Albert Anastasia's bloody end was fitting considering the life he had lived.
The root of the word anastasis literally means “to rise.” It’s a fitting base for the name of Albert Anastasia, a man who went from a poor fatherless boy in Italy to New York’s most feared gangster – a man so bloodthirsty that he nicknamed himself “The Executioner.”
Born Umberto Anastasio in Calabria, Italy in 1902, Anastasia emigrated illegally with five brothers to America, jumping the freighter they were on when they reached New York.
His taste for living above the law continued to blossom; he quickly became involved in the International Longshoremen’s Association, a hub for racketeering and murder.
From here, Anastasia rose through the ranks of Cosa Nostra. Italian for “Our Thing,” Cosa Nostra emerged when Salvatore Maranzano and Charles “Lucky” Luciano consolidated five groups to form a united Mafia empire in a struggle called the Castellammarese War. Anastasia became a hitman and underboss for the Gambino wing of the Five Families.
Anastasia ultimately rose to lead Murder, Inc., the enforcement wing of the Cosa Nostra. He oversaw the murders of scores of people, and was even incarcerated in Sing Sing prison for a time until he was released when the star witness of the prosecution disappeared. A similar “stroke of luck” happened for Anastasia in 1940 when his murder charge was commuted following the untimely death of Abe Reles (another star witness) from a Coney Island hotel window.
Reles’ official cause of death was accidental falling while attempting escape. A colleague later stated, “I never met anybody who thought Abe went out that window because he wanted to.”
Albert Anastasia had reached heights nearly unimaginable for a poor railman’s son. By the late 1940s, he lorded over an enormous estate in Fort Lee, N.J. The stucco-and-tile encrusted estate boasted sprawling views of New York while maintaining a bucolic oasis from the city. Like the man, the mansion hid a soul of violence — false walls, rumored tunnels, and ominous basement rooms with drains in the floor (for “dressing deer”). Umberto Jr., the gangster’s son, once warned reporters not to stand too close to the estate’s fences: “don’t put your foot in there, the dogs will bite it off.”
The good fortune wouldn’t last forever, though. Anastasia was targeted by the government for denaturalization due to discrepancies with his names, as well as sundry other crimes and misdemeanors. He even followed in Al Capone’s government-issued jumpsuit when he was charged with tax evasion. Exhibit A was a mockup and blueprints of the sprawling estate, incriminating the man who claimed no income for years.
His final act was suitable for a made man of his caliber. On October 25, 1957, Anastasia was chauffeured from his cliffside home into the city in a 1957 Oldsmobile to visit his barber at the Park Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. As he sat facing the mirror, two masked assassins pumped out ten shots, with one finally finding his head. The killers remain unidentified to this day.
Albert Anastasia’s like, though soaked in blood and brutality, lived up to the epithet of one who rose to great heights. Shortly after his death, the heads of the crime organizations met to discuss the future of Cosa Nostra, named after the town that hosted it: the Appalachian Meeting. It resulted in Vito Genovese becoming the boss, and the FBI seriously seeing them as a lethal organization.
After learning about Albert Anastasia, see the dastardly deeds of Murder Inc. in 33 photos. Then take a look at what some infamous New York crime scenes look like – then and now.