Castellammarese War

The Castellammarese War was a bloody power struggle for control of the Italian-American Mafia, from February, 1930 to April 15, 1931, between partisans of Joe "The Boss" Masseria and those of Salvatore Maranzano. It was so called because Maranzano was based in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily.[1] Maranzano's faction won, and he declared himself capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"), the undisputed leader of the entire Mafia. However, he was soon murdered in turn by a faction of young upstarts led by Lucky Luciano, who established a power-sharing arrangement called "The Commission," a group of five Mafia families of equal stature, to avoid such wars in the future.

Castellammarese War
DateFebruary, 1930 – April 15, 1931
Caused byCrime syndicate control dispute
Resulted inMaranzano's faction victory
Parties to the civil conflict
Masseria Faction
Maranzano Faction
Lead figures


Mafia operations in the United States in the 1920s were controlled by Giuseppe "Joe The Boss" Masseria, whose faction consisted mainly of gangsters from Sicily and the Calabria and Campania regions of Southern Italy. Masseria's faction included Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Alfred Mineo, Willie Moretti, Joe Adonis, and Frank Costello. As it became more and more evident that the two factions would clash for leadership of the United States, they each sought to recruit more followers to support them.[2]

Powerful Sicilian mafioso Don Vito Ferro decided to make a bid for control of Mafia operations in the United States.[3] From his base in Castellammare del Golfo, he sent Salvatore Maranzano to seize control. The Castellammarese faction in the U.S. included Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Stefano "The Undertaker" Magaddino, Joseph Profaci, and Joe Aiello.[4]

Outwardly, the Castellammarese War was between the forces of Masseria and Maranzano.[5] Underneath, however, there was also a generational conflict between the old guard Sicilian leadership, known as the "Mustache Petes" for their long mustaches and old-world ways which included demanding fealty and tribute from their minions and refusing to do business with non-Italians, and the "Young Turks", a younger and more diverse Italian group who were more forward thinking and willing to work more with non-Italians. This approach led his followers to question whether Joe the Boss was even capable of making the crime family prosper in the modern times. Led by Luciano, the aim of this group was to end the war as soon as possible in order to resume their businesses, because they viewed the war as unnecessary. Luciano's objective was to modernize the mob and do away with unnecessary orthodox norms like trading with only Italians.[6] This was a vision that enabled him to attract followers, who had seen the inadequacies of the orthodox practices of Masseria. Therefore, both factions were fluid, with many mobsters switching sides or killing their own allies during this war.[7][8] Tensions between the Maranzano and Masseria factions were evident as far back as 1928, with one side frequently hijacking the other's alcohol trucks (alcohol production was then illegal in the United States due to Prohibition).

Hostilities begin

As the war became more violent, gunmen clashed on the streets of New York and bodies started falling. According to Bonanno, in February 1930, Masseria supposedly ordered the death of Gaspar Milazzo, a Castellemmarese native who was the president of Detroit's chapter of Unione Siciliane. Masseria had reportedly been humiliated by Milazzo's refusal to support him in a Unione Siciliane dispute involving the Chicago Outfit and Al Capone.[9]

However, according to most sources, the opening salvo in the war was fired within the Masseria faction. On February 26, 1930 Masseria ordered the murder of an ally, Gaetano Reina.[10] Masseria gave the job to a young Vito Genovese, who killed Reina with a shotgun.[11] Masseria's intent was to protect his secret allies Tommy Gagliano, Tommy Lucchese, and Dominick "The Gap" Petrilli. Later his treachery would come back to haunt him, as the Reina family then threw its support to Maranzano.

Trading blows

On August 15, 1930, Castellammerese loyalists executed a key Masseria enforcer, Giuseppe Morello, at Morello's East Harlem office (a visitor, Giuseppe Pariano, was also killed).[12] Two weeks later, Masseria suffered another blow. After Reina's murder, Masseria had appointed Joseph Pinzolo to take over the ice-distribution racket.[10] However, on September 9, the Reina family shot and killed Pinzolo at a Times Square office rented by Lucchese. After these two murders, the Reina crew formally joined forces with the Castellammarese.[13]

Masseria soon struck back. On October 23, 1930, Castellammarese ally Joe Aiello, president of the Chicago Unione Siciliane, was murdered in Chicago.[9] At the time, it was widely assumed that Capone, another Castellammarese ally, had killed Aiello as part of a bitter power struggle in Chicago. However, Luciano later admitted that Masseria ordered the Aiello hit, which was performed by Masseria ally Alfred Mineo.

