The Man Who Could Dodge Bullets
- photo by Mitch Waxman
One of the great traditions in the history of fraternal ethnic organizations is the art of storytelling, and a tale often told by those who “belong” is about the Castellamarese War.
It’s an old New York story, full of gun play, revenge, and intrigue. Powerful black sedans with a cadre of Tommy Gun toting racketeers speeding around the streets, innocents getting mowed down, and a cast of legendary characters like Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky, and Salvatore Maranzano exacting vengeance on their enemies. From the bloody heap, the “commission” was born, a board of directors which governed the various crime families. Nothing new here, you know this story- it was sort of fictionalized in the Godfather movies, and there are any number of books, TV Shows, and movies which describe it in some detail.
At least, they claim to- I don’t believe everything I’m told, and just ask anyone- there’s no such thing as the Mafia.
Anyway, this is First Calvary Cemetery, and pictured above is the grave of Joe Masseria.
The Five Families are the five major Italian-American Mafia crime families which have dominated organized crime in New York City since the 1930s. Prior to this was the Maranzano Family and the Masseria Family which ended up fighting each other during a period known as the Castellammarese War. The Five Families, under the suggestion of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, were responsible for the establishment of The Commission, a council which demarcated territory between the previously warring factions and governs American Mafia activities in the United States. The Five Families in New York remain as the powerhouse of the Italian Mafia in the US.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
What I can affirm is that there were fresh flowers inside the Masseria tomb, on an October morning in 2010.
On April 15, 1931, Joe Masseria was assassinated at one of his favorite restaurants, Nuova Villa Tammaro in Coney Island, Gangland legend has it that Masseria dined with Charles “Lucky” Luciano before his death. While they played cards, Luciano excused himself to the bathroom, when Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis rushed in and shot Masseria to death, his four bodyguards having mysteriously disappeared. The New York Daily News reported that the boss died “with the ace of spades, the death card, clutched in a bejeweled paw.”
However, both the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune paint a different picture. Neither newspaper mentions Luciano being present, although Luciano was brought in for questioning by the police. The Herald Tribune reported that Masseria arrived at the restaurant in his armored steel car in the company of three other men shortly before 3pm. Scarpato’s mother-in-law, Anna Tammaro, waited while they played cards. According to two eyewitnesses, two well-dressed young men drove up and parked their car at the curb. They strolled leisurely into the place, and the shooting began immediately. Some 20 shots were fired. Then the two gunmen came out without any visible signs of haste, entered their automobile and drove away. Masseria was hit with four bullets in the back and one in the back of the head, identified as .32 and .38 caliber, and in an alley next to the restaurant, police recovered two revolvers.
Joe Masseria, photo courtesy Wikipedia