Tom Reina

Tom Reina
Tom Reina

Few killings illustrate the sinister twists that are possible in Mafia intrigues as well as the case of Tom Reina, whose murder on February 26, 1930, is considered by most crime historians to be the start of the bloody Castellammarese War.

It is a simplification to call the Castellammarese War a two-sided affair. True, the battle was primarily between the New York Mafia factions of Joe the Boss Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. But a third, and ultimately decisive force was Lucky Luciano and the Young Turks (aided by the important Jewish mobsters under Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel), who conspired to defeat both sides. They danced back and forth in cunning maneuvers to weaken both foes.

Reina was an important Masseria partner, albeit not an enthusiastic one. He was casting friendly eyes toward Maranzano—especially after Masseria began pressuring him for a cut of his rackets. Through allies serving under Reina, especially Tom Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese, Luciano, himself also allied with Masseria, learned of the Masseria plans to assassinate Maranzano supporters Joe Profaci and young Joe Bonanno.

Since Luciano was counting on Profaci and Bonanno in his future national crime syndicate, he wanted to prevent their deaths, and equally he did not want Reina to defect to Maranzano since that might tilt the contest too much in the latter's favor. Therefore the Luciano forces decided Reina had to be killed.

In his so-called Last Testament Luciano claims, "I really hated to knock off Tom Reina, and none of my guys really wanted to either. Reina was a man of his word, he had culture, and he was a very honorable Italian." This need not be taken as pure gospel. Luciano gained the allegiance of Gagliano and Lucchese by promising them the Reina empire.

On the Wednesday night of his murder, Reina, as he did once every week, had dinner at his aunt's home on Sheridan Avenue in the Bronx. When Reina left the house, Vito Genovese, a Luciano underling, was waiting. Reina was surprised to see him but started to wave his hand at Genovese. As he did, Vito blew his head off with a shotgun.

Joe Valachi would later marry the dead Reina's daughter, but his information on the Reina assassination, as on a number of other matters, was of only limited value.