Years of mounting tensions between the criminal organizations of Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano finally came to a head and broke out into a bloody struggle for control of the Italian-American mafia that came to be known as The Castellamerese War, from February, 1930, until April, 1931, when Masseria was assassinated and Maranzano declared himself Boss of All Bosses.
Joe Masseria had been the dominant Italian-American mafia figure in the 1920s, running a powerful crime family, whose ranks included future mob bosses such as Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, and Frank Costello. However, a Don Vito Ferro, a mafia chieftain from Castellammare, Sicily, decided to reach out and wrest control of the American mafia. To that end, Ferro sent Salvatore Maranzano to establish the rival Castellamerese faction, whose ranks would include future bosses such as Joe Profaci, Joe Bonano, and Stefano Maggadino.
Tensions started building up in 1928 when the factions started hijacking their rival’s alcohol trucks and otherwise encroaching on and disrupting their bootlegging operations. The struggle broke out into the open in February 1930, when Masseria ordered the killing of a Castellamarese Detroit racketeer. The Castellamarese retaliated a few months later by murdering a key Masseria enforcer in Harlem, and a few weeks later, got a Masseria ally whom he had earlier betrayed, the Reina family, to switch sides, killing 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.
In November, Mineo and another key Masseria henchman were murdered, and Mineo’s successor defected to Maranzano, after which the tide swiftly turned, with other Masseria allies defecting and switching to the Castellamarese. With his ship clearly sinking, Masseria’s remaining key henchmen, led by Lucky Luciano, approached Maranzano, offering to defect and seal the deal by murdering Masseria. On April 15th, 1931, Masseria was duly murdered.
On the surface, the conflict had been a power struggle between Masseria and Maranzano. An underlying current, however, was a generational struggle of their younger underlings, who grew up American, against the rival bosses and their entire generation of leadership, derided as “Mustache Petes” – insular and set in their Old World ways, and unwilling or unable to adapt to American realities.
Having won, Maranzano went on to reorganize the Italian-American mafia, setting up the basic structure that survives to this day. However, Maranazano, an egomaniac with delusions of grandeur who fancied himself a Julius Caesar of the criminal world, did not enjoy his victory for long. 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.