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The Valachi Papersby Peter Maas
Synopses & Reviews
At approximately 7:30 A.M. on June 22, 1962, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, prisoner number 82811, a convicted trafficker in heroin named Joseph Michael Valachi, seized a two-foot length of iron pipe lying on the ground near some construction work and, before anyone realized what he was up to, rushed at a fellow inmate from behind and in a matter of seconds beat him to a bloody, dying pulp.
Initially, however brutal the assault, it appeared to be nothing more than the kind of routine murder that periodically erupts under the stress of life inside prison walls. Certainly there was little to indicate anything exceptional about Valachi himself, at the time fifty-eight years old, a squat, swarthy, powerfully built man, 5 feet 6 inches tall, overweight at 184 pounds, with a thick crop of politician-gray hair, expressionless brown eyes and a guttural rasp of a voice, who, despite a career earnestly devoted to crime, was just about as obscure a hoodlum as one could hope to find.
But this seemingly senseless killing by apparently so unremarkable a hand would end with Valachi becoming the first person to unmask the Cosa Nostra, whose very existence had been a subject of fierce debate even in law enforcement circles. Almost overnight, as a result, Valachi's name became as familiar as that of a Capone, Luciano, Costello, or Genovese. Not only did he dominate newspapers, magazines, and television after some of the bizarre tidbits of what life was like with Vito, Joe Bananas, and Buster from Chicago were revealed, but he achieved true status when comics began cracking jokes about him.
There was, however, really very little to laugh at. Organized crime isAmerica's biggest business. According to the best estimates of the Department of Justice, admittedly an educated guess, it grosses better than $40 billion a year. Even if such a staggering statistic was off by as much as half, it would still dwarf anything else in sight. Organized crime, of course, pays no taxes, but it does pay to corrupt countless public officials at all levels, and besides its lucrative illicit rackets, it has increasingly infiltrated and taken over legitimate businesses and labor unions — applying, naturally, its own ethical standards. While the Cosa Nostra does not embrace all organized crime, it is its dominant force, virtually a state within a state — a "second government" as Valachi puts it — painstakingly structured, an intricate web of criminal activity stretching across the nation, bound together in a mystic ritual that sounds like a satire on college fraternity initiations and at the same time caught up in a continual swirl of brutality, savage intrigue, kangaroo courts and sudden death.
Valachi lived in this world for more than thirty years without breaking its blood oath of allegiance — and silence. The circumstances that eventually caused him to do so began in Atlanta.
For weeks he had led a terror-filled existence. He was marked for death, and he knew it. Another prisoner, also a member of the Cosa Nostra, had accused him of "ratting" to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. All at once Valachi found himself the target of the same sort of underworld execution that he had so often and so efficiently carried out in the past. While he had supplied narcotics agents with some fragmentary information about illegal drug traffic, in a not unusual bid for alighter prison sentence, he ironically had never mentioned anything about the Cosa Nostra itself. Just what caused him to be fingered has yet to be entirely resolved. One theory is that the Bureau of Narcotics, convinced that he had a lot more to say about the movement of heroin across U.S. borders, deliberately spread the word to bring enough pressure on Valachi to break him down completely. A second theory, which Valachi, among others, subscribes to, is that his accuser, a codefendant in the same narcotics case, did it to divert suspicion from himself.
In June 1962, time was running out fast for Valachi. He had already survived three classic attempts to murder him in prison. One was to offer him poisoned food. Another was to corner him alone and defenseless in a shower room. Still a third was to goad him into a fight in the penitentiary yard, so that in the confusion of the rubbernecking crowd which would automatically gather around, he could be knifed.
Worse yet, he had no avenue of appeal. The Cosa Nostra is divided into major units, each of which is called a Family. Valachi belonged to one such Family in New York City ruled by Vito Genovese, the most feared capo, or boss, in the Cosa Nostra. And it was Genovese, also in Atlanta serving a narcotics conviction of his own, who had decreed Valachi's death. At first everything seemed cozy between the two convicts, and Valachi could not believe that Genovese, who not only had invited him to become a cellmate and then arranged the move, but had been the best man at his wedding years before, would turn against him now. But all the warnings from friendly sources along the prison grapevine, as well as the hostile behavior toward him ofother inmates currying Genovese's favor, were confirmed for Valachi in an eerie confrontation with Genovese. This is his account of what took place:
One night in our cell Vito starts saying to me, "You know, we take a barrel of apples, and in this barrel of apples there might be a bad apple. Well, this apple has to be removed, and if it ain't removed, it would hurt the rest of the apples."
The First Inside Account of the Mafia
In the 1960s a disgruntled soldier in New York's Genovese Crime Family decided to spill his guts. His name was Joseph Valachi. Daring to break the Mob's code of silence for the first time, Valachi detailed the organization of organized crimefrom the capos, or bosses, of every Family, to the hit men who "clipped" rivals and turncoats. With a phenomenal memory for names, dates, addresses, phone numbers — and where the bodies were buried — Joe Valachi provided the chilling facts that led to the arrest and conviction of America's major crime figures.
The rest is history.
Never again would the Mob be protected by secrecy. For the Mafia, Valachi's name would become synonymous with betrayal. But his stunning expose. broke the back of America's Cosa Nostra and stands I today as the classic about America's Mob, a fascinat ing tale of power and terror, big money, crime ... and murder.