Top end of Cypress Avenue, Ridgewood, right on the Brooklyn-Queens boundary line. Friday evening, November 10th 1967.
It’s a quiet Jewish, Italian community. Like every neighborhood or district in the biggest city in America, it has stories to tell if you listen hard enough. Tongue-numbing Dutch names like Onderdonk jostle for space with simple English ones like Stanhope. James Cagney and Harry Houdini were born here. Three years down the track, Hollywood will be shooting scenes in the neighborhood for a block-buster movie to be called ‘The French Connection.’
A blue Cadillac pulls up and parks near the front entrance of The Cypress Gardens Restaurant at number 205. It stops behind a gold-colored one. It’s after seven on this cold, wet night in New York. The restaurant is in a block on the corner of Starr Street. The driver of this car often meets here with his friends for dinner. They eat and discuss the business of the week. That’s their Cadillac he’s pulled in behind.
The driver locks his car and maybe, before he walks in through the entrance, he stands for a moment, looking to his left, down the avenue into the far distance and the crepuscular lighting of Mid-Town Manhattan twinkling like a million stars. He steps inside, looking towards the usual table where his friend and his brother will be sitting. They turn and smile, starting to rise for the usual hugs and kisses and then it’s all over.
While the front of the house is all smiles and bonhomie, the back of the house is a different story.
The short, thick-set man, dressed in a long, black raincoat, and wearing a dark colored fedora, moves into the kitchen through the door leading to the wide alley behind the restaurant, that runs down to Starr Street. He’s opening the coat as he moves passed the chef, nudging the door open with his hip, adjusting his spectacles. The dining room, longer than wide, not too big, about fifteen, maybe twenty eating on this Friday night. People talking, relaxing; unwinding after a long week. Gold fiberglass curtains drawn against the cold. Wall lights and chandeliers dimmed, light reflecting off the vases of artificial white chrysanthemums.
Jimmy D’Angelo, coming in through the front door, starting to greet his two companions at the table third down from the front on the left hand side. One, brother Tommy, a capo in the Bonanno Mafia family, the other, his friend, Frankie 500 Telleri, a well-known Bonanno family policyholder. The three men heavily involved in Mafia-controlled loan-sharking operations, linen supply and liquor rackets in Queens and Brooklyn.
Maybe they were going to celebrate that Tommy had recently been bumped up to be the consigliere or counselor of the new breakaway group in the Bonanno family now headed by Paula Sciacca following the retirement of Gaspare DiGregorio due to the lung cancer that would kill him in June 1970.
A month previously, an FBI informant known only as NY T7, had advised his bureau handler that the Commission, the Mafia ruling panel, had given its approval to the appointment of Sciacca as the boss of the new family (to replace the one in existence since 1931, under Joe Bonanno,) with Frank Mari as the under boss. Lots of problems in this part of the Italian-American underworld. Tonight will only make it worse.
The man in black, moving forward quickly, sweeping the long raincoat aside, pulling out a squat, dark-colored weapon, some kind of sub-machine gun. Maybe a .45 caliber, MAC-10, straight blow-back, 1145 rounds per minute. Starting to shoot, 10 feet from the table, spraying in a tight arc 20-25 rounds from the 30 round box magazine, across the three men, two starting to rise from their seats. Bullets everywhere. The front window shattering, people screaming, tumbling to the ground, crouching behind tables and chairs, trying to avoid the carnage going down around them.
The targets floored, all dead, their chests pulverized, by the heavy, .45 caliber rounds. One, Tommy D’Angelo, still clutching his white napkin, turning red.
The short man in black, turning, moving back into the kitchen, out through the back door, into the night and gone. The back-up blocker car at the corner of Starr and Cypress driving off. (1)
The killer, gliding away into the darkness. The diners, scrambling away out of the other door, into Cypress Avenue, away from the worst dining experience in their lives.
Inside the restaurant, the two wait-staff huddle in a group by the kitchen door, the chef, Charlie ’Popeye’ Santoro, stepping out of his galley, the smell of cordite and fresh blood in the air. On one table, a plate of spaghetti sits with a fork standing in it, uneaten.
The restaurant is a chiaroscuro landscape shockingly highlighted by the blood pooling across the floor and disseminated in the high velocity spatters common to gun-shot wounds, across the walls and window curtains.
It’s deadly quiet, literally, and then far in the distance, the sounds of the sirens, as the first police cars start arriving.
It was one of the deadliest gangland slayings in New York in almost forty years, yet it came and went with barely a whimper, in terms of media coverage that is. It made the newspapers for a day then was gone.
The FBI informant T7, claimed there was actually a fourth man in the group who survived the shoot-out, Jerry, brother to the two D’Angelo’s, and that he positively identified the killer for them. Another son of Tommy’s, Michael D’Angelo, was supposed to be in the restaurant but was delayed, turning up at 10:45 PM, to find his father dead.
