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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 731

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This is the grave of Vito Genovese.

Born in 1897 in Risigliano, Naples, Italy, this scumbag immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 15. They were already all up in organized crime while in Italy and many of his cousins were also gangsters. His cousin Michael for instance would later be the head of organized crime in Pittsburgh. Living in Little Italy, Genovese soon began running errands for mobsters and collecting money. He first served prison time in 1916 when he got busted for having an illegal weapon and went into the can for a year. When he came out, he rose fast. He became part of the crew working for Joe Masseria. That put him close to Lucky Luciano and then to Arnold Rothstein, who taught Genovese the bootlegging business as Prohibition was in its early stages. In 1931, Genovese was part of the crew who then killed Masseria and went to work for Rothstein. This was all part of the Castellammarese War

After Genovese’s first wife died of tuberculosis, he almost immediately married another woman. This woman was married to another man. Somehow, he ended up strangled to death. Who can say why! They married 12 days after his death.

There were more murders, too banal to really discuss. In 1936, Luciano was finally busted and went to prison for life (though of course he didn’t serve near that). By this time, he was the boss. Genovese took his place. But in 1937, he was threatened with a very real chance of prison himself because he had murdered Ferdinand Boccia, another mobster, in 1934. So he decamped for Italy and ran the crime family from there. Genovese became a major funder of Mussolini and had Carlo Tresca, the former IWW organizer and current anti-fascist newspaper editor in New York, murdered as a favor to Il Duce. Nice guy all around here, eh.

Of course, Genovese might have been a fascist, but like most fascists, he was really only interested in personal profit. So when the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, he switched sides and offered his services to the military. He bribed the governor of New York with a fancy Packard to help this along. The Army made him an interpreter. Of course, he was also running a huge black market operation during the entire war. The Army really wasn’t that aware of Genovese’s background and certainly wasn’t asking any questions. But Genovese was arrested in 1944 when a witness turned and implicated him in the Boccia murder. The Army actually didn’t much care and got in the way of having him deported to the U.S. since he was useful to them, but a dogged prosecutor finally made it happen. Genovese was returned to New York in 1945. And then, somehow, witnesses to the act started ending up dead. Charges were dropped in 1946 since there wasn’t enough living people anymore to back them up.

By this time, Genovese wasn’t running the family anymore. That was Frank Costello. Genovese reentered the organization as a capo. Of course, there were all sorts of machinations and people killing each other all the time for power. Some of this had to do with his wife–she actually sued for divorce in the early 50s and spilled all the beans about all his operations. Although the suit was dismissed, it was clear that his wife had been sleeping with other people during his Italian years while she remained in New York. So he had the guy who was supposed to be minding her strangled to death. He had this and that person killed until he felt he could move on Costello. Though the assassination attempt against him failed, it did convince him to step aside for Genovese. He was back in power.

In November 1957, Genovese wanted to show off. He was in power and he wanted everyone to know it. So he decided to hold a big meeting of all the mob bosses. This was the epic Appalachin meeting, in upstate New York. Suspicious state police started writing down license plate numbers of all these super fancy cars in this obscure place. Whoops! The police swooped in and busted the entire New York crime scene in one fell swoop. Genovese was one of the mobsters who managed to get away. This all led to the McClellan hearings on organized crime that engrossed the nation. Genovese took the Fifth. Disgusted and sick of him, Luciano, now aging but still a power play, paid off a Puerto Rican drug dealer to lie to the cops and say that Genovese was importing narcotics. Although it was totally false, it finally got Genovese behind bars in 1959 on a 15 year prison sentence. He still more or less ran the crime family from prison and ordered a lot of murders from there. But in 1969, while in prison in Springfield, Missouri, Genovese had a heart attack and finally purged the planet of his putrescent presence. He was 71 years old.

Vito Genovese is buried in Saint John Cemetery, Queens, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other gangster scumbags, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Al Capone is in Chicago and Bugsy Siegel is in Los Angeles. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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