Apalachin Meeting was a historic summit of the American
mafia held on November 14, 1957 at the home of mobster
Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara in Apalachin, New
was attended by roughly 100 mafia crime bosses from the
United States, Canada and Italy.
cars with license plates from around the country aroused the
curiosity of the local and state law enforcement, who raided
the meeting, causing mafiosi to flee into the woods and the
surrounding area of the Apalachin estate.
60 underworld bosses were detained and indicted due to the
America Met the Mob
crime? Mafia? A lot of people, including J. Edgar Hoover, said it
was mere folklore—until one day in 1957 an alert New York state
trooper set up a roadblock in a small town. What followed was low
comedy with high consequences.
day was mild for November; the blanket of sodden clouds promised
rain. By noon the hilltop estate was fragrant with the prehistoric
aroma of roasting meat. The visitors, dressed in silk suits,
white-on-white shirts, gleaming shoes, and lush camel’s hair
coats, looked distinctly out of place in the tiny upstate New York
hamlet of Apalachin. “A meeting of George Rafts,” an observer
dozens of men standing around the barbecue were preparing to feast.
A week before, their host had ordered $432 worth of fancy steaks,
veal chops, and hams from Armour & Company in Binghamton. The
220-pound shipment had to be sent in specially from Chicago.
the men circulated and renewed acquaintances, a car containing two
police officers and two U.S. Treasury agents rolled up the dirt road
toward the open compound. Neither the lawmen nor the houseguests
realized that the events about to unfold that day in 1957 would
stamp the name Apalachin on the history of crime in America and
shape for all time the public’s perception of the underworld.
Edgar D. Croswell was a tall, severe forty-two-year-old State Police
veteran. Divorced, he lived in the trooper barracks and devoted
himself to his work. He was a meticulous and thorough investigator.
The day before, he and his partner, Vincent Vasisko, had stopped by
the Parkway Motel in the town of Vestal to follow up on a bad-check
investigation. While Croswell conferred with the motel manager in a
back room, a young man entered the lobby. Croswell made sure he was
out of sight and listened to the customer reserve three rooms for
that night and the next, requesting keys but not naming the
saw a stranger sight: a dozen sharply dressed men running
across a field.
recognized the young man as the son of Joseph Barbara, who owned the
local Canada Dry Bottling Company. Barbara had a reputation as a
bootlegger and a man of shady associations. On a hunch, Croswell and
Vasisko, patrolling in an unmarked car, drove past Barbara’s
lavish home a few miles away in Apalachin (pronounced Ap-a-LAY-kin
by the locals).
They noted two cars unusual for small-town New York,
a coral-and-pink Lincoln and a blue Cadillac with Ohio plates.
Croswell, his instincts honed by twelve years in the Criminal
Investigation Division, checked the Barbara place again after dark.
He talked the matter over with two investigators from the Federal
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division in nearby Binghamton. He resolved
to inquire further in the morning.
has added a subterranean stream to the course of American history
from the nation’s earliest days, and more particularly since the
rise of urban society in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
In the brash saloon culture of the cities, street and youth gangs,
like the Five Pointers of New York and the Valley Gang in Chicago,
became allied with ward politicians, canvassing for votes in
exchange for protection from the police.
element in this stew of corruption, vice, and violence was a faction
known as the Mafia. In Sicily the word referred to an attitude that
included defiance of authority, loyalty to kin, and the settlement
of disputes by vendetta or by the arbitration of a village
strongman. It was a state of mind that had developed over centuries
of misrule by Spanish and Bourbon conquerors. Mafia was also
applied to bands of brigands that terrorized local peasants, at
first at the behest of landowners, then for their own benefit. They
established a solid base of power in Sicily during the last quarter
of the nineteenth century.
