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Mafia nicknames: Are you calling me 'baby shacks'?

In the latest Mafia bust, one thing became clear: 'Don' is just too plain a title. Guy Adams sheds light on mobsters' exotic nicknames
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You probably don't want to mess with Luigi "Baby Shacks" Manocchio, an 83-year-old Italian gentleman with puppy-dog eyes who has just pleaded not guilty to charges of extorting cash "protection" payments from New England's strip clubs for the past two decades.

Mr Manocchio, who owes his nickname to his taste in women (he likes them young and skinny) is the reputed head of the Patriarca family, an underworld organisation which controls much of Rhode Island. He was arrested on Thursday as part of an FBI "bust" that saw 119 alleged Mafia dons taken into custody.

Also now speaking to lawyers are such figures as "Vinny Carwash", "Jack the Whack", "Junior Lollipops", "Tony Bagels" and Benjamin Castellazzo, a rotund New Yorker charged with running illegal loan-sharking and gambling operations, who answers to the name of "The Claw".

The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, described their round-up as bad news for people who carry out "classic mob hits," and "senseless murders," telling reporters: "Today's arrests mark an important, and encouraging, step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra's operations."

Mr Holder believes last week's operation will reduce mob crime. That remains to be seen. But whatever the eventual outcome, one thing's for sure: the 119 arrests are sure to reacquaint us with the grand old Mafia tradition of elaborate aliases.

America's mobsters have always used dark nicknames. Al Capone was known as "Scarface". Some were proud of their aliases. Capone christened his successor, Tony Accardo, "Joe Batters" after watching him smash a rival's skull with a baseball bat ("this kid's a regular Joe Batters", he chuckled). Others, of a more sensitive disposition, have nicknames one shouldn't use to their face. Last week's detainees include John "Fatty" Hartmann and "Fat Dennis" Delucia, while those who called Las Vegas boss Benjamin Siegel "Bugsy" (meaning "bonkers") slept with the fishes.

But Mafiosi do not use nicknames to hide their identities. For most, a threatening moniker is part and parcel of creating a profile. "Nicknames are good for getting you known locally and in the media, and since a lot of these guys have complicated real names, they are convenient," says Chris Cecot, the in-house historian at the Las Vegas Mob Experience.

"The Mafia is like a fraternity. One or two events happen while you're becoming a made man and – boom! – you're stuck with a name for life. It makes you part of an old boy club."

While the finest days of the US Mafia may be behind it, Mr Cecot is adamant that exotic criminal nicknames have a bright future. The rising leaders in organised crime are Mexican drug cartels, who with stars such as "El Chapo" and "Boss of Bosses" have turned the acquisition of an exotic alias into an art form.

Aliases and alibis: who is called what – and why

Luigi "Baby Shacks" Manocchio

The 83 year-old former boss of New England's Patriarca crime family is said to have been given his nickname because of his penchant for young, slim women. However, some argue that his main mob moniker is actually "Baby Shanks", a decades-old nickname which refers to his short legs. Also known as "Louie", "The Professor", and "The Old Man", Manocchio has a criminal record that stretches more than 60 years.

Benjamin "The Fang" Castellazzo

It might seem like an oddly brutal nickname for a 73-year-old, but Castellazzo was reportedly seen brandishing a gun to intimidate a target in eastern New York just weeks before his arrest. The acting under-boss of the Colombo family is also known as "The Claw" and – a little incongruously – "Benji".

Vincenzo "Vinny Carwash" Frogiero

Despite the infinite frog-related options his surname provides, Frogiero was thought to have got his nickname after running car washes for the mob in his younger days. The FBI describes him as a "soldier" for New York's infamous Gambino crime family.

Anthony "Tony Bagels" Cavezza

One of the smaller fish in the FBI's haul last week, the Gambino family mobster is said to be known among New York's mobsters for his fondness for the city's signature deli delicacy – the humble bagel. Often seen wearing hoodies instead of the mob's signature sharp suits, the The New York Post newspaper has criticised him for "crimes of fashion".

Michael "Jello" Kuhtenia

The mob can be cruel. Many of the monikers given to the portlier gangsters arrested last week are are weight-related (the FBI lists the suspect mobster John Hartman's nicknames as "Fats", "Fatty" and "Lumpy") and it seems that this member of New York's notorious Gambino family may be no exception. Or, in the spirit of "Tony Bagels", maybe he just eats a lot of jelly.

John "Dapper Don" Gotti

The infamous former head of New York's Gambino crime family, which saw many of it's top bosses arrested last week, was dubbed "Dapper Don" by the press because of his suave suits and charming public image. The media later named him "Teflon Don" for his ability to slip out of the hands of the law, but Gotti was said to be proud that the mob never knew him by any nickname. They simply called him John.

Al "Scarface" Capone

No mob list would be complete without Al Capone. He is said to have got the scars that earned his ominous nickname when he worked in a Manhattan mob bar as a bouncer and bartender, before generating millions from illegal bootlegging, among other, rackets in the 1920s. Finally jailed for tax evasion in 1931, Capone is said to have been attacked by a bar patron after insulting his sister. Whether the patron lived long enough to regret it is unknown.

Jack "Jack the Whack" Rizzocascio

This self-explanatory handle must be the ultimate clichéd gangster nickname.

However, according to the FBI this mob moniker belongs to an associate of New York's Colombo crime family who was arrested last week. ENJOLI LISTON