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Cosa Nostra Songbird Valachi Exposes Mob Secrets

Oct. 1, 1963 - Joseph Valachi calmly recited today the bloody history of a war for control of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate. From this war, he said, five men emerged as leaders of the New York underworld and administrators of its code. He identified the leaders of New York’s five Cosa Nostra “families” as Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Magliocco, Joseph Bonanno, and Thomas Luchese. Genovese is in prison. The 60-year-old Valachi, himself a convicted murderer, also described to the McClellan Committee his secret initiation into the Cosa Nostra in 1930. The witness told of his induction by ritual oath, bloodletting, and the ceremonial burning of paper in his cupped hands. He said he and three others had driven to a private house “90 miles upstate.” There were about 40 men in the place, he said, among them the leader, Salvatore Maranzano. “The purpose was to make us new members and to meet the others for the first time,” he said. Valachi said he had been taken into a large room, where 35 men were sitting at a long table. “There was a gun and a knife on the table,” Valachi testified. “I sat at the edge. They sat me down next to Maranzano. I repeated some words in Sicilian after him.” “What did the words mean?” asked Senator John McClellan, Democrat of Arkansas, the subcommittee chairman. “You live by the gun and knife, and die by the gun and knife,” Valachi said. The witness said Maranzano had then given him a piece of paper that was set afire in his hand. “I repeated in Sicilian, ‘This is the way I burn if I betray the organization,’” he said. Valachi said Joseph Bonanno was designated as his “godfather” in the family. The witness said he had then had his finger pricked by a needle held by Bonanno to show he was united to Bonanno by blood. Afterward, Valachi said, all those present joined hands in a bond to the organization. Valachi said he was given two rules in the Cosa Nostra that night — one concerning allegiance to it and another a promise not to possess another member’s wife, sister, or daughter. For the first time, the witness grew grim. “This is the worst thing I can do, to tell about the ceremony,” he said. “This is my doom, telling it to you and the press.”


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