Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mobby Gil Reavill, To Be Announced
Mafia Summit is the true story of how a small-town lawman in upstate New York busted a Cosa Nostra conference in 1957, exposing the Mafia to America
In a small village in upstate New York, mob bosses from all over the countryVito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Cuba boss Santo Trafficante, and future Gambino boss Paul/b>/i>… See more details below
Mafia Summit is the true story of how a small-town lawman in upstate New York busted a Cosa Nostra conference in 1957, exposing the Mafia to America
In a small village in upstate New York, mob bosses from all over the countryVito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Cuba boss Santo Trafficante, and future Gambino boss Paul Castellanowere nabbed by Sergeant Edgar D. Croswell as they gathered to sort out a bloody war of succession.
For years, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had adamantly denied the existence of the Mafia, but young Robert Kennedy immediately recognized the shattering importance of the Appalachian summit. As attorney general when his brother JFK became president, Bobby embarked on a campaign to break the spine of the mob, engaging in a furious turf battle with the powerful Hoover.
Detailing mob killings, the early days of the heroin trade, and the crusade to loosen the hold of organized crime, fans of Gus Russo and Luc Sante will find themselves captured by this momentous story. Reavill scintillatingly recounts the beginning of the end for the Mafia in America and how it began with a good man in the right place at the right time.
“A well-written, well-researched book about the watershed event in the tiny upstate town of Apalachin, NY that pushed J. Edgar Hoover to admit the existence of the Mafia.” Gang Land News
“Screenwriter and playwright Reavill (Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home, 2007, etc.) vividly recreates that miasmic era of ignorance and innocence with all the blunt-end aplomb befitting coldblooded killers and crooked lawmen. . .Lively, detailed reporting sets intriguing characters on both sides of the law on an inexorable crash course for the sleepy woodlands of upstate New York. Some of the intimate portraits stretch back before World War II and from as far away as Sicily, but the colorful writing makes the events as accessible and immediate as if they were unfolding today. In addition to requisite stories of bloody mob hits and ruthless grabs at power, there are shocking reversals of fortune, incredible examples of collusion between the mob and the U.S. government, and an eye-opening look at how the Mafia built its highly durable and lucrative narcotics trade. While none of that came to a screeching halt on that fateful day in Apalachin, Croswell's dogged determination forced law enforcement agents to confront the mob like never before. An exciting, comprehensive chronicle of one of the most pivotal events in mob history.” Kirkus
“The infamous Apalachin gangster conclave of 1957 is best remembered for the images of hoods in $1000 suits scrambling through the muddy upstate New York woods after the cops closed in. Gil Reavill's Mafia Summit at last fleshes out the story to give us the gang wars that led up to the gathering and the law enforcement turf battles that followed it. Here is gangland history that is compelling, thoughtful and well-grounded in scrupulous research. With a lively cast of characters that includes ruthlessly ambitious bosses such as Vito Genovese and ambitiously ruthless politicians such as Bobby Kennedy, Mafia Summit is a set-the-story-straight page-turner.” Gus Russo, author of The Outfit and Supermob
“A dramatic investigation into one of the most notorious Mafia gatherings, shining a spotlight on the mob--with much fresh material” Tim Newark, author of Boardwalk Gangster and Mafia Allies
“Gil Reavill's Mafia Summit is the best, and best-written, true-crime story I've ever read. It's as suspenseful, detailed, racy and knowing as a novel by Hammett or Chandler. At its heart is a bona fide American hero, Sgt. Edgar Croswell. Sgt. Croswell's tireless investigation of the mobster bosses who met at the tiny upstate New York hamlet of Apalachin provides a unique window into the "turning point in American law enforcement's battle against organized crime." MAFIA SUMMIT is a terrific read about one very good policeman's courageous fight to put many very bad criminals exactly where they needed to be – behind bars.” Howard Frank Mosher, author of Walking to Gatlinburg
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J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mob
By Gil Reavill
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Gil Reavill
All rights reserved.
Murder on Fifteenth Street
Carlo Tresca is a name not much remembered today, but in the first half of the last century he was widely known, a leading light of the American left, when in response to the Great Depression the nation turned to progressive, even radical, ideologies. One writer recalled Tresca as a "labor spellbinder," citing his ability to whip up a crowd of workers with fiery oratory.
In January 1943, Tresca found himself in the middle of a fight to determine the future of his beloved homeland, Italy. The Allied invasion of Sicily — the initial thrust in the battle to break the Axis in half — remained six months in the future. But it was already clear to anyone with a modicum of awareness that the days were numbered for Benito Mussolini's fascist ruling order. Tresca adamantly demanded that the still-aborning postwar Italian government be free of both former fascists and eager-to-dominate communists.