America, Mafiosi mainly extorted money from vulnerable Italian
immigrants, a technique known as the “black hand.” The public
was suspicious of this secret, alien society but saw no cause for
onset of Prohibition in 1920 marked the continental divide in the
history of organized crime. Lacking the will to enforce the Volstead
Act, Congress effectively assigned an entire industry to the
underworld. Prohibition served as the gangsters’ higher education,
demanding as it did management skills, cooperation, planning, and
high-level political contacts. It moved the gangs far beyond their
neighborhood haunts. It eroded public respect for the law and turned
street thugs into millionaires. By the mid-1920s the gangs, rather
than serve the politicians as minions, were giving orders to mayors
sits shoulder to shoulder with Binghamton and Johnson City along the
Susquehanna River near New York’s border with Pennsylvania. In the
early decades of this century, the town attracted large numbers of
Italian immigrants with jobs in its shoe industry, which included
the big Endicott Johnson plant. One of the Sicilians who landed
there was Joseph Barbara, in whose activities Sergeant Croswell took
such an interest.
had been born in Castellammare del Golfo, a Sicilian coastal town
that gave rise to an entire clique of the American mob. He came to
America in 1921. His several arrests on suspicion of murder in the
early 1930s mark him as a trigger-puller during the underworld
turmoil of the time.
record had been pretty clean since 1933, but Croswell suspected he
was using his soft drink and beer operation to mask involvement in
illicit alcohol. “Somehow I felt he was the big mobster in our
area,” Croswell said.
was known locally as a businessman with connections. He gave heavily
to charity. He lived in an eighteen-room quarry-stone house. The
Endicott police chief had personally recommended him for a pistol
permit. His franchise to distribute Canada Dry soft drinks and
Gibbons beer was a lucrative one. During 1956 Barbara, at fifty-one,
had been weakened by heart disease. His son Joseph, Jr., was
overseeing the Canada Dry plant while another son attended college.
background was typical of many of those who gathered in Apalachin
that day: early brushes with violence and rumrunning, a later pose
of respectability buttressed by an interest in one or more
legitimate businesses. It was a path that paralleled the evolution
of the underworld as a whole. The twenties and early thirties were
marked by bloodshed as Irish, Jewish, and Italian gangs fought over
the bonanza of Prohibition. The violence peaked in 1931, when
Salvatore Maranzano scrambled to the top of the heap in New York and
declared himself “boss of all bosses.”
was the leader of the Castellammarese faction, which included the
gang leaders Joseph Bonanno and Joseph Profaci of Brooklyn and
Buffalo’s Stefano Magaddino. Maranzano, who spoke six languages
and was an avid student
of the works of Julius Caesar, viewed
himself in the tradition of the old-style Mafia strongmen. He
envisioned a gangland dominated by Italians, in which territorial
bosses, their followers ordered on the pattern of Roman legions,
would maintain a stable realm, honoring their emperor.
plan to organize the gangs into “regimes” of “soldiers”
headed by “capos” has long outlived him, as has his arrangement
of New York’s Italian gangs into five “families.” Maranzano
himself paid grievously for his ambition.
Cassius was Salvatore Lucania, better known as Lucky Luciano. The
young, forward-thinking Luciano saw the advantage in alliances with
non-Italian gangs and the need for a high-level “commission” of
gang bosses to replace violence with arbitration; the disputes that
arose in a world without written contracts perpetually threatened
rational New World view clashed with Maranzano’s notions. Each man
plotted against the other. In September 1931, as Vincent (“Mad Dog”)
Coll was arriving at the New York Central Building on Park Avenue to
lay ambush for Luciano, killers hired by Luciano and disguised as
policemen walked into Maranzano’s office there and left him lying
early years of the Depression saw a continued shake-out in
gangland. Other recalcitrant mobsters—Jack (“Legs”)
Diamond, Dutch Schultz, and Coll himself—died in the
bloodshed, but Luciano’s ideas soon caught on.
the mid-1930s Luciano, along with his boyhood pal Meyer Lansky
and the veteran gangster Frank Costello, had brought a
relative peace to the underworld that would last two decades.
