The Hidden War
The “ Castellammarese War “ has been researched and written about many times over the past few decades. Our perceptions of this period have changed over the years. At the time, 1930-31, the outlines of the conflict were lost in the general mayhem of Prohibition era crime. Dixie Davis, Dutch Schultz lawyer, was the first to talk about the war and the resulting purge*. His description was of a large scale gang war, numbering dozens of casualties. Then he added another 60 plus old “ Mustache Petes “, in Luciano’s supposed nationwide massacre of opponents. At this point Davis statements were taken at face value. No other informant had emerged to contradict him, and writers reiterated the “ Purge of the Greasers “ fable for many years thereafter.
Even when Joseph Valachi emerged in the 1960’s*, his testimony tended to support the accepted version. His view from the street level gave many previously unknown details. However as a low level combatant he lacked the overview of a higher ranking member. We had to wait for Nicola Gentile’s revelations* for just such a member. Fortunately, Valachi and Gentile told their stories from opposing sides, giving us a better overview. Later Joe Bonanno’s book*, self-serving as it was, reinforced our information.
It was not so much what was included in these sources information, as what was not, that changed our perceptions. It became clear that the number of casualties were much lower than Davis claimed. And of the celebrated “ Purge of the Greasers”,there was no mention at all. Modern day research, and the questioning attitude of recent researchers have demolished these and several other “ mafia myths”.
So why did these myths gain such credence in the first place ? Older writers seemed to just accept these theories without any research, and just kept repeating the same old fables. The Internet and the release of Government documents* have eased this task, but many sources, such as newspaper archives, have been available for decades.
Having said all that, there were mitigating factors that may have led writers to believe these old theories. For instance, the sheer scale of Italo-American violence in those years. According to an article in the New York Times*, there had been 114 underworld murders in Brooklyn alone in 1930. Of course many of these had no Italo-American connection. Alan Block in his book, East Side / West Side, he listed 21 killings in 1930, and 28 in 1931, all with Italo-American involvement*.
Which brings us to the point of this article, were there other conflicts in the years 1930-31, and did the “ Castellammarese War “ hide them from our view ?
There appear to have been as many as three other conflicts active during the years 1930-31, in NYC and Brooklyn. These were, in rising importance : -
1 The Dutch Schultz – Vincent Coll conflict, but only as it concerned Ciro Terranova’s group. The Coll brothers had previously worked for Schultz, but had broken away and tried to compete with him*. This inevitably led to confrontation and violence. As a partner of Schultz in the Harlem numbers racket*, and members of Masseria’s faction, Terranova and his followers were targets for Coll’s men. Two attempts were made to kill Joseph Rao, in May 1931* [ Frank [Big Dick] Amato and Dominic Bologna were killed ] and August 1931* [the Harlem baby massacre]. Another Terranova associate Daniel Iamascia, Schultz bodyguard, was killed when he and Schultz mistook Detectives for Coll gunmen*. All this happened during the truce period in the “Castellammarese War “. After Masseria’s liquidation and his apparent victory, Maranzano found Luciano and his group even more troublesome. This may explain why, when Maranzano planned to kill Luciano and Genovese, he chose Coll*, possibly thinking the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Of course it is possible that Maranzano and Coll were secretly allied all along. One of the oddities of this conflict was the fact that many of Vincent Colls followers were young Italo-American’s*. And at least one of these, Arthur Palumbo, would later become a member of the Genovese Family*, the old Masseria Family. Indeed, this could have been Palumbo’s reward for betraying Coll, who was set-up and killed in February 1932.
2 The Ice Industry conflict. Supplying Ice was an important and lucarative job, especially before the introduction of refridgeraters. As early as 1928 Jacob Stoffenburg, a Jewish dealer from the Bronx, was murdered. Three Italo-Americans were given long prison sentences for this killing*. At least four known Ice Dealers were killed in 1930, starting with Gaetano Reina in February. Generally considered the first casualty of the “ Castellammarese War “, Reina was the Capo of a Family and had a monopoly on the ice trade in the Bronx. The following month John Riggio*, a Brooklyn ice dealer was killed. A six month lull followed before Joseph Riggio, John’s brother, was murdered in Brooklyn. The riposte followed two weeks later, Natale [Charles] Durso* a close associate of Reina was killed in Harlem. This is the least understood of the conflicts and the hardest to prove. It could just be coincidence, but for the obvious connections and the fact that they all worked in the same industry. Against this is the territorial problem, the Riggios in Brooklyn and Reina-Durso in Manhattan. I will leave the reader to decide for themselves.
3 A Sicilian-Calabrian conflict in South Brooklyn, over control of the territory formerly dominated by Frankie Yale. Yale, real name Ioele and a Calabrian, controlled the local docks until his murder in July 1928. There followed the murder of Michele Abbatemarco*, a close Yale associate, as Salvatore D’Aquila, the NYC Mafia Boss, attempted to claim the territory for the Sicilians. Four days later D’Aquila was killed, possibly by Yale loyalist’s supported by Joseph Masseria. The area remained volatile, with Calabrians like Johnny Giustra, Carmelo Liconti and Albert Anastasia active on the docks. Among the Sicilians Giuseppe Peraino, AKA the Clutching Hand, controlled President street, in the Red Hook district and Joseph Profaci was a rising force in the Bay Ridge area. These last two were members of a faction led by Salvatore DiBella, which evolved into the future Colombo Family*.
