The Worst Card in the Deck

Masseria murder scene; note the ace
of apades -- fate or fiction?
Joe "The Boss" mugshot.
The New York Times FYI section is running an interesting Q&A today, titled "Coney Island’s Big Hit" -- and we are glad the writer noted that the card more than likely was slipped into the dead mob boss's hand by an enterprising photographer -- just like an enterprising cop may have slipped the famous cigar into a dead Carmine Galante's mouth....But it's kind of funny that the Masseria killing created the fear of the ace of spades -- considered the "death card" by Mafiosi and others -- when all along it may have been manufactured rather than an act of fate.

Also our good friend/mentor Sonny Girard in his comment below has reminded us that Lucky Luciano used all-Jewish shooters for the Masseria hit, most likely because Joe The Boss, who had a knack for escaping assassination attempts, would be unlikely to recognize Jewish gunmen. Anyway, this was an iconic mob hit, just like Anastasia in the barber chair some 25 years later, and Crazy Joe Gallo a decade or two later on, also in a restaurant, and Paul Castellano -- but that is material for another post.

Sonny -- we have a standing offer, anything you write we'd publish. If people would start helping to support our site we could even pay you.

Sonny is a retired mobster who more than earned his stripes and is taking life easy in Florida; he did his time and know is dedicated to writing, mostly correcting the voluminous amount of falsehoods that have crept into Mafia history over the many decades it's been around. He's written some great fiction, too, which you should also check out. (I have read and re-read all his works and recommend them all highly. Find them at his site: Sonny's Mob Social Club. He's the real deal; the life we try to write about, he actually lived.)

Sonny, la tua scrittura è sempre apprezzato e rispettato. Cosa Nostra News è sempre un amico ... Grazie, Ed

Q. I’d like some information about the killing of Joe Masseria, the mob leader also known as the Boss, in 1931. All I’ve heard is that the shooting took place in Scarpato’s Coney Island Restaurant and that Lucky Luciano was supposed to have been there.

A. On April 15, 1931, Giuseppe Masseria’s afternoon luncheon meeting was interrupted by four bullets in his back and one in his head. He had been dining at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a seafood restaurant at 2715 West 15th Street in Coney Island, Brooklyn. It was run by Gerardo Scarpato and named for the owner’s mother-in-law, Anna Tammaro. On his way to lunch, Mr. Masseria had parked his steel-armored sedan, with plate glass an inch thick, at a garage nearby.

The police found Mrs. Tammaro bending over the gang leader’s body. Mr. Masseria lay on his back. Playing cards were strewed around the room. A photographer snapped an image of the dead mobster with the ace of spades clutched in his right hand; that card, however, might have been staged. Mr. Scarpato said he had been out for a walk at the time.

The assailants left their coats, which were never successfully traced. No one was arrested.

Mr. Masseria had been widely regarded as the top Mafia leader in New York for about 10 years — “Bigger than Al Capone,” one anonymous detective was quoted as saying by The New York Times — and his shooting ended a rivalry with Salvatore Maranzano and a yearlong round-robin of bloodletting known as the Castellammarese War. It also paved the way for the rise of the notorious five mob families, with Lucky Luciano replacing Mr. Masseria as a family head.

That August, Mr. Maranzano celebrated with a three-day banquet at the same restaurant, according to “Lucky Luciano: The Real and the Fake Gangster,” by Tim Newark (Thomas Dunne, 2010). A month later, he was killed, and Mr. Luciano emerged as the most powerful mob boss in New York.

There are different versions of what happened in the restaurant. Many accounts say that Mr. Luciano arranged the meeting in order to set up Mr. Masseria, and that even if he wasn’t one of the gunmen, he was at the scene, conveniently excusing himself to use the bathroom. Vito Genovese, Bugsy Siegel, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis have been mentioned as trigger men. The mob informer Joseph Valachi named Mr. Luciano, Mr. Genovese, Frank Livorsi and Joe Stracci.

Fearing reprisals, Mr. Scarpato, the restaurateur, asked the police to take his fingerprints so that his body could be identified if he were killed. Good move. He was killed on Sept. 10, 1932, exactly one year after Mr. Maranzano. A modern warehouse for a smoked-fish company was built on the site of his restaurant. 

Read an original article about an average day during a 1930s mob war in Manhattan here.


  1. None of the Italian shooters mentioned were there. Bugsy Siegel, Red Levine, and two other Jewish gunmen from the Lower East Side blew Joe the Boss away.

  2. The Masseria hit is extremely interesting to me. It has been mentioned and described so many times and in so many ways in numerous books and articles, yet we don´t seem to know what really happened that day.
    But there are some clues surrounding the Masseria killing we perhaps should pay more attention to. To my knowledge, there is only a few references we can point at when discussing the hit. First of all, in his book, Joe Bonanno mentions that Lucky Luciano had a meeting with Maranzano where they seem to have come to an agreement of Masseria´s demise. So, it sounds very likely that Luciano set his boss up for execution.
    But what actually happened in that restaurant, on that day, I guess, we will never know.
    Nocola Gentile, who had been a player in the Sicilian Mafia for many years and had been close to Masseria, perhaps provides us with the most accurate info about the murder. Gentile wrote in his memoirs that right before Masseria was killed, a peace meeting between Masseria and Maranzano had been scheduled. Masseria had apparently offered Maranzano to step down in hopes of concluding an honorable peace. Masseria´s men (Luciano being one of them), wasn´t keen on the idea. According to Gentile, the men had secretly united and had already made the decision to kill him.
    Gentile and others had been members of a special Commission, formed in the purpose of making peace between the warring Mafia leaders. This Commission was set to meet with Masseria in the restaurant that day when Masseria was murdered.
    This is what Gentile wrote:
    "Toto Lo Verde, of Chicago, that was admitted to our confidence, offered to accompany me in a car... He came to the appointment a little late. However, we started to go to the restaurant when in front of the door we saw a big crowd. We went some place else and when we turned the corner we asked what happened? They answered "They have killed Joe Masseria". Quickly we went to the home of Lucky Luciano. In the meantime [Vincenzo] Troia [who had been a member of the peace Commission] arrived and Lucky turned to him and said "Don Vincenzo, tell your compare Maranzano we have killed Masseria not to serve him but for our own personal reasons.""

    To me, this indicates that Masseria was lured to a "peace meeting" only to be set up for murder. It also indicates that Gentile, who had been a staunch Masseria supporter (and a member of the peace Commission), was duped into arriving a little bit too late.
    One coat, who had been left behind on the murder scene, was traced by the police to a Johnny Giustra. Giustra was a well known mafioso at the time. Why he had left behind his coat is a mystery. But the most logical explanation would be that he kinda left in a hurry and was taken completely by surprise by the shooting.
    And also, nothing (evidence wise) seems to suggest that Lucky Luciano had been there. Him staying and later talking to the police seems to be a myth. No newspaper clip tells about him nor is Luciano´s talking to the police mentioned in any police report or file.

    One more thing. According to the authopsy, Masseria´s stomach was empty. So he didn´t have that marvelous lunch all authors seems to prefer to pen down when writing about the Masseria killing.


  3. I just noticed the above comment -- what's UP HK! Long time no speak -- and I have even heard since writing this that Lucky probably wasn't even there either!


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