Mafia Summit Story Certainly Lends Itself To Big Screen Retelling

"All the police cars had to do was patrol the roads. They had to come out sooner or later. You see a guy in a silk suit and a white fedora, you say, ‘He doesn't belong in the woods!’" 
-- Trooper Vincent R. Vasisko, New York State Police, 1957

Wiseguys drive nice cars
The luxury cars were a tipoff...

 “A meeting of George Rafts."

At the hilltop estate at noon on a humid, cloudy November day, dozens of men wearing lush camel hair coats over silk suits and white-on-white shirts stood in gleaming shoes around a barbecue where huge cuts of meat roasted on a roaring flame, and they renewed old acquaintances. 

The seemingly convivial atmosphere prevented them from noticing the car with the two police officers and two U.S. Treasury agents as it rolled up the dirt road and then toward the open compound....

Apalachin is finally coming to the big screen....

David Arquette is playing the role of State Police Bureau sergeant Edgar Croswell in the indie flick Apalachin, about the November 1957 Mafia meeting at Joseph Barbara Sr.'s home in upstate New York.

The film commenced production this past August, per reports, with Danny A. Abeckaser (“Holy Rollers”) directing from a script by Jon Carlo. The cast also includes Jennifer Esposito ("Crash"), Robert Davi ("The Goonies"), Jamie-Lynn Sigler ("The Sopranos"), PJ Byrne ("The Wolf of Wall Street"), and George Andreakos. A  2019 release is planned.

Croswell was a sergeant in the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation when he spotted and raided the meeting at the home of Joseph Barbara Sr. in Apalachin, N.Y., in November 1957. Barbara, ostensibly a soft-drink bottler, was a dyed-in-the-wool mobster, "who’d so much as stick a knife in you as he would shake your hand," one author wrote of him. Barbara was an assassin for Buffalo mob boss Stefano Magaddino, who brought Joe the Barber to northeastern Pennsylvania to watch over his bootlegging interests. Barbara had been a suspect in three murders, including one believed to be the first ordered by the then-newly created Mafia Commission. The offender had been Pittsburgh boss John Bazzano who was murdered and found in a burlap sack in Brooklyn, having been stabbed more than 20 times and strangled with rope. His tongue had also been sliced off.

(Not all agree about the Commission's role in the murder. Bazzano had been summoned to New York for the crime of killing Pittsburgh mobsters affiliated with Vito Genovese. David Critchley, in Origins of Organized Crime in America, writes that Bazzano's murder represented the Commission's weakness or lack of effectiveness, attributing this to Nicola Gentile, writing, "The establishment of the Commission ... did not prevent (Bazzano's) summary execution ... According to Gentile, those listening lost patience with Bazzano’s explanation, and mercilessly fell on him without using any of the mechanisms then available to resolve the matter peacefully." The brutal condition of the body, however, seems to make Gentile's explanation farcical sounding. It certainly seems there had been an element of premeditation in Bazzano's murder. The "Zelig of the American Mafia," Nicola "Zu Cola" Gentile had once been on intimate terms with Bazzano.)

Croswell, aware of Barbara's history, kept his McFall Road house under occasional surveillance.

What initially piqued Croswell's interest was Joe the Barber's son. Croswell was at a local motel investigating a bad check situation when he noticed the son making room reservations. Then he learned that a local butcher had taken an order from the Barbaras to have more than 200 pounds of steak and other meat delivered to their mansion.

Finally, on Nov. 14, 1957, Sergeant Croswell, another trooper and two United States Treasury Department officers drove to the Barbara house, where some 40 Cadillacs, Lincolns, and other luxury cars were parked.

They set up a roadblock and called for help.

Dozens of mobsters – including bosses Vito Genovese, Joe Bonanno and Santo Trafficante, Jr. – were forced to scurry into the woods on foot to evade police. About 60 were arrested at what proved to be a meeting of the national Commission of America’s Cosa Nostra.

Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana was later heard on a wiretap chewing out Magaddino for the fiasco.

“I hope you’re satisfied,” he said. “Sixty-three of our top guys made by the cops.”

Magaddino replied, “I gotta admit you were right, Sam. It never would have happened in your place.”

