Boardwalk Empire Season 5: The Real Joe Masseria

The story of the real Joe Masseria from Boardwalk Empire is at least as crazy and bloody as what you saw on the show.

“Joe the Boss” Masseria recently made a deal with Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire. He was willing to forgive the slaughter of his men and allow peace for a price. But Joe the Boss didn’t shake Nucky’s hand. He “wasn’t in the mood,” according to Lucky Luciano. On Boardwalk Empire, Joe the Boss is an old-style Mustache Pete who has his fingers in too many pockets and eats off too many plates. Giuseppe Masseria was known as “Joe the Boss” and “The Man Who Could Dodge Bullets.”

In his authorized biography, A Man of Honor, Joseph Bonanno described Masseria: “Though he was known as `Joe the Boss’ his insatiable appetite could have won him the nickname `Joe the Glutton.’ He attacked a plate of spaghetti as if he were a drooling mastiff. He had the table manners of a Hun.” Masseria headed what is now the Genovese crime family. On Boardwalk Empire, “Joe the Boss” is played by Ivo Nandi, who does a superb, though slow, Sicilian pronunciation.

Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria was born in Marsala, Sicily in 1886. He came to America just ahead of a Sicilian murder charge. Masseria got to New York during the Mafia-Camorra war, which was a battle between the Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra out of Naples, Italy. The war went on for three years and ended in 1917 with the Mafia swallowing up what was left of their Napolitani paisan. During the battle the neighborhood was run by the Morello family, which was fathered by Nicolò Terranova, AKA Nicholas “Nick” Morello, along with his brothers Ciro “the Artichoke King” and Vincenzo Terranova, and his half-brother Giuseppe Morello. The Terranovas were from Corleone, Sicily, yeah, that Corleone. The one little Vito Andolini escaped and had branded on his legal documents.

Nick Morello was killed in Brooklyn on Sept. 7, 1916 and Vincenzo Terranova took over as the father of the Morello crime family with Ciro stepping up as underboss. Salvatore D’Aquila took on the job of consigliere of all the New York families. Giuseppe Masseria led a little rebellion under the watchful eye of D’Aquila. Masseria got his reputation for dancing around bullets when a little payback was ordered. Two guys tried to take out Masseria on August 9, 1922, right outside his 2nd Avenue apartment. The crew shot up the store Masseria ducked into but ran out of bullets before they got Masseria. The hitters jumped on the running board of their getaway car and chased Masseria across East 5th Street blasting into a crowd of Ladies Garment Industry Union workers, shot six people, killed two and a horse. Masseria survived but had to get a new hat. Two bullets passed through his hat in the attempt. His ears were still ringing when the cops grabbed him. Masseria was known as “the man who can dodge bullets” until he met one he couldn’t dodge in 1931.

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Giuseppe Masseria became “Joe the Boss” of the Morello family after setting up Umberto Valenti for takedown in a deal with Peter Morello. The double cross was scheduled for a “curb exchange,” where bootleggers would get together and trade booze they might be short of, kind of “I got too much gin. I’ll trade you for whiskey” kind of thing. A shootout that started in a restaurant spilled out into the street. Stray bullets took out a street cleaner and an eight year old girl before finally hitting the target, Valenti, just a few steps from Police Headquarters. Word on the street is that “Salvatore from Fourteenth Street” Lucania was the final marksman. Salvatore came up through the Five Points Gang during their turf war with the Eastmans from across Bowery. Besides hitting Valenti, shots also caught his bodyguard, Silva Tagliagamba. Cops ran out of the precinct, caught Masseria and charged him with Tagliagamba’s murder. The case was delayed by Unione Siciliana for so long, everyone forgot about it.

Throughout the battle for crime dominance, Joe Masseria could legally carry a gun. His license was signed by no less than State Supreme Court Justice Selah B. Strong in 1922.

After Frankie Yale died in July 1928, Joe Masseria got it into his head that he wanted to be the boss of bosses of all the New York mob gangs. The first person he went after was the interfamily consigliere and Brooklyn boss Toto D’Aquila, who bought it on the street in October 1928. Alfred Mineo, a friend of Masseria, became the father of the D’Aquila family and took over the waterfront. One day Albert Anastasia would be the Czar of the waterfront.

Next on the Masseria hit-list was Frankie Marlow, who balked at a request to kick up to an old fashioned “Mustache Pete” like Joe the Boss. According to police ballistics, Marlow was shot with the same weapon that took out the North Side Gang in the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre and Frankie Yale. This all pointed to Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit and one of his associates, Fred “Killer” Burke, was arrested. Frankie Yale’s family was taken over by “Little Augie Pisano,” Anthony Carfano. Masseria was the head of the biggest mob gang in New York City. Even Gaetano Reina from the Bronx paid tribute.

Who didn’t come calling with hat in hand was the multi-ethnic “Broadway Mob”: Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky, Benny Siegel and Louis Lepke. Luciano was the only Sicilian in the bunch, but the Americanized racketeer had no interest in pricking his finger and watching a saint burn. It took Masseria a little time, and the district of Manhattan, to straighten Luciano out, but when he did, Masseria went after the last big Sicilian family not yet under his thumb.

The Castellamarese War started when Nicola “Cola” Schiro paid $10,000 to Masseria and pulled a Houdini. Masseria tried to set up Joe Parrino as head of the group, but Parrino was gunned down in a yet another restaurant slaying. Sicilian father, Don Vito Cascio Ferro sent Salvatore Maranzano to America to take care of things. In his memoirs, Joe Bonanno would call Salvatore Maranzano “Don Turridru” and described him in glowing terms. This was a “man of honor” who Bonanno knew from Sicily and Bonanno pledged an oath of loyalty. Maranzano based his crime structure on the military of the Roman Empire. Maranzano divided his army into squads and each soldier had to pledge loyalty to his squad leader. Maranzano was educated and refined, when he was young, he had studied to be a priest. Masseria sentenced Maranzano to death.

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Masseria put out an order for a similar piece of work to be done on Charlie Lucky. Masseria might have been more liberal than other “handlebar guys” who ran crime in New York, but he preferred to keep his business separate. Friendships were okay, but not combinations. Luciano, who was pulling in good scratch with the Big Seven combine, thought Masseria was behind the times. Masseria thought Lucky was getting too big. He called in Joseph Doto to do the job. Problem was Joseph Doto was better known as Joe Adonis, on account of his movie-star good looks, and he was a good friend and associate of Charlie Luciano.

Masseria dodged another bullet, several bullets, after a mob meeting in 1930, but on April 15, 1931 he finished his dance. Joe Masseria went to dinner with Luciano at Nuova Villa Tammaro in Coney Island. They played some cards when they finished eating. Luciano went to bathroom. He might have asked permission to go to the bathroom like Michael Corleone did in The Godfather. According to the book Murder Inc., by Sid Feder (page 77), Luciano took a little too long washing his hands and missed the impeachment proceedings of Joe the Boss. Twenty bullets sprayed the place. When it was over “The Boss (ex) was slumped over. His right arm was pushed out straight, as if it had been his play with the cards. His hand laid frozen on the gleaming cloth. The lone bright spot of the Ace of Diamonds sparkled up from his lifeless palm.” Ace of Diamonds were a sore spot ever after. Word on the street is that Benny Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis were the shooters. The picture shows and The New York Daily News reported that the card was an ace of spades and both have gone into legend. The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune never fingered Luciano in their reports.

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