Charles “Lucky” Luciano is one of the most researched, discussed and dissected American mobsters of all time. His name has become synonymous with New York City’s high drama gangland days of prohibition bootlegging, the formation of the infamous five families, and controversy over his alleged ‘Last Testament’.
Yet, there exist many fascinating and lurid tales and theories regarding Lucky’s rise and fall from the mob’s top spot. Now in his new book, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, journalist Christian Cipollini, for first time ever, focuses exclusively on some of the mysteries major surrounding Charles “Lucky” Luciano, one of the biggest organized crime figures in history.
Some of these stories are known, but still incite debate, such as the origins of his nickname and menacing facial scars. Other legends are not so well known to the general public. Luciano’s involvement with the shadowy Seven Group and Murder Incorporated. Did he ever actually ever murder anyone? Then there are incidents such as the alleged carving of his initials into a witness’s thighs and the wild theories that abound following his death in 1962. These are just a few of the unusual tales that surfaced over and beyond Lucky Luciano’s lifetime.
With information culled from rare news articles, government documents and numerous books written on the subject, this book will give readers a chance to discover Luciano in a way that engages the mystery of his pop culture status, while encouraging further debate over the facts and fallacies that exist about his true role in the history of the American Mafia structure.
This is an excerpt from Christian Cipollini’s latest book, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend
He was not a lone wolf outlaw, nor any sort of Robin Hood. Charles “Lucky” Luciano certainly had a band of murderous men with him, and without those numerous alliances and followers, he would not have been so powerful in his pinnacle moments. It is, therefore, virtually impossible to tell the tales of Charles “Lucky” Luciano without mentioning a laundry list of criminal compatriots. Each of his mob allies, enemies and loose associates had their very own stories (some as elusive and amazing as Luciano’s). In this particular expose of Lucky’s life and surrounding mysteries, there is a specific group of gangsters who can, arguably, be called the Originals. Some of the names and backgrounds are familiar territory for those long fascinated with the history of organized crime. Other individuals, even for the aficionado, may be of a limited or vague recognition. What all of these particular O.G’s had in common was a man named Rothstein.
During the heyday of Arnold Rothstein’s stranglehold on underworld finance and gambling rackets, men like Luciano, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Jack “Legs” Diamond, Thomas “Fatty” Walsh, Frank Erickson, Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo and George Uffner co-mingled quite a bit. They all had dealings with Rothstein; many had furthered their criminal education thanks to his tutelage. To be clear, Arnold Rothstein was not a “mob boss” per se, but rather a man with the mind and money to “back” illicit investments. All of these gangsters took part, some large and some small, in Rothstein’s exploits.
Each of these mobsters was ‘associated’ with certain other gangs or dabbled in various criminal enterprises outside the Rothstein camp, and respectively had their own individual specialties. Luciano, for example, rose from the infamous Five Points Gang into ‘officially’ working for Joe “The Boss” Masseria, but carried on in thievery with the Diamond Gang. Legs Diamond was the head of his own little gang, obviously, yet was involved with Rothstein in bootlegging. Lansky and Siegel were the heads of the Bug and Meyer Mob, running a protection racket, and developed a close friendship with Luciano. Walsh served, concurrently, as Rothstein’s bodyguard and a Diamond Boys thug. Frank Erickson was mastermind of gambling, a master bookie in the Rothstein realm. George Uffner was the main point of narcotics traffic, of which Rothstein had interests. Frank Costello, an old pal of Uffner, could be compared to a social media guru of today’s world. He was diplomatic, and always able to “pay” for favors the mob was in need of.
George Uffner, Frank Erickson, Vincent Alo are names that don’t quite resonate in the collective pop culture mind like some of the others. Nevertheless, they were all key figures in the development of many underworld fortunes. Uffner and Erickson were the least recognizable gangsters of the lot, simply by keeping much lower key than even Meyer Lansky (who supposedly often reminded Lucky to avoid being flashy and noticeable) and certainly nothing like the flamboyant, media-hounded “Legs” Diamond.
The multi-ethnic cooperation under Rothstein was likely a contributing factor in Luciano’s rise in underworld hierarchy. Having grown up in a largely Jewish part of town, plus working with non-Italians on a regular basis in the 1920’s, Luciano’s view of how business should operate was in great contrast to the Mafia system. Furthermore, he was probably becoming aware of how limited the opportunities are when an organization – like his boss Masseria’s – shuns doing business with other ethnic groups. Rothstein’s stable of gangsters were multi-cultural opportunists, into just about every racket under the sun; booze, dice, dope, bribery, extortion included.
While all the original gangsters played their parts in Rothstein’s world, they each ventured further into their own domains as the years passed. Then, in 1928, something went terribly wrong; actually it may have been a series of events that culminated in the headline making murder of Rothstein.
On November 4th, Rothstein was shot at the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan. He succumbed to the wounds two days later, without identifying his killer. Of all the gangland lore, Rothstein’s murder may be one of the greatest unknowns. Most of what police found, in terms of speculation – Rothstein had not paid up on a gambling debt of over $300,000. Investigators pulled in witnesses and suspects from virtually all over the country, trying to sort out what happened. Fingers were pointed directly at a man named George McManus (he was eventually acquitted). In late November though, police grabbed three men for questioning; Lucania, Uffner and Walsh. All three denied having anything to do with Rothstein’s murder. Walsh, whom authorities knew worked as a bodyguard for Rothstein, claimed he was employed for just a few months in that capacity and that Rothstein was killed over a card game. It was discovered, however, that Walsh left the Rothstein job almost immediately following a large narcotics seizure that was traced to Rothstein. The connection was unclear, and certainly suspicious.
The three men were soon released, but there still remains conjecture or theories that Rothstein’s murder may not have just been about owing money from card games. As the investigation continued, files were found containing information that led authorities to link drugs, leases to oilfields, and other investments to Rothstein. And, on the 19th of November, just a day after Uffner, Luciano and Walsh were released on bail, another Rothstein associate, Dr. Charles Brancati, disappeared… permanently.
Brancati was suspected to be in cahoots with Rothstein in the finance of narcotics and counterfeiting. His body was never found, but officials eventually declared him dead in 1932. Another acquaintance of Rothstein, Joseph Klein, was apprehended in December, on a train with a trunk full of narcotics – estimated at over $2,000,000 worth – linked directly to Rothstein as the backer.
In relation to the narcotics financing and what happened to some of Rothstein’s other investments isn’t entirely a mystery, according to one of George Uffner’s relatives. A family source, who wished to remain anonymous, says some of the Uffner lineage believes George had something to do with Rothstein’s death, or at the very least – what happened after the murder.
You can order Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend from www.amazon.com