Says the historian John H. Davis, author of Mafia
Dynasty: “What Luciano accomplished was to Americanize and
democratize the old Sicilian Mafia,” turning it into “a
huge, and fearsome, moneymaking machine.”
noon on Thursday, November 14, Sergeant Croswell, Trooper Vasisko,
and the two Alcohol Tax men drove up to the Barbara home to pursue
what they continued to think was a bootlegging investigation. They
found a number of vehicles parked next to Barbara’s four-car
garage. As they wrote down
license numbers, a dozen men strolled
from behind the building, where they had been eating sirloin
sandwiches, and stared at the officers. A few more broke into an
anxious trot as they headed for the big ranch-style house.
and his men started to leave, but their curiosity was further piqued
by the sight of another almost two dozen cars parked in a field
behind Barbara’s horse barn. What was going on here? They
retreated down the hill to an intersection a half-mile from the
house and stopped to talk over the situation. Because a bridge was
out, the road past Barbara’s place was a dead end.
decided to set up a roadblock and check anyone who left. He sent
Vasisko and one of the federal men back for reinforcements.
were out or hand, If Costello and Anastasia could be shot, no
one was safe.
the public was primed for the revelations that would surface at
Apalachin, it was mainly due to groundwork laid seven years earlier.
In 1950 Estes Kefauver, a freshman senator from Tennessee with a
nose for publicity, decided that probing a nationwide criminal
conspiracy would further the public good even as it boosted his own
political fortunes. The Kefauver Committee traveled to fourteen
cities during 1950 and 1951, compiling voluminous amounts of
testimony, fact, and opinion. The senators uncovered bookmaking,
numbers rackets, and illicit casinos everywhere they went, and with
the vice came the inevitable political corruption.
larger issue that emerged from the hearings was the existence of a
syndicate that controlled criminal activity across the country. But
Attorney General J. Howard McGrath saw no evidence of a centralized
conspiracy, and neither did J. Edgar Hoover; the FBI director
insisted that the Mafia was pure fantasy.
wavered at first, but in the end he declared flatly, “A national
crime syndicate does exist in the United States of America.…”
The mob was, in fact, a “second government” of pervasive power.
“The Mafia…is no fairy tale.”
fifties were the golden age of organized crime. Mobsters had
invested their Prohibition lucre in gambling enterprises; casinos in
Las Vegas and Havana promised steady streams of cash. The mob had
leveraged its muscle through labor and industrial rackets in fields
like trucking, construction, and apparel, extracting a private tax
on a wide range of products and services. Narcotics importation
yielded further treasure. Political contacts from the twenties and
thirties had matured: Mob lawyers had become judges, judges
senators. The underworld had enjoyed its pax Luciano for more than
twenty years. Two shootings would break the peace and set the stage
the 1940s Virgil W. Peterson, head of the Chicago Crime Commission,
had called Frank Costello “the lord of the underworld of the
entire United States.” Born Francesco Castiglia, Costello had
turned a fascination with coin-operated devices into a slot-machine
empire. His notoriety hastened his downfall. After being raked
across the coals by Kefauver, Costello became a sitting duck for
government prosecutors and served more than a year in jail for
contempt. In the spring of 1957 he was out on appeal and still
trying to keep his hand on the tiller of his criminal conglomerate.
As such he represented a threat to Vito Genovese, another long-time
gang leader, who had taken charge of Costello’s crime family two
| Frank Costello
|| Vincent (“The Chin”) Gigante
the night of May 2, 1957, as Costello entered his Central Park West
apartment building, a man leaped at him, shouted “This is for you,
Frank,” and shot him in the head. Costello dropped, his assassin
bullet, though, had only creased Costello’s skull. When confronted
with his alleged assailant, Vincent (“The Chin”) Gigante,
Costello claimed he had seen nothing. But he heeded the eloquent
message and retired from his underworld business.
