AMERICA’S BOSS OF BOSSES MURDERED AT HIS OFFICE
Salvatore Maranzano had made it. After eliminating his arch rival, Joe Masseria, in April of 1931, he had become capo di tutti capi, boss of bosses, of Italian organized crime in New York. He now oversaw an enormous criminal empire that had grown rich from bootlegging and was expanding into every aspect of American businesses.
At several large gatherings all mobsters came to pay their respects to Maranzano. Mafia soldier-turned-government witness Joseph Valachi recalled attending one such meeting in the Bronx, “The place was packed. There was at least four or five hundred of us jammed in. There were members there I never saw before. (…) There were so many people, so many faces, that I didn’t know where they came from.”
Besides receiving respect, Maranzano also used these events to emphasize his new status. According to Valachi Maranzano spoke Italian and explained that things would be different, that in the new setup he was going to be boss of bosses. He left no doubt about his position and it was clear to the men attending that taking his title would be ill-advised.
Still, gangsters are exactly the type to embark on an ill-advised journey and it wasn’t long before Maranzano picked up on the lack of loyalty among a group of young mobsters led by Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
Soon, the Sicilian boss of bosses was planning Luciano’s demise, explaining to Valachi that he couldn’t get along with Luciano and his pal Vito Genovese and that they had to get rid of them before they could control anything. He also added Al Capone and Frank Costello and many other prominent mobsters to his kill list. He told Valachi he had one more meeting with Luciano and Genovese the next afternoon at his office in Midtown, Manhattan. After that they would go to the mattresses, mob speak for going to war.
That day, September 10th, 1931, Maranzano was at his office arranging false identification documents, a specialty of his, for some fellow Italians. Later that afternoon, he expected Luciano and Genovese to show up. He would put on a charade and perhaps lay the groundwork for a deathtrap.
Things took a different and unexpected turn though.
Five men claiming to be federal agents entered Maranzano’s office and quickly took control. One man held a couple of people waiting in the anteroom at gunpoint, while the others took Maranzano into his office.
There, he realized these were not the usual federal agents that would raid his business. For one thing, they had knives and were trying to stab him to death. The assassins had picked knives because gunshots would attract a lot of unwanted attention in Midtown, Manhattan, in broad daylight on an afternoon when people were shopping, working, and wandering the streets.
But the killers had underestimated the old mob boss’ tenacity. While they were stabbing him Maranzano fought back ferociously. As Maranzano did everything in his power to stay alive, the hit men had had enough and fired several bullets into his body. With the sound of gunshots cracking through Manhattan, they fled the scene of the crime as fast as they could.
Despite being in a state of high alert Maranzano did not see the hit coming in this fashion. Federal agents raiding the business of New York’s boss of bosses? Nothing out of the ordinary there. And how could he not trust those agents? Hell, he might be able to gain their full trust by corrupting them with a nice envelope of cash.
Unfortunately for him it was all an act. Except for the knives and bullets. Those were real.
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