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Posts Tagged ‘Vito Genovese’

Vito-Genovese-The-Don-of-Greenwich-Village

Vito Genovese:  The Don of Greenwich Village. His Homes, Apartments and Businesses

Addresses:

43 5th Avenue- Apartment in 1935

Status: Standing

29 Washington Square- Apartment in 1937-1944

Status: Standing

180 Thompson ERB Strapping Co.- Legal Business

Status: Standing

 

Suave, shrewd, cunning and cruel, Vito Genovese’s tentacles stretched out across the globe from a tiny parcel of land in Manhattan’s bohemian Greenwich Village. Surrounded by clannish Sicilians on all sides and the Irish waterfront mob to the west, the Neapolitan gangster carved out a Mafia dynasty on the streets of the Village through a blend of treachery, gunplay and subterfuge.
A scoundrel until his dying breath, Genovese’s lifelong criminal career would take him from stick-up kid to Joe The Boss Masseria’s ace hitman to Mussolini’s bosom buddy. Over time, Genovese grew to be a gangland legend that would one day topple Lucky Luciano.

 

Vito-Genovese-Map

1. Vito and Anna Genovese’s first luxury apartment at 43 5th Avenue. 2. Vito and Anna Genovese’s second luxury apartment at 29 Washington Square West. 3. Headquarters of Genovese’s ERB Strapping corp, 180 Thompson Street.

 

The Streets of Greenwich Village

Born in 1897 in the outskirts of Naples, Genovese jumped a steamer bound for the United States at the age of 16 and settled in the Neapolitan Italian colony in Greenwich Village.

 

The bohemian neighborhood, known for its unorthodox sexuality, artists, writers and drug users, proved to be fertile incubator of the Genovese Crime Family. Vito’s first arrest sent him to the workhouse on Blackwell’s Island for carrying a loaded revolver.

 

The young Vito excelled in gunplay, assassinations and murder for hire, and by the time of Prohibition, his talents were in incredible demand. Collars for illegal guns, felonious assault and homicide followed, but Vito always beat the odds and the charges. According to Genovese’s 1958 Bureau of Prisons Classification Study:

 

“He is a suave, shrewd, cruel, calculating, cunning, ruthless individual, who would use any means to accomplish his objectives.”- Bureau of Prisons

 

The Greenwich Village Crew:

Tony Bender Strollo, Mike Miranda & Tommy Ryan Eboli

Prohibition was very good to Genovese and his gang tightened its grip around the Village’s rackets. Narcotics, prostitution, and bootlegging, Genovese’s Neapolitan mob ran the streets of the Prohibition Era Greenwich Village where law breaking became sheik. And pet gangsters were all the rage.

 

Tony Bender Strollo served as Genovese’s second in command, specializing in illegal lotteries. He eventually became wealthy beyond his wildest dreams bankrolling nightclubs, burlesque joints and gay bars. Tommy Ryan Eboli, a volatile ex-boxer and wheelman, provided the muscle battering anyone who stood in the way. In the future, Ryan would make a name for himself as a boxing promoter who cold-cocked a referee during a bout. Gunman and narcotics pusher, Mike Miranda rounded out the violent Greenwich Village heavies.

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Joe Masseria’s Top Gunman

Genovese’s penchant for solving problems with murder eventually caught the eye of Lucky Lucanio who introduced Vito to Joe Masseria a mafia kingpin warring with Toto DeAquila, the mafia’s reigning Boss of Bosses.

 

An old-fashioned Sicilian, Masseria preferred to work only with Sicilian gangsters but Lucky convinced Masseria to overlook Vito’s Neapolitan ancestry.

 

vito-genovese-mugshot

A NYPD mug shot of Vito Genovese.

 

On August 11, 1922 the duo put the blast on Umberto Valenti, DeAquila’s favorite assassin, at famed Italian eatery John’s of 12th Street. Later in 1928, Luciano and Genovese picked off DeAquilla on Avenue A.

 

During the Castellammarese Mafia War (1930-1932), Geneovese’s trigger finger served Joe The Boss well offing Gaetano “Tom” Reina with a double barrel shotgun. According to Lucky Luciano in the Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:

 

“Vito told me that when Reina saw him he started to smile and wave his hand. When he done that, Vito blew his head off with a shotgun.”—Lucky Luciano

 

However, Masseria’s lust for power would be his undoing and Vito would eventually turn his aim against the boss, helping to gun down the mafia chieftain at the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant in Cony Island, ending the Castellammarese War for good.

 

 

A Vito Genovese Love Story

Following the end of the Castellammarese War and the death of his first wife Donata, who died of tuberculosis, the love sick and forlorn Genovese made eyes for another bride, his cousin, Anna Vernotico. Unfortunately, Anna was already married, but that didn’t deter Genovese.

