Hearing of Joseph Valachi, the first mafia member to testify before a committee of the US government , In 1 9 63, six years after the Apalachin Conference.
Until 1957, the mafia in the United States operated in hiding.
J Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, apparently told his agents that they should never use the word “mafia.”
But that year, a provincial police officer uncovered the secretive organisation and brought the capos of the US mafia to the forefront.
The officer was Edgar Croswell, sergeant of the state police in the Apalachin area, a small rural village in New York State.
” He knew that they were taking over business, that the mafia was putting their people in those legitimate shops to be able to use them according to their purposes, ” says Robert Croswell, the son of the sergeant, who still lives in Apalachin. his father, is an officer of the New York State police.
“My father simply knew that they were not righteous people , that they did not earn money by legitimate means, that they had associations between them when there was really no reason for them to exist …”, he adds.
“No one had told him to investigate, it was a project that was raised only to understand what was happening.”
In 1957, Edgar Croswell’s patience was rewarded.
On November 14, he and his deputy came across a secret mafia meeting in a house in Apalachin that belonged to one of the people Croswell had been watching.
What they interrupted was not an ordinary meeting: it was nothing less than the board of the mafia’s governing council to which a hundred capos and their subordinates had come to anoint the new capo de tutti capi .
“For all those who were there on that occasion, it was one of the biggest events of their lives.” This rural area was full of national news reporters for days and every national newspaper talked about Apalachin every day … some even managed to Write well the name of the village! “jokes Croswell.
J Edgar Hoover
The Mafia had arrived in the United States with the Italian immigrants of the 19th century, but it was the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s that had given it power.
When selling alcoholic beverages was declared illegal, the mafia mounted an army of illegal smugglers and stills, and a national network of organized crime was born.
Gangs like Al Capone in Chicago made headlines.
But still in the 1950s, J Edgar Hoover of the FBI kept insisting that it was a local problem, not a national one.
“Like any other type of crime, it can be controlled by the local law enforcement authorities to get rid of the threat, which is, in my opinion, the answer,” Hoover said.
The local law enforcement authorities, however, knew that it was something more serious.
The local mobster
The mafioso living in Apalachin was Joseph Barbara, known as Joe the barber.
“These people claimed that they were only businessmen and did everything possible to avoid problems with the law,” Croswell said, “they drove luxury cars, donated money to charitable organizations: for the unsuspecting observer, they were famous citizens. “
But of course, they were not.
At first glance, Barbara was the respectable owner of a soft drink bottling plant.
In fact, he had been a hired assassin of the notorious Bufalino family – which controlled usurpation of credit, extortion, gambling, and drug trafficking in northeastern Pennsylvania – and allegedly strangled a rival smuggler.
Barbara’s link with the Bufalinos was precisely the reason why her mansion had been chosen as the venue for the 1957 meeting.
All the great capos of the mafia were present, including the heads of the 5 families of New York, as well as capos of New Orleans, Los Angeles and even Sicily, Italy.
In a motel
“They discovered the meeting by sheer luck, my dad and his partner were investigating a fraudulent check that had nothing to do with mafia issues, they were in a local motel and Joseph Barbara Junior arrived to book a lot of rooms but they did not I wanted to fill out the registration forms”, says the son of the policeman who he suspected.
“He assured that the rooms would be paid and that the guests would check in. It was supposedly a group of men who worked in the drinks company that his father bottled, who came to visit him because he was sick . “
That’s why the next day, Edgar Croswell decided to stop by Barbara’s house. Parked outside were Cadillacs, Lincolns and Packards while their owners enjoyed a barbecue.
Edgar Croswell requested reinforcements and a couple of Treasury agents, who mounted a checkpoint later on the road.
“What happened was that they saw the police checking the cars and they ran out, they did not know the area and they were not prepared to be in that kind of environment, so it was not difficult for my father to catch them.”
Two of the gangsters – dressed in their three-piece suits and felt hats – stumbled out of the woods and entered a farm where, to the astonishment of the farmer, they asked him what was the way to Pennsylvania.
Another mobster asked a local resident if he could use his phone. “He was very courteous,” he told reporters later, “he even paid for the call.”
Other leaders of the mafia tried to flee by car. But Sergeant Edgar Croswell was waiting for them .
In the first car that stopped was the capo di tutti capi , the leader of the New York mafia, Vito Genovese.
The only question he answered was how tall he was. The sergeant let him pass so he could be stopped later on the road, at the checkpoint, where the others could not see him.
About 70 men were arrested.
They found some big rolls of cash, but no gun. And because in those days there were no federal regulations that would allow Sgt. Croswell to retain them, in the end most of the mobsters were released.
Some charges were filed.
But according to Robert Croswell, what really hurt the mafia was the fact that they were caught that day in Apalachin.
“From then on, no one could deny its existence, being exposed, advertising, was a stronger blow than an arrest.”