Our world has witnessed vicious mobsters, innovative drug dealers and formidable crime families with golden histories which were written in blood on the pages of time, for perpetual admiration. Evading being apprehended wasn’t an easy task, yet was carried out by a known few with shrewd skill, which left authorities gawping. And these mafia bosses surely have us dazed and yearning to know more! With a spike in interest in the roots of criminal mafia, it is only fitting that we give a list of who we think are the 10 greatest, most influential mobsters of all time.
10. Johnny Torrio.
Johnny Torrio commonly known as Papa Johnny or The Fox was an Italian-American Mobster who is responsible for the establishment of The Chicago Outfit. He is also responsible for starting the career of another member on our list, legendary mobster Al Capone and reports suggest that it was Papa Johnny who put forth the idea for the establishment of National Crime Syndicate in the 1930s.
Torrio’s mobster career began as the muscle for his aunt’s husband “Big Jim” Colosimo. Torrio eliminated the extortionists and stayed on; he ran Colosimo’s operations and organized the criminal muscle needed to deal with threats to them. However, he soon realized that Colosimo was incompetent and The Fox did what a fox does best. He invited one of Colosimo’s rivals to murder him and took over Colosimo’s business.
After this Torrio established the infamous Chicago Outfit. However, after an assassination attempt was made on his life he decided to hand over his business to his prized protégé Al Capone and moved to Italy with his wife and mother. After being directly involved in the establishment of 2 of the biggest organized crime syndicates the world has seen. It is only fitting that “the biggest gangster in America” made it into our top 10.
9. Meyer Lansky
Meyer Lansky known more commonly as the “Mob’s accountant” for his sharp financial acumen was a major figure in the establishment of the National Crime Syndicate in the United States of America. For decades he was considered one of the most influential and powerful men in the country and also ran gambling operations spanning in Vegas, Cuba, The Bahamas and even London.
In his early years, Lansky immigrated to the USA and became friends with Bugsy Siegel. Together they established the Bugs and Meyer mob which mostly dealt in the bootlegging business. He soon became associated with another member on this list “Lucky” Luciano and would prove instrumental in Luciano’s success. Reports suggest that Lansky negotiated a deal with the US military for the release of Luciano from prison in exchange for protection of warships that were being built by the US Navy. Such were his skills in diplomacy and negotiation.
Lansky next moved his sights to Cuba, where he developed close ties to President Fulgencio Batista. Batista allowed the gangsters to run gambling in Cuba in exchange for kickbacks. Lansky even secured a position as an unofficial minister of gaming on the island. But the Cuban revolution of 1959 soured paradise for the mob and drove Lansky out. This cost him a majority of his wealth. Eventually, he died of lung cancer in 1983. He was a man that was never charged with anything other than illegal gambling.
8. Frank Lucas
Of course, our list would not be complete without the “American Gangster” Frank Lucas. Frank Lucas was a drug dealer most famous for his policy of “cutting out middlemen” and buying his drugs directly from its source. He was known for his ruthlessness and innovation as he claimed to hide drugs in the coffins of dead American servicemen. Lucas claims that he was driven to a life in crime after he witnessed the murder of his cousin at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan as a 5-year-old.
As a child, due to financial difficulty, he turned to crime when he started robbing and mugging intoxicated customers outside a local tavern. He would eventually burn down his former employer’s company and flee to New York to evade arrest in his hometown. Upon arriving in New York he indulged in several crimes and was eventually taken in by drug smuggler Bumpy Johnson. When Johnson died, Lucas seized as much territory as he could and expanded his drug operations in New York, all the way to South East Asia. He went around the Italian mob to directly import drugs directly from “The Golden Triangle”.
Due to flourishing business and increased profits, Lucas began to launder his money through various banks. He claimed he was making a million dollars a day. He bought properties all over the United States. All of his possessions were seized when he was arrested and sentenced to 70 years in prison. His sentence was cut short and he was released in 1991 due to him providing information that led to over 100 arrests in drug trafficking. He is currently confined to a wheelchair due to an accident in which he lost both his legs.
7. Griselda Blanco Restrepo
Griselda Blanco Restrepo, commonly known as The Cocaine Godmother or the Black Widow is in at number 8. In an interview done by one of her ex-husbands, Blanco kidnapped and murdered a boy much younger than her when she was only 11 years old due to the boy’s family having failed ransom demand. She ran away from her house and resorted to looting in Medellin till the age of 20.
