What NYPD Found on Frank Costello Could've Ended Las Vegas in 1957

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Apalachin, which has always been of great interest to me....

Police in pursuit in Apalachin on the day.....

Apalachin, NY, the infamous location of the November 14, 1957, Mafia Summit, changed everything by finally bringing the full resources of the FBI onto the nation's crime families.

That ill-fated meeting in upstate New York left two legacies in place:
  • The enormous free reign with which the wiseguys operated for so long was coming to a close as the FBI launched a full-court investigative press against the mob that wouldn't let up -- ever.....(Law enforcement's mob investigations may have periodically waned, but the efforts were forever renewed....)
After spending decades thriving in the shadows of capitalism, the mob had proven to be quite resilient, outliving many lawmen once determined to burn LCN's house down. Consider Thomas Dewey who put Lucky Luciano away, unjustly; Fiorella Laguardia, who hit some slot machines with a hammer, looking rather goofy while doing it. Then there was Kefauver, of course.... Three years before the Army-McCarthy hearings and 22 before Watergate, the 1951 Kefauver Committee hearings "brought a parade of gamblers, hoodlums, crooked sheriffs and organized-crime figures out from the shadows to sit and testify before the white-hot lights and television cameras," as Smithsonian Magazine noted.

Apalachin finally made the mob a target pursued by the power of law enforcement -- Hoover's G-men, the same agents who quite literally "ended" the Depression-era gangsters in about a year, by shooting nearly all of them to death -- Bonnie and Clyde (lowlife runts glamorized in a slick 1960s film), John Dillinger, Baby-Face Nelson, etc. (The ones who survived to do prison time, like Machine Gun Kelly, never lived up to their media reputations in the first place.)

On November 27, a mere two weeks after the event itself, Hoover fired off a memo to all his field offices launching his infamous “Top Hoodlum Program (THP),” which "ordered the FBI to penetrate the inner sanctums of organized crime, define it, and make cases that would stick. Hoover’s number two man, Cartha DeLoach, contends that the THP had actually been formed earlier in the year and that Apalachin only energized it. Other agents, such as Chicago’s Bill Roemer disputed this. In either event, the nation’s major cities soon saw an influx of new G-men sent to ensure the success of the THP," as Gus Russo noted in The Outfit.

The most emphasis was placed on New York, which got an additional 25 agents, and Chicago, with ten. "For the next two years, the new federal arrivals went to school on organized crime. In Chicago, FBI special agents wisely sought out the counsel of the former members of the city’s Scotland Yard investigative unit, recently disbanded by Mayor Daley. Although it would take many months before the Bureau was able to acquire connected sources, and critical inside information, it would eventually do so," as Russo noted.

(While most of the mobsters were nailed outright in Apalachin, some got away. Carmine Galante is believed to have evaded the cops by hiding overnight inside his host's house. And despite the finding of much evidence to incriminate him, West Coast boss James "Jimmy the Hat" Lanza, a man who truly knew the old-school ways of hiding in plain sight. also successfully avoided arrest, unlike so many others. "It would have been child’s play for Lanza to evade the New York state police, as he apparently did," as  Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo, Esq., a criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco (who lived for years in Queens, New York), wrote in her excellent Lanza's Mob.)

Immediately, the FBI sought to gain intelligence on who exactly made up this criminal entity. Luckily for them, they had state and city crime files to examine. Additionally, the FBN, the now-defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had been investigating the Mafia for decades previously. 

Initial top targets were men like New York's Carlo Gambino and Chicago's Anthony (Tony Batters) Accardo.

As noted, the FBI launched a herculean effort to build a comprehensive profile of Gambino. In addition to expanding an investigation of the man, the Feds also began researching Gambino's criminal record, which was quite lengthy by the time of the hastily put-together Mafia "summit" at mobster Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara's home on November 14, 1957.

Don Vitone

Even prior to Apalachin, the mob had been making a lot of noise in 1957. And one of the incidents that served as a springboard for Apalachin, the shooting of Frank Costello, could've had a much more damaging and lasting impact on the mob. Only as history shows, it didn't...

