Lord High Executioner

by Michael Benson

Albert’s Last Shave

At 10:15 a.m., Friday, October 25, 1957, fifty-three-year-old Albert Anastasia entered Grasso’s Barbershop off the lobby of the Park Sheraton Hotel at Seventh Avenue and 55th Street in the city. With him was his godson Vince Squillante, Long Island trash czar. Albert’s bodyguard Cappy was parking the car. Cappy’s two massive subordinates weren’t around. There was no security in the barber shop.

 “Albert, your usual?” the proprietor said.

“Thank you, Arthur.”

“Your favorite chair is free.”

“Lucky number four.”

“Have a seat and I’ll get you ready,” he said. Arthur heated up the towel.

“Joe available to shave me? I like the way he does it,” Albert said.

“Sure, Albert, sure. You going to the fights tonight?”

“Yeah, I just talked to a kid fighting tonight. Managed by a friend of mine.”

“Close your eyes, towel’s hot.”

At 10:18 a.m., four men in business suits, each wearing a black glove on his right hand, a scarf, a fedora, and aviator shades arrived at the Park Sheraton. One stood near the front entrance, one stood in the lobby just outside the barbershop, and two entered the shop with guns in their gloved hands. As the hit men entered, they didn’t start firing right away. They were too cool for that. Anastasia’s face was wrapped; he was going nowhere. One of the gunmen used the muzzle of his gun to push Joe the barber out of the way. The shooters positioned themselves so that one was on either side of Anastasia’s chair. Anastasia now sensed the interruption, pulled the towel off his face and had time to look around. He started to get up. He raised his left hand to protect himself and two slugs tore through it, one gun so close that it left powder burns on his palm. And as Albert Anastasia’s brain was ripped to shreds, there was a brief explosion of electricity. Synapses sought to bridge the gaps and snapped. But just before the end, Albert got a quick but vivid glimpse of the lamentations, horrors painted from his earthquake nightmares, visions that had plagued him forever, that naked pack of scavengers that scuttled about like spiders in the chalky Italian dust worming their boney hands into the pockets of the dead. He knew in that instant that he was still and had always been on the dusty road to hell, scalding wind on his face, marching down, down, down through the ruins of the dancing land and into the boiling river of blood.

Michael Benson’s many true crime books tell vividly of today’s most heinous criminals, and the clever and stalwart lawmen who bring them to justice. He is currently a regular commentator for two true-crime series, Evil Twins and Evil Kin, on the Investigation Discovery (I.D.) channel, and had also made guest appearances on that channel’s Evil Stepmoms, Deadly Sins, Southern Fried Homicide, and On the Case with Paula Zahn. He’s also been featured on ABC’s 20/20.

Albert’s Last Shave is an excerpt from Lord High Executioner by Frank Dimatteo and Michael Benson.

Umberto “Albert” Anastasia was born in Italy at the turn of the century. Five decades later, he would be gunned down in a barber shop in New York City. What happened in the years in between – and why every crime family had reason to want him dead – is one of the most brutal and fascinating stories in the history of American organized crime. This in-depth account of the man who became one of the most powerful and homicidal crime bosses of the 20th century from Mafia insider Frank Dimatteo is the first full-length book to chronicle Anastasia’s bloody rise from immigrant to founder of the notorious killer’s club Murder, Inc.

They called him “The One Man Army.” “Mad Hatter.” “Lord High Executioner.” But Albert Anastasia was a man who defied description. He was Albert the gentleman thief: a polished stick-up artist who would apologize to his victims – and kiss their ladies’ hands – as he robbed them at gunpoint. He was Albert the killer: whose merciless assassination of Mafia godfather Vincent Mangano is recounted here in chilling firsthand detail. He was Albert the record breaker: the first man in the history of American justice to be charged with four separate murders – and walk free after each one. 

But in the end, he was last obstacle in rival Mafia hoodlum Vito Genovese’s dream of becoming the boss of bosses – and paid the ultimate price.