, on behalf of the new Unione Siciliane president, with requests that he pay tribute or otherwise comply with the wishes of Joe Masseria. Frankie Marlow was a leading figure in the New York crime scene, he would certainly have dismissed any such advances. Perhaps he was guilty of under-rating the seriousness of the threat posed by the "old fashioned" Morello's and paid the ultimate price. Ballistics evidence has shown that the bullets that killed Marlow were fired by a submachine gun owned by Al Capone's Chicago Outfit, and that the same weapon was also used in the killing of Yale and for the Saint Valentine's Day massacre. The weapon eventually came into the hands of the authorities after the arrest of Fred “Killer” Burke, a St. Louis, Missouri gunman who participated in the St. Valentine's Day plot.

Masseria then moved in on what had been Yale's organization and Anthony Carfano, 'Little Augie Pisano' became head of the Yale family. Carfano's group retained control of Yale's gambling and bootlegging interests, however it may have been at this time that the Waterfront racket was reallocated and came under the control of the D'Aquilla family, headed by Mineo.

Joe Masseria was now "Joe the Boss," head of the largest Mafia grouping in New York. Other Sicilian gangsters who were not yet part of his empire, such as Ice racketeer and Bronx Mafia boss Gaetano "Tom" Reina, took note of what had happened to D'Aquilla and Marlow and soon began to pay homage.

However, this does not mean to say that Joe the Boss was now in control of all organised crime across New York, or even that he was the single most powerful gangster in the city. The labour union extortion kings Louis "Lepke" Buchalter and Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro and bootleggers like Waxey Gordon and Owney Madden were making more money, commanded equally powerful gangs and had better political connections. There were also others on the rise who did not recognise his authority such as Dutch Schultz and the Broadway Mob. The Mafia at this time was still largely centered around the exploitation of their fellow Italians.

The imperial gaze of Joe the Boss now fell upon "the Broadway Mob" and he identified Charles "Lucky" Luciano as the logical recipient of his demands for homage and tribute. This was because Luciano was the only Sicilian member of that group - Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia were Calabrian, Joe Adonis and Vito Genovese were from Naples, and Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel were Jewish. Luciano had little interest in the rites and rituals of secret societies, and he initially found the attentions of the traditional Mafiosi irritating. However, it was an irritation he could not afford to ignore. Eventually he would come to see the accident of his birthplace as a stroke of good fortune: the Mafia were the most exclusionist of the major ethnic crime groupings, and it added to his value amongst his allies that he could wield authority over them by virtue of being seen as one of them, while his other friends would always be seen as inferior outsiders.

The Castellamarese War[edit | edit source]

Main article: Castellammarese War

Masseria next began to put pressure on a Mafia family known as the Castellamarese from Sicily. Nicola "Cola" Schiro, the groups official leader, turned out to be a weak man, nothing more than the avatar of more senior men elsewhere. He paid Masseria $10,000 and then "went into hiding", although in fact he was never heard from again. After the disappearance of Cola Schiro, Joe the Boss attempted to install his own candidate as the new leader, as he had with the other families. He supported Joe Parrino; however, Parrino was soon shot to death in a restaurant.

Instead, his place as leader was taken by Salvatore Maranzano. Maranzano was sent with several other men from Sicily in 1927 to gain control of the American Mafia for Don Vito Cascio Ferro.[citation needed] Masseria issued a decree ordering the death of Maranzano. This event marks the formal beginning of the Castellamarese War.

Death[edit | edit source]

On April 15, 1931, Joe Masseria was assassinated at one of his favorite restaurants, Nuova Villa Tammaro in Coney Island.[3][4]

Gangland legend has it that Masseria dined with Charles "Lucky" Luciano before his death.[4] While they played cards, Luciano excused himself to the bathroom, when Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis rushed in and shot Masseria to death, his four bodyguards having mysteriously disappeared. The New York Daily News reported that the boss died "with the ace of spades, the death card, clutched in a bejeweled paw."[4]

However, both the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune paint a different picture. Neither newspaper mentions Luciano being present, although Luciano was brought in for questioning by the police.[4] The Herald Tribune reported that Masseria arrived at the restaurant in his armoured steel car in the company of three other men shortly before 3pm. Anna Tammaro, mother-in-law of owner Gerardo Scarpato, waited while they played cards. According to two eyewitnesses, two well-dressed young men drove up and parked their car at the curb. They strolled leisurely into the place, and the shooting began immediately. Some 20 shots were fired. Then the two gunmen came out without any visible signs of haste, entered their automobile and drove away. Masseria was hit with four bullets in the back and one in the back of the head, identified as .32 and .38 caliber, and in an alley next to the restaurant, police recovered two revolvers.