 

On March 16, 1932, Police officers discovered Anna’s husband, Gerard Vernotico, hog tied and strangled on the roof of 124 Thompson Street. According to The Valachi Papers:

 

“According to New York City Police records, one Gerard Vernotico, age twenty-nine, of 191 Prince Street, was found dead at 2:15P.M., March 16, 1932. On the roof of a building at 124 Thompson Street.

 

124-Thompson-Street-Vito-Genovese-Murder

To propose to his future wife Anna Vernotico, Vito Genovese had her husband strangled to death on the roof of 124 Thompson Street.

 

Twelve days after the homicide, the loving couple tied the knot in the Municipal Building with Tony Bender Strollo serving as best man. To celebrate, the newlyweds moved into a palatial apartment at 43 5th Avenue, just north of Washington Square Park on tony Fifth Avenue.

 

Anna and Vito Genovese’s Apartments

The Beaux Arts, Parisian style, apartment building define style and sophistication. The 11-story building boasted a grand entrance with limestone lampposts, a 24-hour doorman, and apartments with soaring 10-1/2 foot ceilings. Future tenants at 43 5th Avenue would include Marlin Brando, Julia Roberts, Noah Baubach and other top flight New Yorkers. Click to see inside the building.

 

Vito and Anna Genovese lived in the palatial 43 5th Avenue apartment building.

Vito and Anna Genovese lived in the palatial 43 5th Avenue apartment building.

 

For decoration, the Mafia Chieftain began amassing an art collection that would be worth $200,000 at the time of his death, despite the fact that he filed taxes as a “surplus paper dealer.”

 

To be closer to his Thompson Street social clubs, Genovese moved to 29 Washington Square West. Located across the street from the Hanging Elm, the oldest tree in New York City, the apartment had views of Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building.

 

Anna and Vito Genovese's second apartment at 29 Washington Square West had stunning views of Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building.

Anna and Vito Genovese’s second apartment at 29 Washington Square West had stunning views of Washington Square Park and the Empire State Building.

 

Greenwich Village Exile

The end of prohibition left Genovese richer and more powerful than his wildest dreams, but a Boy Scout prosecutor from Michigan sent the Mafiosi on the run for over a decade.

 

Special Prosecutor, Thomas E. Dewey, Woolworth Building, 233 Broadway, Frank Hogan, Eunice Carter, Dutch Schultz, Arthur Flegenheimer, Lucky Luciano, Prostitution, Governor Lehman, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia

In 1935, New York Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey began sweeping the streets of racketeers, winning convictions against Lucky Luciano, Waxy Gordon, Jimmy Hines, and other underworld scions.

 

29 Washington Square West Vito Genovese's Apartment / home for most of the 1930s

29 Washington Square West Vito Genovese’s Apartment / home for most of the 1930s

Following the conviction of Luciano, Genovese moved up to boss of the family and unwittingly climbed into Dewey’s crosshairs. To evade Dewey’s wrath, Genovese moved out of the special prosecutor’s jurisdiction to a sprawling estate in New Jersey. but Vito’s taste for blood became his undoing.

 

In 1937, the Ernesto “The Hawk” Rupolo admitted to murdering Ferdinand “the Shadow” Boccia at the behest of Genovese. Without missing a beat, Vito skipped town and escaped to fascist Italy, spending the Second World War as an aid to Benito Mussolini. Il Duce knighted Genovese, bestowing the rank of Commendatore upon the mobster.

 

After the Allied capture of Italy, Vito switched sides again, working for the Allies as a translator and as a spy, both covers for his real occupation: black marketeering. Agent O.C. Dicky, of the U.S. Army eventually caught up with Genovese and brought him back to New York to stand trial for the Murder Boccia in 1946, but like usual Genovese beat the rap.

 

Vito Genovese after his return to the U.S. in the 1950s.

Vito Genovese after his return to the U.S. in the 1950s.

 

The Return of Genovese

Back in Greenwich Village after a decade long exile, Vito set up shop with a bonafide business to explain his lavish lifestyle. He entered into partnership with the Erb family, owners of a dock-working firm that placed iron straps around pallets of cargo. Within a year, ERB Strapping had a virtual monopoly on iron strapping in the port of New York.

 

For a corporate headquarters, Genovese purchased the apartment building at 180 Thompson Street, where Joe Valachi, Vincent the Chin Gigante, and other well-known mobsters congregated.

 

Genovese owned this apartment building at 180 Thompson Street in Greenwich Village. It served as the headquarters for his ERB Strapping corporation, a powerhouse in the Port of New York.