Vito Genovese wanted to be boss and didn't care who he took down in the process. Genovese orchestrated the failed attempt on Frank Costello's life in May of 1957.
Costello had been through a number of challenges even before he was shot in the head. Chief among them was his ongoing effort to appeal a five-year prison sentence for federal income tax evasion (of which he already served nearly a year).

On the night of, however, Costello, his wife, and some friends went out to dine at one of Manhattan's finer establishments. But Costello being Costello, he had business to tend to. So he departed before the postprandial cordials were served and cabbed it to his apartment at 115 Central Park West.

Did the stately, well-dressed mob boss spy the black Cadillac pulling behind him in front of his building? Probably not. Nor did he likely view the big bulky figure who got out and followed him into the lobby and fired one shot. One shot. Costello fell onto a nearby leather couch, blood streaming from where the bullet creased his scalp.As bad as the Apalachin fallout was, however, it could've been worse, considering information that was found in Frank Costello's pocket while he was in the hospital after being shot.

The mob boss was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, where doctors found that the bullet had harmlessly curved around his skull, entering by the right ear and traveling to the neck. One of those freak gunshot wounds to the head.

Costello likely was in a lot more pain afterward, when he was taken to the West 54th Street police station so police could question him.

Frank said he not only didn't see anything -- he hadn't heard anything either.

Frank was enormously lucky on the night of the shooting (I know, I know, we've all heard this story) because prior to taking the shot, Gigante called out, "This is for you Frank!" And Costello turned his head as the gun fired.

Gigante fled apparently unaware that his unintentional warning had saved Costello's life by causing him to turn his head at just the right time. Still, the shooting could be described as ultimately successful. Frank got the message and made himself scarce.

Construction of the Tropicana in 1950s Las Vegas.

As doctors were stitching up Costello at Roosevelt Hospital, detectives rummaged through his things, including his pockets. They hit the jackpot when they found in his jacket a slip of paper on which a list of numbers had been scribbled. They photocopied and replaced it.

Costello learned about the search only when he was hauled in front of a grand jury and confronted with the copy and asked to explain the enigmatic notations written here:
Gross casino wins as of 4/26/57 $651,284. Casino wins less markers $435,695. Slot wins $62,844.

That was followed by a list of amounts paid to Mike, Jake, L and H.

Costello refused to answer their questions, several times. The detectives were annoyed but got back at Frank for his recalcitrance by shipping him off to Rikers Island for contempt.

Working with the Nevada State Gaming Commission, NYPD law enforcement figured out that the numbers matched exactly a recent week's gambling revenues from the Las Vegas Strip's new Tropicana Hotel.

No, they didn't believe it was a coincidence.....

Happy to be shot? Happy that Gigate missed is more like it.

Costello didn't make any bones about his refusal to cooperate, either. After all, following omerta (and retiring) was the smart play for him. He couldn't create the ghost of an impression that he wasn't holding to omerta (and retiring) or he knew that a Genovese shooter might miss shooting him in the head again, and maybe next time a poor innocent bystander would accidentally catch a piece of lead.

In his raspy voice -- caused by a botched surgery -- Costello throatily explained: “I don’t have an enemy in the world.”

The cops believed every word he said, of course. 

Actually, Costello was really pissing off  Chief of Detectives James Leggett, who was in charge of the investigation.

Some 66 detectives were investigating the Costello shooting, costing the city a fortune. And all the while, many were convinced that Costello knew with 100 percent certainty that he'd been shot by Vincent "Chin" Gigante.

Costello simply announced he was retiring.

Phillip "Dandy Phil" Kastel
Kastel was an associate of Arnold Rothstein, the criminal genius who taught a generation of Mafiosi and associates how to earn in the street. Kastel (April 2, 1893 – August 16, 1962) also was a longtime associate of the Genovese crime family.

Following Rothstein's death in 1928, Kastel went to work for Costello, also a former Rothstein associate.

Kastel later moved from Manhattan (where he was born to a Jewish family on the Lower East Side) to New Orleans to establish a slot machine operation for Costello in the 1930s.

