The Gunman. A Mafia Story

The Gunman. A Mafia Story

By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.

Scientists tell us we are made out of atoms. Maybe they are wrong, and we are made out of stories.

This is one of them.

It wasn’t really a war.

Hardly a skirmish, more like an incident that stretched out over several months.

The number of dead varies according to which source is consulted, although it’s likely less than twenty. One in Chicago, two in Detroit, one or two in New Jersey, the rest in New York.

Well-known Italian historian, Salvatore Lupo, believed there never was a war, or as he describes it “a purge.”  It was an invention he claims, or better, a legend. (1)

Perhaps it was an engagement between two Sicilan-born gangsters about who would be the boss of the Italian-American underworld in New York, even the country. Ironically, they both ended up dead.

The dispute somehow becomes known as “The Castellammarese War,” although we don’t know who first coined the phrase. The New York police department by the early 1940s referred to the Bonanno Mafia Crime Family based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as The Castellammarese Mob, so the name may have been in use much earlier.  Perhaps the fighting should maybe have been titled “The Maranzano-Masseria Conflict” after the two protagonists which would have been a more accurate description, although not as exciting for the legions of writers that emerged to cover it in the years to come. (2) 

Castellammare del Golfo is a small town on the northern coast of Trapani province in the west of Sicily. Home to a Mafia family for generations, it also exported a lot of them into the United States.

Historically, the town and hinterland had an evil reputation as a place of blood and violence. It’s Mafia clan before 1914, was possibly the most powerful on the island. (3)

One of its emigrants into America, was Salvatore Maranzano, who emerged as a contender for control of New York’s Italian gangs in opposition to Giuseppe Masseria, another Sicilian, although originating from the province of Agrigento on the other side of the island. In 1930, they were both the same age, forty-four. Both living in metropolitan New York. And both anxious to eliminate each other.

In this pot-boiling, turbulent stew of jealousy, hubris, greed and murderous intent, it was always the front-line soldiers who did the dirty work. Their killings field would be side-walks, offices and restaurants.

One of them was a short, squat, thug from Harlem. Another, a short, squat thug from Connecticut. Their worlds would coalesce in the jungle of New York’s underworld, killing, running and hiding as the chess-masters, the papaveri, men of importance,  plotted their moves from their homes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Almost a hundred years after the event, the people and places still fascinate us.

The faded black and white images of dead gangsters, sprawled in their last contortions, draw us into their stories with a strength of purpose it is hard to ignore. As they were fighting and dyeing, alert only to their immediate episodes of drama, they were helping to lay the foundation of a criminal organization that still plagues the biggest city in America.

Based on the reminiscences of three of the participants, and the files of The Secret Service, The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, The FBI and the police department of New York City, historians have concluded the war ended a tumultuous period of criminal uncertainty and paved the way for what became “The Golden Years” of the mob.

If Lupo is correct in his conclusions, none of this in fact happened. A bunch of crooks ran around and shot each other and the high drama became simply a pantomime. A fairy story for grown-ups. 

Assuming it did happen.

9855794882?profile=RESIZE_180x180Joseph Valachi (right) was born dirt-poor in East Harlem in 1904, and grew up around 108th Street. His impoverished family moved many times through his childhood and adolescence. Drifting into crime  as he entered his teens, by the time he was coming up twenty-six his rite of passage from street criminal to mobster was almost complete.

Valachi who had either an eidetic memory or a fecund imagination, describes the way he met up with Girolamo Santuccio and the events that followed, connecting these two killers as they made their bones in the world of Cosa Nostra. 

Santuccio the thug from Hartford, Connecticut, was born and raised in a small town called Floridia in eastern Sicily. A place hardly anyone has probably heard of until August this year when it recorded the highest temperature ever in Europe-124 degrees fahrenheit.

He moved to New York in 1908 when he was about eight with his older brother, Giuseppe. They joined their parents, brother and sisters already there, first living on Elisabeth Street and Thompson Street in lower Manhattan’s “Little Italy,” before moving north to Hartford, Connecticut. His father ran a tailor shop here, on Temple Street for forty years. (4)

9855808095?profile=RESIZE_180x180Santuccio (right) moved back to New York in 1919 and by 1921, was married to Lena Vita Mancuso. She was born in 1906 which would have made her only fifteen. (5)

They lived in an apartment on 182 Street in The Bronx. Their next door neighbour was another little guy, this one with a big nose, His wife, Catherine Castellano, and Lena, apparently got on handsomely and continued their friendship late into their lives. The little guy was called Carlo Gambino who one day, would lead the biggest Mafia Family in America.

