Albert Anastasia (born Umberto Anastasio) (September 26, 1902 – October 25, 1957), aka the Mad Hatter and Lord High Executioner, was a New York City Cosa Nostra boss remembered for his brutality and his role in running the contract killing gang known as Murder, IncAnastasia had familial ties to a number of Mafia organizations. He was father-in-law to Dominick Cataldo and Joseph Cataldo and Anthony Scotto who was President of the ILA. Albert had one known son named Anthony Anastasio, named after his uncle born on December 21st, 1928 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Born in Tropea, Italy – one of nine brothers – (one brother, Anthony, also joined in a life of crime) Anastasia moved to New York City around 1919. He became active in Brooklyn's waterfront operations and rose to a position of authority in the longshoreman's union, the International Longshoremen's Association. It was here that Anastasia first demonstrated his penchant for homicide at the slightest provocation, killing a fellow longshoreman in the early '20s – an offense which led to an 18-month sentence at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. However, he was released early, being granted a new trial which would never take place, as four important witnesses turned up missing – a situation that proved permanent.
Early in his organized crime career, Anastasia served in a gang led by Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Anastasia was always a devoted follower of others, primarily Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello. His devotion to Luciano knew no bounds. His paternal neice Louise Anastasia and her husband Joseph Cataldo, the brother of Dominick Cataldo had stood with Gambino crime family associate Salvatore Polisi and his wife Rose Marie Noto when Father Joseph Greenfelder baptized Salvatore's youngest son, Joseph Polisi at St. Elizabeth's Church in Ozone Park, New York.
In 1930, Luciano finalized his plans to take over the organized crime rackets in New York by destroying the two old-line Mafia factions headed by Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano outlined his plot to Anastasia, who joined him and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in the plot. Anastasia assured Luciano that he would kill everyone for Luciano to reach the top. Anastasia knew that if Luciano ran the National Crime Syndicate, he would eventually get a "piece of the action." Anastasia therefore participated in the four-man death squad that gunned down Masseria in Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant, on 15 April 1931.
With the subsequent murder of Salvatore Maranzano, Luciano became the preeminent mobster in America. To avoid the power struggles and turf disputes that led to the Castellammarese War, Luciano established the National Crime Syndicate (more familiarly known as the "Commission") consisting of the major family bosses from around the country and the so-called "five families" of New York. The Commission was meant to serve as a deliberative body to solve disputes, carve up and distribute territories, and regulate lucrative illegal activities such as, racketeering, gambling, and bootlegging (which would come to a close with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933).
To reward Anastasia's loyalty, Luciano placed him and Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, the nation's leading labor racketeer, in control of the The Commission's enforcement arm, The Boys From Brooklyn (now known as Murder Incorporated). Murder, Inc. was a group of mainly Jewish killers that operated out of the back room of Midnight Rose's, a candy store in the Brownsville section (of Brooklyn, New York). The gang consisted of mostly Jewish-American gangsters. During its ten years of operation, it is estimated that Murder Inc. committed between 400 and 700 murders, many of which were never solved. Unlike Lepke and many other members of Murder, Inc., Anastasia was never prosecuted for any of these murders. It is doubted by some that he even was involved, since as the boss of a family, he had his own killers to use if needed. During this period, Anastasia's business card claimed that he was a "sales representative" for the Convertible Mattress Corporation in Brooklyn, New York.
Murder, Inc. maintained its power until the early 1940s. After his arrest, hit man Abe "Kid Twist" Reles made a deal granting him immunity from prosecution. Reles' testimony helped convict many of the group's hit men, including co-boss Buchalter. In retaliation, Anastasia promised a $100,000 reward for Reles' death. On 12 November 1941, on the eve of his testimony, Reles was killed by being thrown out a window from a room guarded by police at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island.
