25 Extremely Notorious Gangsters

Posted by , Updated on November 12, 2021

What attracts a person to organized crime? Gangsters are members of criminal organizations known for their illegal activities, particularly drug smuggling, gambling, bootlegging, and assassinations. For decades, these groups have been active in several countries, most notably in Europe, Asia, the United States, and Latin America. Most of these gangsters became infamous from the severity of their crimes: the amount of drugs that they smuggled, the fortunes that they accumulated, and their ruthless, sometimes even high profile killings. Here is a list of the top 25 Extremely Notorious Gangsters.

25 Extremely Notorious Gangsters


Jack Diamond


Irish American gangster Jack Diamond, more commonly known as “Gentleman Jack,” was a bootlegger whose operations were largely focused in Philadelphia. He was a close friend to another notorious gangster and gambler, Arnold Rothstein. As he oversaw bootleg alcohol sales in lower Manhattan, Diamond had a conflict with Dutch Schultz and the other gangs of the city. He also got involved in a series of kidnappings in Manhattan, including that of James Duncan. He died after being shot by his enemies in his hideout in Albany, New York, in 1931.


Tom Devaney


A mobster based in New York, Tom Devaney was the man behind the drift between mobster Mickey Spillane and the Genovese crime family in the 1960’s and 70’s. He also led the gang war against James Coonan, an Irish American mobster and racketeer in Manhattan. George Barone, together with an alleged gunman named Joe “Mad Dog” Sullivan, murdered Tom Devany in Midtown Manhattan in 1976 before murdering Spillane the following year.


James Coonan


An Irish-American mobster and racketeer who use to operate in New York, Manhattan, James “Jimmy C” Coonan became a gangster and organize his own powerful crew of criminals to avenge his father, who was kidnapped, beaten and killed by another well-known mobster in the 1960’s, Mickey Spillane. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison after he was proven guilty of murdering Harold Whitehead.


Dawood Ibrahim


The man behind the infamous Indian organized crime syndicate dubbed as D-Company, Dawood Ibrahim currently heads a large, unlawful empire in India. He is believed to have masterminded, financed, and organized the 1993 Bombay bombings, a series of 13 bomb explosions in Mumbai that left about 250 casualties in each attack. He used to have close links with the late Osama Bin Laden of Al Qaeda and is currently the most wanted man in India.


The Kray Brothers


Reginald “Reggie” Kray and Ronald “Ronnie” Kray were twin brothers and English gangsters who orchestrated a series of organized crimes in East London. They were primarily involved in large-scale robberies, assaults, arson, protection rackets, as well as the murder of the notorious criminal, Jack “The Hat” McVitie, from London. Though they were among the most feared gangsters of their time, the twins became US celebrities in the 1960’s with their willingness to share their stories in interviews, books, and movies.


Demetrius Flenory


Known as the “Black Meech” in several circles in Atlanta, Demetrius Flenory was among the two founders of the Black Mafia Family, a large drug trafficking organization that predominantly operated in Detroit before expanding into Atlanta and Los Angeles. He was convicted of trafficking cocaine throughout the United States for nearly two decades and was identified as among the highest-earning drug traffickers in the history of the country. He is currently serving a 30 year sentence for running a continuing criminal enterprise.


Joaquin Guzman

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Mexican drug lord Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera led the Sinaloa Cartel, an organized crime syndicate and drug trafficking group that used to operate in Mexico in the late 20th century. The cartel was also known then as the Guzman-Loera Organization, named after its leader. He was one of the most powerful men of the world from about 2009 to 2016 when he was captured and extradited to the US.  His approximate net worth in 2016 was roughly $4 billion, and at one point Forbes Magazine labelled him as “the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.”


James Burke


Known as “The Irishman,” Irish American gangster James Burke was the head of the Luchesse crime family in the 1970’s and was accused of having been involved in the brutal murder of several people at the time. He is believed to have been the mastermind behind the Lufthansa heist, an extensive robbery that took place at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1978, which earned him around $2 million.


Vito Genovese


A gangster who reached the peak of his popularity during the Castellammarese War in the 1930’s, Vito Genovese was an Italian-American mobster who headed the Genovese crime family. He was mentor to the successor of the leader of the crime family, Vincent Gigante. In 1931, he plotted to kill Salvatore Maranzano with the help of Lucky Luciano. Genovese moved to Italy and prospered as he led the black market operations of his gambling empire.


Meyer Lansky


A Polish gangster who was known as the Mob’s accountant, Meyer Lansky was among the organized crime figures who developed the National Crime Syndicate in the United States. He was among the most powerful and notorious gangsters of the 20th century and played a big role in operating the Italian Mafia. He developed and operated some of the largest gambling empires in the United States and masterminded the formation of the criminal underworld.


Jacques Mesrine


Known as the modern gangster of the modern French history, Jacques Mesrine was largely involved in several bank robberies, murders, kidnappings, and burglaries in the United States, Canada, and France during the 20th century. He was also known as The Man with a Thousand Faces because of his aptitude for  disguising himself for each of his operations. He was imprisoned several times but was always able to escape, even killing the judges who sentenced him.


James Whitey Bulger


A notorious gangster based in South Boston, James Whitey Bulger was a social bandit who operated much like Robin Hood. He dedicated his life to leading a protection racket which he himself organized.  Their purpose was to chase after and kill drug lords and illegal gamblers. At the time of his arrest in 2011 for his involvement in a conspiracy to commit identity fraud, Bulger was one of the FBI’s top 10 most wanted fugitives.