Between 1916 and 1932, Santuccio recorded at least eight police charges in New York, including assault, burglary and homicide. In what may have been a hi-jacking gone wrong, Stephen Piraino, aged twenty-one is shot dead at The Ritz Inn, in Yonkers, on New Year’s Eve, 1922. One of the suspects arrested is Santuccio. He is subsequently released for lack of evidence.

Santuccio perhaps spent some time in Pennsylvania, although details are scant as to his movements and activities, prior to the mob war, except his boxing record and a vendetta that started years before the war began and ended a year after it finished, resulting in a two killings and multiple attempts on his life. 

In 1928, Valachi met Santuccio, who every one called “Bobby Doyle,” through a mutual friend,  Dominick Petrelli. The man from Hartford had been a fly-weight professional boxer between 1917 and 1924,  and had adopted an Irish name, for whatever reason.  He wasn’t the first Italian mobster do this.(6)

Their relationship was uneven, to say the least. In his memoir, Valachi refers to him in less than flattering terms.

“He will sell you for a dime,” and “no one on earth could match him for his treachery,” appear as indicators to either Valachi’s contempt, or perhaps his awareness what duplicity could trigger in the unstable world he occupied. Then again, it takes one to know one, is an aphorism that may apply to their relationship.

Valachi had nothing good to say about Lena, Santuccio’s wife either, comparing her very unfavourably with his own, Carmela Reina, the daughter of Gaetano Reina the boss of the crime family Valachi was attached to at this time.

Santuccio, according to Joe Valachi, was personally involved in the murder of at least three men during the war. The total could have been higher. We just don’t know and never will. Prohibition was in full scale and gangsters were fighting each other over territory rights and spots across the city. Those killed as a result of the conflict are almost impossible to define with accuracy. And there may have been murders that occurred during this period that resulted from the war but were never connected and recognised as such.

The first victims to die in the New York war were possibly in fact, in Detroit.

In May, 1930, Gaspare Milazzo and Rosario Parrino were shot dead in a fish market where two men blasted them with shotguns and then disappeared. They may have been murdered for refusing to support Masseria, although these killings are shrouded in mystery and confusion. Milazzo, who was from Castellammare had moved from Sicily to Brooklyn in 1911 when he was about twenty-four, and been part of the Maranzano gang, although when he arrived in America, Maranzano was still living in Sicily and would not arrive in Brooklyn for at least another ten years. Sebastiano Di Gaetano and then Nicolo Schiro ran the outfit at the time Milazzo was living in New York.

Milazzo had settled in Detroit by 1923, and at the time of his death was a well-established figure in the local Mafia. 

On February 22 1930, Gaetano Reina who controlled his own mob in The Bronx, went to spend some time with his comare, Marie Ennis at her apartment at 1521 Sheridan Avenue. As he left, late in the evening, he was blasted to death. Two men approached the couple as they moved towards their car, and one, presenting a saw-off shotgun, shoots Reina in the chest.  The killers were never identified.

Although he was allied to Masseria it’s been theorized he died, not because of the war but because of Masseria’s greed. The boss it’s alleged, wanted to take over a very lucrative wholesale ice-dealing business run by Reina. In the years before refrigerators were common, creating and distributing ice was big business in New York.

Bonaventura Pinzolo was another short, squat thug, and he arrived in America in 1906 at the age of nineteen. An early Black-Hander, and allegedly one of the two men who shot Reina, he had somehow become connected to Giuseppe Masseria who appointed him to head the family that Reina had lead before his death. (7)

That’s when Santuccio comes into the picture for the first time time as a shootist. According to Joe Valachi.

Pinzolo was found dead by a cleaner about nine in the evening of September 5, 1930 in suite 1007 in the Brokaw Building on Broadway, Manhattan. The office belonged to a company run by Gaetano Lucchese, a member of the Reina gang who was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder, but the case fizzled out and was eventually dropped by the New York prosecutor. 

