No conversation about the history of baseball is complete without mentioning the last names Ruth, Mantle and Bonds, just as no conversation about American politics is complete without saying the names Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. The Mafia is no different; it’s got its legends, its hall-of-famers, if you will. I know there are a lot of my readers who love to learn about the history of the Mafia. So, for those of you who love Mafia history, pay attention (and the rest of yous, shut your traps and just read the article). So here’s a history of Mafia names you should know and remember if you think you’re a true Mafioso.
The Colombo family is one of the five families of New York. Before it was called the Colombo family, it was known as the Profaci family. The name changed in 1963 when Joseph Colombo became the capo. Joseph Colombo was unlike any capo before… or since. He didn’t shun the spotlight one bit. When the FBI began scrutinizing his activities, Colombo responded by calling it harassment against Italian-Americans. He even went so far as to organize the Italian-American Civil Rights League. His group began doing demonstrations such as picketing outside of the New York FBI building. He attracted the likes of government officials, as well as prominent entertainers like Frank Sinatra, to help his cause, and he received a lot of national attention. It was at one such Italian-American rally that Joe Colombo approached the podium and was shot three times in the head by a man named Jerome Johnson. A second gunman appeared and shot Johnson and disappeared into the crowd. To this day, nobody knows for sure who was really behind Colombo’s death. Many argue that is was Joey Gallo, a member of the Colombo family and critic of Joe Colombo’s. Others argue Carlo Gambino set it up.
"The Attorney General hates our guts. I think the President is behind it. I want to make the League the greatest organization in the country, the greatest organization in the world, so that people will be proud of us no matter what we do, where we are -- even if we are in prison."
- Joe Colombo
Gambino is the name of one of the five crime families in La Cosa Nostra in New York. Gambino has become synonymous with Mafia life since the 1950s. At times, the Gambino family has been the most powerful of the five families of New York, and there was one man that made that happen: Carlo "Don Carlo" Gambino. To this day, the family still calls itself by the name of its greatest boss. Don Carlo ruled the outfit from 1957 to 1976, and eventually became the boss of bosses. During this time, his outfit was the most profitable it had ever been; he had at his command over 1,000 Soldatis and is said to have had rackets worth $500,000,000 per year. Gambino is most remembered for his ability to keep himself out of the press and out of jail -- he never spent a day behind bars.
“Judges, lawyers and politicians have a license to steal. We don’t need one.”
- Carlo Gambino
No list of famous gangsters would be complete without talking about Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone. He was known as “Scarface.” In his youth in New York, he insulted a sister of a Mafioso named Frank Gallucio. Capone apologized and said it was a misunderstanding, but Gallucio slashed him three times across the face, and that’s how he got his nickname. In 1921, Capone moved to Chicago and joined the Chicago Outfit. The rest is history, as they say. Capone became famous for the way that he completely took over the city of Chicago, including its police officers, judges and city officials. They were all on his payroll, and they all took orders from Capone. He lived in the Lexington Hotel, which the Chicagoans called Capone’s Castle. He didn’t need to shy away from the spotlight because he controlled just about everything in Chicago. Because of his power in Chicago, he caught the eye of the FBI. They called him a public enemy and began looking for ways to take him down. It was in 1931 that they got Capone for income-tax evasion, and Capone’s empire fell once and for all.
“This American system of ours -- call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will -- gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.”
- Al Capone
Charles “Lucky” Luciano is one of the most famous and best-remembered of all gangsters. He is like the Joe DiMaggio of the Mafia. He got his name “Lucky” when he was kidnapped and attacked by three assassins in 1929; they beat him and stabbed him multiple times and left him to die on the beach in New York. He survived the ordeal, which is why they called him “lucky,” but he received the scar and droopy eye that he became famous for. What Luciano did from there is what makes him famous: he plotted to kill his capo, Joe Masseria, with Salvatore Maranzano on the condition that Maranzano make Luciano an equal capo when Masseria was gone. After he took out Masseria, Maranzano went back on his word; he declared himself the capo di tutti capi (the boss of bosses) and demanded payments from Luciano. Luciano tolerated this until he found out that Maranzano was plotting to whack him. When Luciano heard this, he sent his men to Maranzano’s office dressed as FBI agents, so they wouldn’t receive any resistance, and they mowed Maranzano and his closest men down, including the man that was supposed to assassinate Luciano. From this point on, Luciano ruled as the capo of the Genovese family. He is remembered by some to be the father of organized crime.
"I learned too late that you need just as good a brain to make a crooked million as an honest million.”
- Charles “Lucky” Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania)
Thanks to Mr. Mafioso
Best of the Month!
- Chicago Mob Infamous Locations Map
- Profile: Harry Aleman
- Top 10 Most Wanted True-Crime Movies
- One Family's Rise, A Century of Power
- The Ruthless Rise of Mobster Joey "The Clown" Lombardo
- Chicago Crime Commission Honors Outstanding Crime Fighters
- Crazy Joey Gallo's Widow Reflects on being Married to the Mob
- Mafia Links of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
- Flashback: Prison Release of Betty Loren-Maltese Awakens Organized Crime Mystique of Cicero
- Mobster, Tony Spilotro, Fought Killers to Death