Funerals of the Infamous
From "The Godfather" to "Good Fellas" to "The Sopranos," everybody likes a good mob story. "Where is Jimmy Hoffa buried?" is a question asked so often that it has become a humorous addition to American popular culture. Another frequently asked question concerning burials of alleged mobsters is the equally perplexing, "How and where do these people get buried?"
Urban legend says that the body of Jimmy Hoffa, former Teamsters labor union president and reputed racketeer, is now resting quietly, if not comfortably, beneath Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. While we may never know that for sure, we do know where many other reputed crime figures lie in their eternal repose.
Throughout many decades, the words "Mafia," "Mob," "Cosa Nostra," and "Organized Crime," have evoked both fear and awe in the average, law-abiding citizen. These figures are reviled by some for the violent acts attributed to them, yet oddly revered by others for the Robin Hood-like folklore that clings to them.
Whatever your view, they hold an enduring fascination for society. So, it's little wonder that there is a continuing mystique about mobsters that extends to and beyond their deaths. Intrigued as we are with the earthly details of men who loom larger than life, after those lives have ended, our interests turn to the particulars of their deaths. We want to know all the gory details, poring over lurid newspaper accounts. Perhaps this speaks to our basest instincts and repressed blood lust for revenge and simple justice.
For many Americans, the curiosity of the funeral of a mobster is too tantalizing to ignore. We wonder, where did these men, who were accustomed to nothing but the finest in life, choose to make their final resting places. Well, as one would expect, their cemeteries of preference are comprised of a select group of the nation's most elegant, opulent and often pious places for final repose.
First and foremost on that list, in the New York area, is St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. Run by the Brooklyn Catholic Archdiocese, it has been referred to in literature as the "Boot Hill" of the Mob. St. John's 169 immaculately landscaped acres hold a whole host of ignominious characters that enable the cemetery to boast being a veritable who's who of gangland.
Among the notorious who call St. John's Cemetery their final resting place, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Profaci, Joe Colombo, Vito Genovese, Carmine Galante, Salvatore Maranzano, Aniello Dellacroce and Salvatore (Charlie) "Lucky" Luciano.
A visitor to the cemetery would be hard pressed to miss the prominently positioned white stone building, flanked by Grecian columns, and denoted by the family name of Lucania. This stately, private mausoleum houses the body of Salvatore Charles "Lucky" Luciano, one of the most infamous crime lords in history.
Living up to his nickname of "Lucky," he was indeed - dying a natural death, unlike so many of his colleagues. Felled by a fatal heart attack in a Rome airport, (he had been deported to Italy in 1946) Luciano's funeral was held in Naples, his body driven through the streets in a 30-foot-long funeral coach pulled by eight black horses.
It was only then, after his death, that he was allowed reentry into the U.S., his body shipped here for entombment in St. John's Cemetery. In a tale reminiscent of the Marilyn Monroe-Joe DiMaggio affair, for many years, an unidentified woman made weekly pilgrimages to his crypt to place a single red rose.
Looming large down the road from Luciano's mausoleum, is the venerable and magnificently appointed Cloister building. Carlo Gambino, who after the death of Albert Anastasia in 1957, took control of the crime family that still bears his name today, is entombed in his family's private room.
Gambino, who liked to keep a low profile, did not relish seeing his name in the newspapers. So, one wonders what he would have thought of the N.Y. Daily News headline of October 16, 1976, which proclaimed "Don Carlo Dies in Bed." His death at the age of 74, from a massive coronary, bore special mention, as a death from natural causes is a rarity for mob bosses.
Don Carlo's funeral cortege was comprised of 100 cars making their way to St. John's. It was widely accepted that his son-in-law, Paul Castellano, was to succeed him. To give an idea of the prominent figure he cut, Gambino was listed in a book entitled, "The Timetables of History," as one of three world notables who died in the year of 1976. The other two being Howard Hughes and J. Paul Getty.