Between 1935 and 1937, Costello and Kastel earned an estimated amount of more than $2.4 million from slot machines alone, according to federal authorities. (Kastel had other ties, to the Chicago Outfit; there's more to this story....)

By the 1940s, Kastel and Costello had opened high-class gambling casinos in New Orleans. from which they earned many additional millions.

It was around that time that Costello allegedly committed his one and only act of violence.

Kastel, in daily contact with the New York mobster, had reported suspicions that casino employees had been skimming from the slot machines. Costello said he would handle the matter personally, it's been alleged.

He flew down to the Big Easy and called a meeting of quite literally everybody -- Kastel's entire organization including bagmen and assorted thugs and associates (enforcer Carlos Marcello may have been among the invited). Costello allegedly called out the suspected thief.

"He shot me in the head! Can you believe it!"

He asked the man to explain himself, as certain accusations had been made yada yada yada.

While the man spoke, Costello unnoticed by most reached under a podium, grabbed a wrench, lifted it and brought it smashing downward dousing his lights.

Costello told him to return to his seat (once he had regained consciousness).

Costello bluntly told the audience the facts of life.
If anyone was ever caught stealing from Frank Costello, they'd wish they got off with a crack in the head with a wrench.

Kastel eventually hauled up stakes for Las Vegas.

The Tropicana was developed by Kastel and partner Costello. While never licensed to operate the Tropicana, he had been the prime mover behind its design and had invested substantially in the casino. The duo also was involved with other casinos in time.

So the bottom line here is that "Potentially, Costello’s note could have been a death sentence for Nevada gaming," the Mob Musem blog noted recently.

Since the Kefauver Committee in 1950, many in Congress had insisted that Nevada’s casinos were nothing more than fronts for the mob. Las Vegas leaders, seeking to counter that impression, argued that while the gambling mecca had once allowed that kind of thing in the past, it had since cleaned up its act, and there was only minimal traces of the Mafia operating out there. Mobsters, local officials said, were simply not an influence in that town.


"The Costello note gave the lie to that supposed truth. The implications were disturbing. If a man of Costello’s stature kept such close tabs on the accounting at the Tropicana, organized crime clearly had a significant presence in Las Vegas."

"That wouldn’t do. The Nevada Gaming Control Board traced the Costello link to two “rogue” employees: executive director Louis Lederer and cashier Michael Tanico. The pair promptly left the Tropicana. Their departures, combined with the casino’s announced intent to repay (Phillip "Dandy Phil") Kastel's investment, satisfied the powers that be that the Tropicana would, in the future, be as clean as its neighbors on the Strip."

In other words, Vito Genovese's impulsive actions didn't cost the mob Las Vegas.

It's interesting to speculate about what would've happened to Vito Genovese had that not been the case. His shooting of Frank Costello could've got the mob kicked out of Las Vegas decades earlier than it was.

But as of 1957, Costello's influence was already in decline, and Kastel, bound to his made benefactor, was nothing on his own.
It's been alleged that the gambling operation he and Frank had built was taken over by Marcello.

Kastel remained in his apartment at the Claiborne Towers in New Orleans until August 16, 1962, when his body was found in his apartment. He died from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It was ruled suicide.

Anastasia bites the dust on a barbershop's floor, five of 10 bullets in him.

Then age 55 the "burly, beetling Lord High Executioner of the old Murder Inc. mob, was shot to death .... by hired killers of his own kind in the Park Sheraton Hotel, Seventh Ave. and 55th St," the Daily News noted in a contemporary report. Of the 10 bullets fired at him, five penetrated the Mad Hatter, the News reported.

A hail of 10 bullets? More likely than not, they realized the futility of the one-shot attempted hit. Who knows for sure, but it'd seem they weren't taking any chances after the failed Costello hit....

Not long after his infamous execution, Anastasia's family departed the Mafia Don's North Jersey Fort Lee 25-room mansion. A slot machine was located in the basement, along with other things..... Such as a "strange tiled room," about which you can read here.


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