Vito "Don Vito" Genovese (November 27, 1897 – February 14, 1969) was an Italian gangster in America and is known as the boss of Genovese crime family through 1957 to 1969. Vito is also credited of killing Willie Moretti and organized Frank Costello's failed assassination by Vincent Gigante. Vito also ordered Frank Scalise's death who was an underboss of Albert Anastasia and ally to Frank Costello.
Vito Genovese was born on November 27, 1897, in Risigliano, a frazione in the commune of Tufino, near Naples, in Italy. His father was Felice Genovese and his mother Nunziata Genovese. Vito had two brothers, Michael and Carmine Genovese, who also belonged to Vito Genovese's crime family. Vito Genovese's cousin, Michael James Genovese, became boss of the Pittsburgh crime family.
Vito Genovese was a short man who stood at 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m). He and his family lived a quiet life in a house in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.
According to mobster Joseph Valachi, Genovese was a murderer with his own set of rules:
- "If you went to Vito and told him about some guy who was doing wrong, he would have this guy killed and then he would have you killed for telling on the guy."
As a child in Italy, Genovese only completed school to the equivalent of the American fifth grade. When Genovese was 15, his family emigrated to the United States and took up residence in Little Italy, Manhattan. Genovese started his criminal career stealing merchandise from pushcart vendors and running errands for mobsters. He later collected money from people who played illegal lotteries. One of Genovese's early friends was Lucky Luciano, a founding father of the Cosa Nostra. At age 19, Genovese spent a year in prison for illegal possession of a firearm.
In the early 1920s, Genovese started working for Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, the boss of a powerful Brooklyn gang. Involved in bootlegging and extortion, Genovese's main value to Masseria was his propensity for violence. In 1930, Genovese was indicted on counterfeiting charges when police found $1 million of counterfeit U.S. currency in a Bath Beach, Brooklyn workshop.
In 1930, Genovese allegedly murdered Gaetano Reina, the leader of another Brooklyn gang. Reina had been a Masseria ally, but Masseria decided to kill Reina when he began to suspect Reina of secretly helping his arch-rival, Brooklyn gang leader Salvatore Maranzano. On February 26, 1930, Genovese ambushed Reina as he was leaving his mistress' house in the Bronx and shot him in the back of the head with a shotgun. Masseria then took direct control of the Reina gang.
In early 1931, the Castellammarese War broke out between Masseria and Maranzano. By April 1931, Luciano and Genovese were secretly conspiring with Maranzano to kill Masseria. On April 15, 1931, Genovese allegedly participated in Masseria's murder.
Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting at a Coney Island, Brooklyn restaurant. During their meal, Luciano excused himself to go to the restroom. As soon as Luciano was gone, Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel rushed into the dining room and shot Masseria to death. The war ended and Maranzano was the winner.
No one was ever indicted in the Masseria murder. After Masseria's murder, Maranzano reorganized all the Sicilian and Italian gangs in New York into five crime families. Luciano took over Masseria's family, with Genovese as his underboss.
In September 1931, Luciano and Genovese planned the murder of Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano had received word that Maranzano was planning to kill him and Genovese, and prepared a hit team to kill Maranzano first. On September 10, 1931, when Maranzano summoned Luciano, Genovese, and Frank Costello to a meeting at his office, they knew Maranzano would kill them there. Instead, Luciano sent the hit squad to the office, where they shot Maranzano to death.
In 1931, Genovese's first wife died of tuberculosis and he quickly announced his intention to marry Anna Petrillo, who was already married to Gerard Vernotico.
On March 16, 1932, Gerard Vernotico was found strangled to death on a Manhattan rooftop. On March 28, 1932, Genovese married Gerard's widow, Anna, who also happened to be Genovese's cousin.
Boccia murder and exile to ItalyEdit
In 1934, Genovese allegedly killed mobster Ferdinand Boccia. Genovese and Boccia had conspired to cheat a wealthy gambler out of $150,000 in a high-stakes card game. After the game, Boccia demanded a share of $35,000 because he had introduced the victim to Genovese. Rather than pay Boccia anything, Genovese decided to murder him. On September 19, 1934, Genovese and five associates allegedly shot and killed Boccia in a coffee shop in Brooklyn.
