c. 1886 to April 15, 1931.
"Joe the Boss"
Masseria was the undisputed head of the American Mafia at the end of the 1920s, but his meddling in the affairs of other crime families prompted a large gang war and resulted in his own assassination.
Born in Sicily in 1886 or 1887, Masseria became a Sicilian Mafia enforcer before taking off for the New World in 1903 as a young adult.
Upon his arrival in New York, he appears to have gone to work with Ciro Terranova's outfit in Italian Harlem. He was arrested in 1907 and convicted of burglary and extortion, but the sentence was suspended. Upon the 1910 imprisonment of boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello, a power vaccuum existed in the Mafia of lower Manhattan's Little Sicily. Masseria was one of the racketeers who moved in.
His plans were set back a bit when he was sentenced to four and a half years for a failed burglary attempt at a Bowery pawn shop. By the time he was released, the Sicilian Mafia groups in New York were having a rough time. A war with a Brooklyn Camorra group had cost the Mafia some of its top members. And reigning boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila, based in Brooklyn, had passed a death sentence against the old Morello mob.
Umberto Valente was initially targeted by D'Aquila. But the boss of bosses removed the death sentence when Valente agreed to help wipe out the Morello group.
With Terranova's approval, Masseria became the Morello champion. During the early years of Prohibition, Masseria worked to defeat and incorporate the Brooklyn Camorra. His assassination of rival bootlegger Salvatore Mauro on Manhattan's Chrystie Street in 1920 enhanced his prestige among city Mafiosi.
Masseria and Valenti turned their guns on each other beginning in 1922.
Newspapers charged that Valente had been responsible for more slayings than any other man in the city. Valente or his associates were believed responsible for the murder of Ciro Terranova's brother Vincent in May of 1922. Masseria immediately responded by gunning down Valente lieutenant Silva Tagliagamba at the Manhattan Liquor Exchange. Joe the Boss was charged with the murder, but the case never went to trial.
Masseria narrowly escaped an ambush as he left his home on the Lower East Side on Aug. 9, 1922, and Joe the Boss established a reputation as a man who could dodge bullets. Masseria apparently slipped out of the way of his would-be assassin's close-range shots. After his escape, the Boss announced his retirement and called a peace conference with Valente.
Valente met with Masseria associates at a restaurant on East 12th Street. After the meeting, he was shot down in the street - apparently Masseria was not yet willing to retire. Some sources indicate the killer was a young Charlie Luciano, just emerging as a force within the Masseria organization.
While D'Aquila retained the "capo dei capi" title as far as the outside world was concerned, Joe Masseria became the de facto boss of the Italian-Sicilian underworld in New York beginning in the summer of 1922. In 1928, he bumped off D'Aquila and handed the old boss's organization to ally Al Mineo.
By that time, Luciano had risen within the Masseria organization's leadership and was overseeing operations within Manhattan. Frank Yale had been managing affairs across the river in Brooklyn, and, when he was murdered in 1928, Anthony Carfano performed that duty.
Behind the boss's back, Luciano established relationships with various gang leaders inside of and outside of the Mafia society across the United States. He participated in the Seven Group, a bootlegging cooperative, and planned with Frank Costello for the illicit enterprises the underworld might enter into once Prohibition ended. Luciano maintained contact with Jewish mobsters and childhood companions Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Siegel and established a relationship with Dutch Shultz.
Masseria had grown drunk with power by 1929 and began meddling in the internal affairs of Mafia groups around the country. He sensed that the Mafiosi transplanted from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, were combining against him and against his ally Al Capone in Chicago.
To suppress the rebellion and weaken the anti-Capone Aiello Family, Masseria encouraged the assassination of Detroit Mafia leader Gaspare Milazzo, the senior Castellammarese leader in the country. Observing that Bronx mob leader Gaetano Reina of the Bronx was quietly siding with a rebellious Castellammarese clan in Brooklyn, Masseria had Reina killed as well. The boss installed his own allies as bosses of the Detroit and Bronx families. He then attempted to do the same with the troublesome Brooklyn group.
He forced a cash tribute payment from the gang's leader Cola Schiro. Schiro then disappeared. Masseria endorsed his own friend Joe Parrino for leadership of the group, but the organization followed famed Castellammarese Mafia warrior Salvatore Maranzano instead.
In 1930, the leaders appointed by Masseria were gradually overthrown by their underlings, and a solid Castellammarese alliance of Detroit, Brooklyn, Bronx and Buffalo opposed Joe the Boss. Masseria's meddling cost him a great deal of his earlier support - even Ciro Terranova began conspiring against him.
As a last ditch attempt to preserve order, Masseria named old Morello mob boss Giuseppe Morello as boss of bosses. Masseria had hoped to convince the underworld once again that he was ready for retirement. No one bought it this time. Morello was assassinated. Shortly thereafter, the Castellammarese eliminated Al Mineo.
In 1931, Luciano, Terranova and some other key figures in the Masseria organization went over to the other side. They set up Masseria for assassination on April 15, 1931, at Coney Island's Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant.
A grateful Maranzano handed the Masseria Family to Luciano. But friction between the two leaders grew until Luciano turned on Maranzano as well and became the supreme leader in the American underworld.
© 2008 T.Hunt
The American "Mafia"