The Timeline: The New York Mafia

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The Independent US

1900s: Rise of the 'Clutch Hand'

New York's first recognised mafia family was established by Guiseppe Morello – "The Clutch Hand" – a disfigured Sicilian immigrant from Corleone whose web of illegality and counterfeiting was supported by a range of violent techniques that became the hallmark of the American mafia throughout the century. Most notrious was the "barrel killing" as employed on Benedetto Madonia in 1903. Morello was "boss of all bosses" until he was imprisoned in 1910. Later killed in 1930 by rival mafiosi.

1930s: Birth of the Five Families

After a bloody two-year war that began in 1929, New York's mob operations were divided in five ruling families by Salvatore Marazano and Charlie "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano soon executed Marazano and became head of the organisations. The families were named Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno and Colombo – taking their names in the 1960s when former mobster Joseph Valachi revealed the names and leaders of the main forces in what he called cosa nostra ("our thing").

1970s: Donnie Brasco strikes

Joseph Pistone, an undercover FBI agent using the alias Donnie Brasco, got so deep into the Bonanno family that he was asked to kill someone. Pistone's work lasted for six years and was immortalised in the 1997 film Donnie Brasco. The case led to several murders within the Bonanno family and, importantly, to over 100 convictions and the Bonanno's removal from the national Mafia Commision.

1990s: Fall of the 'Teflon Don'

The Gambino family reached its peak of notoriety in the 1980s under the lead of John J Gotti – dubbed the "Teflon Don" for his ability to escape conviction. Federal investigations into the Gambino's control of unions and garbage routes slowly cut away at Gotti's influence over the decade. In 1992 he was finally jailed and over the next decade most of the Gambino hierarchy followed him.

2011: The mob implodes?

The arrest of 125 mobsters in January was just an apperitif for a year of mob turmoil. This week, Joseph Massino, a former Bonanno boss (at the time of Donnie Brasco) broke "omerta" and testified against his former capo Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano. Massino is one of the most high-ranking mafia figures to co-operate with authorities and his evidence may further mollify the mafia's influence on New York life.