Giuseppe "Joseph" Bonanno was the leader of the Castellammarese branch of the Mafia in New York. Under his leadership the organization was, and still is, known by his name, the Bonanno Family. He managed to keep this position for over 30 years however it is also stated he actually remained the official boss until his death in 2002. Bonanno was one of the original heads of the commission and would lay on the base of the massive drug trade in America. He was related to many of his associated by blood or marriage.
Giuseppe was born in 1905 to Salvatore Bonanno and Caterina Bonventre in Castellammare Del Golfo, a Mafia stronghold in the Provence of Trapani. His father was a respected don with lots of influence in the Sicilian Mafia. Salvatore's grandfather, also named Giuseppe, was an associate of Giuseppe Girabaldi, the Italian hero who made it into history books by fighting for the independence of his country.
Through marriage the Bonanno family related itself to many other Sicilian families such as the Magaddino, Schiro and Bonventre families. Salvatore married the sister of Pietro and Vito Bonventre, although it is possible they
were in fact related to each other much earlier. Although the Bonanno's were a powerbase they found themselves at war with another Castellammarese family, the Buccelato's. This feud would eventually lead to the death of Salvatore's brother Pietro in 1899.
The feud was temporarily halted in 1905 when peace was made between Salvatore Bonanno and Felice Buccelato. Buccelato was even made godfather of Salvatore's only child to strengthen the pact.
In 1908 Salvatore, his wife and child moved across the ocean towards America. They went to live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, amongst many of their Castellammarese associates, some of them being Vito Bonventre, Nicolo Schiro and Turi Saracino.
Together they raised a community with Bonanno being one of it's prominent leaders.
Joining the Brooklyn Castellammarese
Joseph Bonanno in the early 1920's
The Castellammarese also had their own hitsquad, led by Vito Bonventre, Francesco Puma, Bartolo DiGregorio and others which operated in cities such as Pittsburgh, Colorado, Jersey and mainly Detroit. The Brooklyn Castellammarese also forged strong relations with Castellammarese associates across the country such as Angelo Palmeri from Buffalo. In 1911 however Salvatore was summoned back to Sicily because war had broken out again against the Buccelato's. In 1915 Salvatore died due to ill health. 5 years later his wife, Caterina,
also passed away leaving young Giuseppe being an orphan at the age of 15. While growing up he went to college in Palermo and retaliated against the upcoming power of Benito Mussolini. When Mussolini appointed his trustworthy prefect Cesare Mori to hunt down any man who was suspected of criminal ties, Bonanno and cousin Peter Magaddino fled Sicily. There they entered Florida as illegal immigrants. With help from his cousin John Bonventre they entered New York where they were taken to Williamsburg.
One year later Salvatore Maranzano entered America, a man to whom Bonanno looked up to, according to his autobiography. Bonanno soon made an impact to his fellow Castellammarese by showing his strategic skills and sense for leadership, the fact he was the son of Salvatore Bonanno also probably helped in a way. Together with Maranzano they set up breweries in New York and earned millions during Prohibition. By this point they got more and more troubles by another Mafia power in New York, the Morello/Masseria Family. It's leader, Giuseppe Masseria, was seen as the Boss of Bosses in New York to whom everybody had to pay tributes, including the Castellammarese. Current leader Nicolo Schiro was said to have payed once before stepping down. Who exactly was next in line to become the Castellammarese leader can be disputed. Most sources claim this was Salvatore Maranzano but it could also have been the elder Vito Bonventre.
Either how, Bonanno enjoyed being part of the Communities higher levels.
During the late 1920's the inevitable happened and war with the Morello group, who's members were often Corleone natives, was being fought on the street. The 1928 murder of Salvatore D'Aquila also strengthen the reason to challenge their opponent. The war eventually had it's peak from 1930 until 1931.