James Santoro the man in the kitchen that night, was a bookmaker and part-time hash-slinger attached to the Joe Bonanno family, and had applied for the job as trainee-chef, two weeks before the shooting occurred. He was arrested and charged with perjury following his appearance before a grand jury convened to investigate the massacre. He had claimed he was in the bathroom when the killer walked in through the unlocked back door of the restaurant, and saw nothing. On Jan 11, 1969, he pleaded guilty on charges of attempted perjury in the second degree and was sentenced to four years in prison.
It would be another five years before another mob killing of this magnitude - the botched shoot-out at Manhattan’s Neapolitan Noodle House - which would result in two dead and two wounded, in what was the final shots fired in the Gallo-Profaci Mob War. This created much more press and media furore probably because the killer picked the wrong targets, and shot up an innocent party of Jewish meat dealers and their wives.
The multiple shootings in 1967 were part of what came to be known in the lexicology of the New York Mafia as The Banana War. The man who carried out the killing was never formerly identified, although it has been believed for many years that it was Gaspare Magaddino, based on identity photo checks with the restaurant patrons.
Gaspare Magaddino (as unsubstantiated image)
Twelve years later, four blocks to the south-west, another mob mass killing of three men will take place in another restaurant, this one on Knickerbocker Avenue. It also involves members of the Bonanno Mafia clan, and like the slaughter in Ridgewood, is well planned and orchestrated.
Gaspare Magaddino was a cousin of two of the most powerful Mafia bosses in America: Stefano Magaddino, head of Buffalo, New York, and Giuseppe ’Joe’ Bonanno, leader of one of the five Mafia families in the New York metropolitan area, the youngest mob boss ever elected at the age of twenty-six, in 1931.
Joe Bonanno in his biography ‘A Man of Honor’ has this to say about Gaspare Magaddino:
‘Stefano (Magaddino) had sent his cousin Gaspar(e) Magaddino to New York to inform DiGregorio personally that he was to consider himself head of the Bonanno Family………….this business of taking over the entire Family had shocked Gaspare…….I (Joe) knew about this because Gaspare who was supposed to stay in New York with DiGregorio, instead came to me and told me everything. Gaspare was not about to play Stefano’s fool. Before coming to New York, Gaspare probably believed what Stefano was saying about me, but decided he would have no part of Stefano’s intrigue. Gaspare Magaddino never went back to Stefano. He turned his back on his Buffalo cousin and remained with me.’
The etymology of the word ‘conspiracy’ has a Latin root. It means to breathe together. For a conspiracy to exist, there needs to be someone else to share it. Gaspare DiGregorio at the age of fifty-nine must have realized that to achieve his place in the sun he must not only share in this conspiracy, but absorb it into his very being and make it part of his life’s ambition.
He had been born in Trapani in 1905, and arrived in New York via Canada in 1921. He married the sister of Stefano Magaddino, who was then based in Brooklyn, and became an integral part of the Bonanno Family almost from day one, operating with Joe as bootleggers during Prohibition and fighting alongside Joe, in the mortiferous gang war that rocked New York between 1930 and 1931. He was the best man at Joe’s wedding and the godfather of Joe’s eldest son Salvatore, known by his two family’s as ’Bill.’
Following the elevation in February, 1964, of Bill into the position of consigliere or family counselor, (the incumbent John Tartamella had resigned after a stroke that had left him confined to a wheelchair) by the family’s captains, at the urging of Bill’s father, DiGregorio believing this position to be rightfully his, began plotting to overthrow Joe and his son and take over the running of the family. A pernicious move even by the standard convoluted and circuitous politics of the Mafia, and as a result, at some stage in 1964, DiGregorio, along with a group of Mafiosi, some sources say 30-40, others as many as 70, out of a total of 300 or so, broke away from the main body of the family and started his own sub-group. This massive dislocation within the ranks, resulted in what the media came to call either ’The Banana War,’ or ’The Banana Split.’
It ran from January 28th 1966, when Bill Bonanno and a group of his men were ambushed one-night on Troutman Street, which lay one block west of the Cyprus Gardens restaurant, until January 1969, when Thomas Zummo, a soldier in the DiGregorio faction was shot dead in the lobby of a Queens apartment building. The inter-family struggle resulted in at least six dead, various bombings and numerous people injured. By casualty count, less of a war, more of a spat, and hardly deserved the coverage it received and probably would not have except for the mythology factor that clings to the Mafia like some kind of febrile glue.
The conflict went on until Joe Bonnano decided to withdraw from the politics of Cosa Nostra and retire to his home in Arizona in 1968.
The gun used by the killer at The Cypress Gardens was identified by the NYPD Ballistics Bureau as the weapon used in another ambush shooting sixteen months earlier when Frank ’Frankie T’ Mari, one of DiGregorio’s top trigger men was shot and wounded on July 13th 1966, in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.
Gaspare was the younger brother of Peter Magaddino, born in 1906, first cousin to Stefano. Peter had sided with Joe also in 1964 on first learning of his cousin’s treachery. Peter and Joe had been boyhood friends in Castellammare, living next door to each other. As young men, they had left Sicily together in 1924 to escape the Mafia crackdown imposed by Mussolini through his Prefect of Sicily, Cesare Mori, and escaped to America. Peter would stick with Joe until the end, moving to settle in Arizona where the elder Bonanno had retired, to be part of Joe’s ’Royal Guard.’