Aniello Dellacroce, underboss to Paul Castellano, is also entombed in the Cloister building. His battle with brain cancer ended on Dec. 2, 1985, ironically the same day his racketeering trial with codefendant John Gotti was set to begin. Every important mob figure turned out to pay respects at his funeral, except Paul Castellano, an unthinkable slight in mob circles.
Dellacroce was from the old school and followed the tradition of unquestioned loyalty. He was also reputed to have taken extreme pleasure in killing. A federal agent once said of him, "He likes to peer into a victim's face like some dark angel at the moment of death."
This assessment being in stunning contrast to the English translation of his name "of the cross." The site of Dellacroce's crypt, is bathed in warmth, with a life-size statue of Jesus standing at the head of the hallway, overseeing all.
Behind the Cloister stands the private mausoleum of Joseph Profaci. Jesus on the door and St. Aloysius, clutching a skull, a macabre saint if there ever was one, stands atop the building as if on guard.
The imagery bizarre. Profaci, the first boss of the crime family that originally bore his name, now the Colombo family, ruled from 1930 until his death in 1962. The leading importer of olive oil and tomato paste, he was sometimes called the "olive oil king." Said to be the most devout Catholic of Mafia leaders, Profaci even had a private altar constructed in his home.
A stone's throw away is the grave of Vito Genovese, once the underboss to Lucky Luciano, before heading the crime family named for him. Genovese was thought to be the archetypal, old-fashioned Don, who loved cooking pasta for the grandchildren equally as well as he loved to kill. Genovese died in federal prison on Valentine's day in 1969, at the age of 72, 10 years into a 15-year sentence he was serving on a narcotics trafficking charge.
The grave of Joseph Colombo, who in 1963, at the age of 40, became the youngest crime boss in America, lies a short distance away. A life-size carving of Jesus predominates the stone, which is partially obscured by shrubbery. Protesting Italian-American stereotyping at an Italian unity day rally in Columbus circle, Colombo was shot by a sniper on June 28, 1971.
Despite two bullets having been pumped into his brain, he survived five hours of surgery, only to linger seven long years in a vegetative state, finally succumbing to his injuries on May 22, 1978. The man behind the murder is believed to be Carlo Gambino, angry at all the press Colombo was attracting - public notice being anathema to the mob.
A short distance from Colombo's gravesite stands the simple stone, adorned only by a small cross, of Salvatore Maranzano. Once recognized as the most powerful underworld leader in this nation, this self-proclaimed Capo di Tutti Capo "boss of all bosses" peppered his speech with Latin phrases.
Fancying himself a modern day Julius Caesar, he was murdered on the orders of Lucky Luciano on Sept. 10, 1931, in his Park Avenue office. Four men falsely identifying themselves as detectives descended upon him with guns drawn and wielding knives. Maranzano died from the four bullet holes and six stab wounds savagely inflicted upon him. It was Maranzano who is credited with proclaiming organized crime be called "Cosa Nostra" (our thing) and spelling out the hierarchy by which the Mob still operates today.
Across the road lies the grave of mob boss Carmine Galante, known in mob circles as "the cigar," who likewise opted for simplicity in a headstone. Galante, who once worked for Vito Genovese, was brutally murdered by three gunmen in a hail of bullets on July 12, 1979, at Joe and Mary's Italian restaurant.
The scene of carnage, in marked contrast to the picture of the Last Supper which hung inside the front door of the restaurant in Bushwick. Graphic descriptions of Galante's bloodied body, trademark cigar still lodged in his mouth, lying amid strands of spaghetti, filled the newspapers for days on end.
Then Catholic Archbishop, Terence Cardinal Cooke, refused Galante's family a funeral Mass nothing that "church law defines both gangsters and unfaithful husbands as public sinners." In lieu of a funeral Mass, prayers were said at the funeral home. Nevertheless, he was permitted to be buried in St. John's Cemetery.
