Biography of Gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano

Founder of the National Crime Syndicate

Charles ''Lucky'' Luciano
National Archives/Handout/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a man instrumental in creating the American Mafia, was born Salvatore Lucania in 1897 in Sicily, Italy. Luciano moved to the United States in 1906. His career in crime began early when at the age of 10, he was charged with his first crime, shoplifting.

His Early Years

1907, Luciano began his first racket. He charged Jewish kids a penny or two for his protection to and from school.

If they refused to pay, he would beat them up. One of the kids, Meyer Lansky, refused to pay. After Lucky had failed to beat him up, they became friends and joined forces in his protection scheme. They remained friends throughout their lives. In 1916, Luciano became a leader of the Five Points Gang, after getting out of reform school for peddling narcotics. The police named him as a suspect in several local murders although he was never indicted.

The 1920s

By 1920, Luciano's criminal endeavors strengthened, and he got involved in bootlegging. His circle of friends included such crime figures as Bugsy Siegel, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. By the late 1920s, he had become a chief aide in the largest crime family in the country, led by Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. As time went on, Luciano became to despise the old Mafia traditions and thinking of Giuseppe, who believed non-Sicilians could not be trusted.

After being kidnapped and mugged, Luciano discovered Giuseppe was behind the attack. A few months later, he decided to betray Masseria by joining forces with the second largest Family, led by Salvatore Maranzano. In 1928, the Castellammarese War began and over the next two years, several gangsters connected to Masseria and Maranzana were killed.

Luciano, who was still working with both camps, led four men including Bugsy Siegel, to a meeting he had arranged with his boss, Masseria. The four men sprayed Masseria with bullets, killing him.

After the death of Masseria, Maranzano became the "Boss of Bosses" in New York and appointed Lucky Luciano as his number two man. His ultimate goal was to become the leading boss in the United States. After learning of a plan by Maranzano to kill both he and Al Capone, Luciano struck first by organizing a meeting where Maranzano was killed. Lucky Luciano became "The Boss" of New York and immediately began moving into more rackets and expanding their power.

The 1930s

The 1930s were prosperous times for Luciano, now able to break ethnic barriers laid out by the old Mafia and strengthening their reach in areas of bootlegging, prostitution, gambling, loan-sharking, narcotics and labor rackets. In 1936, Luciano was charged with prostitution and received 30 to 50 years. He maintained control of the syndicate during his incarceration.

The 1940s

In the early 1940s, as the second world war broke out, Luciano agreed to help the military Naval Intelligence by offering information that could help protect the New York docks from Nazi saboteurs in exchange for a move to a better prison and possible early parole.

In 1946, Governor Dewey, who was the prosecutor who originally got Luciano incarcerated, granted a commutation of sentence and had Luciano deported to Italy where he resumed his controls over the American syndicate. Luciano snuck into Cuba and remained there, where couriers were set up to bring him money, one being Virginia Hill. His courier arrangements continued even after he was discovered in Cuba and sent back to Italy by government agents.

After Frank Costello had stepped down as Boss, Luciano's power weakened. When he found out Genovese had a plan to assassinated, Luciano, Costello and Carlo Gambino set up a narcotics with Genovese and then tipped off the authorities resulting in Genovese's arrest and incarceration.

The End of Luciano

As Luciano began to age his relationship with Lansky began to falter because Luciano did not feel he was getting his fair share from the mob.

In 1962, he suffered a fatal heart attack in Naples airport. His body was then shipped back to the United States and buried in St. John's Cemetery in New York City.

It is believed that Luciano was one of the most powerful men in organized crime and to this day, his influence over the gangster activity in the USA still exists. He was the first person to challenge the "old Mafia" by breaking through ethnic barriers and creating a network of gangs, which, made up the national crime syndicate controlled organized crime long past his death.

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Montaldo, Charles. "Biography of Gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano." ThoughtCo, Apr. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/charles-lucky-luciano-971950. Montaldo, Charles. (2017, April 11). Biography of Gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/charles-lucky-luciano-971950 Montaldo, Charles. "Biography of Gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/charles-lucky-luciano-971950 (accessed November 23, 2017).