Gallo's 1961 mugshot
April 7, 1929
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 7, 1972 (aged 43)|
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Gunshots|
|Other names||"Crazy Joe"|
"Joe the Blond"
|Spouse(s)||Jeffie Boyd (twice)|
Sina Essary (m. 1972)
|Allegiance||Profaci crime family|
Joe Gallo was born and raised in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Umberto and Mary Gallo. A bootlegger during Prohibition, Umberto did little to discourage his three sons from participating in the local criminal activity. In 1949, after viewing the film Kiss of Death, Joe Gallo began mimicking Richard Widmark's gangster character "Tommy Udo" and reciting movie dialogue. Gallo was nicknamed "Joey the Blond" because of his full chest of blond hair. In 1950, after an arrest, Gallo was temporarily placed in Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Albert Seedman, the head of New York's detective bureau, called Gallo "that little guy with steel balls".
Gallo's brothers Larry and Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo were also his criminal associates. His sister was Carmella Fiorello. Gallo's first wife, whom he married around 1960, divorced in the mid-1960s, and then remarried in July 1971, was Las Vegas showgirl Jeffie Lee Boyd. Later in 1971, Jeffie divorced Gallo again. The couple had one daughter, Joie. In March 1972, three weeks before his death, Gallo married 29-year-old actress Sina Essary. He became the stepfather of Sina's daughter, Lisa Essary-Gallo.
Gallo started as an enforcer and hitman for Joe Profaci in the Profaci crime family. He ran floating dice and high-stakes card games, an extortion racket and a numbers game betting operation. His headquarters was an apartment on President Street in Brooklyn, dubbed "The Dormitory", where Gallo allegedly kept a pet lion named Cleo in the basement. Within a few years, he secretly owned several Manhattan nightclubs and two sweat shops in Manhattan's garment district, where between forty and fifty women made fabric for dress suits.
In 1957, Profaci allegedly asked Gallo and his crew to murder Albert Anastasia, the boss of the Anastasia crime family. Anastasia's underboss, Carlo Gambino, wanted to replace him and asked Profaci for assistance. On October 25, Anastasia entered the barber shop at the Park Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan. As he relaxed in the barber's chair, two men—scarves covering their faces—rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and killed Anastasia in a hail of bullets. Anastasia's killers have never been conclusively identified, but Carmine Persico later claimed that he and Gallo had shot Anastasia, joking that he was part of Gallo's "barbershop quintet".
The following year, Gallo and his brothers were summoned to Washington, D.C., to testify before the McClellan Committee of the U.S. Senate on organized crime. While visiting Senate Counsel Robert F. Kennedy in his office, Gallo flirted with Kennedy's secretary and told Kennedy his carpet would be excellent for a dice game. On the witness stand, none of the brothers provided any useful information.
First Colombo War
In early 1961, the Gallo crew attempted to kidnap the entire Profaci leadership. Profaci escaped capture, but the crew was able to get his brother-in-law and underboss Joseph Magliocco, along with four Profaci caporegimes. The Gallos demanded a more favorable financial scheme for the hostages' release. Gallo wanted to kill one hostage and demand $100,000 before negotiations, but his brother Larry overruled him. After a few weeks of negotiation, Profaci made a deal with the Gallos.
However, Profaci was busy planning his revenge, bribing Persico into secretly working for him as he planned his next strike. In May 1961, Profaci gunmen killed Joseph "Joe Jelly" Gioelli, Gallo's top enforcer. They dumped Gioelli's clothing, stuffed with dead fish, in front of a diner frequented by the Gallo crew. On August 20, 1961, Larry Gallo was lured to a meeting at the Sahara Lounge, a Brooklyn supper club. Once inside, Profaci hitmen, including Persico, tried to strangle Larry. However, a passing police officer thwarted the execution. With the start of the gang war, the Gallo crew retreated to the Dormitory.
As the year progressed, the Gallo brothers were unable to tend to their usual rackets and started running out of money. Joe tried to extort payments from a cafe owner, who immediately went to the police. In November 1961, Gallo was convicted on conspiracy and extortion for attempting to extort money from the businessman. On December 21, 1961, he was sentenced to seven to fourteen years in state prison.
While serving his sentence, Gallo was incarcerated at three New York State prisons: Green Haven Correctional Facility in Beekman, Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, and Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn.
In 1962, while Joe was serving time in Attica, his brothers Larry and Albert, along with five other members of the Gallo crew, rushed into a burning Brooklyn tenement near their hangout, the Longshore Rest Room, and rescued six children and their mother from a fire. The crew was briefly celebrated in the press.
While at Green Haven, Gallo became friends with African-American drug trafficker Leroy "Nicky" Barnes. Gallo predicted a power shift in the Harlem drug rackets towards black gangs and he coached Barnes on how to upgrade his criminal organization. Gallo was soon recruiting African-Americans as soldiers in the Gallo crew. His relationships with other Cosa Nostra inmates was distant; they reportedly called him "The Criminal" for fraternizing with black inmates. On August 29, 1964, Gallo sued the Department of Corrections, stating that guards inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on him at Green Haven after he allowed a black barber to cut his hair. The Commissioner characterized Gallo as a belligerent prisoner and an agitator.
