Carlo Gambino (August 24, 1902 – October 15, 1976) was a Sicilian mobster, notable for being Boss of the Gambino crime family, which is still named after him.

After the 1957 Apalachin Convention he unexpectedly seized control of the Commission of the American Mafia.

He lived to the age of 74, and died of a heart attack in bed, “In a state of grace” (according to a priest who had given him the Last Rites of the Catholic Church), having never spent a day in prison.

In the 1996 TV film “Gotti”, Carlo Gambino is played by Marc Lawrence.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That’s the Hollywood version.

Here’s the history:

Gambino’s Early Life

Carlo Gambino was born in the town of Caccamo, near the city of Palermo, Sicily. He was born to a family that belonged to the Honored Society.

The Honored Society was slightly more complicated than the Black Hand of America, which was often confused with the American Mafia. The Black Hand – much like the pre-1920s Mafia – was a highly disorganized version of the real European Mafia.

When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini chased a large number of real Mafiosi out of Italy, Italian-Americans such as Gambino benefited from the new, better-organized Mafia.

The young Gambino began carrying out murder orders for new Mob bosses in his teens.

In 1921, at the age of 19, he became a “made man” and was inducted into La Cosa Nostra.


Gambino entered the United States as an illegal immigrant on a shipping boat. He ate nothing but anchovies and wine during the month long trip, and joined his cousins, the Castellanos, in New York City. There he joined a crime family headed by Salvatore “Totò” D’Aquila – one of the larger crime families in the city. Gambino’s uncle, Giuseppe Castellano, also joined the D’Aquila family around this time.

Gangland Links

Gambino also became involved with the “Young Turks”, a group of Americanized Italian and Jewish mobsters in New York which included Frank “Prime Minister” Costello, Albert “The Executioner” Anastasia, Frank Scalice, Settimo Accardi, Gaetano “Tommy Three-Finger Brown” Lucchese, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Mickey Cohen, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

They all became involved in robbery, thefts, and illegal gambling.

With their new partner, Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, they turned to bootlegging during Prohibition in the early 1920s.

Gambino also made a sizable profit during World War II, by bribing Office of Price Administration (OPA) officials for ration stamps, which he then sold on the black market.

The Castellammarese War

By 1926, Luciano’s immediate superior, Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria was coming into conflict with Salvatore Maranzano, a recent arrival from Palermo who was born in Castellammare del Golfo.

When Maranzano arrived in New York in 1925, his access to money and manpower led him to become involved in extortion and gambling operations that directly competed with Masseria.

On October 10, 1928, Joe Masseria eliminated D’Aquila, his top rival for the coveted title of “Boss of Bosses” (Capo di Tutti Capi). However, Masseria still had to deal with the powerful and influential Maranzano and his Castellammarese Clan.

Gambino was thrown directly into the line of fire.

Masseria demanded absolute loyalty and obedience from other criminals in his area, and killed anyone who gave him anything less.

In 1930, Masseria demanded a $10,000 tribute from Maranzano’s then boss, Nicola “Cola” Schiro, and supposedly got it. Schiro fled New York in fear, leaving Maranzano as the new leader.

By 1931, a series of killings in New York involving Castellammarese clan members and associates caused Maranzano and his family to declare war against Joe Masseria and his allies.

D’Aquila’s family, now headed by Alfred Mineo, sided with Masseria. In addition to Gambino, other prominent members of this family included Luciano associates Albert “The Mad Executioner” Anastasia, and Frank Scalice.

The Castellammarese clan included Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno and Stefano Magaddino, the Profaci crime family, which included Joseph Profaci and Joseph Magliocco, and former Masseria allies the Riena family, which included Gaetano “Tom” Reina, Gaetano “Tommy” Gagliano, and Gaetano “Tommy Three-Finger Brown” Lucchese.

The War raged on between the Masseria and Maranzano factions for almost four years.

Bad for Business

This inter-gang war devastated the Prohibition-era operations and street rackets that the five New York families controlled in parallel with the Irish and Jewish crime groups. The war cut into their profits, and in some cases completely destroyed the underworld rackets of crime family members.

Several Young Turks on both sides started realizing that if the war did not stop soon, the Italian crime families would be left on the fringe of New York’s criminal underworld, while the Jewish and Irish crime bosses became dominant.

Additionally, they felt that Masseria, Maranzano and other old-school Mafiosi (whom they derisively called “Mustache Petes”) were too greedy to see the riches that could be had by working with non-Italians.

