Police Of 3 Nations Probe Luciano Death

"Naples, Jan. 27 [1962] - Police from the United States, Spain and Italy today pressed investigations into the sudden death of Lucky Luciano at Naples airport last evening. Reports circulated here that the onetime vice king of New York may have tried suicide to avoid his impending arrest in a crackdown on an international narcotics ring."

- Sunday News, January 28, 1962

Salvatore Lucania was born before the turn of the century near Palermo, Sicily. He came to the U.S. in 1906. In 1907 he was arrested for the first time, for shoplifting. He ran with a tough crowd, and went bad early, changing his name to Charles Luciano.

In elementary school he started his first protection racket, offering not to beat up other kids on the way to class. One kid who wouldn't pay was Meyer Lansky who would become a major force in the rackets of the American Mafia. After a fight which neither could win, the two became close friends and partners in crime.

Lansky and Luciano made a near perfect team. Both were visionaries of crime. Luciano saw the Mafia had to have working relationships with other ethnic organized crime groups to expand their already huge profits. But to make way for this new, multiethnic mob, the old-line Sicilian bosses would have to go. Years of planning and deal making put Luciano in the right place to bump off both Joe the Boss Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano - bosses of the two rival Sicilian mobs. Luciano called on Lansky to provide the killers to take out Masseria, and Lansky happily supplied Bugsy Siegel and a few others. The job was done in an Italian eatery on Coney Island.

From there Luciano's career began to really take off. Together with Lansky and several other leading lights of organized crime, including Dutch Schultz, Louis (Lepke) Buchalter and others, Luciano in 1931 began organizing crime in a new and revolutionary way.

Instead of fighting amongst themselves for the biggest share of the pie, crime families would agree to arbitrate their differences through a board, called the Commission, made up of leaders from the main Mafia families in New York plus Lansky and others from around the nation. Each family would be completely autonomous within their own territory, but any new territory would be divided up according to decisions of the Commission. Anyone who went against the Commission's decisions was subject to the typical form of Mafia discipline, death.

To enforce these rules, Murder, Inc. was founded. Luciano didn't get long to enjoy his new power. In 1936 Luciano was arrested on prostitution charges and then convicted. The sentence was 30 to 50 years. One of the heaviest ever handed down for such a crime.

But Luciano wasn't destined to spend the rest of his life in jail. In 1946 he was released by New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey for services he performed on behalf of the war effort. It is said Luciano helped improve security along the waterfront and may even have assisted in the Allied invasion of Italy through encouraging the Mafia there join the resistance to Mussolini.

On his release, Luciano was deported to Italy where he continued to influence the American Mafia and receive his cut. After Albert Anastasia was killed in 1957, Luciano became less and less powerful, though up until his death he was suspected of drug trafficking. "Friends of the dapper gangster said today that Luciano was a broken man after the death of Igea Lissoni [his longtime girlfriend]. They also said that he gave the impression when he talked that he never intended to go back to jail again."

- Sunday News, January 28, 1962

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