The rise in the number of mafia bosses began during the illegal bootlegging days of the Prohibition era. The crime world in the past was much more dominant, with several mafia bosses compared to the recent days.
Griselda Blanco, Pablo Escobar, Al Capone, and Bugsy Siegel are some of the top names of the most powerful mafia bosses of all time.
They happen to be known to the world for their involvement in drug cases, mob cases, smuggling cases, and sometimes murder cases.
Let’s bring the 20 of the most powerful mafia bosses of all time who received a reputation for their criminal involvement.
20. Veto Genovese (1897- 1969)
Vito Genovese, an Italian-born American mobster, was born on November 21, 1897. He was involved in one of the major wars, the Castellammarese War, that helped the rise of the Mafia in the United States.
Vito acted as the enforcer in the American Mafia and rose to power during Prohibition. He worked along with Luciano of Luciano’s crime family towards the extension of the heroin trade at an international level.
Luciano’s crime family was renamed the Genovese crime family as Genovese began leading the crime family.
He also participated in the murder of Albert Anastasia and the attempt to murder Frank Costello to become the boss of the bosses. However, he managed to escape to Italy to avoid the charge of murder.
But was arrested for narcotics conspiracy charges in 1959 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
When World War 2 ended, he donated almost 4 million dollars to Mussolini’s party and was awarded the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.
In September 1943, when enemies invaded Italy, he switched sides and offered to help the U.S. Army. He was appointed as the interpreter officer at the U.S. Army headquarters in Naples.
Genovese died due to a heart attack on February 14, 1969, at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Missouri.
19. Paul Castellano (1915-1985)
Constantino Paul Castellano, also known as “The Howard Hughes” of the Mob and “Big Paulie,” was born on June 26, 1915. He was an American crime boss succeeding Carlo Gambino as head of the Gambino crime family.
Castellano was one of the members of the Mangano family in the 1940s. During this, he attended an Apalachin meeting in Apalachin, New York, which the police raided, and listed him as one of the sixty-one highest-ranking mobsters arrested.
He spent one year in prison on contempt charges for refusing to answer questions and in 1960, was sentenced to five years for conspiracy to hold back necessary information.
Castellano overtook non-legitimate businesses and turned them into legitimate ones and was taken as a businessman rather than a mobster.
He and his son Philip invested money in the Scara-Mix Concrete Club, a club of contractors selected by The Commission for handling contracts between two million dollars to fifteen million dollars.
He had his daughter’s boyfriend Vito Borelli murdered in 1975 as he heard Borelli compared him to Frank Perdue, the owner and commercial spokesman for Perdue Farms.
Castellano built a 17-room mansion in Todt Hill on Staten Island designed to resemble the White House in Washington, D.C.
It displayed Carrara marble, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and an English garden. He wore satin and silk dressing gowns and velvet slippers around the house instead of managing the business.
On March 30, 1984, Castellano was charged with numerous charges including extortion, narcotics trafficking, prostitution, theft, and DeMeo murders.
However, he was then arrested on July 1, 1985, for loan sharking and evasion of tax but pleaded not guilty.
He died on December 16, 1985, after being shot several times in front of the Sparks Steak House in Manhattan.
18. Sam Giancana (1908- 1975)
Samuel Mooney Giancana, born to Italian immigrants parents on May 24, 1908, was an American Mobster.
He joined the Chicago Outfit during the late 1930s and was involved in Chicago’s African-American lottery payout system for the Chicago Outfit in the early 1940s. He was the boss of the Chicago Outfit in 1975.
Giancana joined the 42 Gang and was in control of the illegal gambling, liquor distribution, and political rackets in Louisiana between the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1960, Giancana was chosen by the CIA to assassinate the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He was also involved in the victory of John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.
However, he was later associated with Kennedy’s assassination along with other Mafia leaders including Santp Trafficante Jr. and Carlos Marcello.
In 1966, Giancaa fled to Mexico to avoid the grand jury questioning the arms smuggling to the Middle East for the Israeli Mossad via Panama.