Genovese owned this apartment building at 180 Thompson Street in Greenwich Village. It served as the headquarters for his ERB Strapping corporation, a powerhouse in the Port of New York.

 

But, being a megalomaniacal scoundrel, Vito wanted more. Not only did want to depose Frank Costello, the patriarch of the family. Genovese also wanted to overturn the Commission’s ban on narcotics and become the Boss of All Bosses. Vito’s newest acolyte, Vincent Gigante stuck on 1957, blasting Costello in his Central Park West apartment building.

 

However, Vito’s reign was short. In 1958, Genovese was sentenced to 15 years for narcotics trafficking. He would never see Greenwich Village, or freedom, again.

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Addresses:

225 Sullivan Street- Mother’s apartment

208 Sullivan Street-Triangle Civic Improvement Association

67 East 77th Street Just off Park Avenue- Townhouse

Status: All Standing

 

Was he mentally ill or a criminal mastermind?  A brain damaged ex-pug, or the leader of the Genovese Crime Family? These questions dominated New York’s tabloids for much of 1990s. Despite the notoriety, for much of his life of crime Vincent “the Chin” Gigante lived with his dear old ma, Yolanda, at 225 Sullivan Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, a place the FBI once called:

“One of the most impregnable mob strongholds in the country” The New York Times, 1988

Born in 1928 in the slums of Greenwich Village to a watchmaker and a seamstress, Gigante came up from the streets swinging. He Graduated from P.S. 3 elementary school, but dropped out of Textile High in 9th grade to make his way in the world as a boxer.

Vito Genovese and his Greenwich Village henchmen: Tony Bender Strollo and Tommy Eboli ruled Chin’s universe. Genovese’s bodyguard and top hitman, Eboli loved boxing in big way, and he brought the talented Gigante under his wing, managing both his fight career and his crime career.

 

Vincent-Gigante's-Apartment

The Gigante family tenement. FBI agents once found Vincent here standing in the shower under an open umbrella.

Becoming Vinny the Chin

Gigante boxed all over New York, in club fights and in the backs of bars. Like an actor waiting tables at night, Gigante moonlighted as mafia enforcer of Beat Generation Greenwich Village, amassing arrests for illegal guns, theft, arson and more.

From there, Vincent, whose mother called him Vincenzo, fought bouts in St. Nick’s Arena and Madison Square Garden transforming his ma’s nickname into a gangland moniker, The Chin. Veteran boxing manager, Lou Duva would reminisce in Jacobs Beach, The Mob, The Garden & The Golden Age of Boxing:

“When you boxed in the Garden, you got the recognition. You’d arrived as a fighter.”Lou Duva

With a record of 20 wins and 4 losses, what caused the Chin to quit the fights and become a full time mobster? (Click to see Gigante’s Boxing Record) Perhaps Gigante got sick of getting his brains knocked in for peanuts, or was there something else?

 

The Return of Vito Genovese

Genovese, returned from his self-imposed exile in fascist Italy during WWII, had plans for the young boxer who would become a mafia superstar serving as Genovese’s chauffeur, bodyguard and top triggerman.

 

Vincent-the-Chin-Gigante-Apartment,-Triangle-Civic-Club-Mafia-Map

For most of his life, Vincent Gigante lived at 225 Sullivan Street with his Ma, Yolanda. His headquarters, the Triangle Civic Association was across the street at 208 Sullivan Street.

 

Vito Genovese vs. Frank Costello

With Genovese’s return, a confrontation loomed with Frank Costello, the reigning boss of the Luciano Crime Family. Gigante was tasked with rubbing out the boss to make way for Genovese. The ex-boxer took to an underworld shooting range beneath the streets of Greenwich Village to ready his trigger finger.

On May 2nd, 1957 the Chin struck, but the botched the job, grazing Costello. However, the flesh wound paid off and Costello retired from the rackets (Click to read the full story).

 

1957, A Bad Year for the Mob, Apalachin and More

Despite the successful takeover of the Luciano Family,  it would be a bad year Gigante. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics(FBN) had The Chin and Genovese’s global narcotics operation in their sites. On November 11, 1957, Apalachin put the mob on prime-time television and in 1958 the FBN convicted Genovese and Gigante for narcotics trafficking. Genovese would never walk the streets again.

