The Nation: A Chronicle of Bloodletting

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INTERNECINE warfare has always been a brutal fact of Mafia life. Struggles for power by violent men naturally beget violence. Further, the Cosa Nostra has traditionally been divided between the "Mustache Petes," as the powerful old Sicilian-born kingpins were contemptuously called, and the young American-born racketeers who did the dirty work for change and a pat on the head.


The Masseria-Maranzano war, or Castellammarese war, was one of the first great Mob battles, spanning the early Cosa Nostra days of 1930-31. For all of Al Capone's notoriety, the most powerful underworld leader then was Giuseppe ("Joe the Boss") Masseria, who was flanked by such young up-and-comers as "Lucky" Luciano, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. Masseria was determined to consolidate his position by eliminating his chief rival, Salvatore Maranzano, and his clannish Castellammerese (men from the Sicilian town of Castellammare del Golfo), including "Joe Bananas" Bonanno and Joseph Profaci in Brooklyn and Joseph Aiello in Chicago. Masseria made the fatal mistake of executing one of his own leaders, Gaetano Reina, who ran New York City's profitable ice concession. Reina's men joined forces with Maranzano, and after a few skirmishes, Masseria's lieutenants realized that they were hopelessly outnumbered. Five of them secretly surrendered to Maranzano and agreed to execute Masseria in return for profit—and their lives. Three of Masseria's henchmen later murdered him in a Coney Island restaurant.

Maranzano gathered some 500 troops and declared a peace. It did not last long. On Sept. 11, 1931, five men walked into Maranzano's Park Avenue office, claimed they were detectives and had everyone in the outer office line up against the wall. Then two of the "detectives" burst into the inner office, shot Maranzano and cut his throat. Within 48 hours, at least 40 of Maranzano's confederates, most of them experienced hands from the old country, were slain in various parts of the country.

All of the deaths, including those of Masseria and Maranzano, were engineered by spruce, soft-spoken little Lucky Luciano, who then formed "the Commission" to ensure that the brotherhood would never again suffer from one-man rule by a capo di tutti capi—boss of all bosses.

After Luciano's exile in 1946, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello emerged as two of the Mob's most formidable powers, and subsequently squared off. Genovese had leadership of a family, but wanted to be nothing less than what Luciano had sought to abolish: the boss of all bosses. In 1951 he went after one of Costello's top men, Willie Moretti. Sitting in a Greenwich Village restaurant one night with Joseph Valachi and several other of his men, Genovese said (according to Valachi): "Willie has got to be hit because he is not well. He has lost his mind, and that is the way life is. If tomorrow I go wrong, I would want to be hit so as not to bring harm to this thing of ours." Hence Moretti's death (his body was found in a Cliffside Park, N.J., restaurant with two bullet wounds in the head) became known in mob circles as a "mercy killing."

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