Following the triple murders in Queens, Gaspare Magaddino disappeared. Although more than a hundred detectives scoured known mob haunts across Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, no leads developed on the identity of the shooter. It was as though he had never existed. Neither Joe Bonanno or his son, Bill, in their respective biographies, make any reference to the movements of Magaddino after the 1967 incident. It was as though he appeared from nowhere, carried out the well-planned slaughter in the restaurant and then like a ghost, vanished.
Until. . . . . .
A little after 5:AM on April 21st 1970, police received a shooting incident call from a resident in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. When a patrol car arrived, the officers found a man, sprawled dead on the footpath outside 2462 East 2nd Street. The body was dressed in construction work clothes and nearby was a paper lunch bag. The man had been shot in the right shoulder and head, at close range.
Investigators discovered in a nearby black panel van, a discarded 12 gauge shotgun. The vehicle had been reported stolen some days previous. The autopsy disclosed that the wounds had been caused by a mixture of slugs and pellets, which the investigating detectives referred to in their reports as a ‘Sicilian Load.’
Among the dead man’s effects was discovered a bricklayer’s union card, although one of the detectives noted: ‘his hands were smooth. This man was no bricklayer.’
East 2nd Street is one way, heading south to north. The corpse was identified as Gaspare Magaddino who had lived about 500 feet away south, down the street at number 2538, with his wife, Marie, aged 42. They had married the previous September. It was Magaddino’s second marriage.
Investigations determined that Magaddino would leave home during the working week, each day at approximately 5:AM and return at 5:PM. It was assumed by the detectives on the case that he was working ‘undercover’ as a laborer to avoid not only police attention, but perhaps the revenge of underworld assassins.
If he was walking somewhere, to either collect his car, or to meet someone who was presumably giving him a lift, why would he have been shot on the right side, which would have been away from the van parked by the curb? Unless the shooter had called him by name after he had passed the vehicle and he had turned to face the direction of the voice and then been shot while facing his killer. It was also summarized by the police that the killer might have simply exited the van, stepped up behind the victim as he walked up the street, and blasted him at close range.
Investigators discovered that the dead man was wanted by the police for questioning in connection with the mass shooting in Ridgewood back in 1967 and also in connection with the killing on Long Island of Albert Galente, a 47 year old cement worker, suspected of being involved with gambling activities. It was believed by the authorities that Magaddino had fled New York shortly after this killing and returned to Sicily. He was also wanted by the U.S. Naturalization and Immigration Services for having entered the United States illegally, and also by Interpol in connection with several bombings in Sicily between 1965 and 1967.
16 hours later and 22 miles to the north, in Astoria, Queens, police found the dead body of Anthony Labello, an unemployed former convict who lived on Mulberry Street, in Lower Manhattan. His body was slumped in a stolen Buick parked in a residential street. He had been shot twice in the head.
Police posited there was a link between the two dead men. The gun that was used to kill Magaddino had been purchased at a sporting gun shop in Ellenville, in the Catskills. It was thought Labello was with the man who bought the gun and the investigators were sure they knew who had bought the weapon, but made a statement to the effect that they officially, had no suspects in either of the two killings.
Interestingly, for a man with such a colorful history, Gaspare Magaddino had no known criminal convictions, in America at least.
No one was arrested for either killing.
Who killed Magaddino and why, remains a mystery 42 years after his death. He lived in a space were people thought in spirals but acted in straight lines. (2)
It may have been over a drug deal gone bad. Or an act of revenge by relatives of men he had allegedly killed. It could even have been vendetta, imported all the way from Sicily.
If it was a Mafia killing it would almost certainly have been pre-meditated and inspired by strategic logic. The men of cosa nostra rarely, if ever, display the bloody and uncontrolled instinct of a marginal subculture. (3)
They are polymorphous, but all share a common trait: sociopathy. They never confuse themselves or their needs with others; they have no feelings related to the welfare of anyone but themselves.
The footprint of Gaspare Magaddino is found not only in America, but all over the Mafia landscape of Sicily, and yet there is little known of him. An enigma; a truly inscrutable and mysterious figure, one of many such men who filled the ranks of an equally enigmatic criminal fraternity that has been referred to as The Mafia for over a hundred years.
Like his cousins, he had been born in Castellammare del Golfo, coming into the world on August 1st 1908. One of the prettiest harbors in Sicily, it is a small town which has exported per capita, an inordinate number of Mafiosi to North America even though it’s historic role in the Mafia of Sicily was and is, according to some observers, relatively modest.
However, Mafia pentito (informant) Antonio Giuffre claimed in 2002 that the town was one of the strongest areas, as a meeting place for various Mafia factions and one that received less attention from the police, even though for many years along with Cinisi, Salemi, Naples, Rome and Milan it had been a center of smuggling, first tobacco, and then heroin.
It is part of the Trapani province, one of the oldest bastions of the honored society in Western Sicily and considered the zoccolo duro (the solid pedestal) and most powerful group in Sicily after Palermo.
