The Ten Best Gangster Nicknames

A name by any other name would be just as deadly.

“Joey  Cupcakes” pled not guilty this month. That would be Joseph “Joey Cupcakes” Urgitano, charged with taking a metal baseball bat and doing a number on two men who were harassing a woman on West 14th Street in New York City in August. For our money, we believe “Joey Cupcakes.” For two reasons: (1) With a nickname like that, dollars to donuts he would stand up for a dame in distress and (2) His lawyer is the great Murray “Don’t Worry” Richman. For this kind of charge, that’s the best kind of legal money can buy. Anyway, if you’re going to go into the business of crime (and we’re not saying “Joey Cupcakes” is in that business) then you need yourself a nice nickname, one that people and, more importantly, the press, will remember. Here are 10 of our favorites:

1.    Ciro “The Artichoke King” Terranova

Ciro was a turn of the century gangster who knew how to turn a profit: He would buy California artichokes for $6 a crate and then sell them in New York City at a 40% mark-up.  Now this was a guy who knew how to make a business run!  And there were no complaints from the paying customers. None.

2.    Tony “The Ant” Spilotto

Tony was given his nickname by legendary FBI agent William F. Roemer, Jr who once referred to him as “that little pissant.”  The Ant, who died in 1986, handled all of the Las Vegas casino profits for organized crime, known in their lingo as “the skim.”  

3.    Louie “Ha-Ha” Attanasio

The nickname came to him because he always cracked up whenever he heard another gangster had died. He had a brother with the same habit—Bobby “Ha Ha.” Louie is in federal lock-up in Ohio, eligible for parole in 2018. Who’s laughing now? Not us, Louie. Honestly.

4.    Phil “The Chicken Man” Testa

Phil was also known as “the Julius Cesar of the Philadelphia Mob”, which is kind of more dignified. His sillier nickname came about because of a severe case of chicken pox he suffered as a child, that left his face scarred and marked. He died in 1981.

5.    Gerlando “George From Canada” Sciascia

Care to take a guess? Yep, he was a Montreal capo rubbed out for unknown reasons.

6.    Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia

The Royal Highness of mob hits and the main triggerman for Murder, Inc.,  Anastasia met his end while sitting in a barber chair in New York City in 1957.

7.    Abe “Kid Twist” Reles

Another Murder, Inc. member who got his nickname courtesy of his favorite candy. He was going to turn informant and was hidden away at the Half-Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Six detectives were guarding his room, but still, somehow, someone got in and threw him out a window to his death.  The tabloids were kind to Kid Twist: They called him “the canary that couldn’t fly.”

8.    Dominic “Sonny Black” Napolitano

Sonny had beach-blond hair by the time he turned 40, so he dyed it black—hence the nickname. He was the Capo who let FBI agent Joe Pistone into his crew posing as gangster Donnie Brasco.  Let’s just say that decision did not sit well with his bosses.

9.    Frank “The Prime Minister” Costello

Also known as the “Chairman of the Board.” He was such a powerful mob boss that when he testified in front of the televised Kefauver Hearings looking into organized crime in 1951, he refused to let the cameras show his face. They showed only his hands and viewers heard only his voice. Marlon Brando studied those hand gestures and mastered that voice for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

10.  Sam “Golf Bag” Hunt

Sam was one of Al Capone’s most trusted hit men and carried all his weapons in a golf bag he lugged everywhere he went.  He wasn’t much of a golfer, but he was pure magic when it came to a hole in one.