King of the Brooklyn Docks
Albert Anastasia (1902-1957)
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Condemned To The Chair
Sing Sing prison's electric chair: Anastasia was fated to die in a different chair
In March of 1921, Albert Anastasio (he apparently was still ending his name with an O at this time), was arrested along with another man. The two were charged with killing an Italian longshoreman. The victim was initially named Joe Turino in the newspapers, but later FBI reports called him George Turello.
Anastasia was convicted of murder in July. He was sentenced to die of electrocution and moved into a "death cell" at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
As his attorneys pursued legal appeals, his friends on the outside sought to help the convicted murderer in other ways. The key witnesses in the state's case began to disappear. Some changed their stories, at least one moved away, and others reportedly met violent ends.
When a retrial was finally granted on some technical grounds, the state found that it had no case. In spring of 1922, Anastasia was discharged for lack of evidence.
He walked out of the Sing Sing "death cell" and back into a free life. The experience made him an instant underworld celebrity and taught him a method for dealing with law enforcement. Witness testimony was a prosecutor's main weapon. Threats and violence against witnesses were an effective countermeasure.
Anastasia's criminal record from 1922 on, is largely a collection of unsuccessful prosecutions. In August of 1922, he was arrested in connection with a July 16 homicide. The charge was dropped for lack of evidence. In April of the following year, police nabbed Anastasia for felonious assault. After the arrest, the witnesses against him suddenly changed their stories, and he was freed.
In the early 1920s, an underworld feud raged in New York City. Many of its battles were fought in the streets of Brooklyn and of Manhattan's Lower East Side. While some of the violence of the period was due to conflicts among bootlegging groups, much of it was a deliberate effort by Brooklyn-based boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila to hold onto his position.
D'Aquila had been voted into the boss of bosses role upon the incarceration of previous supreme underworld chief Giuseppe Morello in 1910. D'Aquila developed an underworld spy network in order to keep tabs on Mafia families across the United States. In some cases, he installed allies into leadership positions in other families to ensure their cooperation.
When Morello won an early release from prison, D'Aquila was more concerned for his status than ever. At a meeting of Mafia leaders in the early 1920s, D'Aquila backed Morello and members of his supportive faction into a corner. Rather than argue with the boss of bosses, Morello and his closest allies left the meeting. After they left, D'Aquila pronounced their exit a terrible offense and declared the group in open rebellion.
Morello and allies went into hiding to escape the D'Aquila sentence of death. But Morello loyalists remained in the city and conducted a guerrilla campaign against the D'Aquila faction.
Anastasia appears to have been involved in the feud. A newspaper report from April 1923 noted that an Albert Anastasio of Brooklyn was shot several times while driving on Sackett Street. The account noted that the same man had been taken into custody a month earlier in connection with the murder of Antonio Busardo of Bensonhurst. He was released for lack of evidence.
Busardo had been connected with another murder, and police assembled evidence of a vendetta feud that accounted for at least five deaths.
The 1923 Sackett Street incident occurs nowhere in published accounts of Anastasia's life and is noticeably missing from FBI files on the gangster. It is possible, though unlikely, that some other "Albert Anastasio" was involved.
Anastasia would not be around to continue the feud. In June of 1923, he was arrested for carrying a revolver. He was convicted and sentenced to two years at Blackwell's Island Penitentiary. By the time he was released, D'Aquila was a boss in title only. The real power in New York City rested with Morello champion Giuseppe Masseria.
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