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The Castellammarese War (1929 - 1931) was a bloody power struggle for control of the Italian-American mafia between two factions led by Joe "the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. The war was named after one of the factions, the Castellammarese, several of whom were from the town of Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily.

The war was effectively ended when Masseria was murdered on 15 April 1931. Maranzano proceeded to re-organize the Mafia, dividing New York City into Five Families of equal stature (Luciano, Bonanno, Profaci, Mangano, Gagliano) and giving them a strict hierarchical structure. He also declared himself capo di tutti capi (Boss of all bosses) for the entire Mafia.

Maranzano's victory was short-lived, as he was assassinated in September 1931 on the orders of Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano then abolished the role of capo di tutti capi and replaced it with the power sharing arrangement known as The Commission in order to avoid similar conflicts in the future.


The name Castelammarese refers to immigrants from the town of Castellammare del Golfo in Western Sicily. In Sicily, these people were controlled by the powerful Sicilian mafioso Don Vito Cascio Ferro. In the U.S., the Castellammarese leader was Salvatore Maranzano, a New York gangster. The Castellammarese mobsters in the U.S. included Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Stefano "The Undertaker" Magaddino, Joseph Profaci, and Joe Aiello. This was one of the two factions in this gang war.

The second faction came from other parts of Sicily and the Calabria and Campania regions of Southern Italy. Many members of this faction originated from Naples. Their leader was another New York mob leader, Joe "The Boss" Masseria. Masseria's faction included Alphonse Capone, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Alfred Mineo (Alfredo Manfredi), Willie Moretti, Joe Adonis, and Frank Costello.

Outwardly, the Castellammarese War was between the forces of Masseria and Maranzano. In reality, it was a generational conflict between the old guard Sicilian leadership, fondly known as the "Mustache Petes" for their long mustaches and old-world ways, and the "Young Turks", a younger and more diverse Italian group who wanted to work more with non-Italians. Tensions between the two factions were readily evident as far back as 1928, with one side frequently hijacking the other's alcohol trucks (alcohol production was then illegal in the United States due to Prohibition). However, both factions were fluid; many gangsters switched sides or killed their own allies during this war.

The war

It is hard to tell when the warfare actually started. In February 1930, Masseria supposedly ordered the death of Gaspar Milazzo, a Castellemmarese native who was the president of Detroit's chapter of Unione Siciliane. Masseria was reportedly humiliated by Milazzo's refusal to support him in an Unione Siciliane dispute involving the Chicago Outfit and Al Capone. However, according to most sources, the opening salvo in the war was fired within the Masseria faction. On February 26, 1930, Masseria ordered the murder of an ally, Gaetano Reina (whose daughter Carmela -- often referred to incorrectly as Mildred due to her nickname, Millie -- would marry Joe Valachi two years later). Masseria ordered the hit and gave the job to a young Vito Genovese, who killed Reina with a shotgun. Masseria's intent was to protect his secret allies Tommy Gagliano, Tommy Lucchese, and Dominic Petrilli (known as "The Gap"); however, his treachery would come back to haunt him, as the Reina family then threw its support to Maranzano.

On August 15, 1930, Castellammerese loyalists executed a key Masseria enforcer, Pietro Morello, at Morello's East Harlem office (a visitor, Giuseppe Pariano, was also killed). Two weeks later, Masseria suffered another blow. After Reina's murder, Masseria had appointed Joseph Pinzolo to take over the ice-distribution racket. However, on September 9, 1930, the Reina family shot and killed Pinzolo at a Times Square office rented by Lucchese. After these two murders, the Reina crew formally joined forces with the Castellammerese. Masseria soon struck back. On October 23, 1930, Castellammerese ally Joe Aiello, president of the Chicago Unione Siciliane, was murdered in Chicago. At the time, it was widely assumed that Capone, another Castellammerese ally, had killed Aiello as part of a bitter power struggle in Chicago. However, Luciano later admitted that Masseria ordered the Aiello hit, which was performed by Masseria ally Alfred Mineo.

Following the murder of Aiello, the tide of war rapidly turned in favor of the Castellammarese. On November 5, 1930 Mineo and a key member of Masseria's gang, Steve Ferrigno, were murdered. At this point, members of Masseria's gang began defecting to Maranzano, rendering the original battle lines of the conflict (Castellammarese versus non-Castellammarese) meaningless. On February 3, 1931, another important Masseria lieutenant, Joseph Catania, was gunned down, dying two days later.

Given the worsened situation, Masseria allies Luciano and Genovese started communicating with Castellammarese leader Maranzano. The two men agreed to betray Masseria if Maranzano would end the war. On April 15, 1931, Masseria was killed while eating dinner at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant in Brooklyn. The hitters were Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver's seat by Siegel.


With the death of Masseria, the war was over. The winners, at least on paper, were Maranzano and the traditional Castellammarese faction. Now Maranzano took some significant actions to avoid more bloody and self-destructive gang wars. Many of these changes are still in effect today.

Except for New York City, the major urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest were organized into one family per city; due to the sheer size of organized crime in New York, it was organized into five separate families. The bosses of the Five Families of New York were to be Luciano, Profaci, Gagliano, Bonanno, and Vincent Mangano. All however would owe allegance and tribute to Maranzano. The Castellammarese, such as Profaci and Bonanno, were divided among the New York crime families and ceased to exist as a separate faction. Maranzano set himself above, and apart from, all the U.S. crime families by creating an additional position for himself--capo di tutti capi or "boss of all bosses."

Each crime family unit was to be headed by a boss, who was assisted by an underboss (the third-ranking position of consigliere, was added somewhat later). Below the underboss, the family was divided into crews, each headed by a caporegime, or capo, and staffed by soldiers. The soldiers would often be assisted by associates-not-yet-members (or as they became known later, "wise guys"). Associates might also include non-Italians who worked with the family.

Unfortunately for Maranzano, his reign as capo di tutti capi was short-lived. On September 10, 1931 Maranzano was shot and stabbed to death in his Manhattan office by a team of Jewish triggermen recruited by Meyer Lansky, a team which included Samuel "Red" Levine and Bo Weinberg.

In the end, both of the traditional factions in the New York Mafia lost the war. The real winners were the younger and more ruthless generation of mobsters, headed by Luciano. With their ascension to power, organized crime was poised to expand into a truly national and multi-ethnic combination.