Joseph Zerilli

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Joseph Zerilli
Giuseppe Zerilli

(1897-12-10)December 10, 1897
DiedOctober 30, 1977(1977-10-30) (aged 79)
Resting placeMount Olivet Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan
OccupationCrime boss
ChildrenAnthony Joseph Zerilli
AllegianceDetroit Partnership

Joseph Zerilli (born Giuseppe Zerilli; Italian pronunciation: [dʒuˈzɛppe dzeˈrilli]; December 10, 1897 – October 30, 1977) was an Italian-born American Prohibition-era gangster. He led the crime family known as the Detroit Partnership from the 1930s through the 1970s.

Early life[edit]

Zerilli was born on December 10, 1897, to Anthony and Rosalie Zerilli. He immigrated to the United States from his native Terrasini, Sicily, at age 17.

Birth of the Purple Gang[edit]

Working as a laborer with the Detroit Gas Company, Zerilli founded the Purple Gang with William Joseph "Bugs Bill" Bernstein, Abe Bernstein, Harry Fleisher, and Louis Fleisher at the onset of Prohibition. Zerilli began working with mobster Gaspar Milazzo to expand into loansharking, extortion, narcotics, labor racketeering, and bookmaking.

Rise to power[edit]

In 1930, following the murder of Milazzo by New York mobsters, the Purple Gang became involved in syndicate gambling operations. By 1936, Zerilli assumed control of Detroit's criminal operations. However, he did not officially become boss until 1964, when he succeeded William Tocco.

In 1931, Lucky Luciano formed the The Commission that initially consisted of seven family bosses: the leaders of New York's Five Families: Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Vincent Mangano, Tommy Gagliano, Joseph Bonanno, and Joe Profaci; Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone; and Buffalo family boss Stefano Magaddino.[1][2] Charlie Luciano was appointed chairman of the Commission. The Commission agreed to hold meetings every five years or when they needed to discuss family problems.[1]

After a 1956 Commission meeting, the crime families of Philadelphia, headed by Angelo Bruno, and Detroit, headed by Zerilli, were added to The Commission.[1]

Zerilli was later convicted of carrying a concealed weapon.[3]

Later life[edit]

After more than 40 years, Zerilli retired from racketeering in the early 1970s and his son, Anthony Zerilli assumed control. However, in 1975 Zerilli was forced to return as boss; his son had been convicted of conspiring to conceal interests in a Las Vegas syndicate casino.

On October 30, 1977, Joseph Zerilli died of natural causes. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit.[4]

In April 2000, grandson and Detroit syndicate soldier Nove Tocco agreed to testify against his cousin and boss of the Detroit crime syndicate, Jack Tocco. Nove was the first member of the Detroit crime family to turn state's evidence since the family's founding in 1921.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Capeci, Jerry. The complete idiot's guide to the Mafia "The Mafia's Commission" (pp. 31–46)
  2. ^ The Commission's Origins (November 20, 1986) The New York Times
  3. ^ Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York City: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1856-1.
  4. ^ Times, Jo Thomas; Special to The New York (November 4, 1977). "Simple Funeral Marks End of Detroit Crime Boss" – via
  5. ^ "Organized Crime In Detroit: Forgotten But Not Gone". June 24, 2011.