In western Sicily, the Mafia, an immemorial feature of life, operated like a modern version of New York’s Tammany Hall, delivering the votes to the Christian Democratic Party politicians, even through the seismic shifts in Italian politics, controlling patronage and distributing favors to the voters in return. As a conservative force second only to the Catholic Church, it guaranteed the presentation of a society in which everyone remained in the place assigned to them from the day they were born.
If the seaside port of Castellammare was low-key, the district around it reeked of Mafia, spread across the seventeen cosche active in the district, particularly Alcamo, Trapani City, Mazzara del Vallo, Castelvetrano and Salemi.
It produced vulturian chieftains such as Vincenzo Rimi, the powerful boss of Alcamo, who as early as 1930 was described in official reports as ‘a murderer and robber by innate disposition, constituting a prominent threat to public safety‘, and Francesco Messina Denaro who ran Castelvetrano with an iron hand. He had started out as an estate guard for the obscenely rich D’Ali family who had been one of the founders of The Bank of Sicily; Diego Plaia, the capocosche of Castellammare and Salvatore Zizzo, the cruel, murderous semi-literate farmer who ruled Salemi as though it was his fiefdom. He was tried and acquitted seven times on the count of murder. One of his close associates, boss of the Mazar del Vallo family, Mariano Licari, was acquitted on the same kind of charges no less than twenty times!
Plaia’s daughter married Giuseppe, born in 1935, the son of Gaspare Magaddino, one of many Mafia inter-family arrangements. Giuseppe became in due course, maybe a soldier in the Mafia family of Alcamo rather than the one based in Castellammare. While this might seem unusual, he may have opted for this other Mafia family in order to avoid suspicion of nepotism. (4)
Vincenzo Rimi’s son, Filippo married Giovanna Vitale whose sister was the wife of Gaetano Badalamenti, the boss of Cinisi, on the other side of the island, and the man who became infamous as one of the major movers in an international narcotic conspiracy that came to be known as The Pizza Connection.
Antonina Rimi, another daughter of the Mafia don, married Antonino Buccellato, a member of a Mafia clan in Castellammare that roots stretched back over one hundred years into the honored society, and Leonardo, son of Filippo, married Giusy Di Trapani, the daughter of Francesco Ciccio Di Trapani a major figure in the crime family of Badalamenti, who one day, would become the boss himself, and somewhere in between, murder his son-in-law in October 1984. The funeral of Leonardo was attended almost entirely by women in black, over a hundred, and it was women who carried the coffin to the graveside. It was seen as a sure signal that the Rimi family was on the losing side in whatever war was being waged.
Mind numbing in its genealogical complexities, like the Sicilian aristocracy before them, the Mafia has often gone in for dynastic matrimonial alliances to cement business relationships and secure blood ties for future generations.
Across the Trapani Province it seems always to be the same names appearing in the ruling Mafia dynasties: Bonanno, Magaddino, Milazzo, Buccellato, Messina Denaro, Virga, Bastone, Mangiaracina, Agate. Grandparents, children, brothers, nephews and cousins all of them promulgating their solipsistic philosophy to self and their criminal creed.
Gaspare Magaddino pops up in police and carabinieri reports, but it’s hard to pin him down with any certainty. Some sources, including official Italian state documents, indicate that he became the head of the Castellammare Mafia clan at some time, but cannot offer any dates other than he was in the chair in 1957. By the 1960s, the boss there was Don Plaia.
Gaspare may have travelled back and forth into North America across the years, and at some time linked into or became part of the Buffalo, New York, Mafia headed by his cousin, Stefano, the longest ruling mob boss in American history. The Italian government had Gaspare listed as leaving the country on October 8th 1964, which may have been his final known departure from the island. He had been wanted by the Italian police in connection with bombings and acts of extortion, and this may have been the reason he left Sicily. There are also indications that he was wanted by law enforcement in connection with heroin trafficking.
He was also one of the group who attended a mob conclave in Palermo in 1957, a meeting of like minds and disparate attitudes, from both America and Sicily, coming together to set in motion a discussion on a number of items the organizer (probably Francesco Coppola or Frank Garofalo, or both) had compiled. There may even have been another man involved in the preparation work for the meeting, one little known to crime historians: a fifty-year old member of the Trapani landed gentry called Baron Giuseppe Di Stefano, who had been exiled to Palermo to live out his life in exile at the best hotel in town**
Gaspare came with his son Giuseppe, and somewhere in the region of another twenty-five or more men of the Mafia, including Joe Bonanno and one of the more mysterious men of the honored society, Sicilian born, but New York resident, Santo Sorge.
Although a low-key player in the two Mafia’s, Sorge was well enough known to the authorities for the FBI to have nominated him as one of the possible successors to replace Gaspare DiGregorio during the Bonanno conflict.5
And the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claimed Sorge was Number 5 in the Top 10 bosses of the underworld.
His cousin, Giuseppe Genco Russo, boss of Mussomeli, a small town in the province of Caltanissetta, was considered at this time to be a major force in the island’s criminal fraternity.
