Born in Castellammare, Sicily, Salvatore Maranzano (1886 – 1931) was a powerful kingpin who founded what became the Bonanno crime family and instigated the Castellamarese War against Joe Masseria for control of New York’s criminal world. Winning that war, Maranzano declared himself capo di tutti capi, or “Boss of All Bosses” – the last such occurrence in the American mafia’s history.
Maranzano had initially studied to become a priest before opting to become a Mafiosi instead. Emigrating to the US soon after WWI, he started a legitimate real estate business, which acted as a front for his bootlegging and other criminal activities such as narcotics, gambling, and prostitution. He was a huge fan of Julius Caesar, whom he sought to emulate, and had a habit of lecturing his less educated American mafia peers about the Roman dictator, earning him the nickname “Little Caesar” – which was not meant as a compliment.
In 1930, he waged what came to be known as the Castellamarese War against Joe Masseria, and after Masseria’s assassination by his own lieutenants, Maranzano reorganized the American mafia, establishing a basic hierarchical structure that survives to this day: each established family would henceforth have a boss and underboss, and beneath them would be captains, or caporegimes, in command of soldiers. Above them all, Maranzano declared himself Boss of All Bosses.
An old school “Mustache Pete” who grew up and rose in the old country’s mafia culture, he tried to impose traditional Italian Mafiosi customs and norms upon American Mafiosi raised in the US, and only succeeded in alienating and rubbing them the wrong way. As a result, Maranzano’s reign as Boss of All Bosses proved to be farcically brief, and 5 months after Masseria’s murder, Lucky Luciano had Maranzano assassinated and abolished his grandiose title. In the ensuing weeks and months, Maranzano’s allies across the US, the remaining Mustache Petes, were purged on Luciano’s orders. In lieu of a single boss, Luciano created a committee, which came to be known as The Commission, to oversee the American mafia.