Location: 302 East 12th Street
Smarting over the recent attempt on his life, which had left two bullet holes through his hat and another two holes through his coat, Joe Masseria plotted bloody revenge in epic Italian Renaissance fashion.
Toto D’Aquila’s Chief Assassin
The target of his wrath was Umberto Valenti, a seriously wily character who had blasted those bullet holes through Masseria’s hat and coat. According to the New York Times in 1915, Valenti was:
…alleged to have arranged more shootings than any other man in the city…
A former Black Hand extortionist, it was rumored that Valenti had killed over 20 men, a number of whom had been Masseria’s closest advisors. The thirty four year old Valenti was the chief assassin of Salvatore “Toto” D’Aquila, the New York Mafia’s supreme ruler, a Mafioso who was locked in vicious mob war with Masseria and his chief strategist Giuseppe “the Clutch Hand” Morello.
However, Masseria’s seemingly supernatural bullet dodging powers had given the hard noised, but superstitious, Valenti second thoughts. Second thoughts that had him suing for peace and walking into an ambush in one of New York’s most storied Italian restaurants, John’s of 12th Street, on August 11, 1922, a restaurant that has been used as a set on Boardwalk Empire and the Sopranos.
Well Dressed Gunmen: Vito Genovese and Lucky Luciano
Whether or not Valenti sampled the chicken parmigiana before being croaked has been lost to the winds of history. However, some time around noon, Valenti and six laughing companions emerged from their luncheon. Walking eastward, smiles turned into frowns. Suddenly, Valenti spooked and bolted towards Second Avenue as two slick, well-dressed gunmen whipped out revolvers and fired. Gangland legend holds that one of the shooters was none other than Charley “Lucky” Luciano, Masseria’s newest protégé (the other shooter was probably Vito Genovese).
Pandemonium on 12th Street
As the shots flew, pandemonium broke loose on 12th Street. Whirling around, the feared assassin drew a revolver just as a bullet flew through his chest.
A teenage witness told the New York Times:
It was the coolest thing I ever saw. People were shrieking and running in all directions, and this fellow calmly fired shot after shot. He did not move until he had emptied his weapon. With blood spurting from his clothing, Valenti tried to raise up his pistol but his wounds prevented him from doing so. He made for a waiting taxicab, collapsing on the Northwest corner of 12th Street. (Click to read the original NY Times story)
Despite Valenti’s death, the friendly Luciano and his pals weren’t done yet. A crowd formed to block the gunmen’s escape so the mobsters opened fire, hitting a street sweeper and a little girl visiting from New Haven Connecticut. The shots dispersed the crowd, and the hitmen disappeared into a nearby tenement.
Should I Bring Pajamas?
Masseria was arrested for the murder. During his arrest, he supposedly grinned and asked the police:
… whether he would need a nightshirt remarking, that the last time he slept in the station house they forgot to give him a pillow or pajamas.
For a job well done, Joe Masseria elevated Luciano to a leadership position at his headquarters in the Hotel Pennsylvania. All murder charges were eventually dropped, and Masseria, on his way to becoming Joe the Boss, set his sights on Valenti’s overlord, Toto De Aquila, New York’s boss of bosses.
However, John’s of 12th had another infamous last meal lined up twenty years later. The victim would be Carlo Tresca.