But on an unseasonably warm, autumn afternoon, as I leisurely wandered the peaceful expanse that is St. John's cemetery, colorful fallen leaves strewn about, the violent pasts and sensational news headlines about these men, seemed incongruous to the tranquil landscape, littered with religious artifacts which now surrounds them. Standing before the edifices, one could not so easily imagine those violent images of the past.
Wryly I mused, that as the FBI once watched over these men, now venerated saints, angels and Jesus himself, did the watching. For no matter what they have been reputed to be in life, in death they are staunchly traditional, even old world when it comes to burial customs. Their Catholic roots are never far behind them as they celebrate various rituals of passage throughout their lives.
Births, baptisms, confirmations and marriages are all accompanied by large and lavish displays; ritual, pomp and circumstance and most especially religion, hold much meaning. But it appears that their religious value system is only placed far behind them, if not forgotten entirely, in their business practices. Once they are deceased, one could speculate that they seek atonement and forgiveness through the blessing of the church upon their burials.
Although St. John's Cemetery may hold the largest concentration of mobsters of any burial ground, it is not the only Catholic cemetery to knowingly or unknowingly inter the reputed mob figures. Calvary cemetery in Woodside, Queens, as well as Holy Cross cemetery in Brooklyn, St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx and Madonna Cemetery in New Jersey, have also accepted these controversial men for burial. In Chicago, Mt. Carmel Cemetery has the remains of both Sam Giancana and Alphonse Capone.
Thomas Lucchese, nicknamed "Three Fingers Brown" because of a missing finger on one hand, was one who broke with the St. John's tradition. Dead from a brain tumor, his family chose Calvary Cemetery for his interment. Unlike the secretive nature of St. John's, regarding their infamous inhabitants, Lucchese is listed on Calvary Cemetery's roster of the Famous People Interred at Calvary.
His simple stone lies near the road and is oddly misspelled as "Luckese." Lucchese was regarded, in his time, as a capable and classy Don, both generous and fair-minded. And although said to be behind numerous killings, his only jail time - a few months - was for auto theft.
Although his July 14, 1967, obituary in the New York Times requested that no public details be given about his funeral, it was attended by well over 1,000 people, which included heads of mafia families, judges, politicians and other businessmen among the mourners; an eclectic group as any. Those who did not or could not attend the funeral made sure to send cash envelopes to his family as a sign of respect.
Some say they ought to be denied a Mass of Christian Burial and the accompanying interment in a Catholic Cemetery - that for their burials on consecrated grounds to be permitted by the church is the very height of hypocrisy.
Another wise-guy who calls Calvary home is Joseph "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Reputed to be Sicily's foremost trigger man before his arrival in the US in 1903, he achieved legendary status among mob members in this country as well. The first boss of what became known as the Genovese family, he was targeted for execution along with Salvatore Maranzano, by Luciano who succeeded him. It was Luciano with whom he lunched the day he was blown away at Nuova Villa Tammaro, an Italian restaurant in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, on April 15, 1931.
Known by some as "the man who could dodge bullets" because of previously unsuccessful attempts on his life, he could not dodge these. Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and Ben Siegel walked into restaurant and fired 20 shots at his back - six slammed into him. He is entombed in a private mausoleum, surrounded by similar mausoleums, with a large Christian Cross above. Inside, photos line a makeshift altar in front of an exquisite stained glass window of Jesus holding a child.
St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx, houses the remains of Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, in an elegantly understated private mausoleum, with the seemingly requisite carving of Jesus, this time on the door. Salerno, the boss of the Genovese crime family from 1981 until 1986, died in prison on July 27, 1992, where he had been sentenced, along with Paul Castellano and several other mob bosses, to 100 years in the famous 1986 commission trial. A 1986 Fortune magazine article named Salerno the richest and most powerful mobster in America.
Holy Cross cemetery in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn has the body of Frankie Yale (nee Uale). Gunned down, on Al Capone's orders, in his new Lincoln as he drove through Brooklyn. A dubious claim to fame in 1928, of which Yale would have been proud, was being New York's first great mob funeral. Of course, there had been mob funerals before, but never on such a grand scale.
