Hollywood has always had a morbid obsession with the likes of the mafia. Movies such as ‘American Gangster’, ‘The Godfather’ trilogy and many more provide an interesting albeit cursory insight into the lives of the men on top of the rigid structure the mafia is known for. Their lifestyles attract the masses with flamboyance; their ruthless way of doing business instils fear and respect and the always untimely and not-so-glamorous end of their lives makes the common people sigh with relief that there is some divine justice. Either way people will always continue to look up to some of the most renown mobsters of the 20th century.
The notoriously famous New York gangster is undoubtedly the grandfather of all modern American gangsters. Born to South western Italian immigrants (how cliché, right?) he joined the Five Points Gang early in his life and later moved to Chicago. But when the city’s government started putting pressure on the mob elements inside the city limits Capone and his friend and fellow gangster Johnny Torrio decided to move their headquarters into Cicero, Illinois. After a mob was ensured, resulting in over 200 deaths, Capone and his gang eventually took over Cicero’s town government. Subsequently Capone built one of the biggest organized crime organizations in the world becoming a member of the Five Families of New York.
Despite being responsible for countless murders, bootlegging, prostitution and more, the police could never pin a crime on him. It was only the IRS who eventually managed to end his run as a gangster, after years of phone-tapping and surveillance he was jailed for tax evasion when the supreme court ruled that tax was due on his bootlegging business.
Born to a Jewish family of Russian descent, Bugsy landed a job with Meyer Lansky as a teenager running various gambling books and subsequently forming a car theft ring. At the time he was a hired hitman for various mafia families. In 1930, Siegel managed to build ties to Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Frank Costello, future bosses of the Genovese crime family. After becoming a ranking member of the family he was involved in countless bootlegging operations throughout the country, leading to the murder of the police informer Harry Greenberg. This resulted in a massive media frenzy that dug up Bugsy’s past. Later on in his life he is credited for establishing one of the most profitable gambling enterprises in Las Vegas before being gunned down by an unknown assailant.
Another New York-born gangster who turned to violence theft and crime from a young age. After joining the ranks of the mafia he quickly made a name for himself for his brutality and short temper. Schultz and fellow gangster Joey Now set up a Hub Social Club purchasing trucks and supplying alcohol to different venues. At one point they had become the only non-Italian gang to rival the heads of the Mafia’s Five Families. After expanding their operations into Manhattan a war broke as the Jack Diamond did not appreciate their entrepreneurial skills. Schultz and his gang were also extorting New York restaurant owners. After being charged with tax invasion in 1935 Lucky Luciano divided his empire between his associates. After asking for permission to murder the US Attorney Thomas Dewey from the Mafia Commission Schultz was deemed a liability and shot at the age of 33 in New Jersey.
Native to Sicily Gambino started acting as an assassin for the Italian mafia in his early teen years, which lead to his induction into the Cosa Nostra in 1921, when he was only 19. He entered the USA as an illegal immigrant, joining his cousins the Castellanos in New York upon his arrival. He became a member of the ‘Young Turks’ – a group of Americanised Italians in New York amongst the ranks of which was Frank Costello., Bugsy Siegel and was headed by Lucky Luciano. Becoming captain in the Mangano crime family, where he was in charge of loan sharking and illegal gambling. After the murder of Albert Anastasia in 1957 Carlo Gambino became the new boss of the Mangano crime family, which was renamed to the Gambino crime family. Under his leadership the mob kept a low profile opting out of the lucrative but risky drug business. Gambino’s motto ‘Deal and Die’ reminded family members to keep away from drug dealing as it was punishable by death. He led the Gambino crime family for 20 years until his death in 1976.
Denzel Washington made a believable portrayal of the North Carolina mobster in ‘American Gangster’. As a teenager Lucas moved to Harlem and became friends with gangster Bumpy Johnson. Upon his death he moved on to break the monopoly of the Italian mafia by establishing one of the largest drug enterprises in the 20th century. Bribing the US Army Forces he managed to smuggle 100% pure heroin on board of military aircrafts, using the coffins of dead military servicemen. Building ruthless gang and was known for brutal beatings, guns, and violence and held an enormous monopoly on the heroin market in Manhattan, labelling his product ‘Blue Magic’. After being jailed in 1975 he struck a deal with the DEA that led to more than100 drug-related convictions.
Moving to Brooklyn with his family at the age of 12, Gotti started working for Carmine Fatico, capo of the Bergin Crew reporting to Carlo Gambino. In 1985 when Gotti’s crew was discovered to be selling heroin against the rules of the Gambino family, Gotti and others, fearing reprisals, ordered the execution of Paul Castellano. Gotti then took control of the Gambino family becoming one of the most powerful crime bosses in America. In 1992, Gotti was convicted of racketeering, 13 murders, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to commit murder, illegal gambling, extortion, tax evasion and loan sharking and was sentenced to life in prison. He died 10 years later after a long battle with throat cancer.
Nicknamed the Montreal’s ‘Teflon Don’ Rizzuto is the alleged boss of the Sicilian Mafia in Canada. Arrested in 2003 on charges of loansharking and racketeering and for his involvement in the 1981 murder of three rival Bonanno family captains, he served his sentence in 2012. His life has been the inspiration for the movie Donnie Brasco.
Born in New York to first generation Italian immigrants, he was the only one whose family was in no way involved with the mafia. As a teenager he was recognized by and became a prodigy of Genovese crime family. After a short light heavyweight boxer career he became a heavyweight mob enforcer. After a failed attempt to murder Frank Costello on orders from Vito Genovese, Costello quit the business. Following in the footsteps of Vito Genovese, Gigante became the boss of the Genovese crime family. After the 1985 murder of Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano, Gigante took over the Gambino crime family becoming Capo di tutti Capi. After claiming mental illnesses to avoid prosecution he was finally convicted in 1997.
‘Little Nicky’ as he was called was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929. He was the son of a made man in the Genovese crime family. In the early 1950s he was given a bookmaking operation to run. He was often described as cold-hearted and narcissistic. Upon his arrest he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for that included drug trafficking, loan sharking, extortion and murder.
With a nickname such as ’The Beast’ it’s no wonder he made first place in the list of most brutal mobsters – believed to have personally killed around 40 people and ordered the assassination of hundreds more. Born and raised in Sicily he’s the most feared of all the Sicilian Mafia’s bosses. It was the murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors he had ordered that eventually led to his capture and findings about the mob’s hierarchy and power structure.