How Luciano Got Lucky, Other Myths Exposed in Cipollini's Book

Luciano offers a rare smile.
Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangster Legend, scheduled for release next month, will put to bed some key mysteries surrounding one of the most mythical Mafia figures in organized crime's history.

The book's author, Christian Cipollini, in a recent interview, told me he's made some startling discoveries while writing the book about "Lucky," including how the gangster got his famous nickname, which believe it or not, has never been adequately detailed.

With Lucky Luciano, a lot of facts are up for grabs. No one has ever even categorically explained how one of the founding members of the modern Mafia got the scars for which he was so famous. Some will even argue that he was not even a founding member of the modern Mafia.

"The guy fascinated me," Cipollini said.“There’s so much mythology around him."

Cipollini writes around his day job in public relations. He's prolific; he only released Diary of a Motor City Hit Man last summer; he's already at work on his next book, about Murder Inc. (Anastasia's wife is a babe, trust me on that one.)

How has he been able to do such righteous work so swiftly?
Christian's daughter, Natalie, sketched this upon hearing about what had
happened to the man her father was writing a book about.

"You have to have contacts: family, friends and colleagues," he said. "You need friends that are mentors, [such as] lawyers, cops and researchers. And you have to know people on the other side, the criminals."

The picture of hit man Chester
Wheeler that got the ball rolling
on Cipollini's writing career.
In fact, what facilitated the writing of the Chester Wheeler Story was the fact that, after he was inspired to write the book (more on that coming), Cipollini turned to a friendship he had with a local attorney, who strolled into a nearby police station and acquired a box full of dusty files on Chester Wheeler. Talk about winning the lottery! That box must've been sitting there for decades, forgotten and forlorn, no one recognizing the potential that could be wrung from its contents.

Until Cipollini got his hands on them. And he didn't want those files, hadn't even known about a hit man named Chester Wheeler.... until he saw a certain photograph of the killer. The image fired up his imagination.

"I had been looking on auction sites for press photos," an ongoing hobby of his. "I saw the first original press photo. The guy fascinated me. It was the first photo taken by the press after his arrest." One can imagine the pissed-off look molded onto the gangster's face at the time (look up).
Lucky hides his face while the flashbulbs pop.

This is Cipollini's approach. He finds an interesting photo. It intrigues him, lights a fire within him. He works backward from the photo and creates the book. With Wheeler, he found a subject with a story that was indeed as intriguing as the photograph.

"He was a hit man for the Italians and the black drug lords in the 1970s," Cipollini said. But Wheeler also turned out to be a regular James Bond, as Cipollini discovered during his research on the man.

"He had more surveillance equipment than the police," he noted.

"The more obscure legendary stories are fascinating."

Obscure and legendary certainly fall among the keywords for Salvatore Charles "Lucky" Luciano. (Lucky changed his named to Charles because he didn't want his friends calling him "Sally." Supposedly.)

Cipollini wasn't as lucky in the research phase of this book. (But then, Chester Wheeler is no Lucky Luciano, either.) A former newspaper reporter, Cipollini obtained and examined hundreds of FBI documents, newspaper articles and books, extracting undiscovered diamonds in the rough related to the crime boss and – much to his surprise – he found a wealth of new information.

So much we think we know about Luciano seems to be either fabrication, or up for grabs -- facts waiting to be nailed down. Well, Cipollini got out his hammer and hammered in some nails.

One big one he's nailed: "The nickname! I put that one to bed!" Here is how Lucky Luciano earned the most famous mob nickname in history. Now pay close attention...OK, OK, I don't know. (Truth is he didn't tell me and I didn't ask; interview etiquette, folks.)

Another myth Cipollini takes aim at: those scars and the droopy eye, which add to the crime lord's already menacing visage. Cipollini came across an old newspaper interview with the police officer who first came across Luciano on that day in 1929, when he was given the proverbial ride and dumped in the street, bloodied, scarred, stabbed, beaten.

"When he was found, he was almost dead," Cipollini said of Lucky. But those behind the botched hit were in for a surprise, whatever their motivation had been. "A lot of people died shortly after [Luciano] recovered."
Luciano, in Havana Cuba.

In the book, Cipollini also offers insight into Lucky's tattoos, something I myself know nothing about, as well as the role Luciano actually played in helping the allied forces invade Sicily amid World War II (and yes, Cipollini's aware of the Tim Newark book). On this topic alone there's no shortage of stories. Whatever Lucky did, it prompted his release -- and deportation, which he likely considered a short-term problem; Cuba was just off Florida's coast, after all. That didn't work out the way Luciano had thought it would. Cipollini dives into Luciano's brief Cuba escapade as well.

Some stories will be completely new for many present-day readers. The book examines, for example, a relationship Luciano had with a Broadway starlet, as well as her "odd marriage, and what happened to her after she went to jail," as Cipollini explained.

"My book will add or subtract to the myths," he said. "I provide the neat, little anecdotes that give you something to think about."

He also reviews the infamous Last Testament of Lucky Luciano: The Mafia Story in His Own Words and raises (and answers) interesting questions: Who was author/producer Martin Gosch's financial backer? Which Hollywood star was to play the part of Lucky in a certain 1950 film that began production but was quickly canned?

He also looks at Lucky's suspicious death (he supposedly died at an airport in Italy after drinking what may have been a "borgia cocktail," poison, in other words, according to Las Vegas publicist Ed Becker). The book addresses developments that happened afterward.

And what's a Mafia book without pictures! This is where we can thank Cipollini for his "unique" predilection. Of course the book is brimming with pictures -- 60, with fully half of them "never before seen," Cipollini said.

"The truth is, I've been studying him for 20 years."

I want to thank Christian for allowing me to interview him; he also provided all the pictures running with this story, including a sketch by his daughter Natalie.


  1. I am anxiously awaiting its release next month! Your story has me curious, thanks for the heads up as I would not havebp been aware of same if not for the above! ~kj

  2. I can't wait either, should've asked for a preview copy!! Don't tell Cip, though....shhh

  3. It should be a great read from a great Author


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