 "You're fcking right it wouldn't," the Don of Chicago snapped. "This is the safest territory in the world for a big meet. We could have scattered you guys in my motels. We could've given you guys different cars from my auto agencies, and then we could have had the meet in one of my big restaurants. The cops don't bother us here."

Croswell later said, "One by one we rounded them up, bedraggled, soaking wet, and tired.” He added, “There are no sidewalks in the woods.”

Croswell’s men had picked up some of the nation’s most notorious Mafiosi in quite humbling circumstances. Joe Bonanno was nabbed in a cornfield. He would later claim that it wasn’t him at all but someone who happened to have his driver’s license. Tampa boss Santo Trafficante Jr., emerged from the woods with a couple of other wiseguys just as a State trooper's car approached. When the trio turned tail to flee, the troopers fired several warning shots and the gangsters gave up.

It wasn't just mobsters there, either.

John C. Montana, a taxi-company owner and former city council-man from Buffalo, was one of the few to give a more complete explanation. He later testified that he had been on his way to Pittstown, Pennsylvania, when his car’s brakes had failed in Ithaca. He thought Barbara or someone at his house could help fix them. While drinking tea in Barbara’s home, he had noticed “some kind of party” going on but didn’t inquire about it. At the shout of “Roadblock!” he ran for the woods. He explained, ”…it was just human nature that I would say to myself: what am I doing here?”

All detainees were brought to the substation in nearby Vestal. Almost all the men at Apalachin stated that they had dropped by to pay a sick call on Barbara. Their simultaneous arrival on a Thursday morning had been sheer coincidence, they 'd said.

“We gave them a rough time at the station house,” Croswell said. “But we couldn’t even make them commit disorderly conduct there.”

The gangsters had to empty their pockets and take off their shoes. No guns or contraband was found on any of them. What the mobsters did have lots of was cold hard cash: A total of about $300,000 was found. Other stats: Only nine of those captured had no record. The remainder boasted more than 275 arrests among them and 100 convictions. They'd been busted for gambling, narcotics, weapons violations, bootlegging, and union rackets.

And murders.

A prosecutor who helped make cases against some of the Apalachin attendees later noted: “Never before had there been such a collection of jailbirds, murderers free on technicalities, and big wheels in gambling and dope rackets.”

Amazingly, only one day prior, on November 13, 1957, as the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management (also known as the McClellan Committee) was winding down its second phase, Robert F. Kennedy and other Senators were questioning Bureau of Narcotics agent Joseph Amato, who led the FBN's New York office, when something startling was officially put "on the record."

The FBN aggressively investigated mobsters. Unlike FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, the FBN had no problem recognizing that a national crime syndicate was operating in the U.S. They even attacked it.

Amato was discussing Vincent Squillante of New York Teamsters Local 813, when he mentioned, almost as if in passing, that Squillante belonged to the Mafia.

Like a laser, RFK quickly honed in on it, asking: "Is there any organization such as the Mafia, or is that just the name given to the hierarchy in the Italian underworld?"

"That is a big question to answer," Amato replied. "But we believe that there does exist today in the United States a society, loosely organized, for the specific purpose of smuggling narcotics and committing other crimes in the United States. ... It has its core in Italy and it is nationwide. In fact, international."

Hoover continued to resist the notion of a national syndicate, but President Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn't having it. He ordered Hoover to prioritize investigating organized crime. (A story on the Mob Museum website attributes this to Eisenhower, but I can't find confirmation; also, my understanding is that Eisenhower was playing golf during much of 1957, so when the Apalachin story broke, he therefore probably missed all mention of it.) Hoover had to act in any event, to prevent further embarrassment, and soon officially "launched" the FBI’s “Top Hoodlum” program of identifying alleged racketeers in major cities.

In the 1960s, RFK told the New York Times about the superiority of the FBN compared to the FBI when he served as counsel for the Rackets Committee, saying that the FBI “didn’t know anything about organized crime. That I knew. Because after the meeting at Apalachin, which 70 people attended, I asked for files from them on each of the 70, and they didn’t have any information, I think, on 40 out of the 70. Not even the slightest piece of information. Perhaps some news clippings. But nothing beyond that. I sent the same request to the Bureau Narcotics, and they had something on every one of them. … The Bureau of Narcotics had much more information … on organized crime in the United States than the FBI did. The FBI didn't know anything, really, about these people who were the major gangsters in the United States. That was rather a shock to me.”