Joe Bruno on the Mob — Lucky Luciano

Lucky Luciano was born Salvatore Luciana on November 24, 1896, in Lercara Friddi, a tiny town near Palermo, Sicily. He immigrated with his family to America in 1907, and settled in an apartment building at 265 East 10th Street. The rumor was, as a 10-year old, Luciano was a terror in Sicily, and he convinced a customs officer at Ellis Island to change his name to Luciano, in order to avoid detection by several enemies he had made in the old country.

Luciano was not a model student and he decided on a racket where he would confront skinny Jewish kids on their way to the public school he attended, and offer them, for a penny or two, protection from him beating them up. Some kids paid and some kids he beat up badly. But one skinny Jew fought Luciano tooth and nail in an all-out street fight. The Jewish kid’s name was Meyer Lansky and thus started a life-long friendship.

Luciano dropped out of school at 15, and worked in a hat factory for awhile. But that was not the life for him. Luciano started hanging out on Mulberry Street, and soon became a charter member of the Five Points Gang, under the tutelage of leader Paul Kelly, with top notch hoods Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale as his mentors. Luciano became a “leg-breaker” for the Five Points Gang, and he was suspected of many beatings and even a few murders. But the Five Points Gang had their hooks into crooked cops and politicians, so Luciano was never brought up on any charges.

By 1920, the Five Points gang had splintered into several smaller gangs and Luciano saw potential in the rackets of Joe “The Boss” Masseria, who himself saw potential in the rough-and-tumble Luciano. Masseria treated Luciano like a son, and he made him his top gun and second in command in all his operations. But Masseria didn’t like the fact that Luciano did business with Jews like Lansky and Lansky’s partner Bugsy Siegel, or even Italians like Frank Costello, who was from Calabria, and didn’t have Masseria’s required Sicilian bloodlines. Finally, Luciano decided Masseria had to go, and because Masseria was now involved in the Castellamarese War with rival Salvatore Maranzano, Luciano threw in with Maranzano, with the intention of killing Masseria. Luciano lured Masseria to a Coney Island restaurant, and while Luciano was taking a bathroom break, Siegel and three other men barged in and shot Masseria to death.

After a few months under the strict rule of Maranzano, Luciano decided Maranzano, and his old-world ways, had to go too. And Maranzano felt the same way about the ambitious Luciano. Maranzano invited Luciano to a meeting in Maranzano’s midtown office, where he planned to have Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole shoot Luciano into swiss cheese. But Luciano was one step ahead of Maranzano. He sent four men, led by Samuel “Red” Levine to Maranzano’s office, where they shot and stabbed Maranzano to death. As they left the scene of the crime, the four men passed Cole in the hallway and told him not to bother and that Maranzano was already quite dead. Cole shrugged, did an about-face and exited the building, quite content in the fact that he had been paid in advance.

Luciano’s next move was to unite all the disjointed mobs into separate, but equal groups, Italians and otherwise. With the assistance of Lansky, he formed the National Crime Syndicate. Yet, Luciano’s reign was short-lived. In 1936, ambitious special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey tried and convicted Luciano on a trumped-up charge of prostitution. The key evidence was provided by several pimps and prostitutes, who were more interested in staying out of prison than they were about giving truthful testimony. Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years in jail, but after the end of World War II, Dewey, now Governor of New York, offered Luciano parole for “wartime services to his country,” which included Luciano’s men providing protection on the New York City docks, most likely from themselves. The catch was that Luciano could never return to the United States and would instead be exiled to Italy. From Italy, Luciano still kept his fingers in mob affairs, even sneaking into Cuba for a while to help Lansky run his lucrative casino businesses.

By the early 1960’s, Luciano, due to several heart attacks, was an extremely ill man. Knowing his time was numbered, Luciano was contemplating providing details for a movie concerning his longtime connections to organized crime. Lansky and his pals were not too happy about these new turn of events, but before they could stop him, Luciano died of a heart attack at a Naples airport, on January 26, 1962. He was on his way to meet an arriving scriptwriter to discuss the details of that never-made biographical flick.


4 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob — Lucky Luciano”

  1. There were no customs officers at Elllis island and immigrant names were never changed, as they had already been recording on the ship’s passenger list in Europe.

    • You may be right, but unfortunately, for a few bucks crooked immigration officials would not only change your name, but your age and sex too, if you pay them enough. The way of the world.

  2. P.h. Campbell Says:

    The name was Coll. Mad Dog Coll

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