Birth: November 24, 1897 - Lercardia Friddi, Sicily
Death: January 26, 1962 - Naples, Italy
Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano was a pioneer of the National Mafia Commission and lay at the base of the enormous drug trafficking business during the 40's and 50's. He was the head of the Luciano Family from 1931 until his deportation in 1946. He was a self-made man who grew up in street gangs and eventually settled the most bloody Mafia war in America, the Castellammarese War, which brought a nationwide change in Mafia organization.
Charles Luciano 1935 mugshot
Salvatore Lucania was born on November 24, 1897 in Lercardia Friddi, Sicily,
a small town primarily known for its sulfur mines. The promise of a new and better life led his family
to immigrate to America in 1907. They settled down in a stuffed apartment block and lived in poor conditions. At only the age of 10 he was arrested for the first time on a count of shoplifting. While growing up he met and befriended Meyer Lansky after he and other young hoodlums tried to extort the young boy. Luciano was immediately surprised by Lansky's courage and retaliation. Therefore Luciano decided the young boy could come in handy for future times, especially during their illegal gambling games on the street. After Luciano quit school he went to work as a delivery boy for hats to make a few extra bucks.
At the age of 18 however he was sentenced to 6 months at a reformatory named Hampton Farms for selling heroin and morphine during his work as a delivery boy. Upon his release he resumed his dealings and joined a part of the Five Points gang. By 1920 Luciano ran a crew with men such as Bugsy Siegel, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello, whom he reputedly met during a gang fight at the Opera hall. He had always been ambitious and in order to expand his business he forged an alliance with Jewish Kingping Arnold Rothstein and later with Giuseppe Masseria, the notorious Sicilian mob boss who controlled a massive part of New Yorks criminal activities. Luciano, who wasn't related to any notable Mafia member and wasn't born inside a Mafia stronghold like Castellammare Del Golfo or Palermo, was however starting to make a name for himself thanks to his hard work and powerful friends.
Rise to Power
During the early 1920's Luciano and his gang became bootleggers and gunmen. In 1922 he presumably took part in the murder of Umberto Valenti, an enemy of Giuseppe Masseria. Eyewitnesses said that there were 3 or 4 gunmen who chased Valenti to a nearby cab where he was shot to death. During the shootout a girl of 8 years old was also shot, but survived.
From 1927 to 1931 the Castellammare war raged on between Giuseppe "The Boss" Masseria and Brooklyn Mafia leader Salvatore Maranzano. Maranzano was a highly respected member of the Mafia in Castellammare Del Golfo and came to America in 1925. He was immediately backed by other Castellammarese gangs in the country such as Buffalo and Detroit. Soon violence lay around the corner and trucks were being hijacked, illegal breweries destroyed and men were murdered as if it was a daily business. Also Luciano had to deal with death threats and violence. In 1929 he was abducted by Maranzano men and was beaten and stabbed before eventually being thrown out of a car where he was left for death on the shores of New York Bay. He however survived the ordeal but was forever marked with his infamous scar and droopy eye.
In the meanwhile Luciano had made many new contacts within the criminal underworld and forged good relationships with Jewish and Irish gangs. However, Masseria did not support this mix of ethnic groups because he only wanted Sicilian or at least Italian crew members. But after a while Masseria was on the losing side of the war. His second in command and former Boss of Bosses Peter Morello was murdered and other major members such as Gaetano Gagliano switched sides to Maranzano.
Luciano and his associates realized that Masseria would be no good for the future of La Cosa Nostra and therefore started to favor Maranzano. He went to meet Maranzano and offered his help to make an end to the war. Maranzano went along with the plan and now had an inside man in Masseria's organization. On April 15, 1931, Luciano and Masseria went to a Coney Island restaurant. As the story goes, Luciano and Masseria were playing cards as Luciano stood up and excused himself to the bathroom. Suddenly a couple of gangsters popped in the restaurant and blasted Masseria of his chair. The orchestrated killing of Masseria was a success. Who exactly killed Masseria is still unclear. Most sources say the killers were Bugsy Siegel, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia but it's also possible that the killer was John 'Silk Stocking' Guistra, a former Frankie Yale member and waterfront racketeer who was himself murdered within weeks after Masseria's death.
Maranzano and the Castellammarese were victorious. Therefore he set up several meetings to celebrate and thank his supporters. During one of those meetings he also reorganized the 5 New York crime families: The Scalise Family with it's Napolitan roots; The Profaci Family, the only one which kept it's original boss, Joseph Profaci; The Luciano Family, the former organization of Joe Masseria; The Gagliano Family, which was the former organization of Masseria Lieutenant Gaetano Reina; The Bonanno Family, the Castellammare faction of the Mafia.
Above all was Maranzano, the boss of bosses. All the heads of the families would have to pay tributes to their new leader. However, Maranzano's war was not over as he was making new plans to kill anyone who could form a threat. Luciano became a target next to Al Capone, who supported Masseria during the war, and Dutch Schultz.
Luciano with a girl
Luciano learned of the murder plot thanks to insiders and decided to react first. Maranzano however already had a hitman appointed to kill Luciano, that man was notorious Irish mobster Mad Dog Coll. Together with Meyer Lansky he put up a team of Jewish killers (amongst them Bo Weinberg and Red Levine) who murdered Maranzano in his office only six months after the death of Joe Masseria. When the hitmen fled the scene they reputedly met Mad Dog Coll while he was just going to visit Maranzano. Coll followed their example and also fled. Soon after arrangements were made and there would be no revenge actions. Luciano was now on top of the commission and boss of his Manhattan based family. His long time friend Meyer Lansky served as his adviser next to Frank Costello and underboss Vito Genovese.
