The Struggle for Control

1910 – 1918. A long run­ning bat­tle between New York’s gangs to con­trol the city’s lucra­tive rackets.

Navy St Gang
Navy St Gang

The Gangs of New York

The impris­on­ment of Lupo and Morel­lo left the US Mafia and two of its fam­i­lies with­out effec­tive lead­er­ship. It is the­o­rized that a short peri­od of pro­vi­sion­al gov­er­nance fol­lowed with Sebas­tiano Di Gae­tano of the Brook­lyn Castel­lam­mare­si act­ing as an inter­im capo dei capi (boss of boss­es).1 After var­i­ous legal attempts to secure the release of  Lupo and Morel­lo failed, and with Lupo’s broth­er fac­ing jail for obstruc­tion of jus­tice,2) new fam­i­ly heads were cho­sen, and the Mafia’s Gen­er­al Assem­bly elect­ed Sal­va­tore “Toto” D’Aquila as the new capo dei capi of the “Ono­ra­ta Soci­eta” (Hon­ored Soci­ety).3 

In 1912, infor­mant Sal­va­tore Clemente revealed to the Secret Ser­vice there were actu­al­ly four Mafia fam­i­lies oper­at­ing in New York. He explained that “…when a new mem­ber is pro­posed for any one of the four gangs, it is always bought up before the four gangs,” a cus­tom that con­tin­ued into the mod­ern era. He later named the gangs:4

  • The Harlem Lo Monte Gang
    Pre­vi­ous­ly run by Giuseppe Morel­lo. The Cor­leone­si group was now head­ed by For­tu­na­to Lo Monte. Lo Monte owned a whole­sale feed and grain busi­ness at 2013 First Avenue and was a busi­ness asso­ciate of Gio­sue Gal­luc­ci, who con­trolled gam­bling and vice in East Harlem.5 (Later divid­ed into the Gen­ovese and Luc­ch­ese Families.)
  • The Harlem D’Aquila Gang 
    The Paler­mi­tani group was com­mand­ed by the new over­all leader of the US Mafia, Sal­va­tore D’Aquila. Those who knew him described D’Aquila as “a skil­ful man but his true power lay in his cru­el­ty.”6 A Secret Ser­vice agent later described the gang as a “new fac­tion” that grew in pop­u­lar­i­ty and strength.7 (Later known as the Gam­bi­no Family.)
  • The Brook­lyn Man­fre­di Gang 
    Led by Paler­mi­tano Man­fre­di Mineo who had recent­ly arrived in the US. Short­ly after his arrival he was ques­tioned by the Secret Ser­vice after vis­it­ing coun­ter­feit­ers that were using print­ing plates import­ed from Paler­mo.8
  • The Brook­lyn Nico­lo Schi­ro Gang
    Nico­lo Schi­ro became leader of the Williams­burg Castel­lam­mare­si group, for­mer­ly head­ed by inter­im capo dei capi Sebas­tiano Di Gae­tano. Schi­ro was a cousin to Paolo Orlan­do, who had been accused by an anony­mous infor­mant of insti­gat­ing the Pet­rosi­no mur­der.9 (Later known as the Bonan­no Family.)

The Secret Ser­vice had observed boss­es Lo Monte and Mineo trav­el­ing togeth­er in the city and soon learned that the New York fam­i­lies were work­ing togeth­er — except for Sal­va­tore D’Aquila, who was “opposed to the other three gangs.”10 The hos­til­i­ties led to what some researchers have brand­ed as “The First Mafia War.” While the rea­sons for D’Aquila’s hos­til­i­ty towards the other fam­i­lies can only be spec­u­lat­ed, the feud last­ed for over two years and result­ed in the deaths of rival boss For­tu­na­to Lo Monte and his suc­ces­sors and left D’Aquila with the “absolute pre­dom­i­nance in the dis­trict around 106th Street.”11 

News­pa­pers at the time mis­re­port­ed some of the killings as revenge for the Bar­rel Mur­der or con­fused them with sep­a­rate feuds in Harlem, includ­ing one that cen­tered around Gio­sue Gal­luc­ci, a polit­i­cal power in the Ital­ian under­world. 12


Joseph DeMar­co was a Harlem gang­ster with known con­nec­tions in the gam­bling world. Described in records as 5ft6, medi­um build, very dark com­plex­ion, wears a blue suit with a scarf pin made of a sap­phire sur­round­ed with dia­monds. He was orig­i­nal­ly an ally of the Morel­lo group, shown when he offered his help to Nick Ter­ra­no­va to secure Giuseppe Morello’s release from prison. For­tu­na­to Lomonte and Nick Ter­ra­no­va also helped Demar­co to plan his girl­friends mur­der in July, 1912. They planned to use a car sup­plied by Charles Pan­dolfi, an asso­ciate whose car was used in the killing of Bar­net Baff.13

