Until 1957, longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover didn’t give the American Mafia much thought. Hoover was so preoccupied with Cold War hysteria and stopping the spread of Communism that he let organized crime in the U.S. slip his mind.
But that all changed in November 1957. In Apalachin, a small town in New York, the most powerful men in American organized crime met, and local and state law enforcement took notice. The event became known as the Apalachin meeting, and it forced Hoover and the FBI to acknowledge that organized crime in the United States was an extremely powerful force to be reckoned with.
The summit in Apalachin was called by the Mafia to discuss how to organize the extensive criminal syndicate it controlled. This included loansharking, prostitution, racketeering, and narcotics distribution. Albert Anastasia, one of the most powerful crime bosses in the country, was assassinated in New York City on October 25, 1957, and the meeting in Apalachin was partly in response to his murder. The Mafia needed to determine who would succeed Anastasia, and who would take over the many rackets he controlled.
The meeting took place at the Apalachin home of mobster Joseph Barbara, the boss of the Bufalino crime family, and it featured mafiosi not only from New York, but from Florida and the Midwest as well. The most powerful men in the underworld descended on the small town, but they didn’t do it inconspicuously. As the men began to congregate in Apalachin, their fancy cars caught the attention of local citizens and law enforcement alike.
A suspicious sergeant called in reinforcements, and, on November 14, 1957, state and local law enforcement surrounded the home of Joseph Barbara. A gangster leaving the house spotted a roadblock and alerted members of the meeting. The mobsters fled the Barbara home and attempted to escape.
Some tried to get around the roadblock and were stopped and arrested. Dozens of men ran into the woods: some were caught after fleeing, and some evaded police. But the law still managed to capture and arrest 58 mobsters, including high ranking bosses such as Carlo Gambino, Joseph Bonanno, and Vito Genovese. The gangsters were detained and questioned.
Most of the men claimed they were in town to visit Joseph Barbara because they heard he was ill. Twenty of the men were eventually found guilty of conspiracy in 1959, fined, and given prison sentences. All the convictions were turned over on appeal in 1960.
More importantly, the arrests helped snap J. Edgar Hoover out of his trance and forced him to start paying close attention to the extensive influence of the Mafia. The agency now realized that the mob was an organized, violent, nationwide force. Only four days after the meeting, on November 18, 1957, Hoover ordered the formation of an anti-Mafia initiative. He also authorized illegal wiretaps to bring down organized crime figures. Hoover’s “Top Hoodlum Program” went after Mafia bosses such as Vito Genovese, Sam Giancana, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, and Carlos Marcello.
The power of the Mafia has risen and fallen in 60 years since the Apalachin meeting, but had the meeting not taken place and forced J. Edgar Hoover to declare war on the Mafia, organized crime in America might have had a very different history.
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