January 17, 1886
|Died||April 15, 1931 (aged 45)|
New York City, U.S.
|Cause of death||Gunshot|
|Resting place||Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York, U.S.|
|Other names||"Joe the Boss"|
|Occupation(s)||Crime boss, mobster|
|Allegiance||Masseria crime family|
|Criminal penalty||Four to six years imprisonment (1913)|
Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria (Italian: [dʒuˈzɛppe masseˈriːa]; January 17, 1886 – April 15, 1931) was an early Italian-American Mafia boss in New York City. He was boss of what is now called the Genovese crime family, one of the New York City Mafia's Five Families, from 1922 to 1931. In 1930, he battled in the Castellammarese War to take over the criminal activities in New York City. The war ended with his murder on April 15, 1931, in a hit ordered by his own lieutenant, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, in an agreement with rival faction head Salvatore Maranzano.
Giuseppe Masseria was born on January 17, 1886, in Menfi, Province of Agrigento, Sicily, in a family of tailors. When he was young, he moved to the town of Marsala, in the Province of Trapani. Masseria arrived in the United States in 1902. He then became part of the Morello crime family based in Harlem and parts of Little Italy in southern Manhattan. Masseria was a contemporary of other captains of that mafia family such as Gaetano Reina. In 1909, Masseria was convicted of burglary and received a suspended sentence. On May 23, 1913, Masseria was sentenced to four to six years in prison for third-degree burglary.
As the 1910s ended, Masseria and boss Salvatore D'Aquila vied for power in New York. By the early 1920s, they were at war with each other. In 1920, Masseria had recruited Lucky Luciano as one of his gunmen. D'Aquila also had a gunman working for him, Umberto Valenti, and ordered him to kill Masseria. On May 7, 1922, the boss of the Morello/Terranova crime family, Vincenzo Terranova, was killed in a drive-by shooting near his E. 116th Street home. Valenti was believed to have been personally responsible. Hours later, Terranova's underboss Silva Tagliagamba was fatally wounded in Lower Manhattan by Valenti and gunmen working for him. The next day, Valenti and some of his men attacked the new boss of the rival Terranova family, Masseria. Valenti found Masseria and his bodyguards on Grand Street "within a block of Police Headquarters". Masseria got away, but the gunmen had shot four men and two women; Masseria tossed his pistol away and was arrested while fleeing the scene.
On August 9, 1922, Masseria walked out of his apartment at 80 2nd Avenue, and was rushed by two armed men who opened fire on him. Masseria ducked into a store at 82 2nd Avenue with the gunmen in pursuit. They shot out the front window and shot up the inside of the store. The gunmen fled across 2nd Avenue to a getaway car idling just around the corner on E. 5th Street. The car was a Hudson Cruiser. The gunmen jumped on the running boards as the car sped west on E. 5th Street towards the Bowery, guns blazing. The gunmen then plowed through a crowd and shot randomly at the blockade, wounding six men. Masseria survived the incident and was found by police in his upstairs bedroom shell-shocked. He was sitting on his bed dazed, with two bullet holes through his straw hat, which he was still wearing. The incident gained Masseria new respect among gangsters as "the man who can dodge bullets" and his reputation began to rise as D'Aquila's began to wane.
Forty-eight hours later, on August 11, Valenti attended a meeting in a cafe at the corner of Second Avenue and E. 12th Street, where he was murdered as he tried to flee.
Salvatore D'Aquila was killed on October 10, 1928. Masseria, the leader of a gang that emerged from the old Morello crime family, was selected to replace D'Aquila as the new capo dei capi that winter. After his elevation, Masseria began applying pressure to other mafia gangs for monetary tributes. Other mobsters accused him of orchestrating the 1930 murders of Gaspar Milazzo in Detroit and Gaetano Reina in the Bronx. Nicolo Schiro tried to replicate the strategy of neutrality he used to deal with D'Aquila with Masseria but he was vigorously opposed by Salvatore Maranzano and Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino. Masseria claimed Schiro had committed a transgression and demanded Schiro pay him $10,000 and step down as leader of his mafia crime family. Schiro complied. Soon after, Vito Bonventre was murdered at his home on July 15, 1930. This led to Maranzano being elevated to boss of the gang and a conflict with Masseria and his allies referred to as the Castellammarese War.
During the Castellammarese War, between 1930 and 1931, Masseria and Morello fought against a rival group, based in Brooklyn, led by Salvatore Maranzano and Joseph Bonanno. Morello, an old hand in the killing game, became Masseria's "war chief" and strategic adviser.
