Organized Crime

Gangster Era Reborn: Unearthed Crime Scenes from New York’s Prohibition Underworld

Nearly 100 years later, there's still new information to discover.

IN DEATH, THE MYSTERIOUS SALVATORE D’AQUILA IS REVEALEDOCTOBER 10, 1928

Although mostly forgotten today by mainstream audiences, Salvatore “Toto” D’Aquila was one of the most powerful Mafioso figures to emerge prior to Prohibition. Formerly a member of the eponymous Morello crime family based out of Harlem, D’Aquila struck out on his own following the extended prison sentences of Giuseppe “The Clutching Hand” Morello and Ignazio Lupo in the late 1910s.

Described as a ruthless and feared man, D’Aquila came to be viewed as the “boss of bosses” among the Mafia assembly of the day with Morello’s absence. And when Morello and Lupo returned in the 1920s, D’Aquila’s power had become so omnipotent that the two former gang chiefs had to negotiate peace treaties to suspend death sentences.

While known to select few authorities, D’Aquila was a highly secretive man. He was not known to the press and never photographed previously despite two minor arrests that resulted in acquittals in 1906 and 1909 for fraud and being a suspicious person. He had no set office locations or hideouts. This method kept him firmly in power for nearly 18 years and through most of Prohibition until the emergence of a man who matched his ambition — Joe “The Boss” Masseria.

On October 10, 1928, the 57-year old D’Aquila left his Bronx home with his wife and four children for a doctor’s appointment in Manhattan. The family sans D’Aquila entered the office while the Mafia leader tinkered with a troubling engine. He was approached by three men (at least one source hints that one of the men was D’Aquila’s underboss (Manfredi “Al” Mineo). An argument quickly ensued and the men fired on the Mafia boss at point blank range.

D’Aquila suffered multiple wounds to his dorsal spinal cord, left lung, stomach , left kidney, heart and throat. The doctor, who witnessed the shooting from his office, ran out as the killers escaped and a crowd gathered. D’Aquila was taken back into the doctor’s office but expired before help arrived.

D’Aquila’s murder, along with the slaying of Frankie Yale in July, cleared the path for Masseria’s rise as the preeminent mob figure in New York. In death, most outlets at the time failed to grasp the importance of D’Aquila’s status, with many referring to him as a wealthy cheese importer and only hinting at possible connections with Yale.

Ironically, it would take death for us to finally see a glimpse of one of the longest reigning boss of bosses.

Reputed “capo di tutti i capi” (boss of all bosses) Salvatore D’Aquila lies dead inside a drug store at Ave. A and 13th Street. D’Aquila was shot outside his vehicle by three men, allegedly on orders of Joe “The Boss” Masseria.

Salvator Daquila Shot, 10052a: Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives
Salvatore D’Aquila’s car, where he was accosted and shot by three assailants. The shooting was witnessed by multiple people on the street, who all failed to identify the killers.

Salvator Daquila Shot, 10052b: Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives

SOURCES

“Salvatore D’Aquila Death Certificate” State of New York Dept. of Health, Certificate of Death #25482, October 10, 1928

“Link Murder in Manhattan Uale Death” The Standard Union, October 11, 1928

The First Family, Mike Dash, Random House, 2009

27 comments

  1. Are there anymore gangsters pictures from the archives? They were incredible. The Vincent Coll pictures were insane. I’d love to see some of Maseria and Marrazano. That would be incredible. Please let everyone know if there’s anymore being released. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for checking it out, Jonathan! So Masseria and Maranzano photos remain big targets for me. My take is they have to be somewhere, just a matter of if the Archives have it or the NYPD themselves. Believe it or not, even all these decades later there’s still records the NYPD haven’t transferred over to the Archives. There’s definitely more gangster photos. The tricky thing with the searches is that a lot of times the names are completely misspelled due the officers who arrived on scene (you’ll notice this on some of the pictures as that’s how they’re listed in the Archives records). So, it’s really a grind to go through the records but so worth it when you find gems like these. Rest assured, once the pandemic slows down and the Archives are open to the public, I’ll be right back in there searching.

      1. Couldn’t email you directly but try this – At the bottom of the first page on the site, you should should see a list of numbers going horizontally across the page in little boxes. Each of these represents a different page with the pictures. If you’re on a mobile device, it’ll be right before title of the next article.

    1. Appreciate the support James and I absolutely loved your Youtube video! You put a big smile on my face and I’ll proudly carry that new favorite person title haha Once the pandemic slows down and the Archives reopen, I plan to get right back in there digging for more gems.

  2. Amazing pictures. Nice research Ismael. I enjoyed it including the stories that go with it. I hope you find more (Greetings from the Netherlands)

  3. Wow, those pics are amazingly clear and smooth for their age!

    Thats some great research and digging, Ismael… Coincidentally Im currently reading ‘First Family’ which centres on The Morello family so I skipped that section to avoid too many spoilers! haha

    1. That’s awesome brother, I really enjoyed that book and it gave me confidence to do my own research. Yes, definitely avoid that Morello section until you finish the book haha Let me know what you think, I’d love a TV series on the Morellos.

      1. Yeah its a great book man… i just got to the part (demise) of the Camorra and the Navy Street Gang etc amazing how the Camorra could have give the Mafia a real run for their money and essentially changed organised crime in the US…

        Ahh, I never thought about a Morellos TV series, that would be insaaaane! That definitely needs the full HBO/Showtime, big budget, period costumes and set treatment!

  4. I’m also very interested in the Amberg and Shapiro brothers. Have you come across any new pics or info about them?

    1. Glad to hear it on your Amberg and Shapiro interest! I did find leads on some potential pictures from the Amberg 1926 Tombs prison breakout and potentially some of Meyer Shapiro’s murder, but alas I’ll have to wait until the Archives open back up to follow-up.

  5. Ismael,

    These are truly incredible. The amount of work, and research that went into this is deserves recognition. I truly appreciate it, as the 1920s have always been fascinating to me so it was no problem for me to read every word and study every photo.

    I was wondering if you would have access to more? Arnold Rothstein, and Legs Diamond to name a few, would be interesting crime scenes. Both went out in gangland style hits.

    Anyways,

    Thank you

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Nucky! There is still plenty to go through regarding more potential findings. Before the pandemic shut everything down, I do remember seeing notes that indicate crime photos may exist of the hotel room where Rothstein was shot. Since he was rushed to the hospital and lingered a few days, anything that’s found would likely just be of the room and maybe the murder weapon that was tossed onto the street. Once we’re allowed back on site, I’ll be sure to look into what Rothstein photos have survived . The NYC records I used didn’t include Legs Diamond’s murder since it happened in Albany. If they still exist, they’d likely be at the New York State Archives which I haven’t had the pleasure of researching yet (in due time). I really appreciate your encouraging words and thanks again for reading.

  6. Hi, these are great! Do you happen to have or come across photos or information on Saverio “Sam” Pollaccia? He is of Brooklyn, by way of Sicily, and was connected with Masseria, Anastasia, Yale, Luciano, etc. Any information will be greatly appreciated.
    Regards,
    Nick

    1. Thanks for reading, Nick! In my research, the only thing I’ve seen on Pollaccia was a document referencing pictures still existing of his fingerprints from a 1932 arrest. It appears in all aspects he still remains a shadowy figure, but I’ll keep an eye out on my next Archives visit.

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