A particularly well-qualified reporter offers a broad survey of an industry that, as it destroyed the competition, regularly co-opted, enlisted, out-thought, and out-gunned sheriffs and G-men.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Mafia, though J. Edgar Hoover tried to pretend otherwise. But, according to this juicy account, organized crime has been less organized and more a loose confederation of geographic fiefdoms. Reppetto should know. The son of a professional gambler who did business with the “outfit,” he is himself a former Chicago commander of detectives, longtime president of NYC’s Citizens Crime Commission, and author of NYPD: A City and Its Police (2000). His tale covers mob activity from the 1880s through the 1950s, starting in New Orleans with the birth of the indigenous Mafia, as distinguished from the Camorra and the Black Hand. Still-disorganized gang doings spread to the heartland and beyond. Chicago, under the management first of Johnny Torrio and later of clumsy Al Capone, hosted counterfeiting and prostitution. New York, initially overseen by Arnold Rothstein, soon battled over artichokes, kosher chickens, and the rag trade. The big time came with Prohibition, a wonderful opportunity for crooks and cops alike. The story continues in LA, Detroit, Vegas, and Miami, with Thomas Dewey, Estes Kefauver, and the overhyped Eliot Ness chasing the bad guys. The familiar tales, from the Valentine’s Day massacre to Frank Costello’s hand-twisting on national TV, are related with the alert perspective of a street-smart cop. Dutch Shultz’s strange, poetic deathbed ramblings prompt the aside, “Dutch had not previously enjoyed a literary reputation.” Chicago florist Dion O’Bannion “sometimes supplied not only the posies but the corpse.” Supporting players include Duffy the Goat, Mad Dog Coll, Roxy Vanilla, Tony the Hat, and many capos and soldiers. Minor details may differ from other texts, but Reppetto’s reporting touches all bases (excluding recent events) vividly and authoritatively.
A fine backgrounder and basic guide to American mob war stories to the middle of the 20th century. (16-page b&w photo insert, not seen)