One of the first victims of the war, Morello was killed along with associate Joseph Perriano on August 15, 1930, while collecting cash receipts in his East Harlem office. Joseph Valachi, the first made man in the American Mafia to turn state's evidence, identified Morello's killer as a Castellammarese gunman he knew as "Buster from Chicago".
In a secret deal with Maranzano, Lucky Luciano agreed to engineer the death of his boss, Masseria, in return for receiving Masseria's rackets and becoming Maranzano's second-in-command. Joe Adonis had joined the Masseria faction and when Masseria heard about Luciano's betrayal, he approached Adonis about killing Luciano. However, Adonis instead warned Luciano about the murder plot. On April 15, 1931, Luciano lured Masseria to a meeting where he was murdered at a restaurant called Nuova Villa Tammaro on Coney Island. While they played cards, Luciano allegedly excused himself to the bathroom, with the gunmen reportedly being Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver's seat by Siegel.
Luciano was brought in for questioning by the police. At the time, police suspected a gangster named John "Silk Stockings" Giustra as being one of the gunmen in Masseria's murder. This was based on the report of a confidential informant and that one of the coats found at the murder scene was identified as belonging to Giustra. The case was dropped after Giustra was murdered on July 9, 1931.
According to The New York Times, "[A]fter that, the police have been unable to learn definitely [what happened]". Reputedly Masseria was "seated at a table playing cards with two or three unknown men" when he was fired upon from behind. He died from gunshot wounds to his head, back, and chest. Masseria's autopsy report shows that he died on an empty stomach. No witnesses came forward, though "two or three" men were observed leaving the restaurant and getting into a stolen car. No one was convicted in Masseria's murder as there were no witnesses and Luciano had an alibi.
In popular culture
- The Valachi Papers (1972) – portrayed by Alessandro Sperlì
- Mobsters (1991) – portrayed by Anthony Quinn
- Lansky (1999) – portrayed by Bill Capizzi
- Bonanno: A Godfather’s Story (1999) – portrayed by Tony Calabretta
- Boardwalk Empire (2010–2014) – portrayed by Ivo Nandi. His assassination is depicted as being carried out by Benny Siegel and Tonino Sandrelli.
- The Making of the Mob: New York (2015) – In this docu-drama he is portrayed by Stelio Savante
- The Gangster Chronicles (1981) – in the NBC American crime drama miniseries, he is portrayed by Richard S. Castellano
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- Maas, Peter (1968). The Valachi Papers (1986 Pocket Books ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 60. ISBN 0-671-63173-X.
- Raab, Selwyn (2005). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York City: St. Martin's Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-312-30094-8.
- Reppetto, Thomas (2004). American Mafia: a history of its rise to power (1st ed.). New York City: Henry Holt and Company. p. 137. ISBN 0-8050-7210-1.
- "Racket Chief Slain By Gangster Gunfire. Giuseppe Masseria, Known as Joe the Boss, Shot Mysteriously in Coney Island Cafe. Police Say He Was Leader in Every Kind of Racket. He Escaped Death Many Times. Shooting Still a Mystery" (PDF). The New York Times. April 16, 1931. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
It took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseria—he was Joe the Boss to the underworld—but his enemies found him with his back turned yesterday in a little Italian restaurant in Coney Island, and when they walked out into
- Pollak, Michael (June 29, 2012). "Coney Island's Big Hit". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
- Sifakis, (2005). pp. 87–88
- Gosch, Martin A.; Hammer, Richard; Luciano, Charles (1975). The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown & Company. pp. 130–132. ISBN 978-0-316-32140-2.
- Critchley, (2008). p. 165
- "Giuseppe Masseria". New York Mafia 1900-1920. GangRule. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- Critchley, (2008). p. 186
- Bernstein, Lee. The Greatest Menace: Organized Crime in Cold War America. Boston: UMass Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55849-345-X
- Bonanno, Joseph. A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 0-312-97923-1
- Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
- Dash, Mike. The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London, Simon & Schuster, 2009.
- Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. ISBN 0-06-016357-7
- Hortis, C. Alexander The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2014
- Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and Times of Al Capone. New York: Da Capo Press, 2003. ISBN 0-306-81285-1
- Mannion, James. 101 Things You Didn't Know About The Mafia: The Lowdown on Dons, Wiseguys, Squealers and Backstabbers. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2005. ISBN 1-59337-267-1
- Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 0-7091-3966-7
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- Ferrara, Eric. Gangsters, Murderers & Weirdos of the Lower East Side; A self-guided walking tour 2008
- Volkman, Ernest Gangbusters: The Destruction of America's Last Great Mafia Dynasty. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
- Black, Jon (October 2020). Secret Societies. ISBN 9781527268074.