A vulgar, semi-illiterate thug, he was, nevertheless a wealthy landowner and a close confident of all the important politicians and decision makers in Sicily-the bishops, bankers and civil servants-who effectively ran the legal and social side of life across the nine provinces of the island. He was considered by everyone the undisputed titular head of the Sicilian Mafia 6, managing significant leverage through his position as a member of the Christian Democratic Party whose hold over power in Rome was heavily influenced by its Mafia controlled votes from Sicily. His political connection were strong enough for him to be awarded the title Knight of the Crown of Italy in 1946.
The venue for the meeting appeared to be one of Palermo’s premier hospitably venues, the spot to be seen in the fin de siècle splendor of pre-war Palermo: Il Grand Hotel et Des Palmes (right) on the via Roma, at number 398, within walking distance of Quattro Canti, the physical and tellurian center of the city. Built as a private residence in 1856, as a hotel, it had played host to men of the Mafia for many years.
Although there had never been any formal documentation by local law enforcement agencies on this affair at the time, it was subsequently covered by almost every serious writer on the subject of the Mafia from Lupo and Sterling, to Servadio and Caruso, Dickie and Peter Robb and the Schneiders, to name, but a few.
The meeting first came to public knowledge in a book called Mafia e politica 1943-1962 written by the famous Italian author, Michele Pantaleone, published in 1962, and the many articles he wrote for Palermo newspaper L‘Ora. America learned of it a year later during the McClellan Hearings in 1963. Details of the meeting and of some of the men who attended was also published in the first government Ant-Mafia Commission report.7
Everyone in Palermo knew what was going on. People were talking about it in bars and coffee shops, and some actually walked by the hotel in the hope of catching a glimpse of the big-timers.
The Palermo police did in fact come to disclose their knowledge of it in due course.
On July 4th, 1958, the Prefecture of Palermo forwarded a report on the meeting to Interpol. A more detailed summary of the events that had taken place that week was sent to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics office at the American Embassy in Rome on October 6th, 1959. It covered the Intel generated by the Palermo Police covering the events that had centered around the mob meetings at the hotel during the period October 10th to 20th, 1957.
One of the reasons law enforcement stumbled onto the meeting was through their tailing of notorious Italian-American gangster, Salvatore Lucania, better known on both sides of the Atlantic as ‘Lucky Luciano.’
Resident at this time in Naples, he was under constant surveillance by the various Italian police departments, who had tracked him leaving the mainland and flying into Palermo International Airport. They followed him into the city, watching him register at the Hotel Sole,8 and the rest is history. It was an interesting choice of venue, as Luciano always stayed at the des Palmes, in Room 224, which was regularly blocked out for him when he visited Palermo.
Luciano was a frequent visitor to Palermo, and always made a point when in Sicily, of meeting up with an old friend, Chico Scimone, who owned a nightclub called La Giara, in Taormina. Chico had played piano at the Copocabana in Manhattan back in the 1930s (when Frank Costello, a close friend of Luciano, had been a major points holder,) and would at times, support an upcoming young crooner who played the Copa from time to time, called Frank Sinatra.
Gigi Petyx, a man with bright red hair, one day to be a famous and prolific photographer of the Sicilian Mafia, employed as a 20 year old junior reporter for L’Ora, was spotted bestrewn with cameras, in the hotel lobby, and bundled away into a closet, as the important guests made their way up to the mezzanine floor where some meetings had been scheduled. Gigi had some of his cameras damaged, but was rewarded handsomely when he was eventually released.
There was it seems, an agenda to discuss at the hotel. These were some of the items, according to Palermo police reports:
To create an atmosphere in Sicily so that fighting among various clans would cease. This particularly referred to the vicious ‘Produce War’ that had been raging in Palermo since January 1955, over the control of the lucrative fruit and vegetable market, which had moved from the Ziza Quarter to the Acquasanta Quarter, resulting in the murder of dozens of men. The conflict was complicated by the many activities connected into the actual retailing-the provision of fertilizers, labour supply, the security of the citrus groves, management of the local and public services within the market-to name a few.
Design a guaranteed working relationship between Sicilian and American Cosa Nostra families. (Cosa Nostra is a term used within the organisation in both Sicily and America. Members rarely, if ever refer to it as ‘Mafia.’)
Establish criteria for the reliability of drug couriers between Sicily and America.
Set up a method of separating the smuggling of narcotics from the smuggling of tobacco and avoid family disputes and fighting over this.
Tobacco smuggling had long been a staple revenue earner for the Mafia in Sicily. In Italy, the state holds a monopoly on cigarette manufacturing, but Italians preferred Marlboros and other American brands. According to the Financial Police, a boat load of 1000 cases would be bought on the mainland for 40 million lire and was worth 120 million when landed in Sicily.9
None at this meeting could have reasonably foreseen the vertiginous profits that heroin would be generating for the Mafia twenty years down the track. They certainly knew that the ’junk’ business was a good earner, but none could have imagined just how good it would turn out to be.