In the mid 1930s Luciano began organizing all of the New York brothels. The idea was to set a flat
rate and overwork the women to squeeze as much money out of the business as possible. During the 1930's however a young prosecutor by the name of Thomas Dewey began a research in Charles Luciano's affairs, who was still a rather unknown figure to the police at that time. Only one year earlier, Luciano had ordered the execution of Dutch Schultz because he wanted to kill Dewey, an event which would have brought an enormous heat on the Cosa Nostra. By this he actually saved Dewey's life. Dewey and his Mob busting crew nonetheless organized a raid of several separate brothels and over 100 prostitutes were brought in.
They all spoke of the terrible rule of Luciano's gang which made them work long shifts and received a small amount of money. Once they had nabbed Luciano in 1936 they started to realize they had actually captured the boss of a large criminal enterprise. After a short trial, Luciano was sentenced 30 to 50 years for his involvement in the brothels.
World War II
In 1942 the French had sent a large and luxury Ocean liner, called the SS Normandy, towards New York. The cruiseship was donated to the American government who restyled the ship into a military convoy for use in the war. However, on February 9, a fire occurred on the ship. Immediately firemen tried to extinguish the fire but the weight of their water on the deck made the ship to capsize the next morning. Immediately the US government believed the fire had been set up by Nazi spies. For the next few years the government had to make sure that all the ships in New York would remain unharmed. Therefore the had to secure the docks, which led them to the Mafia.
At first Joseph 'Socks' Lanza, the ruler of the Fulton Fish Market, was approached with the request to secure the docks. Lanza then reported to Frank Costello who at his turn reported to the jailed Luciano. They all agreed upon the plan and had his men and associates guarding the docks. However, Luciano later revealed in "The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano" that the fire on the Normandy was not started by German spies, but by the Mafia itself in an effort to arrange a deal with the US government. Whomever started the fire, the government had closed a secret deal with the Mafia and showed it's gratitude by transporting Luciano from Dannemora prison to Sing Sing, which was much closer to his territory.
The US military intelligence was aware that many of Luciano's associates had maintained good connections in the Sicilian and Italian Mafia. Again his help was sought in providing assistance to counter possible Axis infiltration on US waterfronts, during Operation Underworld, and his connections in Italy and Sicily were tapped
to furnish intelligence and ensure an easy passage for US forces as they moved on to the Sicilian mainland. Both during and after the war, the US military and intelligence agencies reputedly also used Luciano's Mafia connections to root out Communist influence in resistance groups and local governments.
In 1947 he flew to Cuba to host the Havana Conference,
where he retook control of the American syndicate. It is said that Frank Sinatra, who also happened
to be present at the hotel in Havana, was there so the police would not assume anything strange about their presence since they were just going to a concert of their favorite singer. At the meeting, the commission ordered the
execution of Bugsy Siegel,
who had cost the Mafia millions by opening the money-losing "Flamingo" casino in Las Vegas. When the US government learned of Luciano's presence in the Caribbean he was forced to leave immediately and return to Italy.
Involvement in U.S. heroin trade
According to drug trade expert Dr Alfred W. McCoy, Luciano forged a crucial alliance with the Corsican Mafia during the 1950's and therefore was also involved in the so called "French Connection". This new super-syndicate oversaw a massive increase in the production, refining and distribution of heroin. Using opium sourced mainly from Turkey, heroin was refined and distributed via an elaborate network based in Marseilles, France.
Heroin soon began flooding into America and Europe, making notable inroads into vulnerable areas such as the American jazz scene, thanks to the Mafia's increasing takeover of music
venues and other facets of the entertainment industry.
One of Luciano's key contacts from the drug trade was Nicola Gentile, a leading Mafia member with whom Luciano had worked before in New York during the 1930's, and Frank Coppola. In 1957 Luciano also participated at the Hotel Delle Palme meeting in Palermo, which was mainly attended by members of the Bonanno Family, Magaddino Family and Sicilian Mafia to discuss the drug trafficking business. Both the Bonanno and Magaddino family controlled parts in Canada which were used to import drugs.
Throughout his time in Italy he missed America and dreamed about returning there.
He used to say, "Al I need is a week in New York or Miami, so I can die happily". But Luciano could never return because he was deported after the war. He used to sit down at the California restaurant in Naples because there he could meet American tourists. In Italy however he did found the love of his life, a woman named Igea Lusconi. They were frequently seen together at the theater or at a restaurant. But disaster struck Lucky when in 1958 she died of breast cancer, leaving Luciano as a broken man. They formed a couple for about 9 years. Luciano was known as a good man and often gave money to them in need.
On January 26, 1962, Luciano died of a heart attack at Naples International Airport. On the day of his fatal heart attack, Luciano was going to sell the rights of his life's story to a movie maker from Spain and was certain Dean Martin would play the leading role there Lucky and Dean had a friend in common, Frank Sinatra. The Mob disliked the idea because it would bring to much attention to the mafia and had unsuccessfully tried to change his mind. Some say that Luciano was being threatened and hardly left his penthouse in Naples in fear of his life. After his death his coffin was brought back to America and was buried at St. Johns cemetery in Queens, New York.