History of the Mafia in Boston and New England

A general overview about the formation of the mafia or mob in Boston and the situation in New England as it stands now.

The Mafia--Menace or Myth?

By Hank Messick

A Federal Bureau of Investigation report dated December 1, 1966, listed "50 known members of La Cosa Nostra" in the 4 New England States comprising the Boston Division: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Of these 50, 39 were said to be under the command of Raymond L. S. Patriarca, described by the FBI report as "the policymaker, judge, and overlord of organized crime in this area." Thirteen of Patriarca's men were located in Providence, 25 in Boston, and one in Portland. Eleven others in Worcester and Springfield were said to be under another Capo.

Yet some months after this report was written, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, one Elliot L. Richardson, estimated that there were, "5,000 members of organized crime in Massachusetts" alone.

Nevertheless, the FBI went right on assuming that Patriarca and his handful of men controlled organized crime in all New England (outside Worcester and Springfield, of course). This amounted to the tail wagging the dog on a big scale and was absurd on its face. Ethnic gangs abounded in Boston where gang warfare was as violent as in Chicago in the days of Al Capone. You don't have gang wars in a city tightly controlled by an "overlord." And in Boston the Mafia was a dying organization composed of elderly officers and very few privates.

Back when the century was young and thousands of Italian immigrants were pouring into the Boston area, the Mafia attained a certain importance. The organization preyed, as always, on the frightened and ignorant immigrants, selecting from their ranks certain ones to serve the bosses as enforcers. During the national vendetta since known as the Maranzano Masseria War of the early '30s, a Boston man, Gaspare Messina, became provisional Capo di Capi Re of the Mafia. He called a "Grand Council" meeting in Boston in a futile effort to end the vendetta which was hurting business. Shortly thereafter, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, with help from Meyer Lansky, "Americanized" the Mafia and found an uneasy place for it within the developing "Combination."

With the passage of time, things changed even in Boston. As 1st-generation Americans learned their way around, the 2nd-generation Americans grew into adulthood and the social and economic conditions that had made the Mafia possible ceased to exist. The ritual mumbo jumbo of Black Hands and blood oaths no longer impressed anyone. Young men saw no need to take orders from old men in a land where the freest of enterprise was encouraged. It became impossible to maintain an army of killers under a semimilitary discipline. By the '6os the Mafia was living on its reputation.

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