Who was Joe Masseria?
Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria was a Mafia boss in New York City who led one of the five major New York City organized crime families of the Italian-American Mafia, the Genovese crime family, from 1922 till his murder in 1931. Masseria emigrated from Sicily to the US at age 16 to escape a murder indictment in Italy as there was no extradition treaty between the two countries at that time. In the US he became involved with a group of Italian killers and Black Hand extortionists and conducted several petty crimes. He started working as an enforcer of the Morello crime family and gained power in the gang in the mid-1910s following murder of Nick Morello. Gradually he acquired power and waged war with Salvatore D'Aquila, the "Boss of Bosses" that ended with D’Aquila’s murder. Joe "The Boss" Masseria later began a bloody power struggle with Salvatore Maranzano that initiated the Castellammarese War resulting in victory of the Maranzano faction while Masseria was shot dead by order of his own lieutenant Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on January 17, 1886, in Menfi, Sicily, Italy as the only child of a tailor. He spent most of his childhood in the town of Marsala in westernmost part of Sicily where his family relocated when he was a child.
In 1902 Masseria reached the US so as to evade a murder indictment in Italy as during that time there was no extradition treaty between the US and Italy and therefore he had scope of living freely in the US.
Once a small time hoodlum in Italy, Masseria had no difficulty in getting work of an enforcer in the Morello crime family that conducted its activities from Harlem and also parts of Little Italy located in southern Manhattan. He received a suspended sentence in 1909 after being convicted of burglary.
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Rise to Power & Morello Leadership
After the Morello family fell into chaos starting with imprisonment of the boss of bosses Giuseppe "the Clutch Hand" Morello in 1910, Masseria, Gaetano Reina and Salvatore D'Aquila separated from the Morello family and formed their own crime families. Each group strived to gain control of the Morello territory.
Eventually D'Aquila whose crime family conducted activities from East Harlem and the Bronx became rivals of the Morellos. D'Aquila was appointed the new Capo di tutti capi that is "boss of all bosses".
The aggressive and fearless Masseria got into a bloody power struggle with D'Aquila with the two rivals striving to gain control of the Italian-American Mafia in New York. The two waged war against each other by the early 1920s.
In an attempt to end the power struggle D'Aquila assigned Umberto Valenti, a prominent member of his crime family to kill Masseria. While Masseria came out of his 80 2nd Avenue apartment on August 9, 1922, he was chased by two gunmen with gunshots. As Masseria took refuge in an 82 2nd Avenue store, they fired gunshots at the store. Thereafter they fled across 2nd Avenue to a getaway car, a Hudson Cruiser, jumping on its running board, and as the car headed towards Bowery, they continued blazing the guns.
Dozens of labourers who just came out to the streets following a Ladies Garment Industry Union meeting heard gun shots and attempted to stop the speeding car. The armed men however shot randomly at the crowd injuring six and killing two in addition to a horse.
Police found Masseria in his upstairs bedroom shell-shocked. Surviving the point-blank shots, he was still wearing his straw hat that now had two bullet holes in it. Such incident led him to earn repute as "the man who can dodge bullets" from the superstitious Italian gangsters and while his position started rising that of D'Aquila decreased.
Meanwhile Giuseppe "the Clutch Hand" Morello was released from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1920 and was making attempts to retake control of his empire, but fled to Sicily for a spell as D'Aquila gave out his execution orders. Masseria fixed a meeting with Giuseppe Morello and Valenti giving hints that he was ready to let go off his desire to be the boss.
Valenti accompanied by his three supporters reached the restaurant where they found Masseria's three men and not the man himself. After a while Valenti realised that they were framed and that Masseria and Giuseppe Morello had already reached a deal. The two sides started a gun fight. Valenti was shot dead by a gunman rumoured to be Charles "Lucky" Luciano while he was trying to flee after jumping on the board of a passing taxi.
With Masseria’s power on the rise, he became the head of the Morello crime family while the first boss of the family Giuseppe Morello became his top adviser.
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As Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria
The death of Frankie Yale, one of New York's leading gangsters of the 1920s in July 1928 seemingly fuelled the fire in Masseria to consolidate all Mafia families of New York under his control and become the overall boss of Mafia gangs of New York.
Few months later on October 10, 1928, D'Aquila, the "Boss of Bosses", was shot dead on Avenue A in Manhattan, a murder that was orchestrated by Masseria. D'Aquila's family was then taken over by Manfredi Mineo and his enforcer Steve Ferrigno who secretly became allies of Masseria.
Power and terror of “Joe the Boss" heading the biggest Mafia grouping in New York became such that other Sicilian gangsters including Bronx Mafia boss Gaetano "Tom" Reina and Ice racketeer who were still not part of the Masseria empire started paying him homage.
Castellamarese War & Death of Masseria
Masseria in his pursuit of applying pressure to other mafia gangs for monetary tributes started pressurising the Sicilian Mafia family called the Castellamarese. Its leader Nicolo "Cola" Schirò complied with Masseria’s demand of paying $10,000 and stepping down as leader of the mafia crime family. Masseria then tried to make Joe Parrino, his own candidate, as the new boss of that family but Parrino was shot dead in a restaurant.
Salvatore Maranzano became the new boss of the Castellamarese crime family following which a decree ordering death of Maranzano was issued by Masseria. Eventually a fiery power struggle for control of the Italian-American Mafia began between partisans of Masseria and Maranzano in February, 1930 initiating the Castellammarese War.
The Castellammarese War was however affecting business of mafia gangs who were not involved in the conflict. They arranged meeting of representatives in Boston in December 1930 and took away the Boss of bosses title from Masseria giving the position temporarily to Gaspare Messina. They also unsuccessfully attempted to make peace between Masseria and Maranzano.
Masseria was shot and killed at a Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant on Coney Island on April 15, 1931. According to sources Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a top aide in Masseria's criminal organization, orchestrated his murder as part of a secret deal with Maranzano.
Luciano made a lunch invitation to Masseria and two other associates. Accordingly they met at the restaurant on April 15, 1931. According to mob legend the mobsters were playing cards after lunch and at one point when Luciano went to the bathroom, four gunmen namely Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Adonis , Anastasia and Genovese entered the dining room and shot Masseria and his two men to death.
The Castellammarese war also ended on April 15, 1931, resulting in victory of Maranzano's faction following which Maranzano declared himself "boss of all bosses" of the entire Mafia while Luciano took charge of Masseria's gang and became lieutenant of Maranzano.
Masseria was interred at Calvary Cemetery located in Queens, New York.