Lucania, Salvatore (1897-1962)

Born Lercara Friddi, Sicily, Nov. 24, 1897.
Died Naples, Italy, Jan. 26, 1962.

Salvatore "Charlie Lucky" Lucania is probably the most talked about New York Mafia boss. He is the subject of numerous legends, many of them false, while his actual underworld career remains largely unknown. He was a pivotal figure in the Castellammarese War of 1930-31, benefited greatly from the assassinations of two who occupied the position of Mafia boss of bosses and participated in the dismantling of the boss of bosses system and the creation of a Commission system for resolving underworld disputes.

Lucania was the third child born to Antonino and Rosalia Lucania in the Sicilian sulfur-mining community of Lercara Friddi. The family grew to include five children before its migration to America. Lucania, his mother and two of his siblings, reached New York in 1907, joining his father in an apartment in Manhattan's East Village.

A chronic truant from school and frequent gambler, Lucania in his childhood acquired the nickname "Lucky," a result of the first syllable of his surname sounding like "Luck." The source of the "Charlie" portion of his nickname is uncertain. Often, Italian boys seeking to Americanize the name "Salvatore" opted for "Sam." Possibly, "Charlie" came about through the mispronunciation of "Turi," the Italian familiar form of "Salvatore." (In later years, Lucania was known in the press as Charlie "Luciano." The "Luciano" surname appears to have been the result of a persistent misspelling by reporters. Though he is now known to history as "Luciano," Lucania is not believed to have personally used that surname.)

At this time, he became close friends with orphan Michael Lascari and reportedly with future gangland leaders like Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Siegel. He dabbled in criminal activity and was caught in possession of narcotics in 1916. He was served six months in prison as a result.

During the early Prohibition Era, Lucania worked for a number of non-Italian underworld leaders, including Arnold Rothstein and Jack "Legs" Diamond. He often served as a driver, and referred to himself as a professional chauffeur. He was again caught with narcotics in 1923. By taking authorities to a cache of narcotics at 163 Mulberry Street in Manhattan he avoided prosecution.

By the mid-1920s, Lucania was drawn into the growing Manhattan Mafia organization of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria but continued his affiliation with the Legs Diamond gang. Near the end of 1926, Lucania was believed involved in two shootings related to the Diamond gang. Authorities could not assemble enough evidence to prosecute him.

Lucania (right) arrested with members of the Legs Diamond gang.

Lucania and other known Rothstein associates were questioned by police following that underworld leader's 1928 murder. About a year later, Lucania was taken for "a ride" and severely beaten. Police and press reported that underworld rivals were responsible, but Lucania later revealed that he was beaten by detectives trying to locate Legs Diamond. (Many have said that Lucania's good fortune in surviving this adventure was the inspiration for his "Lucky" nickname, but he was already widely known by that nickname when the incident occurred.)

By the start of the Castellammarese War, Lucania led a lucrative bootlegging division in the Masseria crime family. Others affiliated with Joe the Boss were Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Willie Moretti, Ciro Terranova and Albert Anastasia. Masseria had risen to the position of boss of bosses of the Mafia in the United States, and was meddling in the affairs of crime families around the country. Groups quietly rose up against him in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and upstate New York, as well as in New York City. As war broke out and Masseria men began to be attacked and killed, it seems that Masseria did not yet know who his enemies were. Over time, he identified them as Mafiosi from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, led by Buffalo, New York, boss Stefano Magaddino. Only later, did he learn that a wide alliance had formed against him and that the opposition leader was New York City-based Salvatore Maranzano. By then, Masseria had already lost a number of his important allies to assassination.

In 1930, Lucania was twice noted far from New York. In February, he was found gambling with Masseria and others at Miami Beach, Florida. In August, he was reported to be on a transatlantic steamship with Legs Diamond, heading to Germany. Some have suggested that the trip was conducted in order to arrange for narcotics imports to the U.S.

Secret defections from Masseria's organization resulted in the end of Joe the Boss. Following the April 15 murder of Masseria by his own men, Lucania emerged as new leader of that organization. Masseria's death brought about the end of the Castellammarese War and allowed Maranzano to assume the boss of bosses position.

Conflict seemed likely to continue, however, as Maranzano began plotting against Lucania and others he felt he could not work with. Like Masseria, Maranzano was assassinated on orders from Luciano. The September 10 murder left vacant the coveted boss of bosses position. Luciano could have attempted to claim it for himself but instead threw his weight behind a proposal for a dispute-resolving Commission comprised of the nation's most powerful crime family bosses.

Lucania (left) and Lansky arrested
in Chicago in 1932.
As Lucania and the Commission-governed Mafia began forging new alliances and entering into new rackets in the final days of Prohibition, police suspected Lucania involvement in 1933 attacks against racketeer Waxey Gordon and in the 1935 killing of gang boss Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer. With Schultz gone, Lucania's organization absorbed Schultz's rich numbers rackets.

