Wait, did you read Part-1? Its here.
Always try to be the little guy. That way, they don’t see you comin’ – FBI wiretap transcript of Carlo Gambino, head of the Gambino crime family, New York, speaking to a newly ‘made’ mafioso at his initiation ceremony.
Carlo Gambino under arrest. He was acquitted in this one (Photo courtesy: LA Times)
Remember that in Part-1, I was talking about the Roman Emperor, Claudius and I promised to tell you about another guy who liked to keep a very low profile? No? You really should be payin’ more attenshun, y’know.
The other was also from the same region of the world but born 1900 years later, in Palermo, Sicily and he stole away in a freighter to the US when he was just 17. Like Claudius, this man too went on to become an emperor in his own right. Only, in his case it wasn’t a country, but a tightly-knit and murderous fraternity. The members of the fraternity didn’t just call him an emperor, but as a sign of respect and fear that he generated for a while in the 1940s and 50s, he was known as the Capo di tutti Capi, or ‘boss of all bosses’.
This man went by the name of Carlo Gambino, arguably one of the most powerful American mob bosses in history and also one of the handful of mafia bosses who managed to die naturally, of old age.
A diminutive man with beedy eyes, a large nose and a mild, pleasant and deferential demeanor, Gambino was anything but imposing in stature. Joe Bonnano, a compatriot of Gambino’s and one of the powerful heads of the five New York crime families of the 50s, once called Gambino a ‘squirrel of a man’. Maybe he had the looks of a squirrel but in Gambino’s case, looks were definitely misleading, for he in fact had the heart of a daring cheetah, the cunning of a fox and the venom of a viper.
To wade through the vicious world of the mafioso and be able to reach the very pinnacle, keeping at bay and earning the respect of the legends of the time such as, Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky, needed a special kind of nerve and only Carlo had that.
Gambino had the rare ability to see two moves ahead and act without hesitation when he saw an advantage. His mantra was ‘ when you want to get at the other guy, first make him believe you are giving in to what he wants’. When the ambitious Vito Genovese tried to grab territory that belonged to him, Gambino laid a trap for him. He knew that Genovese was heavily involved in drug traffiking, an activity that was still in a nascent stage and frowned upon by the mafia bosses of the day. He also knew that three other bosses (Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, and Lucky Luciano) hated Genovese.
Gambino saw an opportunity. He roped the other three in and put together a lucrative drug deal that was too good for Genovese to pass up. Then Gambino paid a Puerto Rican drug dealer $100,000 to rat on Genovese. The dealer was small fry and could not possibly have had access to mafia bosses. Besides, his testimony should have been struck down as hearsay. But the FBI wanted Genovese real bad, another thing that Gambino knew. They swallowed the Puerto Rican’s account as authentic and managed to win a conviction that put Vito Genovese away for 20 years, eventually dying of a heart attack, while incarcerated.
While his counterparts, the other mafia bosses, lead ostentatious lives, owning palatial mansions, flashy limos and strings of high-priced mistresses, Gambino was a singularly unpretentious man who was content living in a modest 2-storey brick house in Brooklyn that he shared with his wife of 40 years, the only difference being that the house was inside a heavily guarded cul-de-sac, with the other buildings owned and occupied by trusted family men (an aspect that was recorded by Mario Puzo, in his mafia opus ‘The Godfather’).
At the height of his reign as Capo di Tutti Capi, Carlo Gambino is said to amassed a fortune that was worth upwards of a billion ill-gotten dollars. His underboss, Aniello Dellacroce once quoted Gambino exclaiming exultantly,” Well, what do you know, we are bigger than US Steel!” (The line was later used by the character, Hyman Roth, in the Francis Ford Coppola hit ‘ The Godfather- Part II).
The singer and his mafia sponsors. Frank Sinatra (standing, second from left) and Carlo Gambino (standing, second from right) (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)
Gambino could bear a grudge too. When you hear the cement overcoat story, you will know what I mean. A feared soldier of the Colombo crime family, Dominick Scialo, was once at a restaurant when he spotted Carlo Gambino and began to harass and insult him in front of others. Gambino kept his cool and did not say a word.
Scialo was not touched, not a hair on his head bent. Instead, some time later, he was grabbed as he was entering a Colombo family social club, driven to Brooklyn and gently set inside the foundation of a high-rise under construction and concrete poured over him, alive. Gambino is reported to have stood over the guy and watched. Then, while his head was still clear, the gooey concrete now lapping against his chin, Gambino stooped and placed a cigarette between his gasping lips and said,” Here, have a drag. It will calm you down.”
Concrete shrinks as it hardens and sets. A human body placed inside concrete when it is still wet, would be crushed by the contraction caused by the shrinking concrete. Since the murder of Scialo, the near-perfect method of disposal and complete disappearance – setting folk inside concrete alive, became the disposal mode of choice for the American mob.
If you are walking by a construction site and you see the concrete churning on its own, inside the setting molds and you hear wails and moans, chances are that the mixer operator is Sicilian.