Showing posts with label Naples. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Naples. Show all posts

26 January 2019

Awaiting airport arrival, Lucky departs

On this date in 1962...


Longtime Mafia leader Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania, sixty-four, died January 26, 1962, of an apparent heart attack at Capodichino Airport north of Naples, Italy.

Lucania was at the airport to meet movie producer Martin Gosch and discuss a Gosch script for a Mafia-related movie.

Gosch later suggested, without providing any evidence, that Lucania had dictated his life story to Gosch. Gosch and Richard Hammer authored a book, The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, that was packaged as Lucania's memoirs. The book was released in 1975, after Gosch's death. The book's publisher, Little, Brown & Company, claimed in advertisements that Last Testament was based upon tape-recorded conversations with Lucania. The publisher later issued a correction, revealing that no such recordings were ever made. Little, Brown & Company followed up with a claim that a collection of Gosch's original notes - seen by no one connected with the project and allegedly burned by his widow after his death - was based upon thirty interviews of Lucania by the producer between 1959 and 1962. Over time, the story was altered to suggest that Gosch provided handwritten notes to Hammer or provided his own recorded dictation of his original notes to Hammer. It was later discovered that Last Testament contained factual errors on matters that would have been well known to Lucania and also was built upon quotations attributed to Lucania that were fabricated by Hammer. An FBI investigation of Gosch labeled the producer an untrustworthy opportunist trying to profit from his association with Lucania. FBI records reveal that Gosch told a representative of the FBI that his movie script, the only product of his interaction with Lucania, was a work of fiction. The Bureau dismissed the Gosch and Hammer book as a fraud, stating, "It is not believed that this book has any value to the FBI, or to anyone else for that matter." (Richard N. Warner's detailed analysis of the book was published in the April 2012 issue of Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement.)

United States Narcotics Bureau agents and Italian law enforcement had been trailing Lucania, known to many as "Lucky Luciano," believing that he was an organizer of an international narcotics smuggling ring. They were preparing to arrest him at the time of his death.

NY Daily News
Gosch reached Lucania as he collapsed. Knowing that Lucania had a heart condition, he searched the Mafia leader's pockets for pills. Finding a small box of pills, he put one into Lucania's mouth. Observers found the activity suspicious, and there were persistent rumors that Lucania was poisoned. Police questioned Gosch for about five hours. The producer said he first met Lucania in 1960 and was working on a movie about Lucania's life.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Lucania was born to Salvatore and Rosalia Lucania in Lercara Friddi, Sicily, in November of 1897. He was brought to the U.S. as a child around 1905. His family settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Lucania attended public school until sixth grade. He got into some trouble as a teenager and was sent for a time to Brooklyn Truant School. In 1916, he was convicted of a narcotics offense (sale of morphine) and served a sentence at the New Hampton Farms Reformatory.

NY Times
Following his release, he participated in gambling rackets and continued involvement in narcotics sales. He became an associate of Jack "Legs" Diamond and Arnold Rothstein and, later, of Manhattan Mafia boss Giuseppe Masseria. As Masseria reached the position of boss of bosses, Lucania was his top lieutenant.

Lucania and other members of Masseria's organization betrayed their boss at the end of the underworld's 1930-31 Castellammarese War and set him up for assassination in spring 1931. Lucania took over the Masseria operation. Months later, he arranged the assassination of another Mafia boss of bosses, Salvatore Maranzano. With Lucania's backing, the U.S. Mafia discarded the old boss of bosses system of resolving inter-family disputes and installed a representative panel known as the Commission.

Lucania was convicted of compulsory prostitution in 1936. He testified in the trial and was forced to admit past crimes and lies told to authorities. He was sentenced to serve thirty to fifty years in prison. He was released from prison on a conditional executive commutation from Governor Thomas Dewey and deported from the U.S. to Italy in 1946. His release and deportation were arranged after a former member of the Office of Naval Intelligence vaguely claimed that the imprisoned Lucania rendered assistance to U.S. forces during World War II.