In 1936, New York Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey brought Lucania and a dozen codefendants to trial for profiting from the coordination and protection of prostitution. Lucania testified in his own defense, but was torn apart on cross examination. He was convicted on sixty-two counts and sentenced to serve 30 to 50 years in Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora, near the Canada border. His legal appeals were exhausted by spring 1938.

During Lucania's imprisonment, leadership of his crime family first fell to underboss Vito Genovese. Genovese, however fled the country for Italy to escape prosecution for murder. Frank Costello filled the void as the day-to-day manager of the criminal empire.

In March of 1942, Commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) attempted to gain underworld assistance in securing U.S. wartime ports and shipping. He reached out to Lucania defense attorney Moses Polakoff. Haffenden was somehow assured that Lucania could assist the war effort and managed to have Lucania transferred  in May from Dannemora to the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, just north of Albany and hours closer to New York City. During the rest of 1942 and through to the end of 1945 (months after the war was concluded), Lucania was permitted regular meetings with underworld associates Meyer Lansky, Joseph "Socks" Lanza and Frank Costello. ONI appeared satisfied that Luciano was helping to safeguard American maritime interests and promoting Italian cooperation with Allied landings in Sicily and Italy. After victory in Europe was achieved, the ONI launched an investigation into the relationship between Haffenden and Luciano.

On Jan. 3, 1946, then-Governor Thomas Dewey commuted the remainder of Lucania's sentence on the condition that he be deported to Italy. Dewey noted the alleged assistance provided by Lucania to the U.S. war effort. Lucania met with Lansky, Costello, Lascari and Polakoff at Ellis Island in early February before setting sail for Italy.

ONI and the FBI quickly concluded that no information of value had ever been obtained through the relationship with Lucania and that Haffenden had made his arrangements with the imprisoned crime boss out of a continuing mutually beneficial friendship with Frank Costello.

Lucania did not remain long in Italy. By the fall of 1946, he was in Cuba, planning investments in Havana-areas gambling enterprises and entertaining Mafia visitors from the U.S. American officials pressured the Cuban government in February 1947 to return Lucania to Italy. That was finally accomplished on March 20.

Settling into a life in Italy, Lucania reportedly married dancer Igea Lissoni. He was visited by Lansky in June 1949, by Lascari and by former Tampa bootlegger Salvatore "Red" Italiano in May 1950.

The following year, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics asserted that Lucania was the key figure in the international drug trade. Under pressure to keep an eye on Lucania's activities, Naples authorities in 1954 imposed "admonition" (curfew, authorization of police raids, travel restrictions) on Lucania. The admonition restrictions are removed by a court order in summer 1956.

Vito Genovese returned as boss of the former Luciano Crime Family in 1957. Genovese had been back in the U.S. since 1946 and had been cleared of the earlier murder charge. His ambition to lead the crime family became evident through a 1957 assassination attempt on Frank Costello. Costello reportedly resigned as boss, turning the crime family reins over to Genovese.

Igea Lissoni died in October 1958 at the age of 37.

Movie producer Martin Gosch, based in Spain, contacted Lucania in 1960, asking for his assistance with the script of a fictional movie based upon his life. In the spring, Lucania is repeatedly visited by New York Mafioso Pat Eboli. Pat's brother Tommy Eboli, a lieutenant to Vito Genovese, visited in December. The visits are widely believed to have been efforts to discourage Lucania from any work on an autobiographical project. Another visit from Pat Eboli occurred Jan. 17, 1962. After that visit, Lucania contacted Gosch to sever their business relationship. (While many suggested that Lucania was ordered by Genovese to pull the plug on the Gosch project, some heard Lucania expressing his personal disapproval of a Gosch effort to tell a more fact-based Lucania life story.) Gosch flew to Naples to meet with Lucania on Jan. 26. Shortly after his arrival, Lucania collapsed in the airport, the victim of a fatal heart attack.

Witnesses reported seeing Gosch putting a pill into the mouth of a disabled Lucania. This resulted in stories that Lucania had been poisoned. Gosch insisted, however, that he was aware that Lucania had a heart condition and carried medication for it. When he saw Lucania collapse, he said, he found a bottle of pills in Lucania's clothes and put one of the pills in his mouth.

Lucania's remains were transported to Queens, New York, for burial.