For some unknown rea­son, Demarco’s rela­tion­ship with the Morel­lo gang faded. He attempt­ed to kill Nick Ter­ra­no­va in Harlem, but his effort failed. Two sep­a­rate attempts were then made on his own life: he had been walk­ing past 112th St and 1st Av in April 1913, when he was shot in the neck from behind a fence. DeMar­co almost died from his wounds but sur­geons in Harlem Hos­pi­tal were able to save his life. The sec­ond attempt, in July 1914, was made when he was being shaved in a bar­ber on E106th near 3rd Av, when two men fired at him with sawn off shot­guns. More than a dozen slugs entered his body, but he later recov­ered. 14

DeMar­co left his fam­i­ly in Harlem and moved down­town. He opened a restau­rant at 163 W 49th Street, and later opened sev­er­al gam­bling rooms in Mul­ber­ry Street and one locat­ed at 54 James Street. He began to lead a dou­ble life when he mar­ried Anna Maria Lan­dri who lived above his Mul­ber­ry Street restau­rant, fail­ing to tell her about his cur­rent wife in Harlem.15

On June 24th 1916, a meet­ing took place at Coney Island between the Morel­lo gang and a Brook­lyn based Camor­ra gang. The Camor­ra group was a loose com­bi­na­tion of two Neapoli­tan groups based in Navy Street and in Coney Island’s Santa Lucia Restau­rant at Surf Avenue and the Ocean­ic Walk. They had pre­vi­ous­ly worked with the Morel­los when they assas­i­nat­ed Gio­sue Gal­luc­ci in 1915 to take con­trol of his crim­i­nal empire. The idea of the meet­ing was to dis­cuss the expan­sion of gam­bling dens in lower Man­hat­tan.16

Nick Ter­ra­no­va and Steve LaSalle explained that Joe DeMar­co would have to be killed before they could expand in the area. The Brook­lyn gang also had an inter­est in killing DeMar­co as he had recent­ly taken over one their games on Mull­ber­ry Street. On July 20th 1916, Navy Street gun­men made their way to a saloon on Eliz­a­beth Street to await their sig­nal to move. At around five o’clock, they were noti­fied that Demar­co had arrived at James Street. Nick Sassi, an employ­ee of Demar­co, let the gun­men inside. Joe DeMar­co sat play­ing cards with sev­er­al other men with numer­ous spec­ta­tors watch­ing the game. After DeMar­co was killed the gun­men made their escape through a bed­room win­dow. 17

Fol­low­ing Gallucci’s death, con­trol of his Harlem pol­i­cy game had passed to Thomas Lo Monte, broth­er of the mur­dered Morel­lo boss For­tu­na­to Lo Monte.18 The game later passed to Pel­le­gri­no Mora­no, leader of the Coney Island group, under the agree­ment that he would pay the Morel­los $25 a week for the priv­i­lege. Mora­no soon stopped pay­ment after run­ning the game at a siz­able loss.19 

Sicilians vs Neapolitans

Charles Ubri­a­co, a rich gold-toothed Cal­abri­an asso­ciate of the Morel­los, trav­eled to Brook­lyn and tried to rea­son with Mora­no, but the Coney Island leader refused any fur­ther pay­ment. After the Morel­los revoked Morano’s con­trol of the game, the Camor­ra boss began to plot his revenge and called for the mur­der of the Morel­lo lead­er­ship.20 

Dur­ing a series of con­fer­ences held between the two Camor­ra gangs, they plot­ted to kill six key Morel­lo mem­bers and take con­trol of their gam­bling, arti­choke, ice and coal rack­ets. Their cho­sen vic­tims were Giuseppe Morello’s younger half-brothers Nico­la, Vin­cen­zo and Ciro Ter­ra­no­va; Charles Ubri­a­co and Ste­fano LaSalle, who had both pre­vi­ous­ly run the pol­i­cy game; and Giuseppe Ver­razano, who con­trolled the late Joe Demarco’s gam­bling den on James Street.21 One Camor­ra mem­ber believed that killing the Morel­los would be so prof­itable that “every­one would be wear­ing dia­mond rings.”22  

In Sep­tem­ber 1916, the Camor­ra attempt­ed to lure the six Morel­lo men to a meet­ing at the Navy Street café, but only Nico­la Ter­ra­no­va and Charles Ubri­a­co made the jour­ney from Harlem. Both were ambushed and killed, shot from close range at the junc­tion of John­son Street and Hud­son Avenue.23 