Yale's funeral surpassed them all in ostentation, excess and cost, an amount reputed to exceed $50,000. A $15,000 casket constructed of nickel and silver, $37,000 worth of floral arrangements, which included a clock set to 4:10, his time of death. Thirty-eight flower cars and 250 private vehicles formed the procession from St. Rosalia's in Brooklyn to Holy Cross.
What makes Frankie's funeral all the more apropos is that in addition to being a gangster, his legitimate trade was as an undertaker, owning a funeral parlor in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.
The Madonna Cemetery, in Fort Lee, N.J., is where Joe Adonis is buried, beneath a stone with his true surname of Doto. A longtime associate of Luciano, Costello and Lansky, he headed up the Broadway Mob, the most powerful prohibition gang in Manhattan, eventually expanding his interests into New Jersey.
Folklore has it that Joseph Doto changed his name to Adonis as an homage to his movie star good looks. A friend to councilmen, police officers, judges and Brooklyn's political machine, even those relationships couldn't stop his 1956 deportation to Italy. From time to time Adonis met with Luciano, also in exile and when Luciano died, Adonis received permission from Italian authorities to attend his Requiem Mass. He brought along a floral wreath with the words, "So Long Pal" emblazoned on its ribbon. Adonis died in 1971 from natural causes.
Sam "Mooney" Giancana (a boyhood nickname), who called Frank Sinatra a friend, songstress Phyllis McGuire a girlfriend, trysted with Marilyn Monroe and allegedly once shared a mistress with President John F. Kennedy, was dead. At his wake, hundreds of reporters, FBI agents, policemen and curious Chicagoans stood outside the funeral home.
Inside, Sam lay in his bronze casket amid walls lined with flower display piled upon flower display. Giancana is entombed, along with his wife, in a baronial private mausoleum, flanked by benches on each side at Mt. Carmel cemetery in Hillside, Ill.
Al Capone, synonymous worldwide with Chicago gangsters, was a remorseless killer who dominated Chicago's underworld. Originally a Brooklyn boy, he relocated to Chicago in 1919. In 1929, he orchestrated the St. Valentine's Day massacre, a mass killing, considered a serious blunder. When Capone could not be convicted of murder, he was instead nailed for income tax evasion.
After spending 11 years in Atlanta federal prison, he was, in 1934, transferred to Alcatraz and released in 1939. Suffering from the final stages of syphilis, he lived out his last days in his Florida mansion, his mental state forever altered, succumbing on Jan. 25, 1947. The funeral of the most notorious gangster in history was relatively simple with few of Capone's old gangster cronies in attendance. Originally buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, he was later disinterred and reburied in Mt. Carmel beneath a modest, stone grave marker with a large bush in front of it, obscuring the Capone name.
But whether meeting death by violent means or as a natural consequence of old age, the ensuing funeral plans of mob members are often met by controversy and public outrage has erupted, as readily reported in the media. Some say they ought to be denied a Mass of Christian Burial and the accompanying interment in a Catholic Cemetery - that for their burials on consecrated grounds to be permitted by the church is the very height of hypocrisy.
For others, it appears that the church may be turning a blind eye to their former business practices, hence the criticism. Yet, the concept of forgiveness is central to Catholicism and Christianity in general. So the majority end up quietly and some not so quietly, buried in consecrated ground amid cries of hypocrisy concerning the Roman Catholic Church.
Then Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Terence Cooke, refused Galante's family a funeral Mass noting that "church law defines both gangsters and unfaithful husbands as public sinners." In lieu of a funeral Mass, prayers were said at the funeral home. Nevertheless, he was permitted to be buried in St. John's Cemetery.
Arguably few have been denied, but it has happened, as in the case of the aforementioned Carmine Galante, likewise Big Paul Castellano, who was, upon his death in 1985, denied a Mass of Christian Burial by John Cardinal O'Connor. Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino's cousin, brother-in-law (Paul was married to Carlo's sister-in-law) and successor, had been regarded as more a businessman than a gangster - an image he consciously cultivated.