Some attention was directed toward Gosch's movie project at the time. Gosch told the authorities the script was largely fiction. In 1972, apparently abandoning the movie project, Gosch appeared at the New York office of the FBI seeking assistance with a book he hoped to write about Luciano. The FBI turned him down. Gosch reportedly provided notes (at one point, a book publisher insisted incorrectly that there were audio tape recordings) to author Richard Hammer, relating to conversations between Gosch and Lucania. Hammer produced a book, claiming he based it on the Gosch notes. Gosch died in October 1973. When challenged to produce the Gosch notes, Hammer claimed they all had been burned following Gosch's death. The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano by Gosch and Hammer was published by Little, Brown and Company in February 1975. By the time it was released, it had already been labeled fraudulent by the FBI and by Mafia historians Nicholas Gage, Peter Maas and Hank Messick.

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Sources:
  •  Bonanno, Joseph, with Sergio Lalli, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983.
  •  Dewey, Thomas E., Twenty Against the Underworld, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1974.
  •  Feder, Sid, and Joachim Joesten, The Luciano Story, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994 (originally published in 1954).
  •  Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilanti, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993.
  •  Gosch, Martin A. and Richard Hammer, The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1975.
  •  Turkus, Burton B., and Sid Feder, Murder, Inc.: The Story of the Syndicate, New York: Da Capo Press, 1992 (originally published in 1951).
  •  Vizzini, Sal, with Oscar Fraley and Marshall Smith, Vizzini: The Story of America's No, 1 Undercover Narcotics Agent, New York: Pinnacle, 1972

  •  Passenger manifest of S.S. Roma, departed Naples on Nov. 18, 1905, arrived New York City on Dec. 3, 1905.
  •  Salvatore Lucania World War I draft registration card, serial no. 4468, order no. A1769, Local Board 114 of City of New York, Sept. 12, 1918, stamped 31-9-114-C.
  •  United States Census of 1920, New York State, New York County, Eight Assembly District, Enumeration District 619.
  •  "Charles Luciana, with aliases," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-X, Aug. 28, 1935.
  •  Receiving blotter, Chas. Luciano, no. 92168, Sing Sing Prison, June 18, 1936.
  •  Appeal of the People of the State of New York v. Charles Luciano, et al., May 7, 1937.
  •  Appeal of the People of the State of New York v. Charles Luciano, et al., April 12, 1938.
  •  "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report Albany 100-5170, Oct. 16, 1942.
  •  "Lucky Luciano," FBI memorandum to Mr. Rosen, file no. 39-2141-2, Feb. 21, 1946.
  •  FBI teletype, Luciano FBI file, Feb. 25, 1946.
  •  Conroy, FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-6, Feb. 27, 1946
  •  Conroy, E.E., Letter to Mr. Hoover, Charles Luciano FBI file, no. 39-2141-8, March 1, 1946.
  •  Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano's parole and deportation," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, March 6, 1946.
  •  "Salvatore Lucania…," FBI report NY 62-8768, file no. 39-2141-10, March 13, 1946.
  •  Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano parole," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, April 3, 1946.
  •  "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report NY 62-8768, May 5, 1946.
  •  Cornelius, A. Jr., "Charles Lucky Luciano, Miscellaneous, Information concerning parole and deportation," FBI letter, May 9, 1946.
  •  Hoover handwritten note, FBI memorandum from A. Rosen to E.A. Tamm, May 17, 1946.
  •  "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano parole miscellaneous; information concerning," FBI memorandum to Rosen, June 6, 1946.
  •  "Salvatore Lucania,…" FBI report NY 62-8768, July 2, 1946.
  •  Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, Miscellaneous Information," FBI memo to E.A. Tamm, Feb. 10, 1947.
  •  "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano," FBI report, Feb. 12, 1947.
  •  "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano," FBI report, March 22, 1947.
  •  Director, FBI, "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, Foreign Miscellaneous," FBI memo to Legal Attache, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 25, 1947.
  •  Virgil W. Peterson testimony of July 6, 1950, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session, Part 2.
  •  Meyer Lansky testimony of Oct. 11, 1950, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7.
  •  Willie Moretti testimony of Dec. 13, 1950, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7.
  •  Vincent Spoto testimony of Dec. 29, 1950, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 1-A.
  •  Gerald Catena testimony of Feb. 14, 1951, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7.
  •  Meyer Lansky testimony of Feb. 14, 1951, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7
  •  Michael Lascari testimony of Feb. 15, 1951, Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7.
  •  "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, General Investigative Intelligence File," FBI memo, Nov. 20, 1952.
  •  "Charles Luciano, Anti-Racketeering," FBI memo, Jan. 22, 1959.
  •  "Charles Luciano, Anti-Racketeering," translations of Italian language articles appearing in the Jan. 11, Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, 1959, issues of L'Europeo magazine, FBI memo, Feb. 18, 1959.
  •  FBI cablegram to Director, Charles "Lucky" Luciano FBI file, Jan. 26, 1962.
  •  "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano," FBI memo, Feb. 12, 1962.
  •  "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, information concerning," FBI memo, Feb. 19, 1962.
  •  Flynn, James P., "Crime conditions in the New York Division," FBI memo, NY 92-2247, Dec. 3, 1962.
  •  "The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano," FBI memorandum to Mr. Cleveland, Oct. 2, 1974.