The tide turns

Following the murder of Aiello, the tide of war rapidly turned in favor of the Castellammarese. On November 5, 1930 Mineo and a key member of Masseria's gang, Steve Ferrigno, were murdered.[14] Francesco Scalice inherited control of Mineo's gang and subsequently defected to the Maranzano faction. At this point, many other members of Masseria's gang also began defecting to Maranzano, rendering the original battle lines of the conflict (Castellammarese versus non-Castellammarese) meaningless. On February 3, 1931, another important Masseria lieutenant, Joseph Catania, was gunned down, dying two days later.[15]

Given the worsened situation, Masseria allies Luciano and Genovese started communicating with Castellammarese leader Maranzano. The two men agreed to betray Masseria if Maranzano would end the war. A deal was struck, based on which Luciano would arrange for Masseria to be murdered and Maranzano would bring the Castellammarese War to an end. On April 15, 1931 Masseria was killed while eating dinner at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant in Brooklyn. The hitters were reputedly Anastasia, Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel;[16] Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver's seat by Siegel.[17][18]

However, according to The New York Times, "[A]fter that, the police have been unable to learn definitely [what happened]". Reputedly Masseria was "seated at a table playing cards with two or three unknown men" when he was fired upon from behind. He died from gunshot wounds to his head, back, and chest.[15] Masseria's autopsy report shows that he died on an empty stomach.[19] No witnesses came forward, though "two or three" men were observed leaving the restaurant and getting into a stolen car.[20] No one was convicted in Masseria's murder as there were no witnesses and Luciano had an alibi.

The new Mafia structure

With the death of Masseria, the war was over. The winners, at least on paper, were Maranzano and the traditional Castellammarese faction. Now Maranzano took some significant actions to avoid more bloody and self-destructive gang wars. Many of these changes are still in effect today.[21][22] Following this, Maranzano assumed complete control of Masseria's assets and organization. He had a vision which was quite similar to Luciano's and as a result, Luciano initially endorsed the proposal made by Maranzano. The idea was to organize the mafia by giving it a very clear structure and hierarchy. Maranzano wished to divide the main Italian gangs in New York into five families, each with a boss, underboss, capos, soldiers, and associates. This was the first proposal to form the notorious Five Families of New York which would lead to a more efficient conduction of business in the city. Each position had its roles specified very clearly in order to avoid confusion. According to the proposal, only full-blooded Italian Americans would be allowed to formally join the Mafia, while associates could come from any background. This particular proposal ensured that the traditions of the mafia were not violated while simultaneously reforms were made to ensure further benefits. Shortly after Masseria's death, Maranzano soon announced that the Five Families would be led by Luciano, Joe Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Vincent Mangano and Thomas Gagliano.[23]

Except for New York City, the major urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest were organized into one family per city; due to the sheer size of organized crime in New York, it was organized into five separate families. The bosses of the Five Families of New York were to be Luciano (now the Genovese crime family), Profaci (now Colombo), Gagliano (now Lucchese), Maranzano (now Bonanno), and Vincent Mangano (now Gambino). All, however, would owe allegiance and tribute to Maranzano. The Castellammarese, such as Profaci and Bonanno, were divided among the New York crime families and ceased to exist as a separate faction. Maranzano set himself above, and apart from, all the U.S. crime families by creating an additional position for himself--capo di tutti capi or "boss of all bosses."[7][21]

Each crime family was to be headed by a boss, who was assisted by an underboss (the third-ranking position of consigliere was added somewhat later). Below the underboss, the family was divided into crews, each headed by a caporegime, or capo, and staffed by soldiers (members or, as they later became known, "wise guys"). The soldiers would often be assisted by associates, who were not yet members. Associates might also include non-Italians who worked with the family, and would include Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, to name just two.[7] Like Lansky and Siegel, associates might be significant criminal figures with their own organisations.

Death of Maranzano

Maranzano's reign as capo di tutti capi was short-lived. On September 10, 1931, he was shot and stabbed to death in his Manhattan office by a team of Jewish triggermen (recruited by Lansky), which included Samuel "Red" Levine, Bo Weinberg, and Bugsy Siegel.[7][24]

