Salvatore Sabella

Salvatore Sabella (July 7, 1891–1962) was the Sicilian Mafia boss of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 1920s. Sabella was the founder of the Philadelphia crime family and trained its leaders.

Early life

Born in Sicily in 1891, Sabella became a butcher's apprentice as a young boy. In 1905, tired of dealing with the butcher's violent outbursts, 14 year-old Sabella murdered him. In 1908, Sabella was convicted of the butcher's murder and sent to prison in Milan, Italy for three years. At some point, either in prison or after his release, Sabella became involved with the Sicilian Mafia. After his release, Sabella left Italy for the United States, apparently as an illegal immigrant. In 1912, Sabella arrived in Brooklyn, New York and joined the Gambino crime family which was run by Salvatore D'Aquila, which consisted of many other Castellammarese immigrants. During the next few years, Gambino crime family consigliere Giuseppe Triana trained Sabella for a future role in the organization.

Philadelphia mob boss

In 1919, Sabella was sent to Philadelphia to build a Castellammarese Sicilian criminal organization. As a front, Sabella started an olive oil and cheese business and a soft drink cafe. However, his real occupation was to build the family and protect its operations from other criminals. Sabella would train future mob bosses John Avena and Angelo Bruno to run the family. In 1925 Sabella was a suspect in the murder of rival mobster Leo Lanzetti. On May 30, 1927, two rebellious members of the Philadelphia organization, Vincent Cocozza and Joseph Zanghi were shot and killed on a Philadelphia street corner. Zanghi's brother Anthony provided police with sufficient evidence to indict Sabella their murders. Sabella was acquitted, but the authorities discovered that he was an illegal alien. Towards the end of 1927, Sabella was deported to Sicily and John Avena became acting boss.

Castellammarese War

After Sabella's deportation the Castellammarese War erupted in New York between the Castellamarese faction, led by traditional mob boss Salvatore Maranzano, and a primarily Neopolitan faction led by Giuseppe Masseria. The two sides would trade gangland slayings for several years. As a Castellamarese immigrant, Sabella was allied with Maranzano. In 1929, having returned to the United States, Sabella temporarily relocated to New York with nine gunmen to fight for Maranzano. On April 15, 1931, the war ended with the murder of Masseria. At this time, Sabella returned to Philadelphia and resumed control of his family.


In 1931, Sabella was arrested for assault and battery with a motor vehicle. That same year, at age 40, Sabella retired from organized crime and permanently passed control of the family to John Avena. The reason for Sabella's retirement is unclear; the recent carnage of the Castellammarese War may have prompted him to get out for his own safety.

Sabella reportedly moved to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a butcher for many years. In 1962, Salvatore Sabella died of natural causes.

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