Stories about the Italian mafia has been a constant source fascination and the inspiration for books, films, and true crime documentaries for years. Even though they’re often portrayed as rise-and-fall stories, the mafia lifestyle has been romanticized and glamorized when we think The Godfather movies, and Martin Scorsese’s Casino and Goodfellas. The fascination with gangsters has shown little sign of slowing down in recent years, with huge hits like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire on our television screens.
Despite them being very violent shows where the outcomes are not always positive ones for the characters we grew to love, it is still very easy to get caught up and feeling inspired by the money, power, and lifestyles they lead.
While pop culture helped add a certain amount of mystique to the mafia and their lifestyle, it’s easy to forget the blatant brutality in the way they have operated for over one hundred years. The most obvious difference is that real lives are lost, innocents get caught in the crossfire, and the families of those involved feel the repercussions for years to come. Here we take a look at 15 important figures in that mafia that show that a life of crime can often have a less than a glamorous ending for those who cross their peers.
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15 Bugsy Siegel - A Failure In Vegas
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was a Jewish American gangster that was one of the original members of the infamous Murder, Inc., a national crime syndicate of organized crime families that brought power to the criminal underworld. He’s also one of the most culturally referenced mobsters of all time with his life being adapted to the big screen in Bugsy when he was played by Warren Beatty, and Michael Zegan in Boardwalk Empire.
On the night of June 20, 1947, Siegel was found dead. Although the crime has never been officially solved, many experts have concluded that The Syndicate put a contract on Siegal’s life because he stole from the mob and his excessive spending put his Las Vegas gaming operation out of business on his first attempt.
14 Angelo Musitano - Revenge 20 Years In The Making
The Musitano crime family is a ‘Ndrangheta Mafia organization that operates in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Their main rivals Papalia crime family. In 1997, the Musitano brothers Pat and Angelo ordered the hits of Papalia crime boss Johnny Papalia and his right-hand man, Carmen Barillo, in a dispute over gambling money. After the hitman confessed, the Musitanos were sentenced to 10 years for their part in the crime.
Almost exactly twenty years after Papalia passed away, Angelo Musitano was found in his driveway.
Apparently, Angelo Musitano left behind the life of crime and found God, but as this incident proves, even when you're trying to lead a normal life after being a high-ranking member of the Mafia the past has a way of catching up to you.
13 Antonio Caponigro - He Went Against The Commission
Antonio “Tony Bananas” Caponigro was the consigliere of Angelo “The Gentle Don” Bruno, whom he also ordered the "finishing" of. Apparently, Bruno’s preference to finding a peaceful solution with The Five Families over control of the lucrative gambling opportunities in Atlantic City didn’t go down well with Caponigro. As a result, Caponigro organized the murder of “The Gentle Don” under the assumption that the contract was sanctioned by The Commission (The Syndicate).
However, Frank Tieri, the Commission member who organized it with Caponigro, denied any involvement. As a result, The Commission ruled that the attack was unauthorized and they sentenced Caponigro to death.
12 "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn - St. Valentine's Day Retribution
“Machine Gun” Jack McGurn is an enforcer, former boxer, one of the key members of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit, and allegedly one of the men involved in the planning and execution of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, despite getting his wife to be his alibi for the entire day.
Despite seemingly getting away with the crime, McGurn's life seemed to spiral out of control. He was arrested for a separate offence, and as a result lost everything, his money, homes, and cars.
A day after the seventh anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 15, 1936, McGurn was assassinated by three men in the Avenue Bowling Alley in Chicago. The unknown men left a Valentine card next to his body with a poem that read:
“You've lost your job, you've lost your dough, Your jewels and cars and handsome houses, But things could still be worse you know... At least you haven't lost your trousers!"
11 Mob Widow - Testified Against The Mob
In the coastal city of Taranto, Italy, on March 2014, 3-year-old Domenico Petruzelli, his mother Carla Fornari, and her partner Cosimo Orlando were forced off the road in their family car. They were found by police, and the police believed that members of the Sacra Corona Unita, a mafia organization from Puglia, were to blame.
It is likely that Carla angered the mafia by testifying against her husband's murderers in 2011 when she was still pregnant with Domenico. Unfortunately, like many others with the courage to stand up to the mafia, things didn't end well.
10 The Most Infamous Day In Mafia History
The Chicago St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is the name given to one of the most infamous and violent incidents in USA Mafia history. The incident occurred on February 14, 1929, when seven mobsters from the Chicago North Side gang (under the control of George “Bugs" Moran) were killed by four assailants in retaliation for moving in on Al Capone’s bootlegging trade and killing two of Capone’s high ranking associates, Pasqualino “Patsy” Lolordo and Antonio “The Scourge” Lombardo.
The intention was to attack Moran and three of his lieutenants by luring them to a warehouse supposedly filled with cut-price whiskey supplied by the Detroit Purple Gang (associates of Capone). Two of the attackers were dressed in police uniforms and carrying shotguns and ordered the seven victims to line up against the wall. Finally, the "officers" signalled to another two men dressed in civilian clothes armed with Thompson sub-machine guns and the four opened fire.
9 George Byrum - One Bad Decision Leads To Another
The victim of a mafia revenge, former Golden Beach police officer George Byrum, ran his own electrical engineering business. Unfortunately for Byrum, he had run up numerous debts, including a $50,000 debt to a loan shark.
Struggling to keep up repayments Byrum made a grave mistake when he tipped off two burglars about a Florida vacation home he worked on, singling it out as an easy target for a share of the proceeds. That home belonged to Anthony “Nino” Gaggi, a captain in the New York Gambino crime family. The two burglars tied up, beat and robbed Gaggi, and feeling humiliated, Gaggi wanted retribution.
Thinking his luck was finally taking a turn for the better, Byrum was lured to the Ocean Shore Motel in Miami under the pretence of a new electrical wiring contract. When he arrived, Gaggi and fellow Gambino associate Roy DeMeo was waiting for him. Byrum's body was discovered in the bathroom by the motel chambermaid the following morning.
8 Giovanni Falcone - Going After The Wrong People
Giovanna Falcone was an Italian magistrate that not only couldn’t be bought or bribed by the mob, but dedicated his life and career to prosecuting the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Falcone, along with other prosecuting magistrates Paolo Borsellino, Rocco Chinnici, Giuseppe Di Lello, and Leonardo Guarnotta, laid the groundwork for what became known as the Maxi Trial, which brought criminal charges against 475 defendants associated with the Mafia.
On May 23, 1992, Falcone, his wife and three of his bodyguards were found dead.
7 Anthony Spilotro - Causing Too Many Problems For The Chicago Outfit
Anthony Spilotro was an enforcer for the Chicago Outfit and suspected of killing as many as 130 people. He was sent to Las Vegas, Nevada to oversee the outfit’s casino profits in skimming and embezzlement schemes. Those familiar with the Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino will remember the character Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, who is based on Spilotro.
Apparently, Spilotro caused the Chicago Outfit a lot of problems and he lost them a lot of money. He faced three indictments, and three of his men chose to become government witnesses. As a result, the Chicago Outfit ordered Anthony Spilotro's and his brother Michael’s murder.
On January 1986, the brothers were lured to a basement with a promise of promotion for Tony and having Michael become a “made man.” Things did not end well for them.
6 Francesco Raccosta - 60-Year Turf War
As part of a bloody 60-year turf war between two clans that belong to the ‘Ndrangheta mafia in Calabria, mob boss Francesco Raccosta was found on March 13, 2012. This was an act of revenge for the death of rival mafia boss, Domenico Bonarrigo, which occurred 10 days earlier.
Raccosta's remains were disposed of in the most horrific way imaginable, which was similar to a particularly memorable scene from the movie Hannibal that featured pigs.
5 Carmine Galante - Went Out The Way He Lived
Carmine “cigar” Galante got his nickname because he was very rarely ever seen in public without a cigar in his mouth. He was the boss of the Bonanno crime family, from the time he seized power from rightful heir Joseph Bonanno in 1974 to his death in 1979. In the late 1970s, Galante organized the "finishing" of eight members of the Gambino family so he could have full control over a drug-trafficking operation, without sharing any of the profits with the other crime families.
As a result, The Commission wanted retribution and ordered Galante’s demise. In a twist of irony, Carmine "Cigar" Galante passed away with a cigar still in his mouth.
4 Tommy DeSimone - A Goodfella No More
This mobster also gained notoriety through the film Goodfellas, and his role was played by Joe Pesci. The character Pesci played is known to fans as Tommy DeVito, who was based on the real-life mobster Tommy DeSimone, who earned nicknames like "Two-Gun Tommy" and "Animal."
The major difference between the DeVito character and DeSimone was their size; the real-life Tommy was 6'2" bodybuilder who weighed 225 lbs, which is quite the contrast to Pesci’s 5'4" frame. Tommy’s ferocity, cruelty, and viciousness, however, was absolutely accurate, according to fellow mobster Henry Hill.
Although DeSimone’s body has never been found, evidence seems to suggest that two major factors played into his demise. The first was $250,000 from a mob heist went missing after his informant girlfriend stole it, and the second was that he "finished" two of John Gotti’s friends. It widely believed that Gotti carried out the hit himself.
3 Danny Grillo - Deemed A Liability By His Superiors
Edward “Danny” Grillo was a member of the Gambino crime family and worked under Capo Anthony Gaggi, and Roy DeMeo. He was a major factor in the alliance between the Gambino and Westies families, as well as contributing factor to his boss Roy DeMeo becoming a “made man” when he helped "dispose" of a loan shark and Genovese Family member Ruby Stein.
However, after falling into massive debt with his boss DeMeo and being perceived as weak by his superiors, Grillo would suffer the same fate as his victim Stein. After he was summoned by DeMeo, Grillo kissed his family goodbye, left behind his wallet, and was disposed of at the infamous Gemini Lounge in Brooklyn, New York.
2 Paul Castellano - Jealousy And Revenge
Paul “ Big Paulie” Castellano was one of the most powerful, influential, and dangerous mob bosses in the world. In 1978, he had a net worth of $26 billion, which would be the equivalent of around $75 billion dollars in 2017. During his 9-year rule, he seemed to have a hand in just about every major legal and illegal industry imaginable, from housing and urban development, to meat and produce, and extortion and illegal gambling.
It is was rumored that he was considered very ruthless and treacherous. Unsurprisingly, Castellano made a lot of enemies even in his own crew. These included the up-and-coming John Gotti, who resented Castellano’s power, and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. Gotti and Gravano conspired get rid of Castellano and take his power.
Castellano was found on December 16, 1985.
1 Ice Man Richard Kuklinski - Mob Hitman
Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski was a hitman for the DeCavalcante crime family and The Five Families of New York. He was given the “Iceman” nickname for his method of freezing his victims. His business partners called him "The Devil," and he was one of the mobs most feared killers.
Psychiatrists have stated that for all intents and purposes, the mob gave Kuklinski a platform to act out his horrific urges. In his interviews, you can tell he truly enjoyed telling his stories for HBO's "Ice Man" Confessions Of A Mob Hit Man.
Kuklinski was set to give evidence against the mob, but passed away suddenly of a rare blood condition. Although it's never been proven, many have suggested that foul play was involved because of the convenient timing.
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