Wishing to be closer to his longtime home, his associates and his lucrative rackets, Lucania traveled back across the Atlantic and settled in Havana, Cuba, in autumn 1946. Pressure by U.S. agencies on the Cuban government succeeded in forcing him back to Italy March of 1947.

During his years in Italy, Lucania reportedly hoped to someday return to the U.S. His return occurred only after his death. His remains were transported by plane from Rome to New York City in February 1962. He was buried in St. John's Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Sources:

  • Anderson, Jack, "The Last Days of Lucky Luciano," Parade, June 17, 1962.
  • Dewey, Thomas E., Twenty Against the Underworld, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1974.
  • FBI cablegram to Director, Charles "Lucky" Luciano FBI file, Jan. 26, 1962.
  • Feder, Sid, and Joachim Joesten, The Luciano Story, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994 (originally published in 1954).
  • Gage, Nicholas, "F.B.I. tells agents not to trust book on Luciano," New York Times, March 14, 1975, p. 30.
  • Gage, Nicholas, "Questions are raised on Lucky Luciano book," New York Times, Dec. 17, 1974, p. 1.
  • Lewis, Norman, The Honored Society, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1964.
  • Packard, Reynolds, "V-King Luciano's luck runs out: drops dead," New York Daily News, Jan. 27, 1962.
  • Poulsen, Ellen, The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial, Little Neck, NY: Clinton Cook Publishing, 2007.
  • Powell, Hickman, Lucky Luciano: The Man Who Organized Crime in America, New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006 (reprint of 1939 work).
  • "Publisher of book on Luciano says it was based on interviews," New York Times, Jan. 21, 1975, p. 46.
  • Receiving blotter, Chas. Luciano, no. 92168, Sing Sing Prison, June 18, 1936.
  • Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano parole," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, April 3, 1946.
  • Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, was miscellaneous information," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, Feb. 10, 1947.
  • Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano's parole and deportation," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, March 6, 1946.
  • The People of the State of New York against Charles Luciano, et al., Record on Appeal, Volume III, Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division - First Department, 1937
  • Vizzini, Sal, with Oscar Fraley and Marshall Smith, Vizzini: The Story of America's No, 1 Undercover Narcotics Agent, New York: Pinnacle, 1972.
  • Whitman, Alden, "Publisher to go ahead with Luciano book," New York Times, Dec. 27, 1974, p. 23.
  • "'Lucky' Luciano succumbs' was underworld czar," Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle, Jan. 27, 1962, p. 1.
  • "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, information concerning," FBI memo, Feb. 19, 1962.
  • "Charles Luciana, with aliases," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-X, Aug. 28, 1935, p. 4, 5.
  • "Charles Luciano, Anti-Racketeering," translations of Italian language articles appearing in the Jan. 11, Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, 1959, issues of L'Europeo magazine, FBI memo, Feb. 18, 1959.
  • "In the end 'Lucky' Luciano was not really so terribly lucky after all," Bridgeport CT Sunday Post, Feb. 4, 1962, p. 14.
  • "Lucania is forced to admit crimes," New York Times, June 4, 1936, p. 1.
  • "Luciano dies at 65; was facing arrest," New York Times, Jan. 27, 1962, p. 1.
  • "Luciano dies of seizure," Poughkeepsie Journal, Jan. 26, 1962, p. 1.
  • "Luciano's links to underworld investigated by Italian agents," New York Times, Jan. 28, 1962, p. 66.
  • "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report Albany 100-5170, Oct. 16, 1942.
  • "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report NY 62-8768, file no. 39-2141-9, May 5, 1946
  • "The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano," FBI memorandum to Mr. Cleveland, Oct. 2, 1974.

26 January 2017

55 Years Ago Today: Lucky Luciano's Death

January 26, 1962. Charles 'Lucky' Luciano suffers fatal heart attack.
Having just endured yet another session of police interrogation (this time was about a drug ring), Lucky Luciano was exhausted but determined to keep a scheduled meeting with would-be biopic producer Martin Gosch.  The latter was arriving from Spain, where he'd taken up a home-away-from-home in the late 1950's. Gosch had been meeting with Luciano periodically since at least 1960.  Both wanted a movie made, although Lucky and movie producers historically had great differences of opinion in storyline.