At Auburn, Gallo took up watercolor painting and became an avid reader, soon becoming conversant on Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Ayn Rand and his role model, Niccolò Machiavelli. He also regularly read The New York Times. Gallo worked as an elevator operator in the prison's woodworking shop. During a prison riot at Auburn, he rescued a severely wounded corrections officer from angry inmates. The officer later testified for Gallo at a parole hearing. According to Donald Frankos, a fellow inmate at Auburn, Gallo's philosophy was to be the best you can be, whether it was a cab driver or gangster; never settle for second best. Gallo tutored Frankos on Machiavelli, and Frankos taught Gallo how to play contract bridge. Frankos later described Gallo;
Joe was articulate and had excellent verbal skills being able to describe gouging a man's guts out with the same eloquent ease that he used when discussing classical literature.
Release from prison
In 1971, Gallo was released from prison. His second wife, Sina, described him shortly after his release, saying he appeared extremely frail and pale.
"He looked like an old man. He was a bag of bones. You could see the remnants of what had been a strikingly handsome man in his youth. He had beautiful features--beautiful nose, beautiful mouth and piercing blue eyes."
Gallo soon became a part of New York high society. His connection started when actor Jerry Orbach played the inept mobster "Kid Sally Palumbo" in the 1971 film The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, a role loosely based on Gallo. Gallo felt the Palumbo character was demeaning and wanted to discuss his objections with Orbach. After Gallo dined with Orbach and his first wife, Marta Curro, they became good friends and the couple invited Gallo to many social events. Marta Orbach later commented that Gallo had "absolutely" charmed her. Gallo's new friends soon included actress Joan Hackett, comedian David Steinberg and writer Peter Stone. Gallo and his wife Jeffie moved from President Street to an apartment in Greenwich Village so they could live closer to his new social circle.
While Gallo was serving his sentence, big changes were happening in the Profaci family. On June 7, 1962, after a long illness, Profaci died of cancer. Magliocco took over and continued the battle with Gallo's brothers. In 1963, through negotiations with Patriarca crime family boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca, a peace agreement was reached between the two factions. Later that year, the Mafia Commission forced Magliocco to resign and installed Joseph Colombo, an ally of Gambino, as the new Profaci family boss, and the Profaci family became the Colombo crime family. However, Colombo soon alienated Gambino with his establishment of the Italian-American Civil Rights League and the media attention that entailed. It is possible that Gambino encouraged Gallo to continue his challenge to the Colombo leadership.
Immediately after Gallo's release from prison on April 11, 1971, he took residence in a seventh floor apartment at 7 W. 14 Street in Manhattan. Colombo and Joseph Yacovelli quickly invited him to meet with them and receive a homecoming gift of $1,000. Gallo reportedly told the family representatives that he wasn't bound by the 1963 peace agreement and demanded $100,000 to settle the dispute. When the leadership heard Gallo's answer, they issued an order to kill him.
However, another gunman struck first. On June 28, 1971, at the second League rally in Columbus Circle in Manhattan, Colombo was shot in the head by Jerome A. Johnson, a black gunman posing as a photographer. Colombo's bodyguards immediately shot and killed Johnson. Colombo survived the shooting, but went into a coma from which he never recovered. After completing their investigation (which included an interview with Gallo), police concluded that Johnson was a lone shooter who had no ties with any criminal organization.
On April 7, 1972, at 4:30 a.m., Gallo and his family entered Umberto's Clam House in Manhattan's Little Italy. He was there to celebrate his 43rd birthday with sister Carmella, wife Sina Essary, her daughter Lisa, his bodyguard Peter "Pete the Greek" Diapoulas, and Diapoulas's companion. Earlier that evening, the Gallo party had visited the Copacabana with Jerry and Marta Orbach to see a performance by comedian Don Rickles and singer Peter Lemongello. Once at Umberto's, the Gallo party took two tables, with Gallo and Diapoulas facing the wall. Rickles, whom Gallo had invited to join them at Umberto's, managed to find an excuse to get out of the engagement, possibly saving his life.
Unknown to Gallo, Colombo associate Joseph Luparelli was sitting at the bar. When he saw Gallo, he immediately left Umberto's and walked to a Colombo hangout two blocks away. After contacting Yacovelli, Luparelli recruited Colombo associates Philip Gambino, Carmine DiBiase and two other men, reputedly members of the Patriarca family, to kill Gallo. On reaching Umberto's, Luparelli stayed in the car and the other four men went inside through the back door. Between seafood courses, the four gunmen burst into the dining room and opened fire with .32- and .38-cal. revolvers. Gallo swore and drew his handgun. Twenty shots were fired and Gallo was hit in the back, elbow and buttock. After overturning a butcher block dining table, Gallo staggered to the front door. Witnesses claimed that he was attempting to draw fire away from his family. Diapoulas was shot once in the buttocks as he dove for cover. The mortally wounded Gallo stumbled into the street and collapsed. He was taken in a police car to Beekman-Downtown Hospital. He died in the emergency department. A differing account of the murder was offered by hitman and union activist Frank Sheeran, who claimed that he was the lone triggerman in the Gallo hit.
