Feature Articles

July 2001

The Short Return of Charlie Lucifer

(Part 1)

By John William Tuohy

     In the midst of the peaceful and prosperous reign of Frank Costello, reemerged the Dark Angel himself, Lucky Luciano and announced that he was making Havana, more or less the sole domain of Lansky and Alo, the seat of his new empire.

     On January 31, 1936, a bitter cold day, New York's cities finest went out in force in their patrol cars under the orders of Tom Dewey and rounded up every prostitute they could. Five of them, named Jennie the Factory, Sadie the Chink, Frisco Jean, Nigger Ruth and Gashouse Lil were held in the house of detention as material witnesses on $10,000 bond each. Under severe questioning, each was persuaded to mention the name Lucky Luciano and soon a case was built against Luciano for "organizing a city wide prostitution ring."

     "It was," said Frank Costello, "as organized as a flea circus."

     Luciano's trial began May 11, 1936 and three pimps and several madams, one known as "Cokey Flo" turned state's evidence. Dewey told the jury, "Frankly, my witnesses are prostitutes, madams, heels, pimps and ex-convicts�I wish to call to your attention that these are the only witnesses we could possibly have brought here. We can't get Bishops to testify in a case involving prostitution. And this combination was not run under the arch lights of Madison Square Garden. We have to use the testimony of bad men to convict other bad men."

     During the trial Dewey asked Luciano if he had obtained his permit to carry a pistol under false pretenses. Luciano replied he had not. That he needed the gun to go hunting with.

     "And what is it that you hunt in New York City, Mr. Luciano?"

     "Peasants," replied the bored Luciano.

     They found him guilty, of course. His 35-year sentence for pimping shocked the underworld. "I was stunned," said Joe Valachi. "Charlie Lucky, he wasn't no pimp, he was a boss."

     It was the Second World War that set Charlie Luciano free from jail. By 1942, German U-boats had sunk over almost 70 vessels, mainly freighters carrying valuable and essential cargo en route to and from New York to the war effort in Europe. The attacks were exact and final, and it appeared that the Nazis knew every attacked ship's schedule and freight.

     Naval Intelligence suspected that German and Italian spies were operating along the New York docks and approached Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan in order to get connected to Genovese, who controlled the docks, and enlist them in the fight.

     It was a huge mistake. Sensing the importance of the subject, the Mafia actually created their own sabotage by sinking, in February of 1942, the French luxury liner Normandie, at its berth on a west side pier. The work was apparently carried out by Albert Anastasia on Lucky Luciano's orders.

     The sinking made international headlines and the Navy placed all its efforts into securing the dock. Its agents, through the District Attorney's Office, contacted Joseph "Socks" Lanza, a semi-literate hood who controlled the Fulton Fish Market, then the biggest fish wholesale outlet in North America.

     Lanza agreed to cooperate and offered to help Naval Intelligence agents infiltrate the market and set up listening and communications devices in fishing boats, however, he said, he could only offer to help, he couldn't actually do it. In order to put the plan to work, Lanza said he would need a direct order from the Boss, Lucky Luciano himself and that order would only come with a price.

     The price was freedom for Lucky Luciano, who was moved from Dannemora, at the extreme northwest east corner of New York State, to Sing Sing Prison, which is about an hour and a half outside of Manhattan.

     There, at a meeting attended by Costello, Lansky, and Haffenden and a representative of Dewey's office, a deal was hammered out. It was agreed that, in return for his help, Charlie would get his parole at the war's end, but also that he had to accept deportation, voluntarily, back to Sicily.

     On January 3, 1946, Thomas E. Dewey, the onetime racket-busting D.A. who had jailed Luciano in the first place, was now the Governor of New York and he detested his next move, a move that Naval Intelligence had forced him into.

     That afternoon, Dewey signed an executive order declaring that Charlie Luciano would be set free on parole to his birthplace in Sicily.

     The country was shocked, and for those not in the know, which was virtually everyone in the world, the whole affair smelled like political corruption.

     Since the Naval Intelligence records on the deal weren't made public until the early 1980s, Dewey would go to his grave denying that he had ever taken a kickback from Luciano to set him free.

     Luciano sailed on February 6, 1946, from the Bush Terminal at Brooklyn's Pier 7. One reporter called it "one of the most brazen public expressions of Mafia power and contempt for law in American history."

     An enormous crowd had gathered with photographers and reporters at the office of immigration security division to request passes to board the ship.

     Harry Ratzke, the assistant superintendent of the office was confronted by fifty longshoremen standing in a line across the pier, holding sharp edged bailing hooks. "Nobody goes on the boat," he was told. Luciano arrived late and the line parted for him.

     Ratzke said, "But I'm from the immigration."

     "Nobody goes on the boat, we just told you that."

     Ratzke asked if he alone, without the reporters could. The dock workers huddled together and Ratzke was allowed to get on the boat. The incident with Ratzke may have all been for a show, a prearranged way to get rid of the reporters.

     Everything had been prepared for him, a new wardrobe and three women for the trip selected by Joe Adonis with the assistance of Virginia Hill.

     Each of the invited guests to the dock to see Luciano off was issued a card which identified him as a member of the stevedores.

     Among those who saw Luciano off were Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Willie Moretti, Mike Lascari, Moses Polakoff, Bugsy Seigel, Longy Zwillman, Tommy Lucchese, Joe Bonanno, Carlo Gambino, Steve Magaddino, Dandy Phil Kastel, Moe Dalitz, Owney Madden and the powerful Tammany boss Francis X Mancuso.

     The boat was stopped after it left the harbor, and Mayor Bill O'Dwyer, riding in a fireboat, came on board and said his good-byes. To be continued

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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