Joe Gallo was born and raised in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Umberto and Mary Gallo. A bootlegger during Prohibition, Umberto did nothing to discourage his three sons from becoming criminals. In 1949, after viewing the film Kiss of Death, Joe Gallo began mimickingRichard 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”.
Joe Gallo’s brothers were Larry Gallo and Albert “Kid Blast” Gallo, who were also his criminal associates. His sister was Carmello Fiorello. Gallo’s first wife, whom he married around 1960, divorced in the mid-1960s, and then in July 1971 remarried, was Las Vegas showgirl Jeffie Lee Boyd. Later in 1971, Jeffie divorced Gallo again. The couple had one daughter, Joie Gallo. In March 1972, three weeks before his death, Gallo married 29-year-old actress Sina Essary. Gallo became the stepfather of Sina’s daughter, Lisa Essary-Gallo.
Joe Gallo started as an enforcer and hitman for Joe Profaci in the Profaci crime family. Gallo 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, where Gallo allegedly kept a pet lion named Cleo in the basement. Within a few years, Gallo secretly owned several Manhattan nightclubs and two sweat shops in the Manhattan garment districtwhere 40 or 50 women made fabric for dress suits.
In 1957, Profaci allegedly asked Joe Gallo and his crew to murder Albert Anastasia, the boss of the Anastasia crime family. Anastasia’s underboss Carlo Gambino wanted to replace Anastasia and asked Profaci for assistance. As a former head of Murder, Inc., Anastasia was a dangerous hitman who could not be easily killed.
On October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel) in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s bodyguards parked the car in an underground garage and then left the building. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia allegedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror. The gunmen continued firing and Albert Anastasia finally fell to the floor, dead.
To this day, Anastasia’s murderers have not been conclusively identified. An alternative theory states that the gunmen actually came from the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island. However, Carmine Persico later said that he and Joe Gallo had shot Anastasia, joking that he was part of Gallo’s “barbershop quintet”.
In 1958, Joe Gallo and his brothers were summoned to Washington, D.C. to testify before the McClellan Committee of the U.S. Senate on organized crime. When visiting Senate Counsel Robert F. Kennedy in his office, Joe 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 Profaci’s brother-in-law and underboss Joseph Magliocco along with four Profaci capos. The Gallos demanded a more favorable financial scheme for the hostages’ release. Joe Gallo wanted to kill one hostage and demand $100,000 before negotiation, but Larry Gallo overruled him. After a few weeks of negotiation, Profaci made a deal with the Gallos.
However, Profaci was busy planning his revenge. He bribed Carmine Persico to secretly work for him and 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 gang. On August 20, 1961, Larry Gallo was lured to a meeting at the Sahara Lounge, a Brooklyn supper club. Once inside the club, Profaci hitmen, including Persico, tried to strangle Larry Gallo. However, a passing police officer thwarted the execution.
With the start of the gang war, the Gallo gang retreated to their headquarters on President Street. Dubbed “The Dormitory”. Joey’s father served as cook for the gang. Larry Gallo forced the crew members to pick their cigarette butts and do chores on a regular basis. A virtual arsenal, the Dormitory was safe from attack. However, the New York Police Department (NYPD) raided the place many times.
As the year progressed, the Gallo brothers were unable to tend to their usual rackets and started running out of money. Joe Gallo tried to extort payments from a cafe owner, who immediately went to the police. In November, 1961, Joe Gallo was convicted on conspiracy and extortion for attempting to extort money from the businessman. On December 21, 1961, Gallo was sentenced to 7 to 14 years in state prison.
While serving his sentence, Gallo was incarcerated at three New York State prisons: Green Haven Correctional Facility in Beekman, New York, Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, and Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York
While at Green Haven, Gallo became friends with African-American drug trafficker Nicky Barnes. Gallo predicted a power shift in the Harlem drug rackets from the Cosa Nostra to African-American gangs, and he coached Barnes on how to upgrade his criminal organization. Gallo was soon recruiting African-Americans as soldiers in the Gallo Crew. Gallo’s relationships with other Cosa Nostra inmates was distant; they reportedly called him “The Criminal” for fraternizing with Barnes and other African-Americans 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 Gallo allowed an African-American barber to cut his hair. The Commissioner characterized Gallo as a belligerent prisoner and an agitator.
