Giuseppe "Joe Bananas" Bonanno (January 18, 1905 – May 12, 2002) was a Sicilian-born American Mafioso who became the boss of the Bonanno crime family. He was nicknamed "Joe Bananas," a name he despised because it made him sound crazy.
In 1927 violence broke out between the two rival factions that shortly developed into all-out war. This war between Masseria and Maranzano became known as the Castellammarese War. It would continue for more than four years. By 1930, Maranzano’s chief aides were Bonanno (as chief of staff), Joe Profaci, Tommy Lucchese and Joseph Magliocco. Tommy Gagliano ran another gang that supported Maranzano. The Buffalo, New York mob boss Stefano Magaddino, another Castellammarese, also supported Maranzano. Magaddino's son was Peter Magaddino, a boyhood friend of Bonanno from his student days in Palermo. Masseria had Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia and Frank Costello on his side.
However, a third, secret faction soon emerged, comprised of younger mafiosi on both sides disgusted with Masseria and Maranzano's old-world ways. This group of "Young Turk" mafiosi was led by Luciano and included Costello, Genovese, Adonis, Gambino and Anastasia on the Masseria side and Profaci, Gagliano, Lucchese, Magliocco and Magaddino on the Maranzano side. Although Bonanno was more steeped in the old-school traditions of "honor," "tradition," "respect" and "dignity" than others of his generation, he saw the need to modernize and joined forces with the Young Turks.
By 1931, momentum had shifted to Maranzano and the Castellammarese faction. They were better organized and more unified than Masseria’s men, some of whom began to defect. Luciano and Genovese urged Masseria to make peace with Maranzano, but Masseria stubbornly refused. In the end, Luciano and Genovese concluded a secret deal with Maranzano. In return for safety and equal status for Luciano in Maranzano's new organization, Luciano and Genovese murdered Masseria and ended the Castellammarese War.
Bonanno was awarded most of Maranzano's crime family. At age 26, Bonanno became one of the youngest-ever bosses of a crime family. The purpose of this organization was to prevent another bloodletting like the Castellammarese War, and according to Bonanno, it succeeded. The establishment of the Commission ushered in more than 20 years of relative "peace" to the New York and national organized crime scene, and Bonanno wrote in his autobiography: "For nearly a thirty-year period after the Castellammarese War no internal squabbles marred the unity of our Family and no outside interference threatened the Family or me."
Bonanno's large cash position gleaned from crime allowed him to make many profitable real estate investments during the Great Depression. His legitimate business interests included areas as diverse as the garment industry (three coat factories and a laundry), cheese factories, funeral homes, and a trucking company. It was said that a Joe Bonanno-owned funeral parlor in Brooklyn was utilized as a convenient front for disposing of bodies: the funeral home's clients were provided with double--decker coffins, and more than one body would be buried at once.
By the time Bonanno became a US citizen in 1945, he was a multi-millionaire. The only encounter Bonanno had with the law during these years was when a clothing factory that he partly owned was charged with violating the federal minimum wage and hour law. The company was fined $50; Bonanno was only a shareholder in the company and was not fined. Government officials would later arrest Bonanno, claiming he had lied on his citizenship application by concealing a criminal conviction; the charge was dismissed in court.
As he prospered, Bonanno bought property in Hempstead, Long Island and moved his family out of Brooklyn. When Bill was ten years old he developed a mastoid infection of his ear that led to his being transferred to a private boarding school in Tucson, Arizona. Bonanno and his wife would visit their son during the winter months. Eventually, Bonanno purchased a house in Tucson.
After the death of Joseph Profaci, a very good friend of Bonanno and leader of the Profaci crime family, he was succeeded by another good friend of Bonanno's, Joe Magliocco. Soon, Magliocco began to have troubles with the rebellious Joe Gallo and his brothers Larry and Albert, who were now backed by Lucchese and Gambino. Meanwhile, Bonanno was also feeling threatened by Lucchese and Gambino. The two then planned to have Gambino and Lucchese killed, as well as Bonanno's cousin Magaddino and Frank DiSimone in Los Angeles. Magliocco gave the contract to one of his top hit men, Joseph Colombo. However, Colombo betrayed his boss and went instead to Gambino and Lucchese. Gambino called an emergency meeting of the Commission, and quickly realized that Bonanno was the real mastermind.
At Gambino's suggestion, the Commission ordered Magliocco and Bonanno to appear for questioning. Bonanno didn't show up, but Magliocco did and confessed. The Commission imposed a very lenient punishment--a fine of $50,000 and ordering him to hand over leadership of his family to Colombo. One month later, Magliocco was dead from high blood pressure. They intended to let Bonanno off easily as well, wanting to avoid a repeat of the bloodbaths of the 1930s.
Bonanno was already becoming unpopular with other Mafia bosses; Tampa boss Santo Trafficante once said in anger, "He's planting flags all over the world!" Some members of his family also thought he spent too much time away from New York, and more in Canada and Tucson, where he had business interests. After several months with no response from Bonanno, they removed him from power and replaced him with one of his capos, Gaspar DiGregorio. Bonanno, however, would not accept this. This resulted in his family breaking into two groups, the one led by DiGregorio, and the other headed by Bonanno and his son, Salvatore. Newspapers referred to this as "The Banana Split."
Since Bonanno refused to give up his position, the other Commission members felt it was time for drastic action. In October 1964, Bonanno was allegedly kidnapped by Buffalo Family members, Peter Magaddino and Antonino Magaddino. According to Bonanno, he was held captive in upstate New York by his cousin, Stefano Magaddino. Supposedly Magaddino represented the Commission, and told his cousin that he "took up too much space in the air", a Sicilian proverb for arrogance. After much talk, Bonanno was released. The Commission members believed he would finally retire and relinquish his power. Bonanno's account of events has been disputed based on the FBI recordings of New Jersey Boss Sam "the Plumber" Decavalcante.
Bonanno was never convicted of a serious crime. He was once fined $450 and was also jailed for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions, being released in 1986 after serving fourteen months. Upon retirement, Bonanno was allowed to live in peace in a normal house in Tucson, Arizona with his family. Joseph Bonanno, the last remaining Mafia don who survived Italian fascism, Mustache Petes, and his own bloody war, died May 12, 2002 of heart failure at the age of 97.
In 1999, the Lifetime TV network produced a biographical film called Bonanno: A Godfather's Story. The film chronicles the rise and fall of organized crime in the United States.
In 1991, Bonanno's daughter-in-law, Rosalie Profaci Bonanno, published the memoir Mafia Marriage: My Story. This book was eventually converted to the 1993 Lifetime Network film Love, Honor, & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage.
In 2008 - Joe's daughter-in-law began putting Joe's personal item's up for auction on Ebay.
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