Frank Costello

Most Notorious Mobsters

Like Masseria, Maranzano was an old-school mob boss, a "Mustache Pete," as they were known. Costello, Luciano and the other "Young Turks" had had enough of the old ways, and they decided Maranzano, like Masseria, needed to go.

In late 1931, less than six months into his reign as "boss of all bosses," Maranzano called a meeting with the Young Turks. But they knew, through spies, that it was a trap: Maranzano planned to kill them because he feared Luciano and his ambition.

So the young men turned the tables: They sent a hit squad to the meeting in their place. On September 10, 1931, four Jewish hit men, disguised as tax agents, gunned Maranzano down in his Midtown Manhattan office, then stabbed him for good measure. Most historians consider his death the end of the Castellammarese War, which took the lives of about 60 mobsters.

Now that Maranzano was out of the way, Luciano moved into the top spot, strengthening the National Crime Commission and taking over as "boss of all bosses." He was also firmly in control of what became known as the Luciano crime family, descendant of the Morello family and predecessor of the Genovese family.

Luciano ran the day-to-day business, while Costello served as one of the biggest earners. From the start he ran a large and lucrative gambling enterprise, setting up thousands of slots throughout New York and managing a bookie operation credited with revolutionising gambling systems across the United States.

His slot operations went swimmingly until reformist New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia made a show of confiscating every machine and dumping it in the East River. Costello reacted by simply moving his game to New Orleans, where he worked under the protection of corrupt Senator Hughie Long.

At the same time he was drawing in millions for the family, Costello was pumping much of it back out, serving as behind-the-scenes greaser with corrupt pols. It was his agility in this field that would eventually earn him his famous nickname.

Indeed, he bragged that he owned Tammany Hall, the famously crooked machine that ran politics in New York City. He may not have controlled La Guardia, but he had much of the rest of the city in his pocket.

In 1936, Luciano was sent to prison for 30 to 50 years on what may have been trumped-up prostitution charges. That eventually left Genovese in charge of the family, with Costello second in command.

Then, one year later, Genovese faced indictment for the murder of a fellow gangster over the proceeds of a gambling scam. To avoid prosecution, he fled to Italy. Luciano, still acting as permanent boss from prison, put Costello in as acting head of the family.

Costello was a successful boss: He worked with different nationalities and boosted the family's profits substantially. He controlled a massive gambling empire across the country and gave millions to crooked pols and cops to grease the wheels.

After the end of World War II, Luciano was deported to Italy and his sentence commuted. That put Costello firmly in control of the family. But about the same time, Genovese was shipped home to face murder charges after a botched attempt to cooperate with the U.S. Army in Italy.

The prosecution went nowhere. The witnesses against Genovese wound up dead, and the charges were dropped. Genovese wanted back in charge of the family, and Costello faced a threat to his rein. Genovese was one of the most violent and ruthless leaders in the history of the Mafia, unlike Costello, a sophisticated don who preferred intellect to brawn.

Genovese was now a low-level capo in the family, a fact that made him even angrier at Costello. He started a campaign to win over soldiers to his side in a campaign to oust Costello or have him killed. It was a tough job: Costello had plenty of support within the family and among members of the Commission. His underboss, Guarino "Willie Moore" Moretti, was strong, making the task even more difficult.

Costello's undoing as boss came by way of the so-called Kefauver Hearings on organized crime in 1951. The hearings, led by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, drew the testimony of more than 600 mobsters, politicians and lawyers, many on national television.

Unlike the gangsters who testified before him, Costello agreed not to plead the Fifth Amendment. He didn't answer many questions, and his face never appeared on camera, but many Mafiosi were still unhappy with the fact that he testified at all.

The attention brought new law enforcement and media scrutiny on Costello and his family. It earned him the moniker "the Prime Minster of the Underworld." His rule quickly began to fall apart.

Moretti, whose tertiary syphilis may have led him to make embarrassing disclosures before the Kefauver Committee, was assassinated later in 1951 for saying too much. Over the next few years, Costello did several stints in prison, including one on contempt charges for walking out of the hearings.

Genovese used all this as an excuse to knock Costello from the top rung. On May 2, 1957, Genovese's driver, Vincent "Chin" Gigante (a future don himself) shot Costello in the head as he walked to the elevator in the lobby of his apartment building in New York. It was part of a power play against a larger faction of the Mafia in the city.

Amazingly, Costello survived. The bullet merely grazed his head. Gigante turned himself in, but Costello, a loyal mobster to the end, refused to identify him.

Genovese seized control of what quickly became known as the Genovese family, and Costello voluntarily stepped aside. He was allowed to keep his Louisiana gambling enterprises and legitimate businesses. He and Genovese made peace, and others in the organisation continued to treat him as a leading figure in the Mafia for the rest of his life.

Frank Costello died on February 18, 1973, after suffering a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment. His remains are buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Queens.

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