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Salvatore Maranzano

Salvatore Maranzano (1868-1931) was a gangster from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. As a youngster he wanted to be a priest and even studied to become one He soon he gave up that dream, however, and became associated with the Mafia in his homeland.

Maranzano came into the United States in 1918, settling in Brooklyn, where he built up a growing bootleg liquor business. For the next nine years he would travel back and forth between the States and Italy, but in 1927, Vito Cascio Ferro, Maranzano's boss, who wanted to dominate Mafia business both in Italy and in North America, allegedly ordered him to take over American territory for the other Mafiosi who were already established there. He began to associate with other Mafiosi sent over by Don Vito, including Joseph Bonanno and Joseph Profaci.

Maranzano’s ambitions put him in conflict with another powerful mobster in the New York area, Joe "The Boss" Masseria. Conflicts over territory soon led to a shooting war that came to be known as the Castellamarrese war.

While outnumbered at the outset, Maranzano and his fellow Sicilians eventually prevailed, as Masseria’s allies deserted him. The war ended after Lucky Luciano, whom Maranzano had attempted to kill while Luciano was allied with Masseria, changed sides, then helped orchestrate Masseria’s murder at what was supposed to be a quiet lunch and a game of cards in Coney Island. When Luciano excused himself to go to the bathroom, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia and Bugsy Siegel came into the restaurant and shot Masseria to death.

Maranzano was now the most powerful gangster in New York. He did not, however, enjoy his new rule for long.

Two weeks after Masseria’s murder, Maranzano called together several hundred Mafiosi at a banquet hall in the Bronx. Maranzano laid out his vision of a new gangland, structured on hierarchical lines, in which he would be the Capo di tutti capi, or the boss of all bosses, while Luciano, Bonanno, Profaci, Vincent Mangano and Thomas Gagliano would head families of their own, but owing ultimate loyalty to him.

Maranzano also laid down some rules for the Commission: he 'outlawed' random killings; he prohibited anyone in The Commission from talking about the Mafia or its activities to anyone outside, even if the outsider was just the gangster's wife, and he banned all non-Sicilians from entering the organization. Anyone who broke any of those rules would be punished by death.

Maranzano’s scheme, his arrogant treatment of his subordinates, and his fondness for comparing his organization to the Roman Empire did not sit well with Luciano and his ambitious friends, however. Maranzano realized this soon enough, and began planning the murder of Luciano, Genovese, Frank Costello and others.

Maranzano did not act quickly enough, however. By the time he hired 'Mad Dog' Coll to murder Luciano and Genovese, Luciano, aided by Meyer Lansky, had already found out about Maranzano's plans. Luciano arranged for ‘Red’ Levine, ‘Bo’ Weinberg and two other gangsters provided by Lansky to go to Maranzano's offices, posing as government agents. Once inside his office, they disarmed Maranzano's guards, then shot and stabbed him to his death. As they fled down the stairs, they met Coll on his way upstairs for his appointment with Maranzano. They warned him that there had been a raid and he fled too.

Luciano took over Maranzano’s place at the end of organized crime in New York City, but established a more federal system, in which neither he nor anyone else claimed to be the boss of bosses.