Salvatore Maranzano (July 31, 1886 - September 10, 1931) was an organized crime figure from the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, and an early Cosa Nostra boss in the United States. He was the first and only official "Boss of Bosses" of the American Mafia.
As a youngster, Maranzano had wanted to become a Catholic priest and even studied to become one, but later became associated with the Mafia in his homeland. Maranzano had a very commanding presence, and was greatly respected by his underworld peers. He had a fascination with Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire and enjoyed talking to his less-educated American mafia counterparts about these subjects.
Maranzano came to the United States in 1925, settling in Brooklyn. While building a legitimate business as a real estate broker, he also maintained a growing bootleg liquor business. He soon became the leader of a large cluster of mafiosi from Castellammare del Golfo, including Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, and Stefano Magaddino. All of them had been sent to the United States by Vito Cascio Ferro, the leading Mafia boss in Sicily, with orders to organize the American Mafia and bring it under Don Vito's control. However, Don Vito was arrested and later died in a Fascist prison. Maranzano then decided to organize the American Mafia under his control.
Maranzano began to invade the territory of Joe "The Boss" Masseria. Maranzano hijacked truckloads of Masseria's liquor and started taking over Masseria's bars. This led to a bloody underworld battle known as the Castellammarese War. While outnumbered at the outset of the war, Maranzano and his fellow Castellamarese grew stronger as the war progressed. The war ended after one of Masseria's lieutenants, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, helped orchestrate Masseria's murder in April 1931 in return for being considered an equal to Maranzano.
Maranzano was now the most powerful gangster in New York. Two weeks after Masseria's murder, Maranzano called together several hundred Mafiosi at a banquet hall at an undisclosed location in Upstate New York. Maranzano laid out his vision of a new gangland, structured on hierarchical lines. The New York Mafia would be organized into Five Families, headed by Luciano, Profaci, Vincent Mangano, Thomas Gagliano and Joseph Bonnano. In addition, Maranzano created a position for himself— Boss of All Bosses.
Maranzano also laid rules for a Mafia Commission; among other things, he outlawed random killings, and he prohibited anyone in The Commission from talking about the Mafia or its activities to anyone outside, even if the outsider was just the gangster's wife. Anyone who broke any of these rules would be punished by death.
To signal his dominance to the other bosses, Maranzano called a meeting in Wappingers Falls, New York of Al Capone and other influential mafiosi nationwide to tell them that he was now the leader of New York mafia operations.
However, Maranzano's scheming, his arrogant treatment of his subordinates, and his fondness for comparing his organization to the Roman Empire (he attempted to model the organization after Caesar's military chain of command) did not sit well with Luciano and his ambitious friends, like Genovese, Frank Costello and others. Luciano came to believe that Maranzano was more power-hungry than Masseria had been.Despite his advocacy for modern methods of organization, including capos overseeing crews that did the bulk of the families' work, many younger mafiosi resented him as a "Mustache Pete"—an old-school mafioso too steeped in Old World ways. For instance, he was opposed to Luciano's partnership with non-Italian gangsters such as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. In fact, Luciano and his colleagues had intended all along to bide their time before getting rid of Maranzano as well.
Maranzano realized this soon enough, and began planning the murder of Luciano, Genovese, Costello and others. Maranzano did not act quickly enough, though: by the time he hired Mad Dog Coll to murder Luciano and Genovese, Luciano, aided by Meyer Lansky, had already found out about Maranzano's plans. Luciano arranged for Samuel "Red" Levine and three other gangsters provided by Lansky to go to Maranzano's offices on September 10, 1931, posing as police detectives. Once inside his office on the 9th floor of The Helmsley Building, they disarmed Maranzano's guards. The four men then shot and stabbed Salvatore Maranzano to death. As they fled down the stairs, they met Coll on his way upstairs for his appointment with Maranzano. They warned him that there had been a raid, and he fled too.
Following Maranzano's death, Luciano and his colleagues reorganized the Five Families and abolished the position of "capo di tutti capi." Most of Maranzano's crime family was inherited by Bonanno and became known as the Bonanno family.
Maranzano's wife, Elisabetta, died in 1964. Both are buried in Saint John's Cemetery, Queens, located in New York City, buried near the graves of Luciano and Genovese.
Maranzano played a small fictional role in Mario Puzo's The Godfather. Maranzano refused Don Vito Corleone's proposal to share his monopolized control over the gambling rackets in New York City, in exchange for police and political contacts and expansion into Brooklyn and the Bronx. This sparked the great mob war of 1933. Maranzano, purportedly good friends with Al Capone, arranged for two of Capone's gunmen to come to New York to take care of things, and finish Corleone. These gunmen were swiftly taken care of by Luca Brasi. With Capone's humiliation, and the odds even up, Corleone then sent the reserve of Tessio's regime after Maranzano. Maranzano's soldiers were deserting him, fleeing his losing cause. Desperate for peace, Maranzano agreed to sit down with Corleone in a restaurant in Brooklyn. Maranzano's bodyguards fled the restaurant as Tessio and four of his men came in and shot Maranzano to death while he still had half-chewed bread in his mouth.