Sunday, February 26, 2012
Umberto Anastasio was born on February 26, 1902 in Tropea, Calabria, Italy. He later changed his name to Albert Anastasia. He was often referred to as "Mad Hatter" and "Lord High Executioner." Around the age of 15, Anastasia illegally entered the United States. He became a naturalized citizen in 1943 while serving in the United States Army. In 1920, Anastasia was working as a longshoreman in New York and got into an argument over ship assignments with a fellow longshoreman named Joe Torino. Anastasia stabbed and strangled Torino to death. Anastasia was convicted and sentenced to death but after spending only 18 months at Sing Sing prison, his conviction was overturned. The four most important witnesses against him for his re-trial all ended up missing, while other witnesses changed their testimony. Albert Anastasia allegedly controlled racket businesses and ran strong arm activities on the New York City waterfront and was a strike buster. He rose to a position of power in the International Longshoremen's Association.
In 1928, conflicts between mob leaders led to the Castellammarese War. In 1930, Lucky Luciano went to Anastasia with a plan that would put Luciano on top of the east coast crime world. Luciano would kill mob bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. On April 15, 1931, Luciano invited Masseria to a sit-down at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant. After Luciano excused himself to the bathroom, Anastasia, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel entered the restaurant and killed Masseria. A few months later, men disguised as Treasury Department agents entered Salvatore Maranzano's office, disarmed his body guards and killed Maranzano.
At the end of the Castellammarese War, a more peaceful existence between the crime bosses was sought. Luciano co-founded a crime cooperative that became known as the National Crime Syndicate, or the "Commission," made up of major crime bosses from across the country and the Five Families of New York. The Syndicate divided and regulated the illicit markets. Each gang in the syndicate had its own franchise, such as gambling, drugs, or prostitution. One section of the Syndicate enforced the Syndicate's business and performed murders for hire and was known as "Murder, Inc." For decades the FBI denied the existence of such an organization as the "Syndicate." Anastasia was a leading figure in the Brooklyn, New York based "Murder, Incorporated". Luciano gave this authority to Anastasia as a reward for his assistance during the Castellammarese War. Murder, Incorporated also featured the talents of labor racketeer Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Murder, Incorporated operated out of a candy store called Midnight Rose's, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. At the time, Anastasia carried a business card saying he was a "sales representative" for the Convertible Mattress Corporation in Brooklyn. Crime researchers believe Murder Inc. was responsible for between 400 and 800 murders.
Murder Inc. dissolved in the 1940's, after hit man Abe Reles was arrested. Reles cooperated with the legal authorities to receive immunity instead of the electric hair. The information he gave facilitated the conviction of several Murder Incorporated's hit men, including Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, who died in Sing Sing's electric chair. It is believed that Anastasia put out a $100,000 contract on Reles. On November 12, 1941, while in the protection of six police officers, Reles mysteriously fell to his death from a window of the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island.
After Luciano went to prison on a pandering conviction, it is believed that Anastasia carried out a plan to get him released from prison, seeking to win him a pardon for assistance in the war effort. Anastasia sought to create havoc on the New York waterfront to disrupt the U.S. Navy's activities. Anastasia convinced the Navy that Luciano could see that things would be in order on the Waterfront. Anastasia lobbied that Luciano's contacts in Sicily could help with advance work for an anticipated U.S. invasion of Italy. A deal was worked-out that in exchange for his cooperation, Luciano would receive favored treatment while in prison and would receive parole after the war. After the war, Luciano was deported to Italy.
Vincent Mangano, the boss of the Mangano crime family, later known as the Gambino family, had a long running feud with Anastasia. In 1951, after Vincent Mangano went missing, and his brother Phil Mangano was murdered, Anastasia claimed control of the Mangano Family. At a meeting of the "Commission," Frank Costello backed Anastasia's claim that Mangano was out to kill him, and that Anastasia was acting in self-defense. The Commission bosses accepted Anastasia's claim to the role of boss.
Albert Anastasia detractors were concerned about whether he was killing too many people. In 1952, a 24-year-old Brooklyn clothes store salesman, Arnold Schuster, saw fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton on a subway car. He contacted the police and Sutton was apprehended. Schuster was interviewed on TV. After seeing this, Anastasia is believed to have ordered Schuster's death. One month later Schuster was found shot to death. Over the next ten years the crime was one of the most investigated murders in the history of the New York Police Department. However, the case was never solved. The murder of an outsider on non-mob business increased opposition to Anastasia from mob leaders such as Vito Genovese. Genovese sought to move support away from Anastasia. Genovese would eventually successfully move Anastasia's underboss, Carlo Gambino, to his side.
Albert Anastasia faced a deportation hearing in 1953 due to his criminal activity. In the mid 1950's Anastasia was facing an income tax evasion prosecution. The first trial ended in a hung jury. There was to be a second trial in 1955. Anastasia associate, Vincent Macri, was found shot to death, his body in the trunk of a car in the Bronx. A few days later, Macri's brother went missing and was never again seen. The key witness in the case was a Fort Lee, New Jersey, plumber named Charles Ferri. A month before the trail, Ferri and his wife went missing, leaving behind a blood splattered retirement house in Miami, Florida. At trial, Anastasia took a pleas bargain and was sentenced to one year in prison.
Meyer Lansky supported Anastasia because he did not want to see Genovese gain more power. When Anastasia put heat on Lansky for a larger contribution from Lansky's gambling operations, Lansky gave his support to Genovese. On October 25, 1957, Albert Anastasia was killed by masked gunmen while sitting in a barber's chair at the Hotel Park Sheraton located at 7th Avenue and 55th Street in New York City. It is ironic that 35 years earlier he escaped the electric chair, and his life would end when he was fatally wounded in a barber's chair. The murder of Albert Anastasia was the inspiration for the scene in the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola movie "The Godfather," adapted from the Mario Puzo novel, where Moe Green, a Las Vegas casino proprietor, is gunned down on a massage table by two masked hit men.
Luciano and Costello learned of Genovese's desire to also have them rubbed out from Gambino. Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino conspired to set-up Vito Genovese with a narcotics conviction. In 1959 Vito Genovese was convicted and sentenced to 15 years. Genovese died of a heart attack in a federal correctional facility in 1969. Albert Anastasia is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.