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Joseph Bonanno, known as Joe Bananas, led one of the top New York crime families in the New York from the 1930s to the 1960s.
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Organized crime figure, author. Born on January 18, 1905, in Castellammare del Golfo, Italy. Joseph Bonanno led one of the top crime families in the New York area for thirty years, spanning from the 1930s to the 1960s. He had the distinction of being one of the few mob bosses to ever get a chance to retire from organized crime.
Born into a powerful Sicilian family, Bonanno saw firsthand how men of influence—“men of the old Tradition”—could serve as “a sort of shadow government which existed alongside the official government,” he later explained. These “men of honor” controlled businesses and politicians and served as middlemen in disputes and other endeavors, he wrote in A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno.
Bonanno first came to the United States in 1908 when he and his family moved into a largely Sicilian neighborhood in Brooklyn. There his father, Salvatore Bonanno started two businesses—a pasta factory and a tavern. Following the Sicilian tradition, his father became a man of influence and was known by the nickname “don Turridru.”
Around the age of seven, Joseph Bonanno returned to Castellammare with his family. The reason for their short stay in America, he later explained in his autobiography, was most likely because tensions between his family and the rival Buccellato family. A few years after returning to Sicily, his father was drafted into the Italian army to fight in World War I. He survived his time on the Austrian front, but he came home badly wounded. In December 1915, Bonanno lost his father who had succumbed to his injuries. He suffered another personal loss five years later when his mother died.
As a teenager, Bonanno wanted to become a sailor. He
went to Trapani to study at a nautical preparatory school there for a
year before enrolling at the Joeni Trabia Nautical Institute in Palermo.
In response to the rise of Benito Mussolini to power in the early
1920s, Bonanno became an anti-fascist activist, according to his
autobiography. His activities got him suspended from school, and he
ended up leaving the country.
Before long, Bonanno got involved in one of the most lucrative illegal businesses of the time—bootlegging. Prohibition, which banned the production and sale of alcohol, created a thriving underground industry. Bonanno also showed some business acumen in the legitimate enterprises as well, expanding an uncle’s bakery operation.
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Bootleggers, smugglers, drug dealers, hit men—all these occupations are the provenance of mobsters, who operate in ethnic, family and business networks. Mobsters' real life crimes, and Hollywood's fascination with them, has earned them a special place in the American imagination. From Al Capone's Chicago crime ring to Bugsy Siegel's Las Vegas racket, these mobsters have made their names notorious from coast to coast.
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