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Joe Adonis. Right, handcuffed to a guard, leaving the New York City Federal Courthouse. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114628).

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Adonis, Joe (22 November 1902–26 November 1971), organized crime leader, was born Giuseppe Antonio Doto in Montemarano, near Naples, Italy, and illegally entered New York City as a teenager. After settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he adopted the surname “Adonis,” believing that it reflected his good looks. He soon joined forces with other hoodlums who would become famous in organized crime— ...

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Al Capone. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114627).

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Capone, Al (17 January 1899–25 January 1947), Chicago bootlegger and symbolic crime figure, was born Alphonse Capone in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Gabriel Capone, a barber, and Teresa Raiola, both immigrants from the Naples region of Italy. At age fourteen, Capone dropped out of school, joined the gang life of the streets, and soon worked as a bartender and bouncer on Coney Island. In 1917, in a brawl with a customer, he received the knife wound that earned him the media nickname “Scarface” (although his friends called him “Snorky”). In December 1918 he married Mary “Mae” Coughlin, the daughter of a laborer....

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Carbo, Frankie (10 August 1904–10 November 1976), Italian-American gangster and "underworld czar of boxing", Italian-American gangster and “underworld czar of boxing,” was born Paul John Carbo and reared on New York’s Lower East Side. His parents’ names and occupations are unknown. Carbo was first arrested at age eleven and spent much of the next four years at the Juvenile Catholic Protectory. Arrested again in his late teens for felonious assault and grand larceny, he then became an enforcer for a Bronx taxicab protection racket. In 1924 he murdered a cab driver who resisted a shakedown, and he served twenty months in Sing Sing for the crime. Thereafter, he was involved in beer-running and bookmaking and was indicted four more times for murder, but he was never convicted....

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Cohen, Mickey (04 September 1913–29 July 1976), criminal and celebrity, was born Meyer Harris Cohen in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Max Cohen, whom Cohen remembered as having been in the “import business with Jewish fishes,” and Fanny (maiden name unknown). Both parents were Jewish immigrants. His father died shortly after Cohen’s birth, and Cohen’s mother moved the family to the Boyle Heights Jewish district of Los Angeles, where she opened a grocery store. According to his own account, he attended school rarely, if at all, rejected religious education, and was incorrigible from his earliest days selling newspapers, using his natural pugnacity to secure the best locations. He committed minor crimes and took up amateur boxing. Cohen ran away from Los Angeles around age fifteen to avoid having to attend school further....

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Mickey Cohen. Right, speaking with reporter. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114636).

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Colombo, Joseph Anthony, Sr. (16 June 1923–22 May 1978), organized crime boss, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Anthony Colombo, who was also connected with organized crime and was garroted while Joseph was still a teenager. His mother’s name is unknown. When asked if he ever sought vengeance for his father’s murder, Joseph Colombo replied, “Don’t they pay policemen for that?” After attending New Utrecht High School, he entered the Coast Guard, from which he was given a medical discharge in 1945 (he allegedly suffered from some sort of “psychoneurosis”). Colombo thereafter balanced a life of crime with legitimate jobs. He began working as a longshoreman soon after leaving the service, while also gaining experience as a small-time criminal, principally involving himself in modest gambling operations. For six years he was a salesman for a Mafia-controlled meat company. Then Colombo became a real estate agent in Bensonhurst, where he continued to work for a $20,000 annual salary throughout his career as an organized crime boss....

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Frank Costello. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114630).

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Costello, Frank (26 January 1891–18 February 1973), criminal entrepreneur, was born Francesco Castiglia in Lauropoli, near Cosenza in Calabria, southern Italy, the son of Luigi Castiglia and Maria (maiden name unknown), farmers. At age four Costello moved to New York City with his father; his mother and the rest of his immediate family followed two years later. The Castiglias settled in Manhattan’s East Harlem Italian district, where they eked out a subsistence living running a small grocery shop. Despite being considered one of the neighborhood’s brightest boys, Costello turned to crime after finishing elementary school. Americanizing his name with a useful touch of Irish, Costello became the leader of the Italian 104th Street gang and gained a reputation as one of the toughest young hoodlums in the area....

