July 31, 1886|
Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Italy
September 10, 1931 (aged 45)|
Manhattan, New York, United States
|Other names||"Little Caesar"|
|Occupation||Crime boss, mobster|
|Allegiance||Maranzano Crime Family|
Salvatore Maranzano (Italian pronunciation: [salvatore marandzano]) (July 31, 1886 - September 10, 1931) was an organized crime figure from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss who led what later would become the Bonanno crime family in the United States. He instigated the Castellammarese War to seize control of the American Mafia operations and briefly became the Mafia's capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"). He was murdered under the orders of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who established an arrangement in which families shared power to prevent future turf wars.
As a youngster, Maranzano had wanted to become a priest and even studied to become one, but later became associated with the Mafia in his homeland. Maranzano had a very commanding presence and was greatly respected by his underworld peers. He had a fascination with Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, and enjoyed talking to his less-educated American Mafia counterparts about these subjects. Because of this, he was nicknamed "Little Caesar" by his underworld peers.
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Maranzano emigrated to the United States soon after World War I, settling in Brooklyn. While building a legitimate business as a real estate broker, he also maintained a growing bootlegging business, using the real estate company as a front for his illegal operations. Soon, Maranzano got involved in prostitution and the illegal smuggling of narcotics; he also took a liking to a young Joseph Bonanno and became his mentor.
In order to protect and maintain the well-being of the criminal empire that Maranzano had built up, he declared war on his rival Joe Masseria (boss of all bosses) in 1930, commencing the Castellammarese War. On April 15, 1931, Masseria was murdered, and Maranzano emerged victorious in the gangland conflict.
Maranzano was now the most powerful mafioso in New York. Two weeks after Masseria's murder, Maranzano called together several hundred Mafiosi to a banquet hall at an undisclosed location in Upstate New York. Maranzano confirmed and anointed the bosses of the crime families who had survived the war--Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Tommy Gagliano, Joe Profaci, Vincent Mangano, and himself. He also created an additional position for himself, that of "boss of bosses." This came as a surprise to the assembled mafiosi, since Maranzano had previously claimed he'd wanted to end boss rule.
However, Maranzano's scheming, his arrogant treatment of his subordinates, and his fondness for comparing his organization to the Roman Empire (he attempted to model the organization after Caesar's military chain of command) did not sit well with Luciano and his ambitious friends, like Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, and others. Indeed, Luciano came to believe that Maranzano was, in his own way, even more hidebound and power-hungry than Masseria had been. Despite his advocacy for modern methods of organization, including crews of soldiers doing the bulk of a family's illegal work under the supervision of a caporegime, at heart Maranzano was a "Mustache Pete" -- an old-school mafioso too steeped in Old World ways. For instance, he was opposed to Luciano's partnership with Jewish gangsters such as Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. In fact, Luciano and his colleagues had intended all along to bide their time before getting rid of Maranzano as well.
Maranzano realized this soon enough and began planning the murders of Luciano, Genovese, Costello, and others. Maranzano did not act quickly enough, though; by the time he hired Mad Dog Coll to murder Luciano and Genovese, Luciano had already found out about Maranzano's plans.
Luciano arranged for Bugsy Siegel, Samuel "Red" Levine, and two other gangsters to go to Maranzano's offices on September 10, 1931, posing as accountants or tax men. Once inside his 9th floor office, in the New York Central Building, they disarmed Maranzano's guards. The four assassins then shot and stabbed Maranzano to 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 Coll fled, too.
Following Maranzano's death, Luciano abolished the position of "capo di tutti capi." Maranzano's underboss, Joseph Bonanno, took over most of Maranzano's rackets, which evolved into the Bonanno crime family. Although Bonanno denied knowing about Luciano's plans to kill Maranzano, it is very unlikely that Bonanno would have been left alive if he still backed his former boss. Years later, Bonanno wrote in his autobiography, "A Man of Honor," that at bottom, Maranzano was still an "old-world Sicilian" who never really adapted his tactics to the New World.
Maranzano is buried in Saint John's Cemetery, Queens, New York, near Luciano's grave. The only known photographs of Maranzano are from the scene of his death. (Author David Critchley identified the picture usually claimed to be a mugshot of Maranzano as the London-based gangster Salvatore Messina instead.)