So the denial of a Mass was particularly crushing to his family, after his murder, along with his underboss, in front of Sparks Steak House, a tiny Manhattan eatery on Dec. 16, 1985. A spokesman for the Cardinal told the press "holding such a Mass was ruled out because of the notoriety of Castellano's death and his alleged - and I underline the word alleged - connection to the organized crime syndicate."
Citing cannon law, he added, "A person who has not led a Catholic life or has been involved in a public life not in keeping with the teachings of the church would be denied the liturgical farewell of the church." In lieu of a Mass, prayers were said at the graveside. In addition to being denied a Mass of Christian Burial, he was also refused burial in St. John's Cemetery, the family's first choice.
A double slight and an odd refusal, given the cemetery's acceptance of so many others. Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island was chosen instead. On the day of Castellano's funeral, a huge crowd of reporters and photographers showed up at the cemetery. Held at bay by police, under strict orders not to let anyone but Castellano's relatives enter the burial grounds. The location of his crypt, on the cemetery grounds, remains unmarked and private to this day.
However, not all Catholic mobsters opt for religious overtones in their burial choices, sometimes their neighborhood roots wins out over religion. The borough of Brooklyn held strong ties for both Albert Anastasia and Joey Gallo. Both men stayed true to their
Brooklyn roots and now lie in historic Green-Wood Cemetery, buried in relative anonymity among more illustrious denizens - politicians, judges, screen stars and society folk. Unlike the opulence of other mob burial sites, their graves are inconspicuously marked by simple footstones, whose inscriptions have faded with time. Said to be behind the murders of both Albert Anastasia and Joe Colombo, "Crazy Joe" Gallo, himself, was gunned down April 7, 1972, his 43rd birthday celebration, in Umberto's Clam House in New York City's Little Italy.
And it's only fitting that the man once proclaimed as "the king of Brooklyn" and a prominent member of Murder Inc. (the death squad that carried out hundreds of murders for the mob in the 1930s) Albert Anastasia, born Umberto Anastasio, met his fate on Oct. 25, 1957, while relaxing in a barber chair at a Manhattan hotel.
His face swathed with soothing hot towels, it is presumed that Anastasia could not see the two men in suits and sunglasses coming at him. They fired five bullets which hit him in the back, killing him instantly.
Anastasia's funeral was simple, no one outside his immediate blood family attended, not even the mob bosses he had associated with. His brother, Father Salvatore Anastasia, a Catholic priest, said the Mass. More interest was shown in his death chair, auctioned off years later for $7,000.
Frank Costello, born Francisco Castiglia was luckier, surviving an attempted hit on his life in May 1957. Costello was a Mafia leader who wanted to be accepted as a businessman and member of the establishment. He cultivated refinement and sought out sophisticated friends among New York's established bigwigs, who curried his favors and unlike the majority of his peers, he hated violence.
He, himself, died peacefully in 1973 at the age of 82. In a departure from the usual cemetery choices, his family selected another nonsectarian cemetery, St. Michael's in Astoria, Queens. His impressive mausoleum, a gracious columned structure, is befitting his appreciation of elegance. His wife requested that none of his unsavory friends attend his funeral and they honored her request.
Like on "The Sopranos" and most mob-inspired stories, it appears that the mob is mostly comprised of men who share Catholicism as their faith, but organized crime numbers among its ranks many well known members of another prominent faction - the Jewish Mob. Invaluable allies, who it is said taught the Italian gangsters the finer points of infiltrating legitimate enterprises. Their lives were often just as violent and their ends just as bloody as their Italian counterparts.
Meyer Lansky, born Maier Sucholjowsky in 1902, is the man whose vision in the early 1940s, put Las Vegas on the map as the glittering, gambling capital of America. Lansky, sometimes referred to the "Jewish Godfather" of the mob was Lucky Luciano's closest friend and together they made millions in their joint, illegal enterprises. Known for his keen mind, an FBI agent once said of him, "He would have been chairman of the board of GE if he had gone into a legal business."
