Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bugsy Siegel

Joe's Last Meal

If there was one defining moment in the history of organized crime, an event that far outshone any other in terms of its importance for gangsters and racketeers, it would have to be the slaying of Joe "the Boss" Masseria. His death, which ended the Castellamarese war between Masseria and his rival, the elderly, but visionary Sal Maranzano, helped shape the face of organized crime as it exists today. Gangsters who moved up in ranks thanks to Masserias death continued until the last decade to run the national crime syndicate, and the system that was put in place after Masserias death still flourishes in the United States.

Sal Maranzano
Sal Maranzano
By the end of the Roaring 20s, Masseria had succeeded in convincing Charlie Luciano to join his team. Charlie continued to interact with Siegel and Lansky, but he was consumed by a war between the Masseria and Maranzano factions that was national in its scope. Both Masseria and Maranzano wanted to be capo di tutti capo, the boss of bosses. Maranzano, although he was a Mustache Pete, had a plan to unite all of the Italians in New York under an umbrella group that would put an end the hijacking, kidnapping, and murder that had gnawed away at the gangs during Prohibition. But to do so, he had to go through Joe the Boss. Masserias philosophy was one of confrontation, not cooperation, and he had no willingness to carve up New York with anyone, least of all a backwater penny-ante operator like Maranzano.

For nearly two years, the gangs waged war on each other. The attrition was eating up both sides, but it soon became clear to Siegel and Lansky that Maranzano was willing. Sal had also been lobbying for Lucianos loyalties and even though Lucky was working for Masseria, Maranzano still wanted his help. The men of the Bugs and Meyer mob met with Luciano and hatched a plan.

Accompanied by Ben Siegel, Luciano met with Maranzano on the neutral turf of the Bronx Zoo. There, Luciano agreed to join Maranzanos gang. He would be Maranzanos lieutenant and he would maintain his own operations with the Jewish gangsters as well as share in the Sicilians spoils. His initiation fee would be Joe Masserias life.

Luciano invited his boss to Scarpatos restaurant in Coney Island on April 15, 1931. The two men enjoyed a fine meal of the house specialties and fine Italian red wine. After more than three hours of feasting, the story goes, Luciano excused himself to use the bathroom. As Masseria sat at the table where he and his loyal lieutenant had been planning the eradication once and for all of the Maranzano gang, a crew of gunmen rushed in and shot him to death.

Leading the charge was Benny Siegel, guns blazing. Six bullets found Joe the Boss who was desperately trying to find a place to hide. Fourteen more slugs sprayed into the wall behind him.

With Joe either dead or dying, the four gunmen, Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis, rushed from Scarpatos into the waiting car. The driver, Ciro Terranova, was so nervous that he stalled the car twice trying to get away. Siegel, awash in an adrenaline rush, slugged Ciro and pushed him out of the way. The four gunmen escaped before the police arrived and found the boss of bosses dead.

The story of Joe Masserias death has spawned many legends, including the one that he was found by the law clutching the ace of diamonds, the card he was going to play when Luciano returned from the bathroom. Luckys role in the killing has also been the subject of conjecture. Sure, Luciano set up his boss, but it is unlikely that he stuck around long enough after Masseria was hit to call the police. After all, he was well known to them, had a police record as long as his arm, and would have a hard time explaining his presence. Chances are, Lucky lammed before the police ever showed up.

Shortly after, Lucky completed his rise to the top of the heap by killing Maranzano before Sal killed him.



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