Blanco soon married a drug trafficker named Alberto Blanco and the two then flourished in the drug business. With New York City as their base, the couple began bringing the drug into the United States. Aided by Blanco’s creativity, she notably had lingerie made with secret compartments to smuggle drugs the couple created an extensive and highly profitable operation. She found out later that her husband was stealing money, and a shoot-out between the couple resulted in Bravo’s death. Living up to her nickname as the “Black Widow,” she reportedly later had her third husband killed as well. Due to her ruthlessness and cunning attitude she came to be known as the Godmother.
On February 20, 1985, she was arrested by DEA agents in her home and held without bail. After her trial, Blanco was sentenced to more than a decade in jail. While in prison, she continued to effectively run her cocaine business. On Sept 3rd Blanco went to a butcher shop, on her way out a masked assailant riding a motorcycle shot her in the head and calmly rode away. Thus, ended the reign of The Cocaine Godmother.
6. Carlo Gambino
Carlo Gambino often called “Don Carlo” or “The Godfather” was an Italian-American mobster who was the former boss of the Gambino Crime Family, still named after him. Gambino was known for being low-key and secretive. During his regime, Gambino was the most powerful, richest and dangerous crime boss in the World. Gambino entered the United States as an illegal immigrant in 1921. Gambino was a part of the “Young Turks” along with other famous mobsters like Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel etc. and established a solid network of illegal gambling, robberies, and theft among other things.
He worked as a Capo under Albert Anastasia (the man considered to be the founding member of today’s Gambino family). However, due to Anastasia’s violent nature, he wanted to oust Anastasia. With the help of Vito Genovese, they managed to carry out an assassination on Anastasia and Carlo became the head of the family calling it the Gambino crime family. Gambino quickly expanded his rackets all over the country. New Gambino rackets were created in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Gambino also made his own family policy “Deal and Die.” Heroin and cocaine were high-profit yielding resources but were dangerous, and would also attract attention from law enforcement. The punishment for dealing, was death.
Gambino was disappointed with his own underboss, Aniello Dellacroce so Gambino reorganized. He decided there were to be two underbosses who both reported to him, Dellacroce and Gambino’s own brother-in-law, Paul Castellano. In his last years, Gambino still ruled his family and the other New York families with an iron fist, while keeping a low profile both from the public and law enforcement. Gambino died in the early morning hours of Friday, October 15, 1976, at his home in Massapequa, New York.
5. Al Capone
Alphonese Gabriel Capone commonly known as Al Capone or Scarface was an American mobster who became the boss of the infamous “Chicago Outfit”. He was a member of several small-time street gangs before he moved to Chicago to join the infamous “Papa” Johnny Torrio for whom he became an “enforcer”. Capone was suspected to be involved in the murder of James “Big Jim” Colosimo. But these allegations were never proven true. After this incident, he became Torrio’s, right-hand man.
In January 1925, Capone was ambushed, leaving him shaken but unhurt. Soon, followed an attack on his mentor, Torrio. After recovering, he effectively resigned and handed control to Capone, age 26, who became the new boss of “The Outfit”. Under Capone, the organization established illegal breweries that extended all the way to Canada. Capone used violence to further his cause and increase revenue. He was known for his flamboyant style of dressing and expensive jewelry and came to be something of a celebrity.
Capone was allegedly responsible for the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where 7 men from rival Irish mob were killed in broad daylight. After this incident he was branded as “Public enemy number 1” and the government wanted him behind bars. They prosecuted Capone on tax evasion. He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Capone eventually was diagnosed with dementia and was released from prison after having served 8 years of his sentence. He died of a cardiac arrest on January 25, 1947.
4. Frank Costello
Frank Costello was commonly known as “The Prime Minister” was a mobster who was the head of the Luciano crime family from 1930s to 1957. Costello rose to the top of the United States underworld, controlled a vast gambling empire across the United States, and enjoyed political influence. He became one of the most powerful and influential mob bosses in the history of American Mafia.
Costello was introduced to the world of crime by his brother who was a member of a small-time gang. He too joined a gang and continued to commit petty crimes for which he was arrested several times. He later allied himself with Charles “Lucky” Luciano and became an influential member of the Luciano crime family. Luciano became boss and Costello was his Consigliere. When Luciano was convicted in 1937 he appointed Vito Genovese as the boss who in turn appointed Costello as boss. As the de facto boss of the most powerful crime family in New York Costello had influence beyond imagination. His rule was extremely profitable. He had illegal gambling operations in Florida and Cuba with Meyer Lansky and illegal wire racing with Bugsy Siegel to name a few.