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Gambino, Carlo (24 Aug. 1902–15 October 1976), organized crime boss, was born in Palermo, Sicily, Italy. His parents’ names are unknown, but his mother’s maiden name was Castellano. (The date of his birth is uncertain; the New York Times obituary gives it as 1 Sept. 1902.) Gambino, who grew up during a time in which the Mafia was gaining prominence in Sicily, came to revere the suave, well-dressed men who controlled the section of Palermo where he lived, especially Don Vito Cascio Ferro, the leader of the so-called Sicilian Honored Society. By the time he left Sicily, Gambino had been initiated into organized crime. Joining the large numbers of Italians immigrating to the United States, Gambino in November 1921 stowed away on a freighter bound for Norfolk, Virginia. He soon moved on to Brooklyn, New York, where some of his mother’s family lived. He resided for the balance of his life in the United States, although he never became an American citizen....

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Vito Genovese Photograph by Phil Stanziola, 1959. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-123541).

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Genovese, Vito (21 November 1897–14 February 1969), criminal entrepreneur, was born in Ricigliano, Italy, the son of Philip Anthony Genovese, a building trades worker, and Nancy (maiden name unknown). Genovese received the equivalent of a fifth-grade education in Italy before following his father to New York City in 1913. A petty thief and street tough in the Greenwich Village area of Little Italy, Genovese soon established a reputation for unusual cunning and violence. Frequently arrested on charges of assault and homicide, he was twice convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. More important, he became a collector for the illegal Italian lottery, an indication that he had attracted the attention of locally prominent underworld figures....

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Giancana, Sam (24 May 1908–19 June 1975), crime syndicate boss, was born Salvatore Giangana in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Antonino Giangana, a fruit peddler, and Antonia DeSimone. Giancana grew up in the tough ethnic ghetto called The Patch in Chicago’s Near West Side during the period when legendary gangster ...

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Sam Giancana Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114633).

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Gotti, John Joseph, Jr. (27 October 1940–10 June 2002), organized crime leader, was born John Joseph Gotti, Jr., in the Bronx, New York, the son of John and Philomena “Fannie” Gotti, first‐generation Americans of Neapolitan origin. The fifth of thirteen children, Gotti later expressed disdain for his father, whose sporadic employment as a construction hand prompted frequent relocations of his family. By 1952 when the family settled into a working‐class neighborhood in Brooklyn, Gotti had already become a defiant student and frequent truant. At age sixteen and a member of the gang the Fulton‐Rockaway Boys, Gotti dropped out of Franklin K. Lane High School. He worked odd jobs. Frequently he was arrested for public intoxication, street fighting, burglary, and automobile theft. His marriage to Victoria DiGiorgio from 1962—which produced five children—was often plagued by financial strains and separations....

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Guzik, Jack (between 1886 and 1888–21 February 1956), bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur, was born probably in Russia, the son of Max Guzik and his wife (name unknown). Guzik was brought to Chicago in 1891–1892 and became a U.S. citizen through the naturalization of his father in November 1898....

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Kelly, Machine Gun (17 July 1895–17 July 1954), criminal, was born George Kelly Barnes, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee. Little is known about his parents, his childhood, or his early adulthood. He was a student at Tennessee A&M College, where he met Geneva Mae Ramsey. They were married in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1919. They evidently had no children. She divorced him in 1926 for desertion and because he was associating with persons of suspicious background and behavior. He is said to have been in Tennessee, New Mexico, and Texas. He served time in prison for bootlegging, vagrancy, and minor offenses. In 1929 Kelly married Kathryn Shannon Thorne, a 25-year-old “gun moll.” They also evidently had no children. She had been married twice before, had been a prostitute, and had associated with known burglars. She bought a machine gun for $250 from a pawnbroker in Fort Worth, Texas, trained Kelly in its use, and nicknamed him “Machine Gun” Kelly after he allegedly wrote his name on a barn wall with bullets from it. The couple formed a criminal gang including friends from Texas and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota....

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Meyer Lansky Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114645).

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Lansky, Meyer (28 Aug. or 4 July 1902–15 January 1983), bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur, was born Meyer Suchowljansky in Grodno, Belorussia (then Russia), the son of Max Suchowljansky, a garment presser, and Yetta (maiden name unknown). Lansky’s father emigrated to New York City in 1909 and brought the family over two years later. Meyer, who left school in 1917 at age fourteen, was fascinated by the street life and crap games of the Lower East Side and while still a teenager associated with other hustlers, such as ...