Salvatore "Caesar" MaranzanoHe wanted to be a priest, but he ended up the very first king of the New York mafia.
Salvatore was raised and educated in Castellammare del Golfo, in Sicily. There, he studied the Bible and Catholocism, with a minor in nuns.
In 1918, he shipped himself to America, and immediately became an enforcer for hire in Brooklyn. Around that part of town, Sicilians were scarce, so Maranzano learned to work with other ethnicities, unlike his contemporaries. Except for negros, of course. By 1922, Maranzano had founded a fledgeling bootlegging ring. With the help of Frank Costello's liquor from upstate, he whet the whistles of many a Manhattan flapper.
One thing that helped this empire succeed was Maranzano's newly designed liquor distribution plan. Every speakeasy in his territory was required to buy his booze. If they didn't, the place was immediately burnt to the ground or raided by the cops. The tactic quickly sent his market share through the roof.
Maranzano was obsessed with loyalty. This obsession extended to his clients as well as his goons. Bartenders were taken care of, in Maranzano's eyes, and so they should be happy to help out when there was a need. And they damn sure better not buy their booze from anyone else! The penalty for disloyalty typically involved cement overshoes and the Hudson River.
I Wish I was CaesarAs the 20's wore on, Maranzano's empire began to stretch out at the seams. There wasn't enough business in Brooklyn to keep Slavatore happy. But the Bronx and Harlem were controlled by Dutch Schultz and Manhattan proper belonged to Joe Masseria.
But Maranzano felt he was the reincarnation of Julius Caesar, and Caesar would not let a little thing like borders stop him from expanding his influence. For Maranzano, it was fate. Rather then mess around with the unpredictable Schultz for the penny-ante negro world of the Bronx, Maranzano decided to take on Masseria's empire. He marshaled his gorillas, filled trucks with booze, and sent the beasts around the upper west side to muscle the hooch into the speakeasies there.
When Masseria found out about this, it is said, he literally shat himself with anger. He sent his goons to wipe out any Maranzano men they could find. The Castellmarese war broke out in 1928, and it claimed the lives of hundreds of young men. Italians on Masseria's side, and a mix of Jews, Irishmen, and Germans on Maranzano's.
One near casualty of the war was Lucky Luciano. Maranzano's men grabbed him one night in 1930 and slit his throat. They left him for dead on Coney Island, but he survived. He then set up a meeting with Maranzano to try and end the war. He proposed that he kill his boss, Joe Masseria, and then conceded the war to Maranzano, consolidating power and ending needless bloodshed. Maranzano agreed, and Lucky went out to whack his boss.
The Emperor Has No GumptionMaranzano rented a dance hall and called a meeting of all the major players in New York. Everyone who busted kneecaps for a living came to listen. Salvatore sat in a throne on the stage watching the crowd. Once everyone had arrived, Maranzano stood up and proclaimed himself the king of New York, the boss of bosses. He decreed that the city would be divided up into five families, and that all the families would answer to him.
Afterwards, Lucky Luciano and his boys began to conspire. Maranzano knew this and placed Lucky atop his to-whack list. Unfortunately, Lucky's list had been drawn up in advance, and he started bumping off goons before Salvatore did.
Et Tu Levine?On September 10, 1931, four of Luciano's henchmen dressed up like police officers and went to the door of Salvatore's posh apartment building. The doorman alerted Maranzano to their presence and the boss came down to meet them. As soon as he arrived in the entrance hall, all four policemen pulled out their guns.
However, one of them, Red Lavine, raised his hand to stop them from firing.
Levine pulled out a knife and, in what can only be described as a perfectly fitting tribute to Brutus, stabbed Maranzano four times before the boss fought him off. As soon as Levine was away, the remaining three gunmen mowed Salvatore down.
Soon after, Luciano swiped Maranzano's five families idea for his own. He divided up New York and then the rest of the country. Instead of a Caesar, America got the Crime Syndicate Board of Directors. Maranzano got a mafioso funeral complete with immense floral arrangements and mile long funeral procession.