When Vito Genovese returned he tried to regain control of the family. This led to several failed assassination attempts made by both on each other’s lives. Eventually, Costello was shot in the head but survived the assassination attempt and made peace with Genovese and went into retirement. During his retirement, he still retained influence and power in New York’s mafia. In February 1973 Costello suffered a heart attack and died in his apartment.
3. Tony Accardo
Antony Joseph Accardo, commonly known as Tony Accardo is at number 5. Tony started his criminal career as a small-time hoodlum of the Chicago outfit and came to be known as “Joe Batters” due to him using a baseball bat as his weapon of choice to bludgeon those that stood in his way. Due to his ruthlessness and cunning nature he soon rose among the ranks and became a Capo for the Chicago Outfit.
After Frank Nitti’s suicide in 1943, Paul Ricca became the boss of the Chicago Outfit and named Accardo as his underboss. The two of them would rule the streets of Chicago till 1970s. Under Accardo the Outfit expanded into slot machines, counterfeiting cigarettes, wildlife smuggling, labor racketeering to name a few. The FBI began to call him “The King of Chicago” and “The Invincible Mafia King.”
After nearly spending 8 decades in the mafia and ruling Chicago with an Iron fist for nearly 40 years, Accardo died at the age of 86 due to congestive heart failure. Reports suggest that despite being one of the most prominent and ruthless crime bosses Accardo was never arrested and on the one occasion that he was, he didn’t spend a single night inside a prison cell.
2. Lucky Luciano
Charles “Lucky” Luciano was an Italian American mobster and crime boss. He was the first official head of the Luciano (now known as Genovese) crime family. He is often called the “Father of modern organized crime”. Together with his associates, he was instrumental in the establishment of the National Crime Syndicate and single-handedly responsible for the revival of the American mafia.
Upon moving to the United States with his family Luciano started his own gang and unlike other gangs that engaged in petty theft and muggings, Luciano and his gang would provide protection to youngsters from Italian and Irish gangs for 10 cents a week. During this time he met Meyer Lansky. By 1920, Luciano met Frank Costello with whom he began running a bootlegging business. He betrayed his former Joe Masseria with the help of a rival Salvatore Maranzano, and New York was divided into 5 regions, each controlled by one crime family. Luciano was the leader of one of the 5 families. Maranzano, upon realizing Luciano was a threat decided to eliminate him. However, Luciano found out about his plans and executed a plan that led to the death of Maranzano. This gave Luciano complete control over the American mafia.
He had reached the pinnacle of America’s underworld, directing criminal rules, policies, and activities along with the other Mafia bosses. Luciano also had his own crime family, which controlled lucrative criminal rackets in New York City such as illegal gambling, extortion, bookmaking, loansharking, and drug trafficking. He forged unofficial alliances with rival mob bosses to maintain his power and control. However, he was arrested in 1936. Luciano continued to run his family from prison but would later be deported back to Italy in 1946. He eventually died of a heart attack in 1962 at Naples international airport.
1. Pablo Escobar
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was commonly known as “Don Pablo” was a Colombian drug lord, infamous for being known as “The King of cocaine”. His cartel was single-handedly responsible for over 80% of cocaine smuggled into the United States. Reports suggest that the star of the first 2 seasons of popular Netflix series “Narcos” had so much money that rats would eat close to 1 billion dollars of his money every year because he didn’t have enough place to store his money.
Reports suggest that Pablo began his criminal career by stealing gravestones and sanding them down for resale. His brother, however, denied this allegation. Other reports of his early days suggest that he began his criminal career with Oscar. The duo would run scams of fake lottery tickets, selling contraband cigarettes, etc. By 1975, Pablo started developing his cocaine operation, flying out planes several times, mainly between Colombia and Panama, along with smuggling routes into the United States. Soon, the demand for cocaine was skyrocketing in the United States, and Escobar organized more smuggling shipments, routes, and distribution networks in South Florida, California, and other parts of the country.
Escobar eventually moved into politics. The people of Colombia loved Escobar as he often engaged in charitable activities and gave to the poor. He was elected as a member of the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia. He was also allegedly involved in the storming of the Supreme court of Colombia when guerillas held several members hostage. His power and influence were so great that when Pablo was arrested, he was allowed to build his own prison called the La Catedral. Escobar eventually escaped this prison but was eventually killed in 1993 in a police shootout.