Vito (Don Vitone) Genovese – aka “The Old Man” – was born on November 21, 1897 in Roccarainola, in Recigliano, Naples region, Italy. He was reared and educated there through the equivalent of the fifth grade. He immigrated to this country as a boy of 16 years old and was naturalized in 1936 at New York City.
The family resided in the Ozone Park and Richmond Hill sections of Queens County. As an adult, Vito would later relocate to the Lower Westside of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village section. He lived for years at 29 Washington Square West, in Lower Manhattan. He got married at about 26 years old, but within a few years his first wife died in 1929.
And still later, to the State of New Jersey, where he would purchase a beautiful estate property with his second wife Anna (nee’ Petillo). This $3.5 million dollar oceanfront mansion had 6,700-feet of living space, was set on 1.4 acres of beachfront property, and had seven bedrooms and six baths.
The Genovese’s had their own housemaids and house cooks to attend to those mundane details of life. This is where he would raise their son Philip and his step-daughter Anna.
Side Note: Anna Petillo became a widow, and married Vito only 12 days after her husband, Gerard Vernotico, was found strangled up on the rooftop of their Greenwich Village apartment house, along with a friend. Mob informant Joe Valachi testified that soldiers Peter (Petey Muggins) Mione and Michael Barrese killed him on Genovese’s orders. Barrese later on, also disappeared. It was Vito obviously cutting all ties to Vernotico’s murder.
Side Note: Anna divorced Vito in 1950. She testified during the open court proceeding about his vast rackets and millions in profits. And although she “ratted” so to speak, Vito never touched a hair on her head… she remained unscathed. Anna was said to have been the one thing in his otherwise brutal life that Vito truly loved.
Side note: It didn’t go as well for Steve Franse, a close working partner of both Vito and his wife in the operation of several Greenwich Village nightclubs. Vito held Franse responsible for his wife Anna having fallen away from him during his long absence in Italy. He felt Franse should have kept a closer watch on her for him. In 1953, Franse was found in the backseat of his automobile in the Bronx. He had been killed by manual strangulation and severely beaten about the face and body, with fractured ribs.
After their divorce and intense law enforcement scrutiny, Vito chose to lower his public profile by relocating to a very modest two bedroom cottage at 68 W. Highland Avenue, in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., where he quietly lived alone as a old Italian retiree.
He had two brothers; Carmine, a basically legitimate guy who owned Carmine’s Bar & Grill at 104 Bayard Street in Lower Manhattan, but also a loose associate of Vito’s. Carmine was also connected with a beer brewery, selling alcohol.
And Michael (Gumba Mike) Genovese, who was an inducted member of his borgata and one of Vito’s closest, trusted aides. He always lived very close by, at 131 Riverside Drive, Downtown Manhattan, so as to keep a watchful eye on the old neighborhood for his brother Vito. Mike also operated the V. Genovese Trading Co., a junk-scrap business located at 567 Washington Street.
Among several key hangouts and known locations he frequented was off the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets in Little Italy. He also often stayed at the Progressivo Restaurant at 254 West 55th Street in midtown Manhattan.
FBI # 861267, NYCPD # B-59993, NJPD # B-5114, I&NS-#256403
Vito stood at 5-feet 7-inches tall and weighed a slim 150-pounds. He was olive complected, had dark brown eyes and straight jet-black hair, which turned salt and pepper as he aged. As an older man, he wore tinted horn-rimmed glasses, which were a trademark of his. They covered his eyes and a stare that could be unnerving. The ice-cold stare of a born killer.
Genovese held several documented ownership interests in various businesses over the years including:
Colonial Trading Co.
Waste Paper Removal Co.
Erb Strapping Co.
and Tryon Cigarette Service Co., all of which were located on Manhattan’s lower Westside near the docks.
In addition, he held a hidden ownership interest in numerous nightclubs, bars, restaurants, fag joints and illegal unlicensed “after-hours” clubs all through the Greenwich Village area and throughout midtown Manhattan.
These watering holes were operated by his mob minions, his wife Anna, and also supervised by his underboss Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo. We are talking dozens and dozens of establishments over the years.