With both Maranzano and Masseria out of the way, it was easier for the Young Turks, led by Luciano, to assume control of the way things functioned in New York City. The first agenda on the table was the reformation and restructuring of the American Mafia. Luciano envisioned the future of the American Mafia in the form of a major corporation. He believed that this would increase cooperation, reduce conflict and ensure a plain sailing governance by the mafia as a whole. Since Maranzano had formed a basic structure that was in the process of being put into effect, Luciano decided to retain the concept to a large extent. Owing to his clear disregard for orthodox ideologies that did not have any profitable consequences, Luciano allowed for more flexibility in the structure, allowing for the inclusion of other societal groups like the Jews to involve themselves with the families. In his autobiography ‘A Man of Honor’, Joe Bonanno states: “We revised the old custom of looking toward one man, one supreme leader for advice and the settling of disputes. We replaced leadership by one man with leadership by committee. We opted for a parliamentary arrangement whereby a group of the most important men in our world would assume the function formerly performed by one man.”[25]

In the aftermath of the Maranzano hit, there was believed to have been a massive purge of "old-timer" mafiosi, the so-called "Night of the Sicilian Vespers." These rumors were seemingly confirmed by the testimony of Joseph Valachi, but a later study found no signs of such massive violence occurring.[26][27]

In the end, both of the traditional factions in the New York Mafia lost the war. The real winners were the younger and more ruthless generation of mobsters, headed by Luciano. With their ascension to power, organized crime was poised to expand into a truly national and multi-ethnic combination.[21][28]

Popular culture

  • The 1981 movie Gangster Wars and the 1991 Mobsters are partly fictionalized accounts of the Castellammarese War, while 1981's The Gangster Chronicles TV miniseries covers the war over a few of its thirteen episodes. All of these cover events from the point of view of Luciano.
  • Events from the war (most notably the assassination of Maranzano) are included in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather.
  • The 1973 Charles Bronson movie The Stone Killer is a fictionalized story of a complicated plot to assassinate the heads of organized crime families using Vietnam veterans. The plot is the brainchild of an elderly mafioso who has been obsessed since 1931 with avenging the "Night of the Sicilian Vespers" murders, supposedly orchestrated by Lucky Luciano.
  • The war is one of the main plot elements of the final season of Boardwalk Empire.
  • AMC's The Making of the Mob: New York also covers the war.

See also



  1. ^ Critchley, David (2008). The Origin of Organized Crime in America. New York: Routledge. p. 165. ISBN 978-0415990301.
  2. ^ Marc., Mappen, (2013). Prohibition gangsters : the rise and fall of a bad generation. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813561159. OCLC 852899302.
  3. ^ Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Checkmark Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0816056958.
  4. ^ Sifakis, (2005). pp. 56–57
  5. ^ Critchley, (2008). p. 165
  6. ^ Nate., Hendley, (2010). American gangsters, then and now : an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0313354510. OCLC 727948429.
  7. ^ a b c d Raab, Selwyn (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 22–35. ISBN 978-0312361815.
  8. ^ Sifakis, (2005). p. 323
  9. ^ a b Critchley, (2008). p. 172
  10. ^ a b Critchley, (2008). p. 175
  11. ^ Sifakis, (2005). p. 277
  12. ^ Dash, Mike (2010). The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 376. ISBN 978-0345523570.
  13. ^ Critchley, (2008). p. 181
  14. ^ Critchley, (2008). pp. 182–183
  15. ^ a b Critchley, (2008). p. 185
  16. ^ Pollak, Michael (June 29, 2012). "Coney Island's Big Hit". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  17. ^ Sifakis, (2005). pp. 87–88
  18. ^ Martin A. Gosch; Richard Hammer; Lucky Luciano (1975). The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano. Little, Brown. pp. 130–132. ISBN 978-0-316-32140-2.
  19. ^ "Giuseppe Masseria". New York Mafia 1900-1920. GangRule. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  20. ^ Critchley, (2008). p. 186
  21. ^ a b c "A Chronicle of Bloodletting". Time Magazine. July 12, 1971. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  22. ^ Dash, Mike (2010). The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 384–386. ISBN 978-0345523570.
  23. ^ Hendley (2009). p. 137. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ Dennis Eisenberg; Uri Dan; Eli Landau (1979). Meyer Lansky: mogul of the mob. Paddington Press : distributed Grosset & Dunlap. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-0-448-22206-6.
  25. ^ "The Commission's Origins". The New York Times. 1986. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  26. ^ Raab, (2005). p. 137
  27. ^ Maas, Peter (1968). The Valachi Papers (1986 Pocket Books ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 83. ISBN 067163173X.
  28. ^ Critchley, (2008). p. 197


  • Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Checkmark Books. ISBN 978-0816056958.
  • Raab, Selwyn (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312361815.
  • Critchley, David (2008). The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415990301.
  • Dash, Mike (2010). The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder and The Birth of the American Mafia. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0345523570.
Buster from Chicago

Buster from Chicago was a pseudonym used for a mobster and freelance hitman of the 1930s. He is alleged to have played a key role in the Castellammarese War (1929–1931) as the assassin of Giuseppe Morello and others. Some claim that Buster was gangster Sebastiano Domingo (1910-1933), notably Bill Bonanno, the son of Bonanno crime family leader Joseph Bonanno, who participated in the War. Others charge that Buster is a character created by Joe Valachi to evade his responsibility for various killings.