In 1970, to escape the public spotlight and a federal grand jury investigating "skimming" in Las Vegas among other facets of organized crime, Lansky fled to Israel. His bid for immigrant status was denied by Israel's interior ministry on the grounds that he had "a rich criminal past and that his continued presence in this country was likely to be a threat to public order." He returned to the US in 1972 to face both legal and health problems. Several trials and surgeries later, he settled into an uneventful retirement in Miami.
Lansky died on Jan. 15, 1983, from cancer which had spread throughout his body. He was buried the next day, in keeping with the Jewish tradition and his was definitely no gangland-styled funeral. The funeral itself was unpretentious with the focus being on the lengthy religious ceremony. Lansky's widow, brother and sister, were among the few dozen friends and family members gathered for his burial in Mt. Nebo Cemetery, one of Miami's leading Jewish cemeteries.
The man who made Lansky's vision a reality, Benjamin Siegel, detested the moniker "Bugsy." Siegel was said to be as ruthless as he was handsome and to be a remorseless killer. The first Las Vegas casino-hotel was the Flamingo, which Siegel ran. But, when it was learned that Siegel was skimming large amounts of Flamingo hotel money for his personal use, an order to assassinate him was put out by his cronies.
Siegel was gunned down in the home of his longtime mistress Virginia Hill on June 20, 1947, while she was out of town. Slugs crashed into Hill's home through the living room window, the first ripping out Siegel's left eye. In rapid succession, four more bullets hit him.
Siegel lay dead, his murder being only one of three killings peaceful Beverly Hills had seen in 35 years. After his body was removed from the house and taken to the morgue, a photo was taken of his right foot, toe tag dangling with his misspelled name. This photo was published on the front page of the next day's L.A. Herald. Hucksters who sold maps to celebrities' homes tried to cash in by posting signs which read, "See the home where Bugsy was shot." Another read "See where Ben met his end."
A brief religious ceremony at a California funeral home was attended only by his ex-wife, children, brother and sister. At his crypt site in Beth Olam Cemetery the group was even smaller. Only his brother, a physician, attended along with the Rabbi who said the prayers.
In the 1930s, Louis (Lepke) Buchalter, dominated NY City's garment center. Presumed to have ordered the execution of at least 70 men, FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, branded him "the most dangerous criminal in the US" In 1937, the police and FBI sought to arrest him for a litany of crimes, posting a $25,000 reward for his capture "Dead or Alive."
Eluding a two-year, nationwide police search, Lepke hid right under their noses, in Brooklyn. In the end he surrendered, believing, because of the bounty on his life, that he'd be safer behind bars. Convinced that he would be given a light sentence, he was instead executed in Sing-Sing's electric chair on March 4, 1944. A reporter noted that Lepke's "lower lip quivered, but that he was otherwise expressionless as he was strapped into the electric chair." He is buried in Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Flushing, NY
Dutch Schultz, born Arthur Flegenheimer, a consort of Frank Costello, is another Jewish mobster who met death gangland style; shot in the men's room of a Newark, NJ, restaurant, as he washed his hands. Schultz, who made his money in bootlegging, was indicted in 1932 on tax evasion.
Believing that to do away with then US Attorney Tom Dewey, would be the answer to his legal troubles, he put out a contract on Dewey's life. Hits on prominent law enforcement individuals were a grave breach of Mob protocol. Instead, a hit was put out on Schultz's life and carried out by one of Luciano's men on Oct. 23, 1935. Schultz is buried alongside his wife in the beautiful Gate of Heaven Cemetery beneath a unique bench-like monument. Prior to his death, Schultz converted to Catholicism.
My thoughts turned back to St. John's Cemetery and the unusual intertwined lives of the mobsters buried there. Traditional to the end, the graves of many of these men lie close together. Death has settled the differences they had in life. Their wars have been turned through the plowshares of the grave diggers into the peace of eternity.