APALACHIN, NY — On November 14, 1957, more than 100 organized-crime leaders from New York City, Chicago, New Jersey, Ohio, Cuba, Italy, and other mafia strongholds converged on the rural Upstate New York village of Apalachin.
The occasion was a summit at the woodland getaway estate of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara, kingpin of Pittsburgh’s Bufalino crime family. New Jersey chief Vito “Don Vito” Genovese (above), head of the increasingly powerful Genovese syndicate, called the meeting. Following the October 25 barbershop execution of New York don Albert Anastasia, Genovese aimed to solidify and map out the future of organized crime in North America.
Thus, Don Vito respectfully requested that every major player in La Cosa Nostra join him for a single sit-down — and they respectfully took him up on the offer.
The sheer volume of visiting mob chiefs — along with their consiglieres and bodyguards — nearly doubled Apalachin’s normal population of 277. Motels were booked solid in every direction. Brand new luxury sedans suddenly parked by the dozen next to cows and tractors.
The local cops didn’t have to smell the marinara simmering long to conclude that something big was bubbling.
Appalachin’s two-man police force alerted the New York State Police of the sharp-dressed influx and they, in turn, invited federal agents to join them for a raid.
Joe the Barber’s residence sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, surrounded by vast stretches of woods. It made a perfect target.
Authorities lined up roadblocks at the end of driveway. Among the trees surrounding the house, squadrons of state troopers stood in wait, eager to snag any goodfellas who attempted to flee on foot.
At noon, agents approached the porch. A lookout signaled that the heat was on, and panic swept the gaggle of gangsters. At once, the mafiosi leapt up, crammed through doorways, burst out windows, jumped off the roof, and scrambled willy-nilly into the wilderness to avoid arrest. As New Jersey historian Angelo “Clinch” Giusti once noted:
“It looked like something out of the Three Stooges, except this was about a hundred stooges!”
Some mobsters managed to make it past the various gauntlets. Many, however, did not.
In short order, authorities arrested 62 high-ranking organized crime figures, including Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonnano, Joseph “Don Peppino” Profaci, Natale “Joe Diamonds” Evola, Carmine “The Doctor” Lombardozzi, Joseph “Fat Joe” Magliocco, and Frank “The Cheeseman” Cucchiara.
The following day, cops cut loose the majority of the mobsters. No weapons or other evidence of illegality turned up during a long night of searches. In time, all related charges got dropped.
The confab quickly came to be known as the Apalachin Meeting, and while it yielded no convictions, it changed the course of both organized crime and how law enforcement dealt with it.
For years, federal top cop J. Edgar Hoover had seemed to deny the existence of an American Mafia. No more.
The names and faces made headlines, exposing a sweeping underground network of interconnected criminals who lived outside the law and got rich in the process. In response, Hoover launched his “Top Hoodlum Program” to disassemble the syndicate.
In the meantime, the mob sought to clean house itself. By and large, the capos blamed Vito Genovese for the boondoggle that exposed them. In 1958, then, Charles “Lucky” Luciano set up Don Vito for a heroin racketeering bust. Genovese got 15 years and died in a prison hospital 11 years into his term.
Despite Joe the Barber’s hospitality, nobody wanted to do business with him after the meeting. He hung on for two more years before succumbing to natural causes.
La Cosa Nostra, of course, hardly declined in the immediate aftermath of Apalachin. Still, it would never again would the secret society it once was — nor would the public ever get enough of gangster lore and mobster misadventures like this one and its army of silk-suited “goombahs” flailing like loons through a forest.
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Main photos: Vito Genovese [NYPD]