The murder scene is desolate in its simplicity. A wooden bench, a table, two chairs, a shaded window and most fascinating, two stark-white cuspidors, one just into the room and the other next to the body of Pinzolo, sprawled faced down behind the desk. By 1920, spittoons were out of fashion in most public spaces, but obviously still in favor in the nether-world of crime noir.

9855810485?profile=RESIZE_710xPhoto: Death scene Pinzolo.  Copyright New York City Municipal Archives.

Santuccio would tell Valachi afterwards, “I got the break of my life. I caught him alone in the office.”

And so he shot him. Again and again.

It’s possible that this murder and that of Reina were not the triggered by the war, nor Masseria’s lust for Reina’s business; just a massive dispute within the crime family. Connecting dots is the most frustrating thing when researching the Mafia.

Two months later, Santuccio was back on the trail. This time, it would be a double hit.

Manfredi Mineo, 50 years old, heads his own clan we know today as The Gambino Family. His number two, is Stefano Ferrigno. They both are born in Sicily before emigrating to America.

Following Masseria’s rise to power, Mineo became a kind of aide-de-camp to the boss, following the August 1930 mob murder of Giuseppe Morello who at one time had risen to the top of the totem pole in New York’s Mafia. He went to prison in 1910 and was released in 1920 whereupon he became a senior advisor to Masseria. Like many of the gang members of New York’s Mafia, Morello had been born and raised in Corleone, a small town in the heart of Sicily.

There is a lot happening in the early years of the 20th century among the gangs of New York’s Italian criminals. Cammoristi of Naples are fighting Mafiosi of Sicily, people coming and going through their own revolving doors of destiny. There are Sicilians, and men from Campania and Calabria in the mix of plot and counter-plot. Politics, power struggles and individual acts of blood washing blood make the city a dangerous place to be if your side is the wrong one.

Ferrigno had an apartment in The Alhambra, a six-story, sprawling apartment complex on the Pelham Parkway in South Bronx, and the opposing forces believed Masseria would visit here for meetings with a coterie of his closest advisors. Manfredi lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, so had a 25 mile journey to get to the meeting.

Valachi was chosen to rent a place in the building to watch the movements and scope out the best place to set up an ambush. Settling on a first-floor apartment close to the entrance, three killers moved in and waited their opportunity.

The gunmen, according to Valachi, were Santuccio, Nick “The Thief” Capuzzi and a man only known as “Buster” from Chicago, who had been brought into the fight as he was unknown in New York’s criminal society and could therefore move around with relative ease. After exhaustive research, he was identified by David Critchley as Sebastiano Domingo, a 20-year-old Castellammarese native who had travelled to America when he was three and raised in Michigan. (8)

On the afternoon of November 4, 1930, Masseria and a group of men arrived to gather in Ferrigno’s apartment. The gunmen waited but there was no movement until the afternoon of the following day when at about 2.45 in the afternoon they spotted Mineo and Ferrigno leave the building and start to walk down the pathway towards the entrance of the complex. Realising they might only have the one opportunity, although the boss was their quarry, they blasted away. Their targets were standing only a few away and died instantly. For some, strange reason, the killers fired at their targets through the closed windows of the room. Leaving the weapons behind, the gunmen disappeared into the afternoon shadows.

9855810863?profile=RESIZE_710xPhoto: Murder scene of Mineo and Ferrigno

There would be three more hits before the war ended. The penultimate is Giuseppe Masseria, gunned down in a restaurant on Coney Island in April, 1931. 

The last, the murder of Salvatore Maranzano, in September, 1931, effectively brought a settled accord within the four warring clans. The Brooklyn-based boss had won the war, but lost the peace. Determined to follow the same path of hegemony his dead predecessor had pursued,  his murder was not such more foretold as simply inevitable.

He died in the afternoon of September 10, 1931, stabbed and shot multiple times by a bunch of killers who entered his office premises in The New York Central Building on Park Avenue in mid-Manhattan, pretending to be cops. Those gathered to see him in the outer waiting room, included Bobby Doyle, who had his own office next door. Valachi claims Santuccio went into the boss’s room and checked on the body before leaving the building. He was stopped on the way out by a police officer, but somehow avoided arrest. According to a newspaper report, his secretary, a Miss Samuels, was in on the grisly discovery. (9)

History tells us Charley Luciano, Masseria's right-hand-man, was the organizer of the hit. Valachi believed Santuccio, the man in the office next door, was the tip-off man for the killers. Who if history is not lying to us, were Jewish.

