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Joe Adonis

Joe Adonis (born November 22, 1902 - died November 26, 1971) also known as "Joey A", "Joe Adone", "Joe Arosa", "James Arosa", and "Joe DiMeo", was a New York mobster who was an important participant in the formation of the modern Cosa Nostra crime families.

Background and Early Life

Adonis was born Giuseppe Antonio Doto in the small town of Montemarano, in the Province of Avellino, near Naples, Italy, to Michele and Maria Doto.

In the early 1920's, Doto started calling himself "Joe Adonis" (Adonis was the Greek god of beauty and desire). It is uncertain as to what inspired his nickname. One story states that Adonis received this nickname from a Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl who was dating him. Another story says that Adonis adopted the name after reading a magazine article on Greek mythology.

Extremely vain, Adonis spent a great deal of time in personal grooming. On one occasion, Lucky Luciano saw Adonis combing his thick, dark hair in front of a mirror and asked him, "Who do you think you are, Rudolph Valentino?" Adonis replied, "For looks, that guy's a bum!"

Adonis and his wife Joan had four children; Joseph A. Doto Jr., Dolores Maria Olmo, Anna Arrieta, and Elizabeth Doto. Adonis was a cousin of Luciano crime family capo Alan Bono, who supervised Adonis' operations in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.

New Life in America

In 1909, Adonis and his family entered the United States at New York City. As a young man, Adonis supported himself by stealing and picking pockets. While working on the streets, Adonis became friends with future mob boss Lucky Luciano and mobster Settimo Accardi, who were involved in illegal gambling. Adonis developed a loyalty to Luciano that would last for decades.

At the beginning of Prohibition, Lucky Luciano, Adonis, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel started a bootlegging operation in Brooklyn. This operation soon began supplying large amounts of alcohol to the show business community along Broadway in Manhattan. Doto soon assumed the role of a gentleman bootlegger, socializing with the theater elite.

Castellammarese War and the National Crime Syndicate

During the 1920s, Adonis became an enforcer for Frankie Yale, the boss of some rackets in Brooklyn. While working for Yale, Adonis briefly met future Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, who was also working for Yale. Meanwhile, Luciano became an enforcer for Giuseppe Masseria, who ran an organization loosely based on clans from Naples and Southern Italy. After the 1928 assassination of Yale, Masseria took over Yale's criminal organization.

Masseria soon became embroiled in the vicious Castellammarese War with his arch rival, Salvatore Maranzano. Maranzano represented the Sicilian clans, most of which came from Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily. As the war progressed, both bosses started recruiting more soldiers. By 1930, Adonis had joined the Masseria faction. As the war turned against Masseria, Luciano secretly contacted Maranzano about switching sides. When Masseria heard about Luciano's betrayal, he approached Adonis about killing Luciano. However, Adonis instead warned Luciano about the murder plot.

On April 15, 1931, Adonis allegedly participated in Masseria's murder. Charles Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting at a Coney Island, Brooklyn restaurant. During their meal, Luciano excused himself to go to the restroom. As soon as Luciano was gone, Adonis, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Bugsy Siegel rushed into the dining room and shot Masseria to death. No one was ever indicted in the Masseria murder.

With the death of Masseria, the war ended and Maranzano was the victor. To avoid any future wars, Maranzano reorganized all the Italian-American gangs into families and anointed himself as the "boss of all bosses". Luciano and his loyalists quickly became dissatisfied with Maranzano's power grab. When Luciano discovered that the suspicious Maranzano had ordered his murder, Luciano struck first. On September 10, 1931, several gunmen attacked and killed Maranzano in his Manhattan office.

With Maranzano's death, Luciano became the pre-eminent organized crime boss in New York City. However, unlike Maranzano, Luciano did not want to become the "boss of all bosses". Instead, he established a National Crime Syndicate that united all the Italian-American gangs across the country and allowed for shared decision-making. For his part in murdering Masseria, Adonis received a seat on the Syndicate "board of directors".

Criminal empire

Joe Adonis

Joe Adonis and Lucky Luciano soon controlled bootlegging in Broadway and Midtown Manhattan. At its height, this operation grossed $12 million in one year and employed 100 workers. Adonis also bought car dealerships in New Jersey. When customers bought cars from his dealerships, the salesmen would intimidate them into buying "protection insurance" for the vehicle. Adonis soon moved into cigarette manufacturing, buying up vending machines by the hundreds and stocking them with stolen cigarettes. Adonis ran his criminal empire from Joe's Italian Kitchen, a restaurant he owned in Brooklyn. By 1932, Adonis was also a major criminal power in Brooklyn. Despite all his wealth, Adonis still participated in jewelry robberies, a throwback to his early criminal career on the streets.

