American Mafia History Website

The American Mafia history website logo

Articles - Table of Contents

Very often new historical data becomes available and causes our old assumptions to be revised or abandoned. Over time, many underworld legends appearing on these pages have given way to more defensible statements. Additional revisions are sure to be made in the months and years ahead. Articles presented here are the product of knowledge that was available to their authors at the time of their writing (article completion dates are noted below). Some of the articles - particularly older ones - may not reflect even the original author's current views on the subject matter.

Jump to Menu

Murdered at McD's: Bonanno associate Zottola

By Thomas Hunt, 2018

Sylvester "Sally Daz" Zottola, 71, was shot and killed Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, while waiting at a McDonald's drive-thru lane in the Bronx. Zottola, a reputed associate of the Bonanno Crime Family and once a trusted friend of former Bonanno boss Vincent J. "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, apparently had been targeted by rivals for the past year. Zottola, alone in his maroon Acura SUV, visited the McDonald's restaurant drive-thru, 1625 Webster Avenue near Belmont Street in the Claremont section of the Bronx, at about 4:45 p.m. and placed an order for a medium coffee...

DiFronzo: Fought the law, and the law lost

By Thomas Hunt, 2018

John DiFronzo, reputed boss of the Chicago Outfit, died Monday, May 28, 2018, at his home in River Grove. He was eighty-nine years old. DiFronzo was often referred to in the press as "No Nose," due to a 1949 tangle with police that cost him a portion of his nose. Testimony at the Family Secrets trial named DiFronzo as one of the mobsters who beat to death Anthony and Michael Spilotro in 1986, but DiFronzo was never charged with the murders. Asked about DiFronzo's greatest achievement, criminal defense attorney Joe Lopez replied, "Beating the G."

When 'Lucky Luciano' was locked up

By Thomas Hunt, 2018

"Less than five years after achieving gangland eminence, Lucania was taken into custody. He spent most of the next decade - from the prime years of his life into middle age - behind prison bars. Lucky, who had embraced a luxurious and carefree lifestyle that included the grandest accommodations, the flashiest entertainment, the finest clothing and the most delectable cuisine, must have found most of his time in prison unbearably offensive, ordinary and dull. Yet, even during a lengthy prison stay, Lucania found a way to make himself important."

Owner's killing is start of 'Murder Stable' legend
Pasquarella Spinelli

By Thomas Hunt, 2018

"In the late afternoon of March 20, 1912, Mrs. Pasquarella Mussone Spinelli was fatally shot in an East Harlem structure the New York press later dubbed 'the Murder Stable.' After Mrs. Spinelli's death, the lives of a number of stable-linked underworld figures also ended violently, and numerous legends about the building were born. Located at 334 East 108th and pushing southward through the block to emerge on East 107th Street, the stable was part of a row of slapped-together, dark and dangerous-looking wooden shacks that ran from the middle of the block to the corner of First Avenue...."

Two Gambino informants had very different fates
Carmine Lombardozzi

By Edmond Valin, 2018

"On July 11, 1963, two men wearing makeup disguises entered the Flowers By Charm flower store in Brooklyn, New York, and fired five bullets at the owner before fleeing. Lying dead on the floor was forty-year-old Gambino Crime Family member Alfredo Santantonio. The murder had the hallmarks of a professional killing... Informant Gregory Scarpa told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that 'it was common talk in Brooklyn that [Santantonio] was killed because he was cooperating with the Government...'"

Willie the Tile Maker passed Mafia secrets to Feds
William Dara

By Edmond Valin, 2018

"In the late 1960s, a Florida-based member of the Bonanno Crime Family began to cooperate with the FBI. He shed light on gangland murders, spilled secrets about LCN members and gave the FBI a front row seat to the turmoil within the Bonanno organization. His cooperation was never suspected by his crime family, and he died a member in good standing. Now, clues found in declassified FBI documents may help to reveal his identity for the first time. The first indication that a Bonanno Crime Family member in the Miami-area had begun to cooperate surfaced in an FBI report ...."