Gallo's funeral was held under police surveillance; his sister Carmella declared over his open coffin that "the streets are going to run red with blood, Joey!"
After Gallo's murder, a frightened Yacovelli left town. The Colombo family, led by the imprisoned Persico, was plunged into a second civil war which lasted for several years, until a 1974 agreement allowed Albert Gallo and his remaining crew to join the Genovese crime family. An increasingly paranoid Luparelli fled to California, then contacted the FBI and reached a deal to become a government witness. He then implicated the four gunmen in the Gallo murder. However, the police could not bring charges against them; there was no corroborating evidence and Luparelli was deemed an unreliable witness. No one was ever charged in the murder.
Gallo crew members
- Joe Gallo
- Albert "Kid Blast" Gallo – transferred to Genovese family in 1975
- Larry Gallo – died of cancer in 1968
- Frank "Punchy" Illiano – transferred to Genovese family in 1975, died in January 2014
- Bobby Boriello - transferred to Gambino family in 1972, murdered in 1991 on orders of Anthony Casso
- Nicholas Bianco – transferred to Patriarca family in 1963, died of natural causes in 1994
- Vic Amuso – transferred to Lucchese family, serving life in prison
- Joseph "Joe Pesh" Luparelli – entered witness protection program in 1972, current location unknown
- Joe Gioelli – murdered in 1961 by Profaci gunmen
- Carmine "the Snake" Persico – Colombo family boss, died in 2019 while serving 139-year sentence in prison
- Michael Rizzitello - transferred to Los Angeles Crime Family, died while incarcerated due to complications of cancer in 2005
- John Cutrone – led breakaway faction from Gallo crew, murdered in 1976 by unknown gunmen
- Gerry Basciano – seceded from Gallo crew, murdered in 1976 by unknown gunmen
- Steve Cirrilo – murdered in 1974 by Cutrone gunmen
- Joseph Cardiello – defected to Profaci, murdered by Gallo gunmen on December 10, 1963
- Louis Mariani – murdered by Profaci gunmen on December 10, 1963
- Leonard "Big Lenny" Dello – died in 2009
- John Commarato
- Alfonso Serantonio
- Joseph Yancone
- Eugene LaGana
- Frank Balzano
- Sergio "SergForce" Gallo
- Dan 'Big Fish' Cantelliani
- Hugh "Apples" McIntosh - died in 1997
In popular culture
Author Jimmy Breslin's 1969 book The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight was a fictionalized and satirical depiction of Gallo's war with the Profaci family. It was later made into a 1971 feature film with Jerry Orbach playing "Kid Sally Palumbo," a surrogate for Gallo.
After his murder, producer Dino De Laurentiis produced a more serious but still fictionalized drama about Gallo, Crazy Joe, released in 1974. Based on newspaper articles by reporter Nicholas Gage, the movie was directed by Carlo Lizzani and starred Peter Boyle as the title character.
Gallo is the main character in Bob Dylan's biographical, twelve-verse ballad "Joey". The song appears in Dylan's 1976 album Desire. Dylan was criticized for overly romanticizing Gallo's life in the song.
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- Hoffman, as told to William; Headley, Lake (1992). Contract killer : the explosive story of the Mafia's most notorious hitman, Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos (1st ed.). New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-045-3.
- "Profaci Dies of Cancer; Led Feuding Brooklyn Mob" (PDF). The New York Times. June 8, 1962. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
- Bruno, Anthony. "The Colombo Family: Trouble and More Trouble". TruTV Crime Library. Retrieved November 4, 2011.
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- Farrell, William E. (June 29, 1971). "Colombo Shot, Gunman Slain, at Columbus Circle Rally Site" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
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- "Blood in the Streets: Subculture of Violence". Time. February 28, 2002. Retrieved November 4, 2011.
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- Albanese, S. Jay, Contemporary Issues in Organized Crime, Criminal Justice Press 1995 ISBN 1-881798-04-6
- Joey Gallo's Murder
- New York City Gangland by Arthur Nash, Chapter 6: "The Godfather Game: Gangland Jumps the Shark"
- Gallo article at americanmafia.com
- Joe Gallo Mafia Archives at thechicagosyndicate.com
- Death of Gallo at crimelibrary.com
- Former Umberto's Clam House at Google Maps
- Joe Gallo at Find a Grave
- Green-Wood Cemetery Burial Search