Yesterday, while I was clearing out from crap from the loft, I came across a March 2003 issue which included a feature I had written about the American Mafia. Part of the feature included a Top 10 of the 'Richest, most ruthless and stylish gangsters ever to rule the mob.'
Even after 10 years, I still think this list rings true, so without further ado, here is my top 10 Mafia bosses of all time as originally published in Front magazine...
The King of New York. The undisputed capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses) of all time. Carlo Gambino is undoubtedly the most successful mob boss in L Cosa Nostra history. Gambino did not look like your average mafioso. Short and bulb-nosed, he enjoyed playing the humble fruit-market shopper on expeditions to the old neighbourhood, much like Mario Puzo's Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather (who was modeled after Gambino). Don Carlo bore more resemblance to a grandfather from a Werther's Originals advert than a cold and calculating mobster who murdered his way to the top of the Mafia.
He rose to family in the crime family that would later bear his name, and played a part in disposing of three of New York's most infamous gangsters: Vincent Mangano, Albert Anastasia, and Vito Genovese.
Mangano was mysteriously disappeared and his body was never found. Anastasia was murdered while he was being groomed in a barbershop chair, and Genovese was removed with the aid of the federal government in a narcotics case. Gambino then took up his position as the most powerful mob boss in the country.
He continued solidifying his position by gorging alliances and carrying out killings; few dared to challenge him. When he died of a heart attack in October 1976, Gambino went out in true Godfather style. Reporters and onlookers were cordoned off from the hundreds of mourners at his funeral, and the hard-faced guards discouraged any would-be intruders. Things were handled with the decorum that Carlo Gambino would've demanded.
Summing up Tony Accardo's leadership abilities, mobster Paul Ricca once confided to Chicago-American columnist Geaorge Murray that 'Accardo has more brains for breakfast than Al Capone ever had all day.' Posessing a nimble mind and canny instinct for self-preservation, Accardo boasted that he never spent one night in jail. William F. Roemer Jr, one of the most highly decorated agents in the history of the FBI, wrote a book called The Genuine Godfather about his pursuit of Accardo, who ruled the Chicago underworld for 40 years. Roemer described Accardo as being 'America's most dangerous criminal.'
Accardo built up a fearsome reputation for violence and cunning, first making a name for himself as Al Capone's bodyguard and special enforcer. His stock and trade was vengeance. In May 1929, Al Capone discovered that he was the target of a murder plot, hatched Albert Anselmi and John Scalise, a pair of imported Sicilian contract killers who had carried out mob executions for Capone for five years previously. At a lavish dinner party given in their honour, it is alleged that Accardo swung a baseball bat to their traitorous heads, and dumped the bodies in a ditch near Wolf Lake, outside Hammond, Indiana, afterwards. Accardo's respectful mob associates would later pin a nicknameon him that he would carry to the grave: Joe Batters. An attempt on his life was never made - surely the mark of a great boss. Accardo died in 1992 of heart problems.
Time magazine said it best when the editorial read: 'He was born and died in Italy, yet the influence on America of a grubby street urchin named Salvatore Lucania ranged from the lights of Broadway to every level of law enforcement, from national politics to the world economy. First, he reinvented himself as Charles Luciano. Then he reinvented the Mafia.'
He received the nickname 'Lucky' after surviving a gangland ride in 1929, in which he was beaten, stabbed repeatedly and had his throat slashed, before being thrown from a car and left for dead.
It seemed Luciano's lucky finally ran out in 1936 when he was arrested and sentenced to 30 to 50 years imprisonment for running a prostitution racket. The underground insisted that the case was a set-up.
But after 10 years, Luciano was paroled due to 'wartime services to his country.' On his release, Luciano was deported to Italy where he continued to influence the American Mafia and receive his fair cut.
His name, Alphonse Capone, is synonymous worldwide with 'Chicago gangster.' Capone climbed to the top of the Mafia ladder by murdering anyone who got in his way during the prohibition era. Selling bootleg booze - claiming he was simply offering a 'public service' and 'providing what the people want' - made the Chicago outfit millions, and made Capone Public Enemy Number One.
He was known as a dangerous mobster in La Cosa Nostra circles, and the Feds hated him with a passion, but he was a superstar to the people of New York. John Gotti was a Mobstar.
His love of the finer things in life helped him obtain the nickname The Dapper Don. After beating case after case, the media then renamed Gotti The Teflon Don. But in 1992 the Feds finally found a case that would stick.
At trial, prosecutors used the testimony of Gotti's turncoat under boss Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano to take down The Dapper Don. The most damning testimony came when he told how he, Gotti and other insurgents killed the Gambino family boss Paul Castellano and took over his crime family.
But ultimiately it was Gotti's own words that would hammer the nail in the coffin. Gotti had a loose tongue, and FBI surveillance tapes happened to record him when he boasted to a fellow mobster: 'You tell him, I, me, John Gotti, will sever his motherfucking head!' The ruthless John Gotti was jailed for life.
For all the muscle involved in organised crime, Frank Costello was the brains that smoothed the judges, police and politicians that kept the machine running. His contacts throughout city hall and across the country, along with his ability to slip in and out of different parts of society, earned him the nickname 'Prime Minister Of The Underground.'
A psychiatrist might deduce much from the behaviour of a gangster whose obsession with 'looking aces' was more important than avoiding a criminal conviction. And yes, just like a scene out of The Sopranos or Analyze This, Costello did have a psychiatrist.
When Costello died in 1972 his widow, Bobbie, insisted that none of his underworld cronies show up or send flower-bedecked tributes. One who did show up was a distant cousin who, as Costello's wife turned to leave the grave site, leaned over and asked in her ear: 'What are you going to do with Frank's clothes?' The widow walked off without answering, but perhaps dapper Frank would have appreciated the interest.
Don Vitone - as Genovese preferred to be called - can be credited as much as any single mafioso for keeping the mob in the narcotics business - a trade forbidden by mafia law.
In 1937, Genovese found himself facing a murder rap. Instead of hanging around to face the music, he fled to Italy. He succeeded in ingratiating himself with Benito Mussolini, despite the fascist leader's ruthless campaign to destroy the Italian Mafia.
Genovese finally returned to his old stomping ground in the US after the war, but he didn't stand trial, because the key witness in his murder case mysteriously 'disappeared'.
Genovese's obsession to become Capi di tutti capi eventually cost him dearly. After an attempted assassination on Frank Costello, fellow mob bosses had finally had enough of Don Vitone's power-hungry ways. Genovese found himself on the wrong end of a narcotics charge, set up by Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, and Meyer Lansky, and spent the rest of his days behind bars.
In Hollywood, Sam Giancana was the Mafia. His friends included Frank Sinatra and Marylin Monroe. He was, a police report stated, 'A snarling, sarcastic, ill-tempered, sadistic psychopath.' According to the book Double Cross, Giancana not only played a part financing John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, but was also involved in the President's assassination.
Albert Anastasia was a thug: evil and sadistic. His rise to power was as brutal as his fall. On 25 October 1957, Anastasia entered the barbershop of the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York. His bodyguard parked the car. While Anastasia relaxed in the chair with his eyes closed, two men, scarves covering their faces, barged in and blew Albert Anastasia away.
Succeeding his father as mob boss of the Tampa branch in 1954, Santo Trafficante Jr enjoyed more than 30 years as one of the country's most powerful mob bosess. Trafficante Jr can be linked to at least four gangland slayings - including that of Albert Anastasia - and was involved in a plot to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro.