Tommy Lucchese was born on December 1, 1899, in Palermo, Sicily. He moved to the United States with his family at the age of 11. Lucchese soon started running with a gang in New York's East Harlem neighborhood. There he befriended Lucky Luciano. In 1921, Lucchese was convicted of auto theft. He served his sentence at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. He helped Luciano in his bid for control of the New York criminal underworld in the 1930s. For his assistance, Luciano rewarded Lucchese with the number-two spot in the Gagliano crime family. In 1953, after 22 years as an underboss, Tommy became the boss of the Lucchese crime family, which he led until his death in 1967.
Early Life and Crimes
Organized crime figure Tommy Lucchese was born Gaetano Lucchese on December 1, 1899, in Palermo, Sicily. He was one of the most notorious New York crime bosses of 20th century. When he was 11 years old, Lucchese immigrated the United States with his family. They settled East Harlem. There his father found work hauling concrete.
Lucchese quickly became affiliated with street gangs. He ran with the 107th Street Gang, which was led by Lucky Luciano. Lucchese's parents pressured him to find honest work. For a short time, Lucchese worked in a machine shop. He was involved in a terrible accident there, in which he lost the thumb and index finger on his right hand.
After the accident, Lucchese returned to his gang and a life of crime. He started a window washing company, which actually became a lucrative extortion racket. Lucchese had a natural talent for criminal enterprises, making up more ways for his gang to bring in cash. In 1921, Lucchese was arrested for stealing a car. He was nicknamed "Three Finger Brown" by one of the police officers because of his damaged right hand and the baseball player Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.
Lucchese was found guilty of auto theft—it was his first and only conviction. He was sent to Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York state for the crime. Reports vary as to how long he spent behind bars, ranging from a little over a year to three years.
Rising Underworld Figure
By the early 1920s, both Lucchese and Luciano had attracted the attention of mob boss Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. The short, skinny Lucchese soon showed his more vicious side, brutalizing and killing those who got on the wrong side of the mob. According to some reports, Luciano thought of Lucchese as his favorite hit man. The pair were able to convince Masseria to get into bootlegging during Prohibition.
Lucchese and Luciano proved to be master strategists during the Castellammarese War between rival crime bosses Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, which erupted in the late 1920s. Masseria and Maranzano were battling each other for total control of New York. Roughly 100 mobsters died in this lethal power struggle.
On April 13, 1931, Masseria was killed in a restaurant in Coney Island. The Castellemmarese War was over, and Salvatore Maranzano set up a new network of crime families in New York City with himself as top boss. However, on September 10, 1931, Maranzano was murdered in his office. Lucchese had been in on this assassination with Luciano. He was the one that tipped off the gunmen as which man was Marazano. Now Luciano revised the structure of organized crime, creating the five families of New York. Lucchese became the underboss of the Gagliano crime family headed by Gaetano "Tommy" Gagliano.
In 1953, after serving 22 years as a loyal underboss to Gagliano, Lucchese became boss of the Lucchese crime family. Under his leadership, the Lucchese syndicate expanded their business holdings to include garment businesses, trucking companies, and trade associations. As part-owner of some downtown hotspots, including the Casino de Paris and Music Hall, Lucchese became friendly with stars such as Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He was popular and well respected among his men, but was also capable of ruthless violence. All told, Lucchese was alleged to have been involved in at least 30 murders.
In August 1965, Lucchese was admitted to Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center with a brain tumor and heart ailment. He died on July 13, 1967, at his home in Lido Beach, Long Island. His funeral was attended by over 1,000 mourners including politicians, judges, policemen, racketeers, drug pushers, pimps, and hit men.
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