And according to Salvatore Lupo, the renowned Italian historian, the meeting represented a shift in the course of events into a new direction through the necessity of replacing Cuba as a major channeling route for drugs into America, now that Castro had taken control of the country.10
In addition, pentito Tommaso Buscetta, (a mere soldier, but nevertheless a most powerful and respected Sicilian Mafioso,) claimed it was agreed over a long and sumptuous lunch on October 12th in a private dining room at a seafood restaurant called Spano, down near the waterfront on the Piazza Politeama, (long gone, and recently a funeral parlor), the Mafia of Sicily would adapt and set up a controlling board similar to the American Mafia’s Commission, or board of directors, which came to be known as The Cupola. While Buscetta disclosed this information to Judge Giovanni Falcone, he denied any knowledge of meetings taken place in or near the hotel.11
This governing body of the Sicilian Mafia was not simply an imitation of the one used in America. At the end of the 19th Century, there had in fact existed a supervisory board, at work among the cosche of Palermo, and by 1951, the families that made up the region were contacting each other through a series of meetings, which at times, also extended to clans in the provincial cities and towns.12
The Cupola as it was called in Sicily, became an integral part of the Mafia administration across the island, one of the most important instruments in management control, although it took the Italian justice system thirty years to acknowledge it.13
Of all the items on the agenda, the one that must have been generating the most heartburn was the one concerning drugs. Sicily’s biggest market at this time was North America, and its major supplier was this Italian island in the sun.
The men in power were concerned by the introduction in America of the 1956 Narcotic Control Act, a draconian piece of legislation created following deliberation by a Federal Subcommittee chaired by Senator Price Daniels.
It abrogated the traditional limitations on the right of federal agents to search and seize, and recommended that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) created in 1930 with Harry Jacob Anslinger as its Commissioner, be authorized to tap telephones, carry firearms and arrest anyone, any time without the need for a judicial warrant. It also recommended that people arrested on drug charges be held on higher bail, and tried more swiftly by the courts. The subcommittee also suggested that the FBN be enlarged and given bigger appropriations. The act increased maximum penalties to forty years or life, depending on the charges brought, and provided amendments to the immigration laws allowing for the deportation of convicted traffickers, many of whom were Italian residents of America, but had not applied for citizenship.
Drug trafficking had suddenly become a really dangerous venture, and in the years ahead, the FBN’s ruthless and almost fanatical dedication to their job would confirm the worst fears of the men gathered that Autumn in Palermo.
Gaspare Magaddino was observed in meetings on October 16th with Carmine Galante, Joseph Bonanno, Frank Garofalo and John Bonventre, all part of the Bonanno Mafia family of New York.
The New York Times in an article on the meeting, wrongly identified Gaspare Magaddino as “known to the Italian Government as head of the Sicilian Mafia.”14
Following the conference at the hotel, Palermo Court judge, Aldo Vigneri, carried out investigations into some of the men who had been observed attending. On August 1st and 2nd 1965, a nationwide police operation throughout Italy arrested ten men. Luciano, an obvious key figure for law enforcement, was not available. He had died of a heart attack at Naples Airport in January 1962.
The judge applied to have Gaspare Magaddino extradited from America along with four of the U.S. based attendees:
Santo Sorge, Calogero Orlandi, Joe Cerrito and Gaetano Russo on charges similar to those laid against the men arrested: criminal conspiracy; narcotic trafficking and currency rackets. Surprisingly, there was no order made against Joe Bonanno.
Felix Chilanti, a journalist also employed by L’Ora, referred to the des Palmes meeting as a kind of ’Yalta’ of drug trafficking. The man who helped co-write the Mafia biography by Nicolo Gentile, Vita di CapoMafia, also believed that the authorities had kept quiet initially on disclosing the events of that week in Palermo in 1957 because of political pressure.
Almost three years later, on June 28th 1968, all charges against the men indicted were withdrawn and they were cleared by the courts. It had taken almost five years of investigation by Italian authorities, mainly the Guardia di Finanaza, (the Financial Police) following the Palermo meeting, and the collection of 8000 pages of testimony and court documents, before the indictments were laid, and yet even with this degree of preparation, the defendants charged with being the most influential figures in a criminal network operating on an international scale, walked free.
Gaspare Magaddino remained in Sicily until the early 1960s and then, for whatever reason, made the decision to vacate his position as boss of the Castellammare clan and moved to America. Plaia assumed control of the cosca, and the son of Gaspare, began his own steady rise through the mob.
In Sicily, by the early 1990s, Giuseppe Magaddino, was a man of substance. He was a successful businessman, involved in contracting, agricultural activities, export and manufacturing interests. And the son of a Mafioso as well as being one himself, steeped in the tradition.
And like his father, Gaspare, he had been tracked by law enforcement agencies, back and forward across Sicily over the years.
Following the surveillance of him at the 1957 mob meeting in Palermo, he was seen again at the hotel, in discussions with Diego Plaia and Giuseppe Genco Russo, four years later, between April 10th and 13th in 1961.
Judge Vigneri investigated Giuseppe, finding he had successfully laundered his considerable mafia earnings into his legitimate construction revenue stream. From 1960 until 1965 he had moved more than 380 million lire.
In May 1964, the Court of Trapani subjected him to Sorveglianza Speciale: ‘Special Surveillance’, under Article 1L 1423/56, for three years. A legal device to make it hard for Mafiosi to commit crimes, it seems to have had little effect, as in November of the same year, he was arrested and indicted along with Plaia on charges of bombing and violence.
