Making His Bones

The question I get asked most often here at Frank's Place is “Did Frank ever make his bones?”

There is one story of Costello’s rum-running days that told of a dispute he had in 1923, with a rival bootlegger named Louie Demar over territory. This rival was later found dead, and some said Costello took the credit for it. Those who knew Frank, however, claimed this story to be ridiculous, and they could scarcely imagine Frank carrying a gun, let alone using one. The general consensus was that he had nothing to do with the murder and simply used the story to bolster his reputation; not a bad idea given his line of work. This author tends to believe the theory that he himself never pulled the trigger, though he certainly had the people around him who would do it.

So I suppose my answer is no, I don’t think he ever made his bones, but would I be surprised if I found evidence that he had? Not really. He was, after all, a gangster.

How then did Costello ever get to be a made man? The answer is simple; Frank didn’t make bones, he made money and connections, and he made a lot of both. He simply was too much of an asset for the mob to turn away, though I have yet to come across a story of him participating in the induction ceremony for La Cosa Nostra. If it happened, he never talked about it, which is not surprising as he hated talking about the mob and generally refused to do so.

History has been kind to Frank. He is known as a gentleman gangster, a corrupter not a killer, and in mob terms, not a very dangerous man. He is generally not held in the murderous league of Vito Genovese, or Albert Anastasia, but this is where history sometimes gets it wrong. In many ways, he was the most dangerous of them all.

He had no need to get his hands dirty, and if he wanted someone taken care of, no place was safe: not even a hotel full of cops as the “Canary who could sing but couldn’t fly” taught the mob world. Even a guarded prison cell could not protect you, as in the case of Peter LaTempa. He may not have carried a gun, but some of the most terrifying hits in mob history happened at the hands of the gentleman gangster. Frank was also a suspect in Arnold Rothstein’s murder.

After his death, police found a note for $25,000, and a check (that bounced,) for $10,000, both signed by Frank Costello. Frank settled with the Rothstein estate for $5,000, and quickly took over Rothsein’s lucrative bookmaking racket. It is estimated that Murder Inc., Costello’s elite squad of hit men, were responsible for over one hundred murders during Frank’s reign as boss, though the actual number may be much higher. While he preached nonviolence, and never participated in the killing himself, as the boss he would have certainly had to give the order.


Background photograph taken March 1, 1949 by Leonard McCombe/Life Images.

Additional research courtesy of La Famiglia Genovese.