Tresca habitually found himself in the middle of public political fights. A thin-faced firebrand born in the Abruzzo in 1879, he wore a Trotsky-like beard and, after moving to America in 1904, helped organize strikes for the Wobblies, the International Workers of the World. Tresca's personal politics matured like a rogue Chianti, beginning with nationalism, proceeding through socialism, finally to arrive at a vinegary style of anarchism. His newspaper, Il Martello (the Hammer), had carried on the battle against Mussolini since 1920. The Spanish Civil War and the Russo-German nonaggression pact had soured him on Stalin and the communists.
While agitating against Mussolini and the fascists as well as against Stalin and the communists, Tresca also fought the mob. He vehemently opposed organized crime's infiltration of trade unions. Since the days of the Black Hand, the original Italian crime syndicate, Tresca had battled the mob in his adopted home of America.
Tresca's enemies were legion. In 1931, Mussolini put the rabble-rouser on his "death list." The man had been repeatedly beaten, threatened, and targeted for assassination. The first try was in 1909 by a razor-wielding assailant in Pittsburgh, who missed Tresca's throat but slashed through his cheek and jaw.
Tresca didn't quit. An odd alliance occurred in WWII Italy. In the prewar years Mussolini had mounted an impressive assault on the entrenched Mafia, in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy, shattering its century-old hold in many parts of the country, hounding its soldiers into exile.
Yet, in the early 1940s, one of the powerful figures in Il Duce's orbit was an Italian-American mafioso named Vito Genovese. And it was this man — the same fedora-wearing figure Ed Croswell would spot inside a Chrysler Imperial limo at Apalachin — whom Carlo Tresca decided deserved special attention.
Born near Naples in 1897, Vito Genovese emigrated with his family in 1913 to the Lower East Side. There he formed a friendship that would shape his life, meeting one Salvatore Lucania, who as Lucky Luciano would come to be known as the premier organizer of organized crime in America. The same age, Lucky and Vito represented the classic mob combination of brains and brawn, respectively.
As a young turk in the twenties' and thirties' mob, Genovese cut a violent swath across New York City and its environs. His rap sheet reads like a true gangster résumé: homicide, disorderly person, burglary, homicide, carrying a dangerous weapon, homicide. These were only the crimes that came to police notice — there were others, infamous and bloody. The judicial dispositions of the arrests were equally interesting: discharged, dismissed, discharged, discharged, dismissed, discharged.
In 1936, in flight from the heat over one of these murders, Genovese decamped for the homeland, settling in Nola, near Naples. He prospered. He helped lay the groundwork for the Marseilles-Cuba-Montreal "triangle trade" in heroin smuggling. He cultivated contacts in Fascist leadership circles in Italy. His legitimate bona fides developed to the degree that he became part owner of several factories, power plants, and a castle in Campania.
None of this sat well with Carlo Tresca. He had a run-in with Genovese in 1935, when the mobster wanted to open a fascist-friendly club for Italian seamen in New York City. Tresca, an avowed antifascist, put the kibosh on the plan. Later, when he heard of Genovese's activities in Italy, Tresca reasoned that the only way the gangster could be accepted by higher-ups was through ignorance of his past. He fired off a series of letters to the government, detailing Vito's unsavory background in America.
Vito Genovese was not a man to be trifled with, especially not by a left-leaning anarchist journalist with multiple political axes to grind. According to an anonymous informant, Genovese had the following conversation with Il Duce at a 1942 Christmas party in Rome.
"Carlo Tresca is an archenemy of mine," Mussolini said to Genovese.
"Mine, too," Genovese said, agreeing with the dictator that Tresca had bothered too many powerful people for too long.
"If there is anything you can do to rid us of him," Mussolini said, "I would do anything in the world for you."
Some two weeks after this exchange, on the evening of Monday, January 11, 1943, Tresca worked late at the Il Martello office on the third floor of a six-story commercial building at 96 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, on the southwest corner of Fifteenth Street. He had finished a busy day, huddling with associates, discussing plans to disrupt a meeting of the Office of War Information the following Thursday, seeing writer John Dos Passos for lunch, meeting with a job seeker, an engraver, staffers at the newspaper.
At around nine p.m., a lawyer named Giuseppe Calabi arrived at the Il Martello offices. He and Tresca had a committee meeting planned, but the other members didn't show up, so the editor suggested the two men go for a meal at a nearby bar. They left the building via a Fifteenth Street exit and turned toward Fifth Avenue.
Wartime gas rationing and blackout rules meant the cross street was very dark. As Tresca and Calabi headed east, a gunman stepped out of the shadows behind them and fired — a single shot, then three more in quick succession.
Two bullets hit Tresca, either of which would have been fatal, one tearing through his left lung and one penetrating the right side of his face to lodge in his spine. He dropped to the pavement, his legs cocked awkwardly, feet splaying to the curb. Witnesses — two workers from the nearby Norwegian consulate — reported a black Ford sedan pulling away down Fifteenth after the shooting.