In March 1930 Peraino reportedly attended a meeting in Brooklyn, called to broker a solution. It seems to have been a failure, as Peraino was killed* the same day. Arrested for the murder was Joseph Florino, a Calabrian and close associate of Albert Anastasia, with who he had spent several months on “Death Row”. At this point Profaci may have assumed control of the local Sicilian group. Several killings followed throughout the rest of 1930, including 4 in May. Anastasia was a suspect in the June murder of Carlo Bonacurso*. An ex-Yale associate Giuseppe Micello* was murdered in July, followed by another, Michael Pietro, in August. In the Pietro incident, Ernest [Hoppy] Rossi was wounded.
The carnage resumed in October when first Carmine Peraino, son of the “Clutch Hand”, was murdered*. According to an informant called Sardini, the murder was committed by Profaci members at the request of Manfredi Mineo, a successor to Salvatore D’Aquila. On the 18th Giovanni Anselmo*, a Sicilian and ex-associate of Giuseppe Peraino, was killed in Brooklyn. Revenge followed on the last day of the month as Nicholas Candido, a Calabrian was murdered. December brought an attempt on Cassandros [Tony the Chief] Bonasera*, one of the men suspected in the Carmine Peraino murder and a known Profaci follower.
The new year  started with an unsuccessful attempt to kill John Oddo*, friend of Bonasera and future Profaci Capo. Both Bonasera and Oddo were wounded, but these incidents have never been claimed to be a part of the Masseria-Maranzano conflict. In fact Joseph Bonanno claims Profaci’s group was neutral during that conflict. In April Ernest [Hoppy] Rossi*, the old Yale associate and survivor of the Pietro shooting, was killed. This was four days after Joe [the Boss] Masseria’s murder, and police thought it was connected. After Masseria’s death a truce was called in the “Castellammarese War “, and held until September.
During this period attempts were made to broker a peace deal between the Sicilian and Calabrian factions. Anastasia seems to have accepted a position in the new set-up, but at the price of betraying his old associates. Carmelo Liconti and John Giustra, fellow Calabrians may have opposed the settlement. On their way to a meeting in Manhattan the pair had a puncture, and Liconti sent Giustra on to the meeting place whilst he stayed with the car. The meeting was a trap, and Giustra* was killed on arrival there. Liconti booked himself into hospital, and sought to discover who had set him up. It seems he did not learn his lesson as two months later, in July, he attended another supposed meeting in a NYC hotel. The next morning his body was found stabbed in a hotel room*. Anastasia took-over Giustra’s dock rackets, in association with Vincent Mangano. There remained one last loose end to clear-up, Peter Leone a brother-in-law of “ Clutch Hand “ Peraino was killed 10 days later.
It must be remembered that all of the killings since April 1931 had occurred during the truce period in the “ Castellammarese War”. To understand the confusing reasons behind this series of murders it is important to look at its aftermath.
Anastasia and his Calabrian followers entered the old D’Aquila Family, soon to be headed by Vincent Mangano. He controlled the ILA Locals formerly under Giustra, and the Mangano Family took-over Liconti’s Coney Island territory. Meanwhile the Profaci Family retained a foothold on the docks, and absorbed several ex-Yale associates. Abbatemarco and Peraino relatives joined Profaci as Anastasia continued to be hostile to them.
In support of this interpretation, as well as my own research, I offer the following souces.
Dave Critchley on page 163 of his book The Origin of Organized Crime in America explains how some of Yale’s old group joined Masseria’s faction, while others went with Profaci. This split seemed to go along ethnic lines.
Anthony Carfano, Joe Adonis, Frank Galluccio, ect. all Neapolitans allied to Masseria, known to accept non-Sicilians into his Family. Sicilians like Peraino and his followers answered to D’Aquila’s successor, as NYC Mafia head. The exception to this being Frank Abbatemarco from Salerno, although he was related by marriage to the Fontana brothers, Sicilians and Profaci members.While as we have seen, the Calabrians remained independent and enemies of the Peraino-Profaci group.
In Alan Block’s book East Side / West Side he provides a list of Anastasia’s victims, including Peraino, Bonacurso, Barbieri, Martura and Simonelli. The source for this was Abe Reles. [Page 107]. On page 254 of the same book Seymour Magoon, a Jewish associate of Anastasia, states that Anastasia told him that he was an enemy of Harry Fontana. As previously shown, Fontana was a cousin of Michele and Frank Abbatemarco, and both he and Frank were future Profaci Capo’s.
Finally there was an article in the Los Angeles Times [13th June 1982] which stated that Anthony Peraino, son of Giuseppe “ Clutch Hand” and brother of Carmine, was ordered out of NYC by Anastasia. He only returned to Brooklyn after Anastasia’s murder in 1957. Anthony and his brother Joseph were members of the Profaci Family. Proof that Anastasia feared revenge as the man responsible for their father’s death.
1 Thompson + Raymond book [Gang Rule in NewYork] page 374
2 Valachi testimony + book
3 Gentile book
5 NY Times 11th Jan. 1931
6 Block book [East Side / West Side] page 207
7 Downey book [Gangster City] page201
8 Downey page 202
9 Downey page 211
10 Downey page 214
11 Downey page 202
12 Downey page 165
13 Downey page210
14 Valachi charts 1963 [Genovese Family]
15 NY Times 30th Jan. 1930
16 Downey page151
17 Downey page157
18 Critchley book [The Origin of O.C. in ASmerica] page 163
19 Downey page 151
20 Downey page 152
21 Block page107
22 Downey page152
23 Downey page154
24 Critchley page 300
25 NY Times 23rd Dec. 1930
26 NY Times 2nd Jan. 1931
27 Downey page 161
28 Block page 161
29 Block page 162