  •  "Routs six gunmen in Broadway fight," New York Times, Dec. 12, 1926.
  •  "Broker is wounded in hold-up that fails," New York Times, Dec. 22, 1926.
  •  "Refuses to identify gunman suspects," New York Times, Dec. 30, 1926.
  •  "Robbery suspect questioned," New York Times, Nov. 18, 1928, p. 24.
  •  "M'Cabe gives alibi in Rothstein case; Banton clears him," New York Times, Nov. 18, 1928, p. 1.
  •  "Admit search fails for Rothstein clue," New York Times, Nov. 19, 1928, p. 1.
  •  "Three freed of robbery suspicion," New York Times, Nov. 24, 1928, p. 2.
  •  "Arrest 19 at Miami in gambling clean-up," New York Times, March 2, 1930, p. 33.
  •  "Gang guns slay 2, wound 1 in Broadway night club battle," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13, 1929, p. 1.
  •  "Whalen to face bungling charge in Marlow case," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 14, 1929, p. 2.
  •  "Gangster 'taken for ride' lives to tell about it," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 17, 1929, p. 1.
  •  "'Ride' victim wakes up on Staten Island," New York Times, Oct. 18, 1929.
  •  "Harlem racket gang murders two in raid," New York Times, Aug. 16, 1930, p. 1.
  •  "Car clue in Morello case," New York Times, Aug. 17, 1930.
  •  "Ireland will refuse landing to Diamond," New York Times, Aug. 30, 1930.
  •  "Two men shot dead in Bronx gun-trap," New York Times, Nov. 6, 1930, p. 27.
  •  "Bail runner shot in street ambush," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1931.
  •  "Catania dies of wounds," New York Times, Feb. 5, 1931.
  •  "Seize New York hoodlums, here on mystery trip," Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1932, p. 14.
  •  "2 women wounded as gangs open fire in upper Broadway," New York Times, May 25, 1933, p. 1.
  •  "Gang shots linked to war over beer," New York Times, May 26, 1933.
  •  "Federal men list racket 'big shots' in tax drive here," New York Times, May 20, 1935, p. 1.
  •  "Schultz dies of wounds without naming slayers; 3 aides dead, one dying," New York Times, Oct. 25, 1935, p. 1.
  •  "Extradition stay is won by Luciano," New York Times, April 8, 1936, p. 24.
  •  "Lucania is jailed in $350,000 bail," New York Times, April 19, 1936, p. 1.
  •  "Three admit guilt as vice trial opens," New York Times, May 12, 1936.
  •  "Lucania is forced to admit crimes," New York Times, June 4, 1936, p. 1.
  •  "Lucania convicted with 8 in vice ring on 62 counts each," New York Times, June 8, 1936, p. 1.
  •  "Bribery is bared in vice ring trial; 2 face disbarment," New York Times, June 9, 1936, p. 1.
  •  "Lucania is called shallow parasite," New York Times, June 19, 1936.
  •  "Lucania sentenced to 30 to 50 years; court warns ring," New York Times, June 19, 1936, p. 1.
  •  "Fight for freedom begun by Lucania," New York Times, Aug. 12, 1936, p. 5.
  •  "Luciano loses freedom appeal," New York Times, Jan. 15, 1937, p. 3.
  •  "Big liquor concern faces license loss," New York Times, May 7, 1940.
  •  "Dewey commutes Luciano sentence," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1946, p. 25.
  •  "Luciano rules U.S. narcotics from Sicily, senators hear," New York Times, June 28, 1951, p. 1.
  •  Grutzner, Charles, "Luchese presents study in contrasts," New York Times, Oct. 11, 1952, p. 26.
  •  "Luciano dies at 65; was facing arrest," New York Times, Jan. 27, 1962, p. 1.
  •  "Luciano's links to underworld investigated by Italian agents," New York Times, Jan. 28, 1962, p. 66.
  •  "In the end 'Lucky' Luciano was not really so terribly lucky after all," Bridgeport CT Sunday Post, Feb. 4, 1962, p. 14.
  •  Anderson, Jack, "The Last Days of Lucky Luciano," Parade, June 17, 1962.
  •  Gage, Nicholas, "Questions are raised on Lucky Luciano book," New York Times, Dec. 17, 1974, p. 1.
  •  Gage, Nicholas, "F.B.I. tells agents not to trust book on Luciano," New York Times, March 14, 1975.
  •  Scaduto, Tony, "Letters to the Editor: Luciano," New York Times, April 27, 1975.