 

The Odd Father

Gigante clearly did not enjoy prison. After his release he became increasingly paranoid, secretive and reclusive. By the late 1970s, he regularly checked into mental institutions and wandered the streets of the Village in slippers and a bathrobe. According to Selwyn Raab, author of the Five Families,

“Gigante’s bizarre behavior was also exhibited in his mother’s fourth-floor apartment. One day, agent Pat Marshall and Pat Collins knocked on Yolanda Gigante’s apartment with a subpoena for her son. Chin was standing in the bathtub, under a closed shower head, wearing a bathrobe. He had an open umbrella over his head…”Selwyn Raab, The Five Families

 

The Triangle Civic Association

Despite the crazy act, Gigante ruled over the crime family, positioning East Harlem Mafia kingpin, Fat Tony Salerno, as a front boss and buffer.  Chin held court across the street from his mother’s apartment at The Triangle Civic Association, 208 Sullivan Street. The nondescript club had little more than a bar and an espresso machine but it served as a low profile command center, which he had swept for bugs regularly.

 

Triangle-Civic-Association-

Once a hub of gangland intrigue, Vincent Gigante’s Triangle Civic Association is now a tea shop.

 

The FBI bought the crazy act but most mobsters knew better. Sammy the Bull Gravano later reminisced to Peter Maas,

 

“But it was clear as a bell that he was the boss. So why was he doing his nut act? Sometimes I would think that he really was crazy and took medication when he had to be sane.” Sammy the Bull Gravano, Underboss.

 

 

VIncent-Gigante's-Townhouse

Vincent the Chin Gigante’s posh townhouse just off of Park Avenue.

 

 

Chin’s Townhouse

By the 1980s, Chin grew even more eccentric. He had two separate families, and a wife and a mistress both named Olympia. One family lived in Old Tappan New Jersey and the other in a posh Upper East Side townhouse, just off Park Avenue, located at 67 East 77th Street. The luxurious white bricked home was purchased by record executive Morris Levy in 1983 for $490,000 and gifted to Gigante’s mistress for a mere $16,000.

Despite the 20 year crazy act, the FBI eventually caught up with the Chin, convicting him of racketeering in 1997. He would die in the same penitentiary as his mentor Genovese.

Vincent-Gigante's-Town-House-Infamous-New-York

Gigante’s townhouse was located at 67 East 77th Street.

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Socks Lanza, Yakey Yake Brady, Fulton Fishmarket, South Street Seaport, Corlears Hook, The Bridge Café, Roxy Vanella, Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano, NYPD, Harbor Patrol, Socco the Bracer, Patsy Conroy, Saul and Howlett, River Pirates, Paris Cafe, NYPD Museum

Click to enlarge map in a new window.

Murder, mayhem and river pirates are not among the listed tourist attractions at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, but that’s exactly what a sightseer would have encountered during much of the district’s history.

Once a major port in the 1800s, this salty strip of land on the East River attracted merchantmen from around the globe for its deep waters and ice free docking, but with millions of dollars of cargo arriving daily came the dreaded specter of New York’s earliest organized crime syndicates—river pirates.

Today’s boutiques were once brothels and the gastro pubs rum holes. To walk these streets at night was to play a real-life game of Lets Make a Deal. Behind door number one: a whorehouse. Behind door number two: a dog-fighting pit. Behind door number three: shanghaiing, murder and death. Allow this South Street Seaport Walking tour to take you back to the days when river pirates and mobsters ruled South Street.

 

Gangs of the South Street Seaport Walking Tour Map

 

1 First Precinct: NYPD Museum

Location: 100 Old Slip, www.nycpolicemuseum.org

Status: Closed for Renovation

1st precinct 20

There’s probably no better place to start a tour of the criminal history of the South Street Seaport than the New York City Police Department museum. Sandwiched between looming skyscrapers, the landmarked 1909 neo-Renaissance First Precinct building represents the first modern police building in the U.S. and a must see for law enforcement buffs. Usually ringed with vintage NYPD vehicles parked curbside, the NYC Police Museum is under restoration because of flooding during Hurricane Sandy. When it reopens, guests will be treated to vintage uniforms, Willy Sutton’s lock picks, old mug shots, and the Tommy gun used to assassinate Frankie Yale.

 

2 Fulton Fish Market

Location: Pier 18 South Street

Status: Landmarked

Fulton Fishmarket Project Underworld Navy and the Mafia WWII

It was the heart of the Seaport and the queen of South Street, an insular, self-regulated 188-year-old world populated by fishmongers and scoundrels and sea captains and Mafiosi. Now desolate and rusty, the battered, but landmarked, corrugated metal Tin Building on Pier 17 once stood as the district’s high temple of brine. If you get there early enough and squint into rising sun you might see them, the ghosts of the fish men who toiled from 1822 to 2005 in their blood spattered aprons under the predatory gaze of the gangs of New York.

