Giuseppe Morello

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Giuseppe Morello
Giuseppe Morello 1902.jpg
Morello in 1902
Born (1867-05-02)May 2, 1867
Corleone, Sicily, Italy
Died August 15, 1930(1930-08-15) (aged 63)
New York City, New York, United States
Other names Joseph Morello, Peter Morello, The Clutch Hand, The Old Fox
Occupation Crime boss, mobster
Criminal penalty 30 years
Allegiance Morello crime family
Conviction(s) Counterfeiting

Giuseppe "the Clutch Hand" Morello (May 2, 1867 – August 15, 1930), also known as "The Old Fox", was the first boss of the Morello crime family and later top adviser to Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. He was known as Piddu (Sicilian diminutive form of Giuseppe) and his rivals the Castellammarese knew him as Peter Morello.[1] He was famous for having a one-fingered deformed right hand that resembled a claw.

In the 1890s, Giuseppe founded a gang known as the 107th Street Mob, which would later evolve into the Morello crime family. Today the Morello crime family is known as the Genovese crime family and is the oldest of the Five Families in New York City.

Early life[edit]

Giuseppe Morello was born in Corleone, Sicily on May 2, 1867.[2] His father Calogero Morello died in 1872 and his mother Angelina Piazza remarried one year later to Bernardo Terranova, who was a member of the Corleone Mafia.[3] Bernardo and Angelina had seven known children: two sons named Vincenzo (the first, born in 1874[4], died at age two[5]; the second was born in 1886), Ciro (born 1888), Nicolò (born 1890), Lucia (born 1877) Salvatrice (born 1880), and Rosalia (born 1892-died October 14, 1915). The Morello and Terranova children grew up together and Bernardo may have facilitated Giuseppe's early induction into the local cosca, or Mafia clan.[6] Crichley notes that Morello also had an uncle, Giuseppe Battaglia, who was a leader in the Corleonesi Mafia and who may have assisted in his nephew's passage.[2] Giuseppe Morello married Maria Rosa Marsalisi (1867-1898) in 1889[7]; the couple had two children: a daughter, Angela (born 1891[8] and died 1892[9]), died in infancy and a son, Calogero "Charles" Morello (born November 1892 in Corleone-died 1912).[3]

The exact year of Morello's emigration to the United States is not certain.[2] Dash writes that Morello emigrated in 1892 after becoming a suspect in a murder in Corleone and after his counterfeiting ring had been compromised.[6][10] Despite his departure the Italian government brought a case to court and found him guilty of money counterfeiting. On September 14, 1894, he was sentenced to 6 years and 45 days imprisonment plus a fine and deprived of the right to hold public office.[2] It is possible that the sentence was handed down in absentia; according to Critchley it appears that Morello left Sicily for New York around this time.[2]

Morello's three half brothers Nicolò, Vincenzo and Ciro, his stepfather Bernardo, his mother Angelina, his sister Maria, his half sister Rosalia, his wife Maria Rosa Marsalisi and son Calogero would arrive in New York City on March 8, 1893.[3][11] In the mid-1890s, Giuseppe Morello moved to Louisiana in search for employment and was joined by the other members of the Morello-Terranova family. The following year they moved to Texas and farmed cotton.[2] After contracting malaria they returned to New York about 1897.[2] Morello tried his hand in different business ventures, including failed investments in a saloon and a date factory. In 1898, Morello's first wife, Maria Rosa Marsalisi, died in 1898 in Corleone.[12]In 1902, he acquired a saloon at 8 Prince Street in Manhattan which was to become a meeting place for members of his gang.[2] In December 1903, Morello married Nicolina "Lena" Salemi (1884-1967)[13], who stayed with him for the rest of his life.[3]

Morello crime family[edit]

Giuseppe Morello

In the 1890s, Giuseppe founded the 107th Street Mob which would later evolve into the Morello crime family. In 1903, Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo, the Sicilian Mafia boss in Little Italy, Manhattan, married Morello's half sister Salvatrice.[3]

Morello built his empire based on his merciless ordering of death sentences against everyone who dared to face him. Lupo, his main enforcer, was responsible for more than sixty murders in a 10-year period. The Morello family would frequently employ the notorious barrel murder system, dumping dismembered corpses into large wood barrels. The barrels would then be thrown into the sea, left on a random street corner, abandoned in a back alley or shipped to nonexistent addresses in another city.