His criminal activities included gambling, Italian lottery rackets, shylocking, extortion, labor racketeering, strong arm and murder, heroin trafficking, business and nightclub infiltration, counterfeiting, etc.
By virtue of his exulted position as the longtime thirty-year underboss, and eventual boss of the crime Family which carries his name; Vito was essentially engaged in any, and all criminal activities and racket operations conducted by members of his Family.
He was also widely looked upon, by both law enforcement and his underworld contemporaries, as the “Boss of all Bosses” in the entire United States.
One of the most notorious of mafioso to ever operate both in the United States and Italy. Genovese had a deadly reputation very early on in his career as being a gunman and killer. He would rise up to become the right-hand man and capable underboss for decades to Salvatore (Charlie Lucky) Luciano – one of the master architects in the design of the modern Cosa Nostra.
In later years, with Luciano’s jailing and eventual deportation back to Italy, Vito would eclipse Frank Costello as boss of the old Luciano Family, seizing power, and go on to lead the most powerful borgata in the United States and be called the “Boss of all Bosses” of the Mafia.
In later years, with Luciano’s jailing and eventual deportation back to Italy, Vito would eclipse Frank Costello as boss of the old Luciano Family, seizing power, and go on to lead the most powerful borgata in the United States and be called the “Boss of all Bosses” of the Mafia. To the present day this organization still carries the name – “Genovese”, and has the “neopolitan” flavor he brought to it.
He was well acquainted with, and an intimate of, nearly every major mafiosi and hoodlum in the United States. He also had many contacts with mafiosi and Cammorista in Italy. He was a contemporary of such iconic mob luminaries as Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino, Thomas Lucchese and Joseph Profaci.
Although of course all members of the Family were his men, Vito always maintained a cadre of mostly “Napolitani”-based soldiers, some later made “Capo di decina”, that underwrote his dictates and orders.
Among the more noteworthy of these names were:
• Antonio (Tony the Sheik) Carillo
• Salvatore (Sally the Sheik) Carillo
• Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo
• Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli
• Pasquale (Patty Ryan) Eboli
• Frank Celano
• Giuseppe (Joe 92) Parlapiano
• Alfonzo Marzano
• Vincent (The Chin) Gigante
• Ralph Gigante
• Pasquale (Patsy) Gigante
• Mario (The Shadow) Gigante
• Dominick (Cokey Dom) Alongi
• Joseph (Joe Ross) DeNegris
• Ottaviano (Johnny the Bug) Stopelli
• Vincent (Vinny Bruno) Mauro
• Frank (The Bug) Caruso
• Salvatore (Little Sally) Celembrino
• Michael Perrone
• Joseph (Joe the Wop) Cataldo
• Anthony (Tony Andrews) Florio.
…..many others with last names like Tieri, Cirillo and Laietta would back his play in the years to come. It gave Vito a strong hand when dealing with the rank and file, as well as, dissidents within the New York City underworld.
Genovese was always active in a wide variety of activities, but among his “go to” base operations were always the old Italian lottery in Lower Manhattan, nightclubs and illegal “bottle clubs” and “fag joints” in the Greenwich Village and Westside area, and narcotics on a major scale. He kept a heavy hand in the heroin traffic through his minions for decades.
Vito had an extensive string of arrests dating back to his youth in 1917 for gun possession, which was his first arrest at the age of twenty. And for many other serious crimes such as multiple homicides, assaults and narcotics.
His yellow jacket clearly showed his propensity for violence and that he was a gunman and killer from the start. His arrests pop off the pages and slowly describe a mafioso with little conscience or remorse….. and one not to be toyed with.
- 1917 – carrying a gun (60 days jail)
- 1918 – felonious assault
- 1924 – possessing a revolver
- 1924 – vehicular homicide
- 1925 – disorderly person
- 1925 – burglary
- 1925 – homicide by gun
- 1927 – petty larceny
- 1931 – concealed weapons
- 1934 – homicide (gun)
- 1945 – murder (first degree)
- 1958 – federal narcotics laws and conspiracy (15 years/$20,000 fine)
He also figured into a large 1930’s U.S. currency-counterfeiting case out of Brooklyn, involving several of his soldiers including Joseph (Joe Ross) DeNegris. Nothing would come of this case as far as Genovese was concerned.