Apalachin, Croswell was now watching a strange sight: a dozen
sharply dressed men running from Barbara’s house across an open
field, heading for a stand of pine trees. At the same time, the
small truck of a local fishmonger that had been leaving Barbara’s
property suddenly turned and rushed back to the house. The driver,
Bartholo Guccia, a retired Endicott Johnson tanner with a criminal
record and, like Barbara, a Castellammare native, later explained
that he had returned to clarify a fish order, not to raise an alarm.
a 1957 Chrysler Imperial approached the road-block. Croswell ordered
the car to stop and asked the men inside to identify themselves and
submit to a search. Among the occupants was Vito Genovese. Croswell
knew the name; the newspapers called him “King of the Rackets.”
He was one of the most powerful gang leaders in the country.
week shy of sixty at the time, Genovese had paid his gangland dues.
In the 1920s and 1930s, when Luciano had supplied the underworld’s
organizational acumen, Lansky the brains, and Costello the political
connections, Genovese’s department had been the muscle. Early
photos show him with a square countenance of concentrated ferocity,
and even as a grandfather he retained a face that could frighten. In
1957 Genovese was angling for undisputed sway in the New York
Costello had been scared off, the major obstacle to Genovese’s
hegemony was another mob leader, Albert Anastasia, who had also come
up through the mayhem department of the business. Anastasia, who ran
a Brooklyn-based Mafia family, exerted an iron control over New
York’s waterfront, and his gang had its fingers on a majority of
the imports into the U.S. East Coast.
nickname—“Il Terremoto,” the Earthquake—gives a clue to his
disposition. In 1952 he watched a young Brooklyn man named Arnold
Schuster being congratulated by police officers on television.
Schuster had spotted and turned in the bank robber and prison
escapee Willie Sutton. “I can’t stand squealers!” Anastasia
supposedly bellowed. A few days later Schuster was shot three times
in the head as he walked home from work.
antics raised questions in the underworld about Anastasia’s
stability. His alliance with Costello made him a threat to Genovese.
Also, he had lately been trying to force an opening into the
lucrative Havana casino business that Lansky and others gangsters
had neatly divided up.
in the Park Sheraton Hotel on New York
paid for these sins in a spectacular way. Three weeks before the
Apalachin meeting he sat down in chair number four of a barbershop
in the Park Sheraton Hotel on New York’s Seventh Avenue and asked
for a trim. Two masked men entered and started shooting. Il
Terremoto heaved himself from the chair, breaking the footrest. He
lurched toward the image of his killers in the mirror. Half the
shots went wild before one finally caught him in the head.
the gun is the ultimate source of power in the underworld,
competition always has the potential of exploding into unrestrained
violence. Such a danger was now at hand, and there was a consensus
among mob bosses that a meeting was needed to clear the air.
wanted to hold the conference in Chicago, neutral ground for the
contentious New York gangs. “Big Steve” Magaddino, the
Castellemmarese boss of Buffalo and a man of considerable clout
among the mob’s top echelons, convinced him that the Barbara
estate would be a more secluded site. The Mafia Commission had held
a meeting in nearby Binghamton the year before with no disturbances.
For Magaddino the 1957 conclave was a chance to demonstrate his
influence and further boost his prestige. 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.”
replied, “I gotta admit you were right, Sam. It never would have
happened in your place.”
the carefully planned event was now going terribly wrong. One of the
enduring questions about the Apalachin incident is why these men,
veterans of bloody mob wars and of numerous encounters with the law,
panicked. They were committing no crime; the police never closed in.
