Kingpin – The most famous kingpins in crime history

Wednesdays at 8:30pm AEST from May 2 until May 23


Kingpin examines the life and crimes of four of the most notorious crime bosses of recent times with interviews of those who were there, archive footage, surveillance photographs and brilliantly cast breathtakingly vivid re-enactments.

Originally a bowling term, the Kingpin was the pin that stood at the front of an arrangement of pins. In this context a kingpin is the leader of a crime syndicate or organisation, the ruler of any game.

In each episode of Kingpin, the viewer is plunged into the heart of a different organised crime group just as a brutal war of succession is about to break out, each revealing the meteoric rise of one of the most famous kingpins in crime history. In gripping, bloody detail, we’ll watch as each begins as an unknown, low-level thug, only to transform themselves into some of the most infamous and globally notorious crime bosses, or Kingpins.


James “Whitey” Bulger

Bostonian crime boss, James “Whitey” Bulger, embarked upon his criminal career at the age of 14, an age when most boys are enduring the trials and tribulations of puberty. By the 1970s this low-level thug and enforcer had become a prominent figure in the Boston underworld. For fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990, Bulger also served as an FBI informant, tipping off law enforcement to the nefarious activities of the rival Patriarca crime family whilst also building his own criminal empire. After fleeing Boston in the mid-nineties, Whitey Bulger ended up in a club that no-one wants to become a member – the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. He was ultimately snared in the land of movie stars, oranges and sunshine (California) in 2011 and after an exhausting trial, this kingpin was found guilty of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and 11 murders. He is now an 88-year-old prisoner who will never see the outside of prison.


John Gotti

Born in 1940, John Gotti faced many run-ins with the law which included a four-year stint in prison for manslaughter, before ultimately becoming the kingpin of the Gambino crime family. John Gotti earned the nickname “The Teflon Don” – that is to say, nothing stuck to him.

Eventually something did stick.

Gotti was eventually convicted on multiple criminal counts and sentenced to life in prison where he died in June 2002.

“What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzmán is to narcotics,” said Art Bilek, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. “Of the two, Guzmán is by far the greater threat . . .And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of.” 


Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka “El Chapo”

One of the more fascinating kingpins of recent times. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka “El Chapo,” was kingpin of Mexico’s brutal Sinaloa cartel, arguably one of the world’s most powerful drug-trafficking organisations.

No-one really knows when “El Chapo” was born. However, we do know that it was in the Mexican town of Badiraguato sometime between 1954 and 1957. Young Joaquin’s childhood was brutally formed by his family’s poverty and an abusive father, a violent man who was himself involved in the drug trade.

“El Chapo”, as he ultimately came to be known or “Shorty”, named for his somewhat diminutive stature, founded the Sinaloa cartel in 1989 and built it into a massively profitable global drug-trafficking operation. “El Chapo” was renowned for his violent actions and powerful influence and successfully orchestrated quite a few daring escapes from maximum-security prisons in Mexico. Including one that involved an elaborately excavated and concealed tunnel in 2015. “El Chapo” was not a stranger to tunnelling operations. Part of the success stemmed from Sinaloa’s creative smuggling methods, most notably a series of air-conditioned tunnels that ran beneath the Mexican-U.S. border.

In January 2017, the Mexican government extradited Guzmán to the United States to face drug trafficking and other charges. The following day Guzmán appeared in U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, and pleaded not guilty to over a dozen charges. His trial is expected to begin this year.


Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria

One of the most famous names in criminal history, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, was born on December 1, 1949 and died 44 years and one day later December 2, 1993. Escobar was a Colombian drug trafficker who eventually controlled over 80 percent of the cocaine shipped to the U.S., which earned him the rank of one of Forbes Magazine’s ten wealthiest people in the world. Escobar entered the cocaine business in the early 1970s, collaborating with other criminals to ultimately form the Medellin Cartel. He was a shrewd operator and manipulator of public opinion who earned massive popularity and notoriety by sponsoring a great many charity projects and football clubs.

Later the terror campaigns that resulted in the murders of thousands, public opinion turned dramatically against him. He was killed by Colombian police in 1993.

No regime lasts forever.


As with bowling, behind every Kingpin, stands other pins, a legion of ruthless lieutenants, soldiers and rivals vying to take the kingpin’s place. Sometimes they wait for the boss to retire or die of natural causes. Dying of natural causes as an old person at home in your bed is a rare luxury for the kingpin. Often it will be in a hail of bullets or in a lonely jail cell wearing a brightly coloured uniform with no pockets.



By: R. J. Hawksworth