After fleeing to Italy in 1939, going “on the lam” (with a suitcase filled with a reported $750,000 cash reserve to hold him over) in order to avoid a murder charge, he was eventually extradited back to the United States and received by the NYCPD on November 28, 1945, to be held accountable for the homicide of Ferdinand (The Shadow) Boccia on September 19, 1934, who had been a small-time Brooklyn hood.
He was indicted on the testimony of Ernest (The Hawk) Rupolo and Peter LaTempa. Vito ended up going to trial for this murder, but the case fell apart after LaTempa was found dead in his holding cell one morning. The police medical examiner said after conducting an autopsy, that LaTempa had enough poison in his body to kill eight horses…… and that was that!
Vito had spent the war years “on the lam” in Southern Italy where he ingratiated himself with Benito Mussolini. He was said to have donated $250,000 cash to Mussolini and the Fascist cause, thereby becoming an intimate of the dictator. Vito was elevated by Mussolini to the rank of a Commendatore of the Kingdom of Italy.
Side Note: His wife Anna testified during divorce proceedings that Vito had large amounts of cash in numerous European safe-deposit boxes in various countries, including $500,000 in Switzerland.
As the years passed and the Allied Forces started to overtake Hitler, the Nazi’s and the Fascists, Genovese was able to again ingratiate himself enough, this time around with the U.S. Forces, that he was actually appointed as a language translator for the Allied forces.
He soon organized another devious racket operation. This time it was a huge multimillion dollar “black market” theft and smuggling ring which utilized his lofty and trusted position with the Allies to gain access to much coveted and rationed supplies such as prepared foods, sugar, flour, gasoline, and medical supplies from various American depots that the U.S Army ran.
Genovese was eventually arrested for this scheme by Army police. But he never actually stood trial for, or was held accountable for this racket because after extraditing him back to the states, the homicide case took precedence. And once he was acquitted of that murder, he was just set free.
Once Vito was home free of all criminal charges, and literally back home in New York City, he slowly but surely started re-establishing himself. Both within the Luciano/Costello Family (as it was now known) as its formal underboss. And within the larger Cosa Nostra universe in general, throughout the United States.
Vito was always a first among equals.
He would now set out surreptitiously to become the top boss across all of Cosa Nostra, with no equals.
He meticulously started to garner support for himself. First among his inner circle of trusted Napolitano based mafiosi. And later throughout the key Napolitano factions within the other mafia Families throughout America.
Side Note: Remember, although all members of the Mafia are of Italian origin, there was always various factions that ran along ethnic lines of the different regions of Italy; Sicilians, Calabrians and Neopolitans being among the three most prominent of those regions.
It would take almost ten years. But by 1957, Vito felt he was ready to take back what he felt had rightfully been his. As Lucky Luciano’s loyal underboss for over three decades, Vito felt cheated seeing Frank Costello being elevated to the “Acting Boss” position after Luciano’s deportation back to Italy.
Costello had always been a highly trusted and capable “consigliere” to Luciano. He had no ulterior motives or lofty ambitions to usurp Charlie Lucky. And Charlie was no dope. He always trusted Frank much more than Vito…. he knew Vito was a very treacherous guy, and had higher ambitions, coveting the bosses seat.
And although he made a great “second”, as an underboss who executed orders concisely, and kept the troops firmly in line, he was also a devious and deadly backstabbing hoodlum.
Frank on the other hand, was just as capable (maybe more so) in his own way. A huge earner and loyal friend and partner. He had a sharp mind and tremendous business acumen. But Frank was at heart, a gentleman racketeer.
Frank had no ulterior ambitions, designs or Machiavellian plots in his head or heart….. and there in lies the difference between the two!
Quarico (Willy Moore) Moretti, was the powerful and deadly New Jersey based underboss to his fellow Calabrian and lifelong friend, Acting Boss Frank Costello.
As part of a continued, years long Machiavellian plot Vito had secretly waged, he’d slowly but surely worked Mafia “politics” among the troops and caporegimes. Sewing seeds of discontent about Moretti’s fragile physical and more importantly, mental state, Vito eventually won over a worried hierarchy that Moretti was indeed a loose cannon that had to be silenced.
