Joe "The Boss" MasseriaJoe had little man's syndrome. He was never above biting and groin punching his quarry. In fact, at 5'2", he was never above anything. Yet this little Sicilian maniac ran much of New York during the late 1920's, mainly thanks to his brutality and unpredictable temper.
Born in 1879 as Guiseppe Masseria, he was a racist, bigoted, old school mobster. Almost everything about the man is apocryphal because Joe spoke very little English, and was extremely cantankerous. It's thought he came to the US in 1903 after he stabbed a man to death in Palermo, Italy.
In New York, Joe joined the Ciro Terranova gang, an up and coming group of thugs that had moved their way up the east side of New York. Oddly enough, the most common practice of this gang was a strategy known as "Black Handing." In practice, it wasn't the brightest of rackets: Sicilian gangsters would target Sicilian businesses for extortion, protection, and black mail. Somewhere towards the end of World War I, the Sicilian gangs had an epiphany: fucking with everyone was much more lucrative than simply fucking with Sicilians.
The Artichoke King of New YorkCiro Terranova was not a particularly gifted gangster. He kept his rackets confined to what he knew. Evidently, he knew a lot about artichokes, because by 1913, he was dubbed the Artichoke king of New York. Every 'choke that was sold in Manhattan had to get there through Terranova's gang, leaving a hefty pile of cash in their hands.
Soon, the Morello gang wanted to muscle in on this vast artichoke empire and began killing Terranova men at will. Masseria, as Terranova's top enforcer, lead a number of raids on the Morello head quarters, killing around a dozen henchmen with the help of some Terranova gorillas.
The Morello gang was topped by a band of brothers, the most powerful of which was named Peter. Peter had one of the best nicknames of the early mafia world: The Clutching Hand. In 1922, The Clutching Hand sent Umberto Valenti to kill Masseria, who by this time headed the Terranova gang. Masseria never went anywhere without two gorillas, at the time, but Valenti managed to kill both of them in six seconds, thanks to his dual handgun kung-fu.
Run, Bitch!Valenti chased Masseria around the streets of New York, cornering him in a dry cleaning outfit. Inside, he pumped round after round into racks of clothes. After using up all of his ammo, Masseria was no closer to death, and Valenti was cursing and stamping his feet. When the cops arrived, Valenti gave up and Masseria went home.
Joe took Valenti out for his transgressions. He sent Joe Adonis and Lucky Luciano to do it, and the pair dropped him at an ambush in a local restaurant. Adonis and Luciano were the golden boys of Masseria's empire afterwards, members of the privileged few he considered trusted allies.
Masseria was a vindictive bastard who took vendettas to the very limit. He clung to all the old school ideals that the new crowd of the underworld were trying to forget. He only used Italian bodyguards, and preferred to hire Sicilians when they were available. Joe constantly demanded that Luciano stop hanging around with Jews, like Meyer Lansky, Louis Buchalter, and Bugsy Siegel.
One of Masseria's largest short comings was his inability to understand the power of a bribe. Masseria was so old school that he never even tipped his waiters, an unforgivable sin by modern gangster standards. Joe hoarded his money. Luciano, always keen to offer new ideas, suggested that Joe might offer some sort of profit sharing for his boys, clients, and officials. But Joe never even considered it. It was simply not done in the old world, so it would not be done here.
Oh Hidey Hidey Hidey Hidey Hidey HoWhen Salvatore Maranzano began shuffling into Masseria's bootlegging territory, that Joe immediately declared open war. He sent his thugs out on the streets to gun down anyone associated with Maranzano's gang. Maranzano did the same, enlisting the help of an ethnically mixed group of gangsters, such as Irishmen, Jews, and Germans.
The war would come to be known as the Castellmarise war, and it would claim hundreds of lives between 1928 and 1931. The whole time, Luciano tried to stop the fighting so everyone could simply focus on stealing, extorting, and smuggling. Masseria wouldn't hear of it. So, after Luciano was abducted and almost killed by Maranzano's men, he decided to stop the war the only way he knew how.
Feed, THEN KillLucky set up a date with his boss. He told Masseria to meet him at their favorite restaurant: Nuova Villa Tammaro, on Coney Island. There, Masseria gorged himself on a seven course Italian meal. After the food was gone, Luciano started a game of cards with his boss. The two talked and played for a while, then Lucky excused himself to go piss.
As soon as Lucky left, five of Masseria's own men walked in and pumped him full of lead. It was tax day, April 15, 1931, and Masseria died holding the ace of spades. The moment Masseria hit the floor, the Castellmarese war ended. Luciano told police the truth: he was pissing when he heard the shots, and when he came out of the bathroom, he found his boss dead on the floor. No one went to Joe's funeral. Not even his own wife. He was buried in a little bitty coffin.