Excerpt: 'Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss'

It's one the of country's most high-profile, unsolved crimes -- what happened to union boss Jimmy Hoffa? Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, the former underboss of New York's notorious Lucchese crime family, reveals shocking insider details about the inner workings of the Italian mafia to author Philip Carlo in "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss," including who he thinks was behind Hoffa's infamous demise.

Click on the video to the left of this text to hear Carlo's account of "Gaspipe's" long list of crimes and bodies he left in his wake.

You can find an excerpt from the introduction of "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss" below:


The Eye of the Storm

Anthony Casso's story began in lower Park Slope, South Brooklyn. During the turn of the twentieth century, this area was a tough, violent Italian American enclave filled with coarse, Italian immigrant dockworkers and laborers. Bordered by Atlantic Avenue to the north and the sprawling hills of Greenwood Cemetery to the south, Prospect Park to the east and the docks of Red Hook to the west, South Brooklyn produced numerous Mafia luminaries. Al Capone came from this place. Both Carmine and Alphonse Persico also came from this neighborhood, as did Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo and "Crazy Joe" Gallo. Albert Anastasia, Harry Fontana, and Joe Profaci all hailed from this four-square-mile area.

Elia Kazan's immortal On the Waterfront was an in-depth study of the New York harbor docks, the stranglehold the Mafia had on the waterfront. The film garnered Oscars for Best Director and Best Film as well as an Oscar for Brando's brilliant performance. Who can ever forget his classic line in the film, "I coulda been someone, Charley—I coulda been a contender."

In a sense, to some Italians, becoming a member of the Mafia was all about "being someone," being "a contender" in life. The Mafia was an opportunity to become wealthy and treated with respect without a formal education, without having to walk the straight and narrow or follow the rules and regulations mandated by a hostile society.

To some degree, much of that had to do with the fact that society's rules and regulations were unfair, outright corrupt, specifically geared toward excluding Italian immigrants.

Italians, perhaps more than other immigrant groups before them, were marginalized and put upon. They were thought of as an uneducated gruff people who could not speak English, ate spaghetti, drank too much wine, and were oversexed. They were not, for instance, allowed in trade unions; they were outright shunned by American society.

For example, when the Central Park reservoir was being dug in 1904, an advertisement was posted in the New York Times, seeking men to dig the huge hole and lay the stone the reservoir required. The amount of pay was offered in three different ways—for "whites," for "blacks," and for "Italians." The Italians were paid the least.

However, these were a hardworking, industrious people with the blood of Dante, Caesar, Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Galileo running through their veins, and no amount of prejudice was about to keep them down, as has been made all too evident by the success of so many Italian Americans, from the ingenious inventor Gugliehmo Marconi to the baseball great Joe DiMaggio, tenor Enrico Caruso, jazz great Joe Venuti, filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, the actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, businessman Lee Iacocca, and entertainer Frank Sinatra.

New York's Tammany Hall, part of the most crooked administrations in government history, was a good example to the early Italian American immigrants of the blatant hypocrisy so rampant in both government and business; indeed, society at large.

With the millions of honest, hardworking Italians who emigrated from Italy to America between 1890 and 1921—some 4.5 million—also came a cunning criminal element known as La Cosa Nostra, which loosely translated means "our thing"; that is, the Mafia we have come to both loathe and be so fascinated by. Rather than supply a treatise here on the genesis of the Mafia, suffice it to say that the Sicilian Mafia began as a society of honored men in Sicily who banded together to fight the tyranny and brutalities of conquering nations. The Greeks, Turks, French, Spanish, and Normans had all invaded Sicily and subjected the Sicilian people to iniquitous treatment. The raping of Sicilian women and girls was the norm, not the exception. In the end, however, the Sicilians managed to outsmart, outwit, and outmurder their tormentors.

South Brooklyn was home to a large Italian community, and mafiosi inevitably set up shop and took deep roots here. Ultimately they decimated the competition for the lucrative underworld enterprises—vice, bootlegging and gambling, shylocking and hijacking, prostitution and racketeering. The Irish and Jewish gangsters, who fought the Italians tooth and nail, were eventually sent packing by the organized structure, efficiency (based upon the Roman legions), and deadly cunning of the Mafia. In the words of Owny Madden, a renowned Irish bootlegger and gangster of the 1920s, "Nobody kills better than the wops." (Wops referred to Italian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island without papers.)

Excerpted from "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss" by Philip Carlo. Courtesy of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Please click here for more information on the book.