Five Families

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Five Families are the five major New York City organized crime families of the Italian American Mafia, formed in 1931 by Salvatore Maranzano following his victory in the Castellammarese War.

Maranzano reorganized the Italian American gangs in New York City into the Maranzano, Profaci, Mangano, Luciano, and Gagliano families, which are now known as the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese families. Each family had a demarcated territory, an organizationally structured hierarchy, and reported up to the same overarching governing entity. Initially, Maranzano intended each family's boss to report to him as the capo di tutti i capi ("boss of all bosses"). However, this led to his assassination that September, and that role was abolished for The Commission, a ruling committee established by Lucky Luciano to oversee all Mafia activities in the United States and serve to mediate conflicts between families, consisting of the bosses of the Five Families, as well as the bosses of the Chicago Outfit and the Buffalo crime family. In 1963, Joseph Valachi publicly disclosed the existence of New York City's Five Families at the Valachi hearings. Since then, a few other crime families have been able to become powerful or notable enough to rise to a level comparable or close to that of the Five Families, holding or sharing the unofficial designation of Sixth Family.


Leading up to the Five Families

In the 1920s, Mafia operations in the U.S. were controlled by Giuseppe "Joe The Boss" Masseria, whose faction consisted mainly of gangsters from Sicily and the Calabria and Campania regions of Southern Italy. Masseria's faction included Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Alfred Mineo, Willie Moretti, Joe Adonis, and Frank Costello. However, powerful Sicilian mafioso Don Vito Ferro decided to make a bid for control of Mafia operations. [1] From his base in Castellammare del Golfo, he sent Salvatore Maranzano to seize control. The Castellammarese faction in the U.S. included Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Stefano "The Undertaker" Magaddino, Joseph Profaci, and Joe Aiello. [2] As it became more and more evident that the two factions would clash for leadership of the Mafia, they each sought to recruit more followers to support them. [3]

Outwardly, the Castellammarese War was between the forces of Masseria and Maranzano. [4] Underneath, however, there was also a generational conflict between the old guard Sicilian leadership – known as the " Mustache Petes" for their long mustaches and old-world ways, such as refusing to do business with non-Italians – and the "Young Turks", a younger and more diverse Italian group who were more forward thinking and willing to work more with non-Italians. This approach led his followers to question whether Masseria was even capable of making the Mafia prosper in the modern times. Led by Luciano, the aim of this group was to end the war as soon as possible in order to resume their businesses, because they viewed the conflict as unnecessary. Luciano's objective was to modernize the mob and do away with unnecessary orthodox norms. [5] This was a vision that enabled him to attract followers, who had seen the inadequacies of Masseria's traditionalist leadership. Therefore, both factions were fluid, with many mobsters switching sides or killing their own allies during the war. [6] [7] Tensions between the Maranzano and Masseria factions were evident as far back as 1928, with one side frequently hijacking the other's alcohol trucks (alcohol production was then illegal in the United States due to Prohibition).

In early 1931, Luciano decided to eliminate Masseria. The war had been going poorly for Masseria, and Luciano saw an opportunity to switch allegiance. In a secret deal with Maranzano, Luciano agreed to engineer Masseria's death in return for receiving Masseria's rackets and becoming Maranzano's second-in-command. [8] Joe Adonis had joined the Masseria faction and when Masseria heard about Luciano's betrayal, he approached Adonis about killing Luciano. However, Adonis instead warned Luciano about the murder plot. [9] On April 15, 1931, Masseria was killed at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant in Brooklyn. While they played cards, Luciano allegedly excused himself to the bathroom, with the gunmen reportedly being Anastasia, Genovese, Adonis, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; [10] Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver's seat by Siegel. [11] [12] With Maranzano's blessing, Luciano took over Masseria's gang and became Maranzano's lieutenant, ending the Castellammarese War. [8]

The Five Families' formation

With Masseria gone, Maranzano reorganized the Italian American gangs in New York City into the Five Families headed by Luciano, Profaci, Gagliano, Mangano and himself. Maranzano called a meeting of crime bosses in Wappingers Falls, New York, where he declared himself capo di tutti i capi ("boss of all bosses"). [8] Maranzano also whittled down the rival families' rackets in favor of his own. Luciano appeared to accept these changes, but was merely biding his time before removing Maranzano. [13] Although Maranzano was slightly more forward-thinking than Masseria, Luciano had come to believe that Maranzano was even more greedy and hidebound than Masseria had been. [8]