On June 18, 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in state prison as a result of his conviction on pandering. With Luciano's imprisonment, Genovese became acting boss of the Luciano crime family.
On November 25, 1936, Genovese became a naturalized United States citizen in New York City. In 1937, fearing prosecution for the Boccia murder, Genovese fled to Italy with $750,000 cash and settled in the city of Nola, near Naples. With Genovese's departure, Frank Costello became the new Luciano family acting boss with Willie Moretti as acting underboss.
Genovese prospered in Italy, becoming a prominent Mafia leader there. Genovese also ran an enormous black market operation with Calogero Vizzini, a powerful Mafia boss in Sicily. After paying a $250,000 bribe to the fascist government, Genovese became a good friend of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and received Italy's highest civilian medal.
In 1943, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of Carlo Tresca, the publisher of an anarchist newspaper in New York and an enemy of Mussolini. Genovese allegedly facilitated the murder as a favor to the Italian government. On January 11, 1943, a gunman shot and killed Tresca outside his newspaper office in Manhattan. The shooter was later alleged to be Carmine Galante, a member of the Bonnano family (eventually becoming acting boss). It was logical for him to work with the older and better established Vito Genovese especially given their common enemy in La Cosa Nostra – Carlo Gambino). No one was ever charged in the Tresca murder.
Return to New YorkEdit
When the Allies invaded Italy in September 1943, Genovese switched sides and quickly offered his services to the U.S. Army. Genovese was appointed to a position of interpreter/liaison officer in the U.S. Army headquarters in Naples and quickly became one of American Military Government of Occupied Territories' (AMGOT) most trusted employees.
In the summer of 1944 in New York, Genovese was implicated in the Boccia murder by mobster Ernest "The Hawk" Rupolo, a former Genovese associate. Facing a murder conviction, Rupolo had decided to become a government witness.
On August 27, 1944, the Military Police arrested Genovese in Italy during an investigation of his black market ring. Genovese was stealing trucks, flour, and sugar from the Army. When Agent Orange C. Dickey of the Criminal Investigation Division examined Genovese's background, he discovered that Genovese was a U.S. fugitive for the 1934 Boccia killing. The problem was nobody in the Army or the federal government was interested in Genovese.
After months of frustration, Dickey was finally able to make preparations to ship Genovese back to New York to face trial. At that point, the pressure started being applied to Dickey. Genovese offered Dickey a $250,000 bribe to release him and then threatened Dickey after he rejected the money. Dickey was also pressured through his military chain of command to release Genovese, but refused to give in.
On June 2, 1945, after arriving in New York by ship the day before, Genovese was arraigned on murder charges for the 1934 Boccia killing. He pleaded not guilty. On June 10, 1946, another prosecution witness, Jerry Esposito, was found shot to death beside a road in Norwood, New Jersey. Earlier, another witness, Peter LaTempa, was found dead in a cell where he had been held in protective custody.
Without anyone to corroborate Rupolo's testimony, the government's case collapsed, and the charges against Genovese were dismissed on June 10, 1946. In making his decision, the judge had these comments:
- "I cannot speak for the jury, but I believe that if there were even a shred of corroborating evidence, you would have been condemned to the (electric) chair".
Pursuit of powerEdit
With his release from custody in 1946, Genovese was able to rejoin the Luciano family in New York. However, neither Costello or Moretti were willing to give power back to him; Genovese was now a capo of his former Greenwich Village Crew. However, on October 4, 1951, Moretti was assassinated by order of the Mafia Commission; the mob bosses were unhappy with his testimony during the U.S. Senate Kefauver Hearings. Costello appointed Genovese as the new underboss.
