The term was first used in 1931, when Salvatore Maranzano formally organized the previously warring gangs into what are now known as the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families, each with demarcated territory, organizationally structured in a now-familiar hierarchy, and having them reporting up to the same overarching governing entity. Initially Maranzano intended each family's boss to report to him as the capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses), but this led to his assassination and by September the role was replaced by The Commission, which continues to govern American Mafia activities in the United States and Canada.
The crime families originated out of New York City Sicilian Mafia gangs. Salvatore Maranzano formally organized them in the summer of 1931, after the April 15 murder of Giuseppe Masseria, in what has become known as the Castellammarese War. Maranzano introduced the now-familiar Mafia hierarchy: boss (capofamiglia), underboss (sotto capo), advisor (consigliere), captain (caporegime), soldier (soldato), and associate; and declared himself capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses).
By declaring himself boss of all bosses, Maranzano was breaking the deal he had made with Lucky Luciano in which the gangsters agreed that they would be equals, in exchange for Luciano agreeing to help murder Masseria. For reneging, Maranzano was murdered on September 10, 1931, on Luciano's orders. The boss of all bosses position was then eliminated in favor of The Commission. The Commission would consist of the head of each of the Five Families, plus the heads of the Buffalo crime family and the Chicago Outfit. The council would serve as the governing body of the American Mafia, settling disputes, including demarcating territory among the previously warring factions and would govern all activities in the United States and Canada.
The Bath Avenue Crew operated in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York.
The Colombo crime family operates mainly in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. The family also maintains influence in Staten Island, Manhattan, The Bronx, New Jersey, and Florida.
The Gambino crime family operates mainly in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island. The family also maintains influence in The Bronx, New Jersey, Westchester County, Connecticut, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Florida, and Los Angeles.
The Genovese crime family operates mainly in Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. The family also maintains influence in Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester County, Rockland County, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Florida.
1908 – Salvatore "Don Turridru" Bonanno, Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno's father, arrives in the United States and takes control of a gang of immigrants from Castellamare del Golfo in Williamsburg.
1911 – Salvatore Bonanno is forced to return to Italy after noticing that his gang is facing problems with rivals back home in Castellamare del Golfo. Vito Bonventre, his cousin and underboss, becomes boss.
1921 – Nicola "Cola" Schiro is promoted to boss, though he was seen as a figurehead for powerful members like Vito Bonventre, and later on, Salvatore Maranzano.
1925 – Salvatore "Caesar" Maranzano, a recent arrival from Castellamare del Golfo, becomes the boss while Vito Bonventre steps down to become underboss. Nicola Schiro, the nominal head of the family since 1921, is in fact a front boss to Maranzano.
1930 – Nicola Schiro abruptly "disappears" after paying tribute to Masseria; later that year, Bonventre is killed by Masseria's gunmen, leaving Maranzano in charge of the family. Joe Bonanno is promoted to underboss.
1931 – Maranzano is murdered at the end of the Castellamarese War, and underboss Joe Bonanno takes over his family.
1964-1968 – Joe Bonanno is allegedly kidnapped by gunmen from the Buffalo crime family in October 1964, after his plot to take over The Commission was exposed. The Commission then names Gaspar DiGregorio as the new boss, but he is opposed by Bonanno's son Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno, splitting the family into rival factions. Little to no action takes place until a sit-down between Bonanno and DiGregorio in early 1966 turns out to be an attempted hit on Bill; DiGregorio was permanently shelved and replaced by Paul Sciacca after botching the attempted hit on Bill Bonanno. Joe Bonanno emerges from hiding in May 1966 and tries to regain control of his family, but the family war, known as the Bananas War in the media, goes on until a heart attack forces Bonanno to step down and retire to Tucson, AZ in 1968. Sciacca becomes the new boss after Bonanno's retirement.
1973-1974 – Evola dies of cancer, and underboss Philip "Rusty" Rastelli is promoted to boss, but he is jailed for racketeering in 1974. Carmine "Lilo" Galante, Joe Bonanno's former underboss, seizes control of the family despite no backing from the Commission, becoming the de facto street boss.
1979 – Philip Rastelli regains control of the family after Galante is killed on Commission orders, but the family is stripped of their Commission seat in the 1980s due to constant infighting since Joe Bonanno's ouster in 1968, excessive drug dealing, and the family's infiltration by an FBI agent named Donnie Brasco. However, this allows the Bonannos to avoid being indicted in the Mafia Commission Trial.
1991 – Rastelli dies of cancer, and underboss Joseph Massino becomes boss. Massino eventually changes the family's name to the Massino crime family, after becoming displeased by former boss Joe Bonanno's tell-all book A Man of Honor.