By September 1931, Maranzano realized Luciano was a threat, and hired Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, an Irish gangster, to kill him. [8] However, Lucchese alerted Luciano that he was marked for death. [8] On September 10, Maranzano ordered Luciano, Genovese and Costello to come to his office at the 230 Park Avenue in Manhattan. Convinced that Maranzano planned to murder them, Luciano decided to act first. [14] He sent to Maranzano's office four Jewish gangsters whose faces were unknown to Maranzano's people. They had been secured with the aid of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. [15] Disguised as government agents, two of the gangsters disarmed Maranzano's bodyguards. The other two, aided by Lucchese, who was there to point Maranzano out, stabbed the boss multiple times before shooting him. [16] [17] This assassination was the first of what would later be fabled as the "Night of the Sicilian Vespers." [16]

The Commission's formation

After Maranzano's murder in 1931, Luciano called a meeting in Chicago. [18] [19] [20] Although there would have been few objections had Luciano declared himself capo di tutti i capi, he abolished the title, believing the position created trouble between the families and made himself a target for another ambitious challenger. [21] Luciano's goals with the Commission were to quietly maintain his own power over all the families, and to prevent future gang wars; the bosses approved the idea of the Commission. [19] The Commission would consist of a " board of directors" to oversee all Mafia activities in the United States and serve to mediate conflicts between families. [19] [22]

The Commission consisted of seven family bosses: the leaders of New York's Five Families: Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Vincent Mangano, Tommy Gagliano, Joseph Bonanno, and Joe Profaci; Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone; and Buffalo family boss Stefano Magaddino. [19] [22] Charlie Luciano was appointed chairman of the Commission. The Commission agreed to hold meetings every five years or when they needed to discuss family problems. [19]

Original and current Five Families bosses

In 1963, Joseph Valachi publicly disclosed the existence of New York City's Five Families at the Valachi hearings. According to Valachi, the original bosses of the Five Families were Charles Luciano, Tommaso Gagliano, Joseph Profaci, Salvatore Maranzano and Vincent Mangano. At the time of his testimony in 1963, Valachi revealed that the current bosses of the Five Families were Tommy Lucchese, Vito Genovese, Joseph Colombo, Carlo Gambino, and Joe Bonanno. These have since been the names most commonly used to refer to the New York Five Families, despite years of overturn and changing bosses in each. [23]

Original family name Founded by Current family name Named after Current boss Acting boss
Maranzano Salvatore Maranzano Bonanno Joe Bonanno Michael "the Nose" Mancuso [24]
Profaci Joe Profaci Colombo Joseph Colombo Unknown Alphonse Persico De Facto Boss
Mangano Vincent Mangano Gambino Carlo Gambino Domenico Cefalù Lorenzo Mannino
Luciano Lucky Luciano Genovese Vito Genovese Liborio Salvatore Bellomo
Gagliano Tommy Gagliano Lucchese Tommy Lucchese Victor Amuso Michael "Big Mike" DeSantis


The crime families historically operated throughout the New York Metropolitan area, but mainly within New York City. In the state of New York, the gangs have increased their criminal rackets on Long Island ( Nassau and Suffolk) and the counties of Westchester, Rockland, and Albany. They also maintain a strong presence in the state of New Jersey. [25] The Five Families are also active in South Florida, Connecticut, Las Vegas, and Massachusetts.

Mafia boss succession in the Five Families

Maranzano/Bonanno family

Profaci/Colombo family

Mangano/Gambino family

Luciano/Genovese family

Gagliano/Lucchese family

In popular culture

Factual and fictional details of the history of the crime families have been used in a vast array of media, such as:




Video games

  • The 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV, set in Liberty City (a parody of New York), features five Mafia families called the Gambetti, Ancelotti, Messina, Pavano and Lupisella, that together form "The Commission"; another family called Pegorino operates in Alderney (the in-game counterpart of New Jersey).


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Further reading

  • Raab, Selwyn (2006). Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: St. Martins Press.