Jack Ruby's 1959 visit to Havana
Jack Ruby

By Thomas Hunt, 2009

"Jack Ruby of Dallas appears to have played a role in the departure of American racketeers and the removal of their money from Cuba in 1959. How big a role he played remains uncertain. Some believe he secured the release of Mafia boss Santo Trafficante by the Fidel Castro government and later may have been part of a Castro-Mafia plot against U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Following the Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy assassination, U.S. federal agencies and a number of private citizens began investigating connections between American organized crime and Cubans..."

CIA joins with Mafia in effort to kill Castro
Castro targeted

By Thomas Hunt, 2017

"Some Kennedy assassination-related documents released through the National Archives last week (October 26, 2017) and earlier this year (July 24, 2017) discussed CIA cooperation with American organized criminals in an effort to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The documents revealed little about CIA-underworld interaction that was not already known to historians through other sources, but the release provides an occasion to reflect upon that interaction and its aftermath. They key features of the government-underworld conspiracy appear to be ...."

Two inducted members provided info on Philly Mob
Harry Riccobene

By Edmond Valin, 2017

"By the early 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to persuade two members of the Philadelphia Crime Family to reveal confidential information about La Cosa Nostra. The informants were the sons of prominent LCN members who could trace their crime family connections to the 1920s. They provided federal agents with an inside look at the history, structure and membership of the Philadelphia Crime Family back to its earliest days. Sometime in 1963, the FBI convinced a longtime member of the Philadelphia Crime Family to break his code of silence...."

Post-Giancana Outfit was fertile soil for FBI informants
Louis Fratto

By Edmond Valin, 2017

"Declassified FBI documents show that more than ten Chicago Outfit members began to "talk" soon after Sam Giancana was deposed as boss and fled Chicago. The turnaround, up from virtually zero high-value informants in 1965, was due primarily to a more aggressive approach by law enforcement and the ongoing turmoil within the Outfit after a succession of bosses were quickly jailed. Trying to umask any of these secret informers is hampered by the FBI's use of informant symbol codes that hide true identities and make it hard to tell one informant from another..."

Death of Benny Eggs severs tie to family's past
Venero Mangano

By Thomas Hunt, 2017

"Venero Frank 'Benny Eggs' Mangano, one of the Genovese Crime Family's oldest and strongest remaining links to its traditional Lower West Side foundation, died of natural causes in Manhattan's Greenwich Village on August 18, 2017. He was ninety-five years old. The Greenwich Village area was a stronghold of the organization that became known as the Genovese Family since a young Vito Genovese joined forces with Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria in the Prohibition Era. Venero Mangano's parents, newcomers to the United States, settled in the area in the early 1910s..."

Roemer's men in the Outfit: 'Sporting Goods' and 'Romano'
William Roemer

By Edmond Valin, 2017

"According to Roemer, the three 'best' informants... were Richard Cain, a former Outfit member gunned down in 1973, and two others who, to this day, are known only by their codenames, 'Sporting Goods' and 'Romano.' But who were 'Sporting Goods' and 'Romano'? A careful reading of Roemer’s books, especially his memoir and his biography of Outfit boss Tony Accardo, provides compelling clues. When combined with declassified FBI reports, it appears the identities of these underworld informants can finally be revealed..."

Just How Organized Was Calabrian Crime?
Rocco Racco

By Thomas Hunt, 2015

"There are a number of unanswered questions related to the American Mafia's incorporation of Calabrian gangsters - those who trace their origins to the southernmost portion of the Italian mainland. We may ask: How did this combination occur? Precisely when did it occur? Was it the result of a decision of the American Mafia as a whole or did it result from decisions of individual crime families? Were Calabrian gangsters welcomed on an individual basis or was a Calabrian crime network consumed by the Mafia en masse? This last question touches on a subject that I have found particularly interesting..."

Underworld boss, FBI informant Bompensiero
Frank Bompensiero

By Thomas Hunt, 2017

"Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero was a longtime high-ranking southern California Mafioso assassinated in 1977 for providing information to the FBI. Born in Milwaukee, WI, on Sept. 29, 1905, Bompensiero was an active part of the southern California underworld in the Prohibition Era. He settled in San Diego with his wife Thelma Sanfilippo (Thelma had also been born in Milwaukee). Early in 1931, he was convicted of violating the National Prohibition Act and sentenced to eighteen months in federal prison..."

