Genovese, Vito (1897-1969)

Born Risigliano, Italy, Nov. 21, 1897.

Died Springfield, MO, Feb. 14, 1969.

"Don Vitone" Genovese was born near Naples, Italy. Official documents show his birthdate as Nov. 21, 1897. However, some other sources - the New York Times obituary, for example - place his birth on Nov. 27. He entered the U.S. through New York City at the age of 15 on May 23, 1913.

As a teenager, he became involved in the Neapolitan gangs in lower Manhattan and nearby New Jersey, as well as Lower East Side multi-ethnic gangs that also produced Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky. In 1917, during the height of Mafia-Camorra friction in the city, Genovese was arrested for possession of a handgun. He was convicted and sentenced April 15, 1917, to serve 60 days at the workhouse.

In the 1920s, Genovese became a Luciano partner as Charlie Lucky gradually took over the Manhattan operations of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. It is widely believed that Genovese was among the gunmen who assassinated Masseria in 1931, ending the Castellammarese War. Luciano named Genovese his underboss in 1931. This likely was a recognition of Genovese's strength among the non-Sicilians in the criminal organization rather than a sign of affection for Genovese.

Genovese grew in strength while Luciano battled compulsory prostitution charges, and could have taken over the Family after Luciano's 1936 conviction. However, Genovese had legal problems of his own. Law enforcement officials were attempting to connect Genovese with the 1934 murder of Ferdinand "the Shadow" Boccia. In November 1936, Genovese obtained his U.S. citizenship. The following month, he obtained a passport and subsequently sailed for Italy, where the Fascist government was in need of his financial support.

In Italy, Genovese appears to have had a good relationship with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, generally the enemy of Sicilian Mafiosi.

At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, U.S. occupying forces in Italy discovered Genovese. He assisted the Army, but was found to be engaged in the black market. Officials learned that Genovese was at that time wanted in New York as a suspect in the Boccia murder. While he was in Italy, prosecutors had tracked down a number of witnesses tying Genovese to the killing.

The Army brought Genovese back to the U.S. aboard the S.S. James Lyke, which reached New York harbor on June 1, 1946. However, due to the death in prison of corroborating witness Peter LaTempa, Genovese beat the old murder rap. Released from custody, he moved into a comfortable home at 68 West Highland Avenue, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, and began taking control of Luciano's old family from then-boss Frank Costello.

Family problems brought Genovese to the attention of the authorities in 1953. His estranged second wife Anna was seeking a divorce. She apparently communicated to members of the press that Genovese had begun a relationship with the wife of a Mafia underling, Thomas Calandriello. The same Calandriello had apparently taken care of paperwork associated with the purchase of the Atlantic Highlands home.

The relationship between Costello and Genovese degenerated into a long feud. An assassination attempt on Costello in 1957 was traced to Genovese gunman Vincent Gigante. Costello anounced his retirement after that, allowing Genovese to control the organization. Genovese and Carlo Gambino likely worked together to eliminate strong Costello-ally Albert Anastasia later that year.

A new boss eager to establish himself as a big shot on the national scene, Genovese seems to have encouraged the calling of the ill-fated Mafia convention in Apalachin, N.Y., on Nov. 14, 1957. Police discovered that convention, detaining everyone in sight, and establishing for certain the existence of the nationwide criminal network.

Genovese was convicted on narcotics trafficking charges in 1959 and earned a 15-year sentence. He continued to run Family matters from behind bars (through acting bosses like Tommy Eboli) until his 1969 heart attack death while in custody.

On January 30, 1969, he was moved from Leavenworth, KS, prison to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, MO. He died there two weeks later.

Genovese's funeral began at the family hometown, Red Bank, New Jersey. Genovese's bronze coffin was transported from the William S. Anderson Funeral Home in Red Bank to his church. A sparsely attended funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 17 at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, location of Genovese's more recent home. Genovese was buried at St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, NY. The burial was attended only by family and close friends.

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