Side Note: It was widely known that Willy Moretti had contracted Syphilis. And left untreated, it was now starting to advance. One of the common symptoms is loose speech and incessant talking from it destroying brain function. Moretti had been before grand juries where he talked extensively but innocuously, about trivial mob matters… but Vito used this to his advantage in persuading other bosses to go along with Moretti’s killing under the guise of protecting the brotherhood.
On October 4, 1951, Moretti had gone to meet a few “amici” for lunch at Joe’s Elbow Room in Cliffside Park, in Jersey. There, dining with his four friends, the waitress remembers that they were joking together in Italian as she went into the kitchen to prepare their order.
At 11:28 am, the kitchen staff heard several gunshots fired and instinctively raced into the front dining room, only to find Willy Moore dead on his back from bullet wounds to his face and head. The gunman having already bolted from the eatery.
Side Note: Underboss Quarico (Willy Moore) Moretti had over 5,000 mourners attend his wake and funeral. He had been a well-loved hood. Moretti was only 57 years old.
Moretti’s death was a huge blow to Acting Boss Frank Costello’s power and position. Moretti, as Frank’s underboss, had been a strong backer of his fellow Calabrian and lifelong friend Costello. Nobody dared make any move against Costello so long as Moretti was in his corner. Willy Moore was known to have had a huge following, and to have been deadly and very loyal to Frank.
With Moretti now gone, Costello lost a powerful asset. But Genovese was only getting started.
The year 1957, would be a very pivotal year in Cosa Nostra, especially for the New York Mafia. It would turn out to be one of their worst years ever.
Albert Anastasia would infamously be shot to death at the Park Sheraton Hotel in midtown.
This was a plot hatched by Genovese, with the tacit approval of Carlo Gambino, and others within the Anastasia Family, whom Genovese had promised the leadership of that borgata to, once Anastasia was out of the way.
The powerful and notoriously deadly Anastasia, who led his own Family in Cosa Nostra, also headed a vicious band of killers commonly known as Murder Inc., had been another of Costello’s closest friends and allies. He was a fellow Calabrian like Costello.
And Vito knew he’d race to his “compare’s” aide should anyone try too usurp Frank. So, this too, was a “surgical strike” by Vito so to speak, toward Genovese’s master plan to snatch the Family throne.
And Genovese would soon finally make his long awaited, strategic master-chess move against Frank Costello, ordering his men to shoot Costello in the vestibule of his Central Park West residence….. and thereafter seizing the Family throne from Costello.
Immediately after the unsuccessful killing of Costello, with Frank having escaped with only a scrap wound. Vito had passed the word to all the Family caporegime’s to rally around Vito in a show of solidarity. And a Family “captains meeting” was held for this purpose. He had anticipated a return strike to avenge the shooting from Costello and his followers. And he wanted to assess who was “with him”, and who was “against him”.
Genovese immediately ordered the various capo’s to instruct all the men, the entire rank and file of the membership, to consider Frank Costello “persona non grata”. That the former acting boss was “shelved”, and no one was to have anything to do with him.
From that day forward, Costello was “out” and no longer to be considered a member in good standing….The word was also passed through all of Cosa Nostra.
It is said in mafia lore that all capos showed up for a meeting in a strong show of support for Genovese, except Anthony (Little Augie Pisano) Carfano, a well-respected veteran caporegime from Brooklyn, who’d migrated down to South Florida in recent years.
Carfano had been a close friend of Costello, and he didn’t approve of Vito’s actions. He also contacted Costello, as any good and loyal friend would do. Vito would never forget it!
Side Note: It would take a year or two for the chickens to come home to roost. But on September 25th, 1959, Carfano received a phone call inviting him out to dinner in Manhattan by his good friend, Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo. They had been very close for decades, and Carfano trusted him.
Little Augie accepted, and they met for supper. After their meal, Carfano departed, together with a former beauty queen named Janice Drake. A hour or so later, both were found by passerby shot to death in the front seat of Carfano’s car. With an Elephants memory, Vito never forgot the slight…..Now that’s what I call a mafia vendetta!
And then finally on November 14th of that same year, arguably the single worst event that ever befell the brotherhood happened… the raid by NYS Troopers on Binghamton mob boss Joseph Barbara’s home in Upstate Apalachin, New York.