Maybe the unfamiliar wide-open spaces threw them off. Maybe the
dynamics of the crowd took over. Whatever the reason, they ran.
knew now that he had uncovered something big. As additional troopers
arrived, he sent them to track down the men who had scurried into
the woods. Other officers helped ferry the carloads of gangsters to
the station. After the first flurry the participants of the thwarted
meeting tried to exit a few at a time. Each car was detained as it
one was Joe Profaci, the “Olive Oil King” and top man in one of
the five New York families. Another held Carlo Gambino, whom
Genovese had installed as head of Anastasia’s faction, a reward to
Gambino for betraying his boss.
men picked up some of the nation’s most notorious hoodlums in
humbling circumstances. The long-time Brooklyn mob boss 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. The
Tampa kingpin Santo Traffkante, Jr., was more at home in the
nightclubs of Havana, where he played a key role in the mob’s
gambling empire, than in the dank woods of upstate New York. He
emerged from the woods with a couple of confederates only to see a
State Police car approaching. The group turned tail; the troopers
fired several warning shots; the gangsters gave up.
took all the detainees to the substation in nearby Vestal. “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. Police found no guns or contraband on any of the
participants. The men did carry a great deal of cash, a total of
around three hundred thousand dollars (one man, who had a roll worth
close to ten thousand, listed his occupation as “unemployed”).
final tally wasn’t complete until one o’clock the next morning,
an hour after the last of those who had run for the woods was
brought in from the rain. “One by one we rounded them up,”
Croswell said, “bedraggled, soaking wet, and tired.” He added,
“There are no sidewalks in the woods.”
gangsters were taken at the roadblock or in the surrounding area,
and speculation placed as many as forty more men on the attendance
list. Barbara’s house was never searched; any who did not flee
could have waited out the raid inside. About the reaction of those
nabbed, Croswell noted, “These guys are never indignant.” All of
them answered questions politely and left the station quietly.
the time Croswell processed the last of the men, he was being
swamped by calls from reporters. The following day headlines
blossomed in newspapers throughout the country.
Here at last was
proof of what Kefauver had warned about. Here was the “Grand
Council” of the Mafia, the nerve center of crime in America. The
enemy had finally been flushed into the open.
police were immediately excoriated for releasing the biggest catch
of mobsters in history. Croswell’s critics ignored the fact that
the men, none of whom was a wanted fugitive, were peacefully
assembled on private property. The police action was itself of
questionable legality, since there was no legitimate cause for
all the men stated that they had dropped by to pay a sick call on
Barbara, that their simultaneous arrival on a Thursday morning had
been sheer coincidence. 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?”
were more accustomed to police roundups. Only 9 of those captured
had no record. The remainder boasted more than 275 arrests among
them, 100 convictions. Their sheets contained busts for gambling,
narcotics, weapons violations, bootlegging, and union rackets.
list of attendees gave a snapshot of the underworld of the time. The
mob was aging. Al Capone had reached the pinnacle of power while
still in his twenties. The men at Apalachin were survivors, wily
veterans of Prohibition, many of them in their fifties and sixties.
meeting was emblematic of the ascendancy of the Italian gangs in
postwar organized crime. About half of the guests were natives of
southern Italy or Sicily; the rest had been born in America of
Italian heritage. Apalachin also illustrated the degree to which
kinship formed a glue that held the underworld
together—twenty-five of those picked up were related to one or
more of the other guests—and provided a clue to the movement of
the mob into legitimate business. The garment trade was the most
common occupation detainees gave to police. State investigators
reported that Natale Evola, a Brooklyn cousin of Joe Barbara’s
wife, “is believed to exercise control over the shoulder pad
industry.” He was later indicted as a major narcotics dealer.
Eleven men listed their occupation as olive oil and cheese
importation; others operated bars and restaurants, beer
distributorships, and funeral homes.