Four weeks later, Navy Street gun­men entered the Ital­ian Gar­dens restau­rant on Manhattan’s Broome Street, for­mer­ly a part of the Occi­den­tal Hotel which Tam­many leader Tim Sul­li­van made his head­quar­ters. Late-night din­ers, includ­ing a group of local vaude­ville actors, hid behind tables while the Camor­ra gun­men fired into the restau­rant, killing Giuseppe “Big Man” Ver­razano.24 The Morel­los soon with­drew their down­town oper­a­tions and, with­in a week, the Navy Street gang opened a gam­bling den in Hes­ter Street.25 

The Camor­ra never saw the rich­es antic­i­pat­ed with the takeover of Morel­lo rack­ets. They faced tough nego­ti­a­tions with the city’s gam­bling and pol­i­cy boss­es before an accept­able level of “tax” was agreed upon, and the trib­ute they received from arti­choke deal­ers was half of their ini­tial demand.26   

Fear­ing revenge from the Morel­los, the Camor­ra lead­ers tried numer­ous schemes to mur­der the three remain­ing men on their hit list. They tried per­suad­ing Morel­lo asso­ciate “Louis the Wop” to betray his boss­es and poi­son their food, but his alle­giance was too strong and he exposed the plan.27 They also attempt­ed to per­suade two Harlem locals to shoot Ciro and Vin­cen­zo Ter­ra­no­va while they made ice deliv­er­ies in the area, but the locals declined to help and were con­se­quent­ly shot by the Camor­ra.28 

Things began to unrav­el for the Camor­ra in early 1917. Navy Street boss Alessan­dro Vollero was hos­pi­tal­ized in Jan­u­ary after the Morel­los shot him just a short dis­tance from where Nico­la Ter­ra­no­va had been slain.29 In Feb­ru­ary, the police raid­ed pol­i­cy dens all over the city, includ­ing the Navy Street café where a stash of pol­i­cy slips was dis­cov­ered.30 A month later, Navy Street gun­man Ralph Daniel­lo was placed on trial for rob­bing a young drug deal­er work­ing for the group. The trial exposed details of the gang’s cocaine dis­tri­b­u­tion busi­ness.31 A week later, the Navy Street café was raid­ed, and pro­pri­etor Leopol­do Lau­ri­tano was  con­vict­ed of pos­ses­sion of dan­ger­ous weapons.32 

Daniel­lo was arrest­ed again in Novem­ber 1917 in con­nec­tion with a drug-related mur­der. He quick­ly admit­ted his involve­ment with the Camor­ra and fur­nished the dis­trict attor­ney details of twenty-three gang mur­ders stretch­ing back over the last two and half years. Daniello’s con­fes­sion helped clear up crimes that had puz­zled the NYPD and quick­ly led to a series of arrests.33 The result­ing inves­ti­ga­tions revealed bribes paid by the Camor­ra to NYPD detec­tives, includ­ing Michael Meal­li, who had been part of the Ital­ian Squad and worked with Joe Pet­rosi­no. Meal­li was demot­ed and even­tu­al­ly retired on account of phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty in 1918.34 

Daniello’s detailed con­fes­sions, along with tes­ti­mo­ny from other gun­men, result­ed in con­vic­tions that dec­i­mat­ed the Brook­lyn Camor­ra gangs. Sev­er­al mem­bers received the death penal­ty, and the gang’s lead­er­ship received heavy sen­tences. The Morel­los man­aged to escape sen­tenc­ing when Ciro Ter­ra­no­va, tried for his involve­ment in the killing of gam­bler Joe Demar­co, was acquit­ted in June 1918.35


