Capo dei capi (Italian: [ˈkaːpo dei ˈkaːpi]; "boss of [the] bosses") or capo di tutti i capi (Italian: [ˈkaːpo di ˈtutti i ˈkaːpi]; "boss of all [the] bosses") is a phrase used mainly by the media, public and the law enforcement community to indicate a supremely powerful crime boss in the Sicilian or American Mafia who holds great influence over the whole organization. The term was introduced to the U.S. public by the Kefauver Commission in 1950.
The word was applied by mobsters to Giuseppe Morello around 1900, according to Nick Gentile. Bosses Joe Masseria (1928–1931) and Salvatore Maranzano (1931) used the title as part of their efforts to centralize control of the Mafia under themselves. When Maranzano won the Castellammarese War, he set himself up as boss of all bosses and ordered every Mafia family to pay him tribute. This provoked a rebellious reaction which led to him being murdered. Lucky Luciano then created The Commission in 1931 as an alternative.
The Commission consisted of the bosses of the Five Families in New York and some non New York families. These men had equal say in Mafia matters. Since then, the title of boss of all bosses has been given by the media to the most powerful boss, although the Mafia never recognized the position itself. Genovese crime family bosses Lucky Luciano (1931–1946), Frank Costello (1946–1957) and Vito Genovese (1957–1959) were given the title. Following Genovese, Joseph Bonanno, boss of the Bonanno crime family, chaired the commission in 1959–1962.
With the rise of Carlo Gambino, the Gambino crime family became the most powerful crime family and he was given the title from 1962–1976, as were his successors Paul Castellano (1976–1985), and John Gotti (1985–1992). With the fall of Gotti, Genovese Boss Vincent Gigante held the title from 1992–1997. The term has since fallen out of use. Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino was recognized by four of the five families as chairman of the Commission from 2000 to 2004; during this time he was the only full-fledged boss in New York not in prison.
In the Sicilian Mafia the position does not exist. For instance, the old-style Mafia boss Calogero Vizzini was often portrayed in the media as the "boss of bosses" – although such a position does not exist according to later Mafia pentiti, such as Tommaso Buscetta. They also denied Vizzini ever was the ruling boss of the Mafia in Sicily. According to Mafia historian Salvatore Lupo "the emphasis of the media on the definition of 'capo dei capi' is without any foundation".
Nevertheless, the title has frequently been given to powerful Mafia bosses to this day. During the 1980s and 1990s the bosses of the Corleonesi clan Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano were bestowed with the title by the media.
In April 2006, the Italian government arrested Bernardo Provenzano in a small farmhouse near the town of Corleone. His successor is reported to be either Matteo Messina Denaro or Salvatore Lo Piccolo. This presupposes that Provenzano has the power to nominate a successor, which is not unanimously accepted among Mafia observers. "The Mafia today is more of a federation and less of an authoritarian state", according to anti-Mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia of the Direzione distrettuale antimafia (DDA) of Palermo, referring to the previous period of authoritarian rule under Salvatore Riina.
Provenzano "established a kind of directorate of about four to seven people who met very infrequently, only when necessary, when there were strategic decisions to make". According to Ingroia "in an organization like the Mafia, a boss has to be one step above the others otherwise it all falls apart. It all depends on if he can manage consensus and if the others agree or rebel." Provenzano "guaranteed a measure of stability because he had the authority to quash internal disputes".
In the 'Ndrangheta, a Mafia-type organisation in Calabria, the capo crimine is the elected boss of the crimine, an annual meeting of the 'Ndrangheta locali near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi in the municipality of San Luca during the September Feast. Far from being the "boss of bosses", the capo crimine actually has comparatively little authority to interfere in family feuds or to control the level of interfamily violence.