Apalachin was the most famous mob convention ever held, it was far
from the first. What made Apalachin different from the earlier
gatherings was its wholesale discovery. “Secrecy,” Elias Canetti
declares, “lies at the very core of power.” Apalachin set in
motion events that would gradually strip the underworld of much of
its secrecy. That was what made the event a turning point and in
many senses a high-water mark for the mob.
was of enormous importance,” says the veteran mob watcher Nicholas
Pileggi, author of Wiseguys: Life in a Mafia Family. “It
proved that this wasn’t the fantasy that many had thought. It made
it harder for the lawyers and apologists to deny the existence of
organized crime. After Apalachin the mob’s political support began
to crack. Gangsters are still active today in hijacking,
loan-sharking, and other activities; the difference is that
they’ve lost the official clout. They no longer appoint judges or
power of the gang bosses rested on rispetto, the mixture of
respect and fear that the old Mafia dons had employed to further
their extortions. Ridicule was a peril. The opera buffa of Apalachin
made Vito Genovese a laughingstock in the underworld. His fortunes
never recovered. Seventeen months after the meeting, the government
hit him with a fifteen-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute
narcotics. He died in jail ten years later.
1957 organized crime was suddenly news. Each of the Apalachin
participants became the focus of publicity and potential official
action on his home turf. Attendance at the meeting was taken as
proof of involvement in a malignant conspiracy. The public demanded
to know why this “second government,” now no longer invisible,
was allowed to exist. The authorities began to die for answers.
made vito Genovese an underworld laughingstock. His fortunes,
New York legislature assigned a watchdog committee to look into the
matter. Grand juries probed for wrongdoing. Paul Castellano, the
chauffeur, brother-in-law, and eventual successor to Carlo Gambino,
served seven months for his silence before a New York City panel.
Liquor and immigration authorities began to examine participants.
Joe Barbara, plagued by health problems, never testified about the
meeting, but he lost his pistol permit and his beer license and soon
after sold both his house and business. When he died in 1959, only
four of the hordes of “well-wishers” from two years earlier made
it to his funeral.
the federal level Apalachin came under the magnifying glass of a
Senate committee chaired by John McClellan of Arkansas. The Senate
Rackets Committee, as it was known, had been digging up dirt on mob
infiltration of labor unions for nine months before Apalachin.
Twentytwo of the delegates to Apalachin had union or
labor-management ties. The hearings were driven by the group’s
chief counsel, Robert Kennedy. Genovese appeared before the panel
wearing amber-shaded glasses and took the Fifth Amendment more than
150 times. McClellan’s investigation proved to be an important
step toward cleaning up mob-dominated unions.
Edgar Hoover understood that Apalachin made a mockery of his
long-held position that no Mafia existed in America. A few days in
the wake of Apalachin, Hoover set up a “Top Hoodlum Program,”
using the bureau to consolidate information on leading gangsters.
explanations have been put forth as to why Hoover demonstrated such
a blind spot when it came to gangland realities, including a theory
that the mob was blackmailing him. It’s more likely that
Hoover’s reasoning was closer to what he so often stated: a notion
that crime was a local problem. He told the Kefauver committee that
if state and local laws were properly enforced, gambling would be
eliminated “within forty-eight hours.” Having kept his agency
clear of the debacle of Prohibition, Hoover had long preached
against turning the FBI into a national police force.
instincts as a bureaucrat told him that effective action against
organized crime meant cooperation with other federal agencies, a
prospect he loathed. It also meant diverting resources from his
obsessive hunt for domestic Communists. Whatever the reason, even
after Apalachin, Hoover continued to drag his feet on organized
crime. He squashed a Bureau report that detailed the history of the
underworld because it admitted the existence of a syndicate. In 1959
the Bureau’s New York office still had four hundred agents
assigned to domestic security details and only four looking into the
Kennedy lambasted the Eisenhower administration that same year for
its failure to prosecute gang bosses. “The proof is the Apalachin
convention,” he said. “Sixty top gangsters were there, but no
local, state, or federal officer knew about it. It was discovered
only by chance.…”
views began to shift even before Kennedy took over the Justice
Department, and by 1961 he had plunged into the war on gangsterism
with the zeal of a convert.