In 1932, Adonis allegedly participated in the kidnapping and brutal beating in Brooklyn of Isidor Juffe and Issac Wapinksy. In 1931, Adonis had lent the two men money for investment, then kidnapped them in 1932 after deciding he should be receiving a higher profit. Two days after the kidnappings, Adonis released Juffe and Wapinsky after receiving a $5,000 ransom payment. A month later, Wapinsky died of internal injuries from being assaulted.

Adonis placed many politicians and high-ranking police officers on his payroll. Adonis used his political influence to assist members of the Luciano crime family, such as Charles Luciano and Vito Genovese, and mob associates such as Meyer Lansky and Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, the head of Murder, Inc.

As a syndicate board member, Adonis, along with Buchalter, may have been responsible for assigning some murder contracts to Murder Inc.

Government scrutiny

In 1936, prosecutors convicted Luciano on pandering charges and sent him to state prison for 30 years. Underboss Vito Genovese remained in charge of the family until he fled to Italy in 1937 to avoid a murder prosecution. Luciano now left Frank Costello, an Adonis ally, in charge of the Luciano family and Adonis in charge of the Syndicate.

On April 27, 1940, Adonis was indicted in Brooklyn on charges of kidnapping, extortion, and assault in the 1932 Juffe/Wapinsky case. However, on February 24, 1941, the prosecutor requested a dismissal due to lack of evidence.

During the 1940's, Adonis moved his gambling rackets to New Jersey. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's campaign against illegal gambling had made it too difficult to do business in New York. Adonis also moved his family to a luxurious house in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Adonis set up a casino in Lodi, New Jersey and provided limousine service there from New York City. During this same period, Adonis became partners with Meyer Lansky in an illegal casino in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

On February 10, 1946, after being escorted from prison to a ship in Brooklyn harbor, Luciano was deported to Italy. In December 1946, Adonis and Luciano met at the famous Havana Conference of U.S. organized crime bosses in Cuba. It was Luciano's goal at the conference to regain his mob influence, using Cuba as a base. Being a loyal supporter, Adonis willingly agreed to turn over his power in the syndicate to Luciano. However, the U.S. government soon discovered Luciano's presence in Havana and pressured the Cuban government to expel him. On February 24, 1947, Luciano was placed on a ship by Cuban authorities for deportation back to Italy.

On December 12, 1950, Adonis was summoned before the U.S. Senate Kefauver Commission on organized crime. Adonis repeatedly refused to testify, citing his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Although Adonis escaped contempt charges, he suffered undesirable national exposure as a mobster.

In late May, 1951, Adonis and several associates pleaded No Contest to charges of operating three gambling rooms in Lodi, New Jersey and Fort Lee, New Jersey. On May 28, 1951, Adonis was sentenced in Hackensack, New Jersey, to two to three years in state prison.

Deportation to Italy and death

On August 6, 1953, at a hearing in Adonis' prison, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered Adonis' deportation to Italy. The government claimed that Adonis was an illegal alien. Adonis fought deportation, claimed that he was a native-born American citizen. On August 9, 1953, Adonis was released from prison in New Jersey.

On January 3, 1956, Adonis voluntarily left New York City on an ocean liner for Naples, Italy. His wife and children stayed behind in New Jersey.

Once in Italy, Adonis moved into a luxurious villa outside Milan. Adonis may have met with Luciano in Naples, but there is no proof of it. Over time, the financially-struggling Luciano grew angry at the wealthy Adonis for not helping him. On January 26, 1962, Luciano died of a heart attack in Naples at age 64. Adonis attended the funeral service in Naples, bringing a huge floral wreath with the words, "So Long, Pal".

In June 1971, the Italian Government forced Adonis to leave his Milan residence and move to Serra de' Conti, a small town near the Adriatic Sea. Adonis was one of 115 suspected mobsters relocated to Serra de' Conti after the assassination in May of the public prosecutor of Palermo, Sicily. In late November, 1971, Italian police forces transported Adonis to a small hillside shack near Ancona, Italy for interrogation. During the lengthy questioning, Adonis suffered a heart attack. Adonis was rushed to a regional hospital in Ancona, where he died several days later on November 26, 1971.


The U.S. Government allowed Adonis' family to bring his body back to the United States for burial. Adonis' funeral service was held at Epiphany Roman Catholic Church in Fort Lee, New Jersey, attended only by his immediate family. He was buried in Madonna Cemetery in Fort Lee.

In popular culture

Adonis is portrayed in:

  • 1984 film Gangster Wars by James Percell
  • 1991 film Bugsy by Lewis Van Bergen
  • 1999 television movie Lansky both by Casey McFadden and Sal Landi.
  • Adonis has been featured in the television documentary series American Justice.