1Warn­er, San­ti­no, Van‘t Riet. Early New York Mafia An Alter­na­tive The­o­ry. The Informer. May 2014. Thomas Hunt. 38
2U.S. Nation­al Archives and Records Admin­is­tra­tion (here­after referred to as NARA), RG 87, Daily Reports of Agents, (here­after referred to as DRA). New York. Vols.34 – 36 (Feb 25, 1912
NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vols.37 – 39 (Feb 61913
3Warn­er, San­ti­no, Van‘t Riet. Early New York Mafia An Alter­na­tive The­o­ry. 38
‘La Cosa Nos­tra — Anti-Racketeering — Con­spir­a­cy’ – FBI 7/1/1963. 33 
4Critch­ley, David (2009) The Ori­gin of Orga­nized Crime in Amer­i­ca: The New York City Mafia, 1891 – 1931. New York: Rout­ledge. 36
NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vols.34 – 36 (Feb 25, 1912
NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vols.40 – 42 (Nov 10, 1913)  
Warn­er, San­ti­no, Van‘t Riet. Early New York Mafia An Alter­na­tive The­o­ry. 59
5The Pitts­burgh Press (Dec 12, 1915) Mag­a­zine Sec­tion
The Evening News-Wilkes-Barre, Pen (Oct 14, 19152
6Trans­la­tion of Nico­la Gen­tile arti­cle by Felice Chi­lan­ti in Paese Sera. Rome. Sep­tem­ber 141963.
7NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vol.80 (Oct 51922
8The Morn­ing Call (Jul 12, 1911) 9
NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vol. 32 (July 1911
9Warn­er, San­ti­no, Van‘t Riet. Early New York Mafia An Alter­na­tive The­o­ry. 55
Petac­co, Arri­go (1974) Joe Pet­rosi­no. New York: Macmil­lan Pub­lish­ing Co. 169
10NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vols.37 – 39 (Apr 22, 1913)
NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vols.40 – 42 (Nov 101913
11Warn­er, San­ti­no, Van‘t Riet. Early New York Mafia An Alter­na­tive The­o­ry. 56 – 62
12The Brook­lyn Daily Eagle (Nov 25, 1913) 9 
The Pitts­burgh Press (Dec 12, 1915) Mag­a­zine Section
13NARA, RG 87, DRA. New York. Vol. 36 (Jul 18, Aug 20 1912)
New York Tri­bune. Oct 28, 1919. p.22
14The Peo­ple of the State of New York against Ange­lo Gior­dano. 633 Part 1.
New York Her­ald. (July 21, 1916)
New York Evening World. (April 141913
15New York Tri­bune (July 23 1916)
Man­hat­tan Mar­riage Cer­tifi­cate #28674
16The Peo­ple of the State of New York against Ange­lo Gior­dano, 231 New York 633 pt. 1.
Critch­ley, David (2009) The Ori­gin of Orga­nized Crime in Amer­i­ca: The New York City Mafia, 1891 – 1931. New York: Rout­ledge. 112
17Gior­dano tran­script New York 633 pt. 1.
Critch­ley, David (2009) The Ori­gin of Orga­nized Crime in Amer­i­ca: The New York City Mafia, 1891 – 1931. New York: Rout­ledge. 112
18Gior­dano tran­script. exhib­it #1. 186 – 187 
 Warn­er, San­ti­no, Van‘t Riet. Early New York Mafia An Alter­na­tive The­o­ry. The Informer. May 2014. Thomas Hunt. 60
19Gior­dano tran­script. exhib­it #1. 186 – 187 
20Gior­dano tran­script. exhib­it #1. 186 – 187 
The Sun. New York (Aug 26, 1912
The Peo­ple of the State of New York against Alessan­drio Vollero, Case on Appeal, 226 New York 587 pt. 1. (here­after Vollero tran­script) List of conferences. 
21Vollero tran­script. Open­ing address. 50
22Vollero tran­script. Open­ing address. 121
23Brook­lyn Times Union (Sep 8, 19165
24The Evening World (Oct 6, 1916) 9
Buf­fa­lo Evening News (Dec 20, 1922) 1 
The New York Times (Oct 4, 19032 
25Smash­ing the Gangs of Lit­tle Italy. Mas­ter Detec­tive. Oct 199533
26Critch­ley. The Ori­gin of Orga­nized Crime in Amer­i­ca: The New York City Mafia, 1891 – 1931. 122
Smash­ing the Gangs of Lit­tle Italy. Mas­ter Detec­tive. Oct 1995. 33
Vollero tran­script. 73
27Vollero tran­script. 200
Smash­ing the Gangs of Lit­tle Italy. Mas­ter Detec­tive. Oct 199534
28Peo­ple of the State of New York v Charles Rossi Chi­afa­lo, Peter Bian­co and Sam Sacco. (1918) # 2396. Crim­i­nal Trial Tran­scripts (1883 – 1927), Lloyd Sealy Library, John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Justice/CUNY
29Vollero tran­script. 86, 428
Brook­lyn Times Union (Jan 26, 19177
30The Brook­lyn Daily Eagle (Feb 13, 191718 
31The Brook­lyn Cit­i­zen (Apr 21, 191712 
32Brook­lyn Times Union (Apr 28, 1917) 12 (May 7, 19174
33New York Tri­bune (Nov 28, 1917) 16 
The Tope­ka State Jour­nal (Nov 30, 1917
Critch­ley. The Ori­gin of Orga­nized Crime in Amer­i­ca: The New York City Mafia, 1891 – 1931107
34Critch­ley. The Ori­gin of Orga­nized Crime in Amer­i­ca: The New York City Mafia, 1891 – 1931. 124
The Brook­lyn Daily Eagle (Dec 18, 19181
35The Brook­lyn Daily Eagle (Jun 7, 191812