Death at the Park Sheraton Hotel
By: Joseph Giacalone
The United States had just entered World War One, when a young Italian teenager named Umberto Anastasio and his brother Anthony, snuck off a cargo ship at a Brooklyn dock. It didn’t take the brothers long to control much of the rackets on theBrooklyn waterfront. It was here that Umberto worked as a longshoreman and changed his name to Albert Anastasia, in order to keep his family name from disgrace. Anastasia’s reputation landed him a job as a bodyguard for then crime boss Joe Masseria.
Albert was a tough kid and was known to have a very short temper. This became evident to all around him when at the age of twenty; he strangled and stabbed a fellow longshoreman to death. He was quickly dubbed the “Mad Hatter”. Albert was tried and found guilty. He was sentenced to fry in the Sing Sing Prison electric chair, but was granted a new trial when several witnesses to the murder recanted their stories. When it began, four of the primary witnesses disappeared unexpectedly. This was the first of five times Albert Anastasia managed to dodge the electric chair.
Albert and his brother “Tough Tony” soon controlled the Brooklyn docks and became very powerful. Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, whose real name was Salvatore Lucania, liked what he heard about Albert’s ruthless brutality and decided to give him an active role in his growing empire. Luciano’s plan was to do away with the old-line bosses, such as Masseria, and consolidate power under a National Crime Syndicate. The plan was set. Luciano invited Masseria for a meeting at Scarpato’s Italian Restaurant, 2715 West 15th Street, in Coney Island. After lunch and some card playing, Luciano excused himself and went to the bathroom. As Masseria sat and waited, allegedly Anastasia and three armed men entered the restaurant and shot the crime boss. Anastasia put the finishing touches with a shot to the back of his head, the coupe de grace. The plan was completed. The old boss, Masseria, was out of the way. This allowed Luciano to form his Syndicate with help from national crime figures, Frank Costello and Al Capone. Luciano realized he needed something to keep wayward gangsters in line. Murder Inc. was born and Luciano gave the nod for Anastasia to run it.
Anastasia ran Murder Inc., with a chosen group of Jewish and Italian gangsters. Headquarters was situated in a small Brownsville candy store located on the corner of Saratogaand Livonia Avenues, named Midnight Rose’s. Along with his old nickname the “Mad Hatter”, Anastasia was given a new one the “Lord High Executioner”. Contract murders for hire from within the Syndicate were carried out under Albert’s orders. Murder Inc. was said to be responsible for over eight hundred murders, all from within the Syndicate. If your name were brought in front of the commission for a vote, Anastasia would insure the hit was carried out.
Over time, Anastasia looked to consolidate his power from within the Syndicate. Albert’s new boss Vincent Mangano, one of the original bosses of the five families was looked upon as weak. Albert seized on the opportunity. Mangano soon disappeared without a trace. Anastasia was elevated to the head of the crime family and his underboss was a young Carlo Gambino. At this time, Al Capone ran Chicago and Lucky Luciano was deported to Italy. This left the day-to-day operations of the New York Commission to Albert Anastasia and Frank Costello, “The Prime Minister of Organized Crime”. Don Vito Genovese was outraged. He felt that he should have been left in charge of the Mangano family and not Anastasia. Slowly, things started to turn against Albert. Vito Genovese created an intricate scheme to malign Anastasia in the eyes of the other crime families. Mob law stated you couldn’t kill the head of a Family without the permission of the other Family heads.
Vito Genovese, Joseph Profaci and Anastasia’s underboss, Carlo Gambino plotted to murder the “Mad Hatter”. One person stood in their way, and that was Albert’s ally, Frank Costello. On the night of May 2, 1957, Costello was shot in front of his Manhattan residence, but he survived, the bullet only grazed his head. The alleged shooter was a young Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. Vito Genovese convinced Frank Costello that Anastasia was responsible for the botched attempt on his life. The final piece of the puzzle was in place. Costello believed the story and now sought revenge against his former friend. The permission was given to eliminate Albert Anastasia. Gambino gave the contract to Joseph Profaci and he set up the murder with the use of “outsiders”, hit men from out of state.
Unfortunately for Anastasia he had a well-documented routine. He started most days with a haircut, shave and a shoeshine. Around ten in the morning on October 25, 1957, Albert Anastasia strolled into the barbershop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, now known as the Park Central Hotel, located at 870 Seventh Avenue, in Manhattan, New York. He sat down in one of the pinkish colored chairs, closed his eyes and reclined. In an unexplained event, Anastasia’s chauffeur conveniently left his boss right after the hot towel went on his face. The barber began to clip his hair. Two men wearing fedoras, sunglasses and overcoats, walked into the barbershop (now Starbucks) and drew revolvers from inside their heavy coats. The two men motioned the barber away from the chair with the barrel of their guns. Anastasia sensed something was wrong. He quickly sat up in the chair. He removed the white towel from his face. The gunmen proceeded to pump bullets into Anastasia’s arm, chest and back. He instinctively reached for a gun in his waistband that he no longer carried. Albert had long believed that he was untouchable. Anastasia succumbed to the continuous barrage of bullets. He fell on his back next to the chair, amidst his own hair clippings.
Nobody was ever arrested for the murder of Albert Anastasia. It was rumored for years that the Gallo brothers, “Crazy” Joey and Larry, were responsible for the hit under the direct orders of Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, and with the blessing of Frank Costello. Later, Joey Gallo referred to himself as a member of the “Barbershop Quintet.”
The “Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner” had escaped the electric chair numerous times, but couldn’t survive his date with death in the barber’s chair.