For those of us who peruse the Mafia forums, David Critchley is a familiar name. For over 30 years he has been amassing material about the Mafia in America, from his home in England. And for the last 10 years, he has been working on his magnum opus, a complete history of early organized crime in New York City. The project has finally been released. The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931 will certainly be an essential addition to any crime historian’s library.
The origin of the Mafia in America is certainly a topic that has been handled before, going back to the 1950s, and includes some seminal works like Stephen Fox’s Blood and Power. But the overwhelming majority of Mafia historical approaches often fall victim to less-than-truthful events and accounts that have become part of the American Mafia mythos. The main problem Critchley wanted to tackle was separating myth from fact, taking events and the overall concept of the Mafia’s origins and stripping away the layers to reveal the basis for the legends.
One of the pivotal events in Mafia history that has been given to fanciful conclusions and outlandish speculation was the Castellammare war, one of the more well-known gangland wars in the American underworld. Critchley re-evaluates the main players, and the real killings attributed to the war, versus those that were simply run-of-the-mill mob hits. He finally, once and for all smashes the myth of the Night of Sicilian Vespers, the mythical event where a new generation of mobsters supposedly killed off the reigning Moustache Pete’s, old world dons who ran the early Mafia. Critchley finds only two killings, as opposed to the purported 40 that took place in a single day. Origin also shows clearly that old-school Sicilian dons were in major ruling position through the 1960s.