The pair did in fact meet at the Capodichino airport in Naples on January 26, 1962. Gosch's plane arrived just after 4:00 pm, and he was greeted by Lucky and an English-speaking police officer named Cesare Resta (Luciano invited Resta to help prove he was not making drug deals). Inside, Lucky sipped on a fruit drink, chatting with Gosch. Shortly after 5:00 pm, as they were walking toward Lucky's car in the parking lot, the aging gangster stumbled, uttering the last words, "Martin, Martin."

Gosch knew Lucky had a heart condition, but it was too late (when onlookers saw the producer trying to place a pill in the fallen man's mouth the foundation for conspiracy theories was inadvertently laid).  The airport's on-staff physician arrived, placed a stethoscope to Luciano's chest, then clearly stated the finality of situation, albeit in a laconic, matter-of-fact way - "This man is dead."

Prior the the official autopsy report, rumors of 'poisoning' were published.  Once the autopsy was revealed to the public (months later) it showed the true non-dramatic reality... Lucky Luciano had a bad heart and that bad heart gave out..  Still, there continued to be whispers of assassination, carried out to silence the once great mob boss ( be it for the proposed movie, or his alleged drug ring). Despite the media misreporting, conspiracies, and - even if it was true - the 'International Drug Ring' implications that dogged him for decades... Lucky Luciano got to have his day, because soon he would be going home. 
1962, Naples Italy. Mourners pay last respects to Lucky Luciano at the Cemetery of Poggioreale.


"No solemn funeral service can be celebrated for someone who lives in 'obvious concubinage'." - Don Guido San Martino, officiating priest of the Most Holy Trinity Church of St. Joachim.

On January 29th, Don Guido San Martino, priest of the Most Holy Trinity Church of St. Joachim, gave requiem mass for Luciano.  The priest publicly stated the mass would be "without special pomp" and he felt great discomfort knowing the deceased party's 'live-in' relationship with twenty-four year old Adriana Risso (sometimes identified as Rizzo).  As for the whole 'gangster' element, the priest apparently wasn't quite as concerned, stating the service was - "For his soul and has nothing to do with what his life may have been."

Well, the service contradicted the priest's plans, yet surely unfolded just as the hordes of cops (American and Italian, plainclothes and uniform) expected.  There was pushing, shoving and verbal threats, mostly all aimed at the estimated one-hundred and fifty reporters present. Among those in attendance who were not press or police:  Lucky's brother Bartolo, nephew Salvatore, girlfriend Adriana Risso, a few American wiseguys, and although confined by law to remain in the town of Avellino's borders,  another deported gangster/friend, Joe Adonis, sent a wreath adorn with the phrase, "So Long Pal."

"Be quiet or I warn you I am going to knock someone on the head." - Unidentified elderly mourner threatening a photographer.

Luciano's mahogany casket left the church in an ornate hearse pulled by eight horses. Brother Bartolo had been trying secure permission to bring Lucky's remains back to New York for burial in the family mausoleum, so in the interim the casket would be kept in the chapel of the Cemetery of Poggioreale.  On February 7th, 1962, Salvatore 'Charlie Lucky Luciano' Lucania officially came home.  Without any religious service this time, Luciano reached his final resting place - St. John's Cemetery in Queens, New York.  He purchased the mausoleum in 1935 (reports of the pricetag vary in range from $25,000 and $30,000), and was designed with capacity for up to sixteen coffins.