Family businesses included extortion, loan sharking, Italian lottery, robbery and counterfeiting. Illegally earned money was then legitimized by legal businesses such as stores or restaurants owned by the family, making them the first crime family in town to organize this kind of money laundering. They also introduced revolutionary ways of extorting small amounts of money every week from business owners in exchange for "protection", as opposed to the theft of large amounts which might bankrupt them. This technique was adopted from Black Hand gangsters and it led to increased profits for the gang.

Two members of Morello's famiglia who became Captains under Morello and who later gained much prominence in the New York underworld were Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore D'Aquila.

By 1905, Morello had created the largest, most influential Sicilian crime family in New York City and was recognized as capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses) by Mafia leaders in other U.S. cities, according to Nicola Gentile.

Fall and return[edit]

Morello was found guilty of counterfeiting again in 1909 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Morello maintained his position as the head of his crime family for approximately the first year of his sentence, during which time he hoped his sentence would be overturned on appeal. His appeals were not immediately successful and Morello became depressed as he lost his official position as boss of New York and all the influence he once held. He was not released from prison until 1920.

The youngest of his three half brothers, Nicolo Terranova, took over control until 1916, when he was killed by the Neapolitan Camorra boss in Brooklyn, Pellegrino Morano.[14] Morello's remaining two half brothers Vincenzo Terranova and Ciro Terranova, took over as boss and underboss and ran the family until Morello's release from prison.

Newly released from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1920 and trying to retake control of his empire, Morello found himself considered a threat to his former captain, now turned Mafia boss, Salvatore D'Aquila, who, within a year of Morello's release, ordered Morello killed.[1]

Morello, along with a number of others now under orders of death by D'Aquila, fled to Sicily for a spell. One of these men, a former D'Aquila gunman, Umberto Valenti, went after Morello and his chief protector and ally, Giuseppe Masseria, in order to regain the favor of D'Aquila. A war ensued and, after much violence and some prominent deaths among the mafiosi involved, Valenti was killed by Masseria gunmen (some say including or solely Charles Luciano) in August 1922. With Valenti gone, D'Aquila's power began to lose its luster of invulnerability. Morello, sensing his time to rule had passed and the power of Masseria was on the rise, became consiglieri to Masseria and prospered under him throughout the Prohibition years of the 1920s.

Castellammarese War and death[edit]

During the Castellammarese War, roughly between 1929 and 1931, Masseria and Morello fought against a rival group based in Brooklyn, led by Salvatore Maranzano and Joseph Bonanno. Morello, an old hand in the killing game, became Masseria's "war chief" and strategic adviser.[14]

One of the first victims of the war, Giuseppe Morello was killed along with associate Joseph Perriano on August 15, 1930 while collecting cash receipts in his East Harlem office.[15][16] Joseph Valachi, the first made man in the American Mafia to turn state's evidence, identified Morello's killer as a Castellammarese gunman he knew as "Buster from Chicago"[17] a character some people[who?] believed was invented by Valachi to hide the fact that he was the real killer.

Filmmaker Martin A. Gosch's The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, a purported autobiographical account of Charles Luciano of disputed authenticity, claims that Luciano orchestrated Morello's murder himself.[18]