In 1965 Magaddino was again arrested and charged with more bombing and violence. He was also involved in a major investigation in August of this year, along with ten other men on charges of narcotic trafficking, currency violations, tobacco smuggling and more bombing. His father, Gaspare, was also sought in America to face these charges.
Mario Francese, the famous journalist, murdered by the Mafia in 1979, reported widely on the emerging drug trafficking that was drowning Sicily, in an endless river of illegal money, pointing to Giuseppe as one of the active members of an international cartel that included Plaia, Giuseppe Scandariato, Giovani Bonventre, Giuseppe and Serafino Mancuso and the Cataldo brothers.
In January 1987, 400 police officers swept down on Castellammare rounding up dozens of criminal suspects, including builders, architects, schoolteachers, accountants, city councilors and Mafiosi, including Giuseppe Magaddino. As in previous confrontations with the law, he seemed to lead a charmed life and avoided most, if not all, of the obvious consequences.
Giovanni Falcone, the famous judge, killed by the Mafia in 1992, claimed the province of Trapani was a ’back hole’ for investigators, so controlled by cosa nostra, there was rarely any chance of securing convictions against them.
If the law could rarely settle the account, the men of the Mafia had seemingly little problem in doing so among themselves.
Gaspare Magaddino was not the only one in his family to die violently. Almost thirty years after his murder, the grim reaper came calling again.
Residence Guidaloca di Castellammare del Golfo is a holiday resort situated close to the beach, about four kilometers north of the town of Castellammare.
On the evening of March 19th 1998, the man who managed the estate, Giuseppe Magaddino aged 63, was shot three times and died in his private apartment in the complex, by a man wielding a 7.65 semi-automatic pistol.
The killer, according to Magaddino’s wife, stole a wallet containing millions of Lire and a wad of U.S. dollars, along with a chequebook.
The man, thirty-one year old Claudio Adriano Giusto, was tracked by the police when he attempted to cash in one of the cheques in a bank in Alcamo soon after the killing. He went on the run and disappeared from Sicily, sometime after October 6th 1999, moving to South America, where he eventually settled in Venezuela. In his absence he was found guilty of the murder of Magaddino, in December 2001, and sentenced to a prison term of twenty-eight years.
At some stage Giusto, (photo right, who was allegedly a member of the Castelvetrano Mafia cosca, under Matteo Messina Denaro, the son of Francisco, ’Don Ciccio,’ who had died in 1998, and equally fearsome and deadly, with a reported tally of 50 dead victims,) returned to Europe.
He was tracked by Interpol and the Italian police from Italy into France and then finally, to the province of Lleida in Catalonia, north east Spain, and arrested on April 18th, 2011, in the small town of Alcarràs, as he was leaving his apartment at 8:15 in the morning. When the police confronted him, he was found to be travelling on a Venezuelan passport under the name of Roberto de Jesus. He and his wife had been living in Alcarràs for three years where he had been working for a refrigeration company. He was returned to Sicily and committed by the Alcamo judiciary to begin serving the sentence imposed in 2001.
Giusepe Linares, the head of the Trapani Flying Squad, confirmed in a press interview that the Mafia of Trapani is a different beast to that of Palermo. There are in fact, two different countries, with separate Mafia hierarchies.15
It is deeply embedded into the social strata of business, politics and even education. That the Mafia of Sicily were almost from day one in bed with the politicians has never been in doubt. In 1950, Don Genco Russo had as a witness to his son’s wedding, the honorable Rosario Lanza, president of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.16
When Calogero Vizzini, Genco Russo’s predecessor died, 54 politicians attended his funeral.
Trapani province is also much more stable with less of the inter-family conflicts and murders that have plagued the island over the years, and with few pentiti emerging to help law enforcement with their investigations, Benedetto Filipi and Francesco Milazzo being the two of the more important in the last twenty years.17
Ironically, the first Mafia pentiti of the 20th Century, Melichore Allegra, lived his life here, practicing as a medical doctor, and died peacefully in his own bed.
Commenting on the almost intractable hold the Mafia has on the social structure of Sicily, Linares also stated, ‘As long as there are women to give birth, cosa nostra will never die.’
Some Mafia watchers in Sicily believed that the killing of Giuseppe Magaddino was more than just a burglary gone wrong.
In March 1990, Natale and Giuseppe Evola were murdered in the area of Castellammare. Then on October 3rd 1992, Felice Buccellato was gunned down, followed in March 1995 by the killing of Ambrosio Farina. On July 1997, capo Leonardo Cassara was killed in Scopello, a small seaside area near Castellammare. Two months later, Francesco Martino Vario, a man with Mafia ties, who managed a restaurant in Scopello was also killed, and it was believed that these murders indicated that there was a power struggle in place to affirm a new balance within mafia clans in the area. It may have been over the new drug of choice, cocaine or something much deeper.
From the first moment Gaspare and Giuseppe became part of the Mafia they knew their lives might well end in this way. It was the largest debit they would need to manage on the balance sheet of their lives once they opened their account with an organization that all too often cleared its books of problems by copious amounts of red ink.
