Vito “Don Vito” Genovese was an Italian-American gangster who rapidly climbed the ranks of the Italian mob in America. Born near Naples, Italy on November 27, 1897, Genovese immigrated to America in May of 1913. He and his family (Brothers Michael and Carmine, and parents Felice and Nunziata) settled in the Little Italy neighborhood in New York. Vito began his climb in the mob world. Starting out as a gofer for local Italian gangsters, he quickly moved his way up to collecting money for mobsters in the number racket. Genovese and his friend Charles “Lucky” Luciano started working for Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria. In 1930, when Masseria learned that his ally Gaetano Reina had secretly reallocated his allegiance to Salvatore Maranzano, Genovese was ordered to kill Reina. In late February, the hit was made. Genovese shot Reina in the back of the head after he left his mistress’s house, killing him instantly. This hit allowed Masseria to take over the Reina Crime Family. A year later, while the Castellammarese War was raging on between Masseria and Maranzano, Genovese and Luciano decided it was time for the war to end. On April 15th, Masseria was at a restaurant with two of his associates and Luciano. Mid-way through the game of cards they were playing, Luciano got up to go to the bathroom. Masseria didn’t know this was a sign of his impending doom. After Luciano got up, Genovese and his three other hit men (Albert Anastasia, Bugsy Siegel, and Joe Adonis) quickly entered the restaurant and killed Masseria and his two associates. After Masseria’s death, Maranzano became “The Boss of Bosses” and created the Five Families to help organize the mob. Genovese became the underboss of Luciano in the Luciano Crime Family. Six months later, Genovese and Luciano decided it was time for Maranzano to die. Maranzano had let the money and power he had acquired go to his head and was planning to kill Luciano. In September of 1931, Luciano and Genovese assembled a team that went into Maranzano’s office and murdered him. Fast forward a few years to 1936, after the major reorganization of the mob to prevent future mob wars. Luciano was sentenced to 30 years in prison which left Genovese to stand in for Luciano as acting Boss of the Luciano Crime Family. Genovese finally had what he had been working towards for years. But that was all about to come crashing down. Genovese was facing prosecution for the 1934 murder of Ferdinand Boccia. In 1934, Boccia and Genovese conspired to cheat a wealthy gambler out of $150,000 in a card game. After the game, Boccia demanded a share of the money. But instead of paying Boccia, Genovese decided to kill him. On September 19th, Genovese and five associates allegedly shot and killed Boccia in a coffee shop in Brooklyn. However, in November of 1936, Genovese obtained his U.S. citizenship, and a month later obtained a passport. After getting his passport, Genovese fled to Italy with $750,000 cash to escape the prosecution. Genovese settled in Nola, near Naples. In the absence of Genovese, Frank Costello stepped in as the acting Boss of the Luciano Crime Family. While in Italy, Genovese became a prominent Mafia leader. He ran a black market operation with Calogero Vizzini, who was a powerful Mafia boss in Sicily. Genovese befriended Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini after paying the fascist government a bribe of $250,000. In 1943, as a favor to the Italian government, Genovese allegedly ordered a hit on Carlo Tresca. Tresca was the publisher of an anarchist newspaper in New York, and was an enemy of Mussolini. Tresca was shot and killed outside of his office in Manhattan on January 11, 1943. Although Carmine Galante was alleged to have shot Tresca, no one was ever charged with the murder. After the U.S. Army invaded Italy in September 1943, Genovese quickly switched his allegiance and offered his services to the Army. In the summer of 1944, Ernest “The Hawk” Rupolo implicated Genovese