  1. ^ a b Mike Dash, The First Family, Simon and Schuster, 2009, pp. 330–1. "Masseria would be accompanied by [Giuseppe] Morello, whom the Castellammarese knew as Peter Morello – 'Don Petru' – an alias he adopted since leaving prison."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Critchley, David (2008). The Origin of Organized Crime in America : the New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. London: Routledge. pp. 37–40. ISBN 978-0-415-99030-1.
  3. ^ a b c d e Critchley p.51–54
  4. ^ Certificato di nascita, stamped 13 January 1998 by the municipality of Corleone, received by Justin Cascio from Vivian Lima on 1 September 2016.
  5. ^ Certificato di morte, stamped 13 January 1998 by the municipality of Corleone, received by Justin Cascio from Vivian Lima on 1 September 2016.
  6. ^ a b Yardley, Jonathan (16 August 2009). "Jonathan Yardley Reviews 'The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia' by Mike Dash". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  7. ^ Marriage of Joseph Morello and Maria Rosa Marsalisi, record no. 24, 2 March 1889, "Italia, Palermo, Diocesi di Monreale, Registri Parrocchiali, 1531-1998," images, FamilySearch (,351041802,351112201 : accessed 21 January 2015), Corleone > San Martino > Matrimoni 1888-1902 > image 47 of 445; Archivio di Arcidiocesi di Palermo [Palermo ArchDiocese Archives, Palermo].
  8. ^ Baptism of Angela Morello, record no. 380, 3 August 1891, "Italia, Palermo, Diocesi di Monreale, Registri Parrocchiali, 1531-1998," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 November 2015), Corleone > San Martino > Battesimi 1889-1895 > image 156 of 427; Archivio di Arcidiocesi di Palermo (Palermo ArchDiocese Archives, Palermo).
  9. ^ "Italia, Palermo, Palermo, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1910," images, FamilySearch( : accessed 10 March 2016), Palermo > Corleone > Nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, cittadinanze, morti 1882-1893 > image 2478 of 3063; Tribunale di Cagliari (Cagliari Court, Cagliari).
  10. ^ Giuseppe Morello
  11. ^ Hunt, Thomas. 'Clutch Hand Confusion Mafia Boss of Bosses Giuseppe Morello Archived 2012-01-23 at the Wayback Machine. The American Mafia
  12. ^ Death of Maria Rosa Marsalisi, record no. 159, 30 June 1898; "Italia, Palermo, Diocesi di Monreale, Registri Parrocchiali, 1531-1998," images, FamilySearch (,351041802,351085401 : accessed 4 March 2015), Corleone > San Martino > Morti 1889-1910 > image 246 of 546; Archivio di Arcidiocesi di Palermo [Palermo ArchDiocese Archives, Palermo].
  13. ^ Marriage of Giuseppe Morello and Nicolina Salemi, Transcript: Church of Santa Lucia, 344 East 104th St, New York, NY. Record no. 108, "Italia, Palermo, Diocesi di Monreale, Registri Parrocchiali, 1531-1998," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 3 October 2015), Corleone > San Martino > Matrimoni 1903-1911 > image 41 of 284; Archivio di Arcidiocesi di Palermo (Palermo ArchDiocese Archives, Palermo).
  14. ^ a b Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia Encyclopedia (3. edition. ed.). New York: Facts on File. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-8160-5694-1. Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  15. ^ Sifakis, p. 313.
  16. ^ Arthur Nash; Eric Ferrara (2011). Manhattan Mafia Guide: Hits, Homes & Headquarters. History Press. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-60949-306-6. Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  17. ^ Maas, Peter (1968). The Valachi Papers (1986 Pocket Books ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 60. ISBN 0-671-63173-X.
  18. ^ Sifakis, pp. xi-xii, 313

Further reading[edit]

  • Critchley, David (2008). The Origin of Organized Crime: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415882576.
  • Dash, Mike (2009). The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781400067220.
  • Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia Encyclopedia (Third ed.). New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0816056943.

External links[edit]

American Mafia
New title
Crime family established by Morello
Morello crime family

Succeeded by
Nicholas Morello
Preceded by
Vincenzo Terranova
Morello crime family

Succeeded by
Joe Masseria
Preceded by
Vincenzo Terranova
Genovese crime family

Succeeded by
Joseph Catania
Preceded by
New title
Capo dei capi
Boss of bosses

Succeeded by
Sebastiano DiGaetano