Joe Bruno on the Mob — Joe “The Boss” Masseria

Joe “The Boss” Masseria, an uncouth man who enjoyed killing as much as he enjoyed eating, and he enjoyed eating immensely, was the undisputed boss of the Italian Mob in New York City, starting in 1916 and all through the Roaring Twenties. In 1903, the five-foot-two-inch menace had fled Sicily because he had murdered someone and was not cool about cooling his heels in a Sicilian jail. He landed in New York City and immediately became part of the vicious Morello Gang, America’s first organized crime family.

The Morello gang was headed by Nick Morello and his brothers Antonio and Joe, three killers so proficient, the reportedly were responsible for scores of murders themselves. They also employed two other vicious henchmen, Lupo “The Wolf,” real name Ignazio Saietta, of the Black Hand fame, and Ciro Terranova, who later became the “Artichoke King” in New York City.

Yet the greedy, ambitious and treacherous Masseria did not like taking a back seat to anyone. So after Lupo The Wolf, Joe Morello and Terranova were sent to prison for various misdeeds, including a counterfeiting charge, Masseria planed to snatch the reins from the Morello brothers.

Masseria pulled the trigger himself, killing several Morello loyalists. And after his brother Joe was gunned down in 1916, Nick Morello was killed by another rival faction, leaving Masseria in charge of the local rackets.

For the next few years, there were several hit attempts on Masseria’s life, but he always came out unscathed. In 1922, Masseria left his apartment at 82 Second Avenue with two bodyguards. He was met by a hail of bullets at close range fired by two men, one of whom was Rocco Valenti. Masseria’s two bodyguards were shot dead, but Masseria fled into a millinery shop next door. Amazingly, even though the two gunman had emptied their guns at Masseria, he was able to bob and weave and avoid any contact with the lead.

Soon after, Masseria set up a meeting with Valenti, ostensibly to make peace, at a restaurant on East 12th Street. Valenti arrived with two bodyguards, but three of Masseria’s men were waiting in ambush. They wounded Valenti’s bodyguards, while Valenti made a mad dash across the street. He jumped on the running board of a passing taxi and was firing back, when he was shot dead, reportedly by a young Lucky Luciano, a man who would later play a big part in Masseria’s demise.

To keep his empire running smoothly, Masseria hired young gangsters like Luciano, Vito Genovese, Joe Bonnano and Thomas Lucchese. In fact, Masseria was so fond of Luciano, he made him his second in command.

Problems started when Luciano started doing business with two Jewish gangsters, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, and Frank Costello, who was an Italian from the mainland of Italy. Masseria had a strict rule. He and his men could only do business with fellow Sicilians. This did not please Luciano too much, and he waited for the right time to take out Masseria and gain control of his rackets.

In 1927, Masseria encountered a new threat to his supremacy in the name of Salvatore Maranzano, who came over from Sicily as the underboss of Don Vito Cascio Ferro, the most powerful Mafia leader in Sicily. What happened next was the Castellammarese War between Masseria and Maranzano. For the next four years, Luciano and his pals ostensibly stood loyal to Masseria, but they finally decided to throw their lot in with Maranzano.

On April 15, 1931, Luciano lured Masseria to the Nuova Villa Tammaro Restaurant in Coney Island. After Masseria had stuffed his belly with enormous amounts of Italian food (he was said to have the eating habits of a “drooling mastiff”), he and Luciano sat down to play cards.

At 3:30 Luciano excused himself to go to the bathroom. While he was taking care of business, four men busted through the front door. They were Vito Genovese, Bugsy Siegel, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis. The four men fired repeatedly at Masseria, hitting him six times, before he dropped dead to the floor, holding the Ace of Spades in his right hand.

When the police arrived minutes later, Luciano said, since he had been in the bathroom, he did not see who had done all the shooting.

Makes sense to me.


6 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob — Joe “The Boss” Masseria”

  1. Don Vito Ferro was my great great grandfather. I would like more information on him if possible.

    thank you

  2. Pam, Read my blog on the killing of Joe Petrosino, NYC police Detective.

  3. the contents of his stomach were next to nothing and it was the ace of diamonds.

  4. Anthony Scarpati Says:

    Joe – I’m looking for more information on the masseria event as well as Nuova Villa Tammaro and it’s owner Gerardo. Any thoughts on where I can obtain other source documents (i.e. files of police, FBI, etc…).

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