With peace, came back-to-business.  In a concordance of criminal singularity, the four opposing clans, shook hands and agreed to carry on carrying on. Less the killings. Cosa Nostra did not materialize out of the war like some gangster eagle rising from the ashes. There was no “Americanisation” of the Mafia. The crime families, their structure and leadership platform, did not change in any radical way. In Sicily there is a word-intreccio-which roughly translated means “woven braids” and describes the way the affairs of men can be joined in complex relationships.

The New York Mafia did just that for the next ninety years, and is still doing it.

They would develop and expand enterprise and power syndicates covering illegal undertakings and extortion such as prostitution, gambling, hijacking, drug trafficking, union control and loansharkings activities.

As Prohibition ended, there was always the waterfronts, construction, garment manufacturing, garbage removal, hospitality and clothing industries to absorb and suck dry over the decades that lay ahead. Essentially, the men who were the leaders after September 1931, stayed the leaders until the early 1950s and beyond.

One of the most important results of the peace structure was the closing of the books. Membership was frozen until 1954, in order to prevent families out-bidding each with extra man-power, although like everything to do with the Mafia, rules were not so much flexible as porous.

In late May, 1931, Mafiosi from across the USA gathered at the Congress Plaza Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, Chicago where Al Capone hosted them as they established the Commission, a governing body of sorts set up to resolve problems among the various families. It would operate and meet every five years or when necessary, up until the 1990s. According to Valachi, Santuccio was invited to attend to give evidence before the senior family heads about the killing of Maranzano.

This is according to Valachi’s memory as laid out in his life history. He himself had been asked to go and give evidence about the killing as a soldier only, with no axe to grind politically, but begged off and Bobby Doyle went in his place.


Photo: Mugshot of Santuccio

Santuccio had at least one more killing to take care of, but this was family, family business. Up close and personal.

On September 1, 1921, his older brother Giuseppe, a tailor by profession, had been found critically injured outside 175 Thompson Street, in Greenwich Village. He died in nearby St Vincent’s Hospital from four different bullet wounds. Police arrested a man called Louis Lamole as a suspect but after holding him, decided not to proceed. He lived at 219 Bleeker Street, three blocks to the north-west from the crime scene and apparently after the police released him, left his apartment and the neighborhood.

In February 1924, Santuccio was shot at by gunmen and wounded in the left arm while walking along Bleeker Street.

Then, in March, Louis Lamole, who had recently returned to Lower Manhattan to live, was shot four times near 185 Wooster Street, a few blocks south of Thompson. The same number of shots that had killed Giuseppe. Minutes later, Girolamo Santuccio was arrested by police, although subsequently released. Lamole survived the attack. To die another day.

Five months later, Santuccio was standing at the junction of 183 Street and 3 Avenue, in The Bronx, talking with a friend close to midnight on August 1, when gunmen in a car fired at them. His companion was slightly injured, but Santuccio got it in the arm again, this time the right one, or more accurately the shoulder, but was soon released from Fordham Hospital.  In December 1929 he was stabbed while on Temple Street in Hartford, although survived a slashed face and yet another wound to his arm.

On June 30, 1932, Lamole is murdered. He had left his current home at 55 Oak Street and had been to visit his sister Rose, who ran a grocery store at 25 Monroe Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was heading to see Salvatore, another brother, who operated a butcher’s shop at 17 Monroe, when a gunman stepped out of a hallway near number 19 and shot him in the head and back, killing him instantly.

There is chaos all around. Two women are wounded by stray bullets. Then puff, like Puff the Magic Dragon, the shooter vanishes into the crowds packing the street between Catherine and Market Slips.  The police arrested Santuccio and charged him with Lamole’s homicide, although some weeks later, the case was dropped. What triggered these killings and attacks spread over nearly ten years is a mystery. It’s part of the Bermuda Triangle of New York’s underworld.

Deputy Chief of New York Police, David McAuliffe, said the shootings related to an old feud among residents in the neighborhood. (10) 

Around 1940, Valachi and Bobby Doyle parted company. They had enough of each other. In a city the size of New York it would seem an easy thing to do. In a crime family of about 400, not so much.

In 1952, Santuccio upped stakes and moved back to Hartford with his family and that is where he stayed. He and his family rented an apartment at 91 Magnolia Street. They were escaping the rip and tear of the big city.

