On this date in 1957...
New York City crime boss Frank Costello suffered only a superficial wound late on the evening of May 2, 1957, when a tall, hulking gunman fired a bullet at the back of his head.
The assassination attempt, along with legal battles relating to a tax evasion conviction and government attempts to revoke his citizenship, convinced Costello to retire from crime family leadership. Vito Genovese stepped in as boss of the organization that has since been known as the Genovese Crime Family.
May 2, 1957
Earlier on the night of May 2, Costello, the sixty-six-year-old leader of Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania's former organization, had dinner with his wife at the Monsignore Restaurant, 61 East 55th Street in Manhattan. They were joined by a number of friends, including New York Enquirer Publisher Generoso Pope, Jr. (who, with loans from Costello, would build his newspaper into the National Enquirer), and modeling agent Philip Kennedy. Costello decided to leave the party "early."
|New York Times|
The Mafia leader passed through an exterior door, descended two stairs and was opening an interior door to the building lobby when the large man in a dark suit and dark hat ran up behind him, said, "This is for you, Frank," and fired a single shot.
Kennedy heard the gunshot as his taxi pulled away from the curb. He told the driver to stop, and he jumped out and rushed to Costello.
The underworld boss had staggered to a lobby bench. Blood was oozing from a wound that stretched across the back of his scalp. Red blotches stained his jacket and shirt collar. He told Kennedy, "Somebody tried to get me."
A taxi was summoned to take Costello to Roosevelt Hospital, where it was found that the bullet had not penetrated his skull. Mrs. Costello joined her husband at the hospital at 11:50 p.m.
About an hour later, police escorted a bandaged Costello to the West 54th Street Police Station, where he was questioned.
Though one Roosevelt Hospital doctor believed the nature of the scalp wound indicated that Costello turned toward the gunman at the moment the shot was fired, Costello insisted that he did not see who shot him and had no enemies in the world. "I didn't see nothing," he said. "I feel fine."
Costello claimed that he did not hear the gunman approach and did not even hear the shot that hit him. He merely felt a stinging sensation behind one ear and, when he touched the spot, felt the wetness of his blood.
The doorman of the Majestic Apartments told police that he saw the large gunman get out of a Cadillac double-parked behind the taxi that brought Costello home. He recalled that the man seemed to waddle as he rushed toward Costello. The gunman returned to the Cadillac after firing the single shot, and the vehicle sped away south on Central Park West. The Cadillac had curtains in its rear windows and no light on its license plate, according to the doorman.
(At some point that night, police acquired a slip of paper that had been in Costello's possession. After a fair amount of study, it was determined that numbers written on the paper - 651,284 - matched the gross gambling earnings of the Las Vegas Tropicana Hotel for the period April 3 to April 26. The opening of the Tropicana's casino had been delayed due to reported links to Costello associate Phil Kastel. The State of Nevada granted a license to the casino only after being assured that it had severed its connections with the underworld. Costello's slip of paper strongly suggested a continuing relationship.)
For months, dozens of NYPD detectives struggled to identify the shooter. (They even picked up Carl Lucania, cousin of former boss Salvatore Lucania, for questioning, holding him on a vagrancy charge until June 25.) In July, they heard from sources that the gunman was former prizefighter Vincent "the Chin" Gigante. It took until late August to find and arrest Gigante.
Later in the year, resolving the attempted assassination of Costello was shoved to a back-burner, as authorities were busied with the assassination of Albert Anastasia and with a large-scale gathering of known underworld figures at Joseph Barbara's Apalachin, New York, home.
Gigante was tried in May 1958 for the shooting of Costello. On May 27, a jury found him not guilty, and he went free.
Gigante's connection with Vito Genovese - Costello's rival and his successor as crime family boss - became apparent weeks later, when Genovese, Gigante and several dozen others were charged with narcotics conspiracy. Authorities learned that Gigante had been assigned to eliminate Costello, so Genovese could take over the criminal organization.
- "Carl Lucania is freed by court," New York Daily News, June 26, 1957, p. 16.
- "Costello gunman is sought in vain by 66 detectives," New York Times, May 4, 1957, p. 1.
- "Costello is shot entering home; gunman escapes," New York Times, May 3, 1957, p. 1.
- "Costello notation represents 'take' at Las Vegas Inn," Nyack NY Journal-News, June 12, 1957, p. B1.
- "Gambler Costello shot in 'murder' attempt," Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle, May 3, 1957, p. 1.
- "Genovese freed in bail of $50,000," New York Times, July 9, 1958.
- "Gigante beats rap in Costello case," Nyack NY Journal-News, May 29, 1958, p. 9.
- "Hunt ex-boxer in shooting of Frank Costello," New York Daily News, July 17, 1957, p. 5.
- "Jury frees Gigante in Costello shooting," New York Times, May 28, 1958, p. 1.
- "U.S. jury indicts Genovese, Gigante in narcotics plot," New York Times, July 8, 1958, p. 1.
- Federici, William, "Hogan links Costello's 'notes' to Vegas casino," New York Daily News, June 12, 1957, p. 4.
- Katz, Leonard, Uncle Frank: The Biography of Frank Costello, New York: Drake Publishers, 1973, p. 203-209.
- Machirella, Henry, and Henry Lee, "Jail ex-boxer for trying to kill Costello," New York Daily News, Aug. 20, 1957, p. 2.
- McCarthy, Robert, Joseph Donnelly and Jack Smee, "Costello shot in ambush at door of home," New York Daily News, May 3, 1957, p. 2.