He was arrested in Mexico and was deported to the United States in 1974.
On June 19, 1975, Giancana died after he was shot seven times in the head and neck.
17. Joe Masseria (1886- 1931)
Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, an Italian- American Mafia boss, was born on January 17, 1886. He belonged to a family of tailors who later became the boss of the Genovese crime family from 1922 to 1931.
Joe joined the Morello Crime family of Harlem in 1902. He was first arrested for a third degree burglary with a charge of 4 to 6 years imprisonment on May 23, 1913.
By 1920s, Masseria and his boss Salvatore D’Aquila, went against each other for power. Where, Salvatore ordered his gunman Umberto Valenti to assassin Masseria.
Masseria was able to escape the attack becoming the new boss of the rival Morello family. During the attack, Vincenzo Terranova, the boss of Morello family, was killed while Morello’s underboss Silva Tagliagamba was brutally wounded. Valenti was held responsible for both the incidents.
Masseria was again attacked on August 9, 1922, while he was walking out of his apartment. But, he was able to escape this attack as he ducked into a store while the gunmen were shooting from the outside.
This gained him new respect among gangsters as “the man who can dodge bullets.” His reputation started rising as D’Aquila began to fall.
Masseria, after becoming the head of the Morello family was named “Joe the Boss”. He was chosen to replace D’Aquila as the new capo dei capi after D’Aquila’s murder. He then applied pressure on the other mafia gangs for financial tributes.
He called out Nicolo Schiro for committing a transgression and demanded ten thousand dollars to step down as the leader of his mafia crime family. This led to the Castellammarese War between 1930 and 1931.
He fought in the Castellammarese War in 1930 to take over the criminal activities in New York City. The war ended on April 15, 1931, with his murder by his lieutenant, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, in an agreement with his rival Salvatore Maranzano.
16. Joseph Colombo (1923- 1931)
Joseph Anthony Colombo, the boss of the Colombo crime family, was born on June 16, 1923, in New York City. He was one of the Five Families of the American Mafia in New York.
He created the Italian-American Civil Rights League in 1970 that was followed by the first Italian Unity Day rally held in Columbus Circle. These rallies were basically created to to protest against the persecution of Italians.
The Civil Rights league and Colombo gained popularity that led to him appearing in numerous TV interviews, speaking events, and fundraisers.
Likewise, Paramount Pictures began filming the Godfather with the help of Colombo and the league. However, the film remove a few terms as ” Mafia” and ” Cosa Nostra” from the film.
Colombo, like his father, joined the Profaci family and ended becoming a capo and one of the top enforcers. He was ordered to kill Gambino and Lucchese by Magliocco, after the death of Profaci, to which he revealed the plan to the rivals.
The Commission in return spared his life, but forced him to retire from the position of Profaci’s boss and made him pay 50000 dollars.
Colombo died on May 22, 1978 due to an Cardia arrest at St. Luke’s hospital in New York.
15. Dutch Schultz (1901- 1935)
Dutch Schultz, an American mobster, was born on August 6, 1901. He was based in New York and was involved in crime-related activities between the 1920s and 1930s.
Dutch went against the Commision in 1935 and attempted to kill prosecutor Thomas Dewey. Dewey was leading the prosecution against two major tax evasion tirals for which Dutch was held responsible.
He had requested the Commision to grant him the permission to kill Dewey to which they refused.
Dutch, while working at a nightclub, started involving himself from robbing craps games to burglary. He was also sent to the prison for attempting to break into an apartment.
The mugshot taken then, when he was 18 years old, was published in the book New York City Gangland in 2010.
He began smuggling liquor and beer from Canada to New York after his release. He gained his fame as ” Dutch Schultz”, during this period.
In the 1920s, he worked as a bouncer as the hub social club, under Joey Noe. Joey worked along with John and Joe Rock running a bootlegging operation in the Bronx.
However, they kidnapped on of their partners, Joe Rock, who was refusing to buy beer. They hung him by his thumbs with a meat hook and wrapped a bandage smeared with discharge from a gonorrhea infection over his eyes.