Ciro Terranova

Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova (July 1888 − February 20, 1938) was an Italian-born New York City gangster and one time underboss of the Morello crime family.

Frank Costello

Frank "the Prime Minister" Costello (Italian: [kosˈtɛllo]; born Francesco Castiglia [franˈtʃesko kasˈtiʎʎa]; January 26, 1891 – February 18, 1973) was an Italian-American Mafia gangster and crime boss. Costello rose to the top of American organized crime, controlled a vast gambling empire, and enjoyed political influence.

Nicknamed "The Prime Minister of the Underworld," he became one of the most powerful and influential mafia bosses in American history, eventually leading the Luciano crime family (later called the Genovese crime family), one of the Five Families that operate in New York City.

Gaetano Reina

Gaetano "Tommy" Reina (September 27, 1889 – February 26, 1930) was a Sicilian-born American gangster and founder of the Lucchese crime family in New York City.

Gaspar Milazzo

Gaspar Milazzo (April 25, 1887 – May 31, 1930) was a major organized-crime figure in Detroit, Michigan, during the Prohibition era. He had earlier been a member of the Brooklyn-based gang that would later become known as the Bonanno crime family.

Giuseppe Morello

Giuseppe "the Clutch Hand" Morello (Italian: [dʒuˈzɛppe moˈrɛllo]; May 2, 1867 – August 15, 1930), also known as "The Old Fox", was the first boss of the Morello crime family and later top adviser to Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. He was known as Piddu (Sicilian diminutive form of Giuseppe) and his rivals the Castellammarese knew him as Peter Morello. He was famous for having a one-fingered deformed right hand that resembled a claw.

In the 1890s, Giuseppe founded a gang known as the 107th Street Mob, which would later evolve into the Morello crime family. Today the Morello crime family is known as the Genovese crime family and is the oldest of the Five Families in New York City.

Joe Adonis

Joe Adonis (born Giuseppe Antonio Doto; November 22, 1902 – November 26, 1971), also known as "Joey A", "Joe Adone", "Joe Arosa", "James Arosa", and "Joe DiMeo", was a New York mobster who was an important participant in the formation of the modern Cosa Nostra crime families.

Joe Aiello

Giuseppe "Joe" Aiello (1890 – October 23, 1930) was a Chicago bootlegger and organized crime leader during the Prohibition era. He was best known for his long and bloody feud with Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone.

Aiello masterminded several unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Capone, and fought against his former business partner Antonio Lombardo, a Capone ally, for control of the Chicago branch of the Unione Siciliana benevolent society. Aiello and his ally Bugs Moran are believed to have arranged the murder of Lombardo, which directly led Capone to organize the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in retaliation.

Despite being forced to flee Chicago multiple times throughout the gang war, Aiello eventually took control of the Unione Siciliana in 1929, and ranked seventh among the Chicago Crime Commission's list of top "public enemies". Aiello was killed after Capone gunmen ambushed him as he exited a Chicago apartment building where he had been hiding out, shooting him 59 times. After his death the Chicago Tribune described Aiello as "the toughest gangster in Chicago, and one of the toughest in the country".

Joe Masseria

Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria (Italian: [dʒuˈzɛppe masseˈria]; January 17, 1886 – April 15, 1931) was an early Italian-American Mafia boss in New York City. He was boss of what is now called the Genovese crime family, one of the New York City Mafia's Five Families, from 1922 to 1931. He waged a bloody war to take over the criminal activities in New York City, gaining considerable power for himself. He was killed in 1931 in a hit ordered by his own lieutenant, Charles "Lucky" Luciano.

Joseph Bonanno

Joseph Charles Bonanno Sr. (, Italian: [boˈnanno]; January 18, 1905 – May 11, 2002) was an Italian-born American mafioso, businessman and racketeer who, at age 26, became boss of the Bonanno Crime family, which he ran for 30 years after the Castellamarese War and original member of the Commission.