Sinistro: The Underworld Career of Giuseppe Morello
Giuseppe Morello

By Thomas Hunt, 2015

Giuseppe Morello was the first known boss of bosses of the American Mafia. While he was a unifying force initially, he later became a central figure in underworld conflicts and was an early casualty of the Castellammarese War. Morello was born on May 2, 1867, to Calogero and Angela Piazza Morello in Corleone, Sicily. A sister, Maria, was born several years later. Calogero Morello died in the early 1870s, and Angela subsequently married Bernardo Terranova. The couple had three sons, Vincent, Ciro and Nicholas "Coco," and three daughters, Lucia, Salvatrice "Dora," and Rosalia ...

The Barrel Mystery (1919)
William Flynn

By W.J.Flynn, 1919

"The Barrel Mystery" book by William J. Flynn is presented here as a window into the operations of the Turn-of-the-20th-Century Morello Gang. Giuseppe Morello, boss of bosses of the U.S. Mafia, oversaw extensive counterfeiting operations, "Black Hand" extortion and other illegal rackets. His gang was responsible for the brutal 1903 Barrel Murder, from which the book gets its name. Flynn guided Secret Service investigations that resulted in the successful prosecution of Morello and members of his organization for counterfeiting. ...

The Capone of New Jersey: Abner Zwillman
Abner Zwillman

By Thomas Hunt, 2014

One of the more powerful and influential New Jersey underworld figures of the Prohibition Era and beyond, Abner "Longie" Zwillman became known as the "Al Capone" of his state. A political powerhouse in the Newark area, Zwillman amassed a fortune through rum-running, gambling and coin-operated machines. He was regarded as generous with friends and underworld associates. But his downfall was his stinginess with Uncle Sam...

Gangland Profile: Frank Bonomo
Frank Bonomo

By J.Dugard, 2013

Frank Bonomo was a long-time member of the Bonanno Crime Family, who briefly may have served as a capodecina (group leader) during the late 1970s. Equally adept at avoiding the attention of law enforcement and the wrath of rivals, he survived the New York gangland "Banana War" and lived to the age of 86.

What Do We Know About Frankie Yale?
Frank Yale

By Thomas Hunt, 2013

Frankie Yale was a Brooklyn gangster and businessman with ties to Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Al Capone. His 1928 assassination coincided with dramatic changes in the Brooklyn underworld and the Mafia of the United States. Yale apparently was born Jan. 22, 1893, in Longobucco, a town in the southern mainland Italian region of Calabria. The original spelling of his surname was probably "Ioele"...

Autobiography: 'The Real Thing'
Joe Valachi

By Joe Valachi, 1964

Portions of the famous Mob informant's life story in his own words. Valachi recalls his early career as a burglar, his participation in the Castellammarese War, his induction into the American Mafia and more. Valachi's recollections, originally written at the urging of the United States government, formed the basis of the Peter Maas book, The Valachi Papers, but differ significantly from the Maas account.

Bay-Area informants proved crucial for FBI
Joseph Cerrito

By Edmond Valin, 2018

As the FBI entered the fight against organized crime on a national level, it benefited from membership data and organizational history obtained through confidential informants from a small Mafia family in northern California. For a brief period in the 1960s, there may have been more member-informants active in San Jose than any other LCN crime family. Their cooperation left the FBI better informed about the Bay Area underworld than its local boss Joseph Cerrito.

'Banana War' Informant
Bill Bonanno

By Edmond Valin, 2017

During the Banana War of the 1960s, law enforcement benefited from data provided by an informer within the Bonanno Crime Family. Researcher Edmond Valin argues that the informer could only have been Joseph Bonanno's son, Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno.

Stefan Cicale Testimony - U.S. v Joseph Young
Stefan Cicale

Edited By J.Dugard, 2010

A gruesome murder in a reportedly haunted, old, Staten Island mansion provides a window into the operation of the Bonanno Crime Family of New York. Turncoat witness Cicale testifies in the October 2008 case United States v. Joseph Young.

Super Bowl Shakedown

By Clarence Walker, 2010

Around the globe, billions of dollars will be gambled on this single game, much of it will be wagered online. Last year, the Internet gambling industry generated in an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion, according to Capital HQ gaming analyst Michael Tew. About half of those revenues came from Americans.