Many men found their deaths including mob leaders Gaetano Reina, Vito Bonventre, Gaspar Milazzo and Peter Morello. An alliance with Charles Luciano and his group would eventually mean the end of the war as they saw to it that
Giuseppe Masseria would be of no more trouble. In the following weeks Maranzano held meetings with his allies to celebrate victory and to explain new rules. The 5 New York families were officially recognized and Maranzano demanded
to be regarded as America's Boss of Bosses. This also meant that everybody had to pay him cash funds for so called benefits. Maranzano's hardheadedness however was causing the strong alliance to slowly brake. He didn't want no risks and therefore made a hitlist to exclude any threats for his future business. Men on that list were Charles Luciano, Frank Costello, Al Capone and Dutch Schultz. All of them had to be murdered. Things turned out to be in Maranzano's disadvantage as it would lead to his own murder in 1931. A pact was then made with Joseph Bonanno and others that there would be no revenge actions. After that the position of Boss of Bosses was removed and an official commission was made. This commission included the heads of each family. Those original heads were Gaetano Gagliano, Joseph Profaci, Charles Luciano, Vincent Mangano and Joseph Bonanno.
Building the Bonanno empire
Bonanno's elder cousin Frank Garafola was appointed as underboss and another cousin, John Tartamella, became his consiglieri.
Next to gambling joints, loansharking and bookmaking the Brooklyn based Bonanno's also invested in many legal ventures such as restaurants, a trucking company, clothing factories, cheese factories (such as the Sunshine Diary Farm which he owned with capo John Bonventre) and especially construction. The family was one of the smallest though very wealthy and strong organized families in America. In 1931 Joseph married Fay Labruzzo, the sister of one of his most trustworthy capo's, Frank Labruzzo. One year later they
had their first child, Salvatore, which was named after his father. In 1938 Bonanno left America to re-enter sometime later in Detroit so he could apply for American citizenship, which he eventually got in 1945.
Some of his closest friends included Gaspare DiGregorio, a lifetime partner in crime and best man at his wedding, Stefano Magaddino, one of his
cousins and Salvatore and Joseph Profaci, leaders of another New York Mafia enterprise.
The 1950's would become a decade which would change the American Mafia for good, partially it was by the hands of Joseph Bonanno.
Most of the American Families already were earning millions of dollars due to both legal and illegal businesses, but they were yet to get involved in the most profitable business up to date, drug trafficking.
In 1952 Frank Garofalo retired and moved back to Sicily, leaving the spot of underboss open for
Carmine Galante. Galante was then sent over to Canada in order to create a new Bonanno branch. This he found in Vincent Cotroni, the Montreal Mafia boss.
Together with Galante Bonanno traveled to Sicily in October 1957 where he was summoned for an important meeting. According to his
autobiography the minister of foreign trade Bernardo Mattarella, who was a childhood friend of his back in Castellammare, was waiting for him at the airport in Rome tot welcome him. The other American delegates accompanying Bonanno were his Buffalo cousins Antonino and Gaspare Magaddino,
Detroit mobster Santo Volpe (cousin to Giuseppe Genco Russo) and Charles Luciano, amongst others. Here they were about to meet the Sicilian bosses to discuss business. One being to form a Sicilian commission, in the likes of the American one, but more importantly
to form a large drugnetwork across the Atlantic Ocean. Bonanno was already aware of the plan a couple of years before and had therefore forged his alliance with Canadian boss Vic Cotroni. The Magaddino's also found their Canadian support in
Hamilton with John Papalia. Their 'holiday' in Palermo lasted for about a week as they stayed at the Hotel Della Palme hotel. The pact was closed and the Magaddino, Detroit and Bonanno families would oversee the narcotics trade in America while
the Palermo families, under the overall leadership of Gaetano Badalamenti, would look for the overseas trafficking and manufacturing. A couple of days after the meeting Albert Anastasia was gunned down while sitting in a barber chair. It is possible the Anastasia hit had also been one of the items during the meeting.
One month later a meeting was arranged with all the heads of the American Families in Apalachin, New York. During this meeting the drugtrade was the central point for discussion. However most of
family bosses, even including Joseph Bonanno, claimed to be against the involvement in drugs, most of them did long for the fortunes which could be made by it.
Vito Genovese, who had recently taken over the Luciano Family, and Carlo Gambino, who had recently taken over the Mangano Family, had already been involved in drugs for many years and were sure to be a part of Bonanno's new enterprise. As the meeting went on the police
suddenly showed up to investigate the large presence of these suspicious wealthy businessmen. Some of the mob leaders, dressed up in fine cloths and jewelry, panicked and ran into the woods where they were soon chased by the police. This included Joseph Bonanno, who was later disgraced because he had vouched for his cousin Stefano Magaddino to arrange the meeting. About 60 men were arrested and as suspected they were angered by Genovese and Magaddino.