After that, their gang met only a few oppositions, and they expanded across the entire Bronx and made them very wealthy.
Noe-Schultz operation flourished so much that they were the only gang to go against the Mafia’s Five Families. They got into a bootleg war with New York’s Irish Mob, led by Jack “Legs” Diamond.
He also had to deal with conflicts within his gang when Vincent Coll, one of Schultz’s enforcers, demanded to become an equal partner. They received a flat salary instead of the customary percentage from the take.
To find new sources of income with the end of Prohibition, Dutch Schultz put his hand into the Otto “Abbadabba” Berman and the Harlem number rackets. Along with this, he started extorting New York restaurant owners and workers.
He worked through a hulking gangster Jules Modgilewsky, also known as Julie Martin, and made deals with Waiters Local 16 and Cafeteria Workers Local 302 to extort money.
Dutch died on October 24, 1935, after one of receiving the last rites from a Catholic priest.
14.Vito Rizzuto (1946-2013)
Vito Rizzuto, also known as “Montreal’s Teflon Don”, was the leader of the Sicilian Mafian in Canada. The Italian-Canadian crime boss was born on February 21, 1946.
Rizzuto, under the order of Joe Massino of Bonanno, was involved in the killing of three rival capos in 1981 in New York City. He was questioned by a Brooklyn federal grand jury and was given a ten-year prison sentence in 2004, but was released in 2012.
Vito married the daughter of mobster Leonardo Cammalleri, Giovanna Cammalleri and gained power over a criminal empire by importing and distributing heroin, cocaine, and hashish in Canada.
Similarly, he was also involved in laundering of millions of dollars, lending millions through loansharking operations, and gaining from illegal gambling, fraud, and contract killings.
In 1972, he was arrested for the charger of planning to commit arson of Renda’s hair salon and again in 1988, for plotting the import of Hashish to Canada.
Rizzuto died on December 23, 2013, due to complications from pneumonia induced by lung cancer and around 800 people attended in funeral at the Madonna della Difesa.
13. Frank Scalice (1893- 1957)
An Italian-American Mobster, Frank Scalice, was most active in New York City. He was born on September 23, 1893, and was famously known as “Don Ciccio” and “Wacky”.
In 1930, Scalice became the new boss of the Gambino family after the murder of Mineo and Stefano, by the Castellammarese Silicans led by Salvatore Maranzano. He became a firm friend and supporter of Maranzano in the Castellammarese War.
Mazaranzo organized the Five Families and a peace as the end of the war. However, Lucky Luciano forced Salice to resign as family boss after the murder of Maranzo in 1931 and was replaced by Vincent Mangano.
In 1945, Scalice helped mobster Bugsy Seigel to open the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
After the death of Manganos, Anastasia became the boss of the family, and Scalice became the underboss.
Scalice died on June 17, 1957 after being shot by the two gunmen in the Bronx.
12.Salvatore Riina (1930- 2017)
Salvatore Riina, an Italian mobster, was chief of the Sicilian Mafia. Born on November 16, 1930, he was also known as Toto’ u Curtu.
He was infamous for inhuman murder campaign with assassinations of Antimafia.
Riina became the head of the Corleonesi criminal organization in the mid-1970s after succeeding Luciano Leggio. During which, he gained dominance with numerous violent acts that led to police targeting his rivals.
After the death of Michele Navarra, the head of the Mafia family in Corleone in 1958, Luciano Leggio became the new boss. Along with the three gunmen in Navarra’s murder- Riina, Calogero Bagarella and Bernardo Provenzano, Leggio increased the power of the Corleonesi.
They spent a few years hunting down and killing dozens of Navarra’s supporters and were forced to go into hiding to avoid arrest. Riina and Leggio in 1969 and tried for the earlier carried out murders but cleared of guilt by intimidating the jurors and the witnesses.
During the Second Mafia War, Riina and Leggio killed almost a thousand people as they wiped out their enemies along the way. Riina had mutually beneficial relationships with local political figures like the mayors of Palermo Vito Ciancimino and Salvatore Lima.
