New York mafia don Joseph (Joe Bananas) Bonanno sent his criminal empire into chaos in the early 1960s when he unsuccessfully plotted to murder three rival mob bosses and take total control of the Five Families. The Commission found out about Bonanno’s plans and deposed him, naming capo Gaspar DiGregorio his replacement. Bonanno retreated to Arizona and fought a war for his crime family against DiGregorio, street boss Paul Sciacca and the entire Commission that spanned the rest of the decade and set the stage for further instability within the organization down the road.
The New York media dubbed the conflict that reached its zenith in 1968, the “Banana War” or the “Banana Split.” Joe Bananas himself, one of the founders of the Five Families, never retained complete power and lived out the rest of his years in Tucson before dying of natural causes at the ripe old age of 97 in the spring of 2002.
The Banana War Timeline (1964-1969)
October 3, 1964 –Mob boss Joseph (Joe Bananas) Bonanno stages his own disappearance after learning that The Commission had uncovered his plans to seize control of the Five Families. Bonanno names his white-collar minded, college-educated son, Bill, his consigliere and main proxy, breeding resentment within his harder-edged support base of soldiers and capos. Joe Bananas doesn’t emerge again in public for another 18 months.
October 21, 1964 — Bonanno soldier Carlo Simari is shot to death in Brooklyn outside his home.
January 12, 1965 — Joe Bonanno is arrested by the FBI for failure to appear in front of a grand jury. He is given bail in February.
February 10, 1965 — DiGregorio-Sciacca soldier Joe Badalamonte is shot to death in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.
March 15, 1965 — Bill Bonanno, mob capo Joseph (Little Joe) Notaro, Joe Bonanno’s underboss John (Johnny Burns) Morales and his street boss Frank (Frankie Lane) LaBruzzo are shot at on their way to a peace conference in Manhattan.
March 18, 1965 — Joe Bonanno meets with The Commission and is told they are ruling against him and siding with DiGregorio. Bonanno goes into exile for the next 14 months.
January 28, 1966: The Troutman Street Ambush – Bill Bonanno and his entourage are called to a peace conference at a relative’s house on Troutman Street in Brooklyn and when a call to reschedule from the DiGregorio-Sciacca camp prompts them to leave, they are met by a fusillade of gun fire from strategically-placed snipers on rooftops and gunmen in phone booths and stationed behind fruit stands. Miraculously, nobody was killed, but the ensuing shootout on a public street in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood inspired a classic scene in the movie The Godfather Part II. Bonanno’s ambition to take over the Five Families by force also inspired a storyline in The Godfather Part III.
April 24, 1966 — Longtime crime family capo and fierce Bonanno loyalist Little Joe Notaro has his house in the Bronx firebombed.
May 19, 1966 – Joe Bonanno returns to New York following almost two years in hiding to rally his troops. Bonanno stays in New York for a short while and then goes back into hiding. He claims he was kidnapped by mob soldiers Buffalo’s Magaddino crime family in 1964.
*Little Joe Notaro dies of a sudden heart attack during Bonanno’s brief return to New York in the spring and early summer of 1966
July 13, 1966 – High-ranking syndicate capo Frank (Frankie T) Mari, the DiGregorio-Sciacca camp’s top muscle and field general in the war, is shot in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, but survives.
March 17, 1967 – Genovese crime family capo John (Johnny Futto) Biello is killed on Bonanno’s orders for being one of those who tipped off The Commission about his plans to assassinate its members. Biello, the former owner of the famous Peppermint Lounge in Times Square, ran a Genovese crew in Florida and was shot to death in Miami.
October 25, 1967 – Bonanno faction loyalists Vince (Jimmy Lefty) Cassese & Vince (Vinnie Carroll) Garofalo are shot in front of a Brooklyn bakery. Garofalo’s older brother was a trusted advisor for Joe Bananas named Frank (Frankie Carroll) Garofalo, who was one of the American mob’s biggest narcotics chiefs.
November 10, 1967: The Cypress Gardens Massacre – DiGregorio-Sciacca faction captains Gaetano (Smitty) D’Angelo, James (Jimmy D) D’Angelo and Frank (Frankie 500) Telleri are machine gunned to death inside the Cypress Gardens restaurant in Ridgewood, Queens. Telleri was the crime family’s policy lottery boss and Smitty D’Angelo was angling for an administrative post in the DiGregorio-Sciacca regime.
March 4, 1968 – DiGregorio-Sciacca faction underboss Pietro (Skinny Pete) Crociata is shot getting out of his car on a Manhattan street corner. Skinny Pete Crociata was the conduit to all the crime family’s “old timers” and the shooting pushed him into retirement.
March 11, 1968 –Bill Bonanno’s bodyguard, Salvatore (Big Hank) Perrone, is killed, gunned down as he was purchasing a carton of cigarettes at a candy store in Brooklyn across the street from his cartage company.
April 1, 1968 – DiGregorio-Sciacca camp soldier Mike (Bruno) Consolo is killed after a court appearance in Brooklyn related to the Troutman Street Ambush two years prior. Consolo was shot to death as he went to get into his car a few blocks away from the courthouse. Some people speculate he was slain by his own side of the war for considering switching allegiances back to the Bonanno contingent.
April 5, 1968 – Bonanno camp associate Billy Gonzales, Big Hank Perrone’s best friend, is shot in the Bronx walking towards his front door after a night out on the town.
April 17, 1968 – DiGregorio-Sciacca soldier Francisco (Frankie Coffee) Crociata, Skinny Pete’s brother, is shot inside the Rossini Democratic Social Club in Brooklyn while sipping an espresso.
July 22, 1968 – Joe Bonanno’s home in Tucson is shot up and a stick of dynamite is thrown down his chimney.
September 18, 1968 – Newly-minted DiGregorio-Sciacca faction underboss Frank (Frankie T) Mari & consigliere Michael (Mikey Adams) Adamo are murdered. They vanished from The 19th Hole Bar in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn.
September 23-thru-October 28, 1968 – A string of bombings rip through Tucson, targeting Bonanno loyalists and their businesses.
November 1968 – Joe Bonanno steps aside, finally relinquishing the reins of the crime family he built and had led for more than 35 years and settles permanently in Arizona
*Earlier that year, Bonanno had survived his third heart attack
February 6, 1969 – DiGregorio-Sciacca soldier Tommy Zummo is the last casualty of the war, shot to death in the lobby of his girlfriend’s Queens apartment building by up-and-coming wiseguy Joseph (Big Joey) Massino, who went on to become boss of the Bonanno crime family in the 1990s. Today, Massino, once the most powerful mob chief in America at the height of his reign, lives under assumed identity in the Witness Protection Program. He “made his bones” with the Zummo hit which officially ended the Banana War.
*Gaspare Magaddino’s murder in 1970 could have been residual violence from the war and remains unsolved. Magaddino had family ties on both sides of the squabble and was one of the shooters in the Cypress Gardens Massacre.
*Gaspar DiGregorio was forced out of the boss” chair in 1968 and replaced by Paul Sciacca. DiGregorio died of lung cancer in 1970 and Sciacca was incarcerated in 1971. Joe Bonanno wrote an autobiography and did a short federal prison sentence in the 1980s for minor offenses. Sciacca died peacefully in 1986 while enjoying his retirement from the rackets.