Although none of the men arrested were charged with any crime, the press had captured the story nationwide. People would now talk about it on the street and more importantly, the FBI could no longer turn their heads. FBI chief Herbert Hoover, who was said to have made an arrangement with the Mafia in order to look the other way, was also forced to react. Suspected Mafia leaders were now being taped and surveillance teams would make it allot harder for them to meet each other. All of this however did not have any effect on the massive drugtrade. Through the use of pizzerias and other fronts like bakeries the drugs entered New York. For example, heroin was being stuffed inside crates of tomato sauce which fooled the FBI for many years.
The Modern commission
During the years to come
Joseph Bonanno frequently moved to Arizona where he had bought a house and had opened new ventures.
By 1962 Bonanno was the only original head left of the commission after his friend Joseph Profaci passed away due to cancer.
Charles Luciano was the first to
Joseph Bonanno mugshot 1960
leave the commission as he was deported to Italy in 1946, secondly there was Vincent Mangano who
disappeared in 1951 and thirdly Gaetano Gagliano who died in 1954. After Joseph Profaci died his brother-in-law Giuseppe Magliocco
took over. This was however not to the likes of new commission heads Thomas Lucchese and Carlo Gambino. Later on they held a meeting with Magliocco saying he was elevated
illegaly and wanted him to resign as boss. Magliocco did not agree and forged a plot against them. Bonanno later claimed that he was no part of this plot but
a cooperation between the Profaci and Bonanno family was mistaken because Bonanno's son, Salvatore, lived at Magliocco's ranch at the time.
The murder plot was however revealed by Magliocco capo Joseph Colombo and both Bonanno and Magliocco were to be punished by the commission. Both were summoned in front of the commission but Bonanno refused to appear, Magliocco on the other hand did go. Due to his harsh crimes Magliocco was only fined $50.000 and was replaced as head of the family by Joseph Colombo. Magliocco died only a couple of months later in 1963.
Bonanno was now seen as some sort of outlaw because of his retaliation. In October 1964 he was kidnapped by Antonio Magaddino and nephew Peter Magaddino because
Stefano Magaddino was also supposed to be on the hitlist. However, it is widely believed the kidnapping was staged to fool Gambino and Lucchese.
During his absence a faction of the Bonanno family began to retaliate against Bonanno and his son, who was recently appointed as consiglieri. The one in charge of the revolting faction was Gaspare DiGregorio, his childhood friend. The resulting battle was dubbed 'the banana war'. It didn't get to any violence in particular however Bonanno's son later claimed he was at one time involved in a gunfight,
nearly escaping death. If this event actually ever happened is not quiet sure. In 1968 Bonanno suffered a heart attack and decided that he and his son would retire from criminal life and would
move to Arizona. By this the commission had won and appointed a new boss to the Bonanno Family. Others also say this event was again staged and Bonanno actually remained the official head while living in Arizona. This could be
strenghtened because other close associates, such as Detroit bigshot Pietro Licavoli, also moved to Arizona where they were often seen together. Also other men, including New York mobsters, went to seek Bonanno for advice.
Life in Arizona
While the Bonanno family headed for rough years with the infiltration by Donnie Brasco during the 1970's, the Galante murder in 1979 and the Pizza connection crackdown during the 1980's, Bonanno himself led a quiet life. Unlike many of his associates Bonanno had the previlege of not being behind bars for a large number of years. While in Arizona the FBI did however caught him and his son for previous committed crimes during their stay at the state.
In 1983 Bonanno published his autobiography where he explained many details concerning his lifetime. He didn't say much about the drugtrade though as he still claimed to be uninvolved. In 1985 he was jailed for 14 months after
he refused to answer any question concerning the Mafia (the FBI probably wanted to seize their chance after he published the book). In
1999 a made for tv movie about Bonanno's life appeared which he also went to see at the premier. Bonanno eventualy died peacefully at the age of 97 on May 12, 2002. 3 years later his youngest son Joseph Jr. died due to heart faillure and in 2008 his oldest son, Salvatore,
died after food poisoning. The Bonanno family is the only one left in New York which still bares it's original name.