Carlo Tresca, activist, anarchist, friend to the workingman, was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Vincent's Hospital, four blocks from the murder scene.
That should have been that. A man with many enemies gunned down on the street, an anarchist killed amid the kind of lawless chaos he himself advocated. The list of likely suspects was long.
But the murder of Carlo Tresca would become a tiny ringing bell, vibrating, dinging, pealing, setting off sympathetic tremors, triggering expanding circles of effect that passed through the echelons of American law enforcement until it arrived, years later, within the patient, long-memoried reach of Sergeant Edgar Croswell.
* * *
"La Marese," they called them — the Mafia soldiers and bosses from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. If Italy is the boot kicking the Sicilian football, then Castellammare is the northwest tip of the ball.
A rough declension played itself out among Italians in the mob in America, dividing them into two camps. There were the Castellammarese, from the insular, secretive commune in Sicily, and then there were immigrants with backgrounds in and around Naples, the provinces of Calabria and Campania.
It wasn't black and white, and there were exceptions hailing from all over Italy, but generally the division held true. The styles could be said to be different, too. La Marese and Neapolitan, the heart and the head, the fiery emotional and the coolly rational. Again, nothing set in stone, just a vague stereotype, both true and untrue in the way of all stereotypes.
The opposing clans banged and bloodied each other in the fabled Castellammarese War at the dawn of the 1930s, a revenge-fest that left sixty gangsters dead.
In the heat of battle, factions proved fluid and situational. Mobsters regularly killed their allies and made alliances with their enemies. Younger, more assimilated gangsters used the war to further their ambitions, displacing the older, more traditional "Mustache Petes" of the first immigrant generation. When the smoke of the Castellammarese War cleared, clearly the mobster who benefited most was the Sicilian organizational genius, Charles "Lucky" Luciano.
Luciano ushered the Mafia into a new era. The mob evolved from an ethnic-based society preying on immigrant enclaves into a well-oiled syndicate reaping illicit profits from nearly every sector of the American economy. Luciano forged a pan-ethnic alliance with Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky. Borders were crossed, divisions were abandoned, and organized crime went national.
Another casualty of the Castellammarese War in-fighting was the old "honored society" tradition that forbade any involvement in narcotics and prostitution. The gangland battles foreshadowed the end of Prohibition in 1933 and, like any forward-thinking corporate boss, Luciano realized new revenue streams had to be developed. Dope and sex fit the bill.
By the fifties, the division of the mob along geographical lines had increasingly faded, but still held on as an inherited vestige. The Sicilians Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Steven Magaddino, and Frank Garafalo lined up as La Marese, while Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, and Albert Anastasia had roots in Naples and Calabria.
Also numbering among La Marese in 1943 was a deadly thirty-three-yearold cigar-chomping killer named Carmine Galante. Born in Italian Harlem of Castellammarese parents, Galante — known all his adult life as "Lilo," slang for cigar — acted as close ally and underboss to Joe Bonanno. Galante was also, as it happened, certifiably unhinged.
Prison psychologists at Sing Sing once got hold of Carmine Galante, ran him through a battery of personality tests, and diagnosed their prisoner — big surprise to those who knew him — as a psychopath. "He had a mental age of 14-and-a-half and an IQ of 90," read the assessment, diagnosing the subject as a "neuropathic, psychopathic personality, emotionally dull, and indifferent."
Whenever he was out of prison and on the bricks, Lilo proved himself eminently useful to his superiors as a torpedo, racking up more than eighty contract killings. He was vengeful and spiteful in the extreme. Even after his old mob enemy Frank Costello died, his tomb wasn't safe from Galante, who dynamited the crypt.
When, in 1943, as a courtesy to Mussolini — but also for his own purposes — Vito Genovese was looking for a killer to take out the troublemaking journalist Carlo Tresca, naturally Lilo's name came up.
At eight o'clock on the night Tresca was murdered, Galante, just released after an eight-year stretch in prison for the armed robbery of a brewery, visited his parole officer, Sidney Gross, in the state offices at 80 Centre Street in Manhattan. When Galante left Gross, he picked up a tail, Fred Berson, another parole officer, who followed Lilo to ascertain if the ex-convict was violating his parole by associating with known criminals. Galante crossed Centre, proceeded down Worth Street, but instead of entering the subway climbed into a black sedan. Berson noted the license plate, IC 9272.
Straight from the parole office to murder. An hour and a half later, Galante was the shooter who stepped out of the Fifteenth Street darkness to nail Carlo Tresca with bullets to the head and chest. He was the one who had lain in wait for the anarchist outside the offices of Il Martello. With him were his La Marese allies, Frank Garafalo and Joseph Di Palermo, along with a wheelman named Sebastiano Domingo.