The Mafia arrived in 1919, when a twenty-year-old character exploded onto the scene. His name was Joseph Lanza, but his mafia co-workers called the 230-pound bulldozer “Socks” because of the knockout force in his meat hooks. With the help of his knuckles, the mobster organized the United Seafood Worker’s Union, Local 202, and a goon squad incorporated as the Fulton Market Watchmen and Patrol Association on behalf of Joe “The Boss” Massaria and later Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese. Lanza died in 1968 amid the constant probes of both federal and state organized crime task forces.

The Romano twins, Carmine and Vincent, picked up where Socks left off, extending the reign of the Genovese crime family into the late 1990s. The Federal Government convicted the Romano’s for violations of the Taft-Hartley anti-monopoly act in 1981, which paved the way for Rudolph Giuliani to initiate a lawsuit that placed the Fish Market under Federal Custodianship. In 2005, the reek of fish and crime wafted from the Fulton Fish Market for the last time when the entire industry packed up for the Hunt’s Point in the Bronx.

 

3 Water Street

Location: Water Street

Most visitors who stroll over the uneven cobblestones of Water Street fail to realize that the social reformer Oliver Dryer once called this thoroughfare:

“…the wickedest block in the wickedest ward in the wickedest city in America…” –Oliver Dryer

By the mid-1800s, Sailors arrived daily on Water Street to booze and whore the night away, but the seamen were always one step away from death. Consisting of one block of bars, brothels, rat pits and gambling dens, Water Street existed as the nexus of waterfront crime—a place where pirates plotted their next score, fixed elections and wrapped the corpses of murdered sailors in chains for disposal. On Water Street violence was endemic. The dives and whorehouses and hellholes that lined this street had fitting names. There was Long Marry’s at No. 275 and Mother McBride’s at No. 340, but none were more infamous than Kit Burn’s Rat Pit.

 

4: Kit Burn’s Rat Pit

Location: 273 Water Street

Status: Landmarked

Web Kit Burns the Ratpit today 273 Water Street

Now luxury apartments, 273 Water Street once represented the heart of Water Street’s “sporting culture. Officially named Sportsmen’s Hall, Kit Burn’s Rat Pit existed as New York City’s premier dog fighting and rat baiting venue. In the pit, a gaslight illuminated octagon, eighteen inches high, sixteen feet long, and eight feet wide, Kit pitted dogs against dogs and terriers against gigantic wharf rats in gladiatorial matches that would have made the Ancient Romans blush.

The pit was a family affair, and Kit ran business with his wife and daughter, Kitty, a dame well acquainted with the business end of a wooden club. For fun Kit brought in his son-in-law Jack the Rat, a character who would bit the head off a rat for a quarter a chomp. Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA, eventually put the bite on the Rat Pit and closed the establishment with the help of the NYPD. For a longer story on Kit Burn’s Rat Pit: https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/10/22/kit-burns-rat-pit/

 

5: The Bridge Café

Location: 279 Water Street Status: Closed for Renovation

http://bridgecafenyc.com

Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bride Café on Water Street was once known as the Hole-In-The-Wall Saloon, a vicious den of 19th century depravity.

Nearly destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, the Bridge Café exists as New York City’s last remaining pirate bar. Back in the 1870’s, the café was called the Hole-in-the-Wall Saloon. Owned and operated by Jack Perry and his wife, Mag Perry, the infamous Gallus Mag. A suffragette, before women’s suffrage became popular, Gallus earned her nickname from the unthinkable act of wearing trousers, rather than dresses, and holding them up with galluses or suspenders. When clients gave her trouble, Gallus often bit off their ears and dropped them in a pickling jar behind the bar. One-Armed Charley Monell later took over the bar and converted the upper floors into a brothel. By the 1900s, the Bridge Cafe became a hangout for the Yakey Yake Brady gang. For a longer story Gallus Mag the Bridge Café: https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/11/14/save-the-bridge-cafe-new-york-citys-last-pirate-bar/

 

6: Vanella’s Funeral Chapel

Location: 29 Madison Street Status: Open

IMG_0100

An original member of Johnny Torrio’s James Street Gang, Roxie Vanella (Namesake of Vanella’s funeral chapel) followed Torrio to Chicago, leaving a crime spree in his wake. After killing a corrupt police officer and beating the charges, Vanella returned to Corlears Hook in New York and opened this funeral chapel at 29 Madison Street. For the complete story on Roxie Vanella: https://infamousnewyork.com/tag/vanellas-funeral-chapel/

 

7: Yakey Yake Brady and the Rumble for Cherry Street

Location: Cherry Street

Yaley Yake Brady

They came from the west with plunder on their minds and bucking revolvers in their hands. It was hard to say why in the spring of 1903 the thousand strong Monk Eastman mob turned their greedy paws on the slums of Cherry Street, but for John “Jake Yakey Yake” Brady it meant war.

