Perhaps Albert Anastasia was fated to die in "the chair."
The longtime New York-area underworld figure, who maneuvered his way out of an appointment with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair in 1922, met his end in the barber's chair thirty-five years later on October 25, 1957.
Anastasia, born Umberto Anastasio in the Calabrian village of Tropea back in 1902, reached America in 1917. He was serving as a deck hand on a tramp steamer when he jumped ship at New York harbor. He and brothers Giuseppe and Antonio settled in Brooklyn, and all went to work at the docks. (Brother Salvatore moved from Italy to New York and entered the priesthood.) Anastasia entered into a waterfront rackets partnership with Giuseppe Florino, who sometimes used the alias "Speranza."
In spring of 1921, Anastasia and Florino both were convicted of the May 17, 1920, shooting murder of George Terella (also referred to as Turella and Turino). Brooklyn Supreme County Justice Van Siclen sentenced the two to be executed in Sing Sing's electric chair on the week of July 3, 1921. They were placed in the prison's "death house" on May 25, 1921.
|Anastasia (left) and Florino. New York Daily News.|
Legal appeals succeeded in winning a new trial for Anastasia and Florino and, after a period of six and a half months in Sing Sing's "death house," they were transferred to the custody of the Kings County sheriff on December 10, 1921. (Newspapers of the time reported incorrectly that their death house stay was between seven months and eight and a half months.) The defense managed to link a key prosecution witness to a failed relationship with Florino and to develop additional witnesses. The state's murder case against the two men fell apart, and they were set free.
Anastasia and Florino immediately went back to work, intimidating longshoremen and eliminating rivals. They were routinely suspected in gangland killings during the Prohibition Era. While Florino gradually faded into the background, Anastasia emerged as a top Brooklyn underworld figure. He was brought into a sprawling Brooklyn and Bronx Mafia organization commanded at the time by Al Mineo - it later became known as the Gambino Crime Family - and led its strong non-Sicilian faction. After a couple of decades, he attained the top spot in the organization after eliminating its Sicilian leaders, brothers Vincent and Philip Mangano, in 1951.
However, it seems Anastasia's date with "the chair" was not canceled but merely postponed.
|Barbershop diagram. New York Times.|
Chair No. 4
At seven o'clock on the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia left his home, 75 Bluff Road in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in a blue 1957 Oldsmobile registered to his chauffeur and bodyguard Anthony Coppola. Coppola was apparently not with him. Anastasia's movements that morning are not entirely known. The car was parked at Corvan Garage, 124 West Fifty-Fourth Street in Manhattan at twenty-eight minutes after nine. Anastasia entered Arthur Grasso's barbershop in the Park Sheraton Hotel, Seventh Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street, at about ten-fifteen.
A regular at the shop, Anastasia exchanged greetings with the owner, who manned a cashier's stand near the entrance. Anastasia then moved toward Chair No. 4, where his barber Joseph Bocchino worked. Anastasia hung up his topcoat, brown suit jacket and hat and took a seat in Chair No. 4, requesting a haircut.
Bocchino set to work. He was clipping the hair on the left side of Anastasia's head, when two men, faces partly covered with scarves, entered the barbershop from a doorway connected to the Park Sheraton lobby. One of the men quietly instructed Grasso, "Keep your mouth shut if you don't want your head blown off." Grasso made no sound.
The men advanced with drawn handguns to positions behind Anastasia and opened fire. With the first shots, Anastasia jumped up from the chair, breaking through its footrest. He stumbled forward, crashing into glass shelving in front of a mirror, and then fell to the side, landing and expiring between Chairs 2 and 3. Of ten bullets fired in the attack, five hit their target. Two entered Anastasia's left hand and wrist, which apparently had been raised in an effort at self-defense. One slug penetrated his right hip. One entered his back. The last cracked through the back of his head.
The gunmen silently strode from the shop. Two handguns were later recovered from the area - one a .32-caliber and the other a .38-caliber. One was found in a vestibule of the Park Sheraton. The other turned up in a trash receptacle in a nearby subway station.
Press accounts of the underworld assassination noted that, about three decades earlier, underworld financier Arnold Rothstein had been killed within the same hotel, though it was known at that time as the Park Central.
Investigators questioned known underworld figures, including Anthony "Augie Pisano" Carfano, Mike Miranda, Pete DeFeo and Aniello Ercole, as well as Anastasia business partner Harry Stasser.
