Life in the American Mafia typically ends in one of two ways: death or prison. In a perpetual struggle over illegal power and money, murder is practically an occupational hazard. From the very first days of organized crime, mafia hits, brutal assassins, and crime's most horrifying killers underlined the fundamentally violent lifestyle of this uniquely American entity. In a world where violence is practically second nature, these are some of the most brutal killers and gruesome murders associated with the Mafia.
Some of the people on this list are classic gangsters like Al Capone. Others weren't even in the mob, but pissed off the wrong people. In either case, the lesson is clear: stay clear of the mob and definitely don't make a gangster mad. Keep reading below to see some of the most violent murders ever committed by the Mafia.
Roy DeMeo was a New York based member of the Gambino crime family who ran his own crew of criminals in Brooklyn. This particular group of thugs specialized in murder and contract killings that typically involved dismemberment and the ultimate disappearance of any trace of the victim. Those slated to die would be lured to DeMeo's headquarters, the Gemini Lounge, through the promise of a meeting, drugs, or some other inducement for them to enter the apartment area behind the bar itself.
DeMeo would be surreptitiously waiting for them with a silenced pistol in one hand and a towel in the other. After a point blank shot in the back of the head, DeMeo would carefully wrap the towel around the wound to prevent too much blood from spilling. As quickly as possible, a confederate, usually Chris Rosenberg, would stab the victim in the heart to minimize excessive bleeding. Then the body would be deposited in a bathtub where it would bleed out as much as possible. If a victim was murdered to send a message, they would dump the body publically for all to see. Otherwise, blood would eventually be washed down the drain and DeMeo, a trained butcher, would supervise a quick and efficient dismemberment, with body parts packed in plastic and stuffed in cardboard boxes. Occasionally, a victim's head would be pulverized in the bar's industrial strength trash compactor. The boxes would be included with refuse intended for a large local landfill.
When Chris Rosenberg murdered several Colombian drug-dealer partners, DeMeo was ordered to kill his associate to avoid a gang war, and he complied, even imposing the Gemini Method on a close friend. It is estimated through court testimony provided by turncoat witnesses that over 200 individuals were murdered by the DeMeo crew in less than a decade.
In January of 1983, DeMeo was killed by his own men, who believed that he would not stand up to inevitable federal and state indictments. The hit was ordered by crime boss, Paul Castellano, who felt DeMeo and his crew were too wild and attracted too much attention with excessive violence, even for the Mafia. DeMeo's entire crew would eventually be convicted of numerous murders and receive life sentences. The landfill was eventually closed and covered over, with law enforcement concluding that searching through thousands of tons of garbage would be fruitless. DeMeo's victims literally disappeared without a trace.
Richard Kuklinski was known as the "Ice Man," the perfect nickname for a Mafia contract killer who murdered several dozen victims in any number of ingenious ways. At 6' 5" and 275 lbs, Kuklinski was also physically well suited to his chosen vocation. Early in his mid 20s, he began stalking and killing derelicts on Manhattan's West Side. Originally exposed to the Gambino crime family when he was beaten into repaying a debt to an associate of Roy DeMeo, Kuklinski quickly became involved in Gambino pornography bootlegging, collections, and, occasionally, contract murders.
Kuklinski would eventually branch out into financially-based murders involving first scamming a victim and then killing them. His methods were diverse and included stabbing, shooting, blunt force trauma, and even employing cyanide from a spray bottle, an especially difficult method to use. Kuklinski also employed an additional process to thwart investigators. He would freeze his dead victims in an industrial freezer, sometimes for years, before thawing and dumping them, completely obscuring their actual date of death.
This would eventually be Kuklinski's undoing. When he dumped a body in warm weather before completely thawing it, the medical examiner found ice crystals in the lungs of the victim. Dubbed "The Ice Man" by law enforcement, they eventually connected him to the murders of five people, mostly his friends and business associates, and he was sentenced to life in prison in 1988. After appearing on numerous crime documentaries discussing his methods and life, Kuklinski died in prison in 2005.
Anthony Spilotro was so ruthlessly effective as a Mafia enforcer and killer that, in 1971, he was sent to Las Vegas to oversee the Chicago mob's casino cash skimming and criminal operations in the rapidly expanding gambling mecca. He earned this reputation through his involvement in numerous egregiously violent murders in the Chicago area. Reenacted in the 1995 film Casino, Spilotro and two other gangsters kidnapped Billy McCarthy, another criminal who had murdered two of Spilotro's associates. Spilotro placed McCarthy's head in an industrial vice and demanded the identity of McCarthy's partner, exerting pressure until one of his victim's eyes popped out of his head. McCarthy gave up his partner's name and Spilotro rewarded him by slitting his throat.
When the Outfit suspected that one William "Action" Jackson had turned informer to the feds, he was assigned to Spilotro who tortured him for two days. He was beaten, sliced up with knives and razor blades, burned with a blow torch, had his skin ripped off of his 300 pound frame, and ultimately hung by the rectum with a meat hook until his heart gave out.
Sometimes the Outfit would summon Spilotro from Las Vegas when they had a special need in Chicago. In January, 1978, someone stupidly burgled Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo's house while he was on vacation. Spilotro was assigned to discipline the individuals responsible for this transgression and he quickly identified the professional theft ring involved. In six weeks, he murdered all six men - all died horribly from stab wounds and torture. Spilotro returned to Vegas and Tony Accardo had sent a clear message.
Throughout the '20s, Al Capone battled George "Bugs" Moran for control of Chicago's organized crime operations, especially bootlegging and alcohol sales. Moran controlled the predominately Irish North Side neighborhood and had killed two of Capone's Unione Siciliana associates. Capone decided that he needed to completely eliminate Moran and his gang. In a scheme that was elaborately planned for months, Capone's top henchman, "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, sent four men, two dressed as police officers, into Moran's Clark Street headquarters on the morning of February 14, 1929. Lookouts believed that Moran was already present, in fact they mistook another individual, Albert Weinshank, similar in appearance and dress, for the North Side Gang leader.
The decision to dress two assassins in police uniforms proved to be wise, as gang members grumbled but felt intimidated enough to agree to line up against a wall for what they presumed would be petty arrests. Instead the two men dressed as civilians, opened up with Thompson submachine guns, spraying all seven of Moran's gang with numerous rounds of .45 caliber bullets long after they fell to the ground. The two other killers shot into the pile with blasts from long barrel shotguns, practically obliterating some of the victims. Surprisingly, one of them, Frank Gusenberg, made it to a hospital despite fourteen bullet wounds. He died three hours later.
The only living witness besides the gunmen was "Highball," the gang's German Shepherd watchdog. Moran was fortunate to be running late and was approaching the garage when he spotted the two "policemen" entering the building. He and an associate ducked into a nearby cafe. Al Capone took great pains to be highly visible in Miami, both on February 14th and the day before. No one would ever be tried for the massacre and it essentially ended the competition between Moran and Capone. It also generated tremendous civilian anger and demand that law enforcement get the city under control.
The identities of the killers are still a matter of debate. Capone hit men Giovanni Scalise and Alberto Anselmi (aka The Murder Twins) were almost certainly involved and the machine guns used were eventually traced to Fred "Killer" Burke, a criminal who would die in prison in 1940, serving life for another murder.