Gangsters in Southwest Michigan
Buster Domingo

By David Critchley, 2008

Historians have neglected the role played by Berrien County, Michigan, in the history of Chicago and New York organized crime. The Berrien cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph were linked to three significant incidents in American organized crime history.

Revenge Killing in Miami: George Byrum
Clockwise from bottom: DeMeo, Castellano, Gaggi

By J. Dugard, 2007

Elizabeth Bethel, a chambermaid at Miami's Ocean Shore Motel, unlocked the door to Room 23 at about noon on July 14, 1976. After setting a fresh batch of towels down on a chair, she began making one of the room's two beds. It was the only piece of furniture noticeably disturbed.

The Man in the Shadows: Sam Pollaccia
Pollaccia and Yale

By T. Hunt and L. Cafiero, 2008

Some underworld legends, often repeated in mob history books and long cherished by Hollywood, will have to be revised or discarded due to continuing discoveries related to a shadowy Mafia figure named Saverio "Sam" Pollaccia.

New Orleans Mafia Feud, 1868-72
Jackson Square heart of the French Quarter

By T. Hunt and M. Sheldon, 2008

On Wednesday evening, Oct. 28, 1868, the Innocenti political brigade suspended its violent Presidential election season rampages through Republican neighborhoods and headed indoors. Members held a large rally at the Orleans Ballroom on Bourbon and Orleans Streets.

Badges in Little Italy: New York's Italian Squad
Joseph Petrosino

By Thomas Hunt, 2007

After completing an evening meal of fish and pasta at the Cafe Oreto on March 12, 1909, Joseph Petrosino walked into the Piazza Marina, a wooded, public square just to the south of the busy docks of Palermo, Sicily. Petrosino, a New York police lieutenant, leader and founder of the Italian Squad, was in Italy to gather evidence against Italian fugitives living in New York.

The Good Killers: 1921's Glimpse of the Mafia
Wounded Magaddino

By T. Hunt and M.A. Tona, 2007

"Diu miu!" The shout drew Michael Fiaschetti's attention to the figure silhouetted in the dim gray light passing through the hotel window. Fiaschetti was on self-imposed guard duty, ostensibly protecting barber Bartolo Fontano from gangsters who wished him dead.

Gambino Family Chronicles, 1980-2002

Feb. 2006 testimony of Michael DiLeonardo

Paul Castellano had sent some emissaries to talk to me about it. My brother Robert was with the Colombo family, and being he was with that family, we have no say and no influence on their politics or anything that they do. So this is a way to tell me this is Cosa Nostra. This is the way the rules are. Your brother was there. They killed him and that's it. There's no questions to be asked.

Wrongly Executed? The Case of Charles Sberna
Journalist Walter Winchell

By Thomas Hunt, 2006-07

Patrolman John H. A. Wilson, an 11-year member of the New York Police Department, was on strike-duty in front of the E. J. Barry drug warehouse at 54 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. Employees of the warehouse had walked off the job, and Wilson was sent to ensure picketers behaved themselves.

White-Collar Mafioso: Tommy Lucchese
Tommy Lucchese

By Thomas Hunt, 2006

Despite running one of New York's smaller underworld units, Gaetano "Tommy" Lucchese was one of the more successful American Mafia bosses of the post-Prohibition era. Abundant evidence of his business acumen suggests he was among the few mob chiefs who could have succeeded in life without underworld ties.

King of the Brooklyn Docks: Albert Anastasia
Albert Anastasia

By Thomas Hunt, 2005

Few gangsters have cast a greater shadow on American society than Albert Anastasia of Brooklyn. For much of three decades, the man who was called "The Mad Hatter" and "The Lord High Executioner" helped to shape the organized underworld in the United States

Chicago's Man in Vegas: Anthony Spilotro
Anthony Spilotro

By Thomas Hunt, 2006

Anthony Spilotro wasn't much to look at. His build certainly wasn't threatening. He stood just five feet, six inches tall and weighed in the neighborhood of 160. His small stature led underworld colleagues to call him "Tony the Ant" and "The Little Guy."

The Disappearance of Teamster Boss Jimmy Hoffa
Jimmy Hoffa

By Thomas Hunt, 2005-06

The disappearance of former Teamster President James Riddle Hoffa in 1975 sparked a public debate that continues to this day. Despite claims to the contrary, no one knows for sure what became of Hoffa or who was responsible.