by Apalachin, Robert Kennedy remained an intrepid foe of the mob
during his tenure as Attorney General. Insisting that the government
needed to attack organized crime “with weapons and techniques as
effective as their own,” he pushed five anti-mob bills through
Congress in 1961 and more than tripled the size of the
department’s organized-crime section. Kennedy’s approach was all
action. “Don’t define it,” he said, “do something about
it.” By 1963 the government had indicted more than six hundred
Valachi McClellan’s committee
same year a portly man of fifty-eight with an iron gray crew cut, a
gangster for thirty-six years, went before McClellan’s committee
and became the first insider to sing publicly about the mob. This
was Joe Valachi, a soldier in Genovese’s gang who believed that
his boss had betrayed him. Valachi became the Boswell of the Mafia,
confirming much of what was already suspected, putting together the
bricks of the story with the mortar of terminology and anecdote.
of the secrets that Valachi confirmed was that mobsters never used
the term Mafia. Instead they talked vaguely of cosa nostra,
“our thing.” FBI agents liked this. They turned the reference
into a proper name, La Cosa Nostra, transformed it into an acronym,
LCN, and thereby saved face for their director. There was, as Hoover
had always claimed, no Mafia.
also passed into the national vocabulary as a synonym for the
underworld. Newspaper columnists referred to mobsters as “the
Apalachin boys.” Every subsequent gathering of gangsters was
inevitably labeled a “little Apalachin.”
won Sergeant Croswell high praise for his diligence and established
him as an organized-crime expert. He toured the nation talking about
the underworld. After retiring from the State Police as a captain in
1966, he helped investigate corruption in the New York carting
industry, and during the 1970s he served as head of the state’s
Organized Crime Task Force.
names of Apalachin’s attendees—Genovese, Gambino, Profaci, and
Bonanno—became touchstones of organized crime. Carlo Gambino rose
to become gangland’s big cheese. His successor, Paul Castellano,
who also enjoyed a steak sandwich at Barbara’s home that day, was
among a bevy of mob leaders who in 1985 were indicted under the
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Their crime was
membership in the Mafia Commission itself, the once-secret Grand
Council, whose membership changes were now reported routinely in The
New York Times. When the conspirators were duly convicted and
sentenced to hundred-year terms, Castellano wasn’t around to join
them; he had been shot down in front of his favorite New York
steakhouse, a victim of his ambitious successor, John Gotti.
the mid-1990s Vito Genovese’s outfit, which could boast Lucky
Luciano among its succession of leaders, had passed into the hands
of a man who prosecutors alleged had become the dean of mobsters.
Convicted in 1997 for racketeering and conspiracy to murder, he was
none other than Vincent (“The Chin”) Gigante, the onetime boxer
whose 1957 attempt to plug Frank Costello was a major item on the
spite of the many revelations since Apalachin, the exact nature of
the underworld remains elusive. Like the blind men with their
elephant, observers perceive an organized crime of their own
construction. Government officials find a second government. Law
enforcement people see a paramilitary structure not unlike their
own. Experts draw up organization charts with rigid chains of
command. Reformers find corrupt politicians, nativists ethnic
conspirators, moralists sinners.
of the models exactly fits what Meyer Lansky’s biographer Robert
Lacey calls “the confused, fluid, and essentially entrepreneurial
character of most criminal activity.” In a sense Apalachin left a
false impression of a distinct and easily definable mob ruled from
the top. It fixed in the public mind the image of shady men meeting
to direct a vast conspiracy. If that picture had been accurate,
perhaps we would not still be wrestling with a stubborn
organized-crime problem more than forty years after the event. In
reality the underworld, with its matrix of personal influence, blood
loyalties, intimidation, ad hoc enterprise, and political
connections, defies both categorical description and easy remedy.
Kelly’s latest crime novel, Line
will be published in September .
IN THE NEWS
History of Police Woman
History of Black Police Officers
Cold Case Squad
Underwater Recovery Team
Band and Drill Team
World War II
The Blue Ribbon Gang
The Mystery Perfume Case
The Felons Fang
Contract For A Hit
An Eye For Murder
The Boarder Bandits
Detective William Burns