Carlo Gambino arrested in 1970

On this day in history: Mafia Don Carlo Gambino born

By Region History of Italy News The Islands

Thought to be the inspiration for Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Carlo Gambino was born on 24th August 1902 in Palermo, Sicily. He became one of the most powerful Mafia Dons in this history of organised crime.

Carlo Gambino, who became one of the most powerful Mafia Dons in the history of organised crime, was born on this day in 1902 in Palermo, Sicily. 

Head of the Gambino Crime Family for almost two decades, Gambino was born into a Sicilian family who were part of the so-called Honoured Society.

He reached America as a stowaway on a ship that docked in Norfolk, Virginia, having survived allegedly on a diet of anchovies and wine.  From Virginia he travelled to New York, staying with cousins from the Castellano family.

Although only 19, Carlo Gambino was already a ‘Made Man’ in Sicily, having carried out a number of murders.

Read: Anti-Mafia judges honoured with coin

Early life in America

Gambino was introduced to a crime family run by another Sicilian, Salvatore ‘Toto’ D’Aquila. He became part of a gang of young Jewish and Italian mobsters known as the Young Turks. The gang also included Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, also Sicilian, who became his great rival. 

Gambino soon became a prominent figure in the New York underworld. However, he bided his time taking more than 35 years to establish himself as the city’s most powerful Mafia boss.

Whilst content to take his time to achieve power, Gambino was involved in the elimination of a series of rivals. He spent 20 years as third in command of the former D’Aquila empire after Vincent Mangano took control.

Rise to power

Gambino moved up one place in the pecking order in 1951, when Mangano disappeared, presumed murdered. At that point, Albert Anastasia, the notorious head of the execution squad known as Murder Incorporated, took charge.

It was in 1957 that Gambino’s chance to grab power presented itself. Anastasia broke the Mafia rule forbidding the murder of outsiders. Reasoning Anastasia was now discredited, Gambino teamed up with another mobster and arranged for Anastasia to be killed.

For almost 20 years, up to his death in 1976, he controlled the Gambino Crime Family. It was one of the so-called Five Families that sought to control organised crime in New York under one banner or another for more than a century.

By the 1960s, Gambino effectively ran all crime in Manhattan. By infiltrating the New York Longshoremen union, he gained control of 90% of the city’s ports.  He retained power, seeing off a number of attempts to unseat him. He died in 1976 of a heart attack at his holiday home.

Raking in the money

During Gambino’s peak years, the family’s criminal activities realised revenues of an estimated $500 million per year.  Yet Gambinolived a seemingly modest life with a far from ostentatious house in Brooklyn and a holiday home on Long Island.

Despite coming under intensive surveillance by the FBI, he managed to avoid prison during a life spent almost exclusively in crime. He was arrested many times, but the law agencies could not prove his involvement in the crimes.

His funeral at a church in a quiet residential area of Brooklyn was a ticket-only affair attended by 2,000 people. The mourners included prominent members of all the Five Families, as well as numerous plain clothes detectives and FBI agents. Gambino went into the ground in $7,000 bronze coffin.

He is thought to have been the real-life Don that author Mario Puzo identified as the model for Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

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