in the Boccia murder. Consequently, on August 27, 1944, the Military Police arrested Genovese in Italy while investigating his black market ring (Genovese was stealing trucks, flour, and sugar from the army). Agent Orange C. Dickey of the Criminal Investigation Division looked into Genovese’s background and found that Genovese was a U.S. fugitive in the 1934 Boccia killing. A few months later, Dickey made preparations to send Genovese back to New York to face trial. Genovese offered Dickey $250,000 to release him. Dickey rejected the offer and Genovese began to threaten him. Even Dickey’s Chain of Command ordered him to release Genovese. Dickey refused. Genovese arrived back in New York on June 1, 1945. The very next day, he was arraigned on murder charges to which he plead not guilty. On June 10, Jerry Esposito (a prosecution witness who was to corroborate Rupolo’s story) was found shot to death in Norwood, New Jersey. Earlier, Peter LaTempa (another prosecution witness) was found dead in a cell where he had been kept in protective custody. Without anyone to confirm Rupolo’s story, the charges against Genovese were dismissed. Now that he was once again a free man, Genovese focused on regaining his previous position as acting Boss in the Luciano Crime Family. Neither Costello nor his underboss Willie Moretti wanted to give him his power back. He was now a capo in the Family. On October 4, 1951, however, Moretti was killed for his testimony during the U.S. Senate Kefauver Hearings. Consequently, Costello appointed Genovese as his new underboss. In 1953, Genovese ordered the murder of Steven Franse, a mobster who had been tasked with supervising Anna Genovese while her husband was in Italy. Genovese had learned of his wife’s infidelity (which he blamed Franse for), and was outraged over the lawsuit she filed against him in December of 1952. After the hit on Franse, Genovese set his sights on Costello. Along with moving against Costello came the obstacle of Albert Anastasia, Costello’s strong ally. Genovese teamed up with Carlo Gambino, Anastasia’s under boss, to remove Anastasia from power. In May of 1957, Genovese ordered the murder of Costello. Vincent Gigante was the chosen hit man. Gigante stepped out of his limo, shot Costello once in the head, and fled the scene. Costello lived, suffering only s superficial scalp wound. The assassination attempt was not a complete failure, however. The near-death experience convinced Costello to retire from the Family. Genovese was now head of what is now known as the Genovese Crime Family. He promoted Anthony Strollo to underboss. Later in 1957, Genovese and Gambino ordered Anastasia’s murder after hearing that Costello was conspiring with Anastasia to regain power. On October 25th, 1957, Anastasia was shot to death in a barber shop. To this day, no one knows who the shooters were. In November of 1957, Genovese called for a meeting of national Cosa Nostra leaders (the Apalachin Conference). He wanted the Commission leads to confirm him as his Family’s boss as well as to approve Gambino as the boss of his Family. The meeting was set to occur at the farm of mobster Joseph Barbara in Apalachin, New York. State Troopers raided the meeting, scattering the mobsters all over. Genovese was able to get through the troopers. On June 2, 1958, Genovese testified in the U.S. Senate McClellan Hearings, but refused to answer any questions. On July 7 of that same year, Genovese was indicted on charges of conspiring to import and sell narcotics. In 1959, Genovese was convicted of selling heroin, On April 17th, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Before he went to prison, Genovese created a Ruling Panel of high-level family members who were to supervise the Family. The Panel included Strollo, Catena, and Miranda. But Genovese still had ultimate control, even in prison. In September of 1959, Genovese ordered the murder of Anthony Carfano, who had skipped the Apalachin
meeting in protest of the murder attempt on Costello. Carfano and a female companion were found shot to death in Carfano’s Cadillac in September of 1959. In April of 1962, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of Anthony Strollo, concluding that Strollo was part of the plot that put Genovese in prison. After Strollo left his house on April 8th, he disappeared and his body was never recovered. In June of that same year, Genovese accused Joseph Valachi of being an informer and gave him the kiss of death. A month later, Valachi mistook another inmate for a mob hit man and killed him. Valachi decided to be a government witness after receiving a life sentence for killing the other inmate. On August 24th, 1964, Ernest Rupolo’s body was recovered from Jamaica Bay, Queens. It was assumed that Genovese had ordered Rupolo’s murder for testifying against him in the Boccia murder trial. Genovese forced Rupolo to live the last 20 years of his life in fear instead of ordering his murder immediately. Genovese died from a heart attack on February 14th, 1969, while he was still in prison.