Buscetta talked to the anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone and became his informant. He revealed that the Mafia was a single organization led by a Commission and established that the highest Mafia members were involved in all the organization’s crimes.
475 Mafia members were arrested, and 333 were convicted in the Maxi Trial.
To divert attention from the investigation, Riina ordered the murder of 17 people and left 267 wounded. This came to be known as the “Christmas Massacre.”
Riina died of Cancer on November 17, 2017.
11.Sonny Franzese (1917- 2020)
John ”Sonny” Franzese Sr.,born on February 6, 1917, was an Italian-American mobster.
His career began in 1930 and revolved over eight decades. He was the underboss of the Colombo family until he was sentenced to 50 years in prison to organize a series of bank robberies.
Sonny became the underboss again in 2005 after he was paroled in 1978 and re-jailed six times on parole violations. He was again convicted of extortion in 2011 and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
When he was released on June 23, 2017, at the age of 100, he was the oldest federal prisoner in the United States. He was the only centenarian in federal custody.
He died on February 24, 2020, at the age of 103.
10.Griselda Blanco (1943 – 2012)
Griselda Blanco, one of the most infamous and feared women mobsters, began with prostitution and pickpocketing and ended up booming the cocaine trade. She was famously known as the Black Widow and was born on February 14, 1943.
A Colombian drug lord controlled the Medellín Cartel and became a Miami-based cocaine drug trade pioneer.
She was active in the underworld with several names, such as La Madrina, the Queen of Narco-Trafficking, the Black Widow, and the Cocaine Godmother between the 1980s and the early 2000s.
She was involved in 200 murders while smuggling cocaine from Colombia to New York, Miami, and Southern California. Blanco, at her peak, was one of the richest women and the most powerful drug kingpins in the world.
She earned $80 million a month during the ’70s and ’80s and became the first-ever billionaire female criminal with a $2 Billion net worth as of 2012.
She married four men and bore four children. With the multi-billion dollar drug trafficking empire, she became one of the deadliest women of all time.
However, her mafia acts ended on the 3rd of September,2012, after police shot her dead.
9.Bugsy Siegel (1906 – 1947)
Bugsy Siegel, one of the first front-page celebrity gangsters, was a Jewish-American mob involved in the racket, murder, and illegal gambling.
Siegel, who loved gambling, changed illegal gambling into legal one and was also known for being a mafia hitman and enforcer.
He also established the Las Vegas Strip, where he and his men robbed tourists for years until death. His name also came in several bootlegging affairs with his close associate, Meyer Lansky.
In 1936, Siegel moved to California, where he began to build casinos for the East Coast’s mob bosses, started campaigning rackets, and favored many Hollywood celebrities and earned some fame for himself.
Siegel was shot dead by a hitman on the 20th of June, 1947, at his girlfriend’s house in Beverly Hills.
8.Pablo Escobar (1949 – 1993)
Pablo Escobar, a Colombian drug trader and famous narcoterrorist, founded the Medellín Cartel. He was known as The King of Cocaine, The King of Crack, El Padrino, and El Patrón.
He started his criminal journey around the 1970s when he sold illegal cigarettes, and fake tickets for the lottery involved himself in vehicle theft and kidnapped people for ransom.
With his experience working under other mafia bosses, he established his Cartel in 1976 and named it the Medellín Cartel.
The cartel made its first smuggling routes to the United States to distribute cocaine, which eventually became the most successful cartel to supply in the US.
They would supply at least 70 to 80 tons of cocaine a day from Columbia. This made Escobar and his cartel one of the wealthiest in the world.
His business, however, created the battle between rival cartels and resulted in killing police officers, locals, judges, and politicians.
Escobar also stepped into the 1982 Colombian parliamentary election and was elected as an alternate member of the Chamber of Representatives.
He earned some fame by working on community projects for the construction of houses and football fields.
He was convicted of planning the Avianca Flight 203 and DAS Building bombings. In 1991, he surrendered to the police and was sentenced to imprisonment for five years.
