Vito Genovese Biography

(American Mobster and Head of the Notorious 'Genovese Crime Family')

Birthday: November 21, 1897 (Scorpio)

Born In: Tufino, Italy

Vito Genovese was an Italian-American mobster best known as the leader of the Genovese Crime Family. Born and raised in Italy, Vito moved to New York with his family at the age of 15. He began doing petty crimes in his teen years and eventually, he began working for the Italian-American mafia. He first worked as an enforcer with the mafia during the prohibition era and later made a name for himself as a hitman.  Also involved in the Castellammarese Wars, he was mafia boss Lucky Luciano’s right hand man, who ran the Luciano Crime Family. Following Lucky’s imprisonment, he became gang’s leader. But in 1937, following the investigations of a murder case, Vito feared imprisonment and he fled to Italy, where he sided with Mussolini’s Fascist Party. However, following the Allied invasion of Italy, he switched sides and began working as an interpreter with the U.S. Army. He was later brought to New York for the trial on a murder case, but the charges on him were dropped. However, imprisoned Lucky Luciano had Vito convicted on narcotics charges, which led to his eventual imprisonment. Vito died during imprisonment, in 1969, after suffering a heart attack.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In November

Died At Age: 71


Spouse/Ex-: Anna Vernotico, Donata Ragone (m. ? – 1931)

father: Felice Genovese

mother: Nunziata Genovese

siblings: Carmine Genovese, Michael Genovese

Born Country: Italy

Gangsters American Men

Height: 1.7 m

Died on: February 14, 1969

place of death: Springfield, Missouri, United States

Childhood & Early Life

Vito Genovese was born on November 21, 1897, in Risigliano, Tufino, Italy, to Nunziata and Felice Genovese. He was born as one among four children in the family and had two brothers and one sister growing up. When Vito was 15 years old, the family to Manhattan and settled there, where his father worked as an accountant.

Vito had no interest in academics and he only studied only until 5th grade. In New York, he grew up in an area called Little Italy, where a lot of Italian immigrants were settled. The area was financially backward and had many teenagers running around, doing petty crimes. Vito also indulged in small criminal activities as a teenager, along with his two brothers.

Vito’s association with the organized crime began soon after, as he became an errand boy for the mobsters and began stealing goods from pushcarts. He later began keeping firearms and began extorting money from people who were indulged in illegal lotteries. When he was 19, he was charged with keeping illegal firearms in his place and was jailed for a year.

During the period of prohibition, many smugglers found it to be a golden opportunity to make money. Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano began their own business of bootlegging and began amassing a quick fortune. He thus began working for Joe Masseria and ace bootlegger Arnold Rothstein.

Vito quickly became mob’s favourite as his reputation as a fearless young man became widespread. Joe Masseria, in 1930, ordered Vito to carry out a murder, which the latter committed without hesitation and killed Gaetano Reina. Following Reina’s murder, Vito took over his illegal operations.

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Ascension to Power

The Castellammarese War had been raging on for quite some years before the 1930s approached, but the bloody conquest to take over the Italian-American mafia only came out in the open in the early 1930s. Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria were two centrepieces in the bloody war for supremacy. Vito deduced that the best way to end the conflict was to take out Joe Masseria.

Several members from both the gangs had died over the years in back-and-forth shootouts. The murder happened on April 15, 1931, where Vito was one of the four shooters. Thus, the murder of Masseria meant the rival boss Maranzano had an upper hand now and he then became known for establishing the Five Families of Italian-American mobsters to better organize the mafia activities.

Lucky Luciano took over the Joe Masseria’s operations, with Vito as his deputy. Salvatore Maranzano had become the ultimate boss after the murder of Joe and had become arrogant and greedy to a point that he posed a threat to other crime families, especially the Luciano Crime Family.

Maranzano was also aware of the speed Luciano family was prospering which led to his annoyance with Lucky. Moreover, Maranzano was old school in his approach to the business, while Lucky and Vito Genovese belonged to what was known as the group Young Turks.

Lucky gathered information about Maranzano’s ill intentions of murdering Lucky and along with Vito, he planned the murder of the boss. On September 10, 1931, Maranzano invited Lucky for a meeting at his office and Vito and Lucky planned to murder Maranzano there; the plan was successfully carried out.

Luciano hence became the unchallenged boss of the Italian-American mafia and he created The Commission, which was a governing body for the organized crime. Vito also gained immense power as Luciano’s second-in-command.

In 1934, Vito Genovese, along with Boccia, in a high stakes card game, cheated a wealthy gambler and duped him of $150,000. Boccia asked for his share of the money as he was also involved in the planning. However, instead of paying his associate, Vito Genovese ended up killing him.

In 1936, Lucky Luciano got imprisoned, which led Vito to take charge of the Luciano Crime Family. A few months later, Vito gained the legal citizenship of the USA. However, the murder case of Boccini was still underway and fearing that he would be caught soon, Vito fled to Italy and lived in Naples for some time, eventually gaining goodwill with the Italian Fascist party, led by Benito Mussolini.

He allegedly provided Mussolini’s son-in-law with pounds of cocaine and also donated $4 million to the Fascist Party. In order to further earn the favour from the Fascist Party, Vito ordered the murder of the publisher of an Anti-Fascist newspaper, published from New York.

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However, once the USA entered the Second World War and the Allied Forces invaded Italy in 1943, Vito Genovese quickly switched sides and joined the U.S. in the war. He began working for the American forces and became an interpreter officer at the U.S. Army Headquarters in Naples, Italy.

While hiding out in Italy, Vito had continued his illegal activities, joining hands with the Sicilian mafia and indulging in many black market operations and racketeering projects.

Back in the United States, the New York authorities had found Vito to be the prime accused of the Buccini murder, which he had committed back in 1934. He was taken back to New York to appear for the trial. His trial began in 1945 and he pleaded not guilty. Due to the lack of sufficient evidence and the murders of two prime witnesses, the charges on Vito were dropped.

By then, Frank Costello had been heading the Luciano Crime Family and Vito wanted the power yet again to be into his hands. He quickly became the underboss under Frank Costello and gained much of his power back.

In the mid-1950s, Vito aspired to become the head of the Luciano Crime Family and in the early 1957, he planned Frank Costello’s murder. In May 1957, Vincent Gigante was hired to carry out the hit on Frank. Vincent failed to kill Frank, despite shooting him in his head.

Frank came out alive from the hit but he did not extract revenge from Vito. Instead, he decided to retire and handed over the Luciano Crime Family to Vito. For a few months, Vito enjoyed his ascension to the top position in the mafia, but his reign did not last long.


In November 1957, the Apalachin Meeting took place between mafia bosses, which ended up becoming the final nail in the coffin of the American organized mafia. The local police attacked the meeting after growing suspicions and took many mobsters in custody. However, Vito managed to escape.

Lucky Luciano, still sitting in prison, had Vito getting convicted of the narcotics charges. In 1958, the prosecution had enough evidence to convict Vito and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Even from within the prison, Vito had the control over his crime family and he ordered two murders. He remained imprisoned until his death.

Vito became the inspiration for the main character named Vito Corleone for the universally acclaimed Mario Puzo novel titled ‘The Godfather’. A film trilogy was also made where Vito was played by Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando.

Personal Life

Vito Genovese married Donata Ragone in his 20s and remained married to her until her demise in 1931.

His cousin Anna Petillo was married to another man when Vito expressed his desire to marry her after the demise of his first wife. Anna’s husband was found dead in March 1932 and a few days later, Vito married her. He fathered two children.

Vito suffered a heart attack on February 14, 1969, at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, in Missouri. He died on the same day.

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