Tuesday 28th October

Tuesday 28th October 9.30pm

It was perhaps one of the strangest gatherings that upstate New York had ever seen.

In November 1957, in the sleepy town of Apalachin, several dozen men had gathered for a barbeque. All of them had arrived in a succession of Cadillacs; all of them were dressed in fedoras and sharp suits.

Not surprisingly, such a strange party aroused the interest of the local cops. When they arrived the party guests tried to flee across the fields and into the woods. Unwittingly, the police had stumbled upon the leadership of the entire American mafia.

This chance discovery shocked the US. Until then, crime fighters had denied that organised crime even existed.

Yet exist it did – with a structure akin to a military organisation. It was run from the top by a Commission, a sort of mafia board of directors. Orders it passed down had to be obeyed, or were punishable by death. It was structure that allowed the mob to control vast swathes of American life.

Ordinary Americans would have been even more shocked if they had known what mob bosses were in Apalachin to discuss. Top of the agenda was drugs. A deal had been struck in Palermo, Sicily, by one boss – Joe ‘Bananas’ Bonanno. Bonanno was a Sicilian-born mobster with extensive contacts in his native land – contacts he had used on a recent visit to Palermo, where he had agreed with the Sicilian mafia to smuggle heroin into the US.

Now the American mob faced a dilemma: heroin promised massive profits, but it also threatened huge jail sentences – sentences that could cause arrested mobsters to break the sacred oath of silence, omerta.

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