Remembering "Boo Boo": Max Hoff
Max Hoff

By Parry Desmond, 2003

Max "Boo Boo" Hoff was born in 1893 in South Philadelphia, a son of poor Russian-Jewish, immigrants. After quitting school, Boo Boo worked for several years as a cigar store clerk. His salary allegedly was raised from $12 a week to $15 after the proprietor noticed how Boo Boo's amiable personality appealed to customers.

Jack Ruby's 1959 visit to Havana
Jack Ruby

By Thomas Hunt, 2009

"Some Kennedy assassination-related documents released through the National Archives last week (October 26, 2017) and earlier this year (July 24, 2017) discussed CIA cooperation with American organized criminals in an effort to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The documents revealed little about CIA-underworld interaction that was not already known to historians through other sources, but the release provides an occasion to reflect upon that interaction and its aftermath. They key features of the government-underworld conspiracy appear to be ...."

Counterfeit Capone? A Puzzle
Al Capone

By Thomas Hunt, 2010

"Al Capone's ten-month imprisonment in Philadelphia gave rise to a number of conspiracy theories. The most complex theory was advanced by Real Detective magazine in 1931. That periodical charged that the real Al Capone was dead and the man who had served time for carrying a deadly weapon in Philadelphia was an imposter. Real Detective charged that, at the time of his imprisonment, Capone's eye color changed from brown to blue, his ears grew rounder, and both his famous facial scar and his fingerprints changed noticeably. The magazine asserted that the real Capone had been murdered on orders from Johnny Torrio, former Chicago gang boss..."

Retired big shot provided glimpse into Pittsburgh Mafia

By Edmond Valin, 2018

Samuel Mannarino was a prominent La Cosa Nostra figure in Western Pennsylvania for decades until his death in 1967. He met with FBI agents throughout the mid-1960s after being forced into retirement from the rackets. He engaged in conversation with the agents mostly out of boredom and a slight sense of disappointment over the abrupt end to his criminal life. His revelations to the agents never went very far, but he did shed light on his criminal past and the history of the Pittsburgh Crime Family.

Former San Francisco boss supplied info to federal agents
Anthony Lima

By Edmond Valin, 2018

In 1965, Anthony Lima, former boss of the San Francisco Crime Family, began to share confidential information with federal law enforcement. The veteran LCN member provided an insider's view of organized crime from the highest levels. Lima told federal agents about his induction ceremony, provided details about the history of the Pittsburgh Crime Family, and identified LCN members, many for the first time, in Pittsburgh and the San Francisco Bay Area. He kept the FBI up-to-date on the activities of LCN members and helped shape the Bureau's organized crime investigations across the country.

Memoirs of a Murder Man - The Barrel Murder
Arthur Carey

By Arthur Carey, 1930

"Italians who came to this country at the beginning of this century had a penchant for grouping into small colonies. They came in great numbers to New York City and settled in districts which became known as Little Italys. The colonization laid them open to attacks by various criminal organizations from the Old World who brought with them much experience in murder and blackmail. In 1902 and 1903 members of these colonies were terrorized by a series of outrages and murders. Bodies were found in sacks, boxes, and barrels in various sections of the city..."

Vinnie Teresa cooperated much earlier than he let on
Vincent Teresa

By Edmond Valin, 2018

Vincent "Fat Vinnie" Teresa achieved notoriety in the 1970s after he became a cooperating witness against the mob. The former New England Crime Family mobster testified at more than a dozen mob trials and made a televised appearance before a United States Senate committee investigating organized crime. Teresa's tales of mob life and his distinctive appearance - a large head, massive frame and gravely voice - made him the most infamous mobster in America for a time.

Salvatore Piscopo: The man who betrayed Johnny Roselli

By Edmond Valin, 2018

Salvatore Piscopo was a longtime member of the Los Angeles Crime Family and a close associate of mob legends Johnny Roselli and Jimmy Fratianno. Piscopo ran a large-scale gambling operation for the mob. Although he never rose higher than soldier, Piscopo had a front row seat to organized crime's infiltration of the movie industry and the gang wars that boiled over in Southern California in the 1940s and 1950s.