The 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise of organized crime in the United States. Several Presidents had a rough time trying to put away some of the most murderous and level-headed criminals in their time. Almost all of this crime was run by the American Mafia and the major crime families of New York, run by mobsters. There have been several movies made all through the ages based on the lives of these American mobsters. Read this article to get a sneak peek into some of the most interesting and famous ones. Bear in mind that this list is in no particular order and has not intentionally placed one mobster over another in terms of fame or crimes committed!
Carlo Gambino affectionately called “Don” was born on August 24, 1902 in Sicily. He went to America illegally in 1921 by stowing away on a ship. In the United States, he joined his cousins, the Castellano brothers in New York City. He was first introduced to a gang known as the D’Aquila gang by them. By the end of that same year, Gambino became a part of the American Mafia. Even before coming to America, he had been a full-fledged murderer. In America, he worked with several mafia families and aligned himself with Giuseppe Masseria. In April 1931, Masseria was assassinated by Albert Anastasia, another renowned mobster. Soon after this change of power, Gambino himself had Anastasia killed and as head of one of the biggest crime families, rules over New York until his death in 1976.
Born Salvatore Giangana, Sam Giancina was born in June 1908 in Chicago and was of Sicilian descent. He started his criminal career as a wheelman for Al Capone and soon climbed up to the top of Chicago’s illegal gambling circuits. He undertook several contract killings during his journey up the ladder and finally succeeded mafia boss Tony Accordo in Chicago. He ruled over the city from 1957-1966. He had several connections to some of America’s biggest politicians, including the Kennedys. He was recruited by them to be a part of the CIA in order to assassinate Fidel Castro but he was captured in Mexico soon after this incident, after the Kennedy assassination. He offered to testify against other mobsters and was kept under extreme security protection until the time came for him to be called as witness. But before this could happen, he was assassinated in his own home in Illinois in June 1975.
This famous mobster was born in Russia in 1902 and then immigrated to America when he was a young child in 1911. He had a rough childhood, growing up on the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and faced violence at the hands of many. He started his own gambling business and became friends with Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. The two of them formed the Bugs and Meyer Mob and earned money by hiring out men to assassinate on the behalf of other organisations. He was considered a financial genius and formed the National Crime Syndicate and Commission of America. His gambling empire stretched across the entire world and he had casinos in places like Las Vegas, Cuba, the Bahamas, and London. He also had strong influence with the Jewish Mob and the Italian Mafia and played a vital role in unifying the criminal underworld. Several years later, Lansky had Siegel killed and took over the entire operation.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano
Charles Luciano was born Salvatore Lucania on November 24, 1897. He is known as the father of modern organized crime in the United States. He was also the first boss of the Genovese crime family. He started “The Commission”, which became the governing body for organized crime all around the world. His criminal life started in school, where he took money from his schoolmates to protect them from others. Soon after, he dropped out, and became friends with Meyer Lansky and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. He also became associated with Guiseppe Masseria’s operations in the crime underworld. During his criminal career, he also worked with Arnold Rothstein, a renowned gambler and bootlegger.
In 1929, Luciano got the nickname ‘Lucky’ after surviving a gruesome attack in which he was beaten and stabbed. Assumptions were made that the hit was ordered by Masseria himself. In 1931, Luciano helped to assassinate Masseria, presumably as revenge. In 196, several of Luciano’s associates were arrested and he himself was convicted on charges of extortion and prostitution. He was sentenced to 30-50 years in jail but using his contacts during World War II, managed to get parole and a deportation. He finally died in 1962 of a heart attack.
George “Bugs” Clarence
Born Adelard Cunin on August 21 1983, George Moran Clarence was an American mobster and bootlegger during the time of the Prohibition. Even before his 21st birthday, he was jailed thrice. One of the most famous massacres of this era, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre happened on 14th February, 1929 in a warehouse where seven of his men were killed on the orders of his biggest rival, Al Capone. After this incident, his power declined and he died in prison in 1957, having been jailed for bank robberies.
John Joseph Gotti was born on October 27 1940. He is most famous for becoming the boss of the Gambino crime family in New York. Gotti became a criminal at a very young age because of poverty. He became a protege of the Gambino family underboss Antonio Dellacroce and soon became one of the family’s biggest earners. Fearing for his life and that of his brother, Gotti had the head of the Gambino family, Paul Castellano killed in 1985. Following this, Gotti took over the most powerful crime family in the country and earned hundreds of millions of dollars every year from construction, waste management, hijacking, loan sharking, gambling, extortion, and other criminal activities.
On April 2 1992, Gotti was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in jail on June 10 2002 from throat cancer.
Louis Lepke” Buchalter was born on February 6 1897 and was known as one of the biggest mobsters of the 20th century. Of Jewish American descent, Louis was the head of a mafia hit squad known as Murder Inc. in the 1930s. He became famous for running a labour scam during his career and controlled all labour unions in the country, often threatening the management by going on strike. He gained immense wealth during his lifetime and provided his family with luxuries. Buchalter became the only big mob boss to receive the death penalty in the United States and was electrocuted on March 4 1994.
