"Naples, Jan. 27  - 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
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
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