With this in mind, Gambino and the other Young Turks decided to end the Castellammarese War and form a national syndicate.

On April 15, 1931, Masseria was gunned down at Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant in Coney Island by Luciano associates Anastasia, Adonis, Genovese, and Siegel. Maranzano then named himself capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses).

In the major reorganization of the New York Mafia that followed, Vincent Mangano took over the Mineo family, with Anastasia as his underboss and Gambino as a capo. They kept these posts after Maranzano was fatally stabbed and shot on September 10, 1931.

The Commission

In 1931, Luciano created The Commission, which was supposed to avoid big conflicts like the Castellammarese War. The charter members were Luciano, Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano and Mangano.

Gambino married his first cousin, Catherine Castellano, in 1932, at age 30. They raised three sons and a daughter.

Gambino became a major earner in the Mangano family. His activities included loansharking, illegal gambling and extorting protection money from area merchants.

Despite this, Gambino lived in a modest, well-kept row house in Brooklyn. The only real evidence of vanity was the license plate on his Buick, CG1.

The Manganos

Mangano was displeased with Anastasia’s friendship with Luciano and Frank Costello, especially since they frequently used Anastasia’s services without Mangano’s permission.

Anastasia had been, since the 1930s, the operating head (“Lord High Executioner”) of the syndicate’s most notorious death squad, Murder, Inc., which was allegedly responsible for some 1,000 murders.

Mangano and his brother, Phil, supposedly confronted Anastasia several times, in front of Gambino. Eventually, Anastasia stopped asking permission for “every little thing” – further angering the Manganos.

On April 19, 1951, Philip Mangano was found murdered.

Vincent Mangano himself vanished the very same day, and was never found.

It is widely presumed that Anastasia killed them both.

Though Anastasia never admitted to having a hand in the killings, he managed to convince the heads of the other families that Vincent Mangano had been plotting to have him killed – a claim backed up by Frank Costello, the acting boss of the Luciano crime family.

Anastasia was named the new boss of the family, with Gambino as his underboss. Shortly afterward, Gambino’s cousin and brother-in-law, Paul “Big Paul” Castellano (Giuseppe’s son), took over as capo of Gambino’s old crew.

Gambino was now one of the most powerful mobsters in the business, making profits from extortion, illegal gambling, hijacking, bootlegging, and murder.


Anastasia’s violent ways could be contained so long as Luciano and Frank Costello acted as a moderating influence, but certain mobsters (most notably Vito Genovese) doubted whether this could go on, forever.

These doubts resurfaced in 1952, when Anastasia ordered the murder of a young Brooklyn tailor’s assistant named Arnold Schuster, after watching Schuster speaking on television about his role as primary witness in fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton’s arrest.

In killing Schuster, Anastasia had violated a cardinal Mafia rule against killing outsiders.

As Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel once quaintly put it, “We only kill each other.”

The murder brought unnecessary public scrutiny of Mafia business.

Luciano and Costello were horrified, but could not take action against Anastasia, since Genovese was angling to take over the Luciano family as well – and they needed Anastasia to counter Genovese’s growing ambition and power.

Genovese knew this as well, and in early 1957 convinced Gambino to side with him against Anastasia, Costello and Luciano.

On Genovese’s advice, Gambino told Anastasia that they were not making enough money from the casinos in Cuba, which belonged to Meyer Lansky.

When Anastasia confronted Lansky, he was furious, and seemingly threw his support to the Genovese-Gambino alliance.

Shortly thereafter, Genovese moved against Costello by hiring Vincent “Chin” Gigante to assassinate him. The attempt failed, but it frightened Costello enough to ask the Commission for permission to retire – which they granted.


Genovese took over the family, and renamed it the Genovese crime family.

With Costello out of the way, Genovese then moved against Anastasia.

At the time, Gambino was worried that Anastasia was jealous of his wealth and influence, and would have him killed.


Gambino was convinced by Genovese to lend his support, giving the order to “Joe the Blonde” Biondo.

Biondo selected Stephen Armone, Arnold “Witty” Wittenberg, and Stephen “Stevie Coogin” Grammauta to carry out the hit. They allegedly shot Anastasia on October 25, 1957, in the barbershop of the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel) in New York City.

Gambino became the new boss of the Mangano crime family – which was renamed the Gambino crime family.

Apalachin: Genovese’s Fall

Genovese believed that with Costello and Anastasia out of the way, and Gambino supposedly in his debt, the way was clear for him to become Boss of Bosses.

