Salvatore Maranzano was an American mafia boss from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss, who led the Castellammarese War against his rival Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and subsequently dethroned him as the mafia's capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"). However, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who had helped him in the war against Masseria, later turned against him as he thought that Maranzano was even more power-hungry than Masseria had been. Due to his fascination with the Roman Empire of Caesar's time, he was considered a 'Mustache Pete' at heart – one of the old-school mafiosi like Masseria. Within a few months after gaining supreme Mafia power, Maranzano was murdered under the orders of Luciano, who then abolished the position of 'capo di tutti capi' and distributed power among Mafia families to prevent future turf wars. Joseph Bonanno, Maranzano's protégé and later his underboss, took over most of his rackets after his death and established the Bonanno crime family. Maranzano has been a well-known figure in popular culture and has been mentioned several times in crime fictions, movies and television shows, including Mario Puzo's 'The Godfather', 'Mobsters' and 'Boardwalk Empire'.
Childhood & Early Life
Salvatore Maranzano was born on July 31, 1886 in the town of Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, Italy. He had three brothers including one named Nicolo Maranzano.
During his early life, he wanted to become a priest and even went to school to get necessary education to pursue his goals. However, he subsequently became involved in the ongoing feud between the Bonanno family and the Buccelato family, and with his skills, soon gained the status of a Military Mafia commander.
He further established his influence in the mafia by marrying a woman named Elizabetta Minore, who was the daughter of a respected Don in Trapani. Within a short period of time, he earned the respect of his underworld peers with a very commanding personality.
From an early age, he was fascinated with Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, and even after migrating to America, often attempted to educate his subordinates about the old ways. For this reason, he became known to his underworld peers with the nickname, 'Little Caesar'.
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After World War I ended, Salvatore Maranzano followed many other members of the Sicilian Mafia and moved from his home country to the United States, entering Canada first and then reaching New York via Buffalo. The exact date when he came to America has not been confirmed, but according to the autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, his life changed in 1925 when Maranzano entered New York.
Stefano Magaddino, one of the first leaders of the Sicilian community in Williamsburg, which already existed for about three decades, was one of his old associates back in Sicily. He settled in Brooklyn and set up a legitimate business as a real estate broker and used his real estate company as a front for his illegal operations.
His actual interest was in his growing bootlegging business which proved very profitable during the prohibition era. He owned a large alcohol distillery in Dutchess County which eventually became one of the largest alcohol distilleries of the time.
Soon after, he got involved in prostitution and the illegal smuggling of narcotics, and as his money and influence grew, Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria demanded cash funds to suppress the Castellammarese. During this time, he also became a mentor to Joseph Bonanno, who would later become his underboss.
Amidst growing dissatisfaction with the ignorant and dictatorial Masseria among the mafiosi, he was appointed the chief leader of the Castellammarese after the death of prominent members such as Vito Bonventre. Maranzano, concerned with the future of the massive mafia empire he had built, declared war on Joe Masseria in 1930, thus commencing the Castellammarese War.
For a long time, the two groups seized each other's trucks, destroyed breweries, and got into fights and shootings on the streets. Maranzano gained the upper hand by forging alliances with Salvatore Bonanno's son, Giuseppe Bonanno, and Gaetano Gagliano, following which many of Masseria's crew left him or were murdered.
The war finally came to an end after Masseria's lieutenant Charles "Lucky" Luciano secretly made a deal with Maranzano and subsequently betrayed his own boss. On April 15, 1931, Luciano went to a restaurant in Coney Island with Masseria, where he was killed by four armed men after Luciano excused himself to go to the toilet.
Two weeks later, Maranzano, now the most powerful mafia leader in New York, held a banquet at an undisclosed location in Upstate New York and invited several hundred mafiosi. There, he distributed power among the bosses of the crime families who had survived the war, such as Luciano, Tommy Gagliano, Joe Profaci, Vincent Mangano, and himself.
During the banquet cum meeting Salvatore Maranzano had organized, he also created an additional position for himself, becoming the mafia's new capo di tutti capi. This surprised the other leaders of the mafia, especially those who had joined him because he had claimed to end boss rule.
A 'Mustache Pete' at heart, he also attempted to reorganize the mafiosi after Roman Emperor Julius Caesar's military chain of command, which farther distanced him from Luciano, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, and many others. Despite the fact that he had advocated for modern methods to run the organization, his Old World ways and his arrogant treatment of his subordinates betrayed his appearance.
He reportedly told his closest aides that he needed to get rid of some of the most powerful gangsters who posed a threat, including Charles Luciano, Al Capone, Joe Adonis, Frank Costello and Dutch Schultz. However, Luciano, who was already planning to replace him as boss of bosses, came to know about his plans to hire young Irish hitman Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, and was quick enough to strike first.
On September 10, 1931, less than five months after the murder of Masseria, Luciano and his right hand man Meyer Lansky sent a group of assassins dressed as accountants to Maranzano’s office. Upon entering the 9th floor of The Helmsley Building, they disarmed Maranzano's guards and shot and stabbed Maranzano to death.
Personal Life & Legacy
Salvatore Maranzano was married to Elizabetta Minore with whom he reportedly had four children. After his death, he was buried in Saint John's Cemetery, Queens, New York.
He featured in a fictionalized role in the bestselling novel, 'The Godfather', even though the act of holding a meeting to reorganize the American Mafia was credited to the protagonist, Vito Corleone. In the novel, his character is rather based on his real-life adversary Joe Masseria.
The picture that had been claimed to be a mugshot of Salvatore Maranzano was later identified by author David Critchley as the London-based gangster Salvatore Messina. As such, the only available photos of him are the ones taken at the scene of his death.