Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lucchese Family

The Two Tommys

Lucky Luciano was always thinking three moves ahead.   Lucky's master plan was to set up a national crime commission that would be bigger than the Mafia and include gangsters of all stripes, not just Sicilians.  To do that, he knew he would have to eliminate the old-fashioned "Mustache Petes" who had come to America from Sicily and ruled like medieval barons in a land of limitless criminal opportunity.  "Joe the Boss" Masseria was naturally at the top of Luciano's hit list, but Lucky was also wary of Masseria's rival, Salvatore Maranzano.  Luciano didn't want a new boss; he wanted to be the boss.  But he knew he wasn't strong enough to make that move yet.  And that's why he ordered the hit on Tom Reina.   

Gaetano "Tommy" Gagliano
Gaetano "Tommy" Gagliano

Luciano worried that if Reina sided with Maranzano, Maranzano would become too powerful and potentially harder to deal with than Masseria.   Besides, Luciano already had secret commitments from Reina's right-hand men, Gaetano "Tommy" Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese, who saw Luciano's national commission as the future of crime in America.  The Castellammarese War was the Young Turks' insidious rebellion against the old-timers. 

Joe Pinzolo
Joe Pinzolo

In the wake of Reina's death, Masseria alienated Reina's Bronx gang by bringing in an outsider to take over as their leader, another "Mustache Pete" named Joe Pinzolo.  The two top figures in the gang, Tommy Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese, chafed under Pinzolo's high-handed leadership, and it wasn't long before Lucchese murdered Pinzolo, which Masseria mistakenly attributed to Maranzano. 

Gaetano Tommy Lucchese
Gaetano "Tommy" Lucchese

Fed up with "Joe the Boss," Gagliano and Lucchese decided to join forces with Maranzano, but Lucky Luciano, always thinking ahead, convinced them to make the switch secretly so that Masseria wouldn't know.  This made the two Tommys much more appealing to Maranzano, who thought he now had two well-placed spies in Masseria's organization, when in fact it was Luciano who had two well-placed spies in Maranzano's organization.  Luciano was now ready to make the boldest moves ever committed by an American Mafioso.

Salvatore Maranzano
Salvatore Maranzano

The murders of Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano are Mafia legend and mark the birth of modern organized crime in the United States. 

On April 15, 1931, Luciano lured "Joe the Boss" to a restaurant in Coney Island, where they spent the afternoon playing cards after a big meal.  When Luciano excused himself to go to the men's room, four gunmen entered the restaurant and pumped six slugs into Masseria, abruptly ending his draconian reign.  Luciano emerged from the men's room to inspect the body, nodding his approval to his hand-picked team of assassins who would eventually become underworld luminaries in their own rights—Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel.

Albert Anastasia, young
Albert Anastasia, young

With Masseria out of the way, Maranzano declared himself the undisputed boss of bosses and initially thought he had Luciano's support.  But in private, Marazano was growing wary of Luciano and his growing circle of non-Sicilian gangster friends.  It wasn't long before Maranzano came to regard Luciano as "a threat," according to author Ernest Volkman in his book Gangbusters: The Destruction of America's Last Great Mafia Dynasty.  Marazano hired notorious Irish hitman Vince "Mad Dog" Coll to rub out Luciano and his close associate Vito Genovese, but Luciano got wind of the plot and beat Marazano to the punch, hiring four Jewish killers from the Meyer Lansky-Bugsy Seigel gang to take out Marazano.

Vincent Mad Dog Coll
Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll

Maranzano had summoned Luciano to meet him at his real-estate office near Grand Central Station on September 10, 1931.   Luciano assumed that this meeting was a setup, so he dispatched his hit team before the scheduled meeting with Marazano.  Dressed in treasury-agent uniforms, the four killers went to Maranzano's office, saying they were there to do a spot check on the books.   Two of the "agents" subdued Maranzano's body guards in the outer office while the other two went inside to take care of Maranzano. 

Tommy Lucchese was with Maranzano, who never suspected that Lucchese had been aligned with Luciano all along.   The assassins didn't know what Maranzano looked like, so Lucchese's job was to make sure that they got the right man, which they certainly did, shooting and stabbing Maranzano to death.   

Ironically, one of these killers ran into "Mad Dog" Coll in the stairwell as he rushed out of the building.  Coll was on his way up to gun down Luciano and Genovese, who were supposed to be in a meeting with Maranzano. 

When Coll learned that the boss had just been killed, he turned right around and walked out a happy man.  Maranzano had already paid him half of his $50,000 fee up front and was in no position to ask for a refund.


With the "Mustache Petes" either dead or on the run, Luciano and his allies were now free to take over.  Luciano assumed the leadership of Masseria's group, while Tommy Gagliano became boss of Reina's gang, with Tommy Lucchese as his underboss.  Gagliano held the top slot until his death by natural causes in 1953.

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