A nationwide Commission meeting, orchestrated by none other than Vito Genovese himself. 62 of the country’s most important gangsters, all Italian mafiosi, were apprehended, detained and questioned by the troopers. It was a highly publicized event that would haunt all the attendees for years to come.
Then, almost back-to-back in 1958, Genovese was the lead defendant in a huge multi-defendant multimillion dollar a year international heroin smuggling case that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics said operated from February of 1955 through July, 1958. The FBN alleged that the smuggling of narcotics, brought in from Europe, were then diluted and packaged for resale and shipment to various cities throughout the United States.
Besides moving the narcotics locally throughout the New York City and tristate area, the mafiosi shipped drugs to their brethren in many cities where mafia crews operated in, which included:
Las Vegas, Nevada
and Los Angeles, California, to name but a few.
Genovese was accused of having planned and directed the entire operation, with the help of key mafiosi from several different New York City Families.
In a highly publicized trial, all would be convicted. After lengthy appeals, Vito and his compatriots were sentenced to long prison terms. Vito received 15 years and a $20,000 fine (a huge amount in 1959).
He was shipped off to federal prison where he would spend the rest of his days. But he was still the boss. And he continued to rule through several trusted acting bosses.
Once he arrived at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, he was received with a warm welcome. He quickly settled in and soon adjusted to his new digs with the help of fellow mafia members. There was a large contingent of mafiosi from the five New York Families there. And Vito was their king. He was the “Boss of all Bosses” so to speak. Or as close to that title as any single mafioso has ever gotten. Genovese lorded over all the mafiosi and their mob associates within the confines of that penitentiary.
Meanwhile, back at home in New York City, Vito’s underboss, the powerful Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo, was left to mind the store while the boss was on ice. Bender indeed kept a heavy, hands-on, close watch over racket operations….in retrospect maybe a bit too “hands on” for his own good.
In 1962, Tony Bender disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again. Bender had arguably been a first among equals for years in Vito’s cadre of followers. A very powerful mafioso in his own right, he had risen to become the imprisoned boss’s eyes and ears over the vast troops and regimes of their Family. Even more so after 1959, when Genovese finally surrendered to authorities to begin his long prison term.
But it seems by the late-1950s, Vito had started to lose his taste for Bender. And as another year or so passed, after Genovese investigated suspicions that his underboss was undermining his authority, shorting or cutting Vito out of his fair share of the vast heroin profits, the boss had seen enough.
On a cold fall evening, Tony Bender decided to spend a quiet night at home in New Jersey with his wife. He mentioned to her that he was just gonna run down the block to make a quick phone call and pick up a pack of cigarettes. That he’d be back in a few minutes. His wife reminded him to nonetheless put on his topcoat because it was very chilly outside…… he never returned.
Don Vito was suspected to have ordered him dispatched for several reasons. When later chatting about Strollo’s disappearance, Vito had allegedly remarked to fellow cell mate Joe Valachi, that although “It’s a shame, but it’s the best thing that could have happened to Tony, because he couldn’t never take it like you or me”…. insinuating that Tony Bender would’ve “ratted” if nailed on heavy drug charges. And that was that.
Within a few years, more very bad news, very embarrassing news for Vito, awaited him.
One of his decades-long most trusted soldiers and associates, Genovese Family member Joseph Valachi, having also been jailed in a related heroin trafficking case, turned federal informant. Fearing for his life while serving his term at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, he turned himself in to the authorities, hoping to avoid mafia assassins that he knew Vito had dispatched to kill him. It was one of the single stupidest decisions that Genovese ever made.
After extensive debriefings by the FBI, Valachi was put before a congressional investigating committee which was nationally televised. He testified in public as to the actual existence of the mafia and all its machinations, history and structure.
The secret brotherhood, was a secret no more! ….. and would never be the same.
Vito Genovese died of heart disease, while serving his narcotics sentence at the Correctional Center Medical Facility at Springfield, Missouri. He had been transferred there earlier from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary where he had served the bulk of his jail term.
He died on February 14, 1969. He was 71 years of age.
His name will live on forever in infamy, as one of Cosa Nostra’s most colorful, powerful and deadly members.
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