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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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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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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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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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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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Robert C. Ritchie

Kidd, William (1645–23 May 1701), pirate, was apparently born in Greenock, Scotland, the son of a Protestant minister. Little else is known of his early years except that he went to sea as a young man. He does not appear in the records until 1689, when he was the captain of a ship commissioned as a privateer by Governor Christopher Codrington of Nevis. During King William’s War many ships, some of them buccaneers, were enrolled to fight the French. Kidd’s men did not savor serving in Codrington’s little navy and one night abandoned Kidd when he was ashore, leaving with the ship and Kidd’s fortune. Kidd was fortunate in his friends, for Governor Codrington gave him a ship with which to pursue his men and retrieve his fortune....

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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 ...

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Luciano, Lucky (11 November 1897–26 January 1962), founder of the Mafia in the United States, was born Salvatore Lucania in Lercara Friddi, Sicily, the son of Antonio Lucania, a miner and day laborer, and Rosalia Capporelli. Luciano’s family immigrated to the United States in 1906 and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His attendance in school was erratic, and he was sent to a special school for truants in Brooklyn for two months in 1914. After his release, he dropped out of school with the equivalent of five years of education and became a delivery boy for a hat manufacturer—his only legitimate employment....

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Schultz, Dutch (06 August 1902–24 October 1935), gangster and underworld entrepreneur, was born Arthur Flegenheimer in the Bronx, New York City, the son of Herman Flegenheimer, a glazier and baker, and Emma Neu. Before the boy completed the sixth grade, his father either deserted the family or died. Arthur’s mother then took in laundry to support the family, and he quit school to sell newspapers, run errands, and work as an office boy, printer’s apprentice, and roofer. While he proudly retained his roofers’ union card as evidence of his working-class respectability, he was pulled into the gang world of the Bronx slums. In 1919 he was convicted on a burglary charge and was sent to a reformatory for fifteen months. This police record, plus his cultivation of a reputation as a hardened tough, led to his calling himself Dutch Schultz, the name of a well-known former street brawler in the area....