In 1936, US Attorney Thomas Dewey convicted Luciano on a pandering charge. Some observers felt that the charges were a frame up depending on the testimony of prostitutes and minor criminals. Supposedly Luciano was so high in the mob structure that he would never have dealt with these people as they claimed. Luciano received a 30- to 50-year sentence. During World War II, Anastasia reportedly originated the plan to win a pardon for Luciano by helping the war effort.
With America needing allies in Sicily to advance the invasion of Italy, and the desire of the Navy to dedicate its resources to the war, Anastasia orchestrated a deal to obtain lighter treatment for Luciano while he was in prison, and after the war, a parole in trade for the mafia protecting the waterfront and Luciano's assistance with his associates in Sicily.
Anastasia's violent ways were contained as long as Luciano and Costello were in control. In 1951, Costello was regarded as being the prime mover in Anastasia's rise to boss of the Mangano (later Gambino) crime family.
Through the years, boss Vincent Mangano had fumed at Anastasia's closeness to Luciano, Costello, and others and that they obtained Anastasia's services without first seeking Mangano's permission. This and other business disputes almost led to blows between Mangano and Anastasia, and it was only a matter of time before one or the other was ordered killed. In early 1951, Vincent Mangano went missing, and his brother Phil was murdered. After the deaths of the Mangano brothers, Anastasia claimed control of the family with Costello's active support.
Vito Genovese cunningly used Anastasia's brutal behavior against him in an effort to woo Anastasia's supporters away. Secretly over the next few years, Genovese won the cooperation of Anastasia's underboss, Carlo Gambino. However, Genovese dared not move against Anastasia and his real target, Costello, because of Meyer Lansky, an influential and rich mob associate. Lansky and Genovese were long-standing enemies, with disputes dating from the 1920s. Genovese could not make a power play without Lansky's support.
Anastasia's ambition soon drove Lansky to help Genovese. During the 1950s, Lansky was extremely successful in controlling casino gambling in Cuba, offering other mafia bosses lesser shares of his profits and interests. When Anastasia forcefully demanded a larger piece of the action, Lansky refused. Anastasia then started establishing his own gambling racket in Cuba. Lansky became increasingly angry with Anastasia; while Lansky preferred watching Anastasia and Genovese battle each other from the sidelines, he now gave active support to Genovese's plan to kill Anastasia.
On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barbershop of the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel, on 56th Street and 7th Avenue) in New York City. Anastasia's bodyguard parked the car in an underground garage and then, most conveniently, decided to take a little stroll. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia allegedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen's reflections in the wall mirror of the barbershop. The gunmen continued firing and Albert Anastasia finally fell to the floor dead.
Like virtually all gangland killings, the Anastasia murder remains officially unsolved. It was originally alleged that the contract was given to Joe Profaci, who passed it on to the three Gallo brothers (including Crazy Joe Gallo) from Brooklyn. However, recent evidence has pointed the finger at a three-man hit team selected by "Joe the Blonde" Biondo, who became Carlo Gambino's underboss after the murder. Biondo is alleged to have selected Stephen Armone, Arnold "Witty" Wittenberg, and Stephen "Stevie Coogin" Grammauta. Grammauta, a convicted drug dealer and heroin smuggler, is currently regarded as a capo (captain) in the Gambino crime family.
The double-dealing did not cease with Anastasia's death in 1957. Carlo Gambino secretly deserted Vito Genovese, passing along knowledge of Genovese's desires to "rub out" his rivals, Luciano and Costello. Thus, Meyer Lansky, Luciano, Costello and Gambino conspired to entrap Genovese with a narcotics conviction that would result in a sentence of life imprisonment. In that sense Anastasia was avenged, but it was not with the abrupt finality that the brutal executioner would likely have preferred.
Anastasia was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, in Section 39, Lot 38325. After his assassination, the barber chairs at the Park Sheraton Hotel were turned around to face away from the mirror. During the summer of 2006, the barber chair that Anastasia occupied at the time of his assassination was placed on display in Little Italy, NYC during a public exhibition on the history of Organized Crime. For many years, evidently, the chair had resided in the private collection of the late comedian Henny Youngman.