Lawyers, Guns & Money: Vito Genovese

Part Three: “Monster”

Following the death of his first wife of tuberculosis in late 1931, Genovese killed an associate and married the man’s widow, Anna, a woman whom he had openly coveted, two weeks later in the early spring of 1932. His reputation for viciousness was only enhanced.

Anna Genovese

In 1932, the bootleggers, realizing that the Volstead Act was on its last legs, were going legitimate. The Lillien Brothers and Waxey Gordon’s gangs had filed for permits to brew beer and distill alcohol as soon as Prohibition was repealed. They figured that would prevent them from losing income.

At a meeting in Atlantic City, Lucky Charlie and the Commission informed all of the Bootleggers that, as Prohibition would likely be repealed in the very near future, the commission would expect a percentage of their profits, or the newly legit Brewers and Distillers would face bombings, hijackings, and arson. The majority of the soon-to-be former bootleggers acquiesced.

However, Waxey Gordon and his crew, and presumably the Lillien crew told Lucky Charlie and the Commission to “twenty-three Skidoo.” On March 23, 1933, Alexander Lillien was murdered in his home, and a King of Spades was left near his body. Just like the playing card found in “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s lifeless hand in Coney Island two years earlier.

A few weeks after Lillien’s murder, bootleggers Waxey Gordon, Max Hassel, and Max Greenberg were in the room they rented in Elizabeth, NJ at the Essex Hotel. The room was the office where they presided over their bootlegging empire. With them were several other men. It was a hit. The only member of the gang to survive was Waxey Gordon. All roads pointed to Lucky Luciano through the orchestration of Vito Genovese. While unlikely that Genovese pulled the trigger himself, it is likely that he was recruited to oversee the job.

A wealthy man, Vito Genovese purchased a forty-acre estate in Middletown, NJ as a retreat from city life, in 1935. He had the estate landscaped with a miniature version of Mount Vesuvius, which was rigged to spew smoke, in the rock garden. The estate is now incorporated into Deep Cut Park and Mount Vesuvius is still “active” and one of the park’s attractions.

Vito’s Mount Vesuvius in deep cut park

Luciano was sent to prison for running prostitutes in 1936. It was at that point that Vito Genovese became the acting boss of the crime family. However, his tenure was short-lived. A year into his new undisputed position, he fled to Italy to avoid indictment for the 1934 murder of a hood named Ferdinand Boccia. The pair had a falling out over what Vito perceived as a crooked card game.

In February of 1937, while Genovese was in Italy, the estate house in Middletown burned to the ground. Authorities determined that a faulty oil burner in the basement of the home had caused the fire. Construction materials for renovating a bathroom had fed the fire. And while the estate burned, Vito made inroads and developed a friendship with Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Benito Musolini

His activities in Italy were epic. He fomented several black-market networks and forged ties with Italian and Sicilian Dons, all the while growing his criminal empire in New York through the careful oversight of acting boss, the notorious fix-it man, Frank Costello.

Frank Costesllo

In 1943, he ingratiated himself even further with Mussolini, by giving the order to execute anti-Mussolini newspaper journalist Carlo Tresca in front of Tresca’s newspaper office in Manhattan. Tresca was crossing Fifth Avenue at 13th Street on foot when a black Ford pulled up beside him. A gunman (Believed to be Carmine Galante) in a brown coat jumped out and shot Tresca in the back and the head with a handgun, killing him instantly.

Patriotism is unique by its very nature. Even a stone killer like Vito Genovese can rise to the occasion to serve his country in a fashion. Genovese offered to help the US military in the war effort in Italy. But of course, a zebra can’t change its stripes, and neither could Vito be anyone other than Vito Genovese.

He was arrested by Italian authorities in August 1944 for his involvement in a stolen property ring on a United States Army base. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, he found himself back in New York to face charges for the Boccia murder. The FBI turned a Genovese assassin, Ernie “The Hawk” Rupolo, and gained his cooperation.

Ernie “The Hawk” Rupolo

Vito Genovese was indicted for murder in June of 1945, and Ernie “The Hawk” was placed in protective custody as a material witness. The case against Genovese disintegrated when two other key witnesses were murdered on Genovese’s orders. He was released during the summer of 1946, free to resume his reign over the Luciano crime family. Which would later bear his name. And “Ernie the Hawk” who had agreed to testify against Don Vito in the Boccia murder? He was executed in the 1960’s for his disloyalty.

On July 20, 1946, after he was acquitted of the murder of Ferdinand Boccia, Genovese did what anyone would do. Instead of staying off the radar, he purchased the F.G. Boffey property at 130 Ocean Blvd. in Atlantic Highlands for $40,000 cash. The house had been built in 1925, during Prohibition. Later, during divorce proceedings, Anna Genovese claimed that while Vito spent $40,000.00 to buy the property, he spent a quarter of a million dollars to renovate and furnish it, including “imported carpets, marble staircases, and 24-carat gold plates.”

Genovese at 68 Highland Ave AH raking Leaves

In 1953, Anna divorced Vito Genovese. The settlement forced him to liquidate his assets to pay alimony and an additional judgment against him. He rented a house at 68 Highland Avenue in Atlantic Highlands. It was in this house that Genovese plotted and executed his power grab.

Vinnie “the chin” Gigante

In 1957, Vito Genovese ordered Vincent “Vinny the Chin” Gigante to murder Frank Costello, his second in command. The hit failed but persuaded Costello to retire. Later that year, Genovese offered Carlo Gambino the chance to run the Anastasia crime family if he supported him in taking out Albert Anastasia, the head of Murder, Inc.

On the 25th of October in 1957, Albert Anastasia, one of the most feared men in organized crime, a stone killer to which even Genovese paled in comparison, was sitting in the barber’s chair at the Park Sheraton Hotel on 870 7th Avenue (Now called the Park Central Hotel). His bodyguard had conveniently gone for a walk.

Albert Anastasia dead body

Suddenly, two men wearing scarves across their faces stormed into the barbershop. They unleashed withering gunfire at Anastasia as he sat in the barber’s chair. Some accounts say that the bullets knocked Albert Anastasia out of the chair. That isn’t true. In reality, the stone killer, realizing that he was under attack, charged his assailants. Unfortunately, in the heat of battle, he saw the reflection of the men in the barber’s mirror and charged the mirror instead of the hit team.

Nobody was ever charged with his murder, but it has been assumed that the Genovese and Gambino’s order to whack Anastasia fell to “Crazy” Joey Gallo. Gallo later quipped “You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet.”

Crazy Joey Gallo

And For Genovese…
Despite all of the hard work, multiple murders, and Machiavellian machinations, his unfettered reign as head of the Genovese crime family lasted only a few weeks. After the disastrous meeting of crime bosses in Apalachin, NY in November of 1957, Genovese found that he had lost all credibility and his reputation was in flaming ruins. His former allies went against him with the likes of Lansky, Luciano, Costello, and Gambino all conspiring to entrap Genovese with a narcotics conviction, bribing a drug dealer to testify he had personally worked with Genovese.

Genovese funeral at Saint Agnes AH

On April 17, 1959, Vito Genovese was sentenced to 15 years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, where he tried to run his crime family from prison. He died of a heart attack at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, on February 14, 1969.

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