In December 1952, Anna Genovese sued her husband for financial support, an unheard of action by the wife of a Cosa Nostra figure. Two years earlier, she had moved out of the family home in New Jersey. In 1953, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of mobster Steven Franse. Genovese had tasked Franse with supervising Anna Genovese while her husband was hiding in Italy. Outraged over Anna's love affairs and her lawsuit against him, Genovese blamed it all on Franse. Following Genovese's orders, two hitman brutally beat Franse and then slowly strangled him.
During the mid-1950s, Genovese decided to move against Costello. However, Genovese needed to also remove Costello's strong ally on the Commission, Albert Anastasia, the feared boss of the Anastasia crime family. Genovese was soon conspiring with Carlo Gambino, Anastasia's underboss, to remove Anastasia.
In May 1957, Genovese ordered the Costello murder attempt. On May 2, as Costello was entering the lobby of his apartment building, mobster Vincent Gigante stepped out of a limousine, shot Costello once in the head, and then left the scene. Fortunately for Costello, he only suffered a superficial scalp wound. However, the experience convinced Costello to retire from the family. Genovese now became boss of what is known as the Genovese crime family and promoted his longtime lieutenant, Anthony Strollo, to underboss.
In late 1957, Genovese and Gambino allegedly ordered Anastasia's murder. Genovese had heard rumors that Costello was conspiring with Anastasia to regain power. On October 25, 1957, Anastasia arrived a Manhattan hotel barber shop for a haircut and shave. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber chair, two men with their faces covered in scarves shot and killed Anastasia. Witnesses were unable to identify any of the gunmen and competing theories exist today as to their identities.
The coup against Costello was supported by the two biggest earners in the family, Anthony Strollo and Anthony Carfano. Soon after Genovese became the godfather, he would allegedly arrange for these two caporegimes to be murdered. Genovese loyalists Philip Lombardo, Gerardo Catena and Mike Miranda would assume the top positions in the family by the early 1960s.
Apalachin and prisonEdit
In November 1957, immediately after the Anastasia murder Genovese called for a meeting of national Cosa Nostra leaders. Genovese wanted the Commission leads to confirm him as his family's boss as well as to approve Carlo Gambino as boss of his family. Genovese set the meeting, known today as the Apalachin Conference, at the farm of mobster Joseph Barbara in the rural town of Apalachin, New York.
However, on November 14, a New York State Police trooper noticed the increased activity at the Barbara farm and called for reinforcements to surround it. When the attendees were alerted, they chaotically fled the location, some fleeing on foot into the woods. The police stopped Genovese as he was driving away from the farm. Genovese said he was just there for a barbecue and to discuss business with Barbara. The police let him go.
On June 2, 1958, Genovese testified under subpoena in the U.S. Senate McClellan Hearings on organized crime. Genovese refused to answer any questions, citing the Fifth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution 150 separate times.
On July 7, 1958, Genovese was indicted on charges of conspiring to import and sell narcotics. The government's star witness was Nelson Cantellops, a Puerto Rican drug dealer who claimed Genovese met with him. In 1959, Genovese was convicted of selling a large quantity of heroin. On April 17, 1959, Genovese was sentenced to 15 years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Several court observers and organized-crime experts suspected that Cantellops was lying, pointing out that it would be significantly out of character for a major crime boss to involve himself directly in any criminal operation, let alone a drug deal.
Before he went to prison, Genovese created a Ruling Panel of high-level family members to supervise the family: Strollo, Catena, and Miranda. However, Genovese still retained ultimate control from prison.
In September 1959, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of mobster Anthony Carfano. Angered at the murder attempt on Costello, Carfano had skipped the Apalachin meeting in protest. In response, Genovese decided to murder him On September 25, 1959, Carfano and a female companion were found shot to death in his Cadillac automobile on a residential street in Jackson Heights, Queens.
In April 1962, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of Anthony Strollo after concluding that Strollo was part of the plot that put him in prison. On April 8, Strollo left his house to go for a walk and was never seen again. His body was never recovered.
In 1962, an alleged murder threat from Genovese propelled mobster Joseph Valachi into the public spotlight. In June, Genovese supposedly accused Valachi, also imprisoned in Atlanta, of being an informer and gave Valachi the kiss of death. In July, Valachi supposedly mistook another inmate for a mob hitman and killed him. After receiving a life sentence for that murder, Valachi decided to become a government witness.