Father and son murders within the ranks of the Mafia have occurred from time to time in America and Sicily, although they are relatively uncommon. As crime statistics they rank low on the scale of newsworthy events. The level of pain and suffering they cause within their biological families would be more than impossible to quantify. An illimitable and elegiac process of grieving without end.
The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
- Ezekiel 18:19-20
One of the more amazing stories in the history of the Sicilian Mafia is the one surrounding this man.
There are many accounts of how he came to be a permanent guest at the Hotel des Palmes. In essence:
He may have been born and raised on a vast estate near Castlevetrano, in Trapani Province. In his early 40s in 1946, it was alleged he shot and killed the son of a local Mafioso who gave him the option to accept death, ‘blood washes blood’ or go into permanent exile. He choose the latter and ended up living a life of luxurious isolation at the hotel until his death, in April 1998. He occupied suites 203, 204 and 205 and spent his days attending the hotel roof-top garden, listening to music and wining and dining. Giuseppe Caiozzo who spent most of his working life in the hotel, claimed the Baron was involved in the organization of the 1957 meeting. He was also, the most likely candidate for the longest continuous paying guest in the history of the hotel business, worldwide.
Palermo historian, Gateano Basile, believes however, that Di Stefano was not landed gentry, but simply a very rich Mafioso who had fallen foul of cosa nostra politics and chose the hotel as a safe refuge.
He was visited in the hotel on frequent occasions by New York based Calogero Orlando (the same one indicted by Judge Aldo Vigneri). Long a target of the FBN, who believed he imported heroin into the USA in tin goods, barrels of olive oil and giant wheels of cheese, for use in his food wholesaling and retailing business, based on Hudson Street in Manhattan, Orlando, born in Terrasini (between Trapani and Palermo)in 1906, had emigrated to Detroit in 1922 with $400 and big hopes. When he died in Florida in 1980 at the age of 74, it would be almost certain he achieved most of them.
Some of the references used in the preparation of this story:
1 The Last Testament of Bill Bonanno. 2011
2 Old Boys. Charles McCarry. 2004
3 La Violenza programmatic. Giorgio Chinnici and Umberto Santino. 1991
4 Although his name is listed among another sixty-eight on a police report as being close to Rimi, it may be that these names indicate associates of Rimi, rather than simply members of his Mafia clan. Most sources claim Giuseppe was part of the clan of CDG.
5 Manhattan Mafia Guide. Eric Ferrara. 2011
6 Men of Respect. Raimondo Catanzaro. 1988
7 V Legislatura della Repubblica Italiana
Doc XXIII n.2c Commissione Parlamentare D'Inchiesta Sul Fenomeno Della Mafia In Sicilia (legge 20 dicembre 1962, n. 1720)
8 La Repubblica October 11th 2007
9 Relazione Senatore Michele Zuccala. 1970
10 History of the Mafia. Salvatore Lupo. 1993
11 Interrgatorio di Buscetta, Tommaso. Judge Giovanni Falcone in Palermo. July 16th -September 12th 1984.
12 History of the Mafia. Salvatore Lupo. 1993
13 Midnight in Sicily. Peter Robb. 1996
14 Police in Sicily Say U.S. Mafia Attended ’57 Parley.
New York Times, January 2nd 1968.
15 Eminent Gangsters. James Fentress. 2010
16 Chamber of Deputies, legislature VI Doc. XXIII n2
Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the Mafia Phenomenon in Sicily. Rome 1971. P.43
17 Author Martin J. Bull in his book ‘Italian Politics:
Adjustment under Duress,’ claims that since 1992 over 1000 criminals engaged in organized crime have agreed to collaborate.
This is a list compiled from various sources, including Italian Government documents, that indicate possible attendees at the Mafia meeting in Palermo, 1957:
From America. Oriundi (Italians who had moved to the USA):
Vito (don Vitone) Vitale
John Di Bella
From Sicily, Naples and Milan:
John Bonventre (A member of the Bonanno Family who retired to Sicily in 1950.)
Frank Garofalo (Under boss to Joe Bonanno before his return to Sicily in 1956.)
Salvatore ‘cicchiteddu’ Greco
Calcedonio ’Doruccio’ Di Pisa#
Vincenzo and Filippo Rimi
‘Mimi’ La Fatta
Salvatore Lucania aka ‘Charley Luciano’
Salvatore and Angelo La Barbera#
Giuseppe Genco Russo
# Protagonists and victims of the 1st Mafia War, 1962-63. All murdered.
* The infamous Sicilian banker linked into the Vatican, Mafia, Licio Gelli, (financier, influence peddler and one day in 1996, convicted terrorist,) and Charley Luciano. Three weeks after the mob meeting, he was observed at the same hotel on November 2nd attending a meeting of the powerful Gambino-Inzerillo faction of the Sicilian Mafia, and was assumed to be discussing methods of investing their profits from drugs.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to HairyKnuckles and jimmyb at The Real Deal Forum for filling in some blanks.
Copyright © Thom L. Jones 2012