Generally, before Mafia elements get rid of a major mob figure, an effort is made to eliminate some of the target's major supporters. The tactic eases the big hit and also removes forces likely to launch a vengeful counterattack.
This was true of the Castellammarese War in New York in 1930–1931 when those seeking to depose Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, first sought to take out his most important aides such as Steve Ferrigno and Al Mineo. Only after they were out of the way was the successful direct strike made on Joe the Boss.
This left Salvatore Maranzano on top, but to get there he had to absorbed a number of rising mobsters loyal to Lucky Luciano who clearly planned to unseat Maranzano, fatally. Maranzano decided Luciano had to go, but he noted with growing unease that Luciano controlled an army of murderous talents, men like Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Willie Moretti, Albert Anastasia and Carlo Gambino.
Before he could move against Luciano, Maranzano felt he had to eliminate a goodly number of these men, as well as some of Lucky's non-Italian allies, such as Dutch Schultz and Meyer Lansky. Maranzano never got the chance. Luciano got wind of Maranzano's plans and struck first. Pre-hits are fine when one has the luxury of time and opportunity.
Sam Giancana was one Mafia man who understood the pre-hit concept. Or at last he should have. The pre-hit program preceding his murder, which at the time was not a guarantee that he would be hit but prudent preparation by the Chicago mob, spanned about a year and a half.
Among his staunchest supporters who were rubbed out were Richard Cain and Mad Sam DeStefano, one of the outfit's most demented killers, who could be counted on to kill anyone going after his master. Either Giancana couldn't read the signs or he didn't know how to avoid the inevitable. Possibly he conned himself into believing that he was immune to mob murder. He was wrong.
There was no pre-hit maneuver when John Gotti masterminded the assassination of Gambino family boss Paul Castellano. Time was of the essence. Gotti had to move quickly since Castellano could call on a vast reserve of killers that would outlast him in a prolonged war. Gotti struck quickly and eliminated Castellano.
Afterward Gotti and his forces expected a war to break out within the Gambino crime family between themselves and the Castellano allies. For four months nothing happened. Then came the first pre-hit. One of Gotti's most important aides and his underboss, Frank DeCicco, was killed by a bomb blast in his car.
The newspapers saw this as a declaration of war by the Castellano forces, but Gotti knew better. He knew this pre-hit was a masterstroke by Genovese boss Chin Gigante. DeCicco would have been dangerous to deal with, and getting rid of him would weaken the Gotti team.
Undoubtedly, Gigante had more pre-hits in mind, but both sides became very wary in their movements. As it turned out, the most important pre-hit of all came not from either side but from the law, which ended up sending both Gotti and Gigante to prison on various charges for what figured to be the rest of their lives.