Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He also writes a monthly column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
Can Someone Please Explain This To Me
By Allan May
Despite many years of reading about and studying organized crime there are still many mysteries I don’t understand. Please feel free to let me know if you have any answers to my queries
Giuseppe Antonio “Joe Adonis” Doto
This gangster took the nickname “Adonis” because he was so impressed with his own looks. How did this mobster become so powerful without an attachment to one of the five families?
His existence would be easier to explain if he were not Italian. Jewish mobsters like Meyer Lansky and Lepke Buchalter, as well as the German Dutch Schultz, played significant roles in the New York underworld during the 1930s without the famiglia connection.
Adonis was always considered to be on the same level as a Luciano, a Costello and a Genovese, yet his name never appeared as a family boss or underboss. He certainly was way above the level of a capo. Burton Turkus in his classic, “Murder, Inc.,” informs us that you “cross Joey Adonis and you cross the national combination.” The “Mafia Encyclopedia,” calls him, “One of the most powerful members of the national crime syndicate.”
Based in Brooklyn, Adonis headed up what was called the “Broadway Mob,” in the 1920s. He operated “Joe’s Italian Kitchen,” a popular restaurant in Brooklyn which catered to politicians and members of law enforcement. “Joey A.” became a master manipulator in the New York and New Jersey political arenas. In the mid 1940s he moved over to New Jersey and operated out of Duke’s restaurant, which the media dubbed “The Mafia White House.”
As the years went by Adonis was the only Italian gangster in the New York / New Jersey area who was not listed in the hierarchy of any specific family.
The Five Families
Speaking of families! How come it seems that it took such a long time for the five families of New York to become significant as separate entities.
We all know the story of how Salvatore Maranzano anointed the original heads of the five families, even though Joe Bananas claims that the five groups were already operating during the years prior to 1931. The original five families were – Luciano, Gagliano, Mangano, Profaci and Bonanno. Since 1963 law enforcement and the media have identified the families as –Genovese, Lucchese, Gambino, Columbo and Bonanno. The latter was the only family without a name change due to the same leadership.
However, the families on their own didn’t seem to have become newsworthy until the 1960s, some thirty years after they were established. Prior to this, the original Luciano Family seemed to dominate the New York City underworld. This is not to say the other groups weren’t actively engaged in crime, we know that they were. But they seemed to keep an uncanny low profile.
After the imprisonment of Luciano, and the exodus of Genovese to Italy in the mid-1930s, Costello became the dominant organized crime leader for the next twenty-years. Keep in mind that initially he is neither a boss nor an underboss. As a leader he never really seems to have an official underboss, although his muscle appears to come from Albert Anastasia – a member of another family – and from Willie Moretti, a New Jersey mobster.
It is not until after Apalachin that the families seem to operate independently and begin to develop individual reputations for themselves. This comes about through the Gallo-Profaci War in the early 1960s. Followed by the Banana War, which began in 1964. By this time Carlo Gambino has begun to make a name for himself and be recognized as first among equals on the commission.
Does anyone else agree that, while there was some maneuvering for the title of family in the 1950s, the importance of the five families doesn’t become significant until several years after Apalachin?
Costello / Genovese
Let me get back to belaboring Costello’s leadership.
Although there have been seven books written specifically about Frank Costello, he still remains in many ways an enigma. The oldest of the leadership group which included Luciano, Lansky, Siegel, Adonis, and Genovese, Costello seemed to float to the top with out any resistance or clear explanation as to why.
As the recognized leader of the New York underworld from 1936 to 1957 he spent twenty-one years ruling the city without the use of a bodyguard.
But what was the relationship like between Costello and Vito Genovese. Remember Vito began as the underboss of the family and for several months was really in the capacity of “acting boss” before escaping to Italy to avoid a murder indictment. However, Genovese was brought back to stand trial in January 1946 and was acquitted in June of that year.
Why didn’t Genovese take back the leadership job once he was acquitted? Remember that Costello was considered by some mob historians to be only an “acting boss” during the years Luciano was imprisoned in the United States, 1936 to 1946. How come Genovese wasn’t at least considered the underboss once he returned? Was Anastasia, although not a boss himself until 1951, such a powerful ally to Costello that Genovese didn’t dare make a move?
We know that by 1957 Genovese had lined up enough support that he was able to make a power play to take over the family. But why did it take this greedy, selfish mongrel eleven years to make it back to the top spot in the family – and only two years to lose it?
As if the identity of “Piggy” were not the biggest mystery surrounding the shooting of Schultz and his three associates on October 23, 1935.
The newspaper accounts of the night of the shooting seem to have been muddled by the stories leaked out later by the shooter himself to his Murder, Inc. comrades. Some versions of the massacre have Charlie “the Bug” Workman – both with and without the help of Emmanuel “Mendy” Weiss – shooting three men dead in the back dining room of the Palace Chop House in Newark, and then stepping into the men’s room and popping the Dutchman as he stood taking a leak.
