BILL TONELLI

Bill Tonelli has written about the mob for the New York TimesSlate, and Philadelphia magazine. He is the author of The Amazing Story of the Tonelli Family in America (Addison-Wesley, 1993) and editor of "The Italian American Reader" (William Morrow, 2002) and was an editor at EsquireRolling Stone, and Condé Nast Portfolio.


MOB FEST '29

The True Story Behind the Birth of Organized Crime


In this brilliantly subversive Byliner Original, Bill Tonelli investigates the long-standing myth of the mob's founding—a legendary week in May 1929 in which a who's who of American crime, led by Al Capone and including Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello, among many others, are said to have assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to make peace and divvy up the country's illegal enterprises. In the process, they invented the concept of "organized crime" in America. "As legend has it," writes Tonelli, "as many as thirty top gangsters [enjoyed] wild parties and heroic feasts, with fancy ladies provided for any who hadn't brought his own. In short, this was nothing like the office meetings you and I have been made to attend." 

But what really happened that criminally star-studded week? Did the mobsters actually wheel around the Boardwalk in rolling chairs, smoking cigars and cutting deals, as legend has it? Did they scream at and threaten one another in fancy conference rooms? Did they force Al Capone, fresh from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, to turn himself in to the cops to take the heat off everyone else? 

At a time when the early mob days in Atlantic City are all the rage—thanks to the hit television series Boardwalk Empire—Tonelli sifts the facts from the malarkey, and in so doing reveals how and why the cops, the mobsters, and the writers who love them prefer not to get their stories straight. Mob Fest '29 combines the thrills of a mostly true crime story with the madcap scholarship of a savvy Mafia investigator. Who knows: If a writer had applied the same reportorial standards and acid wit to what our founding fathers did in secret back in 1775, we might not be celebrating the Fourth of July.