Joe Adonis (born Giuseppe Antonio Doto; November 22, 1902 – November 26, 1971), was a member of the American Mafia (Cosa Nostra) who was an important figure in the formation of the modern Mafia in America. He was born in town of Montemarano, Italy, near Naples but his family moved to America in 1909.
As a young man he earned a living by stealing and picking pockets. It was during this time that he met Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and formed an enduring friendship and Joe developed a loyalty to Lucky that would last for decades.
- Mugshot of a young Joe Adonis, date unknown
At the onset of Prohibition, Luciano, Adonis, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel started a bootlegging operation in Brooklyn. This operation soon began supplying large amounts of alcohol to the show business community along Broadway in Manhattan. Doto soon assumed the role of a gentleman bootlegger, socializing with the theater elite.
It was during this time that he started calling himself ‘Joe Adonis’. It was thought that the name was given to him by a chorus girl he was dating, another theory is that he got the name after reading a book about Greek mythology. He was extremely vain and cared deeply for his personal appearance. On one occasion, Lucky Luciano saw Adonis combing his thick, dark hair in front of a mirror and asked him, “Who do you think you are, Rudolph Valentino?” Adonis replied, “For looks, that guy’s a bum!”
During the 1920s he began working as an enforcer for Frankie Yale. After Frankie Yale’s murder in 1928, Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria took over Frankie Yale’s operation and soon became embroiled in the violent Castellammarese War with his rival Salvatore Maranzano. During the course of the war, Joe Adonis and his friend Lucky Luciano joined the Masseria faction but as the tide of the war began to turn against Masseria, Luciano approached Maranzano about switching sides. When Masseria learned of this he contacted Adonis and ordered him to kill Luciano. Naturally Joe Adonis told Luciano about this plan.
On April 15, 1931, Adonis allegedly participated in Masseria’s murder. Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting at a Coney Island, Brooklyn restaurant. During their meal, Luciano excused himself to go to the restroom. As soon as Luciano was gone, Adonis, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Bugsy Siegel rushed into the dining room and shot Masseria to death.
Once they had switched sides Luciano soon organised the death of Maranzano who, although reorganizing the Italian gangs in New York into separate families, declared himself Capo Di Tutti Capo ‘Boss of the Bosses’. Once Maranzano was out of the way Luciano was now the pre-eminent crime boss in New York. However instead of taking all of the power for himself, and based on the suggestion of Johnny ‘The Fox’ Torrio, he organised the National Crime Syndicate that united all of the major crime organisations across the country. For his loyalty to Luciano, Joe Adonis was given a seat on the syndicate’s board of directors.
Adonis and Luciano soon controlled bootlegging in Broadway and Midtown Manhattan. At its height, this operation grossed $12 million in one year and employed 100 workers. Adonis also bought car dealerships in New Jersey. When customers bought cars from his dealerships, the salesmen would intimidate them into buying “protection insurance” for the vehicle. Adonis soon moved into cigarette manufacturing, buying up vending machines by the hundreds and stocking them with stolen cigarettes. Adonis ran his criminal empire from Joe’s Italian Kitchen, a restaurant he owned in Brooklyn. By 1932, Adonis was also a major criminal power in Brooklyn. Despite all his wealth, Adonis still participated in jewelry robberies, a throwback to his early criminal career on the streets.
- Joe, watching Frank Costello at the Kefauver hearings, c. 1950/1
Adonis placed many politicians and high-ranking police officers on his payroll. Adonis used his political influence to assist members of the Luciano crime family, such as Luciano and Genovese, and mob associates such as Meyer Lansky and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the head of Murder, Inc.
In 1936 when Luciano was sent to prison, he left Joe Adonis in charge of the National Crime Syndicate. Though when Luciano was deported and tried to set up a base of power in Cuba, Adonis loyally gave back the reigns of the National Crime Syndicate
In May, 1951, Adonis and several associates pleased No Contest to charges of operating three gambling rooms in Lodi, New Jersey and Fort Lee, New Jersey, to two to three years in state prison. On August 6, 1953, at a hearing in Adonis’ prison, the U.S Department of Justice ordered Adonis’ deportation to Italy. The government claimed that Adonis was an illegal alien. Adonis fought deportation and claimed that he was a native-born American citizen
Once in Italy, Adonis moved to a luxurious villa outside the city of Milan. On January 26, 1962, Luciano died of a heart attack in Naples at age 64. Adonis attended the funeral service in Naples, bringing a huge floral wreath with the words, “So Long, Pal”.
- An older Joe Adonis
In late November, 1971, Italian police forces transported Adonis to a small hillside shack near Ancona, Italy for interrogation. During the lengthy questioning, Adonis suffered a heart attack. Adonis was rushed to a regional hospital in Ancona, where he died several days later on November 26, 1971. He was 69 years old.