Joe “Uno” Zerilli – the Don Gets New Windows

This story comes to us from Aaron, concerning his grandfather’s business (legal) dealings with Joe “Joe Uno” Zerilli – the Mafia Don of Detroit for over 40 years. Zerilli would have had to had sanctioned the murder of Jimmy Hoffa and was one of the longest tenured Dons of any American Mafia family. Zerilli sat on the national Mafia commission with such luminaries as Carlo Gambino and Sam Giancana. His son Tony was briefly the boss of the Detroit family before being demoted. Tony Zerilli recently died.

Unfortunately I have not way to substantiate the following story beyond the fact that this story has been told many times over by my mom, dad, and uncles as relayed to them from my grandfather. Nevertheless, the story is as follows…

My grandfather sold windows & doors in and around Detroit and the Metro Detroit area from the 50’s until he retired in the late 80’s. For many, many years my grandfather had an office on the eastside and on a friendly basis, socially, casually, and whatnot, he would stop by the Detroit Italian Bakery at 9 Mile & Gratiot, which at the time, was Don Joseph Zerilli’s headquarters. As such, as told to me, my grandfather was friendly with The Old Man and his son Tony and so on.

As the story goes, sometime in the late 60’s, early 70’s, when it was decided that Tony Z wanted to leave Grosse Pointe and build a new house in Warren/Sterling Heights, my grandfather was unsure as to if it would be wise to do “business” with these gentlemen. However, given their casual friendship & and understandably so, he did not want to offend them by not submitting a bid for windows for the new house. My grandfather thus figured he’d put in a bid that was way, way, overpriced and so much higher than anybody else’s bid that the Zerilli’s would not take it, but at least he’d have put in a bid & in the process hopefully avoid upsetting anyone.

Well, low and behold, for whatever the reason may be, the Zerilli’s accepted my grandfathers bid. As a result, my grandfather now stands to make so much money on this job that is it the proverbial “offer he couldn’t refuse”. As such, the time comes and it is decided that they want to go over the blueprints and the order for the windows with my grandfather. As the story goes, he is asked to come to the Detroit Italian Bakery to sit down and go over everything.

My grandfather is instructed that upon arrival he is to tell the little old lady working the counter that he is there to see so and so, which he does. The story goes that the little old lady reaches under the counter, pushes a buzzer, and out from the back comes a large gentleman dressed in a full on, straight out of Hollywood, Gangster suit and the whole nine. The gentleman motions for my grandfather to follow him to the back and leads my grandfather through the kitchen, past all the bakers’ racks, bags of flour, and everything to a door near the rear of the building. The gentleman knocks on the door and they are told to come in.

The door opens and my grandfather walks in to what has been described as a large but not huge, reasonably sized room, that is slightly dark, and beautifully decorated with ornate wood paneling etc…, and sitting behind the desk is The Old Man, Don Joseph Zerilli, Commission member, and Boss of Detroit. Pleasantries are exchanged and they begin to look over the plans for the new house.

The story then goes that Old Man Zerilli, while certainly not unintelligent, is nevertheless having a bit of a difficult time understanding what he’s looking at with the blueprints. Apparently, it’s unclear to him where some of the windows are going to go, what the sizes of some the windows are supposed to be, and so on. My grandfather then, as the story goes & he being the natural-born bullsh*tter that he was, he says to Old Man Zerilli, “well, you take so and so here, you lay him across your kitchen sink and that’s how big the window in your kitchen is gonna be”.

I’ve heard that story relayed many, many times. Hell, I’ve probably told the story more than anyone. Again, I really don’t have any way to substantiate this story as my grandfather passed in 1991, however, I’ve always found a bit of irony in the fact that a Mafia boss could only tell how big his kitchen window was going to be by laying a body across the sink. I hope you enjoy reading this story half as much as I enjoy telling it.

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