Disruptive Gang Wars Had Been Bad for the Mafia’s Business
The dominant Italian-American mafia figure in the 1920s had been Joe Masseria. He ran a powerful crime family, whose ranks included future mob bosses such as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Vito Genovese. Masseria was respected in America, but not in the Old Country, where his success aroused envy. Back in Sicily, a Don Vito Ferro, a mafia chieftain from Castellamare, decided that he should control the American mafia. So he directed an underling, Salvatore Maranzano to establish the Castellammerese faction. Its ranks included future bosses such as Joe Profaci, Joe Bonano, and Stefano Maggadino.
Over the years, tensions steadily mounted between Masseria’s and Maranzano’s criminal organizations. They finally erupted in a vicious fight for control of the Italian-American mafia that came to be known as The Castellamerese War, from February, 1930, until April, 1931. It ended with the assassination of Masseria, after which Maranzano declared himself Boss of All Bosses.
Preliminary skirmishing began in 1928, when the rival organizations started hijacking each other’s alcohol trucks, and encroaching upon their opponent’s bootlegging operations. Open fighting erupted in February, 1930, when Masseria ordered the killing of a Castellamarese Detroit gangster. The Castellamarese responded by killing a key Masseria enforcer in Harlem. A few weeks later, they convinced a Masseria ally whom he had once betrayed, the Reina family, to switch sides. The Reinas killed a key Masseria loyalist on their way out. Masseria responded in October, 1930, by sending one of his key lieutenants, Alfred Mineo, to kill a key Castellamerese ally, Joe Aiello, in Chicago.
All of this was wreaking havoc on mafia business in the US, but the bloodshed went on. In November, Mineo and another key Masseria henchman were murdered, and Mineo’s successor defected to Maranzano. From then on, the tide turned against Masseria, as his allies started switching sides, one after the other. With Masseria’s ship clearly sinking, his remaining henchmen, led by Lucky Luciano, approached Maranzano with an offer to defect, promising to seal the deal by murdering Masseria. On April 15th, 1931, Masseria was duly murdered.
Over 60 mobsters had been killed, and the violence had damaged the interests of the mafia throughout the US. On the surface, it had been a power struggle between Masseria and Maranzano. However, beneath the surface was a struggle of their younger subordinates, who grew up American, against the rival bosses and their entire generation of leadership, derided as “Mustache Petes”. The American born mobsters viewed the “Mustache Petes” as narrow minded and set in their Old Country ways, and incapable of adapting to American realities.
After his victory, Maranzano reorganized the Italian-American mafia, and established the basic structure that survives to this day. However, Maranazano, was an egomaniac with delusions of grandeur, who fancied himself a Julius Caesar of crime. He ran into trouble when he tried to impose Italian mafia customs upon American mafiosi raised in the US. That rubbed them wrong, and Maranzano’s reign as Boss of All Bosses was cut short. Five months after declaring himself capo di tutti capi, Lucky Luciano had him murdered, after which he abolished the Boss of All Bosses title, and set up a collective mafia leadership council to avoid future gang wars.