Raised in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Yakey Yake carved out a fiefdom in the Irish slum known as The Gap in the northerly hollow of Cherry Street. A former jockey and barrel maker, Brady’s professions didn’t prevent him from mixing it up with the rowdies. Arrested dozens of times for scores of “accidental” and intentional shootings, Brady became the most feared man in Corlears Hook with a reputation so dreadful that when a longshoreman pressed assault charges on Yake; the dockworker hanged himself rather than face the hoodlum’s retribution.

When Monk Eastman came for Yake’s waterfront kingdom, the blood of gangsters turned the East River red. As the New York Sun put it:

“Under the bridge, revolver shots have echoed by twos and threes and by hundreds.”—The New York Sun, 1903

Because of the Monk’s superior numbers, Yake formed an alliance with Eastman’s perennial rival, Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang, who had a nearby outpost on James Street garrisoned by Johnny Torrio and Roxy Vanella. To dam the tsunami of violence, the police ringed the district with undercover officers with orders to frisk and arrest any armed goons. The cops put Yakey Yake under such pressure that the gang leader wagered his barrel making firm on a card game and won a wagon team that he used to relocate to Jersey City, where he died in 1904.

 

8: The Sinking of Socco the Bracer

Location: Pier 27, Foot of Jackson Street

Flash, fire and smoke, lit up the night sky on May 29, 1873, when members of the Patsy Conroy mob exchanged gunfire with the harbor police at Jackson Street’s Pier. Earlier that evening, Joseph “Socko the Bracer” Gayle, Danny Manning, and Benny Woods hijacked a rowboat and rowed out in search of the ship, Margaret. Two skiff-borne harbor cops noticed the river pirates scampering up the ship’s anchor chain. Officers Musgrave and Kelly opened fire.

The rogues dove into their rowboat and pulled away into the darkness. A champion rower, Officer Musgrave gave chase while his partner scanned the horizon with a lantern, which was greeted by a pistol blast. The police answered with their six-shooters and traded broadsides with the thugs like a man-o’-war until a bullet tore through Socko. His companions pitched him overboard and the river bandit sunk to the bottom like a lead plated mackerel. The authorities apprehended Benny Woods the next day. Unfortunately, the Margaret sailed for China with the witnesses, ending any chance of a conviction.

9: Murder on the East River: The Saul and Howlett Story

Location: East River, Foot of Oliver Street

On the night of August 25, 1852, a pistol shot rang out from the Thomas Watson, a cargo ship anchored at the foot of Oliver Street. As Charles Baxter, the ship’s night watchman bled to death, two pirates rifled through the dying man’s clothing. The thieves then heard the rapping of a police nightstick against the cobble stone street, the signal for reinforcements in the days before police whistles.

A dozen lantern-carrying police officers sprinted to the scene, collaring William Saul and Nicholas Howlett, two river-borne rogues that Herbert Asbury incorrectly identified as leaders of the Daybreak Boys. (Former Chief of Police George Walling believed that the two men were the leaders of the Hook Gang) Whatever their affiliation, Saul and Howlett terrorized the waterfront for over a decade and the Chief credited the pair with twenty murders. The Baxter murder; however, would become one of the most sensational stories of the decade, signaling the end of the East River pirates. Saul and Howlett were found guilty of the murder were hanged in the Tomb’s courtyard on January 28, 1853. Bill “The Butcher” Poole attended the hanging to wish his river pirate friends farewell.

 

10: The Wickedest Man in America:

John Allen’s Dance Hall

Location: 304 Water Street

Status: Demolished

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

Priests, police and just about everyone else in New York City called John Van Allen the wickedest man in New York, and he reveled in it. In less than twenty years, Allen amassed over 113 arrests for running disorderly houses across the city, but his most infamous den was this now demolished Water Street dancehall.

The three-story bordello at 304 Water Street offered several dance floors, an orchestra pit and booths for sex serviced by Allen’s crew of twenty ladies of the night. A natural self-promoter, Allen set the tabloids aflame with his wacky antics even attracting the attention of Mark Twain who described Allen as, “a tall, plain, boney, fellow, with a good-natured look in his eye, a Water Street air all about him, and a touch of Irish in his face.” In reality, Allen probably wasn’t the wickedest man on Water Street by a long shot (his brother’s The. And Wes were far more wicked), but after his ceaseless campaigning for the title, the moniker stuck when the fishmonger transformed his whorehouse into New York City’s wackiest religious revival.

