It’s the combination of an unorthodox moral code and their legendary cruelty against perceived foes that has made American mobsters so appealing and larger-than-life long after their demise. They had no fear, except maybe of other mob bosses looking to usurp their territory, and knew no boundaries when it came to everything from paying off judges to blackmailing politicians. Living to excess in glamorous homes with equally appealing women at their sides was all part of the mobster package. And that’s why some of America’s most notorious mobsters, listed here, are still so fascinating today.
The fourth of nine children, Al “Scarface” Capone started his life of crime while still in his teens as a member of a street gang in New York City. At the height of the Prohibition era (a time in American history when alcohol was a no-no), Capone literally ran Chicago in the 1920s. Initially popular among the masses, his image changed with the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, the public killing of seven rivals. After that incident, he became “Public Enemy No. 1” in the eyes of the law and the people. A former bouncer who was thrown out of school at age 14 for slugging a teacher, Capone has been officially linked to at least 33 deaths.
Born to poor Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is considered America’s first “celebrity mobster” because of the way his antics dominated newspaper headlines nationwide. Often described as “handsome and charismatic,” Siegel is credited with playing a major role in the development of the Vegas Strip. The inspiration for the Moe Greene character in “The Godfather,” Siegel was essentially a feared, ruthless hit-man with a reputation for his prowess with various weapons of personal destruction.
Considered the Godfather of organized Crime in America, Charles “Lucky” Luciano is credited with developing the modern version of the crime syndicate in the United States. He also recruited several young Italian mobsters who would later become well-known mob leaders, including Albert Anastasia and Don Vito. Luciano had a hand in running construction, hauling, trucking, and garbage collection operations in New York City as well. Even when he was jailed for pandering, Lucky continued to run his family from behind bars.
A leader in La Coda Nostra (the American Mafia), Carlos Gambino was the first head of the crime family that still bears his surname today. He made it to New York City in the 1920s and became part of the Young Turks, a group of Italian-American mobsters organized by “Lucky” Luciano. He raked in the dough with illegal gambling and bootlegging operations and by selling World War II ration stamps on the black market. Gambino was one of the first mobsters to “franchise,” eventually spreading his operations to several major U.S. cities, including Miami, Boston, and Las Vegas. He also reportedly had a hand in the murders of several prominent competing mob bosses.
The fifth of thirteen children, John Gotti would eventually become head of the Gambino family after taking out previous boss Paul Castellano in 1985. Gotti and company boosted their power and influence with an assortment of nefarious dealings, including loan-sharking, hijacking, extortion, and gambling. Known for his sense of style, “The Dapper Don” was eventually taken down himself through FBI wiretapping that netted evidence linking him to at least five murders.
While the days when mobsters ran cities and brokered deals behind bars may be over, the mob lifestyle is still as appealing as ever, at least when it comes to entertainment value in video games, TV shows, and movies. Still, the real-life tales of some of the American mobsters mentioned here would surely make Tony Soprano and Don Corleone cower in fear. Plus, it’s highly unlikely that someone as notorious as Al Capone would be remotely intimidated by the likes of Tony Montana and his “little friend.”