He escaped jail in 1992, and a nationwide manhunt was conducted. Escobar was shot dead by the Colombian National Police on December 2, 1993.
7. Albert Anastasia (1902 – 1957)
Italian origin, Albert Anastasia, also known as the Earthquake or the Mad Hatter, was one of the most ruthless and feared Italian -American crime bosses, mobsters, hitmen, and gangsters in American history.
Anastasia was appointed underboss and head of his Brooklyn rackets when Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria were killed during the Castellammarese.
By 1951, Anastasia had transformed New York Harbor into a whole Crime zone. At the time, he served Vincent Mangano and continued for 20 years as an underboss. When Mangano was killed, he became the new boss of the Mangano crime family.
The conspiracy against Anastasia was aggressive for killing his boss, so Vito Genovese with Carlo Gambino planned on killing him. He was killed in a barbershop in Manhattan on the 25th of October, 1957.
6. Carlo Gambino (1902 – 1976)
If there was any crime boss who ruled the crime world for a long time and still met his death without a bullet, it was Carlo Gambino. Carlo Gambino was an Italian-American mafia belonging to the Gambino crime family.
He had earned several nicknames such as The Godfather, Don Carlo, The King of the United States Underworld, The Dictator of New York City, and The King of the American Mafia.
Gambino carried out his criminal journey at 19 when he was inducted as an assassin into the Cosa Nostra in 1921. Along with two other fellows, Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello, he joined a ‘Young Turks’ gang led by Lucky Luciano.
In 1957, Gambino ordered the assassination of Albert Anastasia and became the head of the Mangano crime family.
He then changed the original name Mangano to Gambino family and took charge of loan sharking and illegal gambling.
After the two major events, the Apalachin Meeting of 1957 and Vito Genovese’s imprisonment in 1959, he became more powerful and ruled as one of the most powerful mafias until his death on October 15, 1976.
5. Frank Costello (1891 – 1973)
Frank was born in Cosenza, Italy, and grew up in East Harlem. He was introduced to the crime world by his brother, Edward, at the early age of 13, when he began with petty crimes.
He had already served in prison in 1908, 1912, and 1917 for assault and robbery. In the 1920s, he was involved in gambling, bootlegging, and building operations in New York and the South alongside Lucky Luciano.
The association of Luciano helped him to gain political influence on the local level. When Luciano went to jail for operating prostitution in 1936, Costello became the head of the Luciano crime family, later changed to the Genovese crime family.
He had risen at the height of his criminal career and became an Italian-American Mafia gangster and crime boss. He gained his popularity through his nickname “The Prime Minister.”
In the 1950s, Costello faced several problems with the law as he was frequently taken in and out of jail for contempt and tax evasion by the US government.
He had also developed a solid alliance with Albert Anastasia. However, in 1957, an assassination attempt was made upon them, in which Costello survived while Anastasia was killed. Vito Genovese, the rival New York mob boss, was behind this scheme.
Though he lost some dominance after the attack, he continued his operation. He eventually met his end with a heart attack on February 18, 1973.
4. Lucky Luciano (1897 – 1962)
Lucky Luciano was a great influencing mafia king in American history and the first gangster who legitimized mafia power in America.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano was also an Italian-born mob boss who started his crime by joining the Five Points gang. His power rose when he became the top assistant in Masseria’s criminal organization after the Castellammarese War.
In 1931, he established The Commission and was known as the father of modern organized crime in America, since then.
He proposed the Commission maintain its power over all the families and stop future gang wars. The other bosses appreciated his idea and approved it.
The modern Genovese crime family then received the first official heir, and it was Luciano. His dominance in the mafia world grew even further because of his contribution to the development of the National Crime Syndicate.
However, his fortune dropped when District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, with his years of investigation, brought him to trial in 1936. He was found guilty of prostitution rackets and was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in jail.
Luciano helped the US Navy’s security measures during World War 2, which resulted in the shortening of his prison stay. Thus, he was brought to Italy where he continued his drug business.
He died from a heart attack when he was at Naples International Airport on January 26, 1962.
