Salvatore Maranzano

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Salvatore Maranzano
Born(1886-07-31)July 31, 1886
DiedSeptember 10, 1931(1931-09-10) (aged 45)
Other names"Little Caesar"
OccupationCrime boss, mobster
AllegianceMaranzano Crime Family

Salvatore Maranzano (Italian: [salvaˈtoːre maranˈtsaːno]; July 31, 1886 – September 10, 1931) was an organized crime figure from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss who led what later would become the Bonanno crime family in the United States. He instigated the Castellammarese War to seize control of the American Mafia operations and briefly became the Mafia's capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"), he was murdered under the orders of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who established an arrangement in which families shared power to prevent future turf wars.

Early life[edit]

As a youngster, Maranzano had wanted to become a priest and even studied to become one, but later became associated with the Mafia in his homeland.[1] Maranzano had a very commanding presence and was greatly respected by his underworld peers, he had a fascination with Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, and enjoyed talking to his less-educated American Mafia counterparts about these subjects.[2] Because of this, he was nicknamed "Little Caesar" by his underworld peers.

Early career[edit]

Maranzano emigrated from Sicily to the United States soon after World War I, settling in Brooklyn. While building a legitimate business as a real estate broker, he also maintained a growing bootlegging business, using the real estate company as a front for his illegal operations. Soon, Maranzano got involved in prostitution and the illegal smuggling of narcotics; he also took a liking to a young Joseph Bonanno and became his mentor.

Castellammarese War[edit]

In order to protect and maintain the well-being of the criminal empire that Maranzano had built up, he declared war on his rival Joe Masseria (boss of all bosses) in 1930, commencing the Castellammarese War. On April 15, 1931, Masseria was murdered, and Maranzano emerged victorious in the gangland conflict.

Boss of All Bosses[edit]

Maranzano was now the most powerful mafioso in New York. Two weeks after Masseria's murder, Maranzano called together several hundred Mafiosi to a banquet hall at an undisclosed location in Upstate New York. Maranzano confirmed and anointed the bosses of the crime families who had survived the war—Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Tommy Gagliano, Joe Profaci, Vincent Mangano, and himself, he also created an additional position for himself, that of "boss of bosses." This came as a surprise to the assembled mafiosi, since Maranzano had previously claimed he'd wanted to end boss rule.[3][4]

However, Maranzano's scheming, his arrogant treatment of his subordinates, and his fondness for comparing his organization to the Roman Empire (he attempted to model the organization after Caesar's military chain of command) did not sit well with Luciano and his ambitious friends, like Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, and others.[3] Despite his advocacy for modern methods of organization, including crews of soldiers doing the bulk of a family's illegal work under the supervision of a caporegime, at heart Maranzano was a "Mustache Pete" — an old-school mafioso too steeped in Old World ways. For instance, he was opposed to Luciano's partnership with Jewish gangsters such as Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. In fact, Luciano and his colleagues had intended all along to bide their time before getting rid of Maranzano as well.[4] Even without this to consider, Luciano came to believe that Maranzano was, in his own way, even more hidebound and power-hungry than Masseria had been.[3]

Maranzano realized this soon enough and began planning the murders of Luciano, Genovese, Costello, and others.[5] Maranzano did not act quickly enough, though; by the time he hired Mad Dog Coll to murder Luciano and Genovese, Luciano had already found out about Maranzano's plans.


Luciano arranged for Bugsy Siegel, Samuel "Red" Levine, and two other gangsters to go to Maranzano's offices on September 10, 1931, posing as accountants or tax men. Once inside his 9th floor office, in the New York Central Building, they disarmed Maranzano's guards; the four assassins then shot and stabbed Maranzano to death. As they fled down the stairs, they met Coll on his way upstairs for his appointment with Maranzano, they warned him that there had been a raid, and Coll fled, too.

Following Maranzano's death, Luciano abolished the position of "capo di tutti capi." Maranzano's underboss, Joseph Bonanno, took over most of Maranzano's rackets, which evolved into the Bonanno crime family. Although Bonanno denied knowing about Luciano's plans to kill Maranzano, it is very unlikely that Bonanno would have been left alive if he still backed his former boss.[6] Years later, Bonanno wrote in his autobiography, "A Man of Honor," that at bottom, Maranzano was still an "old-world Sicilian" who never really adapted his tactics to the New World.

Maranzano is buried in Saint John's Cemetery, Queens, New York, near Luciano's grave;[7][8] the only known photographs of Maranzano are from the scene of his death. (Author David Critchley identified the picture usually claimed to be a mugshot of Maranzano as the London-based gangster Salvatore Messina instead.[9])

In popular culture[edit]

  • Maranzano plays a small fictionalized role in Mario Puzo's The Godfather. Maranzano refused Don Vito Corleone's proposal to share his monopoly on gambling in New York City, in exchange for police and political contacts and expansion into Brooklyn and the Bronx. Maranzano arranged for two of Al Capone's gunmen to come to New York and finish Corleone. Through his contacts in Chicago, Corleone found out, and sent Luca Brasi to murder the gunmen. With Capone out of the picture, the great mob war of 1933 had begun. Desperate for peace, Maranzano agreed to a sit down in a restaurant in Brooklyn, where he was killed by Salvatore Tessio, a capo in the Corleone family. Afterwards, Corleone took over Maranzano's organization and held a meeting to reorganize the American Mafia, something that the real-life Maranzano did.
  • In the 1972 film The Valachi Papers, Maranzano is portrayed by Joseph Wiseman.
  • In the 1974 film The Godfather Part II, the young Vito Corleone mentions he knows two bookies who do not pay Don Fanucci to which Sal Tessio responds that someone other than Fanucci "collects for Maranzalla".
  • In the 1981 NBC mini-series The Gangster Chronicles, Maranzano is portrayed by Joseph Mascolo.
  • In the 1990 film Mobsters, Maranzano is portrayed by Michael Gambon, but is known as 'Faranzano'.
  • In the 1999 film Lansky, Maranzano is portrayed by Ron Gilbert.
  • In the 1999 Lifetime film Bonanno: A Godfather's Story, Maranzano is portrayed by Edward James Olmos.
  • In the 2011 Torchwood episode "Immortal Sins", Maranzano is portrayed by Cris D'Annunzio.
  • In the fifth season of Boardwalk Empire, Maranzano is portrayed by Giampiero Judica. In the show, his assassination is depicted as being ordered by Nucky Thompson, and Nucky's brother Eli is one of the participating gunmen, finishing Maranzano off by shooting him in the head.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Critchley, p. 144
  2. ^ Raab, pp. 26-27
  3. ^ a b c Raab, pp. 28-29
  4. ^ a b Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York City: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1856-1.
  5. ^ Maas, p. 80
  6. ^ Bruno, Anthony. "The Bonanno Family: The Man of Honor". TruTV Crime Library. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  7. ^ Torbatnejad, Mehrnoosh (2008-02-26). "Cemetery has a mob of mafiosi". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  8. ^ Salvatore Maranzano at Find a Grave
  9. ^ Critchley, David (July 2009). "Maranzano Muddle". Informer: 22–23.


Further reading[edit]

  • Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
  • Reppetto, Thomas. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1994.
American Mafia
Preceded by
Nicolo Schiro
Bonanno crime family

Succeeded by
Joseph Bonanno
Preceded by
Gaspare Messina
Capo dei capi
Boss of bosses

Succeeded by
Lucky Luciano
as chairman of the Commission