 

11 The NYPD Harbor Patrol

The murder of the ship watchman Charles Baxter by the infamous desperados Nicholas Howlett and William Saul alerted the public to waterfront crisis. Chief Walling commented on his battles with Saul and Howlett in his autobiography. He wrote,

“My investigations in this murder opened up to me a chapter in the annals of crime, of full horrors of which I never dreamed…human monsters prowled around our river fronts…who thought no more of the life of a man than that of a chicken.” Police Chief George Washington Walling

Following the Saul and Howlett case, the Police Department organized its first harbor patrol of several rowboats and took the war to the seas. The department purchased a steam ship named the Deer, which functioned as a fulltime floating station house. In 1858, the Metropolitan Police Force expanded the harbor unit to 57 men, six rowboats and the paddle wheel steamer, Senica. The men of the harbor police used to joke that the steamship was only fast when she was tied to the pier. The Senica was an abject failure that only made one arrest before burning to the waterline in 1880. Despite the failure of the flagship, the harbor force brought the pirates to their knees, pacifying the waters of the East River by the turn of the century and driving crime to the shores.

 

12 Meyer Hotel, The Paris Café and Project Underworld

Location: 119 South Street

Status: Landmarked

To complete your tour of the South Street Seaport, step into the Paris Café and have a drink at its original, hand-carved bar and ponder its history. Home to longshoremen, sea captains and mobsters, the Paris Café has served beer since 1873.

Constructed by alcohol merchant Henry Meyer, the Meyer Hotel and its Paris Café stood out as the poshest hotel and bar in the district. Thomas Edison, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Theodore Roosevelt all spent time in the building before beginning voyages to Europe and South America. When the passenger steamship lines moved their docks to the new Chelsea Piers terminal, the hotel fell into disrepair and the mafia took control.

By the 1930’s, Albert Anastasia and Louis Lepke Buckhaulter regularly met in the bar. Upstairs in the hotel, Socks Lanza orchestrated his fish empire. Socks controlled the Seaport with such impunity that the U.S. Navy came calling for the racketeer in the 1940s with an unusual proposition. They wanted him to help fight the Nazis.

Eventually with Lanza’s help, naval agents embedded themselves on the Atlantic fishing fleets to observe German submarines. Lucky Luciano was even contacted in Dannemora prison to help plan the invasion of Sicily.

For more information on Project Underworld: Allegiance between the Navy and the Mafia.

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Frank Costello, Majestic Apartments, 115 Central Park West

Frank Costello Lived Here at the Majestic Apartments.

Location: 115 Central Park West, The Majestic Apartments

Status: Landmarked 

 

He had a controlling interest in every slot machine from New York to New Orleans. He ran rum, bootlegged scotch, and controlled the appointments of Supreme Court judges and Tammany Hall politicians. He was a kingmaker, the puppeteer who made Manhattan dance, but more than anything else, Frank Costello wanted to be a legitimate businessman; and by the time the Great Depression hit, Uncle Frank, as his mob pals called him, was ready to buy his way into high society.

 

For his bid for legitimacy, he targeted the newly constructed 32 story Majestic Apartments, a twin towered, brick and steel framed art deco masterpiece. Located at 115 Central Park West across the street from the famous Dakota, nothing in the city was more modern and posh than the Majestic.

 

A Majestic View

 

For their home, Costello and his wife, Loretta Geigerman, selected apartment 18F, a nine room, two bedroom, two bathroom, corner apartment facing Central Park, which they rented for $3,900 a month (the apartment recently sold for $5,304,000).

 

The view from Frank Costello's apartment was majestic.

The view from Frank Costello’s apartment was majestic.

 

Because of the building’s unique cantilevered construction, there were no columns to block Costello’s view of the park and the breathtaking full morning sunlight that the mobster rarely tasted during his youth in the slums of East Harlem.

 

Frank Costello lived in apartment 18F in the Majestic Apartments. Vincent "Chin" Gigante attempted to assassinate him in the lobby in 1957.

Frank Costello lived in apartment 18F in the Majestic Apartments. Vincent “Chin” Gigante attempted to assassinate him in the lobby in 1957.

 

Nobody Loses in Frank Costello’s House

 

The couple hired James Mont, the mob’s top interior decorator, to deck the apartment out in mafia glitz. Mont hung a Howard Chandler Christy “Christy Girl” oil painting over the fireplace. Next, he placed a gold plated grand piano in the living room and ringed it with slot machines manufactured by Costello’s True Mint Novelty Company, a firm that reportedly earned the mob mogul $500,000 a day. But the one-armed bandits in Costello’s lavish pad had a unique twist: they were rigged for perpetual jackpots. Costello was known to say to guests such as publisher Generoso Pope Jr. and future New York Mayor Bill O’Dwyer,

 

 What do you think I am, a punk? Nobody loses in my house. 