Anthony Accardo


Nicknamed Joe Batters, or Big Tuna, Anthony Accardo emerged from being a notorious hoodlum to being the head of the crime syndicate known as the Chicago Outfit. The Chicago Mob increased in power during his tenure as he expanded its operations in several territories throughout the United States. 


Bugsy Siegel


The founder of Murder Incorporated, Bugsy Siegel was an American mobster who headed the Genovese crime family. He was known as one of the most feared gangsters of his time because of his ruthlessness to his associates. In the 1940’s, he controlled and financed some of the original casinos in Las Vegas and was also a bootlegger. Siegel even assassinated his enemies, the Fabrizzo brothers and his rival loan sharks, the Amberg brothers.


Carlo Gambino


A Sicilian mobster, Don Carlo Gambino was the head of the Gambino crime family, the most powerful family in Manhattan at the time. In 1957, he was also at the helm of the Commission of the American Mafia, an Italian-American criminal society that operated much like the Sicilian Mafia. He stood up against the Anastasia loyalists in the 1960’s and expanded his rackets to several parts of the United States. He eventually controlled about 90% of the ports in New York, gaining millions in the process. 


John Dillinger


John Dillinger is considered one of the most notorious bank robbers in U.S. history. He is said to have robbed nearly 25 banks and police stations and murdered several people throughout East Chicago and Indiana. He rose to popularity during the Depression era of the U.S., executing jail breaks and outrunning the FBI until, in 1934, they ambushed him in a back alley after seeing a movie and shot him dead.


Frank Costello


Known as The Prime Minister, Frank Costello was a crime boss and an Italian criminal who was also one of the most popular mob group leaders in the United States, particularly in New York. He led the Lower East Side Gang of the Manhattan while he worked for another notorious group, the Morello Gang. Costello, together with Lucky Luciano, became part of the Sicilian Mafia Family and was involved in the operation of rum manufacturing.


Arnold Rothstein


A businessman and a gambler, American gangster Arnold Rothstein was the organizer of corruption in professional athletics, particularly the fixing of the 1919 World Series. Dubbed as “The Brain,” Rothstein was also the father of one of the most infamous Jewish mobs in New York. He also established and operated a casino and was greatly involved in the smuggling practices along the Hudson River and the Great Lakes.


Enoch Johnson


Known as the unequaled leader of the political machine that ruled the governments of Atlantic City and Atlantic County, Enoch Lewis Johnson began to rise in power when he was elected as the new sheriff of the Atlantic County Republic Mexican Committee. He led a notorious organization involved in prostitution and gambling and was an advocate of the vice industry of the United States.


Lucky Luciano


An American mobster, Lucky Luciano was known as the father of modern organized crime in the United States as he was the one responsible for splitting the organization into five Mafia families. Head of the Genovese crime family, Luciano also established the first Commission in the United States, a governing body for organized crime. Today, he’s known for starting the National Crime Syndicates of the United States.


Billy the Kid


Also known as Henry Antrim, Billy the Kid was a gangster who committed his first murder at the age of 18. Antrim was a 19th-century gunman who became involved in the Lincoln County War and was known for his unparalleled skill in handling firearms. Throughout his life, he killed nearly 30 people and stole several horses and cattle. Firsthand sources say that Billy the Kid killed only those he thought deserved it.


Al Capone


More commonly known as Scarface, due to the knife scar that ran across his left cheek, Al Capone was an American gangster who dedicated his life of crime to smuggling liquor and running gambling and prostitution rings in New York and Chicago. Inducted into his first gang at the age of 14, Capone slowly built his empire through violent and illegal means. He was finally charged with tax evasion and conspiracy to violate Prohibition laws in 1931, resulting in an 11-year prison sentence, most of which was spent at Alcatraz until his release into retirement.


Jesse James


Jesse Woodson James was the most famous member of the 19th century gang known as the James-Younger Gang. James had been a Confederate guerrilla during the Civil War after his family’s farm was attacked by Union soldiers. He and his cohorts went on to rob over 20 Union trains, stagecoaches, and banks. That all came to an end when James was shot and killed by two men out for the reward money offered by the Governor of Missouri who was looking to put a stop to the robberies.


Griselda Blanco


Known as “The Cocaine Godmother,” Griselda Blanco is a pioneer of one of the biggest cocaine drug trades in Miami. She spent her childhood and adolescence as a pickpocket and prostitute. As an adult, she was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges and spent 19 years in U.S. prisons. She was said to have moved over 300 kilos of cocaine a month and ordered the deaths of hundreds, though she was only indicted on three of these murders. Once released, she was deported to Colombia where she lived out the remainder of her life. She was gunned down while shopping for meat in 2012 at the age of 69.


Pablo Escobar


A Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar controlled several drug empires and murdered roughly 4,000 people  in the 1980’s and 90’s. He led one of the most powerful and feared criminal organizations  in history, accumulating billions of dollars and either bribing or using his gangs of soldiers and criminals to murder those who got in his way. While some of his money and power was put towards charitable causes, the crime rate in Colombia rose dramatically. When the Colombian government discovered Escobar’s hideout the day after his 44th birthday, the notorious drug lord was shot and killed in the ensuing ambush in 1993. 

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