Hot Springs, Arkansas, was known as a safe-haven for gangsters, but one unlucky break would take down the chairman of the mafia in 1936. It seemed Lucky Luciano’s luck had turned.
Salvatore Luciano was born in Sicily on November 24, 1897, and immigrated to Manhattan’s Lower East Side with his family when he was a ten-year-old boy. While the other children tried to learn the English language and pushed hard in school, Salvatore was more interested in street life. By the age of fourteen, he dropped out of school and was running drugs. Officially he worked delivering hats, but this was merely a ruse. The hat boxes also came in handy for hiding his illegal wares.
There are several conflicting stories behind “Lucky’s” nickname. Some tales speak of his outwitting rival gangs, while others tell of his near-death experience at the hands of fellow mobsters. Luciano, himself did little to solve the mystery. Lucky told varying stories througout his lifetime.
After a vicious battle between warring factions of the mob, Luciano devises a bloody scheme to take over the New York Mafia. After killing both of the warring crime bosses, Luciano sets about establishing a “corporation-style” criminal empire.
Luciano, with the help of Meyer Lansky, set up the Commission, which included a representative from each of the five families. This Commission would make joint decisions concerning territory disputes and keep the bloodshed to a minimum. Luciano felts all the violence was getting in the way of making a profit. Don’t be fooled. Luciano was a ruthless and violent as the rest of them, maybe more so. Lucky liked making money and didn’t want anything to get in his way.
By 1936, Lucky Luciano was possibly the most powerful man in America. He ran every type of money-making scheme from drugs and prostitution to bootlegging and murder for hire. One might imagine that Murder Incorporated would have brought down the crime boss, but amazingly it was his lucrative prostitution ring that handed him the Public Enemy #1 status.
New York District Attorney, Thomas E. Dewey set out to take down the mafia kingpin and succeeded in 1936. Lucky Luciano got wind of this and fled New York and headed for the Mafia’s Safe Zone in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano was hiding in the spa city when he was spotted by a New York detective who happened to be in town on another unrelated case. The mobster was strolling along the promenade behind Bath House Row with the chief of Detectives Herbert “Dutch” Akers. Some sources claim he was behind the Ozark Bathhouse.
I took the following pictures of the great pramanade in my trip to Hot Springs last spring.
Dewey was called and a fight began between New York and Hot Springs. Local authorities fought Lucky’s extradition back to the city, but New York finally won and Luciano was shipped back up north. Luciano was sent to prison and eventually deported back to Italy.
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