3. John Gotti (1940 – 2002)
Apart from his criminal activities, John Gotti was famous for being called the “The Dapper Don.” His swagger and expensive suits always roamed around the media that made him a tabloid celebrity.
John Gotti, the American mobster was the boss of the Gambino crime family based in New York City. He began his criminal career at 12 when he started working for Carmine Fatico.
Even after joining the Gambino crime family, Gotti could not stop his heroin business, despite knowing that it was against the family ethics.
His business of heroin was discovered by the Gambino family only in 1985, which led to chaos.
Gotti had to plan and organize the murder of Paul Castellano to save him and his business team. The murder of Paul led to him becoming the head of the Gambino family.
During the 1980s, Gotti was the most powerful crime boss in America, called the “Teflon Don.” He earned millions through criminal and illegal business, including loan sharking, prostitution, illegal gambling, and narcotics distribution.
He often avoided prison throughout the 1980s, but the Feds continued chasing him and built a strong case against him. Gotti was finally locked in jail in 1992 for several crimes involving five counts of murder, tax evasion, and racketeering.
Salvatore Gravano, who was Gotti’s underboss, helped the FBI to put Gotti behind the bar. Though Gotti was in jail, he continued his crime business through brother Peter and son Jr. He died of throat cancer in 2002.
2. Frank Lucas (1930 – 2019)
Frank Lucas was an American drug smuggler trained under Harlem mob boss Bumpy Johnson from his teenage years. He worked for Johnson for 15 years.
He broke the monopoly that the Italian-American mob bosses had on the drug ring and developed his drug ring which became one of the most significant rings of the 20th century.
Lucas became a powerful drug lord in Harlem in the 1960s and 70s through his heroin trade. He cut out the middleman by contacting the direct suppliers in Southeast Asia to buy the drug.
By the 1970s, Lucas leveraged a lavish lifestyle with an earning of $1 million a day from his “Blue Magic” heroin.
It caught the eye of authorities, and Lucas was convicted of drug charges after they raided his New Jersey house in 1975.
He was sentenced to 70-year prison in 1976, but he served only five years and was set free. Due to his cooperation on drug cases as a state witness, he could shorten his prison time.
Lucas died on May 30, 2019, due to natural causes.
1. Al Capone (1899 – 1947)
Al Capone was an American mafia boss and businessman who established his crime empire through several criminal activities in the 1920s. He was the most powerful and dangerous crime boss in the world.
His criminal affair started when he became a member of the Five Points Gang and then became a bouncer in many organized crime premises in his early twenties.
In his initial career, his mentor was Johnny Torrio, who helped him to grow in bootlegging. He, along with Torrio, co-founded and became the leader of Chicago Outfit, previously known as the Black Hand.
Still, his fall and rise continued due to the North Side Gang. Similarly, he was also involved in smuggling, prostitution, and bootlegging liquor, even after the death of Torrio.
He bribed police officials, judges, and the Mayor of Chicago, and his domination prevailed in the US. He also donated funds to several charity groups, which earned him the nickname “modern-day Robin Hood.”
He, however, was tagged as “Public Enemy No.1” when the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre happened. In the event, he killed his seven gang rivals.
It boiled the media and public to pressure the US government to put Capone behind the bar.
Thus, Capone’s organized crime reign ended when he was sent to jail after being found guilty of five counts of tax evasion in 1931.
The imprisonment was decided for 11 years, but he was released in 1939 when he suffered an advanced case of syphilis.
Capone eventually died of a heart attack on January 25, 1947. At the height of his career, he received many names such as Scarface, Big Al, Big Boy, and Snorky.
Capone’s life has also been discussed in many books, articles, journals, and movies. The Untouchables (1987) was a blockbuster movie based on Capone’s life.
Mafia life is uncertain, and several gangsters met their end either being shot or serving the prison for their lifetime. Only a few died naturally. This piece has only included ten mafia leaders and misses several others, such as Tony Accardo, Whitey Bulger, Sam Giancana, etc.
Anyway, who do you find the most powerful mafia boss enlisted in the article? Comment your thoughts below.