In the evening of October 25, Anthony Coppola surrendered himself for questioning. Coppola admitted being in the area of the Park Sheraton about forty minutes after his boss and friend was murdered. Without much explanation, Coppola said he intended to meet Anastasia at the barbershop but learned of the shooting on his way there and retreated. He picked up the blue Oldsmobile where Anastasia left it and drove it home to 450 Park Avenue, Fair View, New Jersey. He later had another person drive it back to Manhattan and leave it in a Centre Street parking lot across from the Criminal Courts Building, where it was taken for examination by police.
|New York Times|
Anastasia's killers could not be identified. There were strong indications that Carlo Gambino, who later became boss of Anastasia's crime family, had been involved in setting up the assassination. Some reports claimed that Joseph Profaci, boss of his own Brooklyn-based crime family, and enforcer Joe "Jelly" Giorelli were also involved.
Early in 1958, the FBI received information indicating that Anastasia had been put on the spot by an Irish criminal organization feuding with him over control over the New York waterfront rackets.
In 1963, authorities heard that Anastasia's killers were gangsters "Joe Jelly" Giorelli and Ralph Mafrici. Giorelli, a top man in the Gallo faction of the Profaci Crime Family, had been missing and presumed dead since the Gallos openly broke with their boss in 1961. This information likely grew out of barroom bragging by "Crazy Joe" Gallo, in which he claimed that his crew was responsible for the Anastasia assassination. Additional reports pointed to Costello rival Vito Genovese as the prime mover of the Anastasia killing and the attempt to kill Costello.
In the autumn of 2001, journalist Jerry Capeci reported that all the earlier suspicions were off the mark. According to Capeci, Anastasia was shot by Stephen "Stevie Coogan" Grammauta and Arnold "Witty" Wittenberg, guided by gangster Stephen Armone. The group was assembled, Capeci said, by a Carlo Gambino ally named Joseph Biondo.
- "Anastasia, Albert (1902-1957)," American Mafia Who Was Who (2018).
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- "'Lord High Executioner' of the American Mafia," Informer, June 2015, p. 5.
- Albert Anastasia fingerprint record, Nov. 19, 1953, Anastasia FBI file.
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- Capeci, Jerry, "The Men Who Hit Albert Anastasia" Gang Land column, Oct. 18, 2001.
- Cook, Fred J., "Robin Hoods or real tough boys? Larry Gallo, Crazy Joe and Kid Blast," New York Times, Oct. 23, 1966, p. Mag 37.
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- FBI memo, Havana 94-13, March 6, 1958, Albert Anastasia FBI file.
- Freeman, Ira Henry, "Brothers Anastasia - toughest of the toughs," New York Times, Dec. 14, 1952, p. E10.
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- Sing Sing Prison Receiving Blotter entries for Alberto Anastasio, number 72527, May 25, 1921, and Giuseppe Florino, number 72528, May 25, 1921.
- Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "'Lord High Executioner' of the American Mafia," Informer, June 2015, p. 5.
- "2 held in grocer's murder," New York Tribune, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 20.
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- "Albert Anastasia," FBI report, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1, 10, Albert Anastasia FBI file.
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- "Another victim claimed in Degraw Street feud; two suspects in toils," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 17, 1922, p. 1.
- "Arrested for murder committed last May," New York Daily News, March 7, 1921, p. 3.
- "Capture alleged slayer," New York Evening World, March 18, 1921, p. 4.
- "Charged with murder," Brooklyn Citizen, March 7, 1921, p. 1.
- "F.B.I. giving Hogan Valachi details," New York Times, Aug. 8, 1963.
- "Found shot near home, man dies in hospital," Brooklyn Standard Union, May 17, 1920, p. 1.
- "Held for 1920 Brooklyn murder," New York Times, March 7, 1921, p. 11.
- "Hold Giuseppe Florina for Turello shooting," Brooklyn Standard Union, March 7, 1921, p. 4.
- "Police hunting hired killers in murder of gangland chief," New Brunswick NJ Daily Home News, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 1.
- "Quiz murder suspect for crime of year ago," Brooklyn Daily Times, March 7, 1921, p. 1.
- "Two men held in murder of man shot at party," New York Daily News, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 9.
- "Two who escaped chair are now held in Ferrara murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 17, 1922, p. 2.