While at Auburn, Gallo took up watercolor painting. He became an avid reader and was soon conversant on Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus,Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Ayn Rand, and his role model Niccolò Machiavelli. Gallo also read The New York Times. Gallo worked as an elevator operator in the prison’s woodworking shop. During a riot at Auburn, Gallo 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 car driver or gangster; never settle for second rate. Gallo tutored Frankos on Machiavelli and Frankos taught Gallo how to play 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.”
In May 1968, while Joe Gallo was still in prison, Larry Gallo died of cancer.
Release from prison
In 1971, Gallo was released from prison. Gallo’s second wife Sina described Gallo 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, comedianDavid 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.Underboss Joseph Magliocco took over and continued the battle with Albert and Larry Gallo. In 1963, through negotiations with Patriarca crime family bossRaymond L.S. Patriarca, a peace agreement was reached between the two factions. Later in 1963, the Mafia Commission forced Magliocco to resign and installed Joseph Colombo, an ally of Gambino crime family boss Carlo Gambino, as the new Profaci family boss. The Profaci family now became theColombo crime family.
However, Colombo soon alienated Gambino with his establishment of the Italian-American Civil Rights League. Gambino did not appreciate all the publicity that Colombo was generating. It is possible that Gambino encouraged Gallo to continue his challenge to the Colombo leadership.
Immediately after Gallo’s release from prison, Colombo and Joseph Yacovelli 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 Gallo.
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 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 Joe Gallo) the police concluded that Johnson was a lone shooter who had no ties with any criminal organization.
Despite the official conclusions, the Colombo family leadership (led by Joseph Yacovelli) was convinced that Gallo set up the Colombo shooting. Given that Johnson was African-American, the Colombos believed he was one of Gallo’s prison recruits. The drive to kill Joe Gallo was intensified.
On April 7, 1972, Colombo family gunmen murdered Joe Gallo in a Manhattan restaurant. At 4:30 a.m. that day, Gallo and his family entered Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy, Manhattan. 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’ female companion. Earlier that evening, the Gallo party visited the Copacabana Club in Manhattan with Jerry and Marta Orbach to see a performance by comedian Don Rickles. Once at Umberto’s, the Gallo party took two tables, with Gallo and Diapoulas facing the wall.
Unknown to Gallo, Colombo associate Joseph Luparelli was sitting at the bar. When he saw Gallo, Luparelli immediately left Umberto’s and walked two blocks to another restaurant that was a Colombo hangout. After contacting Yacovelli, Luparelli recruited Colombo associates Philip Gambino, Carmine DiBiase, and two other men 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 caliber 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 Gallo 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 New York Downtown Hospital (then called Beekman-Downtown Hospital). Joe Gallo died in the emergency department.
A differing account of the murder was offered by hitman and union activist Frank Sheeran in a series of confessions made before his 2003 death. Sheeran claimed that he was the lone triggerman in the Gallo hit.
Gallo’s funeral was held under police surveillance; Gallo’s sister Carmella declared over his open coffin that “The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey!”. Since the local Catholic diocese refused to perform a burial service for Gallo, Sina arranged for a priest to fly in from Cleveland, Ohio. Gallo was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
After spending time in a Colombo safe house, an increasingly paranoid Luparelli fled to California, then contacted the FBI and reached a deal to become a government witness. Luparelli 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 Gallo murder. In 2003, mobster Frank Sheeranclaimed that he alone killed Gallo.
After Gallo’s murder, a frightened Yacovelli left town. The Colombo family was now led by the imprisoned Carmine Persico and his clan. The Second Colombo War lasted for several years until a 1974 agreement allowed Albert Gallo and his remaining crew to join the Genovese crime family.
Gallo’s death was the subject of Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy’s song “Joey”, recorded by Dylan on his 1976 album Desire.
Gallo’s role in The First Colombo War is referenced in the film Goodfellas by Lucchese Crime Family associate Henry Hill. Hill recalled his teenage years and the beginning of his organized crime association by stating, “It was a glorious time. Wise guys were all over the place. It was before Apalachin and before Crazy Joe decided to take on a boss and start a war.”
Gallo crew members
- Joe Gallo – murdered in 1972 by Colombo gunmen
- 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
- 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 Persico – Colombo family boss, serving life in prison
- 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 Dello
- John Commarato
- Alfonso Serantonio
- Joseph Yancone
- Eugene LaGana
- Frank Balzano
- Sergio “SergForce” Gallo