You’ve seen the mug shots and stories of the most notable inmates in Alcatraz. Now, the spotlight is on the well-known members of the Mafia, one of the most notorious criminal syndicates in history. Let’s start with Italian gangster Lucky Luciano.
Like some of his contemporaries, Italian-born gangster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania) started treading on the path of notoriety at an early age. At 10, he was caught and charged for shoplifting, his first crime. In his teenage years, he established his own small-time gang, which charged Jewish children a penny or two in return for protection on their way to and from school. He would beat them up if they refused to pay.
By the age of 20, he was already an experienced gangster and criminal who busied himself with theft, extortion, and drug trafficking (for which he was arrested and sentenced to a six-month prison term). After his short imprisonment, he joined and became a leader of the Five Points Gang. This led him to bootlegging and also meeting other major gangster figures such as Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, and Bugsy Siegel.
Yet, the turning point of his gangster career came with his involvement with Giuseppe “Joe” Masseria, the boss of the Genovese crime family, one of the Five Families of the New York-based Italian-American Mafia. While he enjoyed his rank as a chief aide in the said Family, Luciano detested the traditions of the “old Mafia” like Masseria, who maintained that non-Sicilians cannot be trusted.
The Italian-born mobster earned the nickname “Lucky” for surviving a kidnapping and attack by three men. After finding out that Masseria was behind it, he joined forces with Salvatore Maranzano, leader of the second biggest Family and a rival of Masseria. Luciano made a deal with Maranzano, offering to get rid of his rival if he would be made Maranzano’s second-in-command. The deal was sealed, and after Luciano successfully did his part, Maranzano kept his end of the bargain and made him his number two man.
By a wicked twist, Luciano learned that Maranzano also planned to kill both he and Al Capone, forcing him to strike first and get rid of Maranzano as well. This advanced his rank and made him “The Boss,” which gave him the power to control America’s crime and gangster networks. However, his command was somewhat short-lived after he was charged with prostitution and sentenced to 30 to 50 years imprisonment. Even so, he managed to run his crime family during his incarceration, relaying instructions through Vito Genovese, his first acting boss.
Luciano was known for dividing New York City into five distinct Mafia groups— or families, as they call it—and securing their first commissions. For these, he was dubbed as the father of modern organized crime in the United States. Many consider him to be among the most powerful and instrumental figures in the world of organized crime, his influence believed to extend up to the present day.
For more mug shots and stories on the most prominent gangsters and criminals, don’t forget to check the rest of Portraits of Infamy installments!