On August 24, 1964, Ernest Rupolo's body was recovered from Jamaica Bay, Queens. His killers had attached two concrete blocks to his legs and tied his hands. It was widely assumed that Genovese had ordered Rupolo's murder for testifying against him in the 1944 Boccia murder trial. Genovese had not ordered Rupolo killed immediately for turning on him, but instead forced him to live the last 20 years of his life in terror.
On February 14, 1969, Genovese died of a heart attack at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He is buried in Saint John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.
People Murdered by Vito GenoveseEdit
Order: Nº. Name/Rank/Affiliation/When/Involvement/Reason
- Gaetano Reina/Boss/Lucchese crime family/February 26, 1930/Personal/Genovese murdered Reina with a shotgun as part of the Castellamarese War.
- Alfred Mineo/Boss/Gambino crime family/November 5, 1930/Personal/Genovese saw the opportunity to murder his powerful enemies while they were caught offguard.
- Steve Ferrigno/Underboss/Gambino crime family/November 5, 1930/Personal/Genovese saw the opportunity to murder his powerful enemies while they were caught offguard.
- Giuseppe Masseria/Boss/Masseria crime family/April 15, 1931/Personal/Genovese was on the team of hitmen that murdered Masseria to end the Castellamarese War.
- Salvatore Maranzano/Boss/Maranzano crime family/September 10, 1931/Ordered it with Charles Luciano/Genovese planned this murder with Charles Luciano, Maranzano was murdered because he was too powerful and unpopular, just like Masseria.
- Gerard Vernotico/Associate/Unknown/March 16, 1932/Ordered it/Genovese had Vernotico murdered so that he could marry Vernotico's wife Anna.
- Ferdinand Boccia/Soldier/Lucchese crime family/September 19, 1934/Personal/Genovese murdered Boccia instead of paying him his share of $150,000 robbed from a card game.
- Carlo Tresca/None/Publisher of Il Martello newspaper/January 11, 1943/Ordered it/Genovese had Tresca murdered as a favour to the facist Italian government.
- Jerry Esposito/None/Independent/June 10, 1946/Ordered it/Genovese had Esposito murdered so that he couldn't testify against him in court.
- Willie Moretti/Underboss/Genovese crime family/October 4, 1951/Ordered it/Moretti was murdered because he had syphilis and was discussing Mafia business in public.
- Steven Franse/Soldier/Genovese crime family/1953/Ordered it/Franse was helping Genovese's wife Anna in her divorce from Genovese, so he had Franse murdered in revenge.
- Albert Anastasia/Boss/Gambino crime family/October 25, 1957/Ordered it with Carlo Gambino/Genovese had Anastasia murdered to remove a powerful enemy and to help Carlo Gambino become boss of the Gambino crime family.
- Anthony Carfano/Capo/Genovese crime family/September 25, 1959/Ordered it/Genovese had Carfano murdered because he thought Carfano was responsible for him getting jailed.
- Janice Drake/None/Independent/September 25, 1959/Collateral damage to previous murder/Drake was murdered because she was a witness to Carfano's murder as she was travelling with him at the time.
- Anthony Strollo/Capo/Genovese crime family/April 8, 1962/Ordered it/Genovese had Strollo murdered because he thought Strollo was responsible for him getting jailed.
- Ernest Rupollo/Soldier/Genovese crime family/August 24, 1964/Ordered it/Rupollo was murdered because he was an informant, instead of murdering him straight away Genovese let Rupollo live in fear for 20 years before having him murdered.
Genovese is portrayed in the 2001 TV movie Boss of Bosses by Steven Bauer.
Genovese is portrayed in the 1972 film The Valachi Papers by Lino Ventura.
Vito Genovese features in the sixth episode of UK history TV channel Yesterday's documentary series Mafia's Greatest Hits.
A character called Giovanni Ancelotti on Grand Theft Auto IV is based on Genovese as they both ran Black Markets in Naples during World War II.