Manfredi Mineo

Manfredi "Al" or "Alfred" Mineo (Italian: [maɱˈfreːdi miˈnɛːo]) (1880 – November 5, 1930) was a Brooklyn-based New York mobster, who headed a strong American Mafia crime family during the Castellammarese War. Mineo's organization would eventually become the present-day Gambino crime family.

Salvatore Maranzano

Salvatore Maranzano (Italian: [salvaˈtoːre maranˈtsaːno]; July 31, 1886 – September 10, 1931) was an organized crime figure from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss who led what later would become the Bonanno crime family in the United States. He instigated the Castellammarese War to seize control of the American Mafia operations and briefly became the Mafia's capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"). He was murdered under the orders of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who established an arrangement in which families shared power to prevent future turf wars.

Salvatore Sabella

Salvatore Sabella (July 7, 1891 – 1962) was the Sicilian Mafia boss of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 1920s. Sabella built the future Bruno crime family and trained its leaders.

Steve Ferrigno

Stefano "Steve" Ferrigno (May 12, 1900 – November 5, 1930) was a New York City mobster of Sicilian origin who led an important Italian criminal gang in the 1920s. Ferrigno was murdered along with Alfred Mineo during the so-called Castellammarese War.

Tommy Gagliano

Tommaso "Tommy" Gagliano (Italian: [gaʎˈʎaːno]; May 29, 1883 − February 16, 1951) was an American mobster and boss of what U.S. federal authorities would later designate as the Lucchese crime family, one of the "Five Families" of New York City. He served as a low-profile boss for over two decades. His successor was his longtime loyalist and underboss, Gaetano "Tommy" Lucchese.

Tommy Lucchese

Thomas "Tommy" Lucchese (pronounced [lukˈkeːse]; born Gaetano Lucchese, December 1, 1899 – July 13, 1967) was a Sicilian-born American gangster and founding member of the Mafia in the United States, an offshoot of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily. From 1951 until 1967, he was the boss of the Lucchese crime family, one of the Five Families that dominates organized crime in New York City.

Vito Bonventre

Vito Bonventre (January 1, 1875 – July 15, 1930) was a New York City mobster who was a leading member of the Brooklyn gang that would later become the Bonanno Crime Family. He was arrested but then released in 1921 as the leader of a group known as the "Good Killers". Bonventre was murdered in 1930 at the start of a conflict between his gang and a rival gang led by Joe Masseria, referred to as the Castellammarese War.

Vito Genovese

Vito "Don Vitone" Genovese (Italian: [ˈviːto dʒenoˈveːze; -eːse]; November 27, 1897 – February 14, 1969) was an Italian-American mobster who rose to power during Prohibition as an enforcer in the American Mafia. A long-time associate and childhood friend of Charles Luciano, Genovese took part in the Castellammarese War and helped shape the rise of the Mafia and organized crime in the United States. He would later lead Luciano's crime family, which was renamed the Genovese crime family by the authorities.

He was known as Boss of all Bosses from 1957 to 1959 when he ruled one of the wealthiest, most dangerous, and most powerful criminal organizations in the world and maintained power and influence over other crime families in America. Along with childhood friend and former boss Luciano, he is deemed responsible for expanding the heroin trade to an international level. For a brief period during World War II, he supported Benito Mussolini's regime in Italy for fear of being deported back to the United States to face murder charges. Genovese served as mentor to Vincent "Chin" Gigante, the future boss of the Genovese crime family.While he helped usher in a new era in organized crime, his tenure as boss led to several incidents that were detrimental to the American Mafia's power. He ordered several highly publicized murders and when he called a meeting with all the Mafia bosses in the country to consolidate his power, the meeting was raided by the police. He also scared underling Joe Valachi into becoming the first member of the American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence and testify as a government witness.

According to Valachi, Genovese was a murderer with his own set of rules:

If you went to Vito and told him about some guy who was doing wrong, he would have this guy killed and then he would have you killed for telling on the guy.


Zips (also Siggies or Geeps) is a slang term often used as a derogatory slur by Italian American and Sicilian American mobsters in reference to newer immigrant Sicilian and Italian mafiosi. The name is said to have originated from mobsters' inability to understand the faster-speaking Sicilian dialects, which appeared to "zip" by. Other theories include pejorative uses such as Sicilians' preference for silent, homemade zip guns. According to still another theory, the term is a contraction of the Sicilian slang term for "hicks" or "primitives." The older Sicilian mafiosi of the pre-Prohibition era known as "Mustache Petes" (who eventually were deposed by American-born mobsters during the Castellammarese War) were also referred to as "zips".

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