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Capo di tutti capi or capo dei capi is Italian for "boss of all bosses" or "boss of bosses". It is a phrase used mainly by the media, public and the law enforcement community to indicate a supremely powerful crime boss in the Sicilian or American Mafia who holds great influence over the whole organization.

The title was introduced to the U.S. public by the Kefauver Commission (1950). It has seldom been given to specific bosses because it could create tension between different factions (otherwise known as families) within the Mafia. Typically the title is awarded de facto to the boss of the most powerful Mafia family.

American Mafia

The word was applied by mobsters to Giuseppe Morello around 1900, according to Nick Gentile. Bosses Joe Masseria (1928-1931) and Salvatore Maranzano (1931) used the title as part of their efforts to centralize control of the Mafia under themselves. This provoked a reaction and the creation of the The Commission in 1931 as an alternative. The Commission consisted of the bosses of the five New York families, in addition to several leading bosses from elsewhere. Lucky Luciano was the most powerful member of the Commission in 1931-1946. When Luciano was deported to Italy, Frank Costello (1946-1957) and later Vito Genovese (1957-1959) succeeded him both as bosses of the Genovese crime family and as boss of bosses. Joe Bonanno, boss of the Bonanno Crime Family, chaired the commission in 1959-1962.

Carlo Gambino (1962-1976), Paul Castellano (1976-1985), and John Gotti (1985-1992), all bosses of the Gambino crime family, were described as capo di tutti capi by the media. With the fall of Gotti, Genovese Boss Vincent "The Chin" Gigante held the title in 1992-1997. Bonanno family Boss Joseph "Big Joey" Massino (2000-2004) was recognized by four of the five families.

Sicilian Mafia

In the Sicilian Cosa Nostra the position does not exist. For instance, the old-style Mafia boss Calogero Vizzini was often portrayed in the media as the "boss of bosses" – although such a position does not exist according to later Mafia turncoats, such as Tommaso Buscetta. They also denied Vizzini ever was the ruling boss of the Mafia in Sicily. According to Mafia historian Salvatore Lupo "the emphasis of the media on the definition of 'capo dei capi' is without any foundation".

Nevertheless, the title is constantly given to powerful Mafia bosses until this day. During the 1980s and 1990s the bosses of the Corleonesi clan Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano were bestowed with the title by the media.

In April 2006, the Italian government arrested Bernardo Provenzano in a small farmhouse near the town of Corleonemarker. His successor is reported to be either Matteo Messina Denaro or Salvatore Lo Piccolo. This presupposes that Provenzano has the power to nominate a successor, which is not unanimously accepted among Mafia observers. "The Mafia today is more of a federation and less of an authoritarian state," according to anti-Mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia of the Direzione distrettuale antimafia (DDA) of Palermo, referring to the previous period of authoritarian rule under Salvatore Riina.

Provenzano "established a kind of directorate of about four to seven people who met very infrequently, only when necessary, when there were strategic decisions to make." According to Ingroia "in an organization like the Mafia, a boss has to be one step above the others otherwise it all falls apart. It all depends on if he can manage consensus and if the others agree or rebel." Provenzano "guaranteed a measure of stability because he had the authority to quash internal disputes."

In Italymarker a fictional six-part television miniseries called "Il Capo dei Capi" relates the story of Salvatore Riina.


Further reading

  • Arlacchi, Pino (1994). Addio Cosa nostra: La vita di Tommaso Buscetta, Milan: Rizzoli, ISBN 88-17-84299-0
  • Critchley, David (2009). The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-203-88907-X
  • De Stefano, George, (2007). An Offer We Can't Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America, New York: Faber and Faber, ISBN 0865479623
  • Raab, Selwyn (2005). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, ISBN 0-312-30094-8

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