Lawyers, Guns & Money: Vito Genovese

Part Two: “Eve of Destruction”

In 1930, “Joe the Boss” Masseria pulled 33-year-old Vito Genevese aside and tasked him with a mission. Genovese was to murder Bronx-based Mobchief Gaetano “Tommy” Reina. Tommy, a reluctant ally of Masseria, was beginning to move toward an alliance with Salvatore Maranzano, Masseria’s principal rival. At least that is what “Joe the Boss” had been told.

Salvatore Maranzano

Lucky Charlie Luciano and his loyal circle of trusted friends had decided to pit Masseria and Maranzano against one another. Luciano had learned that Masseria planned to assassinate Maranzano supporters Joe Profaci and young Joe Bonanno. Since Luciano was counting on Profaci and Bonanno in his future national crime syndicate, he wanted to prevent their deaths, and equally, he did not want Reina to defect to Maranzano since that might tilt the contest too much in the latters favor.

Therefore, Luciano decided Reina “had to go.”  So, he planted the seed in Masseria’s mind that Tommy Reina was about to defect to Maranzano. On the evening of Wednesday, February 26, 1930, Reina had dinner at the home of his mistress, Marie Ennis, at 1521 Sheridan Avenue in the Bronx. As he left the building, he was surprised to see Vito Genovese waiting outside. Tommy waved at him and smiled. Vito Genovese shot him in the head with a double-barreled shotgun, literally blowing Reina’s head off.

It is said that the blast from Genovese’s shotgun was the first salvo of the “Castellammarese War” between the Masseria and Maranzano factions. But the truth is that there was a third faction. A faction that used brains as well as guns and bombs, just like Arnold Rothstein had taught Luciano and Genovese all those years ago.

In a secret deal with Maranzano, Luciano agreed to engineer the death of his boss, Masseria, in return for receiving Masseria’s rackets and becoming Maranzano’s second-in-command. Joe Adonis had joined the Masseria faction and when Masseria heard about Luciano’s betrayal, he approached Adonis about killing Luciano. However, Adonis instead warned Luciano about the murder plot.

Joe the Boss Masseria

On Saturday, August 15, 1931, Lucky Charley invited “Joe the Boss” to lunch at a restaurant called Nuova Villa Tammaro on Coney Island. They and another associate were seated in a backroom, where they began playing cards as they waited for their lunch to be served. Luciano excused himself and strolled back to the restroom, in no hurry. Masseria and the other man remained at the table.

Meanwhile, a blue sedan pulled up in front of the restaurant and four men entered the main dining room walking briskly toward the back room. Masseria looked up toward the men’s room thinking that he heard Charley coming out. Just then the door behind him burst open and Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, and Benjamin & Bugsy Siegel rushed into the room guns blazing.

Joe the Boss Masseria dead

All in all, twenty rounds had been fired when it was all said and done. When the gunfire stopped, “Joe the Boss” was dead with three bullets in the head and one straight through the heart, clutching an ace of spades in his right hand.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle would report: “ It is also understood that he (Masseria) had been warned about increasing his territory by agents of Al Capone and the police are inclined to believe killers were imported to slay him. A car that might have been driven by these men was found in front of 1628 W 1st St., Coney Island bearing license plates that had been stolen from the Motor Vehicle Bureau. On the floor (of the car) were found three recently used revolvers.”

Nobody was ever prosecuted for Masseria’s murder. However, his death ended the “Castellammarese War”. At least that’s what everyone thought. With Masseria gone, Maranzano reorganized the Italian American gangs in New York City into the Five Families, headed by Luciano, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano, Vincent Mangano, and himself. Maranzano called a meeting of crime bosses in Wappingers Falls, New York, and declared himself capo dei capi (boss of all bosses).

Luciano and his second-in-command Genovese seemed to go along. However, they were merely waiting. Before long, Salvatore Maranzano began to see Luciano as a threat and hired Vincent & Mad Dog  Coll, an Irish gangster, to kill him. However, Tommy Lucchese alerted Luciano, once again, that he was marked for death.

On Thursday, September 10, 1931, Maranzano ordered Lucky Charlie and Vito Genovese to his office in what is now the Helmsley Building in Manhattan. Thinking that it was a setup, the pair sent four Jewish gangsters whose faces were unknown to Maranzano’s people. They had been secured with the aid of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Disguised as government agents, two of the gangsters disarmed Maranzano’s bodyguards.

Salvatore Maranzano dead

The other two, aided by Lucchese, who was there to point Maranzano out, stabbed the
boss multiple times before shooting him.

Charley Luciano took charge of the five families with his trusted second in command, Vito Genovese, by his side. He abolished the title of “Boss of Bosses” in favor of forming “The Commission” to serve as the governing body for organized crime. In just eleven years, two young thugs had climbed the ladder and, through Luciano’s brains and Genovese’s brawn, seized gangland and recreated it in their own image. Speakeasies, Rum Rings, Drugs, Prostitution, and Gambling, the sky was the limit. And the money kept rolling in.

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