All the while “Piggy,” whose identity is known but to God, sits poised at the wheel of the getaway car, which apparently made its getaway without Charlie. This left the Bug on his own to hotfoot it back to New York City. Abandoning Charlie the Bug was a serious transgression on the part of Weiss – punishable by death according to gangster by-laws. Weiss ably defended himself by explaining the “piece of work” was done and that Charlie the Bug stayed behind, on his own selfish accord, to rifle the pockets of Mr. Schultz for his roll – that’s money in mob parlance.
Here is where the discrepancies come in. None of the wounded men died at the restaurant The newspapers, and Schultz biographer Paul Sann in his excellent work, “To Kill the Dutchman,” reveal that two of Schultz’s henchmen – Abe Landau and Lulu Rosenkrantz – returned fire and chased the killers out of the restaurant. Landau was found passed out, sitting in a garbage can just outside the front door.
There is still confusion as to who was attacked first – Schultz in the john, or the men in the back room. In Turkus’ “Murder, Inc. account, Workman walked the length of the bar and then flipped open the door to the men’s room. Inside was a man washing his hands who Workman thought was a Schultz bodyguard. He shot the man who immediately dropped to the floor.
Workman then darted into the back dining room and opened up on Rosencrantz, Landau and Otto Berman. Not seeing Dutch among the blasted, Workman realized Schultz must have been the man washing his hands. He then went back to rifle Schultz’s pockets for cash, which was said to be Workman’s custom.
Paul Sann provided a different description of the shooting. He states that both Weiss and Workman blasted away at the three men in the dining room first. Then, after not spotting Schultz, Workman went into the men’s room and found Dutch relieving himself at the urinal. Workman fired twice and one bullet hit Schultz causing a mortal wound. Again, Workman was said to have searched Schultz for money.
Let’s go back to the Turkus version. The killers were supposedly tipped off as to where they could find the Schultz party in the restaurant. This is due to the fact that there was another dining room where several patrons were having dinner. So why would the first place Workman look be the men’s room and then blast someone he didn’t recognize, but “thought” was a Schultz bodyguard. Just think for a moment, if this had happened during murder of Joe “the Boss” Masseria the assassins would have shot Lucky Luciano while he visited the can.
Certainly Schultz’s experienced gunmen would have reacted as soon as they heard that first shot, but we know they were all still seated when the shooters rained lead down upon them.
In Sann’s scenario, with all of the bullets flying in the back room, why would Schultz continue stand in front of the urinal draining himself as opposed to running for cover? And how did Workman find the time to go through the Dutchman’s pockets with two wounded bodyguards pissed off and in hot pursuit?
The last question then becomes, if Workman was chased out by Schultz’s wounded gunmen, how and why did Weiss and Piggy get away so fast.
Enough? One more!
The Mysterious Dr. Romano of Cleveland
In the entertaining, but highly inaccurate movie “Mobsters,” Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey) tells Lucky Luciano (Christian Slater) that it’s a Sicilian law that if you kill a “don” you can never become a “don.” Could that be the reason “Big Ange” Lonardo was passed over for leadership of the Cleveland Mafia Family when John Scalish died in 1976? I doubt it.
Many Cleveland mob followers thought the leadership of the family, known then as the Mayfield Road Mob, passed from Frank Milano to Alfred Polizzi in 1935 when Frank took an extended vacation to Mexico. Not so according to Lonardo’s government testimony in the mid-1980s.
AmericanMafia.com’s host, Rick Porrello, in “The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia,” gives us this description of Dr. Joseph Romano:
“Born in 1877 in Sicily, Romano studied medicine at Palermo and in Rome. In 1906 he arrived in Cleveland, established his practice and grew wealthy. He became respected as a philanthropist and was president of the Italian Red Cross in Cleveland. Romano was one of the few Italian-Americans to be decorated by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.”
Doesn’t sound like your typical mob boss, does it?
Just how in the world Romano became boss of the Cleveland family is beyond my comprehension, and seemingly everyone else’s too, except Angelo Lonardo’s. He claims that Romano was involved with the murder of his father, “Big Joe” Lonardo, in October 1927. Some nine years later, Lonardo’s cousin, Dominic DeMarco, had an attack of appendicitis. According to Lonardo, Dominic told his brother John DeMarco (a future Cleveland family underboss), “let Dr. Romano operate on me. I want to show him that we want to be friends with him.”
Dominic got his wish and the good doctor operated on him. Unfortunately for Dominic, he died. John DeMarco got together with Lonardo and the two men decided to murder Romano. On June 11, 1936, Romano’s automobile was found in the suburb of Moreland Hills outside Cleveland, hidden in some heavy shrubbery. In addition to two bullets in the head, and a crushing blow to the skull, he was found with his pants and underpants down around his knees and four bullet holes through his private parts, a little tidbit “Big Ange” left out of his testimony.
The way the murder was carried out makes it seem more like a death sentence for someone who had crossed the Mafia’s sacred line of womanizing with the wife or girlfriend of a member, as opposed to someone who had performed a bad bit of surgery.
However, I still have a problem believing that the late Dr. Romano had the credentials to accede to the top of the Cleveland underworld.