When Tresca and his lawyer friend Calabi stepped into the street and headed off toward their ill-fated supper, Galante was there in the shadows.
"Which one?" Galante hissed to Garafalo. "Which one do I do?"
"Kill the son of a bitch with the whiskers," Garafalo told him, and Lilo did.
It could only be called bad luck to have a parole officer tail when heading off to commit murder. Galante was perplexed when, the next night, upon coming out of a candy store at 246 Elizabeth Street with Di Palermo, he was picked up by police. Sure, he had just shot some poor sucker, but hadn't he gotten away clean?
Not quite. A couple hours after the killing, a patrolman named Saul Greenberg happened upon a black Ford sedan while walking his beat. The car was parked on Fifteenth Street only blocks from the murder scene, outside the entrance to the Seventh Avenue subway, its car doors left flung open, key in the ignition.
License plate IC 9272. The same car parole officer Berson had seen Galante entering just before Carlo Tresca was gunned down.
The police held Galante, first as a material witness and then for a parole violation, while they investigated the assassination on Fifteenth Street. They kept him in limbo for over a year, with District Attorney Frank Hogan repeatedly promising to present the case to a grand jury.
It never happened. The assistant district attorney assigned to prosecuting Galante, Louis Pagnucco, had a history of fascist sympathies and was presumably no great admirer of Tresca (Pagnucco's college thesis extolled the "courageous leadership of Mussolini"). An FBI agent in the New York field office memo'd Hoover that, even with solid evidence of Galante's guilt, political pressure had evidently derailed the prosecution.
In December 1944, the New York authorities released Galante from jail.
The assassination of Carlo Tresca faded in the rearview, lost amid the flurry of war news, memorialized by a few of his left-wing associates, perhaps, but largely just one more notch on Carmine Galante's gun.
A few people remembered. A state police sergeant in upstate New York, for example, a cop who was becoming increasingly suspicious of mob activity in his territory. So it happened that on October 18, 1956, more than thirteen years after the Tresca killing, the memory of his murder set off a chain of events that would lead, a little more than a year later, to the bust-up of the Apalachin summit.
* * *
New York State Route 17 cuts diagonally across the Southern Tier, a region of farms and hills along the border of Pennsylvania. Some one hundred miles east of Binghamton, the road picks up the Susquehanna and follows its valley. That specific stretch has always been something of a speed trap, with a confusion of varying speed limits along its length.
On this busy four-lane highway that cool, dry, pleasant fall day in October 1956, outside Windsor, New York, a state police trooper named F. W. Leibe clocked a speeding Oldsmobile sporting New Jersey plates (HA 9J9), heading east, traveling at 65 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone.
Leibe snapped on the bubble lights of his black-and-white and pulled the vehicle over. Inside the Olds sat three men. The driver presented a license that identified him as Joseph Di Palermo of 246 Elizabeth Street, New York City. But something did not sit right with Leibe. The physical description on the license did not match the man sitting in the driver's seat, a broad-shouldered gent of about forty with thinning hair and a cigar in his mouth.
When state police stopped cars on the highway in the fifties, running a drivers license represented quite a process, much slower and more arduous than the scanning of a bar code as is the current procedure. Inquiring on a plate or license meant a radio call to a central dispatcher, who had to enter the information manually into a Teletype terminal.
If the dispatcher believed highway personnel were running too many licenses, a "phone the station" call would go out and the uniformed officers were told to knock it off. A call to the station at times required finding a pay phone or stopping at a friendly farmer's house.
In addition, 1950s drivers licenses didn't have photos, so all a patrolman had to go on, in order to decide if the person on the license was actually the citizen in question, was information on height and eye color. Despite the difficulties, Trooper Leibe detected problems.
"This is not your license, sir," Leibe said, invoking the studied politesse of his state police training.
"Oh, I guess I looked in the wrong coat and grabbed the wrong one," the driver said. He made a vain show of going through the pockets of the other coats in the car.
"I don't have mine with me," he finally said to Leibe. "I must have left it at home. But look, I'm in a hurry. Can't we make a deal?"
Trooper Leibe didn't like the looks of the men in the car. His hand strayed down to the gun in his holster. "Get out of the car," he said to the driver. "You're coming with me."
Excerpted from Mafia Summit by Gil Reavill. Copyright © 2013 Gil Reavill. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
GIL REAVILL is an author, screenwriter, and playwright. His work has been widely featured in magazines and he is the author of Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home. Reavill co-authored Beyond All Reason: My Life With Susan Smith and the screenplay that became the 2006 film Dirty, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. He lives in Westchester County, New York with his wife, Jean Zimmerman, and their daughter.
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