 

Fred Astaire, Walter Winchell, and Milton Berle

 

Over the years, Costello would integrate himself in the parade of rich and famous neighbors like: the diamond merchant: Jacob Baumgold, shoe magnate: Andrew Geller, Fred Astaire, Milton Berle, Zero Mostel, and his arch rival—newspaper reporter Walter Winchell. Whenever he needed a cup of sugar, Costello could visit his pal Bugsy Siegal downstairs.

From this majestic incubator, Costello’s power would only grow. In 1936, Lucky Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years for compulsory prostitution. A year later Vito Genovese fled to Italy fearing murder charges, leaving Frank Costello boss of the Luciano Crime Family.

 

King of New York

 

For the undisputed king of Manhattan nightlife, Costello was an early riser. Waking at 9:00 am every morning, his daily ritual included a trip to the Waldorf Astoria Barber Shop for a shine, shave, and a manicure followed by lunch at the Madison Hotel. On Thursdays he hit the baths in the subbasement of the Biltmore Hotel for “the works”, sauna, steam room and a massage.

 

Frank Costello Majestic Apartments

 

He saw a psychoanalyst once a week and became a major donor to the Salvation Army, turning over the Copacabana night club for their holiday fundraisers. Wire taps placed on Costello’s home phone by D.A. Frank Hogan recorded New York supreme Court Justice Thomas Aurelio pledging his undying loyalty to the mob boss.

 

The Kefauver Commission

Just as the former bootlegger was ready to climb into the seat of respectability, things began to unravel. In 1951 Senator Estes Kefauver’s travelling committee rolled into town and hauled Costello in front of television cameras, forcing Costello to answer several difficult questions such as if he kept $50,000 in a safe in his apartment. Costello replied,

 

I believe I had a little strongbox… I keep forty-fifty thousand.

 

Refusing to answer anymore questions, the Prime Minister of the Underworld stormed out and was slapped with contempt of court and a 14 month prison sentence. Soon the IRS was on his tail, and INS wanted to revoke his citizenship.

 

The Return of Vito Genovesse

When Costello returned from prison, he had even more problems. Vito Genovese had returned from Italy, gunning for Uncle Frank. On the evening of May 2nd, 1957, Genovese struck. As Costello walked into the Majestic’s zinc and marble lobby, Genovese’s chief bully-boy, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, pulled a revolver and screamed:

 

This is for you Frank.

 

Just as Gigante fired a single round, Costello spun around, and because of some quirk of physics, geometry, and the hand of God almighty, the bullet grazed Costello’s scalp, riding around the rim of his borsalino hat. The attack left Costello shaken. He quickly sued for peace with Genovese, and retired from the rackets. Costello would live in the Majestic until his death in 1973

 

Majestic Apartments

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Joe the Boss Masseria, Giuseppe Masseria, Joe Masseria Umberto Valenti, Lucky Luciano, Charley Luciano, John’s of 12th Street, Salvatore D’Aquila, Toto D’Aquila, 302 East 12th Street , Vito Genovese

Joe Masseria’s Revenge

Location: 302 East 12th Street 

Status: Standing

 

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…

 

oe the Boss Masseria, Giuseppe Masseria, Joe Masseria Umberto Valenti, Lucky Luciano, Charley Luciano, John’s of 12th Street, Salvatore D’Aquila, Toto D’Aquila, 302 East 12th Street , Vito Genovese

In the guise of peace treaty, Joe Masseria lured Umberto Valenti to John’s of 12th Street for his last meal.

 

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.

 

Joe the Boss Masseria, Giuseppe Masseria, Joe Masseria Umberto Valenti, Lucky Luciano, Charley Luciano, John’s of 12th Street, Salvatore D’Aquila, Toto D’Aquila, 302 East 12th Street , Vito Genovese

1.Umberto Valenti emerges from John’s of 12th Street. Lucky Luciano and another assassin open fire. 2. Valenti draws a revolver and is hit in the chest with a bullet. He staggers to a waiting taxicab and dies. 3. The gunmen shoot two innocent bystanders before disappearing into a tenement.

 

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).

 

The candle in John's of 12th Street was lit to celebrate the end of prohibition.

The candle in John’s of 12th Street was lit to celebrate the end of prohibition.

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)

 

Luciano’s Escape

 

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.

 

Joe the Boss Masseria, Giuseppe Masseria, Joe Masseria Umberto Valenti, Lucky Luciano, Charley Luciano, John’s of 12th Street

Whether or not Umberto Valenti sampled the chicken parmigiana before being croaked has been lost to the winds of history.

 

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