However, Gambino had his own ideas. He secretly allied himself with Luciano, Costello and Lansky.

The alliance gained further strength after the Apalachin Conference, which was supposedly set up to formally crown Genovese as Boss of Bosses, but ended in disaster with several prominent Mafiosi being arrested.

Soon afterward, Costello, Luciano, and Lansky met face to face in Italy.

In 1959, Genovese was heading to Atlanta where a huge shipment of heroin was arriving. But when he got there, Genovese was surprised by local police, the FBI and the ATF. He was convicted for selling a large quantity of heroin and was sentenced to 15 years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Genovese would later die in prison of a heart attack, in 1969.

Boss of Bosses

From the early 1960s, Gambino expanded his rackets all over the country.

New Gambino businesses were created in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Gambino also (to regain complete control of Manhattan) took over the New York Longshoremen Union, where more than 90% of all New York City’s ports were controlled.

Money rolled in from every source, and the Gambinos became America’s most powerful crime family.

Gambino also made his own family policy: “Deal and Die.”

This was Gambino’s message to every Gambino family member.

Heroin and cocaine were highly lucrative, but dangerous – and would also attract attention. The punishment for dealing drugs, in Gambino style, was death.

The Gambino family now had at least 500 (some sources say 700 or 800) soldiers within 30 crews, making the family a $500,000,000-a-year-enterprise.

In 1962, Carlo’s eldest son Thomas Gambino married the daughter of fellow mob boss Gaetano Lucchese, the new head of the Gagliano crime family. More than 1,000 people, relatives, friends, and “friends of ours”, (amico nostro) were present during the wedding ceremony.

It has been rumored that Gambino personally gave Lucchese $30,000 as a “welcome gift” that same day.

As repayment, Lucchese cut his friend into the airport rackets that were under Lucchese control – especially at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where all unions, management, and security were controlled by Lucchese himself.

After Joe Bonanno was forced into retirement by The Commission, Vito Genovese died of a heart attack, and Tommy Lucchese died of a brain tumor, Gambino’s status and power on The Commission greatly increased.

While the Mafia had abolished the title of “boss of bosses”, Gambino’s position afforded him the powers such a title would have carried, as he was now the boss of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful crime family in the country, and head of The Commission – a position only Luciano had held before Gambino.

Profaci and the Gallos

In February 1962, the Gallo brothers kidnapped a number of prominent members of the Profaci family, including underboss Joseph Magliocco and capo Joe Colombo.

In return for their release, the brothers demanded changes in the way profits were being divided up, and at first Profaci appeared to agree. But he was simply biding his time.

Gallo crew member Joseph “Joe Jelly” Gioelli was murdered by Profaci’s men in September, and an attempt on Larry Gallo’s life was interrupted by policemen in a Brooklyn bar.

In response, the brothers set about attacking Profaci’s men wherever they saw them, as all-out war erupted between the two factions. Meanwhile, Gambino and Lucchese were putting pressure on the other bosses to convince Profaci to step down from his title and family, but on June 6, 1962, Profaci lost his battle against cancer.

He was replaced as boss of the family by Joseph Magliocco.

Conspiracy Against The Commission

With the Gallos out of the way, Joe Bonanno now hatched a plot to murder the heads of the other three families, which Magliocco decided to go along with.

The assassinations came to the knowledge of Profaci capo, Joseph Colombo, who warned Gambino about Magliocco and Bonanno’s conspiracy against the Commission.

Bonanno and Magliocco were called to face judgement.

While Bonanno went into hiding, Magliocco faced up to his crimes. Understanding that he had been following Bonanno’s lead, he was let off with a $50,000 fine, and forced to retire as the head of the family, being replaced by Joseph Colombo.

One month later, Magliocco died of high blood pressure.

But Gambino had other plans for Bonanno.

The Banana War (1962-1967)

After Magliocco’s death, Bonanno had few allies left.

Many members felt that he was too power hungry. Some members of his family also thought he spent too much time away from New York, and more in Canada and Tucson, where he had business interests.

The Commission members decided that he no longer deserved leadership over his family, and replaced him with a caporegime, Gaspar DiGregorio.

Bonanno, however, would not accept this result.

He broke the family into two groups, the one led by DiGregorio, and the other headed by Bonanno and his son, Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno. Newspapers referred to it as “The Banana Split.”

Since Bonanno refused to give up his position, the other Commission members felt it was time for drastic action.