2003–2004 – Massino is arrested and convicted of racketeering and murder charges in 2003. Facing the death penalty, Massino becomes a federal witness, testifying against 60 fellow mobsters, so capos Anthony "Tony Green" Urso and Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso, both of whom are themselves jailed, control the family briefly. Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano becomes the new acting boss.
2004–2009 – Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano moves up from acting boss to become boss. Basciano is incarcerated on two life sentences in Colorado, for a 2006 murder and a 2011 murder.
2009–2013 – Vincent "Vinny TV" Badalamenti, a Bonanno capo, becomes the new acting boss. Badalamenti is indicted in January 2012 along with other members. He is released on May 16, 2013.
1963 – Magliocco is forced to retire after taking part in Bonanno's plot to take over The Commission and dies shortly after retiring. Joseph Colombo becomes new boss, with Commission support, and changes the family's name.
1971 – Colombo is shot and paralyzed at a civil rights rally he organized. His activism drew unwanted publicity and attention towards the Mafia, and this made the other Mafia bosses, such as Carlo Gambino, uneasy. The first rally Colombo organized attracted over 50,000 people with Gambino's support, but the second rally barely drew 10,000 people without Gambino's blessing. It was theorized that The Commission authorized Colombo's murder to take pressure off of the Mob. The most likely candidate, though, was Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo.
1911 – Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila, a capo in the family of Ignazio Saietta AKA Lupo the Wolf succeeds his boss who is sent away to prison in 1909. D'Aquila eventually also absorbs Alfred "Al Mineo" Manfredi's Brooklyn-based crew and makes him his underboss; D'Aquila also absorbs the remnants of the Brooklyn Camorra into his own family.
1928 – Alfred Manfredi, underboss to D'Aquila, becomes boss after D'Aquila is killed on orders of Joe Masseria.
1930 – Manfredi is gunned down on orders of Salvatore Maranzano; Frank Scalice, a Maranzano supporter, becomes boss.
1931 – Frank Scalice is ordered to step down by Lucky Luciano, and Vincent Mangano becomes boss of the newly formed Mangano crime family.
1951 – Mangano disappears, presumably murdered by underboss Albert "the Executioner" Anastasia. With Commission support, Anastasia then becomes boss, and the family assumes his name. Vito Genovese, underboss of the Luciano family, believed that Anastasia had broken a cardinal Mafia rule by murdering Mangano. However, war is avoided between the two gangs due to the efforts of Joe Bonanno. Genovese still resented Anastasia, though, and Genovese would cultivate the sympathies of Anastasia's underboss Carlo Gambino.
1957 – Anastasia is assassinated by gunmen in a barber shop; Genovese and Gambino become prime suspects for orchestrating the murder. Gambino takes over as boss, and the family assumes his name.
1976 – Gambino dies of a heart attack; before his death, Gambino names his brother-in-law and cousin "Big" Paul Castellano as his successor, passing over his underboss Aniello Dellacroce, who is imprisoned at the time for tax evasion.
1985 – Castellano is gunned down outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan, and John Gotti, the man responsible for planning Castellano's assassination, becomes boss.
1992 – Gotti is imprisoned for life on RICO charges. The family appoints a ruling panel of capos to handle daily affairs, and Gotti's son, John "Junior" Gotti, becomes the acting boss.
1999 – John "Junior" Gotti is jailed on extortion charges; Peter Gotti, "Junior" Gotti's uncle, is promoted to acting boss.
2002 – Gotti dies of cancer while incarcerated for RICO charges in 1992. His brother, Peter, succeeds him as boss.
2003–2004 – Peter Gotti is convicted on racketeering charges.
2011 – Peter Gotti steps down, and Sicilian mobster Domenico Cefalù is appointed boss in a return to tradition.
2015 – Domenico Cefalù steps down due to old age, and his underboss, Frank Cali, becomes the new boss.
2019 – Frank Cali was fatally shot six times in the chest and then run over by a getaway pick-up truck in front of his Staten Island home.
Originally most members were Corleonesi.
1890s – Giuseppe Morello, a recent arrival from Corleone, Sicily, establishes the 107th Street gang, a forerunner to the modern-day Genovese crime family.
1946 – Luciano is deported to Italy and is succeeded by Frank Costello.
1957 – Costello goes into retirement after a failed assassination attempt orchestrated by Vito Genovese. Genovese then replaces Costello and renames the family. Genovese's motive for removing Costello is that Genovese was Luciano's underboss and, in his mind, the rightful heir to Luciano's position. Genovese, however, fled to Italy to evade murder charges in 1937, making him an unsuitable candidate for the title of boss, which left Luciano no choice but to bestow the title on Costello.