The 2010 book "New York City Gangland" offers an eyewitness account of events surrounding Masseria's murder which also involves owner Scarpato, who was allegedly extorting money from a small businessman who unexpectedly arrived by car at the Villa Tammaro on April 15, 1931. "As soon as I reached the place", wrote the frightened entrepreneur to the Brooklyn District Attorney, "Scarpato ran over and asked me what I was doing there. Scarpato told me to leave right away and not mention to anyone I had been there that day. I left. Late that night, I read that Joe Masseria had been shot at the Villa Tammaro. This was my first taste of what these men were capable of."[5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Gunmen Shoot Six In East Side Swarm. Foiled in Attempted Murder, They Pour Volley Into Crowd of Cloakmakers. Flee In Blue Touring Car. Intended Victim's Hat Pierced by Two Bullets. Police Net Gets Blackjack Crew.". New York Times. August 9, 1922. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  2. "Gangbusters: The Destruction of America's Last Great Mafia Dynasty" By Ernest Volkman (pg.22)
  3. "Racket Chief Slain By Gangster Gunfire. Giuseppe Masseria, Known as Joe the Boss, Shot Mysteriously in Coney Island Cafe. Police Say He Was Leader in Every Kind of Racket. He Escaped Death Many Times. Shooting Still a Mystery". New York. April 16, 1931. Retrieved November 23, 2011. "It took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseriahe was Joe the Boss to the underworld -- but his enemies found him with his back turned yesterday in a little Italian restaurant in Coney Island, and when they walked out into" 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: St. Martin Press, 2005. ISBN 0-312-30094-8
  5. Nash, Arthur. New York City Gangland 2010. ISBN 978-0-7385-7314-4.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Bernstein, Lee. The Greatest Menace: Organized Crime in Cold War America. Boston: UMass Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55849-345-X
  • Bonanno, Joseph. A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 0-312-97923-1
  • Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
  • Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. New York, Routledge, 2008.
  • Dash, Mike. The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London, Simon & Schuster, 2009.
  • Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. ISBN 0-06-016357-7
  • Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and Times of Al Capone. New York: Da Capo Press, 2003. ISBN 0-306-81285-1
  • Mannion, James. 101 Things You Didn't Know About The Mafia: The Lowdown on Dons, Wiseguys, Squealers and Backstabbers. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2005. ISBN 1-59337-267-1
  • Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 0-7091-3966-7
  • Milhorn, H. Thomas. Crime: Computer Viruses to Twin Towers. Boca Raton, Florida: Universal Publishers, 2005. ISBN 1-58112-489-9
  • Peterson, Robert W. Crime & the American Response. New York: Facts on File, 1973. ISBN 0-87196-227-6
  • Ferrara, Eric. Gangsters, Murderers & Weirdos of the Lower East Side; A self-guided walking tour 2008
  • Tom Papania, a Mafia enforcer who worked for the Gambino and Castellano headships is the grandson of Masseria.

External links[edit | edit source]

Template:Genovese crime familyTemplate:American Mafia

Business positions
Preceded by
Giuseppe Morello
Genovese crime family

Succeeded by
Lucky Luciano
Preceded by
Salvatore D'Aquila
as capo consigliere
Capo di tutti capi
Succeeded by
Salvatore Maranzano

cs:Joe Masseria de:Joe Masseria es:Joe Masseria fr:Joe Masseria it:Joe Masseria lt:Joe Masseria nl:Giuseppe Masseria ja:ジョー・マッセリア no:Joe Masseria pl:Joe Masseria ru:Массерия, Джо

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