Vito Genovese

Vito Genovese was an Italian-born Mafia figure who became the head of the New York-based Genovese crime family.


Vito Genovese was born in Italy on November 27, 1897, and immigrated to New York City in 1913. He began running with local gangs soon after, and worked his way into organized crime under Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. In 1931, Genovese and friend Lucky Luciano assassinated both Masseria and his rival, Salvatore Maranzano. Once the pair reached the top of the organization, federal authorities took interest, and Genovese fled the country for Italy to avoid a murder charge. Upon his return to the United States at the end of World War II, Genovese re-established his power, but was eventually taken down on narcotics charges. He died in a Missouri prison 10 years into his sentence, in 1969.

Early Years

Vito Genovese was born on November 27, 1897, in Rosiglino, Italy, and immigrated to New York City in 1913. His family settled in Little Italy, and Genovese soon began hanging out with local gangs, running errands for mob members. He eventually fell in with Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, alongside future mob bigwig Lucky Luciano, whom Genovese had met a few years earlier.

In 1930, Genovese was set up to commit his first murder, and the victim would be Gaetano Reina, a former ally of Masseria who had flipped his allegiance to another crime boss, Salvatore Maranzano. Genovese shot Reina in the back of the head, thereby handing the reins of the Reina crime family over to Masseria.

Escalating Mob War

The Castellammarese War, between Masseria and Maranzano, had been raging since the late 1920s, and in 1931, Genovese and Luciano decided to end the feud once and for all by killing Masseria. So on April 15, 1931, while Masseria was having lunch and playing cards with Luciano, Luciano got up and headed to the restroom. At that point, in rushed Genovese, Bugsy Siegel and two other gunmen, shooting Masseria to death.

Maranzano subsequently became the "Boss of All Bosses," creating the five crime families (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luccese) and a system of bosses and underbosses to give the mob much needed structure. Less than six months after Masseria's murder, though, Genovese and Luciano were plotting Maranzano's assassination, and thus soon came the end of the short-lived "Boss of All Bosses" era (Maranzano was killed by four gangsters hired by Luciano on September 10, 1931).

To Italy and Back

In 1936, Luciano was arrested for pandering and prostitution and sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Genovese became acting boss, making him an instant target for prosecutors. Genovese had ordered the murder of a man named Ferdinand Boccia in 1934, and the feds were now looking to make an arrest. Instead of facing the law, Genovese fled for Italy, where he teamed up with the Sicilian Mafia and became close friends with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

At the end of World War II, Genovese was brought back to the United Stated by federal agents to face trial on his earlier murder charge in the Boccia case. A key witness, however, was poisoned to death in 1945, and Genovese was thus set free. He slowly re-established his power in New York City, arranging the murders of several key rivals and becoming the newfound "Boss of All Bosses" of the New York area.

Later Years

The feds finally caught up to Genovese in 1958. The following year, he was convicted on narcotics charges and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. He continued lording over his empire from behind bars, and his rivals continued to be executed at will.

Bringing an end to a criminal era, Vito Genovese died of a heart attack at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, on Valentine's Day in 1969.

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