1959 – Genovese is convicted of narcotics trafficking and gives day-to-day control of the family to Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo, while ruling the family from prison.
1962 – Strollo abruptly disappears, presumably murdered on orders of Genovese after he suspected that Strollo may have supported a plot to set up Genovese in a drug trafficking operation. Management of the family's day-to-day operations is passed on to a ruling panel/committee of capos, including Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo and Thomas Eboli, who becomes the street boss.
1969 – Genovese, incarcerated for narcotics trafficking charges in 1959, dies in prison while still boss, and Philip Lombardo becomes the new Genovese family boss. Lombardo uses a series of front bosses in the 1970s, in an effort to divert law enforcement attention from himself. Thomas Eboli, street boss for Vito Genovese since 1962, becomes the front boss.
1972 – Frank "Funzi" Tieri replaces Eboli as front boss after Eboli is killed on The Commission's order. Eboli had borrowed money from Carlo Gambino for a new drug racket but failed to repay Gambino after law enforcement busted the drug racket. As a result, Gambino, with the backing of the Genovese family, ordered Eboli's death; it is also likely that Eboli was gunned down by his own family for this errant blunder.
1981 – Lombardo retires and is replaced by Vincent "Chin" Gigante, who had attempted to assassinate Frank Costello in 1957. Until 1987, Gigante continues to use the front boss ruse employed by Lombardo, while simultaneously pretending to be insane. Tieri dies while under RICO indictment in 1981 and is replaced by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno as front boss.
1997 – Gigante is convicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges. While Gigante is imprisoned, a ruling committee/panel of capos handles the family's day-to-day affairs.
2005 – Gigante is incarcerated and dies in prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice in 2003. Loyal Genovese capo Daniel Leo led the family as acting boss, until his imprisonment in 2008. He was later released from prison in 2013. After Gigante's death in 2005, it was rumored that a ruling panel took over the daily affairs of the Genovese family.
1922 – Gaetano "Tommy" Reina, a capo in the Morello gang's East Harlem-Bronx faction, splits off to form his own crime family.
1930 – Reina is murdered on February 26, and Bonaventura "Joseph" Pinzolo takes over as boss, only to be murdered by Tommy Gagliano on September 5. Joe Masseria bypasses Gagliano and installs Pinzolo as boss, but Gagliano, feeling betrayed, secretly defects to Salvatore Maranzano and orders Pinzolo's murder.
1967 – Lucchese dies of a brain tumor, temporarily leaving the family leaderless. The Commission selects Carmine Tramunti to fill in as acting boss until the leading candidate for the position of boss, Anthony Corallo, is released from prison.
1970 – Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo becomes the new boss. Some contend that the position was not formalized until 1973, when Tramunti was imprisoned, and that between 1970 and 1973, Tramunti remained family boss, but only in name, with Corallo actually in control.
1986 – Corallo implicates himself and many other mobsters in recorded conversations. He is convicted of RICO charges, along with top mobsters of the Genovese, Gambino, and Colombo families, and sentenced to life in prison. Before being incarcerated, Corallo selects Vittorio "Little Vic" Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso as the two candidates most deserving of the title of boss.
1987 – Amuso becomes boss after being nominated by Casso, but Casso, as underboss, is viewed as the man who makes important decisions and has de facto control of the family.
1992 – Amuso is sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of racketeering charges.
1994 – Casso is sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and murder charges; he then becomes a federal witness, testifying against Amuso, but is thrown out of the witness protection program in 1998 for numerous infractions. Louis "Louie Bagels" Daidone becomes acting boss.
2006 – Crea is released from prison after 34 months but is precluded by the terms of his probation from associating with the mob again until 2009.
2009 – Ruling Panel members Madonna and DiNapoli are indicted on labor racketeering, illegal gambling, and extortion charges, leaving Migliore reputedly the most powerful mobster in the family. Amuso continues to run the family while serving a life sentence; Steven Crea is promoted to acting boss.
In popular culture
Factual and fictional details of the history of the crime families have been used in a vast array of media, such as:
A recurring plot arc in the CBS series Person of Interest concerns the campaign of mobster Carl Elias to dominate the Italian Mafia in New York. In particular, the Dons of the Five Families are prominently depicted in the first-season episode "Flesh and Blood" (April 5, 2012).
^Raab, Selwyn. (2006). criminal organized crime groups: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press. pp. 732–734. ISBN978-0-312-36181-5.