November 14, 1957 | Apalachin Mafia Summit

 Joseph Riccobondo, Paul Castellano and Carmine Lombardozzi on their way to testify to the commission investigating the gangland convention held at Apalachin, NY. © Bettmann/CORBIS

"All the police cars had to do was patrol the roads. They had to come out sooner or later. You see a guy in a silk suit and a white fedora, you say, ‘He doesn't belong in the woods!’"

Trooper Vincent R. Vasisko, New York State Police, 1957

They ran like rabbits—throwing away cash and guns, making their way into the dark, wet woods wearing fancy shoes and silk suits, gold watches and fat diamond stickpins. “One by one we rounded them up,” said Sgt. Edgar Croswell, “bedraggled, soaking wet, and tired. There are no sidewalks in the woods.” With only one warning shot fired, 19 state troopers in upstate New York managed to round up 60 of the highest level mafia bosses in the country.

Sgt. Croswell, an investigator with the New York State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, had been keeping an eye on Apalachin-resident Joseph Barbara for over a decade. He suspected Barbara was making bootleg liquor and knew he had ties to the mafia in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Croswell wasn’t sure exactly what Barbara was up to, but on November 14, 1957, peering at Barbara’s small estate through a pair of field glasses, it was abundantly clear Barbara was up to something. Parked in Barbara’s driveway were dozens of brand new luxury cars with license plates from Ohio, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania. Feeling a little nervous up on a mountaintop with only two federal revenue agents and his partner Trooper Vincent Vasisko facing what might potentially be dozens of mobsters, Croswell called for backup.

NY State Troopers set up roadblocks on the major roads near the estate and as word got to the gangsters inside, a mass exodus began. In all 60 gangsters were detained, but more than 100 were likely to have been in attendance. The heads of major crime families—Genovese, Gambino, Bonanno—had planned to crown a boss of bosses during a pleasant stay in the country, but instead found themselves at the center of a media frenzy. It was hard to avoid the catchy headlines, “Royal Clambake for Underworld Cooled by Police” and “Police Ponder NY Mob Meeting; All Claim They Were Visiting Sick Friend.”

After Apalachin, no one could deny the existence of organized crime in the United States, not even its most vocal naysayer FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Thanks to the persistent investigation of a smart officer working in upstate New York, the FBI shifted its attention to the complex criminal web of organized crime.