A few interesting things that happened within the weeks and months and years following Lucky Luciano's death:

  • Bartolo Lucania evicted Adriana Risso from Lucky's apartment.
  • The official autopsy report was released that June, debunking the 'poison' theories.
  • Cameron Mitchell, the American actor who agreed to play the role of Lucky in Gosch's planned movie production, received multiple death threats, presumed to be from Italian Mafia.
  • Gosch never made a biopic, but did collaborate with Richard Hammer to create the highly-contentious book 'The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano.'
  •  Gosch was actually working for producer Barnett Glassmen, according to a 1975 New York Times 'Letter to the Editor.' The letter further claims Luciano didn't particularly like Gosch and basically discussed a 'fictional' story, not memoir.
  • Adriana Risso, Lucky's last love interest, was one of five beneficiaries listed to receive royalties from the book's sales.
  •  
Sources:

Tension Marks Lucky's Funeral. Reuters. New York Post, January 29, 1962, p. 20.
Luciano's Funeral is Today. AP. The Kingston Daily Freeman, January 1962, p. 1.
Cipollini, Christian. Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, Strategic Media Books, 2014.
Summers, Anthony & Robbyn Swan. Sinatra: The Life, Vintage, 2006.
Rick Porrello's American Mafia
Scaduto, Tony. Letter to the Editor. New York Times. 27 April 1975.

02 January 2017

3 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Lucky Luciano

Charlie Lucky Luciano cracks a smirk in 1946.


Books and movies and hearsay... oh my!  A century's worth of material has been written on the life and crimes of Salvatore Lucania, the fella we better recognize as Lucky Luciano, but still his story is filled with as many holes as some of the gang war victims he once caroused with.  The 'mystery' that surrounds Lucky is ultimately the kind of thing researchers, historians and mob history aficionados live for, because we all love discovering a new clue or factoid that better paints the true picture. History itself, no matter the realm or subject matter, never ceases to amaze; there's always, ALWAYS something more to discover.  And with that said, here are three cool little facts about Charlie Lucky that you may have not known:


3. Gun Control

Not all RAP Sheets (record of arrest & prosecution) are created equal, keep that in mind especially when studying organized crime of the early twentieth century. Besides the facts that law enforcement entities obviously didn't have many options of technology to share information, and, most mobsters adopted an alias or two (and some literally juggled dozens of aka's) which made identification difficult enough in that era, rap sheets were often innately cryptic, and absolutely subject to human error and/or omissions.Some legal infractions just didn't get listed.

"Eight Gun Permits Ordered Revoked When Probe Shows Wholesale Falsifications" - The Troy Times, July 15, 1933.

Luciano was known to pack heat, as referenced when he (along with an ensemble of notable gangsters including Joe 'The Boss' Masseria and Bugsy Siegel - who was using an alias) was booked in Miami on gambling charges on February 28th, 1930, but the gun wasn't a big issue. Miami authorities only fined him for the gambling violation, although he was required to register with police if and when he ever returned to the city.  A few years later though, Lucky got into a little more gun-related trouble, but oddly it wasn't the weapon he was caught with.

The murders of several witnesses in a case against racketeer Waxey Gordon in 1933 is what prompted authorities in Troy, New York to investigate an unusual common denominator in the slayings - most of the witnesses were known gangsters and possessed gun permits issued in Troy.  Furthermore, many of the permit holders were from out of town (NYC, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles), and all of their permit 'sponsors' had apparently falsified documents. That discovery led to the questioning of  individuals issuing those permits, who incidentally had very groggy memories of why, exactly, they approved the permits.
FBI Record Charles Lucania

On July 15th, authorities revoked eight gun permits, and published the names of both permit holder and the individuals who sponsored them. Among those stripped of a license to carry was of course Lucky Luciano, who almost always used his real surname on official documents. Charles Lucania of 226 Hill Street; vocation listed as 'salesman' on the application. His address in Troy (and Lucky was known to maintain multiple addresses at the time) was less than an hour drive from his old pal Legs Diamond's home in Acra.  Interestingly, within the following two years, Lucky had instituted a contingency plan by securing the bodyguard services of  Lorenzo 'Chappy' Brescia, a big guy who carried a gun and a permit.


2. Inked Up

From comic book series LUCKY
Tattoos, even Lucky Luciano had some.  He was however quite meticulous in hiding epidermal decorations from public view, hence why very few images of his ink have ever surfaced and why little has ever been mentioned in historical accounts.  Despite his efforts to keep the ink under wraps, the tattoos were noted and described - sometimes in great detail - by a handful of eagle-eyed journalists, and of course by police.