Frank “Prime Minister” Costello was born on January 26 1891. He immigrated to the States in 1895 and was introduced to a gang by his brother at the age of 13. He began thieving and was incarcerated thrice in his life for assault and robbery. After he was jailed for the fourth time, Costello decided not to make his way by using violence. He worked with the infamous Morello gang in the beginning and met Charles Luciano. The two of them became friends and partners despite the disapproval of Luciano’s family. However, Costello eventually became the boss of the Luciano family after his incarceration in 1936.
Costello retired as “The Prime Minister of the Underworld” and retained power in New York’s Mafia. He finally died of a heart attack on February 18 1973 in his Manhattan home.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone
Alphonse “Al” Capone was born on January 17 1899 in Brooklyn, New York. Although he was a bright student, he got expelled from school when he was 14 for hitting a female teacher. Following this, he met gangster Johnny Torio who was his biggest influence. He taught him how to run a racketeering business while still appearing respectable. Capone first joined Torio’s gang before moving on to the Five Points Gang. In one of his earliest fights, Capone’s face was slashed with a knife and he was nicknamed “Scarface”. He became the czar of Chicago in 1925 after Torrio retired and ran several gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging rackets.
Capone was arrested in 1930 while leaving a cinema, for carrying a weapon. He was released after six and a half years for good behaviour. However, his health had severely deteriorated in jail and he died of cardiac arrest on January 25 1947.
David Berman was born in 1903 in Ukraine and immigrated to the States as a child. Berman became a mob leader at the age of 13 when he put together a group of teenage thugs. From this, he progressed to running a crew of bank robbers and eventually formed connections with the Genovese crime family. He ran several gambling rackets in Las Vegas and finally died a non-violent death during surgery in 1957.
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker
Born on October 1 1901, Bonnie Parker never committed a criminal offence till she met Clyde Barrow in 1930. Although she married to Roy Thornton at the age of 16, their marriage fell apart and when she met Clyde, fell in love immediately. She became a criminal for his sake and followed him around, a willing accomplice in all his crimes. She helped him and the gang rob several places and even murdered people when they were cornered. She viewed their violent death as something that was inevitable and stayed with the love of her life until they were killed together in an ambush in 1934.
John Herbert Dillinger
John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22 1903 in Indiana. He started his criminal life at a young age, as a small thief. At the age of 21, he robbed a grocery store and got caught and was jailed. Dillinger was an American mobster during the Great Depression and was a part of the Dillinger Gang aka the Terror Gang. He was also known as one of the most notorious criminals of his time, exceeding even the limits of Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde. He called himself a “Robin Hood figure” and sought publicity and fame, often giving exaggerated accounts of his own personality. This is what the made the government take action. He was nicknamed “Jackrabbit” and was termed “Public Enemy No. 1” for this period He escaped from jail and was on the run for almost a year and was finally assassinated in an encounter with the FBI in July 1934.
Clyde Chestnut Barrow
Clyde Barrow was born on March 24 1909 in Texas. Influenced by his older brother from a young age, Clyde began his life as a criminal. At the age of 21, he met Bonnie Parker, a woman who went on to become the love of his life and his partner in crime. The two formed a gang along with whom they went on a spree, across several states in the United States. Clyde was a renowned thief and murderer and several bank robberies and murders later, the couple was killed in an ambush set up by the police on May 23 1934. Till today, their names are spoken off with a certain awe and in a romanticised manner. The story of Bonnie and Clyde has even been an inspiration for movies and theatre plays.
Lester Joseph “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis
Lester Joseph Gillis was born on December 6 1908. He was one of the most notorious bank robbers of his time. He started his criminal career by thieving at the age of 13. Following this, he was arrested and thrown in jail in 1931 after he robbed a bank in Chicago. But, he escaped from custody and went to Sausalito, California where he partnered with John Paul Chase. The two of them committed several crimes over the next few years. He later joined forces with John Dillinger, another renowned criminal in 1934. In July 1934, Dillinger was ambushed and shot by FBI agents and following this, Gillis was declared “Public Enemy No. 1”. He successfully evaded law enforcement several times. On November 28 1934, Gillis succumbed to the injuries he faced following a shootout with the FBI in which he managed to kill two officers, and died at the age of twenty five.
Richard Leonard “The Iceman” Kuklinski
Richard Kuklinski was born on April 11 1935 and was one of the most gruesome mobsters to have ever lived. His fame comes from the number of murders he has committed. Having started his murdering spree at the young age of 14, Kuklinski went on to become one of the most feared mobsters of all time. He was contracted by all of New York’s Five Families belonging to the American Mafia and has claimed to have killed up to two hundred people. He was arrested in 1986 and when he was in jail, gave several interviews to psychiatrists and novelists, describing the different ways in which he had killed his victims and boasting about the sheer number of them. He got his nickname “The Iceman” from constantly freezing his victims after killing them so as to hide their time of death. Kuklinksi finally died in prison in 2006.
This list of famous American mobsters hopefully kept you interested! The facts presented in this article only outline a few of the important events in each mobster’s life. For more information for either a project or simply something fun to read, go ahead and look up these individuals and their associates. You will definitely not be disappointed!