"Albert Anastasia does not kill people that begs for his mercy." - Albert Anastasia
Albert Anastasia (born Umberto Anastasio, September 26, 1902 - October 25, 1957) was boss of what is now called the Gambino Crime Family, one of New York City's Five Families, from 1951-1957. He also ran a gang of contract killers called Murder Inc. which enforced the decisions of the Commission, the ruling council of the American Mafia. He was sometimes referred to as the "Mad Hatter" or the "Lord High Executioner".
Early Years[edit | edit source]
Early years Born Umberto Anastasio in Tropea, Italy – one of nine brothers – Anastasia moved to New York City around 1919. He became active in Brooklyn's waterfront operations and rose to a position of authority in the longshoreman's union, the International Longshoremen's Association. It was here that Anastasia first demonstrated his penchant for homicide at the slightest provocation, killing a fellow longshoreman in the early '20s – an offense which led to an 18-month sentence he served at the famed Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. However, he was released early, being granted a new trial which would never take place, as four important witnesses turned up missing – a situation that proved permanent. Early in his organized crime career, Anastasia served in a gang led by Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Anastastia was always a devoted follower of others, primarily Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello. His devotion to Luciano knew no bounds.
Anastasia's Rise to Power[edit | edit source]
In 1930, Luciano finalized plans to take over crime in America by destroying the two old-line Mafia factions headed by Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano; he outlined his plot to Anastasia. Anastasia joined Luciano and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in the plot, and assured Luciano that he would kill everyone for Luciano to be on top. Anastasia, always hungry for power, knew that if Luciano were head of the National Crime Syndicate that he would eventually get a "piece of the action." Anastasia was personally part of the four-man death squad that mowed down Masseria in Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant, on 15 April 1931, during the Castellammarese War. The outcome of the Castellammarese War and the subsequent murder of Salvatore Maranzano was that Luciano assumed control of organized crime across America. In order to avoid the power struggles and turf disputes that led to the Castellammarese War, Luciano sought to establish the National Crime Syndicate (more familiarly known as the "Commission") consisting of the bosses of major families around the country, including especially the so-called "five families" of New York. This "Commission" would serve as a deliberative body to solve disputes, carve up and distribute territories, and regulate lucrative illegal activities such as prostitution, racketeering, gambling, and bootlegging (which would soon come to a close with the end of Prohibition in 1933).
Murder, Incorporated[edit | edit source]
For his loyalty, Luciano placed Anastasia in a position of power, combining his talents with those of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, the nation's leading labor racketeer, as the operating heads of the National Crime Syndicate's enforcement arm, Murder, Incorporated. Murder, Inc. was a group of mainly Jewish killers that operated out of the back room of the Brownsville (in Brooklyn, New York) candy store Midnight Rose's. Some estimates have it that Murder, Inc. may have taken, in a decade of operation, a toll estimated at between 400 and 700 victims. Many of these murders remain unsolved. Unlike Lepke and many other members of Murder, Inc., Anastasia was never prosecuted for any of the murders. When indictments and trials loomed, key prosecution witnesses would disappear. Murder, Inc. maintained its power until the early 1940s. After his arrest, hitman Abe Reles made a deal granting him immunity from prosecution for testimony that helped convict many of the group's hitmen, including co-boss Buchalter. Anastasia promised a $100,000 reward for his death, and Reles mysteriously fell to his death from a guarded hotel room at Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island on 12 November 1941. After the arrest and execution of Buchalter in 1944, Anastasia became the sole leader of Murder, Inc., which shortly faded away as contract killings were arranged within individual crime families.
World War II[edit | edit source]
In 1936, Prosecutor Thomas Dewey was successful in convicting Luciano on the charge of pandering, for which he secured a 30- to 50-year sentence. During World War II, Anastasia appeared to have been the originator of a plan to free Luciano from prison by winning him a pardon for "helping the war effort." To accomplish this goal, Anastasia set out to create problems on the New York waterfront so that the United States Navy would agree to any kind of deal to stop the sabotage. The French luxury liner SS Normandie, in the process of being converted into a troopship, mysteriously burned and capsized in New York harbor. While newspaper accounts suggested it was the act of German agents who had infiltrated the United States, it was actually Anastasia, who ordered his brother, Anthony "Tough Tony" Anastasio, to carry out the sabotage. With America needing allies in Sicily to advance the invasion of Italy, and the desire of the Navy to dedicate its resources to the war, Anastasia orchestrated a deal to obtain lighter treatment for Luciano while he was in prison, and after the war, a parole in trade for the mafia protecting the waterfront and Luciano's assistance with his associates in Sicily.
