Famous Gangsters: Carlo Gambino cover

Famous Gangsters: Carlo Gambino


Carlo Gambino was one of the most secretive and low-key of the major American mob bosses – but he was also among the most effective.

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Famous Gangsters: Carlo Gambino

Carlo Gambino

Carlo Gambino was one of the most secretive and low-key of the major American mob bosses – but he was also among the most effective.

Just because he wasn’t talkative or extravagant didn’t mean underlings could take advantage. When one Colombo family soldier got drunk and disrespected him in an Italian restaurant in 1974, Gambino didn’t retaliate or say a word.

But the loudmouth’s body was found in Brooklyn a few days later buried in a “cement overcoat.”

Carlo Gambino

Carlo Gambino

Public Domain

First and Final Days

Gambino died in his bed from a heart attack at the age of 74, “in a state of grace,” according to a priest who gave him the Last Rites.

The New York crime family he ran still carries his name to this day.

He was born on August 24 1902 in Palermo, Sicily into a deep-rooted Mafioso family and by the time he became a “made man” at 19 he was already carrying out murder orders for his bosses.

The Original

Known as an “original” because of his Sicilian roots, Gambino sneaked into the United States in 1921 on board the SS Vincenzo Florio and joined his brother-in-law Paul Castellano, who was already ingrained in the local mob scene.

It wasn’t long before he became friends with other ‘Young Turks” Italian and Jewish gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Albert Anastasia and Frank Costello.

The new breed of gangsters weren’t just looking to profit from Prohibition, black market ration stamps and lucrative gambling rackets, they were also looking to overturn the old order that dominated organized crime on the East Coast for decades.

Paving The Way

Gambino joined the crime family headed by Joe “The Boss” Masseria and quietly worked his way up.

However, the Castellammarese War between Masseria and his main rival Salvatore Maranzano raged on for almost four years and threatened to destroy the Italian-American crime dominance.

The ‘Young Turks’ – Gambino among them – wanted to break away from the traditional mob law barring them from working with non-Italians.


Public Domain


In 1931, first Masseria and then Maranzano were both killed, paving the way for the modern mafia set-up with New York divided up into territories run by five crime families.

Earning His Promotion

Cambino was promoted to capo in the new family run by Vincente Mangano and proved himself a big earner with extortion, gambling, hi-jacking and bootlegging rackets.

In 1951, Mangano vanished, never to be seen again, and Albert Anastasia became boss, with Gambino as his number two.

On October 25, 1957 it was time for the underboss to make his bid for control of the family.

Anastasia’s erratic behavior was worrying his crime colleagues, particularly after he ordered a hit on a non-mob “outsider” – a definite no-no in the mafia rulebook.

Vito Genovese

Public Domain

Vito Genovese

With the support of Vito Genovese, another Big Apple crime boss, Gambino gave the kill order to “Joe the Blonde” Blondo who in turn selected three triggermen to carry out the killing.

Becoming The Boss

With Anastasia’s reign over, Carlo Gambino became the new boss of the newly- named Gambino crime family.

Between 1959 and 1976, “Don Carlo” built his family fortunes with rackets across the country.

The one lucrative crime he would not hold any stock in was drugs. The Gambino family creed became “Deal and die.”

Any member found trading in heroin, cocaine or any other drugs effectively signed their own death warrant.

Retaining Control

Gambino’s position as unofficial boss of bosses was confirmed when he was appointed head of The Commission, the mob’s governing cooperative, a position only founder Lucky Luciano had previously held.

Gambino retained control of the family until his death on October 15, 1976. He appointed his brother-in-law, Paul Castellano, as his successor.