"He constantly mopped his neck with a handkerchief as we talked, then shed his suit coat and drew back his shirt sleeves, revealing faded tattoos on each forearm.There was a nude on the left arm and a crest with the face of a jack on the right. If the tattoos clashed with his immaculate attire, so did his language. His soft-spoken conversation was flavored with Brooklynese, and the "youse guys" kept creeping in." - Jack Anderson, 1959.

Here's the lowdown on Lucky Luciano's skin art:

Tattooed Gangster
He acquired the tattoos as a teenager, the year was 1913 to be exact.  The right, inner forearm featured a 'Sailor's head' (though the design could easily be confused with a 'Jack'), stars and a heart, the word 'Lucky', and the date '1913'.  The left, inner arm was adorn with a bawdier imagery: a topless pinup girl, kneeling with her arms placed behind her head, and two banners reading, respectively,  'True Love' and 'Forever'.


Lucky took particular care to shield the pinup girl tattoo from photographers, but glimpses of the larger inkwork, located on his right arm, can bee seen in a few accessible press photographs, while far more detailed representations are present within the very-rare-yet-very-much-existing personal photo albums of he and his close friends (*even in personal photos he was methodical in keeping the pinup girl out of view).

"These tattoos...I got them when I was seventeen." - Luciano's reply to journalist Oscar Fraley's question, 'Regrets?' 1960.




1. Television Interview... With SOUND

It was no secret that Lucky hated being exiled to Italy. Although the press (and police) had hounded Lucky relentlessly with questions, flashbulbs ( and even some silent film footage) ever since his headline-making vice trial in 1936, it wasn't until around 1949 that Lucky had begun to willingly accept the occasional interview request - particularly from visiting American journalists (and usually with the caveat of no audio or motion picture recording). Some have suggested it was Luciano's way of connecting with a home he'd never get to visit again, and his interviews became more frequent through the 1950s.
Lucky gives interview in 1949


"It has-gotten so that every time a columnist gets within feet-wetting distance of the coast of Italy he owns to two objectives: the interviewing either of Luciano or Ms Ingrid Bergman, on the basis that they provide provocative copy." - Columnist Whitney Bolton, 1952

In early 1952 NBC dispatched newsreel photographers Charles and Eugene Jones to Europe. The brothers - known for traveling the world equipped with a state of the art camera - had gained notoriety for their coverage of the Korean War and their films were often featured during NBC's Camel News Caravan. In sending them to Europe, the network basically wanted the twenty-five year old twins to get stories on anything relevant, from politics to society. Gene's wife Natalie accompanied them on the European trek, and she would become a groundbreaking history-maker in her own right.

Stopping in Naples, Italy that April, the Jones trio became aware of Lucky Luciano's presence, so they took a room in the same hotel and set out to request an interview. Lucky refused at first, though he invited them to the track and to dine. Surprisingly though, the Jones's convinced Lucky to do an on-camera interview, sound included. Besides the significance of the interview being the only known audio/visual combo recording of the exiled gangster, the interview was conducted by Natalie Jones - and this was a time in history when the phrase 'Good Ol' Boy Network' applied to many segments of society, not the least of which being television journalism.

Luciano's mere agreement to do such an interview made the newspaper columns back in the States, which included teasers of the conversations viewers would soon see and hear. Some reports of the exclusive interview were straightforward, others quite scornful. Regardless of the opinions, this was to be a pretty big television event it seemed and the Jones family had more locations, personalities and subjects to cover before returning home at the end of the year.  When they returned, brothers Charlie and Gene had a book published - Double Trouble: The Autobiography of the Jones Twins and Natalie had become a staff foreign correspondent and then in the 1970's - an Academy Award nominee.

Now for the disheartening part of this all...

As of this writing, the author (me) had tried, in vain, for several weeks to locate the Lucky Luciano recording. Upon contacting NBC,a representative of the NBC News archives expressed that while the footage may still exist somewhere, the odds are it doesn't anymore. All things considered, the mission is now in full effect... let's find this piece of history, shall we?!