It has been claimed he became a capo or crew chief for one of the city’s Mafias, an off-shoot of the Luciano/Costello/ Genovese Family that he had become part of when working the streets back in New York.

Within a year he was under surveillance by the Hartford Police, especially the Vice Squad, commanded by Lieutenant John J. Roche, who reported on Santuccio at the senate sub committee on organized crime, chaired by Senator John J. McClellan, in October 1963. During this hearing, Joseph Valachi is the main witness, describing for the first time in public, the workings of the Mafia who he referred to as Cosa Nostra. Our Thing.

Hartford was what the mob called an “open city,” allowing any gang to operate according to the rules. There is an FBI file dated August 1968 compiled by Special Agent William F. Glossa of New Haven, stating Santuccio is an operating member of the Genovese Family. The Feds claimed he spent a lot of time at Bobby’s Lunch, a diner on Union Place, opposite Hartford’s Union Rail Station.

He went into business with Robert Rose in a restaurant at 520 Farmington Avenue, called “The New Mark Twain Diner,” which law enforcement suspected was a front for illegal bookmaking.

Sometime after 1958, he and his wife moved to an apartment in a building at 800 New Britain Avenue in Avery Heights on the city’s west side. He was living there when he was subpoenaed to give evidence before a grand jury investigating vice and corruption in Hartford that was held in 1960. 

Between 1916-1932 Santuccio had been arrested eight times while living in New York. Including homicide. In Hartford his record was 1960-contempt, 1965-bribery and in 1976 perjury. (11)

This last charge was part of a federal indictment involving 24 others on multiple charges. By then he was heading south to eighty. Old mobsters never die, they keep scamming into obscurity.

He would spend his final years mixing with his associates, doing business in the bars, pastry shops, restaurants and social clubs in Hartford’s Little Italy on Franklin Avenue, about a mile to the east of his home address. He was constantly under surveillance by the Hartford Police Vice Squad led by Lt. Roche.   

9855812470?profile=RESIZE_710xPhoto: Santuccio in his older years

It’s fascinating to image him sharing coffee and cannoli with another Genovese member, Carmen Di Biase, who may have spent his final years in the city having moved there to escape the heat after allegedly shooting dead Joey Gallo in April 1972.

An FBI source claimed, Santuccio,  “although respected because of his former associations in the criminal element, is now leaning on his reputation.”

Girolamo Santuccio died in Hartford Hospital, during surgery at the age of eighty-three on August 31, 1983. A man who walked between raindrops, he is one of the mob’s less remembered villains; a supporting actor and peripheral player in a narrative that echoes through the cloisters of history. If we are not atoms but stories, this is one of them.

Some dates, places, events and names are taken from FBI reports, created in Connecticut after Santuccio moved there in 1952.

1) Lupo, Salvatore. The Two Mafias: A transatlantic History, 1888-2008: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, New York.

2) Whether fact or fiction, there are only three know first-hand accounts of the events that took place in this period between 1930 and 1931. Each written by a man operating at completely different positions within the struggle. One was a boss, one a soldier and the other a kind of roving Forrest Gump journeyman of the Mafia. The most comprehensive is the one recalled by soldier Joseph Valachi, (the first American Mafioso to appear in public and confess his sins in organized crime,) as recounted in his memoirs translated into a book called “The Valachi Papers,” by Peter Mass, published in 1968 By G.P. Putnam’s Sons, of New York. Valachi’s hand-written, 1000 plus pages personal manuscript, “The Real Thing,” is available at thanks to the efforts of crime historian Tom Hunt.

3) Maxwell, Gavin. The Ten Pains of Death: Longmans, 1959, London.

4) Hartford Courant, October 4, 1963.



7) Black Hand or Mano Nera in Italian, was an extortion racket ran by Italian criminals, almost always against Italian communities mainly in the bigger cities of America. Sources claim it operated from about 1890 until 1920, and was apparently never organized, but operated as individual gangs of terrorists.

8) Critchley,  David. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2008.

9) New York Times. September 11, 1931.

10) The strange and convoluted events involving the Santuccio and Lamole vendetta are based on information supplied to me by crime historian, Steve Turner, whose help and support I gratefully acknowledge.


Copyright © Gangsters Inc. & Thom L. Jones

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