In October 1964, Bonanno was kidnapped by Buffalo crime family members, Peter and Antonino Magaddino. According to Bonanno, he was held captive in upstate New York by his cousin, Stefano “Steve the Undertaker” Magaddino, who supposedly represented the Commission and Gambino.

After much talk, Bonanno was released, and the Commission members believed he would retire and relinquish his power.

Not so. The war went on for another two years.

Bonanno loyalists were starting to sense victory, but when Bonanno suffered a heart attack, he decided that he and his son should retire to Tucson, leaving his broken family to another capo, Paul Sciacca (who had replaced DiGregorio).

Gambino now stood as the victorious and most powerful mob boss in the U.S.

Vegas, and Sinatra

Gambino was seen at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas on August 2, 1967, where he is supposed to have met Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, the group known as “The Rat Pack.”

Gambino allegedly gave each of them $10,000 after performing at the Desert Inn, while Gambino was present in the VIP-lounge.

Gambino also allegedly said to Castellano: “I want a picture of me and Frankie”. Sinatra of course, happily obliged and Gambino, Castellano and other mobsters got a picture with Sinatra in the middle.

Sinatra would later testify about this in court, but announced that he didn’t know any Carlo Gambino. However, it got to a point where he had to explain why he was attending the Havana Conference in Cuba in 1946, showing up with $2,000,000 in a silver suitcase and a picture that showed Sinatra, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Albert “The Executioner” Anastasia, and Carlo Gambino having a drink by a pool.

The Colombo Assassination

It has been suggested that Gambino organized the shooting of Joe Colombo, head of the Colombo crime family, on June 28, 1971. Colombo survived the shooting, but remained in a coma until his death in 1977.

The other allegation is that Profaci family rival Gallo organized the attack himself. It seems that the rest of the Colombo family believed the latter theory, as Gallo was gunned down, not long after.

Many powerful members of The Commission were angry with Joe Columbo for having founded the Italian-American Civil Rights League, and glorying in publicity. Gambino in particular hated publicity, preferring to work in the shadows, and was said to have been quite upset with Columbo about this.

Gallo had recently been in prison, where he had formed close associations with black prisoners who could serve as muscle – a fact that was well known to Gambino. Colombo was shot at a CIAO (Congress of Italo-America Organizations; an umbrella organization that included Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League) rally by a black man who was almost instantly shot and killed.

If Gambino was responsible, it was a master stroke. He was rid of a publicity seeking thorn in his side, and had got the Colombo family to eliminate Gallo, whose propensity for disruptive violence also displeased the Don.

Watchful Eyes

From December 1972, on Ocean Parkway, a van was stationed outside Gambino’s home. In that vehicle sat the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Mob squad, with cameras, lip-readers, and audio-surveillance equipment, including microphones and wire-taps that were planted in Gambino’s home. The van was marked “Organized Crime Control Bureau.”

But even though Gambino had every corner of his house bugged, he knew how to maintain discretion.

According to FBI officials, they once recorded a meeting between Gambino, Aniello “Mr. Neil” Dellacroce and Joseph Biondo, where Biondo is alleged to have said: “Frog legs”, to which Gambino simply nodded. Meeting over; business concluded. The recording tapes came out empty.


In the mid 1970s, Gambino, now diagnosed with a weak heart, decided there were to be two underbosses who both reported to him: Aniello Dellacroce, and Gambino’s own brother-in-law, Paul “Big Paul” Castellano.

Castellano took over the white-collar crimes in Brooklyn like union racketeering, solid and toxic waste, recycling, construction, fraud, and wire fraud, while Dellacroce would have free rein over those who carried out more traditional, ‘hands-on’ Mafia activities and blue-collar crimes, such as murder for hire, loansharking, gambling, extortion, hijacking, pier thefts, fencing, and robbery.

This strategic restructuring also created confusion in the FBI as to who the official underboss in the family was. In reality, the Gambino family was split into two separate factions, with two underbosses and one Don.

In his final years, Gambino chose his cousin and capo, Paul Castellano as his successor after his departure.

The Death of Carlo Gambino

Gambino died of a heart attack on October 15, 1976, while watching his beloved New York Yankees at his home.

He was buried in Saint John’s Cemetery, Queens, in New York City, as was Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and more than ten other lifetime friends. His funeral was said to have been attended by at least 2,000 people, including police officers, judges and politicians.

Gambino left behind sons Thomas, Joseph and Carlo, daughter Phyllis Sinatra, and a crime family with a contingent of 500 soldiers.

Quite the legacy.

I’ll leave you, with this.

Till next time.