Don Albert Anastasia[edit | edit source]
Anastasia's violent ways could be contained as long as Luciano and Frank Costello pulled the strings. In 1951, Costello was regarded as being the prime mover in Anastasia's rise to boss of the Mangano (later Gambino) crime family. Through the years, boss Vincent Mangano had fumed at Anastasia's closeness to Luciano, Costello, and others and that they obtained Anastasia's services without first seeking Mangano's permission. This and other business disputes almost led to blows between Mangano and Anastasia, and it was only a matter of time before one or the other was ordered killed. In early 1951, Vincent Mangano went missing, and his brother Phil was murdered, after which Anastasia claimed control of the Family with Costello's active support. Soon after, at a Commission meeting, Costello backed up Anastasia's claim that Mangano was planning to kill him and defended Anastasia's right to act in self-defense. The bosses accepted Anastasia's elevation to boss. Costello had other practical motivations for wanting Anastasia in control of the crime family. At that time, Costello was facing a serious challenge from Vito Genovese, who wanted to control Luciano's organization now that Luciano was living in Italy in exile. Until 1951, Costello relied on New Jersey crime boss Willie Moretti for "muscle," but Moretti was losing his mind, blurting out mafia business in public, and would soon be murdered. Costello needed new muscle, and Anastasia, with a family of gunmen behind him, would make a strong foil to Genovese's plan. Unfortunately, as boss Anastasia became more brutal than ever. In 1952, he even ordered the murder of a young Brooklyn tailor's assistant named Arnold Schuster after watching Schuster talking on television about his role as primary witness in fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton's arrest. It is alleged that Anastasia raged to his men, "I can't stand squealers! Hit that guy!" In killing Schuster, Anastasia had violated a cardinal mafia rule against killing outsiders, which ran – as Bugsy Siegel once quaintly put it – "We only kill each other." Schuster's murder brought unnecessary public scrutiny on mafia business. Luciano and Costello were horrified, but they could not take action against Anastasia as they needed him to counter Genovese's growing ambitions and power.
Executing the Executioner[edit | edit source]
Vito Genovese cunningly used Anastasia's brutal behavior against him in an effort to woo Anastasia's supporters away. Secretly over the next few years, Genovese won the cooperation of Anastasia's underboss, Carlo Gambino. However, Genovese dared not move against Anastasia and his real target, Costello, because of Meyer Lansky, one of the highest ranking and most powerful members of the National Crime Syndicate. Lansky and Genovese were long-standing enemies, with disputes dating from the 1920s, and Genovese could not make a move for power without Lansky's support.
During the 1950s, Lansky was extremely successful in controlling casino gambling in Cuba, offering other mafia bosses lesser shares of his profits and interests. When Anastasia forcefully demanded a larger piece of the action, Lansky refused, and he started to establish his own gambling racket in Cuba. Lansky became increasingly angry, and while up until then he preferred watching Anastasia and Genovese battle each other from the sidelines, he now gave active support to Genovese's plan to kill Anastasia. Anastasia's killing was carried out with an efficiency of which the former "Lord High Executioner" of Murder, Inc. would have approved. On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barbershop of the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel, on 56th Street and 7th Avenue) in New York City. Anastasia's bodyguard parked the car in an underground garage and then, most conveniently, decided to take a little stroll. As he relaxed in the barber chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoving the attending barber out of the way, and fired their guns at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia is said to have jumped to his feet and lunged at his killers in a desperate struggle to defend himself. Anastasia actually attacked their reflections in the mirror as they continued to fire, and he finally fell to the floor dead. The Execution of Albert Anastasia like virtually all gangland killings, the Anastasia murder remains officially unsolved. It was originally alleged that the contract was given to Joe Profaci, who passed it on to the three Gallo brothers (including Crazy Joe Gallo) from Brooklyn. However, recent evidence has pointed the finger at a three-man hit team selected by Joseph "Joe the Blonde" Biondo, who became Carlo Gambino's underboss after the murder. Biondo is alleged to have selected Stephen Armone, Arnold "Witty" Wittenberg, and Stephen "Stevie Coogin" Grammauta. Grammauta, a convicted drug dealer and heroin smuggler, is currently regarded as a capo (captain) in the Gambino crime family. The double-dealing did not cease with Anastasia's death in 1957. Carlo Gambino secretly deserted Vito Genovese, passing along knowledge of Genovese's desires to "rub out" his rivals, Luciano and Costello. Thus, Meyer Lansky, Luciano, Costello and Gambino conspired to entrap Genovese with a narcotics conviction that would result in a sentence of life imprisonment. In that sense Anastasia was avenged, but it was not with the abrupt finality that the brutal executioner would likely have preferred.