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Deadly Dons

Heading an organized crime group requires savvy business skills, decisive leadership and a willingness to prematurely end potential rivals' lives. Here's a look at some of the most powerful Mob bosses of the twentieth century
Bruce Goldman
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

Alphonse "Scarface Al", Capone Chicago
America's most notorious criminal, Capone evolved from a murderous thug to an astute "businessman" whose stranglehold on bootlegging, gambling and prostitution made him a popular public figure. The flashy mobster grabbed complete control of Chicago following the 1920s gang wars, only to be brought down shortly after by tax evasion.

 

Charles "Lucky" Luciano Genovese family, New York
Luciano was the most powerful mobster of the twentieth century. He was responsible for eliminating the old-world Sicilian-style Mafia in the early 1930s and founding, with Meyer Lansky, the national syndicate, which encompassed all of the various ethnic crime groups. The commission controlled bootlegging, prostitution, narcotics, gambling, loan sharking and labor rackets.

 

John Gotti Gambino family, New York
Known both as the Dapper Don (for his impeccably tailored suits) and the Teflon Don (for his onetime ability to avoid convictions), the late Gotti assumed power following the Paul Castellano assassination. A ruthless leader, Gotti was finally convicted on murder and racketeering charges in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison.

 

Paul Castellano Gambino family, New York
Big Paul, who was named boss by brother-in-law Carlo Gambino, expanded the family's involvement in the garment, trucking and construction rackets, but wasn't respected by his own men. Once he started unleashing a loose tongue about Mafia business, he was gunned down in front of Sparks steak house in Manhattan in 1985.

 

Carlo Gambino Gambino family, New York
The man whom Mario Puzo modeled the "Godfather" character after was a smart and cunning boss who preferred to keep a low profile. One of the few Mafioso bosses never to serve prison time, Gambino turned the family into the country's most profitable crime organization in the 1960s and '70s.

 

Frank Costello Genovese family, New York
For his masterful ways of dealing with politicians, police and judges, Costello earned the moniker "Prime Minister of the Underworld." An influential member of the national crime syndicate who helped provide protection to the gangs, he survived an assassination attempt in 1957 and eventually retired from the Mob.

 

Dutch Schultz Organized crime leader, New York
An unpredictable but entrepreneurial underworld leader, Schultz usurped most of the 1920s Bronx beer trade and took over penny-ante numbers in Harlem. He escaped an income tax evasion conviction, but when he subsequently threatened to kill special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, who was investigating vice and racketeering, Schultz had to be knocked off.

 

Joseph Bonanno Bonanno family, New York
A traditional don who scorned other mobsters' fixation on making money, Bonanno attempted unsuccessfully to assume control of the New York Mafia in the '60s. His diversified operations included garment factories, cheese firms and funeral parlors. Never indicted in 30-plus years as a boss, he died last year at age 97.

 

Joseph Colombo Sr. Colombo family, New York
Colombo rose to power in 1963 after informing Mob leaders Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese about a plot to kill them, hits he was supposed to organize. An eccentric boss, Colombo told his men to hold legitimate jobs and created the Italian-American Civil Rights League to help, ironically, counter the Italian gangster stereotype. He was gunned down at a league rally.

 

Sam "Momo" Giancana, Chicago
Giancana was a ruthless boss responsible for scores of deaths. Arrested more than 70 times, he rose to power in the Chicago Outfit by coordinating the takeover of the numbers racket. But nutty schemes (supporting CIA efforts to assassinate Castro, supposedly ordering Desi Arnaz's death) eventually got him deposed and later rubbed out.

 

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel Syndicate leader
As a teenager, Siegel formed the Bug and Meyer Mob with Meyer Lansky to handle contracts for bootleg gangs, frequently carrying out the murders himself. He ran the syndicate's West Coast rackets in the '30s, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, before meeting his end in 1947 for skimming money from the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

 

Thomas "Three-Finger Brown" Lucchese Lucchese family, New York
A noted hit man early on, Lucchese later became one of the Mafia's most popular and powerful bosses. His main racket was garments, but he also ran gambling, loan sharking, narcotics and construction operations. He developed close ties with government and business leaders, many of whom attended his funeral in 1967.

 

Vito Genovese Genovese family, New York
Like Albert Anastasia, killing came easily to Genovese, but "Don Vito" also had brains. The narcotics kingpin tried to take control of the Luciano family in the '50s, ordering the rubouts of several high-ranking mobsters. But his rivals conspired to implicate him in a drug-smuggling deal, which resulted in Genovese's imprisonment.

 

Albert Anastasia Gambino family, New York
An exceedingly violent man, Anastasia was the chief executioner of Murder Inc., the enforcement arm of the 1930s national crime syndicate that was responsible for more than 400 murders. After he tried to cut in on Meyer Lansky's Havana casino action, Anastasia was mowed down in a Manhattan barbershop in 1957.

 

Carmine Galante Bonanno family, New York
The cigar-smoking Galante attempted, as Joe Bonanno had, to wrest control from the other New York families. After he ordered eight Genovese wise guys murdered—control of a lucrative drug operation was at stake—he got his comeuppance when he was gunned down in Brooklyn in 1979, cigar in mouth.

 

Meyer Lansky National crime syndicate founder
If Lucky Luciano was the mob's organizational genius, Lansky was its brains, the man entrusted to hide or invest the national syndicate's money. And no important decision was ever made without consulting the "Little Man." Lansky's virtual gambling monopoly in pre-Castro Cuba and his propensity for skimming millions out of Las Vegas casinos made him wealthy.

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